History Files

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapSotiates / Sociates (Gauls)
Incorporating the Lactorates

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. The Sotiates were a fairly powerful local tribe who, by the middle of the first century BC, were 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, and to the west by a pocket of the Boii.

The tribe are also called the Sociates, and are presumed to be the Lactorates 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/Basque. The alternative, Sociates, is probably a version of the tribe's name that has been amended to bring it closer to the familiar Latin 'socius', meaning 'partner, comrade, associate, ally, fellow', and 'socius', meaning 'sharing, associated, allied'. Going with that because it's the only option that seems to work, that provides a core word of 'sot', which seems to be totally obscure. The Sotiates name may simply refer to the people of their main settlement, Sotius, but what 'Sotius' may mean is a question that is so far unanswered.

The uncertainty about the tribe's name suggests a theory that would explain it very easily. It is also 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. The same thing is known to have happened more than once with Celtic/Germanic tribes in Northern Europe, with a warrior elite from one group seemingly ruling a population from the other group. Many German 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 Lactorates or Lectorates of Antoninus are presumed to be Caesar's Sotiates. Their chief town may have been Lectura, so it could also be presumed that they were a splinter of the main body of Sotiates that was in the process of becoming a separate tribe when they were conquered by Rome. The alternative is that they were the Celtic warrior elite that had taken over the main body of Aquitani who were called the Sotiates. Removing the plural suffixes leaves a core word of 'lakto-' or 'glakto-', which means milk. This group were 'the milkers', a very good name for Celts who were proud of their valuable cattle.

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.) According to the account of Publius Licinius Crassus, which would have been the source of the information 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 the Romans were to be third time lucky in their attempts to subdue the tribe.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, 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), and from External Link: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars.)

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, their chief magistrate (effectively an elected king). 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.

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

fl 78 - 56 BC


Chief commander of the Sotiates.

78 BC

General Lucius Valerius Praeconinus is killed by the Sotiates and his army is routed. 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. 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 Spain who defied Rome for a decade, and they have learnt a great deal from that experience. Even so, they make a mistake that the Romans ruthlessly exploit, and 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 (and presumably the unmentioned Oscidates).

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 further suggests that the submission of 56 BC had gained the tribes some sort of allied status, but that they had essentially been autonomous until now.

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.

AD 555

Medieval Aquitaine is first confirmed as a possession of the Franks, after a long struggle to wrest it from the hands of the Visigoths. A Merovingian duke by the name of Chramn is appointed to govern Aquitaine.