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European Kingdoms

Aquitani Tribes

 

Elusates / Elurates (Aquitani)

Today's Basques of northern Spain have their historical origins in the tribes of the Aquitani. Akin in some ways to the general disposition of Iberian tribes, they straddled the Pyrenees by the time the Romans arrived to record their existence. Their tribes could be found occupying much of modern Gascony in France, along with a swathe of territory between the central Pyrenees on the Iberian side, and westwards to the Bay of Biscay, very roughly between the modern counties of Aragon and Cantabria (home of the Cantabri).

The Aquitani were not Celts, and neither were they Iberians. The much-later-arriving Indo-European Gauls merely abutted the Aquitani and were not related to them, and neither were the Iberian tribes of today's Spain and Portugal. Strabo distinguished the Aquitani tribes from the Gauls in Western Europe both in their physical type and in their language, although the Aquitani were influenced by their Indo-European neighbours and, in turn, influenced them.

The Elusates were one of the larger of the many Aquitani tribes on the southern and eastern side of the Garonne, with neighbours in the form of the Tarusates to the west, the Sotiates to the north, the Lactorates and Ausci to the east, and the Bigerri to the south.

Within their territory an important agglomeration has been identified about three kilometres to the north of the modern city of Eauze. This was an oppidum which was installed on the plateaus of Esbérous and Higat, and which had been protected by an imposing ditch and rampart. It is the largest-known such area to the south of the Garonne. Some traces of Bronze Age occupation have been discovered, but the full extent of occupation occurred at the end of the Iron Age.

Under Roman domination the territory of the Elusates became a civitas at the end of the first century BC. The Sotiates who had offered Rome such staunch resistance were humiliated by having their own autonomy removed and devolved to this new civitas. A new primary settlement called Elusa was created at the beginning of the first century AD, just a kilometre to the east of present-day Eauze. Even today, the inhabitants of the city of Eauze are known as Elusates.

Pyrenees National Park in France

(Information by Trish Wilson, with additional information by Edward Dawson and Peter Kessler, from Diccionario vasco–español–francés, Resurreción María Azkue (two-volume, trilingual dictionary, 1905), from Hauta-lanerako euskal hiztegia, Ibon Sarasola (Gipuzkoako Kutxa, 1990), from Mini hiztegia euskara-euskara, Ibon Sarasola (Lur, Editorial S, 1996), and from External Links: the Etymological Dictionary of Basque, R L Trask (available in PDF format via the Etymological Dictionary, Max Wheeler (Ed, PDF), and Aquitania (University of California), and Celtiberia.net (in Spanish), and Gran Enciclopedia Aragonesa (in Spanish), and The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and Euskomedia (in Spanish).)

56 BC

When war flares up again in Gaul, triggered by Publius Licinius Crassus and the Seventh Legion in the territory of the Andes, Caesar has to turn back from his journey to Illyrium to handle the problem. Crassus is sent to subdue the tribes of the Aquitani - although the Vascones seem not to be involved themselves - and prevent an all-out war against stretched Roman troops.

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)

The Petrocorii are subdued early, while auxiliaries are recruited from the (Gaulish) Bebryces, Sordones, and Volcae. The Sotiates attack the Romans in a drawn-out and vigorously-contested engagement in which the Romans are only just victorious, having outlasted their hot-headed Celtic opponents in terms of stamina.

The Vocates and Tarusates prove to be a rather more difficult opponent, outnumbering Crassus perhaps by ten-to-one and holding a very strong position. However, and despite the odds, the Aquitani are forced to surrender with heavy casualties.

When news of this defeat spreads, the majority of the tribes of Aquitania surrender to Crassus, including the Ausci, Bigerriones, Cocosates, Elusates, Garites, Garumni, Preciani, Suburates, Tarbelli, Tarusates, and 'Vocasates'. The fighting Sotiates suffer the indignation of losing their autonomy when they are forcibly transferred into the administrative control of the Elusates.

With this action, Aquitania has been brought under Roman domination, and the history of its population of Celts and Aquitani is tied to that of the emerging Roman empire.

Pyrenees National Park
The Pyrenees National Park on the French side of the western-central Pyrenees reveals a level of lush terrain and grazing opportunities which can surprise anyone who thinks of the range as being pure, uninhabitable mountains

28 BC

Despite submitting fully in 56 BC, it seems that the conquest of the Aquitani and the neighbouring Celtic tribes is effected only now, by Proconsul Marcus Valerius Messalla. The proconsul is awarded a triumph for his success, suggesting that some fighting had been involved.

That award further suggests that the submission of 56 BC had gained the tribes some sort of allied status, but for the most part up until this point they had been able to remain essentially autonomous.

27 BC - AD 14

During the period of office of Augustus in Rome, the Aquitani tribes are incorporated into the newly-formed province of Aquitania. The province extends from the Liger (the modern Loire) to the Pyrenees, and is bound on the northern side by Mons Cevennus. This is one of the three divisions of the Gauls, the others being Gallia Lugdunensis and Belgica.

Seemingly as part of this reorganisation, a fully new agglomeration under the name of Elusa is created at the beginning of the first century AD, one kilometre to the east of present-day Eauze. The city is elevated to the rank of colony and then becomes the capital of the province of Novempopulania, retaining its role as a metropolis until the eighth century.

555

In the early medieval period the Aquitani lands are first confirmed as a possession of the Franks, after a long struggle to wrest them from the hands of the Visigoths. A Merovingian duke by the name of Chramn is appointed to govern Aquitaine, which contains within it the region of Gascony.

Roman bridge at Albi
Toulouse was a Roman city until AD 418, but even a century and-a-half of subsequent barbarian rule would not have erased the very strong Roman appearance of the city, with a similar effect being visible in nearby Albi, pictured here

 
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