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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Eburones (Belgae)

FeatureIn general terms, the Romans coined the name 'Gaul' to describe the Celtic tribes of what is now central, northern, and eastern France. To the north of these were the tribes of the Belgae, divided from the Gauls by the rivers Marne and the Seine, but bordered to their east by a slowly growing Germanic populace which only increased its pressure on them over time (see feature link for a discussion of the origins of the Celtic name).

The Eubrones were one of four tribes described by Julius Caesar as Germanic but with at least one leader who bore a Celtic name. These tribes were the Caerosi, Condrusi, Eburones, and Paemani. Another, similar tribe not mentioned by Caesar was the Segni. The Eburones were located between the Rhine and the Maas, and possibly on both sides of the Maas, amongst the tribes of the Belgae, in what is now Belgian and Dutch Limburg.

By the middle of the first century BC, they were neighboured to their west and north by the Menapii, while to the east were the Paemani and Cugerni (another tribe which probably had mixed ethnic origins), to the south were the Atuatuci and Tungri (dividing them from the Condrosi and Caerosi), and to the south-west were the Nervii.

Given the tribe's confused ethnic background, it is hard to tell where the origins of its name might lie. If it is Celtic, then 'eburo-' means 'yew'. It could have been related to some sort of badge used as a symbol, perhaps with them wearing a sprig of yew. Or could they have had a sacred grove of yew?

If the name is Germanic, it is an obscure one. There do not seem to be any plausible Germanic words either for 'ebur' or for similar spellings. This seems to support the idea that the upper ranks of this tribe's people were Celtic.

The Condrusi and Eburones, and quite possibly the Caerosi too, were subjects of the more powerful Treveri. All three of them, along with the Paemani, were Belgic peoples who are sometimes thought by scholars to be Germanic, although much of the evidence seems to suggest that they were either Belgic Celts, or were ruled by a Belgic nobility.

The idea of the Belgae being a mix of Germans and Celts to some extent is firmly stated as being reported to Julius Caesar by the locals. It is a model which could also provide the basis for the foundation of the English kingdom of Wessex in the sixth century. Local Belgae, who were perhaps already semi-German, fusing with German foederati in late Roman Britain and then with Saxons to form the population of the new kingdom.

Ancient Britons

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information by J L Putman and M Soenen (Archeo Kemmelberg), from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, 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 Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and Kemmelberg (A History Files microsite), and The Illustrated History of Belgium.)

113 - 105 BC

A large-scale migration of Cimbri and Teutones passes through Central Europe, and along the way it picks up Celto-Germanic Helvetii peoples who at this time are located in central Germany (in territory which later becomes Franconia). Together this band enters southern Gaul and northern Italy, and comes up against the Roman republic.

The Teutones wandering in Gaul
An illustration depicting the Teutones wandering in Gaul, part of a large-scale migration from modern Denmark into northern Italy in the second century BC

As shocking as this invasion is to the Romans, according to the later writings of Julius Caesar, the 'Germani' tribes of the Caerosi, Condrusi, Eburones, and Paemani (and perhaps also the unmentioned Segni) have already settled in Gaul, along the eastern edges of Gaulish and Belgae territory around the modern Belgian and Dutch borders.

This suggests that the Germanic tribes are already pushing outwards from their Northern European base around the Danish peninsula and the southern shores of the Baltic.

57 BC

The Belgae enter into a confederacy against the Romans in fear of Rome's eventual domination over them. They are also spurred on by Gauls who are unwilling to see Germanic tribes remaining on Gaulish territory and are unhappy about Roman troops wintering in Gaul.

Many Belgic groups showed marked Germanic influences, so were they Celts with German words and warriors, or Germans with Celtic words and warriors? The truth probably lies somewhere in between

The Senones are asked by Julius Caesar to gain intelligence on the intentions of the Belgae, and they report that an army is being collected. Caesar marches ahead of expectations and the Remi, on the Belgic border, instantly surrender, although their brethren, the Suessiones remain enthusiastic about the venture.

The Bellovaci are the most powerful among the Belgae, but the confederation also includes the Ambiani, Atrebates, Atuatuci, Caerosi, Caleti, Condrusi, Eburones, Menapii, Morini, Nervii, Paemani, Veliocasses, and Viromandui, along with some unnamed Germans on the western side of the Rhine.

The Eburones' role in the war is not mentioned, but Caesar either faces down the other Belgic tribes in battle (especially at the Axona) or accepts their surrender during the course of a single campaigning season. With this action, northern Gaul has been brought under Roman domination, while the victorious legions winter amongst the Andes, Carnutes, and Turones.

Battle of the Axona
The Battle of the (River) Axona (the modern Aisne in north-eastern France) witnessed the beginning of the end of the Belgic confederation against Rome

55 BC

As recorded by Julius Caesar in his work, Commentarii de Bello Gallico, the Germanic Tencteri and Usipetes tribes are driven out of their tribal lands in Germania by the militarily dominant Suevi. This probably places them on the middle Rhine.

Throughout the winter they attempt to resettle, but fail to find any land. Their wanderings bring them to the mouth of the Rhine, in the territory of the Belgic Menapii, who are located on both sides of the river.

The Germans attack them, forcing them to withdraw to the western side of the Rhine, where the Menapii are able to defend the river line for some time. They also attack the Condrusi and Eburones tribes. Feigning a withdrawal to lure out the Menapii, the Tencteri and Usipetes defeat them, capture their ships and occupy many of their villages for the winter.

Map of European Tribes
This vast map covers just about all possible tribes which were documented in the first centuries BC and AD, mostly by the Romans and Greeks, and with an especial focus on 52 BC (click or tap on map to view at an intermediate size)

Caesar, alarmed at this threat to the north of territory in Gaul which he has already conquered, takes a force into the region. After much diplomatic effort and some delays, he attacks the Germanic tribes and drives them back into Germania with heavy losses.

Caesar crosses the Rhine to follow them and to show the Germans that Romans are not afraid to stage a counter-invasion. Several other tribes submit to Caesar, and after a show of force he returns to Gaul, to mount his first expedition to Britain.

At some point in the year before his departure, Caesar also frees Ambiorix of the Eburones from a tribute which he has been paying to the neighbouring Atuatuci, and frees his son and nephew from captivity in chains by the same tribe when they had been seized after serving as hostages to the Romans.

fl 55 - 53 BC


A Celtic name. Raised the tribe in revolt but forced to flee.

fl 55 - 53 BC


Co-ruler (commanding half the tribe). Committed suicide.

53 BC

Before leaving on his second expedition to Britain, Julius Caesar visits the Treveri with four legions, as an internal power struggle has developed between Cingetorix, who is pro-Roman, and Indutiomarus, who opposes him.

South Limburg
The gentle rolling landscape of the Limburg region would have made idea pasture and farming land for the Belgic tribes, but its proximity to the Maas would have provided the woods and swamps which served as a refuge in times of need

A legion is stationed there for the remainder of the winter, while Caesar enters the country of the Eburones, supported by a contingent of Senones cavalry led by the exiled Cavarinus, their former puppet king. About fifteen days later, Ambiorix and Cativolcus instigate a revolt, prompted primarily by pressure from their people. They are joined by the Treveri.

A legion under Quintus Titurius Sabinus and Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta is defeated, with both generals being killed and the survivors committing suicide in their fort to avoid capture. Only a few men escape to relate the news to Caesar.

Ambiorix marches his cavalry to the Atuatuci, with the infantry following on, rousing that tribe with his tales of his victory and encouraging the Nervii to join him too. Together they launch an attack on the legion of Cicero, razing much of his fort and hard-pressing the defenders.

Ambiorix, king of the Eburones
This print of Ambiorix, king of the Eburones, is inspired by his statue of 1866 in Tongeren in Belgium, with both statue and print reflecting the nineteenth century revival of the Celts in the young Belgian nation state

Word of this reaches Marcus Crassus amongst the Bellovaci, just twenty-five miles away, and Caius Fabius also marches from the lands of the Morini, with both forces having to negotiate their way through the lands of the Atrebates along the way.

Caesar arrives to relieve Cicero and is attacked by about 60,000 Gauls. Despite the massive disparity in numbers compared to Caesar's own 7,000, the Gauls are put to flight with great losses, although the Romans suffer casualties of ten per cent.

Ambiorix flees before the Romans and Cativolcus commits suicide by poisoning. Despite this apparent capitulation, the country of the Eburones proves difficult for the Romans, being woody and swampy in parts.

Nervii at the battle of the Sabis
This print of Boduognatus, king of the Nervii, shows him and his warriors fighting the Romans at the battle of the Sabis, thought to be the modern River Selle

Caesar invites the neighbouring people to come and plunder the Eburones. After stubborn resistance from the tribe, Caesar burns every village and building which he can find in their territory, drives off all the cattle, and confiscates all of the tribe's grain. The tribe is destroyed by this action and no further mention is made of them in history. Their land is occupied by the Germanic Tungri.

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