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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Caturiges (Gauls / Celto-Ligurians?)

FeatureIn general terms, the Romans coined the name 'Gaul' to describe the Celtic tribes of what is now central, northern, and eastern France. The Gauls were divided from the Belgae to the north by the Marne and the Seine, and from the Aquitani to the south by the River Garonne, while also extending into Switzerland, northern Italy, and along the Danube (see feature link for a discussion of the origins of the Celtic name).

MapBy the middle of the first century BC, there existed a cluster of smaller tribes in the Alpine region of western Switzerland and the French/Italian border (see map link for all tribal locations). This included the Caturiges who were located around the headwaters of the Druentia (the modern River Durance), a tributary of the Rhone.

They occupied what are now the communes of Chateauroux Les Alpes, Chorges, Embrun, and Les Orres. They were neighboured to the north by the Segovellauni, Tricastii, and Segusini, to the west by the Cavari, Vocontii, and Helvii, and to the east and south by the many even-smaller Celto-Ligurian tribes of the western Alps.

The tribe's name is a very straightforward one to interpret. It is formed of two words, with the first element 'cat', meaning 'battle'. The second element is just as simple, with 'rig' or 'rix' meaning 'king', cognate with the Latin 'rex' - the same original word but distorted by time and isolation. This tribe was the 'battle kings'.

Following the Celtic breakthrough of the western Alps between about 600-400 BC, not all Gaulish groups involved actually entered Italy. Some integrated themselves along the western Alps between Lake Constance and Nice. Some may already have been there beforehand, although the case for the Caturiges is unclear.

What they would have found there were many Ligurian tribes. Intermixing would have followed to create the aforementioned Celto-Ligurian tribes, but the same process would have affected the larger Celtic tribes too, even if it was probably to a lesser extent. The Caturiges can probably be included amongst this number, although any Ligurian influence seems to have been limited.

The Caturiges had an oppidum at Catorimagus (or Caturigomagus) in south-eastern France, close to the modern Italian border. This was an area which later became part of the Roman province of Alpes Maritimae. The centre's name became known as Caturiges (probably after incorporation into the Roman empire) and survives as the modern Chorges. It became a station on the Roman itineraries between Embrun and Gap. Apart from two brief encounters with historical events, the tribe itself was a very minor player Alpine politics.

The Alps

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information by Trish Wilson, from The March of Hannibal from the Rhône to the Alps, Henry Lawes Long, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Pritchard, from Geography, Strabo, translated by H C Hamilton Esq & W Falconer, M A, Ed (George Bell & Sons, London, 1903), from Les peuples préromains du Sud-Est de la Gaule: Étude de géographie historique, Guy Barruol (De Boccard, 1999), and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and L'Arbre Celtique (The Celtic Tree, in French), and Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz or Dictionnaire Historique de la Suisse or Dizionario Storico dell Svizzera (in German, French, and Italian respectively).)

c.600 BC

Bellovesus and his massed horde of people from the Bituriges, Insubres, and several other tribes begin a migration across the Alps and into northern Italy.

This barrier is one which has apparently not previously been breached by Celts, but they are also deterred by a sense of religious obligation, triggered by news reaching them that another group looking for territory, a force of Massalians, is under attack by the Salyes (Ligurians).

Map of Alpine and Ligurian tribes, c.200-15 BC
The origins of the Euganei, Ligurians, Raeti, Veneti, and Vindelici are confused and unclear, but in the last half of the first millennium BC they were gradually being Celticised or were combining multiple influences to create hybrid tribes (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Seeing this as an omen of their own fortunes, the Celts briefly go to the assistance of the Massalians to help them secure their position. Then they make the crossing with some trepidation, heading through the passes of the Taurini and the valley of the Douro.

Following that they defeat Etruscans in battle not far from the Ticinus. Bellovesus and his people settle around the Ticinus and build a settlement called Mediolanum (modern Milan). This could herald the start of the period in which - if they are not already there - various Celtic tribes settle the western Alps rather than following Bellovesus into Italy, amongst them being the Caturiges.

58 BC

Despite the death of their king, Orgetorix, the Helvetii decide to go ahead with their planned exodus. Julius Caesar cannot put up with the idea of having such a dangerous force of Celts occupying the more peaceful plains of Gaul, so he force-marches two new legions from Italy to face the threat, although the Ceutrones, Graioceli, and Caturiges attempt to block his passage through the Alps.

Lake Serre Poncon
This picturesque Lake Serre Poncon likes just seven kilometres from Chorges, illustrating the fact that being an Alpine tribe was not all mountain passes and snow-covered hills

As he passes through the territory of the Vocontii to enter that of the Allobroges and then the Segusiavi, groups from several local tribes are joining the Helvetii, including the Latobrigi, Raurici, and Tulingi, making them one of the largest and most powerful forces in all of Gaul.

Unfortunately, the Battle of Bibracte between Celts and Romans is a total victory for the latter. The Helvetii are mercilessly crushed and are forced back to their homeland. This act sets in motion a train of events which results in the eventual annexation of all of Gaul into the Roman state.

25 - 15 BC

Augustus determines that the Alpine tribes need to be pacified in order to end their warlike behaviour, alternately attacking or extracting money from Romans who pass through the region, even when they have armies in tow.

He wages a steady, determined campaign against them during the Alpine Wars, and in a period of ten years he 'pacifies the Alps all the way from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian seas' (written by Augustus himself).

La Turbie and the Trophy of Augustus
The Tropaeum Alpium ('Trophy of the Alps') stands majestically in the commune of La Turbie on the French Riviera, overlooking the principality of Monaco, and marking the final victory over the Alpine tribes by Augustus

14 BC

Emperor Augustus creates the province of Alpes Maritimae (the maritime, or seaward, Alps). It has its capital at Cemenelum (modern Nice, although this is switched in 297 to Civitas Ebrodunensium, modern Embrun). The history of the Alpine region's population of Celts and Celto-Ligurians is now tied to that of the empire.

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