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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Sotiates / Sociates (Gauls? / Aquitani?)

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).

The Sotiates formed a fairly powerful local tribe which, by the middle of the first century BC, was located on the southern bank of the Garonne (in south-western France). They were neighboured to the north by the Vasates, across the Garonne to the east by the Nitiobroges and Cadurci, to the south by the tribes of the Aquitani which included the Elusates and Oscidates Campestri, and to the west by a pocket of Boii which were also known as the Boiates.

The tribe is also referred to as the Sociates, Sottiates, or Sontiate, and are often linked to the Lactorates who are mentioned by Antonius (according to the nineteenth century Prussian historian, Konrad Mannert, at least). Acclaimed by various scholars as being either Gauls or Aquitani, their name may be Celtic in origin, or it may be Aquitani (proto-Basque).

The alternative to Sotiates, 'Sociates', is probably a version of the tribe's name which has been amended to bring it closer to the familiar Latin 'socius', meaning 'partner, comrade, associate, ally, fellow', and 'socius', meaning 'sharing, associated, allied'. As it's the only available option, going with that seems to work, providing a core word of 'sot' which seems to be entirely obscure. The Sotiates name may simply refer to the people of their main settlement, Sotius, but what 'Sotius' may mean is a question which so far remains unanswered.

This uncertainty about the tribe's name suggests a theory which would explain it very easily. It is also a theory which is supported by various scholars who acclaim the tribe either as Gauls or Aquitani. Perhaps they were both. The tribe's name could be Aquitani, which would make it indecipherable to Celtic language experts, and perhaps its general population was also Aquitani, while the warrior elite could have been Celts who had taken over the tribe (albeit this usually produces a Celtic tribal name).

The same takeover process by a warrior elite is known from many examples with Celtic and Germanic tribes in Northern Europe, and also in Aquitania where potential crossover tribes are frequently encountered. In the north, many Germanic tribes seemed to have strong Celtic influences and names (such as the Marcomanni, which certainly did take over a very large and previously powerful Celtic tribe), and some Gaulish/Belgic tribes either had German leaders or strong German influences (such as the Eburones), so the possibility is certainly not without precedent.

The tribe's chief territory lay around Sos-en-Albret (which today is located in the southern parts of the Lot-et-Garonne département in France). Their principal settlement was the fortified oppidum Sotiatum which is almost certainly the origin of Sos-en-Albret. Supporters of the tribe being Aquitani point to dedications found here which display a proto-Basque origin. Personal names, though, show a leaning towards being Celtic.

According to the account of Publius Licinius Crassus, which would have been the source of information which was included by Julius Caesar in his Gallic Wars, the Sotiates were able to gather together 'great forces and [much] cavalry, in which their strength principally lay'. Having previously defeated Romans under the command of General Lucius Valerius Praeconinus and Proconsul Lucius Manilius, the Sotiates apparently saw themselves as the defenders of Aquitania, but for Rome it was a case of third time lucky in their attempts to subdue the tribe.

Ancient Britons

(Information by Peter Kessler, Edward Dawson, and Trish Wilson, with additional information from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Prichard, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, from Geography, Strabo, translated by H C Hamilton Esq & W Falconer, M A, Ed (George Bell & Sons, London, 1903), from Diccionario vasco–español–francés, Resurreción María Azkue (two-volume, trilingual dictionary, 1905), from Hauta-lanerako euskal hiztegia, Ibon Sarasola (Gipuzkoako Kutxa, 1990), from Mini hiztegia euskara-euskara, Ibon Sarasola (Lur, Editorial S, 1996), and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and Etymological Dictionary of Basque, R L Trask (available in PDF format via the Etymological Dictionary, Max Wheeler (Ed, PDF), and Aquitania (University of California), and Celtiberia.net (in Spanish), and Gran Enciclopedia Aragonesa (in Spanish), and Euskomedia (in Spanish).)

1st century BC

In the very middle decade of the first century BC, the Sotiates count Adcantuannus as their chief commander in battle and, therefore, probably also their chief magistrate (effectively an elected king). His name means 'ambition' in Gaulish, a clear pointer to there being a Celtic ruling elite for this tribe.

Map of European Tribes
This vast map covers just about all possible tribes which were documented in the first centuries BC and AD, mostly by the Romans and Greeks, and with an especial focus on 52 BC (click or tap on map to view at an intermediate size)

According to the account by Publius Licinius Crassus which Julius Caesar enters into his Gallic Wars, this king has six hundred devoted followers called soldurii. They have devoted themselves to this retinue and enjoy all the conveniences of life with their comrades, as long as they fight and die alongside those same men in defence of their king and tribe. This, if ever there was, is the true definition of the Celtic warband.

fl 78 - 56 BC

Adcantuannus / Adiatuanos

Chief commander of the Sotiates.

78 BC

General Lucius Valerius Praeconinus is killed by the Sotiates and his army is routed. Having seen his troops cut to pieces, Proconsul Lucius Manilius flees from the tribe with the loss of his baggage.

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.

River Garonne in France
The Garonne in south-western France provided a defining line between the lands of the Gauls to the north and those of the Aquitani to the south, although by the first century BC this definition had blurred somewhat

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 are expert miners).

Adcantuannus is driven back into the oppidum and is allowed the same terms of surrender as the rest of his people. Crassus marches into the territories of the Vocates and Tarusates. They prove to be a rather more difficult opponent.

The campaign against the Sotiates has given them time to raise troops from northern Iberia, many of which had fought with Quintus Sertorius, a rebellious governor of Iberia who defied Rome for a decade, and they have learnt a great deal from that experience. Even so, they make a mistake which the Romans ruthlessly exploit, and the Aquitani are forced to surrender with heavy casualties.

The Pyrenees as seen from the national park on the French side of the border
The Pyrenees (as seen here from the national park on the French side of the border) has presented a considerable obstacle to many migrating groups and campaigning armies, but there are paths across it, as the proto-Celtic Urnfield people and their Hallstatt culture successors found

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' (and presumably the unmentioned Oscidates).

The fighting Sotiates suffer the indignation of losing their autonomy when they are forcibly transferred into the administrative control of the Elusates. In time (by the third century creation of the Aquitanian 'Nine Peoples' in the form of Novempopulania) this serves to erase the tribe's identity.

With this action, Aquitania 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.

28 BC

Despite submitting fully in 56 BC, it seems that the conquest of the Aquitani and the neighbouring Celtic tribes is effected only now, by Proconsul Marcus Valerius Messalla. The proconsul is awarded a triumph for his success, suggesting that some fighting had been involved.

That award further suggests that the submission of 56 BC had gained the tribes some sort of allied status, but for the most part up until this point they had been able to remain essentially autonomous.

Triumph of Titus and Vespasian
The triumph of Marcus Valerius Messalla would have been similar to the one shown in Triumph of Titus and Vespasian, an Italian oil by Giulio Pippi (Romano) - very much a form of street party with a 'royal' procession, and usually held to celebrate a military victory

27 BC - AD 14

During the period of office of Augustus in Rome, the Aquitani tribes are incorporated into the newly-formed province of Aquitania. The province extends from the Liger (the modern Loire) to the Pyrenees, and is bound on the northern side by Mons Cevennus. This is one of the three divisions of the Gauls, the others being Gallia Lugdunensis and Belgica.


In the early medieval period the Aquitani lands are first confirmed as a possession of the Franks, after a long struggle to wrest them from the hands of the Visigoths. A Merovingian duke by the name of Chramn is appointed to govern Aquitaine, which contains within it the region of Gascony.

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