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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Oscidates (Gauls? / Aquitani?)
Incorporating the Oscidates Campestri & Oscidates Montani

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, while also extending into Switzerland, northern Italy, and along the Danube (see feature link for a discussion of the origins of the Celtic name).

By the middle of the first century BC, the Oscidates were a minor tribe which was located amongst the Aquitani, on the northern side of the central Pyrenees and south of the Garonne. They were neighboured by a swathe of Aquitani, including the large Tarbelli tribe, the much smaller Benearni tribe, the Preciani to their immediate north, and the Celtic/Aquitani Bigerri, beyond which lay the Celtic Boiates (a division of the Central European Boii), the Biturices Vivisci, and the Sotiates.

Also referred to as the Osquidates (in French), and sometimes categorised as the Oscidates Montani or Montans (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'.

This would suggest a tribe which called itself 'the higher assembly', possibly suggesting some level of superior authority. Given the fact 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 Germanic groups which took over Celtic tribes, and amongst the Anglo-Saxon invaders of Britain when they conquered British areas. Alternatively, if the Oscidates were not pointing out their superiority over the 'lesser' natives, their name may simply have referred to a higher elevation in the Pyrenean foothills. In all likelihood a small band of Celts had assumed leadership of native Aquitani to form a hybrid Celto-Basque group here.

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 and close to the Sucasses. 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.

Pliny was certain they were a separate tribe, not connected directly to the Oscidates Montani. 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.

They are certainly not mentioned in Ptolemy's later work, implying that they were included in a greater population, most certainly that of the Tarbelli, There is plenty to suggest that it was only after the creation of Novempopulania (between AD 271-285) that the list of tribes was updated for this area, and that what had been the territory of the Tabelli was reduced to accommodate updated information in the case of the former Oscidates. Their territory now formed part of the home of the Illuronenses.

Ancient Britons

(Information by Peter Kessler, Edward Dawson, and Trish Wilson, 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), 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), and from External Links: 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 Euskomedia (in Spanish).)

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. The Cantabri send assistance to the Aquitani.

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)

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.

That tribe has gathered together a large force which attacks the Romans in a drawn-out and vigorously-contested engagement. The Romans are only just victorious, having outlasted their hot-headed Celtic opponents in terms of stamina.

Once the Sotiates 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).

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.

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.

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

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.


During his reign, Rome's Emperor Diocletian oversees the formulation of the Notitia Galliarum. One of the cities which are included in its pages is the city of 'ciuitas Elloronensium' (with 'ciutas' meaning 'civitas'). This Latin name is understood to derive from that of the people who are living in the city of Iluro (today's Oloron-Sainte-Marie).

However, this population is labelled the Iluronenses, and this is their first mention in history. Their territory is in the same vicinity as the former territory of the Oscidates and Suburates, but neither of those tribes are now mentioned.

Emperor Maximianus
Despite having been raised to office by Diocletian in AD 285, Maximianus seemingly couldn't avoid plotting and planning, even when having been forgiven and readmitted to high office

This suggests that they had never been full tribes in their own right (the Tarbelli are the greater host in this region and may have absorbed any individual identity), or that population or Roman organisational changes over two centuries have resulted in naming changes.


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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