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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapLemovici / Lemovices (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. By the middle of the first century BC, the Lemovici were located in southern-central in Gaul, around modern Limoges and concentrated on the modern départements of Charente and Haute Vienne. They were neighboured to the north-west by the powerful Pictones, to the north by the Bituriges Cubi, to the north-east and east by the Arverni, to the south by the Cadurci, to the south-west by the Petrocorii, and to the west by the Santones.

The tribe's name breaks down into two elements after the Latin suffix has been removed. These are 'lem' (lemos) and 'vic' (wik). The first, 'lemos', is not listed, but the similar 'limos' is an elm. The modern Welsh form is 'llwyfen', although the modern 'f' was an 'm' before the sound shifted during the sixth to eighth centuries AD. The 'vic' element could either be 'wiko', a 'village', as a noun or 'wike/o', 'fight', as a verb. Going with the noun because it makes more sense, it provides 'village elm'. Would this be a traditional name of the tribe's origin at a village with elms? An educated guess is that the 'village' would have been adjacent to an elm grove used for religious purposes. Only then would this make sense (prestige-wise) as a tribal name. The Lemovii name is very similar.

The tribe occupied a fairly large swathe of territory in the modern Haute-Vienne département, suggesting that they were at least powerful enough to prevent encroachment by other tribes, especially the Pictones and Arverni. They had an oppidum called Durotincum (modern Villejoubert in the Charente département, immediately to the east of the Haute-Vienne). Following subjugation by Rome, this was replaced by Augustoritum Lemovicum (modern Limoges in the Haute-Vienne), which was part of the Roman province of Aquitania I. There were other tribal centres at Acitodunum (Ahun in the Creuse département, eastwards of Durotincum), Excingidiacum (Yssandon, to the south-west of Acitodunum), and Uxellum (Ussel, to the south-east of Acitodunum). The Lemovici name survives, of course, in the modern Limoges region.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, 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.)

c.700 - 400 BC

The Celtic ancestors of the Lemovices establish themselves in the Limoges region of Gaul. Although the process of Gaulish expansion is known to start around 700 BC, it may take as long as three hundred years before many of the tribes known to later historians arrive or are formed from the stream of migrants. The Lemovices found a capital at Durotincum (modern Villejoubert).

? - 52 BC

Sedullos / Sedulius

Uergobretos (chief magistrate). Killed at Alesia.

53 BC

On 13 February 53 BC the disaffected Carnutes massacre every Roman merchant who is present in the town of Cenabum, as well as killing one of Caesar's commissariat officers. This is the spark that ignites a massed Gaulish rebellion. While Julius Caesar is occupied in the lands of the Belgae, Vercingetorix has renewed the Arverni subjugation of the Aeduii. He has also restored the reputation of Arverni greatness by leading the revolt that is building against Rome.

Romans versus Gauls
Organising the various tribes of Gaul into a unified resistance took some doing, but Vercingetorix of the Arverni appears to have held a level of authority which made him a leader not to be refused, and thousands of warriors flocked to join him

Despite his former allegiance to Julius Caesar, in the winter of 53-52 BC Commius of the Atrebates uses his contacts with the Bellovaci to convince them to contribute 2,000 men to an army. This army will join other Gauls to form a massive relief force at Alesia in the last stage of the revolt. The Lemovices are also amongst the first tribes to commit to joining Vercingetorix, contributing 10,000 men. The Mediomatrici send 5,000 men, and the Andes, Ruteni, and Turones are also amongst the first to commit.

52 BC

While Caesar is tied down in Rome, the Gauls begin their revolt, resolving to die in freedom rather than be suppressed by the invaders. Vercingetorix is expelled from the Arverni town of Gergovia by his uncle, Gobanitio, and the rest of the nobles in their fear of revolting against Rome. Despite this, he gathers together an army. The Aulerci, Cadurci, Lemovices, Parisii, Pictones, Senones, and Turones all join him, as do all of the tribes that border the ocean. The Treveri support the revolt but are pinned down by German tribes.

Vercingetorix, after sustaining a series of losses at Vellaunodunum, Genabum, and Noviodunum, summons his men to a council in which it is decided that the Romans should be prevented from being able to gather supplies. A scorched earth policy is adopted, and more than twenty towns of the Bituriges are burned in one day, although their oppidum at Avaricum is spared. Eventually, Vercingetorix has to withdraw in good order to Alesia, a major fort belonging to the Mandubii. The remaining cavalry are dispatched back to their tribes to bring reinforcements. Caesar begins a siege of Alesia, aiming on starving out the inhabitants.

The site of Alesia
The site of Alesia, a major fort belonging to the Mandubii tribe of Celts, was the scene of the final desperate stand-off between Rome and the Gauls in 52 BC

Four relief forces amounting to a considerable number of men and horses are assembled in the territory of the Aeduii by the council of the Gaulish nobility. Among those demanded from the tribes of Gaul are ten thousand each from the Bellovaci, Helvetii, Lemovices and Lingones. They attempt to relieve Vercingetorix at the siege of Alesia, but the combined relief force is soundly repulsed by Julius Caesar's remarkable strategy of simultaneously conducting the siege of Alesia on one front whilst being besieged on the other. Sedullos of the Lemovices is killed. Seeing that all is lost, Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar. The garrison is taken prisoner, as are the survivors from the relief army. They are either sold into slavery or given as booty to Caesar's legionaries, apart from the Aeduii and Arverni warriors who are released and pardoned in order to secure the allegiance of these important and powerful tribes.

52? BC


Son of Dumnorix. Uergobretos.

52? BC

An inscription is later discovered in rock in the Gaulish city of Augustoritum Lemovicum (modern Limoges). It reveals a yet incomplete Romanisation of the tribe by stating: 'Postumus, vergobret, son of Dumnorix' (the latter having no relation to the Aeduii leader of the same name). The word 'vergobret' is the same as 'uergobretos', meaning chief magistrate, the equivalent of a king in German tribes. Celtic chiefs are often elected, and sometimes for fixed periods, so the title is not an hereditary one, but it does mark out Postumus as a chief, perhaps one who had been born after the death of his father.

However, this position is likely to have a limited lifetime, with Rome taking full administrative control of the tribe with no more than half a century. With this action, all of Gaul 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.

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