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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapLeuci (Belgae)
Incorporating the Betasii

FeatureIn general terms, the Romans coined the name 'Gaul' to describe the Celtic tribes of what is now central, northern, and eastern France. To the north of these were the tribes of the Belgae, divided from the Gauls by the rivers Marne and the Seine. The Leuci may have been included amongst the Belgae, being located in the midst of them by the middle of the first century BC. At this time they occupied parts of the modern regions of Alsace and Lorraine on the west bank of the Rhine. They were neighboured to the north by the Remi and Mediomatrici, to the east, near the Rhine, by the Germanic Nemetes and Triboci, to the south by the Lingones, and to the west by the Tricasses and Catalauni.

The Belgae would seem to be an eastern branch of Celts who migrated to the Atlantic coast some time after their Gaulish cousins had already established themselves to the south. Their dialect probably used a 'b' or a 'v' sound where their western cousins in Gaul used a 'w' sound, opening up different interpretations for their names. The Leuci name is an easy one to interpret. It comes from the Celtic *leuko-, which means 'white'. The tribe were very descriptively known as 'the whites' or 'the blonds'.

This small tribe occupied land in the upper reaches of the Lorraine, somewhere around the span between the rivers Mosella (the modern Moselle) and the Mosa (now the Meuse). Their oppidum was Tullum (modern Toul, on the banks of the Moselle in north-eastern France), which remained their capital under Roman administration. They also had some hillforts, including smaller examples at Boviolles and Vosges. The tribe were united in a policy of mutual support with the neighbouring Catalauni and Mediomatrici, and may once have been a client unit of the latter. Pliny described the tribe in his Natural History as liberi, which suggests that they may have enjoyed a level of freedom under Roman administration.

Pliny the Elder places another small tribe called the Betasii or Baetasii along side the Leuci, between them and the Frisabones. This tribe is one of the most obscure of this region and period. They are usually classed as Germans, perhaps being of the same general group as the nearby Batavi or Frisii. Despite a position for the tribe being provided by Pliny, their location remains unknown. It may be possible that they did not settle at all for quite some time, finding encampments between the other tribes and being linked to various places and other tribes as a result, such as the Cugerni and Sinuci. Tacitus also mentions the Betasii when detailing the events of the first century AD Batavian revolt, seemingly placing them near the Nervii and Tungri, further contributing to their possible status as drifters. Subsequent mentions are linked to the Roman military, in which Betasii elements frequently served.

(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 Natural History, Pliny, from Geography, Ptolemy, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Pritchard, and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

58 BC

The Aeduii appeal to Rome for relief from Ariovistus' alleged cruelty towards them. Having just defeated the Helvetii and created problems for himself with the possibility of Germanic incursions into Gaul, Julius Caesar, in his role first as consul and then as governor of Gaul (from 58 BC), appears to pursue a diplomatic course that will deliberately end in warfare. Caesar is also informed that a further hundred units of Suevi are about to cross the Rhine.

Vosges Mountains
The Vosges Mountains probably lay on the southern borders of Leuci territory, which would explain their building of a hillfort there and which was also the scene of the battle of 58 BC

The showdown happens at the Battle of Vosges (one of the Leuci hillforts) following an unsuccessful face-to-face parley between the two leaders. The Sequani, Leuci and Lingones have supplied his troops with corn as promised, so now he is ready to face the Germans. The Suevi host lines up in units of tribal groups, but superior Roman tactics breaks the line and the Suevi host makes a run for the Rhine. Ariovistus makes it across, but many of his allies now turn on him and the core Suebi. The defeated Suevi now avoid the Rhine for generations, concentrating on building a fresh confederation in central Germania.

Northern Gaul is soon brought under Roman domination, and the history of its population of Celts is tied to that of the empire.

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