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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapRuteni (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 Ruteni were a minor tribe that was located in the lower reaches of Gaul, in the Midi-Pyrenees region of modern France. They were neighboured to the north by the Gabali, across the Alps to the east by the Helvii, to the south by the Volcae, Garites, and Garumni, and to the east by the Cadurci.

The Ruteni tribal name is a problem when it comes to breaking it down and providing an explanation. It should break down as 'rut-' plus two plural suffixes, '-en' and '-i'. But what is 'rut-'? The proto-Celtic word list gives: *rut-o- (?) to mean 'rust'. A light-hearted suggestion which results from this is that the Ruteni may have smeared themselves with ochre? However, more realistically, the best that educated speculation can offer is that the tribe might be named after a leader with auburn hair who was nicknamed 'Rust'. It's very tenuous but there are people called Rusty even today.

The tribe were located to the south of the Central Massif, encompassing territory that stretched from the heights of Aubrac to the north as far south as the River Agout. Today this forms the département of Aveyron and includes a sizable amount of the Tarn. They had an oppidum at Segodunum (modern Roedz), which became the capital of the southern Ruteni only when they were incorporated into the Roman Ruteni provincia in 120 BC, while the free Ruteni of the north relied on a base of their own. Possibly this was in the forest of Palanges, near Laissac in Montmerlhe, where archaeologists have relatively recently uncovered a previously unknown site. According to Julius Caesar, the Ruteni were famous for their archers, having sent contingents of them to support Vercingetorix, both during his revolt and also for the relief of Alesia.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information 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.)

120 BC

The Allobroges come into direct conflict with Rome following the latter's defeat of the Salluvii. That tribe's king, Tuto-Motulus, flees northwards and seeks shelter with the Allobroges. They welcome him in, and when Rome demands that he is handed over, they refuse. Having declared war, Rome sends Quintus Fabius Maximus to attack them in 121 BC. He is the son of Quintus Fabius Maximus Aemilianus, consul of 145 BC, and is consul himself during this year.

He campaigns in Gallia Transalpina (the modern Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes regions) with Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, fighting the Allobroges, Arverni, and Helvii. They are defeated and the consul is awarded the honour of a triumph which is famous for its spectacle, with the Arverni ruler, Bituitus, being displayed in his silver battle armour.

Western Alps
The Celtic tribes of the Western Alps were relatively small and fairly fragmented, but they made up for that with a level of belligerence and fighting ability that often stunned their major opponents, including the Romans

The Ruteni, Segovellauni, Vocontii, and Volcae Arecomisci are subjugated at the same time, although in the case of the Ruteni, only their southern territory is subjugated, It becomes the Roman Ruteni provincia, with a capital at Segodunum (modern Roedz) while the unconquered Ruteni to the north ally themselves firmly with the Arverni. These free Ruteni may maintain an oppidum in the forest of Palanges, near Laissac in Montmerlhe, which is where archaeologists find a previously unknown site that is occupied from the mid-first century BC.

53 BC

On 13 February 53 BC the disaffected Carnutes massacre every Roman merchant who is present in the town of Cenabum, as well as killing one of Caesar's commissariat officers. This is the spark that ignites a massed Gaulish rebellion. While Julius Caesar is occupied in the lands of the Belgae, Vercingetorix has renewed the Arverni subjugation of the Aeduii. He has also restored the reputation of Arverni greatness by leading the revolt that is building against Rome.

Despite his former allegiance to Julius Caesar, in the winter of 53-52 BC Commius of the Atrebates uses his contacts with the Bellovaci to convince them to contribute 2,000 men to an army. This army will join other Gauls to form a massive relief force at Alesia in the last stage of the revolt (this being a major fort that belongs to the Mandubii). The Lemovices are also amongst the first tribes to commit to joining Vercingetorix, contributing 10,000 men. The Mediomatrici send 5,000 men, and the Andes, Ruteni, and Turones are also amongst the first to commit.

The warriors of the Pictones decide to supply 8,000 warriors, but their chief, Duratios, stands firm in his desire to maintain his alliance with Rome, and this difference of opinion causes a split in the tribe. The warriors join the chief of the Andes who heads for Lemonum to besiege Duratios. The king sends a messenger to the Roman legate, Caius Caninius, who comes to his aid from the territory of the Ruteni. This small force is soon backed up by a more effective unit under Caius Fabius and a Pictonii civil war is averted.

52 BC

Vercingetorix sends Lucterius of the Cadurci into the territory of the Ruteni to gain their support, and marches in person to the Bituriges. The latter, under the protection of the Aeduii, send to them for help to resist the Arverni but are forced to join the revolt. Lucterius continues to the Gabali and Nitiobroges and wins their support, collecting together a large force ahead of an advance into the province of Narbonensis. Caesar gets there first and rallies the garrisons among the Ruteni and Volcae Arecomisci, and Lucterius is forced to retreat. From there Caesar circles through the territory of the generally pro-Roman Helvii (who provide auxiliaries) to reach that of the Arverni, despite deep winter snows in the mountains.

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

The northern, Gallic Ruteni have been a thorn in the Roman side since 120 BC. Due to their role in a number of Gaulish revolts including the latest, their possible oppidum in the forest of Palanges may well be occupied by the Romans after the defeat of Vercingetorix in order that they might be watched closely, along with the equally difficult Arverni.

With this defeat, all of Gaul has been brought under Roman domination, and the history of its population of Celts is tied to that of the empire.

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