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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapSenones / Semnones (Early Celts) (Gauls)

FeatureThis was an early Celtic tribe, one which was attested before the first century BC. By the time they came into contact with Julius Caesar in the middle of that first century BC, the Senones were located in northern-central Gaul, along the Sequana (the River Seine) to the south of Paris at the confluence of the River Yonne. They were neighboured to the north by the Veliocasses and Parisii, to the east, across the Seine, by the Catalauni, to the south by the Tricasses and Carnutes and also a small pocket of Boii, and to the west by the Cenomani and Eburovices.

The Senones were also commonly known as the Semnones. The '-es' at the end of the word is a Latin plural that was added to the Gaulish or Germanic plural of '-on', so the root name would be 'Semn' or 'Sen'. 'Sen' (singular: 'senos') means 'old'. So the tribe were 'the elders' probably referring to their early history as one of the older known Celtic tribes, at which time they may well have held more influence and power (and territory) than they did by the first century BC.

The tribe should not be confused with the Germanic Semnones, which formed part of the vast Suevi confederation of central Germany, although they do seem to have supplied the origins of a Celtic tribe which was also called the Senones and which infiltrated into northern Italy as part of a general wave of migration across the Alps in the early fourth century BC. However, while this latter tribe, termed here the Italic Senones, are very likely to have been related to the Gaulish Senones, there is no provable direct link between them. In favour of the link is the fact that several other Gaulish tribes seem to have sent bodies of their people into Italy in the fourth century BC, so it does seem likely that the Italic Senones were a sub-division of the main body of the tribe in Gaul. For that reason, the activities of the Italic Senones have been included here.

The Gaulish Senones occupied the area of the Sénonais (which corresponds to the modern départements of the Yonne, Marne, Seine-et-Marne and the Côte d'Or). Their oppidum was Agendicum (modern Sens in the Yonne département of France), while they also had a town at Melodunum, which was situated on an island in the Seine.

(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 The History of Rome, Volume 1, Titus Livius, translated by Rev Canon Roberts, and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, Perseus Digital Library, and Polybius, Histories.)

c.600 BC

The first century BC writer, Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus), writes of an invasion into Italy of Celts during the reign of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, king of Rome. As archaeology seems to point to a start date of around 500 BC for the beginning of a serious wave of Celtic incursions into Italy, this event has either been misremembered by later Romans or is an early precursor to the main wave of incursions. Livy writes that two centuries before major Celtic attacks take place against Etruscans and Romans in Italy, a first wave of invaders from Gaul fights many battles against the Etruscans who dwell between the Apennines and the Alps.

Gauls on expedition
An idealised illustration of Gauls on an expedition, from A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times Volume I by Francois Pierre Guillaume Guizot

At this time, the Bituriges are the supreme power amongst the Celts (who already occupy a third of the whole of Gaul). Livy understands that this tribe had formerly supplied the king for the whole Celtic race, either suggesting a previously more central governance of the Celts that is now beginning to fragment or the typical assumption that one powerful king rules an entire people. The prosperous and courageous, but now-elderly Ambigatus is the ruler of the Bituriges, and over-population means a division of its number is required. Ambigatus sends his sister's sons, Bellovesus and Segovesus, to settle new lands with enough men behind them to put down any opposition. Bellovesus heads towards Italy, inviting fellow settlers to join him from six tribes, the Aeduii, Ambarri, Arverni, Aulerci, Bituriges, Carnutes, and Senones. The body of people led by Bellovesus himself apparently consists mainly of Insubres, a canton (or sub-division) of the Aeduii.

c.400 - 391 BC

Following the route set by Bellovesus and the Bituriges around 600 BC, other bodies of Celts have gradually invaded northern Italy, probably due to overpopulation in Gaul and the promise of fertile territory just waiting to be captured. The first of these is the Cenomani, followed by the Libui and Saluvii. Then the Boii and Lingones cross the Pennine Alps, while in 391 BC the Senones are the last to come. They occupy the country from the River Utis (or Utens) to the Aesis (near Ancona, which marks the border between the Picentes and the Umbri in Italy). It is this last tribe which Livy states comes to the Etruscan city of Clevsin (Clusium to the Romans), and from there to Rome, although whether alone or with the help of the Cisalpine peoples is unclear.

fl 387 - 386 BC

Brennus / Brennos / Brunnus

Chief of the Italy branch of the Senones.

391 - 390 BC

The Etruscans of Clevsin are appalled by this strange war being waged against their northern territories, and by the strange barbarians who fight it. Arruns of Clevsin is attempting to deal with a rebel called Lucomo, and he makes the mistake of hiring a band of Celts to help, led by one Brennus of the Italic Senones (the name means 'raven' and a modern form of it is Brian). Instead they besiege Clevsin itself, intent on securing some of the city's territory on which to settle. With few options and fewer supporters, Arruns sends ambassadors to ask the Roman senate for assistance (although this last event may be later propaganda designed to show Rome as the principle power in Italy).

Clevsin Etruscan urn
An alabaster cinerary urn showing the murder of Clytemnestra by Orestes and Pylades, with them wearing capes and Phrygian caps, discovered in Clevsin, modern Chiusi (External Link: Creative Commons Licence 2.0 Generic - click or tap on image to view full sized)

Rome sends three ambassadors, but far from conducting a peaceful negotiation, they and the Celts quickly come to blows. The ensuing fight sees one of the Romans, Quintus Fabius, kill a Gaulish chieftain, so the Celts withdraw to discuss threatening Rome directly while the ambassadors flee the scene. The chronology of Marcus Terentius Varro places this fight in 390 BC, but given subsequent events, it seems much more reasonable to place it in 388 or 387 BC. This event perhaps allows the Etruscans themselves a respite in the incessant pressure from the Latins, although the city of Clevsin is allied to Rome for the duration of the Celtic incursion.

387 - 386 BC

Rome pays such little heed to the threat of Celtic attack that it fails even to elect a dictator. The Celts advance at great speed, reassuring the people and cities that they pass that they are only interested in Rome and that all others are their friends. At last, the Romans raise a levy army under the command of Aulus Quintus Sulpicius, but this is completely overwhelmed at the Battle of the Allia just eighteen kilometres (eleven miles) from Rome. Brennus, chieftain of the Italic Senones, destroys the Roman reserves before the main line has even been broken, while the rest of the Romans flee to Veii or are cut down by the victorious Celts.

The next day, the Celts are able to walk into an undefended and near-abandoned Rome. Only the refuge of the Citadel and Capitoline contains anyone who may be able to fight in defence of their position. It is the neighbouring city of Ardea which comes to Rome's aid, even if indirectly. Its people attack a Gaulish scavenging party, scattering them. The Romans who have taken refuge in Veii see the Ardeans subsequently looting Roman property and are roused at last to defend their city, both from the Celts and from Etruscans who are taking advantage of the situation.

A dictator is now chosen in the form of the exiled Marcus Furius Camillus, and he begins to raise an army from Roman refugees in Veii. However, both the Romans and Celts are beginning to suffer from famine in their seven month siege, so an agreement is reached to pay the Celts a thousand pounds in weight of gold in return for their departure. Camillus manages to arrive just in time to prevent this ultimate humiliation for Rome, and the Celts are routed, returning in defeat to their newly-captured settlements in northern Italy (later propaganda has Camillus killing Brennus). Camillus is proclaimed 'A Romulus', and 'The Second Founder of the City'.

Camillus Rescuing Rome from Brennus
Dictator Marcus Furius Camillus may have been instrumental in persuading Brennus and his Gauls to leave Rome following its sacking in 389 BC, as painted around 1716-20

283 BC

The Italic Picentes make another appearance in the historical record, in relation to successful Roman conquests in the far northern reaches of Picene territory. The Ager Gallicus on the north-east coast of Italy has been populated by different ethnic groups for quite some time. These are mainly Picentes and Etruscans, but with a strong admixture of more recently arrived Gauls. Ancona had been built by the Greeks of Sicily, but to the north of this the Gauls dominate. Rome has been winning a series of victories against these Gauls, and in this year it expels the tribe of the Senones from the coastal region. Rome annexes this strip as far south as Ancona, and the area is renamed Gallia Togata.

c.250s BC

Back in Gaul, the Parisii are known to be occupying the banks of the River Sequana (the Seine) from the middle of the third century BC. They appear to be ceded their territory by the Senones in a re-juggling of territorial holdings. The Parisi of Britain, thought by some to be a splinter of this group, seem already to be settled there before this date, perhaps making it more likely that the Parisii of the Seine are the splinter group.

232 BC

Five years after the threat of war between the Boii and Rome had ended in Gaulish internecine battle, during the consulship of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, Rome divides the territory of Picenum, from which the Italic Senones had been ejected in 283 BC. For many of the Gauls, and especially the Boii whose lands border this territory, this is an act of war. The tribes are now convinced that Rome wants to destroy and expel them completely. It soon becomes apparent that the Gaesatae mercenaries hired by the Boii could in fact be descendants of the Senones.

1st century BC

In Gaul, by the beginning of the first century BC, and perhaps for an indeterminate period before it, the Aeduii are at the head of a tribal confederation that also includes the Ambarri, Aulerci, Bellovaci, Bituriges Cubi, Brannovices, Mandubii, Parisii, Segusiavi, and Senones. Against this confederation in the contest for supremacy in Gaul are the Arverni, to its immediate south, and the Sequani to its east. The Parisii and Senones also face regular warfare waged against them by the aggressive Remi to their east, who are in alliance with some of the Germanic tribes situated along the Rhine.

Map of Gaul 100 BC
The Aeduii confederation is shown here, around 100 BC, with borders approximate and fairly conjectural, based on the locations of the tribes half a century later - it can be seen that the Aulerci at least migrate farther north-west during that time, although the remainder largely stay put (click or tap on map to view full sized)

? - 57 BC


Probably opposed to the Romans entering Gaul. A son of chieftains.

57 - 54 BC


Brother. Roman puppet ruler appointed by Julius Caesar.

57 BC

The Belgae enter into a confederacy against the Romans in fear of Rome's eventual domination over them. They are also spurred on by Gauls who are unwilling to see Germanic tribes remaining on Gaulish territory and are unhappy about Roman troops wintering in Gaul. The Senones are asked by Julius Caesar to gain intelligence on the intentions of the Belgae, and they report that an army is being collected. Caesar marches ahead of expectations and the Remi, on the Belgic border, instantly surrender, although their brethren, the Suessiones remain enthusiastic about the venture. The Bellovaci are the most powerful among the Belgae, but the confederation also includes the Ambiani, Atrebates, Atuatuci, Caerosi, Caleti, Condrusi, Eburones, Menapii, Morini, Nervii, Paemani, Veliocasses, and Viromandui, along with some unnamed Germans on the western side of the Rhine.

Caesar encourages his ally, Diviciacus of the Aeduii, to attack the Bellovaci and divert part of the Belgic forces. The remaining Belgae march against the Romans en masse, attacking the Remi town of Bibrax along the way. Rather than face such a large force with a reputation for uncommon bravery, Caesar elects to isolate them in groups using his cavalry, and following the Battle of the Axona he manages to defeat or accept surrender from all of them in a single campaigning season. According to him, the Aulerci, Cariosvelites, Osismii, Redones, Sesuvii, Venelli, and Veneti, all of whom are located along the Atlantic coast, are subdued by the legion of Publius Licinius Crassus. With this action, northern Gaul has been brought under Roman domination.

Battle of the Axona
The Battle of the (River) Axona (the modern Aisne in north-eastern France) witnessed the beginning of the end of the Belgic confederation against Rome

54 BC

Cavarinus is condemned to death by his people and is forced to flee to the Romans for protection. This serves as a commitment by the tribe to oppose Julius Caesar during his Gallic campaigns. His replacement at the time is unknown, but within three years the tribe is being led by Drappes.

54? - 51 BC

Drappes / Draptes

Replaced Cavarinus?

53 BC

Caesar enters the country of the Eburones, supported by a contingent of Senones cavalry led by the exiled Cavarinus, their former puppet king. Despite having the cavalry of the Treveri in support, the rebellious leaders of the Eburones either flee or commit suicide. The act seems to rally support from amongst most of the Gauls, except the Aeduii and Remi, who remain loyal to Rome, although the Gauls are unable to encourage the Germans to cross the Rhine and support them due to the recent defeats of Ariovistus of the Suevi and of the Tencteri expedition, something that has dissuaded them from a third attempt. However, following the death of Indutiomarus of the Treveri, no further action is taken against the Romans in this year.

52 BC

While Caesar is tied down in Rome, the Gauls begin their revolt, resolving to die in freedom rather than be suppressed by the invaders. The Carnutes take the lead under Cotuatus and Conetodunus when they kill the Roman traders who have settled in Genabum. News of the event reaches the Arverni that morning, and Vercingetorix summons his people to arms. Despite being expelled from the town of Gergovia by his uncle, Gobanitio, and the rest of the nobles in their fear of such a risky enterprise, he gathers together an army. The Aulerci, Cadurci, Lemovices, Parisii, Pictones, Senones, and Turones all join him, as do all of the tribes that border the ocean. The Treveri support the revolt but are pinned down by German tribes.

Vercingetorix, his cavalry routed in battle, withdraws in good order to Alesia, a major fort belonging to the Mandubii. The remaining cavalry are dispatched back to their tribes to bring reinforcements. Caesar begins a siege of Alesia, aiming on starving out the inhabitants. Four relief forces amounting to a considerable number of men and horses are assembled in the territory of the Aeduii by the council of the Gaulish nobility. Among those demanded from the tribes of Gaul are twelve thousand each from the Bituriges, Carnutes, Ruteni (mostly archers), Santones, Senones, and Sequani.

The site of Alesia
The site of Alesia, a major fort belonging to the Mandubii tribe of Celts, was the scene of the final desperate stand-off between Rome and the Gauls in 52 BC

Together they attempt to relieve Vercingetorix at the siege of Alesia, but the combined relief force is soundly repulsed by Julius Caesar's remarkable strategy of simultaneously conducting the siege of Alesia on one front whilst being besieged on the other. Seeing that all is lost, Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar. The garrison is taken prisoner, as are the survivors from the relief army. They are either sold into slavery or given as booty to Caesar's legionaries, apart from the Aeduii and Arverni warriors who are released and pardoned in order to secure the allegiance of these important and powerful tribes.

51 BC

Under the leadership of Drappes, the Senones team up with Lucterius of the Cadurci to invade the Roman provincia. Pursued by Roman forces, the Gauls entrench themselves at Uxellodunum, the oppidum of the Cadurci.

In an attempt to re-supply the city, Drappes is cut off and captured by Gaius Caninius Rebilus. He commits suicide by starving himself to death. Lucterius flees to the Arverni, where he is betrayed and handed over to the Romans.

With this action, all of Gaul has been brought under Roman domination, and the history of its population of Celts and Aquitani is tied to that of the emerging Roman empire. The defeated Senones are apparently subdued and become model Romans who do nothing worthy of another mention in history, although they are noted as a people of the Roman province of Gallia Lugdunensis.

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