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

Aquitani Tribes


Lactorates (Celts? / 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 Lactorates (or Lectorates) are generally claimed as an Aquitani tribe, with their principal civitas being Lactora, today's city of Lectoure (Gers). They were neighboured by the Sotiates to the west, the Ausci to the south and the Volcae Tectosages to the east, with their territory for the most part corresponding to the north of the current department of Gers, and parts of Lot-et-Garonne and Tarn-et-Garonne on the left bank of the Garonne. That river formed their northern border, notably around the confluence of the Garonne and the Tarn.

This was one of the nine tribes of Aquitaine which were formed into the Novempopulania well into the Roman period. Despite claims of them being Aquitani, however, their name is a very easy Celtic one to break down. Removing the plural suffixes leaves a core word of 'lakto-' or 'glakto-', which means 'milk'. This group were 'the milkers', a very good name for Celts who were proud of their valuable cattle.

The tribe may not have opposed the Roman conquest of the Aquitani in 56 BC and 28 BC, with the Greek historian Diodorus describing a visit to Rome by one Piso, presumed to be of the Lactorates, who subsequently returned to his people to rule over them. Dating seems to be unavailable for this event, but the lack of Lactorates opposition to Rome and the dates in which Diodorus wrote (about 60-30 BC) suggest that it predated the battles of 56 BC.

Their territory covered about 98,000 hectares, stretching from the Garonne in the north to the present-day communes of Pouy-Roquelaure and Mauvezin in the south, both communes being in the Département de Gers. Archaeological excavations have uncovered multiple signs of trade with Rome, both during the early Roman period and well before conquest, which tends to reinforce the idea of an early alliance.

In the Eugene-Camoreyt Museum in Lectoure, the inscription on one of the preserved taurobolic altars shows that it was offered by the 'Republic of Lactorates' for the salvation of the imperial family. According to the linguist, Joaquín Gorrochategui, 'Aquitaine also underwent a deep Gallic influence, more remarkable as one moves away from the Pyrenees to the north and east of the region... [with] testimony providing evidence of this penetration [in the form of] the names of Gallic persons and deities', along with other naming practices.

There is a suspicion amongst some modern scholars that the Lactorates may have been one and the same tribe as the Sotiates, or at least a division of them. They were mentioned by Antoninus and were adjudged to be Sotiates at least by the nineteenth century Prussian historian, Konrad Mannert. Possibly they were in the process of creating an independent identity when the Romans conquered the region. To extend that theory, perhaps they sought alliance with Rome to protect themselves from Sotiates reprisals.

Pyrenees National Park in France

(Information by Edward Dawson, Peter Kessler, and Trish Wilson, with additional information from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Prichard, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, from Geography, Strabo, translated by H C Hamilton Esq & W Falconer, M A, Ed (George Bell & Sons, London, 1903), 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).)

c.70 - 56? BC

The first century BC Greek historian, Diodorus, mentions a king by the name of Piso who comes to Rome to be initiated into Roman civilisation. Then he returns to his own lands where he becomes the ruler of his people, thanks to support from the Roman senate. He remains loyal as a faithful ally of Rome.

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)

fl 60s/50s? BC


King of the Lactorates? Ally of Rome.

There appears to be no firm evidence to pinpoint the tribe to which Piso returns, but a general acceptance favours the Lactorates. The tribe does not oppose Rome in the coming wars, unlike their neighbours, the Ausci and Elusates who are defeated by Crassus in 56 BC. This allegiance to Rome may explain the lack of historical documentation about them, owing to an absence of any feats of arms.

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.

When news of the final 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'.

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

Smaller Aquitani tribes such as the Benearni are not mentioned directly but, as they generally sit within the shadow of the much more powerful larger tribes, their surrender is entirely to be expected. Today those on the western bank of the Garonne form part of the largely unofficial Basque Country.

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.

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.

Caesar Augustus
During his long 'reign' as Rome's first citizen, Augustus brought peace to that city and oversaw its transition from failing republic to vigorous and expanding empire

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.


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.

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