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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapSegovellauni / Segalauni (Gauls)
Incorporating the Tricastii / Tricastini

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 Segovellauni 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 east, the Vocontii to the south, and the Helvii to the west.

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

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 left bank of the Rhône), which he called 'Regio Segovellaunorum'. Ptolemy described the 'localisait "Segalauni"' (sic) south of Savoy and north of the Cavares, but still with Valentia as their oppidum. However, Pliny the Elder places Valentia 'in the territory of Cavares', 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 Tricastii or Tricastini were a minor tribe that occupied a small territory in the modern département of the Drôme, between the Rubion and Aygues, on the banks of the Rhône. They were mentioned in Ptolemy's Geography as members of Gallia Narbonensis with their oppidum at Neomagus. Livy also mentioned them in his History of Rome, including their territory in the regions that Celts had to pass through to reach Italy. Their name is a tricky one to break down. With the '-in/on' and '-i' suffixes removed, the first part, 'tri', means 'three'. The second part could be *kasti, meaning 'hate', or *Kasti-, part of a personal name, or even *kasto, meaning 'fast'. The 'triple haters', perhaps. Or the 'triple fast'? At some point during the first century BC, the Tricastii were apparently absorbed by the Segovellauni and were never again mentioned.

(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 Geography, Ptolemy, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Pritchard, and from External Link: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

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).

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 and 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 the Allobroges' lands. Tribal politics often means using your enemy's enemy to strike a blow against them.

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

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.

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 a round them, this small tribe probably welcomes Roman protection and support for its very existence. The region's Gaulish tribes are now largely under Roman domination.

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, 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 is now tied to that of the empire.