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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapSordones (Gauls)

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 Sordones were a minor tribe that was located territory in the far south-eastern corner of France, around Narbonne, hemmed in between the Mediterranean and the eastern Pyrenees. They were neighboured to the north by the Volcae Tectosages, to the west by the Atacini, along the coast to the south by the Bebryces, while across the foothills of the Pyrenees to the west lay tribes of the Aquitani.

The Sordones (or Sordoni) tribal name breaks down fairly easily. The first part is 'surdo' or 'sordo' which has the Celtic plural '-on' and then the Latin plural '-es' tagged onto it. The core word, 'surdo', means 'shining', so the tribe were 'the shining' - not in the Jack Nicholson sense, more in a 'sunshine' or bright light sense.

The tribe should not be confused with the Germanic Suardones. They had an oppidum at Ruscino (identified by Polybius and Strabo) which has been matched to the modern Château-Roussillon at the mouth of the River Tet, near Perpignan. Today their territory lies immediately north of the Spanish border. The position lies on a low plateau, on the Domitia road, overlooking the river from where trade inland could be controlled. Unfortunately little archaeological remains have been found other than a confused first century AD Julio-Claudian occupation which has been badly cut into by medieval building work.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from The Roman Remains of Southern France: A Guide Book, James Bromwich, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Pritchard, and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

56 BC

When war flares up again in Gaul, triggered by Publius Licinius Crassus and the Seventh Legion in the territory of the Andes, Caesar has to turn back from his journey to Illyrium to handle the problem. Crassus is sent to Aquitania to subdue the tribes there and prevent an all-out war against stretched Roman troops. The Cantabri send assistance to the Aquitani.

Subduing the Petrocorii along the way, he recruits auxiliaries from the Gaulish regions of Tolosa, Carcaso, and Narbo (which includes the tribes of the Bebryces, Sordones, and Volcae) before entering the territory of the Sotiates.

That tribe has gathered together a large force which attacks the Romans in a drawn-out and vigorously-contested engagement. The Romans are only just victorious, having outlasted their hot-headed Celtic opponents in terms of stamina. The tribe's oppidum is besieged and they eventually surrender, despite an attempt by Adcantuannus to lead his personal retinue into a death or glory attack and other Celts undermining the siege towers (thanks to the presence of copper in the region these Celts and their Aquitani neighbours are expert miners).

Midi du Bigorre in the French region of Aquitania
The territory into which the Celtic tribes had settled was typical of the Aquitani region, which was made up mostly of rugged foothills of the kind that border peoples normally use to survive invasions by later arrivals - the Welsh and early Scots held onto similar territory in Britain to enable them to survive the Anglo-Saxon invasion

Crassus marches into the territories of the Vocates and Tarusates. They prove to be a rather more difficult opponent, as the campaign against the Sotiates has given them time to raise troops from northern Iberia. However, even they are defeated after allowing the Romans to penetrate their exposed rear. The Aquitani are forced to surrender with heavy casualties. When news of this defeat spreads, the majority of the tribes of Aquitania surrender to Crassus, including the Ausci, Bigerriones, Cocosates, Elusates, Garites, Garumni, Preciani, Suburates, Tarbelli, Tarusates, and 'Vocasates'.

With this action, southern Gaul has been brought under Roman domination, and the history of its population of Celts is tied to that of the empire.

1st century AD

The archaeological record regarding first century AD Ruscino is vague. Occupation continues, and with a degree of Roman building work to enhance the Celtic oppidum, but the remains are badly cut into by later medieval building work. There is a distinct lack of second and third century material, although the town remains occupied and is mentioned in the Itineraries. If a lower town exists, this is inundated by the sea in the fourth century, while the area between the river and the hill would be too narrow to allow much expansion. This could be the reason behind the re-use of Roman stone in the nearby medieval creation of Perpignan.

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