History Files

The History Files The History Files needs your help

The History Files as a non-profit site is able to keep on doing what it does thanks your help and support. This year, the site still needs your help. Please click anywhere inside this box to make a small donation via PayPal so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Every little helps, and your support is highly appreciated.

Target for 2021: £0  £300

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapCotini / Gotini / Gutones (Suevi)

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. They also extended eastwards, into the region that was becoming known as Germania. The Celts had ruled much of this in their heyday, but by the middle of the first century BC they were fragmented, and were either in the process of being expelled by the increasingly powerful Germanic tribes who were migrating southwards from Scandinavia and the Baltic coast, or they were being defeated and integrated into Germanic or other tribes. The Cotini were located in the region in which modern Slovakia meets Poland and Moravia (eastern Czechia). They were neighboured by the Germanic Buri and the Celtic Harii, Lugii, Naharvali, and Osi to the north and north-east, by the Bastarnae to the east, by Illyrian tribes to the south, and by the vast homeland of the Boii to the west.

FeatureThe Cotini seem to come with a wealth of variations of their name, including Gotini, Gothini, Gutones, and Gothones. In forming the Cotini tribal name, the 'w' to 'k' shift is repeatedly found in prehistoric Celtic words. As 'woed' became 'coed' (forest), so also did an ancient Wotan or Wodan become Cotan or Codan in common Celtic. There appears to have been a number of tribes, both Celt and German, who were named after the god Wotan (otherwise known as Odin or Gotan). Both the Cotini and the Goths who were becoming dominant to the far north-east seem to have been named after him, a god who was so prominent that the entire Baltic seems to have been named after him at one point (Codanus Sinus).

However, this shared name between Celt and German in turn seems to bring up another possible god that could have been used by both groups. Does any record exists of the Celts worshipping a Codanus? It would be very interesting if it did, but no deity in Celtic pantheons matches up to a Codan despite extensive searching, not even in a list of proposed proto-Celtic roots. However, Latin, which shares ancient roots with Celtic, has some very intriguing possibilities, mostly in words for 'old' ('vetus', 'veteranus'), but also 'crafty' ('veteratorius'), and even 'sorceress' ('veteratrix'). Wotan was always depicted as a crafty magician in the form of an old man. If the Cotini name is linked to him then just how far back does this deity go, if it predates the Italian-Celtic split? If the Latin is correct then there is a possible deity: Veteris the Old Man. The fact that this god was worshipped among Roman legionnaires along with the Germanic Maponus is a hint that they recognised their Wotan in Veteris.

The 'Gotini' or Cotini with less emphasis placed on the initial letter, were located amongst the Osi and Buri in central Europe. It seems that, following the Marcomanni takeover of the Boii, the Cotini were also subjugated. Tacitus refers to them as Gallic, but he also shows them not to be Germans due to the tribute they continually pay. This tribute is imposed on them as aliens, partly by the Sarmatians, and partly by the Quadi. By this time, the Cotini were enslaved by the Quadi, working in their iron mines. Tacitus is also the one to call them the Gotini, but this tribe is generally accepted as being the Cotini of other sources.

The link to the Goths in the shared name of 'Gotini' or 'Gothini' makes sense if a German warrior elite took control of the tribe and introduced their own tribal name to replace the earlier Celtic one. That would most definitely make those Germans a unit of Goths, whose people were to be found occupying the Pomeranian region of later Poland in the first century AD (and probably earlier by as much as a century or so). They had time enough to take over the Cotini and 'rebrand' them by the time of the latter's first mention in history. The same process happened with several tribes of the Belgae, such as the Eburones, and other Celts in Central Europe, such as the Harii.

The Suevi confederation, of which the Cotini were a part following their Germanic takeover, was a collection of Germanic peoples that came into existence by the first century AD, and perhaps earlier. Their number included the tribes of the Alemanni, Angles, Hermunduri, Langobards, Marcomanni, Quadi, Semnones, and Warini, and perhaps also the Heruli too. None of these tribes were what could be considered 'front line' tribes, living along the border with the Roman empire. Instead they were arrayed behind a large number of other tribes which were better known and better attested by Roman writers. The Suebic tribes remained a little more obscure, at least until they came into direct contact with the empire, and many of the more minor tribes that made up the confederation were almost entirely unchronicled.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, from Complete Works of Tacitus, Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb, & Lisa Cerrato, 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), and from External Link: The Germany and the Agricola of Tacitus: The Oxford Translation, Revised With Notes, Cornelius Tacitus.)

6th century BC

The Cotini probably belong to the Hallstatt culture of Celts, along with the Bebryces, Boii, Harii, Helisii, Helveconae, Manimi, Naharvali, Osi, and at least some elements of the later Lugii. They are to be found around the central German lands, and in Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, and the edges of Poland and Ukraine. Around this time a large-scale expansion begins that sees many Hallstatt Celts migrate outwards, towards northern Italy, Gaul, or Iberia. Many others remain, and control the region until pressure from newly-arriving Germanic tribes begins to erode their hold in the second and first centuries BC.

Hallstatt Culture face mask
This Hallstatt face and mask was made by the Celtic culture of the same name which spanned the Old Iron Age period between 800-450 BC and which provided the 'First Wave' of Celtic migrants across areas of Europe

c.100 - 10 BC

The migration of Goths from Sweden to the southern shores of the Baltic seems to start in this period. By the very existence of its Germanic name which has the same roots as that of the Goths, the Cotini would appear to gain a Germanic warrior elite which would most likely be Gothic in origin. As the Cotini are first mentioned in history in 10 BC, this event must take place before that date.

10 BC

The Cotini are mentioned in the Elogium of Tusculum, an inscription found in the town of that name to the south of Rome. Inscribed during the early days of the empire, while Augustus rules, it contains a description of a Roman legate of Illyricum negotiating with the Anarti and Cotini (the former being located to the south of the latter).

8 - 6 BC

Migrations of Marcomanni and Quadi from the region of northern Bavaria and the River Main to the west of the Boii lead them to the homeland of the Boii in Bohemia where the Celtic tribe is subjugated by the newcomers. Marbod forms a confederation of tribes which includes Langobards, Lugii, Marcomanni, Quadi, and Semnones... and the Boii themselves. The Cotini, to the immediate east of the Boii, seem also to be subjugated around this time, by the Quadi. Their status is now very low, and the Quadi use them as slave labour in their iron mines. Tacitus states that the Cotini speak a Gaulish language, supporting the supposition that they are Celts who have lived in the region since the heyday of the Celtic expansion, around the sixth and fifth centuries BC.

Western Slovakia
The landscape of western Slovakia offers a dramatic contrast in landscape, making the region protectable, but also very verdant and productive

AD 98

Writing around this time, the Roman writer Tacitus mentions the Suevi, listing their constituent tribes which cover the larger part of Germania. Clearly in the century and-a-half since their first appearance on the Rhine they have expanded considerably. Noted for their custom of twisting their hair and binding it up in a knot (called the Suebian knot), they comprise the Langobards, the Semnones ('oldest and noblest of the Suebi'), 'the seven tribes of Jutland and Holstein': the Angles, Aviones, Eudoses, Nuitones, Reudigni, Suardones, and Warini, then the Hermunduri on the Elbe, three tribes along the Danube, Marcomanni, Naristi, and Quadi, followed by the Buri and Marsigni.

Then there is a mountain range that separates part of the Suebi, beyond which, along the Vistula, are the constituent tribes of the Lugii, the Harii, Helisii, Helveconae, Manimi, and Naharvali. Then come the Cotini (or Gotini/Gothini, as Tacitus calls them), Gutones (clearly the Cotini again, although perhaps a separate division of them), Lemovii, and Rugii along the Baltic Sea, the various divisions of the Suiones (Swedes), and last but not least the non-Germanic Aestii, and beyond them the Sitones, both of which are on the Baltic coast.

The Gothini reveal themselves not to be Germanic by their use of the Gallic language. Clearly any proposed Germanic takeover of the Cotini has not penetrated too deeply. They have also disgraced themselves by working iron mines, seemingly a mark of disgrace for what should be a warrior tribe. They pay tribute both to the Sarmatians and the Quadi, revealing the depths of their domination by other tribes.

177 - 179

At the end of a renewed campaign by Marcus Aurelius against the Marcomanni, the emperor has 40,000 Romans posted on Marcomannic and Quadian territory and has the Cotini and Osi resettled from Slovakia to southern Pannonia. The newly free territories are settled mainly by the Quadi. Roman inscriptions of the first part of the third century mention the civitas Cotini in Pannonia - the Cotini people.

Trenčín castle inscription
The Roman invasion of AD 179 left an inscription on stone at Trenčín castle in western Slovakia, their northernmost excursion from the Danube frontier

3rd century

By this time, the Suevi have formed a wide-ranging confederation of tribes that are all known individually but which are counted as being Suevi. The vast number of tribes included in the confederation include the Aestii, Angles, Aviones, Buri, Cotini, Eudoses, Gutones (Cotini), Hermunduri (who have virtually ceased to exist as a recognisable independent people), Langobards, Lugii (a name applied to several tribes: the Harii, Helisii, Helveconae, Manimi, and Naharvali), Marcomanni, Marsigni, Naristi, Nuitones, Osi, Quadi, Reudigni, Semnones, Sitones, Suardones, Suiones (Swedes), and the Warini.

Within the collective, the fact that the Cotini still speak a Gallic language and the Osi a Pannonian language would indicate that they are not German tribes, even at this late stage of integration into a Germanic homeland.

406 - 409

The bulk of the Suevi cross the Rhine at Mainz in 406 in association with the Vandali and Alani. After spending two years on the west bank of the Rhine, all three tribes settle in Roman Spain by 409. The Suevi Kingdom is formed in the north-western region of Galicia. Many Suevi elements remain in their homeland, but whether this includes the Cotini is unknown. They are not mentioned again, suggesting that integration into other tribes has finally taken place.