History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 84

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Graioceli / Garocelli (Gauls / Celto-Ligurians?)

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, while also extending into Switzerland, northern Italy, and along the Danube (see feature link for a discussion of the origins of the Celtic name).

MapBy the middle of the first century BC, there existed a cluster of smaller tribes in the Alpine region of western Switzerland and the French/Italian border (see map link for all tribal locations). 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 which 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'.

Following the Celtic breakthrough of the western Alps between about 600-400 BC, not all Gaulish groups involved actually entered Italy. Some integrated themselves along the western Alps between Lake Constance and Nice. Some may already have been there beforehand, although the case for the Graioceli is unclear. What they would have found there were many Ligurian tribes. Intermixing would have followed to create Celto-Ligurian tribes, although these were largely located well to the south of the Graioceli. The same process would have affected the larger Celtic tribes too, even if it was probably to a lesser extent. The Graioceli can probably be included amongst this number, although any Ligurian influence seems to have been limited.

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 their mention by Julius Caesar, however, they do not feature in history again.

The Alps

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information by Trish Wilson, 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), from Les peuples préromains du Sud-Est de la Gaule: Étude de géographie historique, Guy Barruol (De Boccard, 1999), and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and L'Arbre Celtique (The Celtic Tree, in French), and Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz or Dictionnaire Historique de la Suisse or Dizionario Storico dell Svizzera (in German, French, and Italian respectively).)

58 BC

Despite the death of their king, 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.

Map of Alpine and Ligurian tribes, c.200-15 BC
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, while above that is a map showing the post-Celtic, but pre-Roman, occupancy of the Alps and surrounding regions (click or tap on map to view full sized)

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 which 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 during the Alpine Wars, 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).

La Turbie and the Trophy of Augustus
The Tropaeum Alpium ('Trophy of the Alps') stands majestically in the commune of La Turbie on the French Riviera, overlooking the principality of Monaco, and marking the final victory over the Alpine tribes by Augustus

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 and Celto-Ligurians is now tied to that of the empire.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.