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European Kingdoms

Barbarians

 

Liguro-Raeti Tribes
Incorporating the Catenates, Cosuanetes, Licates, & Rucinates

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.

MapThe Vindelici tribal confederation demonstrates this Ligurian penetration, although the distance travelled by this one is unusual. Possibly it was triggered by the massed Celtic penetration of the western Alps between about 600-400 BC (see timeline for more on this). By the middle of the first century BC this confederation was located to the north and east of Lacus Brigantinus in the Roman province of Rhaetia (around the modern Lake Constance), in what is now western Austria in Europe. It was neighboured to the north by the vast homeland of the Boii, to the east by the Sevarces and Alauni, to the south by Raeti Tribes, and to the west by the Brigantii and Latobrigi (see map for more information).

The Vindelici, Strabo states, are a folk (a group in their own right, not a sub-tribe). He gives tribal names, but four of these are usually classed as being Raeti: the Catenates (the first part, 'cat' is Celtic for 'battle', not the only Celtic influence on these tribes), the Cosuanetes, the Licates (Licatti), and the Rucinates (not the same as Strabo's Rucantii). All four were located immediately to the south of what is usually considered core Vindelici territory, between the River Lech (Allgau) and the Rivar Isar in southern Germany, and perhaps extending some way towards the Danube.

The first century BC writer, Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus), wrote about the initial Celtic breakthrough into Italy through the western Alps, with the story dated to about 600 BC. Continuous waves of Celts followed that path over the next two or three hundred years to create a substantial Celtic population across the north Italian plain.

This not only pushed out the previously-dominant Etruscans (through at-least-partially documented warfare), but certainly would also have compressed the main Ligurian population southwards towards the coast. Other Ligurian groups in the western Alps would have become Celto-Ligurians over time as the powerful newcomers increase dominance over them. More potential Ligurians in the north were compressed into the foothills of the Alps (the Lepontii), perhaps also taking on board a Raeti influx (or vice versa - their story is complicated).

The Raeti themselves, Pliny states, were forced to relocate from the plain into the Alps. The northernmost of these seem to have wandered right through the Alps into the northern foothills where they fell under Vindelici domination and became part of its confederation. They were probably in the process of becoming Liguro-Raeti hybrid people while the Vindelici themselves were gradually becoming Celto-Ligurians due to the large surrounding Celtic tribes there. In the end, all of them became Latin-speakers, thanks to Rome.

The Alps

(Information by Peter Kessler, Trish Wilson, & Edward Dawson, with additional information from The History of Rome, Volume 1, Titus Livius (translated by Rev Canon Roberts), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from Les peuples préromains du Sud-Est de la Gaule: Étude de géographie historique, Guy Barruol (De Boccard, 1999), and from External Links: Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith (1854, Perseus Digital Library), and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Chiemgau Impact, and Chiemgau meteorite crater strewn field (Impact Structures), 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).)

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.

Early Rome
Early Rome would have looked more like a large, walled village than the collection of grand stone edifices which are more familiar from the imperial period

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, and the ancestors of the Lepontii northwards, while the Raeti also have to relocate, concentrating themselves in the Alps (according to Pliny the Elder).

Gauls on expedition
An idealised illustration of Gauls on an expedition, from A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times Volume I by Francois Pierre Guillaume Guizot

It is possible that the Raeti relocation serves to fracture once-large tribes into the many smaller units which are later recorded in the Alps. Four of those tribes - the northernmost four which penetrate the Alps and end up in the foothills of southern Germany - eventually fall under the dominance of the Vindelici confederation when this forms to the immediate north of the Alps.

The Catenates have a tribal name which supposedly derives from their chants. They are located in south-western Bavaria (Swabia), possibly in the area to the north of Lake Constance (Bodensee) but definitely between the rivers Isar and Inn.

The Cosuanetes are located in what is now the southern reaches of Germany, unusual for Raeti who are largely in today's Switzerland, Italy, or very western parts of Austria. This territory includes Upper Bavaria, the upper reaches of the River Isar, the region round Miesbach and Tegernsee and, possibly, as far as Bad Toelz where recent finds have come from Halstatt culture and Roman Rhaetia: not so much Alps as Alpine foothills.

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)

Their major oppidum is unknown, but could be around Miesbach. A possible interpretation of the Tropaeum Alpium ('Trophy of the Alps') inscription would make them Vindelici, but Strabo classifies them as Raeti if his Cotuanti are the same people.

The Licates are located along the upper reaches of the stone-filled, unnavigable River Lech (Allgau, originally the Likias or Licca), with this name providing the tribe's name. The name 'lech' corresponds to the Welsh 'llech' and the Breton 'lec'h', all meaning 'stone slab' or, in this context, 'stony'. The tribe's major oppidum is Damasia, later relabelled Augustus Vindelicorum (Augsburg).

The Rucinates are located in Lower Bavaria, between the rivers Isar and Danube. Some sources put them near the confluence of the Isar and Danube, close to the Bavarian town of Straubing, named Sovidorium by the Romans. This is later an important military base, containing plenty of Roman finds for archaeologists to uncover.

Again, a possible interpretation of the Tropaeum Alpium ('Trophy of the Alps') inscription would make them Vindelici, but Strabo classifies them as Raeti if they are same as Rucantii.

La Turbie and the Trophy of Augustus
The first century BC 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

 
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