History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapRedones (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 Redones were located in the eastern part of Brittany on the English Channel coastline. They were neighboured to the west by the Cariosvelites, to the south-west by the Osismii and Veneti, to the south by the Namniti, to the east by the Diablintes and to the north-east by the Boiocasses.

As with most Celtic and Germanic tribal names, the Redones (or Rhedones) name was made up of a core word plus two plural suffixes, one indigenous Celtic/German and one Latin, '-on' and '-es'. The first part could be from 'ret-', which appears to be a root meaning 'to run', almost certainly its oldest form. An alternative is 'reid-', which appears to be a (related?) root derived from 'ret-', meaning 'to travel', especially by 'car' (chariot). The proto-Celtic word list gives: reid(ārjo), meaning 'driver' (of a vehicle), and *reidā- as 'vehicle', *reid-e/o- as 'travel', *reidi- as 'free', and finally *reido- as 'travel' again. An educated guess as to the meaning of the tribe's name is 'the charioteers', or something very similar. If they are indeed the charioteers then this is exciting because chariot use fell out of favour due to improvements in military practices. The last recorded use that easily comes to mind was in the Pictish highlands and in Ireland during the Roman period. So the name may be quite old.

The tribe occupied territory that largely corresponds to the modern département of IIle-et-Vilaine in eastern Brittany. Their oppidum was at Condate (a Gaulish word for 'confluence'), which was located between the rivers Ille and Vilaine (the modern Redon). The tribe's location in eastern Brittany meant that they did not fall under Frankish domination in the fourth and fifth centuries AD, but were instead dominated by the newly-arriving British nobility who formed a union of kingdoms that became known as Brittany. The Redones were largely incorporated as Bretons (which was a pretty easy process, as they were all Celts together) and held off Frankish and later French dominance for several centuries. Today, Breton culture and language is making a comeback in a part of Brittany that had lost much of its inheritance during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

(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 On the Ocean, Pytheas of Massalia (work lost, but frequently quoted by other ancient authors), 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.)

c.325 BC

FeaturePytheas of Massalia undertakes a voyage of exploration to north-western Europe, becoming the first scholar to note details about the Celtic and Germanic tribes there. One of the tribes he records is the Ostinioi - almost certainly the Osismii - who occupy Cape Kabaïon, which is probably pointe de Penmarc'h or pointe du Raz in western Brittany. This means that the tribe has already settled the region by the mid-fourth century BC, probably alongside their neighbours of later years, the Veneti, Cariosvelites, and Redones.

Ptolemy's map of Britain
The details recorded by Pytheas were interpreted by Ptolemy in the second century AD, and this 1490 Italian reconstruction of the section covering the British Isles and northern Gaul shows Ptolemy's characteristically lopsided Scotland at the top

c.90s - 80s BC

The Redones adopt the Greek and Roman practice of issuing coinage. Their coins are distinctive, depicting a charioteer whose pony bears a human head. This image relates directly to the tribe's name.

57 BC

The Belgae enter into a confederacy against the Romans in fear of Rome's eventual domination over them. They are also spurred on by Gauls who are unwilling to see Germanic tribes remaining on Gaulish territory and are unhappy about Roman troops wintering in Gaul. The Senones are asked by Julius Caesar to gain intelligence on the intentions of the Belgae, and they report that an army is being collected. Caesar marches ahead of expectations and, in a single campaigning season, the Belgic tribes are defeated or surrender to Rome. According to Caesar, the Aulerci, Cariosvelites, Osismii, Redones, Sesuvii, Venelli, and Veneti, all of whom are located along the Atlantic coast, are subdued by the legion of Publius Licinius Crassus. With this action, northern Gaul has been brought under Roman domination.

52 BC

While Caesar is tied down in Rome, the Gauls begin their revolt, resolving to die in freedom rather than be suppressed by the invaders. The Carnutes take the lead under Cotuatus and Conetodunus when they kill the Roman traders who have settled in Genabum. News of the event reaches the Arverni that morning, and Vercingetorix summons his people to arms. His cavalry subsequently routed in battle, he withdraws in good order to Alesia, a major fort belonging to the Mandubii. The remaining cavalry are dispatched back to their tribes to bring reinforcements. Caesar begins a siege of Alesia, aiming on starving out the inhabitants.

Four relief forces amounting to a considerable number of men and horses are assembled in the territory of the Aeduii by the council of the Gaulish nobility. Among those demanded from the tribes of Gaul are six thousand men combined from the tribes of Armorica (including the Ambibari, Caleti, Cariosvelites, Lemovices, Osismii, Redones, Venelli, and Veneti). Together they attempt to relieve Vercingetorix at the siege of Alesia, but the combined relief force is soundly repulsed by Julius Caesar. Seeing that all is lost, Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar. The garrison is taken prisoner, as are the survivors from the relief army. They are either sold into slavery or given as booty to Caesar's legionaries, apart from the Aeduii and Arverni warriors who are released and pardoned in order to secure the allegiance of these important and powerful tribes.

The site of Alesia
The site of Alesia, a major fort belonging to the Mandubii tribe of Celts, was the scene of the final desperate stand-off between Rome and the Gauls in 52 BC

With this action, all of Gaul 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.

51 BC onwards

Following the conclusion of the revolt, the Redones settle down to life under Roman administration and culture. Their oppidum at Condate becomes Condate Riedonum, capital of the civitas riedonum, which apparently later develops into the core of a parish by the name of Riedones when much of Gaul falls under Frankish domination in the fourth and fifth centuries AD. Riedones clearly remembers the tribe itself rather than the name of the oppidum, which probably proves that the Redones survive and retain a separate identity throughout the Roman period. The parish name is eventually used to denote the town itself, and in 832 the Abbey of Saint-Sauveur de Redon is founded by Conwoion, a Breton monk, with support from Carolingian Emperor Louis 'the Pious'. The tribe also lends its name to nearby Rennes.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.