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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes

 

Cavari (Gauls)

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 Cavari or Cavares, who were located on the east bank of the Rhone, Durance and the Tricastin region.

They were neighboured to the north by the Segovellauni, to the east by the Caturiges and Albici confederation, to the south by the Anatilli, Salyes, and Vocontii, and to the west by the Helvii.

In relation to attempting to pinpoint the location of the nearby Segovellauni, both Pliny and Ptolemy mention this tribe. Ptolemy described the 'localisait "Segalauni"' (sic) south of Savoy and north of the Cavari, and with Valentia as their oppidum. However, Pliny the Elder places Valentia 'in the territory of Cavares [Cavari]', ie. farther to the south.

The Cavari oppidum was probably located at the hill fort site of Colline St Eutrope which overlooks the modern town of Orange. Under Roman control this was replaced by Arausio (the town of Orange itself), which was founded as the Colonia Julia Firma Secundanorum Arausio around 35 BC by Augustus for Legio II Gallica veterans. Further settlements existed at Cabellio (today's Cavaillon), and Avennio (now Avignon). The latter had probably been a Volcae holding prior to Roman control.

The Alps

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Prichard, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, 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 The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Defeat of the Vocates and Tarusates, J Rickard, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), 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).)

56 BC

Following his successful campaign against the Belgae in the previous year, Caesar heads for Italy. He sends Servius Galba ahead with the Twelfth Legion and part of the cavalry to secure the way.

The pass through the Alps has been dominated by the Nantuates, Seduni, and Veragri tribes, making the route a dangerous one for Roman merchants, and now is the time to end that danger.

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)

Galba conducts a few successful battles and storms several of their forts, until the tribes send embassies and hostages, and peace is concluded. Galba stations two cohorts amongst the Nantuates, and sets up camp with the legion's remaining cohorts in the village of Octodurus, which belongs to the Veragri.

Having been attacked by the massed forces of these tribes, the Romans decide to defend their position, and are hard-pressed by the superior numbers attacking them, perhaps thirty thousand in all.

A six hour battle ends when the exhausted Romans make a last-ditch sally which takes the Celts by surprise and inflicts heavy casualties on them, forcing them to withdraw.

Great St Bernard's Pass
The region around the Great St Bernard's Pass was a perfect mix of fertile plains and protective high mountains for small but aggressive Celtic tribes in the four centuries or so between their settlement of the area and domination by Rome

Having survived the onslaught, the Romans withdraw in good order, heading westwards into the territory of the Allobroges where they settle into safer winter quarters. The lack of Cavari involvement in this or any earlier warfare along the western Alpine region makes it look likely that they have maintained friendly relations with Rome from first contact.

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).

Caesar Augustus
During his long 'reign' as Rome's first citizen, Augustus brought peace to that city and oversaw its transition from failing republic to vigorous and expanding empire

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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