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European Kingdoms



Commoni / Cenomani / Cenobrigi / Secoani / Segobrigi (Ligurians)

Prior to domination by Rome, the Alpine region contained various populations which had a complex, obscure, and ethnically-multilayered history. Two major ethnic groups were recorded (aside from intrusions by the Etruscans and Veneti), these being the Euganei on the north Italian plain and the Alpine foothills, and the Raeti in the Trentino and Alto Adige valleys.

There were a great many more minor groups, but generally they belonged to one or the other of these, or to the coastal Ligurians who had gradually penetrated the Alps from the south, but who also extended a considerable way westwards along the Mediterranean coast.

FeatureThere were many groups which formed Europe's Ligurian people, with not even a confederation uniting them all. In fact, many Ligurian groups formed confederations in their own right, with the Commoni perhaps being no different (see feature link for more on the Ligurians in general).

By the middle of the first century BC, the Commoni were classed as a relatively minor tribe (and not a confederation) which was located on the eastern bank of the Rhône, roughly between the ancient Greek port of Massalia (modern Marseille) and Cannes on the south coast of France. They were neighboured to the north-west by the Ligurian Salluvii, and were probably dominated by the Volcae Arecomisci, but were otherwise relatively isolated in their coastline home.

Not to be confused (possibly) with the Camuni of the Raeti, the Ligurian Commoni are also sometimes referred to in ancient records as the Cenomani (with Cenobrigi as an alternative form with a minor difference in meaning). It is not clear whether this is simply down to sloppy recording of their name or a confusion with better-known Cenomani tribes such as the Gaulish Cenomani in northern Italy, or the Aulerci Cenomani in north-western Gaul.

At first glance the Cenomani name appears to be a Germanic one. It seems to break down into 'cene' plus 'man' with a small Celticisation of the intervening 'o'. In Anglo-Saxon, 'cene' comes from 'céne' [ke:·ne] (adj), meaning something along the lines of keen, fierce, bold, brave, or warlike.

In other words, to Gauls the name would mean 'the keen men', but how could that apply to Ligurians? Had this particular tribe been Celticised in the form of Celto-Ligurians before appearing in this form? That seems highly likely, especially as any notable Ligurian naming structure seems to have been entirely lost.

The '-brigi' suffix in Cenobrigi means 'hill fort' in Gaulish, yet another pointer to a good deal of Celtic influence on this tribe prior to its being recorded by Rome. The use of Cenobrigi may not refer to a tribe as such - the tribal name would be Ceni, with the '-i' added to denote the name in its plural form. Using Cenobrigi would be a geographical name, referring specifically to the fort of the Ceni.

The Secoani (or Secobrigi) name also seems to have referred to this tribe, but this is curious as, once again, it is clearly a Celtic name and is a simple one to interpret. The proto-Celtic word list gives: Sekʷanā- as a river name, so the Sequana would be the River Seine (at the other end of Gaul from the Ligurians!).

In the tradition of Celtic rivers, Sequana was also a goddess, and her worship was especially focussed on the springs at the Seine's source. Called the Fontes Sequanae, 'the springs of Sequana', the headwaters are located in a valley in the Châtillon plateau, which lies to the north-west of Dijon in Burgundy.

This was the territory of the Gaulish Sequani, so could the Ligurian Secoani be a mere coincidence of names? As shown above, Secobrigi would be a geographical name, so perhaps the root of this - Seci - possibly a Celtic translation of a Ligurian name, could have had the Celtic 'man' attached as 'Seci-man', which was later corrupted or incorrectly recorded as Secoani.

The Alps

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information by Maurizio Puntin, from Res Gestae, Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus), from Ligustica, Albert Karl Ernst Bormann (in three parts, 1864-1868), from Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, Harry Thurston Peck (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1898), from the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith, from Geography, Ptolemy, from The History of Rome, Volume 1, Titus Livius, translated by Rev Canon Roberts, and from External Links: Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Polybius, Histories, and Plutarch's Lives - Vol. II: Translated from the Greek, With Notes and a Life of Plutarch (XIX), translated by Aubrey Stewart & George Long (Read Books Ltd, 2019).)

from c.2000 BC

Following their gradual arrival over the previous few centuries, West Indo-European groups (probably the earliest arrivals, the proto-Italics) have amalgamated into pre-existing Late Neolithic natives populations (Ligurians) to produce the first Celto-Ligurian hybrids.

Map of the Etruscans
This map shows not only the greatest extent of Etruscan influence in Italy, during the seventh to fifth centuries BC, but also Gaulish intrusion to the north, which compressed Etruscan borders there (click or tap on map to view on a separate page)

Expanding outwards from their initial Alpine and nearby territories, these tribes are currently in control of large areas of central and Western Europe, but not necessarily the deep Mediterranean coastal strip which forms the core Ligurian territory.

Represented by Bell Beaker culture, and with some knowledge of copper-working, some of the outermost elements of these new arrivals also begin moving into the British Isles. Those which remain behind are gradually superseded by Urnfield folk and eventually become fully Celticised.

c.600 BC

One event (or at least the beginning of a wave of related events) which does more to change Ligurian life is when 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.

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)

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, are under attack by the Salyes (Ligurians).

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. Celtic settlement of northern Italy gradually increases, forcing back the Ligurians to their west and also gradually Celticising them before the Romans arrive to conquer them.

102 - 101 BC

Consul Gaius Marius has been rebuilding Roman forces while the Cimbri raid Iberia during the course of the Cimbric War. Now the weakened Teutones are defeated and enslaved. The Ambrones are also defeated by Consul Marius, alongside allied Celto-Ligurians.

Ligurian coastline
The Ligurian coastline of modern Italy owes its name to the Ligurian people, a pre-Indo-European grouping which probably consisted of several influences prior to being Latinised by the Romans

The latter are, somewhat peculiarly, also ascribed the name Ambrones when referring to their origin (see Plutarch's Lives, Vol II, XIX for details). Such an appellation must refer to entirely Celticised Ligurians. The Commoni would now also appear to have been subjugated by Rome and subsequently disappear from history.

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