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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Segovellauni / Segalauni (Gauls / Celto-Ligurians?)

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, while also extending into Switzerland, northern Italy, and along the Danube (see feature link for a discussion of the origins of the Celtic name).

MapBy the middle of the first century BC, there existed a cluster of smaller tribes in the Alpine region of western Switzerland and the French/Italian border (see map link for all tribal locations). This included the Segovellauni who, by the first century BC, were located in south-western France, between the Rhône and Lake Geneva on the modern Swiss border.

They were neighboured to the north by the Allobroges, by the Tricastii to the north-east (whom they absorbed in the first century BC), the Caturiges, Cavari, and a host of minor Celto-Ligurian tribes to the south, and the Helvii to the more distant west.

The Segovellauni name is formed of two words, with the first element being 'segos' (cognate with German 'sig'), which means 'victory'. Perceived conventional wisdom in regard to the second element, 'vel', is that it means 'leader', which would produce something like 'the victory leaders'.

In this case, the tribe was probably named after an individual with the name Segovellos who, if king, became Segovellorix ('rix' meaning king). If so the name would be the 'victory leader's people'. The '-auni' ending is the Celt/German plural '-on' (which has been misspelled), plus the Roman plural '-i'.

However, the modern, conventional meaning of 'leader', from the Welsh, is not the original meaning. It is suspected that the original is a verb, 'to fight', which was also used as a noun in the form of 'a fighter'. Its cognate in Latin would be 'bellum'. It seems logical to state that the initial consonant is interchangeably a 'b', 'v', or 'w' sound, depending on the local Italo-Celtic dialect. This means 'duel' is 'du' plus 'well', meaning a fight between two (persons or tribes). 'Segovellauni' could mean 'the victory fighters', perhaps by extension 'the victorious fighters'.

There seems to be a level of uncertainly over precisely where the tribe was located. Pliny places them in the area around Valentia (modern Valence in the Drôme département, on the east bank of the Rhône), which he called 'Regio Segovellaunorum'. This would give them a greater breadth of territory than is suggested by the map below.

Ptolemy described the 'localisait "Segalauni"' (sic) south of Savoy and north of the Cavari, but still with Valentia as their oppidum. However, Pliny the Elder places Valentia 'in the territory of Cavares [Cavari]', ie. farther to the south. Strabo placed them on both sides of the Rhône and across the entire plain of Valentia, with the River Isère as their border with the tribes to the north.

The Alps

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information by Trish Wilson, from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, from Geography, Ptolemy, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Pritchard, from Les peuples préromains du Sud-Est de la Gaule: Étude de géographie historique, Guy Barruol (De Boccard, 1999), and from External Link: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), 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).)

5th century BC

An archaeological dig in the 1960s discovers the earliest signs of habitation at the later site of Valentia, oppidum of the Segovellauni. Evidence of bronze work is uncovered, along with early exchange with the Etruscans and Greeks (the latter most especially in terms of amphorae from Masselina).

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)

218 BC

Writing in the mid-second century BC, Polybius provides the Allobroges, Segovellauni, and Tricastii with their first mention in history. The Allobroges are already established on the western side of the Alps where they control many of the important passes through the mountains.

They (and 'other tribes' which may include the Medulli) unsuccessfully attempt to resist the passage of Hannibal and his Carthaginian army which is on its way to attack Rome during the Second Punic War.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, it seems to be fellow Celts, the Boii, who first show the mountain passes to Hannibal, after the Segovellauni have escorted them through Allobroges lands. Tribal politics often means using your enemy's enemy to strike a blow against them.

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, 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.

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

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. The Ruteni, Segovellauni, Vocontii, and Volcae Arecomisci are subjugated at the same time.

65 BC

The Allobroges revolt under the leadership of Catugnatus, and the Segovellauni may also be involved. The revolt is defeated in short order by Gaius Pomptinus at the Solonium and it results in a good deal of the tribe's accumulated wealth being paid to Rome, so much so that by 63 BC representatives from the tribe visit Rome to plead their debt.

At the same time, Senator Catiline (Lucius Sergius Catilina) invites the Allobroges to join his conspiracy. Instead, they decline the offer and expose it. This earns Rome's gratitude and the Allobroges remain allies thereafter.

58 - 56 BC

The Segovellauni remain allied to Julius Caesar during the Gallic Wars which see the rest of the Gaulish tribes subjugated under Roman authority. With a number of belligerent tribes occupying the Alpine region around them, this small tribe probably welcomes Roman protection and support for its very existence.

La Turbie and the Trophy of Augustus
The 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

The region's Gaulish tribes are now largely under Roman domination, and it could be around this point that the Tricastii join up with the Segovellauni and surrender their individual identity. Unfortunately the event is not recorded by Roman writers.

25 - 15 BC

Augustus determines that the Alpine tribes need to be pacified in order to end their warlike behaviour, alternately attacking or extracting money from Romans who pass through the region, even when they have armies in tow.

He wages a steady, determined campaign against them during the Alpine Wars, and in a period of ten years he 'pacifies the Alps all the way from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian seas' (written by Augustus himself).

14 BC

Emperor Augustus creates the province of Alpes Maritimae (the maritime, or seaward, Alps). It has its capital at Cemenelum (modern Nice, although this is switched in 297 to Civitas Ebrodunensium, modern Embrun). The history of the Alpine region's population of Celts and Celto-Ligurians is now tied to that of the empire.

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