History Files

European Kingdoms



Raeti Tribes (Alpines)
Incorporating the Breuni, Brixenetes, Camuni, Focunates, Genaunes, Rucantii, Rugusci, Sarunetes, Suanetes, Vennones, Vennonetes, & Venostes

MapThe Raeti of the pre-Roman Alpine region were not part of the West Indo-European migration into southern Central Europe between about 3500-2500 BC. Instead they seem to have borne a degree of relationship with the Etruscans of north-western Italy. This is discussed in more detail on the main Raeti page (and see map for general tribal distributions in the first centuries BC and AD).

Located across the Trentino and Alto Adige valleys in what today is Switzerland, the Raeti did not form a single kingdom or confederation. Instead they consisted of a series of minor tribes, with the Ligurians to their south - and the Lepontii with their somewhat confused heritage, the Euganei to the south-east, the Ambisontes, Ambilici, and Ambidravi Celts to the east, a pocket of Alauni and the Vindelici to the north, and the Brigantii and Helvetii to the west and north-west.

Individual Raeti tribes seem poorly documented, but by the first century BC they included a comparatively large number of small groups. This multiplicity was probably the result of the broken landscape of the Alpine region, with its many valleys and passes which would have enforced a fairly independent mindset.

Taken in alphabetical order, the first of these was the Anauni, an outlying group. The heritage of the Arusnates is contested. The Breuni (or Breones) were located to the south-east of Raetia, in the Val Brounia or Bregna (a corruption of their name), at the source of the Tessino. They were classified as Illyrians by Strabo, as were a number of east coast Italic tribes such as the Iapyges.

Then there were the Brixenetes along the River Iscaro, the Calucones in western-central Switzerland, the Camuni or Camunni (around Val Camonica at the south-western end of Raeti territories and classed as Euganei by Pliny), and the Focunates who bordered the potentially Celto-Raeti Ambisontes. The Isarci and Genaunes (or Genauni) were almost at opposite ends of the Raeti range, with the latter to the north of St Moritz.

An uncertain inclusion is the Lepontii of the southern-central Alps. The Rugusci, who may be Strabo's Rucantii, can be included though, as can the Suanetes (otherwise recorded as the Sarunetes). The Uberi were between Valles des Conches (Gommertal) and Viege.

The Vennones (Raeti according to Ptolemy, although Strabo has them as Vindelici and therefore Celtic-speakers) were apparently the wildest of Raetian tribes, unlike the Vennonetes (named by Pliny, and almost certainly the same as Vennones, or at least a division), and the Venostes (on the south-western flank of the Isarci). The Vennonetes name breaks down as 'venn', meaning 'white, plus '-on', meaning 'the', plus '-et' (diminutive), plus '-es' (Latin plural). All of that joins together to produce something akin to 'the little [small group of?] whites [blonds]'.

The Vennones/Vennonetes name (and probably the root element of 'Venostes' too) comes from 'venn', meaning 'white', probably a slang-type contraction or nickname, plus the suffixes '-on' (definite article), and '-es' (Latin plural). They were 'the Whites'. This seems to be one of many Germanic names which appears to derive from a common root for 'white' (ie. blond - the name Vandali is another example, as is the Vend district of Norway).

How it came to be used in connection with a non-Indo-European Alpine tribe which was gradually being Celticised is unknown, but external - almost certainly Celtic - influence is likely.

The Alps

(Information by Trish Wilson, with additional information by Peter Kessler, Maurizio Puntin, & Edward Dawson, 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 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. Few, if any tribal oppida are known, although best guesses are provided here. Aside from the Anauni, Calucones, Isarci, and Uberi (which are recorded on separate pages), those smaller units occupy territory as follows:

The Breuni are in Austria's Upper Inn Valley (Oberinntal) in the Tirol. Their territory also encompasses the northern part of the Brenner Pass, around the town of Landeck, about eighty kilometres to the west of Innsbruck, and the eastern part of the Swiss canton of Graubunden (Grissons). Landeck sits at the centre of their territory as a potential oppidum.

Even before the Romans arrive, there exists a bridle path between Landeck and VInschgau, which is later developed into the Via Claudia Augusta which includes the Reschen (Resia) pass, approximately forty-eight kilometres to the south Landeck.

The Brixenetes are in Italy, along the River Isarco, South Tyrol, close to the town of Brixen (Bressanone) in the province of Bolzano. In the modern age, until the end of the First World War, the South Tyrol forms part of Austria, and the river is known as the Eisack.

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)

The Focunates occupy Austria's Innsbruck-Wilten area, the latter name deriving from the Roman army station of Veldidena which is later set up to guard the bridge over the Inn.

This bridge forms part of the all-important Verona-Brenner-Augsburg route, with 'Innsbruck' coming from the Latin 'Oenipons', meaning 'bridge over the Inn'. Given the bridge's location, the tribe's oppidum is either around here or to the south of the Brenner pass, probably at Innsbruck.

The Genaunes or Genauni (potentially misspelled as Genaues) are in Switzerland's Lower Engadine Valley. Concentrated along the River Inn, in the canton of Graubunduen (Grissons), they occupy the region known as Basse Engndine which sits to the north of St Moritz and the Upper Engadine Valley.

The major town in this region, Scuol, could be their oppidum, where the valley of the Inn widens out just a few kilometres from the Austrian border.

The Rugusci (or Rigusc, and possibly the Rucantiii, but not to be confused with the Rucinates) occupy Switzerland's Upper Engadine Valley, around or near the source of the River Inn, to the west of St Moritz in the canton of Graubunden (Grissons).

Source of the Ticino
The mountainous Alpine country of the Raeti would have supplied a relatively tough tribal life during which it would seem that they never particularly thrived or expanded and which led to their easy absorption into Celtic and Latin cultures

The Suanetes or Sarunetes live along Switzerland's River Albula, just to the north of St Moritz in the Graubunden (Grissons) canton. The river flows north-westwards to join the Hinterrhein at Thusis. Archaeologists later log weapons finds around Tiefencastel, one of the Albula communes, and also in the neighbouring Septimer Pass.

The Vennonetes hold territory in the Italian Alps to the north of Lake Como. Strabo mentions 'above Lake Como', most likely meaning Valtellina, in the province of Sondrio to the north-east of Como.

This is about 113 kilometres to the north-east of the town of Como and 161 kilometres to the south-west of Val Venosta (Vinschgau). One local resident holds that their oppidum is Valtellina, a wine-growing area.

According to all three versions of the Swiss Historical Lexicon, however, they live between Chur and Lake Constanz (Bodensee), which would place them in Switzerland.

The Venostes occupy the Val Venosta (or Vinschgau, in South Tyrol, today in Italy). This includes the upper reaches of the River Adige or Etsch, in the province of Bolzano. about sixty kilometres west of Merano, which itself is thirty-five kilometres to the north-west of the provincial capital of Bolzano, Either the commune of Glurns (Glorenza), or Laas (Lasa) could provide the site of their oppidum.

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

27 BC

By the time at which Caesar Augustus (Octavian) becomes dictator of Rome in fact but not in name, many of the non-Indo-European elements in the Alpine region largely seem to have lost their native language, with it having been replaced by Celtic speech. More southern Raeti groups retain their language for a further three centuries before becoming fully Latinised.

AD 46

The best information regarding the Anauni, Sinduni, and Tulliassi comes from a bronze tablet which is known as the Tabula Clesiana. Discovered in 1869 in the village of Cles (South Tyrol in today's Austria), all three tribes are mentioned.

Also mentioned is the fact that they are being granted full civic rights by Emperor Claudius, rights which include Roman citizenship. Today the tablet is kept in the museum of the Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento.

Tiberius was probably a reluctant emperor who was manoeuvred into the role by the machinations of his mother, Livia, and in his later days he shunned many of his duties

The fact that the Roman empire now unquestionably controls the entire Alpine region - giving it free access to Gaul and Germania - probably hastens the final decline and disappearance of any non-Indo-European traits, customs, and languages here.

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