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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapNaharvali (Suevi)

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. They also extended eastwards, into the region that was becoming known as Germania. The Celts had ruled much of this in their heyday, but by the middle of the first century BC they were fragmented, and were either in the process of being expelled by the increasingly powerful Germanic tribes who were migrating southwards from Scandinavia and the Baltic coast, or they were being defeated and integrated into Germanic or other tribes. The Naharvali were located in the Galicia region which today roughly forms the meeting point between eastern Slovakia, southern Poland and western Ukraine. They were neighboured by the Manimi, Harii, Cotini, Osi, and the Germanic Buri, as well as by the mighty Boii to the west.

The name Naharvali, or the variation Naha-Narvali (sometimes shown as Nahanarvali), seems to combine *nāro which means 'noble', and (possibly) *wal-o which means 'leader', from proto-Celtic roots. If that is the case, Narvali would be the 'noble leaders'. As for 'naha', there seems to be no satisfactory explanation. Possibly it was a pun, or a play on the tribe's name. Remove the Latin plural ending from the tribe's name and replace it with the usual Gaulish plural and the result is probably close to Naharvalon - the tribe's actual Gaulish name.

Tacitus described the Naharvali as one of a number of tribes which together formed the federation of the Lugii, which itself was viewed as being part of the Suevi confederation. The Suevi were a confederation of (usually) Germanic peoples that came into existence by the first century AD, and perhaps earlier. It perhaps also included Celtic tribes that had remained in the region and which were largely absorbed by the later arrivals. The Suevi confederation included the tribes of the Alemanni, Angles, Hermunduri, Langobards, Marcomanni, Quadi, Semnones, and Warini, and perhaps also the Heruli too. None of these tribes were what could be considered 'front line' tribes, living along the border with the Roman empire. Instead they were arrayed behind a large number of other tribes which were better known and better attested by Roman writers. The Suebic tribes remained a little more obscure, at least until they came into direct contact with the empire, and many of the more minor tribes that made up the confederation were almost entirely unchronicled. The Harii, Helisii, Helveconae, and Manimi were also sometimes included in the Lugii federation.

Also noted for the Naharvali was their possession of a grove of immemorial sanctity (which suggests a level of permanent settlement of several generations at least). A priest in female attire was in charge of it, while the deities being worshipped there are described in Latin writing as Castor and Pollux. The Latin version was close enough to the truth, as the twin gods were the Alci (plural, Alcis being the singular form). There were no icons of the twins, and no hint of 'foreign superstition', as Tacitus put it. They were simply worshipped as brothers and as youths.

(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 The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from Complete Works of Tacitus, Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb, & Lisa Cerrato, from Geography, Ptolemy, and from External Link: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

6th century BC

The Naharvali probably belong to the Hallstatt culture of Celts, along with the Bebryces, Boii, Cotini, Harii, Helisii, Helveconae, Manimi, Osi, and at least some elements of the later Lugii. They are to be found around the central German lands, and in Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, and the edges of Poland and Ukraine. Around this time a large-scale expansion begins that sees many Hallstatt Celts migrate outwards, towards northern Italy, Gaul, or Iberia. Many others remain, and control the region until pressure from newly-arriving Germanic tribes begins to erode their hold in the second and first centuries BC.

AD 23

The first historical mention of the Lugii is by Strabo, who seems to place them as members of a tribal federation which includes the Butones (a questionable name, perhaps a misspelling of Gutones), Mugilones, Semnones, Sibini and Zumi. There is no mention of the Harii, Helisii, Helveconae, Manimi, and Naharvali at this time.

50 - 150

The arrival of the Gothic people in the Pomeranian region of Willenberg Poland in the first and second centuries AD from their homeland in southern Sweden has a great impact on the Baltic population there, resulting in them moving towards eastern Lithuania. According to the sixth century Eastern Roman historian, Jordanes, the Goths defeat and drive off the Rugii and subdue the Vandali.

The Vandali home at this time would seem to be in Silesia in Poland, according to Ptolemy, with the region's name perhaps being linked to the later Siling branch of the tribe. Tacitus does not mention the Siling Vandals, but he does place the Naharvali in essentially the very same location. Modern scholars seem to link the two tribes together, considering that they might be one and the same tribe. Much more likely is that the Celts are dominated by the Siling Vandals in this period and are subsequently integrated into the tribe.

Szybowcowa Hill in Lower Silesia
Szybowcowa Hill in Lower Silesia shows the rolling countryside that the tribe occupied, probably for several generations before the coming of the Germanic tribes


Writing in AD 98, Tacitus mentions the Lugii. He is of the opinion that they are a federation of the smaller Gaulish tribes, the Harii, Helisii, Helveconae, Manimi, and Naharvali. Tacitus also mentions the Buri but not as members of the Lugii.


Ptolemy breaks the Lugii down into Lugi Buri, Lugi Diduni, and Lugi Omani. It seems plausible that the Manimi of AD 98 have some relationship to the Omani, based on the similar names, but of the Harii, Helisii, Helveconae, and Naharvali there is no sign once again. While it seems likely that the Naharvali have been absorbed by the Vandali, have the remainder been absorbed into the larger Lugii collective, or have they drifted off elsewhere, never to be recorded again by history?


By this time, the Suevi have formed a wide-ranging confederation of tribes which are all known individually but which are counted as being Suevi.

The vast number of tribes included in the confederation include the Aestii, Angles, Aviones, Buri, Cotini, Eudoses, Gutones, Hermunduri (who have virtually ceased to exist as a recognisable independent people), Langobards, Lugii (a name applied to several tribes: the Harii, Helisii, Helveconae, Manimi, and Naharvali, although these are not mentioned at this time), Marcomanni, Marsigni, Naristi, Nuitones, Osi, Quadi, Reudigni, Semnones, Sitones, Suardones, Suiones (Swedes), and the Warini.

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