History Files

European Kingdoms



Ligurians / Ligures
Incorporating the Adunicates, Agenisates, Agones, Agoni, Anesiates, Aneuniates, Antipolitani, Apauni, Decietae, Epanterii, Hercates, Inguani, Intemelii, Laevi, Marisci, Orobi, Oxybii, Tergestini, Vagienni, & Vertamocori

Prior to domination by Rome, the Alpine region contained various populations which had a complex, obscure, and ethnically-multilayered history. Two major ethnic groups were recorded (aside from intrusions by the Etruscans and Veneti), these being the Euganei on the north Italian plain and the Alpine foothills, and the Raeti in the Trentino and Alto Adige valleys.

There were a great many more minor groups, all of which seem to have formed part of the initial phase of the Golasecca culture. Generally they belonged to one or the other of these though, or to the coastal Ligurians who had gradually penetrated the Alps from the south, but who also extended a considerable way westwards along the Mediterranean coast.

The Ligurians (Ligures, Liguri or, to the Greeks, Ligyes (Αίγυες) and Ligystini (Αιγυστῖνοι)) were a people who, before and during the Roman republic period, could be found in north-western Italy. They largely occupied territory which today forms the region of Liguria, extending west into Piedmont to the south of the River Po and even as far as the French Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region.

Prior to Roman pressure they may have extended as far as northern Tuscany and across the Pyrenees into Catalonia (although the western Iberian Cynetes also have a claimed connection).

MapTheir general spread prior to being hemmed in by later arrivals seems to have been as part of a pre-Indo-European population which occupied much of the western Mediterranean coastline (see map for more information).

They may well have started out as Neolithic/Palaeolithic people - and they are described as being of the small stature which would have been typical of Neolithic Farmers, and brave, strong, and energetic - but they may have been Indo-Europeanised by the Bell Beaker culture, and then were quickly and heavily Celticised as these people gained regional ascendancy across Central Europe and far beyond. This is where the DNA record gains much of its muddle, a problem with all of the Alpine groups as explained on the main Alpine tribes page.

A breakdown of the Lingones tribal name shows that the core 'ling' is the actual name. Since in proto-Celtic *liguru- means 'tongue' and in Latin 'lingua' means both language and tongue, or speech, then one may guess that the name is some dialect of Celtic which perhaps has been influenced by another speech due to a non-Celtic tribe being conquered, such as the Vindelici perhaps.

This also points to the Ligurians possibly having the same name in their pre-Indo-European speech (known as Old Ligurian). The name(s) would mean 'the speakers', perhaps in reference to orators or even druids. Sadly the Ligurians left no inscriptions, making impossible any firm identification of their language.

The Ligurians were not one people, or even a single confederation, instead being formed of several smaller groups which included (definitely) the Inguani (towards the east of their core territory) and Intemelii (or Inteme'lli, to the west but still on the eastern side of the Alps), both of whom were mentioned by Livy and in more detail by Strabo, plus (probably) the Commoni, Euganei, Salyes, Tergestini, and Trumplini.

Along with mentioning the main east and west tribes, Polybius adds the Oxybii and the Decietae (Deciates) to the list, both of which lived on the western side of the Alps. Other definite Ligurian tribes included the Apauni (near the north-west Italian coast alongside the Intemelli), the Salassi, Taurini, and Vagienni on the upper course of the Po.

There were also the Laevi (as per Livy, or the Levi according to Pliny) and Marisci to the north of the Po (not to be confused with the Marici). The Laevi are not the same as the nearby Libici, despite the similarity. The Vertamocori are otherwise unknown, but were neighbours of the Laevi and are assumed to be Ligurian.

FeatureConfirmed Celto-Ligurian hybrid tribes included the Albices and Albici to the hilly north of Marseilles. The minor Albineses, Anatilli, Aptenses, Ausuciates, Avantici, and Avatici, the Orobi (Orobii, Oribii, Orumobii, or Orumbovii) in the northern Italian valleys of Bergamo, Como, and Lecco (see below, circa 1000 BC), the Hercates, a name seemingly adopted by migrants passing through the great Hercynia silva (Hercynian Forest - see circa 2000 BC), the Reii, and the Vordesnes, and Vulgientes. The Lepontii were, questionably, Celto-Ligurians too. More information on the basic way of life and territory of the Ligurians is available via the feature link.

Other tribes which are described as being Ligurian without providing any firmer description - either in ancient records or through modern research - include the Adunicates of Andon-Caille in the Alpes Maritimes, the Agenisates (not to be confused with the Agesinates or the Cambolectri Agesinates) who occupied an area of the lower valley of the River Durance, the Agones or Agoni who were probably near Tarvisio, close to the Carnic Alps.

The Anesiates were somewhere close to Bergamo. The Aneuniates lived on the northern shores of Lake Como. The Antipolitani had a highly developed settlement in Antipolis (Antibes), at the southern end of the western Alps.

The Alps

(Information by Peter Kessler, Edward Dawson, & Trish Wilson, with additional information by Maurizio Puntin, from Res Gestae, Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus), from Ligustica, Albert Karl Ernst Bormann (in three parts, 1864-1868), from Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, Harry Thurston Peck (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1898), from the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith, from Geography, Ptolemy, from Les peuples préromains du Sud-Est de la Gaule: Étude de géographie historique, Guy Barruol (De Boccard, 1999), from Die Kelten in Österreich nach den ältesten Berichten der Antike, Gerhard Dobesch (in German), from Urbanizzazione delle campagne nell'Italia antica, Lorenzo Quilici & Stefania Quilici Gigli (in Italian), from La frontiera padana, Mauro Poletti (in Italian), and from External Links: Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Polybius, Histories, and L'Arbre Celtique (The Celtic Tree, in French), and Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz or Dictionnaire Historique de la Suisse or Dizionario Storico dell Svizzera (in German, French, and Italian respectively), and Le Alpi (Università di Trento).)

from c.2000 BC

Following their gradual arrival over the previous few centuries, West Indo-European groups (probably the earliest arrivals, the proto-Italics) have amalgamated into pre-existing Late Neolithic native populations (Ligurians) to produce the first Celto-Ligurian hybrid groups.

Source of the Ticino
The mountainous Alpine country of the Raeti into which some Ligurians also penetrated would have supplied a relatively tough tribal life, with little thriving or expansion, and relatively easy absorption into Celtic and Latin cultures

Expanding outwards from their initial Alpine and nearby territories, these tribes are currently in control of large areas of central and Western Europe, but not necessarily the deep Mediterranean coastal strip which forms the core Ligurian territory.

Represented by Bell Beaker culture, and with some knowledge of copper-working, some of the outermost elements of these new arrivals also begin moving into the British Isles. Those which remain behind are gradually superseded by Urnfield folk and eventually become fully Celticised.

The Hercates tribe of Celto-Ligurians is one of those to form at some point after the arrival of West Indo-Europeans. The tribe's name is an interesting one, not least because it closely mirrors that of the Celtic tribe called the Hercuniates.

Both are named after an ancient proto-Indo-European word for an oak: 'perkʷu-s', or 'perk' plus suffixes. The word survives in English, but Celtic uses an unrelated word for oak, 'deru' or 'derwa'. The 'p' in 'perku' later becomes an 'h' (and is dropped entirely by the English). So the name of both tribes refers to an ancient word for oak.

The Romans later record the name of Hercynia silva, the vast Hercynian Forest, which spread eastwards from southern Germany and which proves a serious impediment to Roman expansion. The Greeks know it as Orcynia - the same name with a slight variation in spelling.

Hercynian Forest
The Riesengebirge was part of the once-vast Hercynian Forest which spread eastwards from southern Germany and which proved a serious impediment to Roman expansion

This is the 'oak forest', and its name seems already to be old by the time it is recorded - so old in fact that 'herk' means 'oak' no matter who lives there or records its existence.

This implies that it dates back to proto-West-Indo-European, virtually the first arrival of Indo-Europeans in the region. It also means that early-forming Celto-Ligurians could adopt the name as the Hercates, and later-emerging Celts could do so as the Hercuniates.

from c.1000 BC

The Orobii tribe of Ligurians inhabits the northern Italian valleys of Bergamo, Como, and Lecco in the first millennium BC. Pliny the Elder ascribes to them the foundation of the cities of Como, Bergamo, Licini Forum, and Parra.

He and his contemporaries think of them as being of Greek origin, tracing the etymology of their ethnonym from the Greek 'Ορων βιον'. Modern scholars see the Orobii as a population of Celticised Ligurians (Celto-Ligurians) which forms between this point and around 600 BC thanks to the contribution of Celtic immigrants from the Rhine and Danube areas.

Map of the Etruscans
This map shows not only the greatest extent of Etruscan influence in Italy, during the seventh to fifth centuries BC, but also Gaulish intrusion to the north, which compressed Etruscan borders there (click or tap on map to view on a separate page)

c.600 BC

The first century BC writer, Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus), writes of an invasion into Italy of Celts during the reign of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, king of Rome. This event will reshape the Alpine populations into a pattern which is familiar to Romans of the first century BC

Bellovesus and his massed horde of people from the Bituriges, Insubres, and several other tribes begin a migration across the Alps and into northern Italy. This barrier is one which has apparently not previously been breached by Celts, but they are also deterred by a sense of religious obligation, triggered by news reaching them that another group looking for territory, a force of Massalians, is under attack by the Salyes (Ligurians).

Seeing this as an omen of their own fortunes, the Celts briefly go to the assistance of the Massalians to help them secure their position. Then they make the crossing with some trepidation, heading through the passes of the Taurini and the valley of the Douro.

Following that they defeat Etruscans in battle not far from the Ticinus. Bellovesus and his people settle around the Ticinus and build a settlement called Mediolanum (modern Milan).

Map of Alpine and Ligurian tribes, c.200-15 BC
The origins of the Euganei, Ligurians, Raeti, Veneti, and Vindelici are confused and unclear, but in the last half of the first millennium BC they were gradually being Celticised or were combining multiple influences to create hybrid tribes (click or tap on map to view full sized)

As archaeology seems to point to a start date of around 500 BC for the beginning of a serious wave of Celtic incursions into Italy, this event has either been misremembered by later Romans or is an early precursor to the main wave of incursions, probably as a result of the same apparent overpopulation which doubtless forces the start of migration into Iberia around a century earlier than this.

That overpopulation is very evident in Gaul, as this is the direction from which the Celts travel. Their advance into the Po Valley means confrontation with Etruscans who dwell between the Apennines and the Alps.

It also forces the Ligurians southwards (although not exclusively), and the ancestors of the Lepontii northwards, while the Raeti also have to relocate, concentrating themselves in the Alps (according to Pliny the Elder).

It is possible that the Ligurian relocation serves to fracture once-large tribes into the many smaller units which are later recorded in the western Alps (and beyond in the case of a potential component of the Cantabri tribe).

Few, if any tribal oppida are known, although best guesses are provided. Celticisation follows relocation to create many Celto-Ligurian tribes, as well as others, less well defined, which are included below. Many of these are located in what is now France, close to the Italian border, or along the Ligurian coast:

Ligurian coastline
The Ligurian coastline of modern Italy owes its name to the Ligurian people, a pre-Indo-European grouping which probably consisted of several influences prior to being Latinised by the Romans

The Adunicates live to the north of the Oxybii (see 154 BC), to the east of the Ligauni (see below), and to the south of the Suetri. They occupy territory which includes Andon-Caille in the Alpes Maritimes, at the source of the Le Loup river which is famous for its gorges and cascades.

The Agenisates (not to be confused with their very similarly-named near-neighbours, the Agesinates) are held to have lived in the 'somewhat still desolate region' of the lower valley of the River Durance. The best estimation is that they occupied territory around Miramas and its vicinity, not far to the north of the Etang de Berre, and not far from Aix en Provence (Aquae Sextiae) to the east.

The Agones or Agoni are mentioned by Polybius. He, though, associates them with the Taurisci of Carinthia rather than the Taurini, the only Alpine tribe to be so labelled. Such an association would by necessity place them along one of the connecting corridors across the Alps of north-eastern Italy, likely near Tarvisio which sits between the Carnic Alps and the Julian Alps.

The Anesiates left very little trace in the historical record. Almost all that is known is that they were neighboured by the better-known Orobii (see 1000 BC), above) and that they lived just north of Bergamo.

The modern southern Austrian region of Carinthia marked the upper edge of the Adriatic hinterland, and the southern borders of Samo's seventh century Slav kingdom, one of the earliest Slav states to appear

The hamlet of Nese derives its name from a stream called the Nesa (from which they would have gained their name), part of the community (commune) of Alzano Lombardo about eleven kilometres to the north-east of Bergamo. They have also been placed between Nese and the hamlet of Alzano di Sopra, just north of Alzano Lombardo proper.

The Aneuniates are little known other than on an inscription dated to the second century AD in Gera Lario, at the very northern end of Lake Como, on the architrave of a temple which is dedicated to Jupiter.

The tribe dwell on the northern shores of Lake Como, around the settlement of Summus Lacus (today's Samolaco, about fifty-one kilometres to the north of Como and 7.5 kilometres north of Gera Lario). They are neighboured to the south by the Ausuciates and the Orobii (see 1000 BC), and to the north by the Bergalei (see below).

The Antipolitani are said to be of Greek-Latin origin, occupying territory between the rivers Siagne and Le Loup (Alpes-Maritimes), with their principal civitas at Antipolis (Antibes, at the southern end of the western Alps). The colony of Antipolis only finds safety and stability after the events of 155-154 BC - see below).

Antibes in France
The city of Antipolis (Antibes) in the south of France is nestled between Cannes and Nice, with its origins dating to between about 300-200 BC as a sub-colony of a larger colony - Massalia (Marseilles)

c.400 - 391 BC

According to local history, the territory of the Ausuciates falls under the domination of the powerful Insubres tribe of Celts following their breakout into northern Italy. The Ausuciates would appear to gain a Celtic ruling elite, with the tribe's name being adapted by these incomers to Auxucii (from which today's Ossuccio descends, and with the name being recorded by the Romans).

Following the route set by Bellovesus and the Bituriges around 600 BC, other bodies of Celts have gradually invaded northern Italy, probably due to overpopulation in Gaul and the promise of fertile territory just waiting to be captured.

The first of these is the Cenomani, followed by the Libui and Saluvii, both of which settle near the ancient Ligurian tribe, the Laevi (and presumably the otherwise unknown Vertamocori).

But it may be this very Celtic ingress into the northern Italian plain which serves to marginalise what become the Celto-Ligurians of the western Alps, perhaps the Salassi, and perhaps also the Lepontii too.

The Ingauni name is first mentioned in 205 BC, on the occasion of the landing of Mago, brother of Hannibal of Carthage, in Liguria. The Ingauni are currently engaged in hostilities against the Epanterii, a neighbouring tribe which appears to dwell further inland.

Ruins of Carthage
The city of Carthage existed in its original glory for at least four hundred and twenty-eight years before it was destroyed by the Romans - and possibly another two centuries before that as a developing colony which was founded by Phoenicians

Mago concludes an alliance with the Inguani, and supports them against the Alpine tribes of the interior. He subsequently returns to their capital following his defeat by the Romans in Cisalpine Gaul during the Second Punic War, and it is from here that he departs for Africa in 203 BC.

185 - 180 BC

The Ingauni are at war with the Romans in 185 BC. Their territory is invaded by Consul Appius Claudius, who defeats them in several battles and takes six of their towns. Four years later, in 181/180 BC, they are still in arms, and are attacked for the second time, by Proconsul Aemilius Paullusm, having come close to overwhelming him in his camp.

Roman accounts state that fifteen thousand of the enemy are killed and two-and-a-half thousand are taken prisoner (seemingly an imbalance as prisoners more normally outnumber fatalities). This victory procures the submission of the whole of the Ligurian people to Roman authority.

The maritime Intemelli and Ingauni and their piratical habits are mentioned at this point in history - 180 BC - when a Roman squadron has to pay them a visit to repress their activities.

Roman silver dinarius
Pictured here are both sides of a Roman silver dinarius from the official mint, dated to around 146 BC - the mounted attacker on the reverse accompanied by his dog is fairly typical as Roman troops would often bring their mastiffs along with them so that, while the soldier was fighting the enemy above with spear and long knife, their dogs would be biting the enemy's legs from below

A colony of Ligurians is transplanted from the north by Rome and resettled in the Tamarus valley, close to the Hirpini and to the north of Beneventum. Known as the Ligures Barniani et Corneliani, their colony is still recognisably distinct during the lifetime of Pliny in the first century AD.

155 - 154 BC

The Hellenic city of Massalia, with its ties of friendship with Rome since the Second Punic War, appeals for aid against the Ligurian Oxybii who control the Argens valley and also the Decietae. The tribes are defeated by Roman Consul Quintus Opimius.

The Massalian outpost of Antipolis (today's Antibes) and its Antipolitani people have constantly been threatened by the Celto-Ligurian tribes of the western Alps. It is only after this defeat of the local tribes and the confiscation of their lands that Antipolis becomes stable and prosperous.

Western Alps
The Celtic tribes of the western Alps were relatively small and fairly fragmented, but they made up for that with a level of belligerence and fighting ability which often stunned their major opponents, including the Romans

143 BC

Thanks to Dio Cassius and Livy, the Celto-Ligurian Salassi receive their first mention in history when they are attacked without provocation by Consul Appius Claudius (who must be quite aged by now).

However, he is punished for his aggression by being defeated with the loss of five thousand men. He soon returns with more men and wreaks his revenge, apparently slaying 50,100 members of the tribe and claiming the honour of a triumph.

60 BC

The Tergestini are a Ligurian tribe which occupies part of the Cisalpine region of Gaul. They inhabit the region around Trieste in north-western Italy. Their main settlement is at Tergeste (modern Trieste) to which Julius Caesar (governor of Gallia Cisalpina from circa 60 BC) grants the status of colony.

The settlement has already been under the governance of the Roman republic since its completion of the conquest of northern Italy around 180 BC.

Roman consuls
Rome's republic was usually headed by two consuls and the Senate, but on a very few occasions the post was replaced, usually by military appointments

49 BC

With the Albici confederation constantly descending to the coast to help the beleaguered in Massalia, Julius Caesar now deals with this dual problem once and for all.

He even goes so far as to build a new town in the heart of Albici territory (in today's de Vaucluse department, around the River Cavalon, a right-hand tributary of the River Durance, and between the Massif Luberon and Monts de Vaucluse, about fifty-two kilometres to the east of Avignon). The threat from the confederation's three tribes - Albineses, Vordesnes, and Vulgientes - is ended.

As for the beleaguered Massalia itself, its siege ends when it fully submits to Roman control. The Romans detach the establishment of Antipolis from its metropolis, and grant it the status of city Roman civitas (according to both Pliny and Strabo). Having become independent, the Antipolitans begin to mint their own coinage.

Great St Bernard's Pass
The region around the Great St Bernard's Pass was a perfect mix of fertile plains and protective high mountains for small but aggressive Celtic tribes in the four centuries or so between their settlement of the area and domination by Rome

45 BC

The Vulgientes have occupied their principal civitas of Perreal since the third century BC. Now an entire new town is either set up at nearby Apt, or an existing settlement of Apt is entirely rebuilt - information is unclear - on the orders of Julius Caesar.

It is named Colonia Apta Iulia Vulgentiium and the tribe is relocated here from Perreal (now Domaine Perreal at the centre of the Parc National Regional du Luberon).

c.27 BC

Sometime around the point at which Gallia Transalpina becomes Gallia Narbonensis, the city of Antipolis is cited, immediately after the mention of the oppidum Latinum Antipolis, and the 'regio Deciatium', the 'region of the Decietae'.

This suggests that the Deciatae had not previously been elevated to the same rank as the Antipolitans but had instead been subjugated under Antipolitan rule.

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

On the other hand, those territories which are referred to as regio Oxubiorum Ligaunorumque, the 'region of the Oxybii and Ligaunes', are mentioned after the colony of Forum Iulii (Fréjus), implying that they henceforth depend upon the latter (according to Pliny).

The full integration of the Deciates into the city of the Antipolitans does indeed take place between the end of the first century BC and the first century AD given that, in the second century AD, Ptolemy cites Antipolis as the metropolis of the Deciates. By this time the two territories must have been amalgamated.

AD 23

The final edition of Strabo's Geography is published and the complete work survives today. He talks a good deal about Roman battles as part of the Alpine Wars to clear the Alpine passes to Gaul, passes which are occupied by the Ligurians amongst others (including the Ligurian Cotti Regnum).

The 'Trophy of the Alps' is a Roman monument which is erected in 5 BC at the village of La Turbie both to commemorate the conquest of the Alps and the submission of forty-four Ligurian tribes during Augustus' campaigns in 25 BC, 16 BC, and 15 BC and also to mark the boundary between Italy and Gaul.

La Turbie and the Trophy of Augustus
The Tropaeum Alpium ('Trophy of the Alps') stands majestically in the commune of La Turbie on the French Riviera, overlooking the principality of Monaco, and marking the final victory over the Alpine tribes by Augustus

The Ligurians remain identifiable in the form of the Ingauni and Intemelii, two main groups which are sometimes referred to by modern writers as tribes. The main settlement for the former is Albingaunum (modern Albenga), and for the latter Albium Intemelium (now Vintimiglia).

They retain their piratical habits but, in effect, live on reservations (prescribed territory which is fixed in sized by the Romans). In time all Ligurians and Celto-Ligurians are subsumed by Roman (Latin) culture and language.

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