History Files

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapOscidates (Gauls)

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. By the middle of the first century BC, the Oscidates were a minor tribe that was located amongst the Aquitani, on the northern side of the Pyrenees. They were neighboured by a swathe of Aquitani to the north which lay between them and the Celtic Boii, Biturices Vivisci, and Sotiates. To the east were the Celtic Bigerriones.

Also called the Osquidates, and sometimes categorised as the Oscidates Montani (the 'Mountain Oscidates'), the tribe's name is typically Gaulish. Remove the Latin suffix, '-es', to leave the core elements, 'osk' and 'idat'. The proto-Celtic dictionary has *ouxs, meaning 'above, over', and *ouxtero, meaning ''higher'. The second element seems to be *datlu- (?), meaning 'assembly'. That would suggest a tribe that called itself 'the higher assembly', perhaps suggesting some level of superior authority. Given that the tribe was relatively small, and perhaps even a new division of an existing tribe, and seeing that it had migrated into the lands of the Aquitani, the superior authority could have been over the Aquitani themselves. New arrivals always saw themselves as being superior to the indigenous tribes - the same thing happened amongst Germans who took over Celtic tribes, and amongst the Anglo-Saxon invaders of Britain when they conquered British areas. The Oscidates were pointing out their superiority over the 'lesser' natives.

The tribe's territory lay in the Vallée d'Ossau, immediately south of Laruns in the northern Pyrenees. A related group termed the Oscidates Campestri (the 'Rural Oscidates') lived around Pau, around a hundred-or-so kilometres to the north. While generally classified as Celts, some modern sources refer to them as Aquitani, calling their mountainous homeland a retreat from the later invaders of the region. Like many of the tribes in Aquitania, little is known of them, and this particular group is not even mentioned in relation to Caesar's conquest of the region.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from the Encyclopaedia of European Peoples, Carl Waldman & Catherine Mason, from Caesar's Conquest of Gaul, TR Holmes, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Pritchard, from Geography, Strabo, translated by H C Hamilton Esq & W Falconer, M A, Ed (George Bell & Sons, London, 1903), and from External Link: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars.)

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 Aquitania to subdue the tribes there and prevent an all-out war against stretched Roman troops. Subduing the Petrocorii along the way, he recruits auxiliaries from the Gaulish regions of Tolosa, Carcaso, and Narbo (which includes the tribes of the Bebryces, Sordones, and Volcae) before entering the territory of the Sotiates.

Once they have surrendered, Crassus marches into the territories of the Vocates and Tarusates. They prove to be a rather more difficult opponent, but 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 (and presumably the unmentioned Oscidates).

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 further suggests that the submission of 56 BC had gained the tribes some sort of allied status, but that they had essentially been autonomous until now.

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