History Files

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapGraioceli / Garocelli (Gauls)

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, and they also extended into Switzerland, northern Italy, and along the Danube. By the middle of the first century BC, there was a cluster of smaller tribes in the Alpine region of western Switzerland and the French/Italian border. This included the Graioceli, who were located in the upper valley of the Maurienne (in modern France) and close to Alpis Graia (the modern Little St Bernard Pass). They were neighboured to the north by the Veragri and Salassi, to the east by the Insubres, to the south by the Medulli, and to the west by the Allobroges.

Also called the Garocelli by Caesar, the tribe's name is a tough one to break down. Remove the Latin '-i' suffix and the second part of the core name, 'cel', may be *kel(j)o- (?), meaning 'death'. The first part of the name, 'graio' is the main problem with a meaning that has to be approximated. If it is assumed that the 'i' is a softened 'g', then perhaps *-grago- means 'neck'. The tribe may have been 'the neck (throat) killers'. In its English idiom this would be the 'throat cutters'.

As well as occupying Maurienne and Alpis Graia, the tribe could also be found in parts of north-western Piedmont, on the Italian side of the Alps. They commanded an important pass through the mountains, and they made the Romans very aware of the fact by giving them a hard time as they passed through. Apart from that mention by Julius Caesar, however, they do not feature in history again.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information 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 Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars.)

58 BC

Despite the death of 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.

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

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 that 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, 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).

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 is now tied to that of the empire.