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European Kingdoms

Aquitani Tribes


Ilurensis / Iluronenses (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 Ilurensis or Illuronenses were an Aquitani tribe (proto-Basques) which inhabited part of the central-southern side of what became the Roman province of Aquitania. In fact, based on later evidence, it is more likely that this tribe was a sub-tribe of the populous Tarbelli of the Atlantic coast, with the mighty Vascones to their south, the Boiates to the north, and the Vasates, Tarusates, Benearni, and Illuronenses to their east (travelling north-to-south). The Illuronenses themselves were additionally bordered by the Bigerri to their east.

The tribe's principal civitas lay in the later province of Novempopulania. It is mentioned in Diocletian's Notitia Galliarum as the city of 'ciuitas Elloronensium' (with 'ciutas' meaning 'civitas'). This Latin name is understood to have derived from that of the people who were living in the city of Iluro, the Illuronenses, today's Oloron-Sainte-Marie.

Tribal territory appears to have corresponded largely to that of the former diocese of Oloron-Sainte-Marie (before 1790), namely Soule, the Aspe Valley, the Ossau Valley, and the Ouzom Valley, the first two being in the Pyrenees Atlantiques and the other two in the Hautes Pyrenees. Between the first centuries BC and AD other tribes were mentioned as living in this territory, in the form of the Suburates in the Soule and the Oscidates in the Ossau Valley.

These populations were not mentioned in Ptolemy's later work, implying that they were included in a greater population, most certainly that of the Tarbelli, There is plenty to suggest that it was only after the creation of Novempopulania (between AD 271-285) that the list of tribes was updated for this area, and that what had been the territory of the Tabelli was reduced to accommodate updated information in the case of this tribe taking its name from their principal civitas of Iluro.

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).)

AD 271

During his reign, Rome's Emperor Diocletian oversees the formulation of the Notitia Galliarum. One of the cities which are included in its pages is the city of 'ciuitas Elloronensium' (with 'ciutas' meaning 'civitas'). This Latin name is understood to derive from that of the people who are living in the city of Iluro (today's Oloron-Sainte-Marie).

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)

However, this population is labelled the Iluronenses, and this is their first mention in history. Their territory is in the same vicinity as the former territory of the Oscidates and Suburates, but neither of those tribes are now mentioned.

This suggests that they had never been full tribes in their own right (the Tarbelli are the greater host in this region and may have absorbed any individual identity), or that population or Roman organisational changes over two centuries have resulted in naming changes.


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.

The Hand of Irulegi
The 'Hand of Irulegi' was discovered by archaeologists in 2021 in the burned-out ruins of a pre-Roman Basque village which had been destroyed during the Sertorian War (80-72 BC)

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