History Files

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapSegni (Sinuci?) (Belgae)

FeatureThe Segni were not amongst the four tribes described by Julius Caesar as Germanic but with at least one leader who bore a Celtic name. Those tribes were the Caerosi, Condrusi, Eburones, and Paemani, but the Segni also appear to have been more Germanic than Celtic. By the middle of the first century BC, they were a minor tribe which was located on the east bank of the Mosa (the modern River Meuse), amongst the tribes of the Belgae in what is now northern France and the lowlands of Belgium. To their west were the Eburones, to the north were the Belgic Menapii, across the Rhine to the east were the Germanic Bructeri and Sicambri, and to the south were the Atuatuci and Tungri.

With the question over the tribe's ethnic background still undecided, the Segni, or Segui, name at least is very Germanic. 'Seg' or 'sig' is victory, plus an '-en' plural suffix and/or plus the Latin '-i' suffix. The name means 'the victors' or 'the winners', which is certainly a reference to their fighting prowess. For the main part, the tribe is thought to have been a splinter of the Sicambri, but with other elements added. The first century AD tribe of the Sinuci or Sunuci, often thought to be the same group more than a century later, throw up a problem when it comes to linking together the two names. Whilst improbable, such sound sequence inversions do occur. Before an 'i', the 'c' would be pronounced 'ch'. That may take it too far from the 'g' > 'k' sound. On the other hand, there might be a cultural conflict within the tribe, where the Gaulish commoners say 'sinuc' ('sinook'), while a German military elite mangled that into their familiar 'seg'/'sig' word. Perhaps by the first century AD, the ruling Germans had been integrated into the Gallo-Belgic culture of their people more completely, so that the Gallic pronunciation took over?

There were several tribes in the Belgic territories which are sometimes thought by scholars to be Germanic (such as the mysterious Betasii), although much of the evidence seems to suggest that they were either Belgic Celts, or were ruled by a Belgic nobility. The idea of the Belgae being a mix of Germans and Celts to some extent is firmly stated as being reported to Julius Caesar by the locals. It is a model that could also provide the basis for the foundation of the English kingdom of Wessex in the sixth century. Local Belgae, who were perhaps already semi-German, fusing with German foederati in late Roman Britain and then with Saxons to form the population of the new kingdom. The same intermixing is evident in several Belgic tribes on the Continent.

(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 Histories, Tacitus, 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 Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed).)

113 - 105 BC

A large-scale migration of Cimbri and Teutones passes through Central Europe, and along the way it picks up Celto-Germanic Helvetii peoples who at this time are located in central Germany (in territory that later becomes Franconia). Together this band enters southern Gaul and northern Italy, and comes up against the Roman republic.

The Teutones wandering in Gaul
An illustration depicting the Teutones wandering in Gaul, part of a large-scale migration from modern Denmark into northern Italy in the second century BC

As shocking as this invasion is to the Romans, according to the later writings of Julius Caesar, the 'Germani' tribes of the Caerosi, Condrusi, Eburones, and Paemani (and perhaps also the unmentioned Segni) have already settled in Gaul, along the eastern edges of Gaulish and Belgae territory around the modern Belgian and Dutch borders. This suggests that the Germanic tribes are already pushing outwards from their Northern European settlements in the Danish peninsula and along the southern shores of the Baltic.

55 BC

As recorded by Julius Caesar in his work, Commentarii de Bello Gallico, the Germanic Tencteri and Usipetes tribes cross the Rhine from Germania and attack first the Belgic Menapii and then the Condrusi and Eburones. The tribes of the Caerosi, Condrusi, Eburones, and Paemani are Belgic peoples who are sometimes thought by scholars to be Germanic, although much of the evidence seems to suggest that they are either Celts, or are ruled by a Celtic nobility - entirely possible for early Germanic arrivals into Celtic territory.

53 BC

Before leaving on his second expedition to Britain, Julius Caesar visits the Treveri with four legions, as an internal power struggle has developed between Cingetorix, who is pro-Roman, and Indutiomarus, who opposes him. A legion is stationed there for the remainder of the winter, while Caesar enters the country of the Eburones, supported by a contingent of Senones cavalry led by the exiled Cavarinus, their former puppet king. About fifteen days later, Ambiorix and Cativolcus of the Eburones instigate a revolt, prompted primarily by pressure from their people. They are joined by the Treveri, but events don't go their way.

South Limberg
The gentle rolling landscape of the Limberg region would have made idea pasture and farming land for the Belgic tribes, but its proximity to the Maas would have provided the woods and swamps which served as a refuge in times of need

Ambiorix flees before the Romans and Cativolcus commits suicide by poisoning. Despite this apparent capitulation, the country of the Eburones proves difficult for the Romans, being woody and swampy in parts. Caesar invites the neighbouring people to come and plunder the Eburones. After stubborn resistance from the tribe, Caesar burns every village and building that he can find in their territory, drives off all the cattle, and confiscates all of the tribe's grain. The tribe is destroyed by this action and no further mention is made of them in history. Their land is occupied by the Germanic Tungri.

52 BC

Any role the Segni may have in the pan-Gaulish revolt is unknown. With the revolt's defeat, all of Gaul is brought under Roman domination, and the history of its population of Celts is tied to that of the empire.

AD 69 - 70

Gaius Julius Civilis leads a Batavian insurrection against a Rome which is distracted by the events of the Year of the Four Emperors. He is supported by the Bructeri, Canninefates, Chauci, Cugerni, and Tencteri, while the Sinuci are also mentioned as a people who live in the region (although their involvement in the revolt is uncertain). The tribes send reinforcements and Civilis is initially successful, but terms eventually have to be agreed with Rome.

It seems possible that the Sinuci and the Segni are one and the same, divided only by a century and-a-half between Caesar's mention of them and their appearance in the Historia of Tacitus. Pliny the Elder has the Sinuci living between the Frisavones and the Tungri (remembering that the Tungri have been settled on the former territory of the Eburones for the past century).

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