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


MapLatovici / Latobici (Gauls / Belgae?)

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, the Latovici were a minor tribe that was located in north-western Illyria, (in the modern Balkans), the most southern of all the Gaulish tribes. They were neighboured to the north by the Carni and a pocket of the Boii, to the east and south by Illyrian tribes, and across the Adriatic Gulf of Venice by the Veneti.

The tribe should not be confused with the Latovici on the east bank of the Rhine, although they may once have been a single people. Instead they were counted as part of the Norici, the Celts 'from the north' who occupied the territory between the southern bank of the Danube and north-western Illyria. The use of 'from the north' suggests infiltration from northern Europe, perhaps by a possible Germanic element but perhaps also by Celts migrating southwards to submerge an earlier population (whether this earlier population were Celts themselves or - almost certainly - something else, such as Raetians).

The tribal names all point to Germanic influence, though, so from just how far north did these Celts travel? Given the Germanic influence at such an early date, before Germanic migration outwards from Scandinavia and the Cimbric peninsula, then it must have been from around this area, Northern Europe, in modern Denmark or the nearby southern shore of the Baltic Sea. If that's the case - and it would seem to be - then the Taurisci and their associated (and equally weirdly-named) tribes must have been Belgae, not Gauls. The date of their migration from the Baltic to their arrival on the Danube around 300 BC would give them time enough if they were part of the general movement of Belgic peoples, with many going east (to form the Venedi) and west (to form the Belgae of Caesar's time). This third group must have returned southwards to their ancient homeland in Central Europe, and kept on going, perhaps due to local resistance to their arrival. But for the naming peculiarities, this theory cannot be proven at all, but the naming peculiarities are extremely peculiar otherwise.

The tribe's name is a rather confusing one to break down, with far too many possibilities available. Proto-Celtic has *lat-, meaning 'day', or *latākā-, *latjo-, meaning 'mud', or *lati-, meaning 'liquor', or even *lāto-, meaning 'lust' - take your pick. The second part, 'brig', is a fort and 'vic' is a fight, while 'wik' in proto-Celtic means 'village'. Perhaps the tribe were the Latovici and their town was Latobrigi, although none of the options for 'lato' really makes much sense. However, 'wik' has alternatives available, including *wīk-ā- (?), meaning 'fight', *wik-ari- (?), meaning 'fierce', *wik-e/o-, again meaning 'fight', or the aforementioned *wīko-, *wīku-, meaning 'village'. A literal interpretation of 'lust fort' ('lato-brigi') brings to mind 'Roaring Camp', but a more hilarious approach would be to assume that some tribal leader was particularly well known as a cocksman and was given the nickname Latos, meaning lust, along the same lines as Morgan the Goat in the film, The Man Who Went Up A Hill And Came Down A Mountain. If that interpretation is too irreverent, perhaps 'the day fort [people] of the 'day bridge' is preferable.

As that explanation is pretty unsatisfactory, a leap would be to suggest that the proto-Celtic word list is missing something. In modern Welsh the 'L' would have doubled and the 't' softened to a 'dd' (which is voiced as a 'th'), all of which provides the much more satisfying 'lladd' [lladd-; 3.s. & 2.s.imp. lladd] (v.), meaning 'kill, slay, slaughter; cut'. This would provide 'the fighting killers', which is pretty fierce... if not as much fun as 'lust fort'.

The Roman-era town of Praetorium Latovicorum is mentioned in the land of the Latovici by the Antonine Itinerary. This was on the road from Aemona to Sirmium, and was close to modern Trebnje in Slovenia. There was also Municipium Flavium Latobicorum Neviodunum, modern Drnovo near Krško. The tribe seems not to have been mentioned by ancient authors on an individual basis until the first century BC. This appears to point to a late emergence as a separate tribe, probably as the Taurisci confederation was becoming fragmented under pressure from Roman advances.

(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 the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith, and from External Links: On the Celtic Tribe of Taurisci, Mitka Guštin, and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

c.300 BC

By the Late Iron Age, the area between the southern edge of the Eastern Alps and the Northern Adriatic has long been inhabited by diverse prehistoric populations, such as the Raeti and Ligurians. Some newcomers arrive into the area around this time in the form of Celtic communities from north of the Danube, the heart of Celtic culture (possibly from so far north that they are in fact Belgae). The presence of the Celts in this area is first noted after 1829, when hoards of Celtic coins are discovered in the area of Celje, in Vrhnika and in Šmarjeta.

The modern southern Austrian region of Carinthia marked the upper edge of the Adriatic hinterland which was first occupied by Celts towards the end of the fourth century BC

The tribes concerned are determined by the historian Albert Muchar to be the Latovici, Serapili, Sereti, and Taurisci. The native communities in the hinterland of the Adriatic between Carinthia and Carniola are relatively rapidly assimilated by the Celtic newcomers, soon losing their identity completely. The Celtic coins are classed as 'Tauriscan coinage' (also known as the Eastern Norican type). They display the motif of Apollo with a diadem on the adverse, and a horseman who is identified with the name of a prince on the reverse.

1st century BC

The graves of this period show typical inventories comprising red burnt biconical pots, cups, grave vessels with brushed ornamentation, and ritually destroyed weapons (in addition to Celtic swords the graves also contain five gladii and two Roman Weisenau-type helmets, and early metal and pottery vessels frequently accompany footed beakers in the graves.

These all serve to indicate that the population of Verdun, Novo Mesto, and Mihovo below the slopes of the Gorjanci Mountains is Celtic, perhaps belonging to the Latovici - a small community that is mentioned in the texts of Roman writers. Their territory is defined by ceramic footed beakers typical of central Slovenia during the first century BC and by characteristic house-shaped cinerary urns from the Roman period. The Roman names of some settlements, such as Praetorium Latobicorum (modern Trebnje) and Municipium Flavium Latobicorum Neviodunum (modern Drnovo near Krško) bear witness to the presence of the Latovici.

c.60 - 40 BC

From the latter part of the first century BC and into the next century, various historians mention a variety of tribes and their affiliates which are uniformly identified as being Taurisci, together with a variety of other Cisalpine tribes which include the Norici and Iapydes (not all of which are Celtic in origin). Strabo mentions the Taurisci in his Natural History as being strictly Celtic, as does Livy writing the History of Rome around 10 BC. Pliny the Elder, writing his own Natural History in the mid-first century AD, does the same, along with Apian and Cassius Dio in the second and third centuries AD, saying that the Taurisci are a warrior-like tribe that often plunders Roman territory in the hinterlands of Tergestica (modern Trieste). By this time, the Taurisci and their fellow Celts have picked up a good deal of local influence, partially from the Scordisci and partially from the remaining indigenous population.

The other tribes mentioned as individual groups of the Taurisci confederation include: the Carni, who occupy the Carnian Alps, on the edge of the south-eastern Alps; the Latovici between Krka and Sava; the Varciani along the Sava towards Sisak; the Serapili and Sereti along the River Drava on the edge of Pannonia; and the Iasi towards Varaždin.

Ancient authors also list several smaller indigenous communities, such as the Illyrian Colapiani along the River Kolpa, the Celtic Ambisontes in the Soča Valley, the Subocrini around Razdrto, and the Rundicti in the Kras and Notranjska regions. The Great Tauriscan tribal community with some identified smaller tribes (such as the Latovici) has never developed into a state formation, but it is becoming known collectively as the Norici.

35 - 33 BC

Eastern Tauriscan tribes are defeated by Octavian between these dates, while the western tribes that border the Carni come under the dominion of the 'Kingdom of Noricum'. This means that the Norici name is starting to take over from that of the Taurisci as a description not only of that tribe but of all the region's Celts, probably as a result of the defeat by Rome.

Praetorium Latobicorum
In the Roman era, the Latovici settlement at Praetorium Latobicorum (near modern Trebnje in Slovenia) became a military outpost which has left surviving ruins

The Roman state gradually absorbs the Celtic and indigenous populations and completely Romanises them through a combination of military force, economic pressure, political organisation, and their own way of life. The indigenous population survives in the towns and village settlements, whose names frequently denote the area of a specific tribal group (such as, for example, Praetorium Latobicorum (modern Trebnje), and Municipium Flavium Latobi-corum Neviodunum (modern Drnovo, near Krško).

16 - 15 BC

The Norican kingdom is subdued by Rome, at the hands of Drusus and Tiberius. Later in the Augustinian period Roman weaponry, such as the short gladii and Wiesenau-type helmets, appear in the territory of the Taurisci. Their presence indicates that the Celts, especially those above Gorjanci, frequently opt to serve in Roman auxiliary units and preserve some rights in the middle and end of the first century BC and into the beginning of the first century AD. While the Norici name survives to collectively describe the Celts of this region, the names of individual tribes fade.

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