History Files

European Kingdoms



Salyes / Salluvii (Ligurians)

MapThe Ligurians were a people who, before and during the Roman republic period, could be found in north-western Italy. They largely occupied territory that today forms the region of Liguria, extending west into Piedmont to the south of the River Po and even as far as the French Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. Prior to Roman pressure they may have extended as far as northern Tuscany and across the Pyrenees into Catalonia, seemingly part of a pre-Indo-European population which occupied much of the western Mediterranean coastline (see map for more information).

The Ligurians were not one people, or even a single confederation, instead being formed of several smaller groups which included the confederation of the Salyes (Sallyes, or even Salluvii, if indeed the latter referred to the same tribe as the main name - some doubt seems to exist). By the middle of the first century BC they were a minor tribe that was located on the east bank of the Rhône, immediately to the north of the ancient Greek port of Messalina (modern Marseille) and between that and Arelate (modern Arles) on the western side of the Alps. They were neighboured to the north by the Vocontii, along the coast to the east by the Commoni, and across the Rhodanus (the modern River Rhône), to the west by the Volcae Arecomisci.

As inferred above, despite the Salyes being grouped with the Ligurians the Salluvii tribe is listed by Livy as being one of the Gaulish tribes to cross the Alps into Italy during the early fourth century BC. That migration, seemingly starting around 600 BC and becoming a torrent by around 400 BC, initially involved the Bituriges, Insubres, and several other tribes. It was instrumental in greatly squeezing Ligurian territory to the north and east, and also in adding a layer of Celticisation to Ligurian existence. It is entirely possible that the Salyes started out as Ligurians and ended up as the Salluvii following a takeover by Celts and a process of Celticisation (which could have taken as little as a couple of generations to complete). Certainly Strabo by the first century AD considered the Salyes to be Celto-Ligurians.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson and Maurizio Puntin, from Res Gestae, Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus), from Ligustica, Albert Karl Ernst Bormann (in three parts, 1864-1868), from Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, Harry Thurston Peck (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1898), from the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith, from Geography, Ptolemy, from The History of Rome, Volume 1, Titus Livius, translated by Rev Canon Roberts, and from External Links: Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

c.600 BC

Bellovesus and his mass horde of people from the Bituriges, Insubres, and several other tribes begin a migration across the Alps and into northern Italy. This barrier is one that has apparently not previously been breached by Celts, but they are also deterred by a sense of religious obligation, triggered by news reaching them that another group looking for territory, a force of Massalians, are under attack by the Salyes (Ligurians). Seeing this as an omen of their own fortunes, the Celts briefly go to the assistance of the Massalians to help them secure their position.

Then they make the crossing with some trepidation, heading through the passes of the Taurini and the valley of the Douro. It is possible that the Salyes subsequently become part of the southwards migration, at least to an extent and possibly not entirely willingly. Livy at least states that they join Bellovesus. Following their reaching of the Douro they defeat Etruscans in battle not far from the Ticinus. Bellovesus and his mainly Insubres people settle around the Ticinus and build a settlement called Mediolanum (modern Milan).

Map of the Etruscans
This map shows the greatest extent of Etruscan influence in Italy during the seventh to fifth centuries BC, and the location of the main body of Ligurians in relation to them

? - 123 BC


Deposed by the Roman conquest of the tribe.

123 - 121 BC

The Allobroges come into direct conflict with Rome following the latter's defeat of the Salluvii. That tribe's king, Tuto-Motulus (otherwise recorded as Tutomotulus or Teutomalius), flees northwards and seeks shelter with the Allobroges. His name start with 'tuto', possibly a variation on the 'teut' of the Teutones name, meaning 'family, tribe'. While this appears to be its meaning in the Celtic usage, its origins go much farther back and it has a good many variations. In Old Indian/Vedic it means 'strong'. In Latin (Q-Italic) it means 'all', or 'everyone' when applied to people. In Old Prussian (Baltic dialect), 'tulan' means 'much, a lot of'. Even so, the meaning of 'the people' is found in Celtic and P-Italic tongues and, of the variants listed above, the double 't' of 'teut' is the Celtic/Italic form alone. It only means 'tribe, family' in those two groups, not in other Indo-European tongues.

The Allobroges 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 and Arverni. 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. The Salyes/Salluvii have been subjugated and they subsequently disappear from history.