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European Kingdoms

Aquitani Tribes


Monesi / Onesii / Onessi (Aquitani)

Today's Basques of northern Spain have their historical origins in the tribes of the Aquitani. Akin in some ways to the general disposition of Iberian tribes, they straddled the Pyrenees by the time the Romans arrived to record their existence.

Their tribes could be found occupying much of modern Gascony in France, along with a swathe of territory between the central Pyrenees on the Iberian side, and westwards to the Bay of Biscay, very roughly between the modern counties of Aragon and Cantabria (home of the Cantabri).

The Aquitani were not Celts, and neither were they Iberians. The much-later-arriving Indo-European Gauls merely abutted the Aquitani and were not related to them, and neither were the Iberian tribes of today's Spain and Portugal. Strabo distinguished the Aquitani tribes from the Gauls in Western Europe both in their physical type and in their language, although the Aquitani were influenced by their Indo-European neighbours and, in turn, influenced them.

The Onesii were one of the minor Aquitani tribes, although there exists amongst modern scholars a degree of dispute about their name. It has been cited in various ways, such as the Monesi of Pliny, while Strabo went with the Greek form of Onesii or Onessi.

Like some of his ancient predecessors, the modern scholar Paul-Marie Duval argued that these two (three) mentions refer to the same people. Pliny's Natural History passage, '...infraque Monesi...', is considered faulty and an alternative reading is proposed in the form of '...infra quem Onesi(i)'.

Pliny stated that this tribe lived in the Pyrenees - not entirely surprisingly, given their location in Aquitania - after having mentioned the Belendi, and then the Onesii, and then the neighbouring Oscidates Montani. Strabo is more precise in that he locates the Onessi within the population of the Convenae, either in the former region of Comminges or in its immediate vicinity.

Latinised as Aquae Onesiorum, the tribal civitas could correspond to today's Bagnères-de-Luchon (Haute-Garonne, and sometimes just 'Luchon'). Opposing this, L'Arbre Celtique states that they lived in the former province of Nebouzan in the foothills of the Pyrenees, with a chief settlement at St Gaudens.

A contradiction appears between Strabo's details and those offered by Pliny since the former seems to place the tribe within the population of the Convenae (at the transition between the first centuries BC and AD), while the latter classed them as an independent tribe (at the end of the first century AD).

This is explainable, however, given the timescale involved between the two reports if the Onesii were in the process of detaching themselves from the Convenae (whether with or without Roman oversight). After that there is no further mention of them, which suggests that their independence from the Convenae was short-lived.

Pyrenees National Park in France

(Information by Trish Wilson, with additional information by Edward Dawson and Peter Kessler, from Diccionario vasco–español–francés, Resurreción María Azkue (two-volume, trilingual dictionary, 1905), from Hauta-lanerako euskal hiztegia, Ibon Sarasola (Gipuzkoako Kutxa, 1990), from Mini hiztegia euskara-euskara, Ibon Sarasola (Lur, Editorial S, 1996), from Natural History, Pliny the Elder, and from External Links: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and the Etymological Dictionary of Basque, R L Trask (available in PDF format via the Etymological Dictionary, Max Wheeler (Ed, PDF), and Aquitania (University of California), and Celtiberia.net (in Spanish), and Gran Enciclopedia Aragonesa (in Spanish), and The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Euskomedia (in Spanish), Paul-Marie Duval Publications (Perseus, in French), and L'Arbre Celtique (The Celtic Tree, in French).)

56 BC

When war flares up again in Gaul, triggered by Publius Licinius Crassus and the Seventh Legion in the territory of the Andes, Caesar has to turn back from his journey to Illyrium to handle the problem. Crassus is sent to subdue the tribes of the Aquitani - although the Vascones seem not to be involved themselves - and prevent an all-out war against stretched Roman troops.

The Petrocorii are subdued early, while auxiliaries are recruited from the (Gaulish) Bebryces, Sordones, and Volcae. The Sotiates attack the Romans in a drawn-out and vigorously-contested engagement in which the Romans are only just victorious, having outlasted their hot-headed Celtic opponents in terms of stamina.

Map of European Tribes
This vast map covers just about all possible tribes which were documented in the first centuries BC and AD, mostly by the Romans and Greeks, and with an especial focus on 52 BC (click or tap on map to view at an intermediate size)

The Vocates and Tarusates prove to be a rather more difficult opponent, outnumbering Crassus perhaps by ten-to-one and holding a very strong position. However, and despite the odds, the Aquitani are forced to surrender with heavy casualties.

When news of this defeat spreads, the majority of the tribes of Aquitania surrender to Crassus, including the Ausci, Bigerriones, Cocosates, Elusates, Garites, Garumni, Preciani, Suburates, Tarbelli, Tarusates, and 'Vocasates'.

Smaller Aquitani tribes such as the Benearni and Onesii (the latter perhaps not yet an independent tribe) are not mentioned directly - and even larger tribes like the Consoranni and Convenae fail to be named.

However, as they generally sit within the shadow of the much more powerful larger tribes, their surrender is entirely to be expected. Today those on the western bank of the Garonne form part of the largely unofficial Basque Country.

With this action, Aquitania 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.

Pyrenees National Park
The Pyrenees National Park on the French side of the western-central Pyrenees reveals a level of lush terrain and grazing opportunities which can surprise anyone who thinks of the range as being pure, uninhabitable mountains

28 BC

Despite submitting fully in 56 BC, it seems that the conquest of the Aquitani and the neighbouring Celtic tribes is effected only now, by Proconsul Marcus Valerius Messalla. The proconsul is awarded a triumph for his success, suggesting that some fighting had been involved.

That award further suggests that the submission of 56 BC had gained the tribes some sort of allied status, but for the most part up until this point they had been able to remain essentially autonomous.

27 BC - AD 14

During the period of office of Augustus in Rome, the Aquitani tribes are incorporated into the newly-formed province of Aquitania. The province extends from the Liger (the modern Loire) to the Pyrenees, and is bound on the northern side by Mons Cevennus. This is one of the three divisions of the Gauls, the others being Gallia Lugdunensis and Belgica.

Triumph of Titus and Vespasian
The triumph of Marcus Valerius Messalla would have been similar to the one shown in Triumph of Titus and Vespasian, an Italian oil by Giulio Pippi (Romano) - very much a form of street party with a 'royal' procession, and usually held to celebrate a military victory


Imperial Rome's General Pompey returns to Hispania, fresh from his victory over Sertorius. He places the Pyrenees communities under firmer control through the new oppidum of Lugdunum Convenarum, and what had once been a minor frontier post soon becomes a thriving town.

The Aquitani tribe of the Convenae are recreated by this act from a lost preceding identity, taking on the name from the Latin convenio, meaning 'to gather, to meet' (the English 'convene' has the same meaning). They also most likely absorb the Onesii into their number around this time, given the tribe's disappearance from the historical record.

The foundation of their chief town on the western borders of Roman rule is intended to consolidate imperial authority in this region. Located at a crossroads of roads and rivers, the city prospers and becomes one of the most powerful in Aquitaine Gaul (promotion to full colony comes in the early part of the second century AD).

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


In the early medieval period the Aquitani lands are first confirmed as a possession of the Franks, after a long struggle to wrest them from the hands of the Visigoths. A Merovingian duke by the name of Chramn is appointed to govern Aquitaine, which contains within it the region of Gascony.

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