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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Ceutrones / Centrones (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 Ceutrones, who were located in the Tarentaise Valley, on the very eastern edge of the later Gallia Narbonensis province and pretty much centred on the western Alps. They were neighboured to the north by the Medulli, to the south by the Segusini, and to the west by the Allobroges, while a host of smaller Celto-Ligurian tribes also jostled for position in the western Alps.

The tribe's name is not necessarily too obvious in its meaning. Removing the suffixes leaves 'kentr-' (singular, 'centros'), which is a thorn or a cockerel's spur. This could be a metaphor for the points of a warrior's spear. The '-on' and '-es' are the usual Celtic and Latin suffixes. Did the tribe fight in a spear phalanx, a tactic perhaps picked up from Celtic contact with Greeks? The Forum Claudii Ceutronum is even now still called Centrum, and shows the tribe's actual name rather than the flippant Roman mispronunciation. So 'Centrones' is most likely the correct form: 'the thorns', perhaps extended to reference spear points.

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 Ceutrones 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 Ceutrones can probably be included amongst this number, although any Ligurian influence seems to have been limited.

The tribe should not be confused with the Centrones of the Belgae, who were a constituent of the Nervii. However, they could be one and the same thing as the rather mysterious Acitavones. The Alpine Centrones lived in the Vallée de la Tarentaise, in what is now the Savoy region of eastern France. The valley is home to the River Isère in the French Alps, having gained its name from the tribe's chief settlement at Darantasia. In winter it is effectively blocked by snowfall at the upper end. Ptolemy places the tribe in the Graian Alps, west of the Aosta Valley and also west of the Salassi. Essentially though, this does not necessarily alter their position in the Tarentaise Valley.

Although the settlement's name survived in use for the valley, it did not survive for the town itself. It seems that, in later Roman times, it was still known as Darantasia (as shown on the Tabula Peutingeriana map which is thought to date to the fifth century AD), but perhaps also as Tarentaise, a simple modification of the Celtic name. This fell out of use, with the town apparently being so much dominated by ecclesiastical matters that by AD 996 it was called Monasterium, indicating the presence of a monastery. This became Moustiers and is now Moûtiers. To make up for this, there is a village called Centron in Montgirod, Savoy, which preserves the tribe's name.

The Alps

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information by Trish Wilson, from Geography, Ptolemy, 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).)

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.

Map of Alpine and Ligurian tribes, c.200-15 BC
Battle of Bibracte Romans
The Roman troops of Julius Caesar prepare to face the Helvetii and their allies at the Battle of Bibracte in 58 BC, outside the oppidum of the Aeduii tribe, while above that is a map showing the post-Celtic, but pre-Roman, occupancy of the Alps and surrounding regions (click or tap on map to view full sized)

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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