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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Segusini (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 Segusini, who were located in the Cottian Alps (potentially part of the later Cotti Regnum of the first century AD). They were neighboured by the Ceutrones and Ucenni to the north, the Taurini to the east, the Tricastii and Edenates to the south, and by the Allobroges to the west.

The tribe's name has the same original basis as that of the Segusiavi, and is an easy one to break down. Remove the '-ini' plural suffixes to leave 'segus'. The root 'sego-' is common Celtic for 'victory' (and is also used in all German tongues). The tribe were 'the victors', a very Celtic boast of prowess and success in battle. Given their location, it is possible that they had an earlier relationship with the relatively-close Segusiavi.

Following the Celtic breakthrough of the western Alps between about 600-400 BC, not all Gaulish groups involved actually entered Italy. Some integrated themselves along the western Alps between Lake Constance and Nice. Some may already have been there beforehand, although the case for the Segusini is less positive given their potential links with the Segusiavi.

What they would have found there were many Ligurian tribes. Intermixing would have followed to create Celto-Ligurian tribes, but the same process would have affected the larger Celtic tribes too, even if it was probably to a lesser extent. The Segusini can probably be included amongst this number, although any Ligurian influence seems to have been limited.

Segusini territory is something which can be pinpointed with certainty. They were based around the valley of Susa in Piedmont (from 'Segusio', the tribe's oppidum), in the Cottian Alps of Cisalpine Gaul. Ptolemy stated that Brigantium (modern Briançon in France) formed the westernmost limits of the tribe's territory.

The Alps

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information by Trish Wilson, from An Enquiry into the Ancient Routes between Italy and Gaul, Robert Ellis, from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Prichard, from Geography, Ptolemy, from Les peuples préromains du Sud-Est de la Gaule: Étude de géographie historique, Guy Barruol (De Boccard, 1999), and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and Defeat of the Vocates and Tarusates, J Rickard, 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).)

c.600 BC

Bellovesus and his massed 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 which 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, is under attack by the Salyes (Ligurians).

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)

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.

Following that they defeat Etruscans in battle not far from the Ticinus. Bellovesus and his people settle around the Ticinus and build a settlement called Mediolanum (modern Milan).

This could herald the start of the period in which - if they are not already there - various Celtic tribes settle the western Alps rather than following Bellovesus into Italy, amongst them being the Segusini.

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).

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 which often stunned their major opponents, including the Romans

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 AD 297 to Civitas Ebrodunensium, modern Embrun).

Segusio becomes the capital of the province of Alpes Cottiae (the Cottian Alps). 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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