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European Kingdoms

Aquitani Tribes


Suburates / Sibusates / Sibulates / Siburates / Sybillates (Aquitani)

Today's Basques of northern Spain have their historical origins in the tribes of the Aquitani. Akin in some ways to the general disposition of Iberian tribes, they straddled the Pyrenees by the time the Romans arrived to record their existence.

Their tribes could be found occupying much of modern Gascony in France, along with a swathe of territory between the central Pyrenees on the Iberian side, and westwards to the Bay of Biscay, very roughly between the modern counties of Aragon and Cantabria (home of the Cantabri).

The Aquitani were not Celts, and neither were they Iberians. The much-later-arriving Indo-European Gauls merely abutted the Aquitani and were not related to them, and neither were the Iberian tribes of today's Spain and Portugal. Strabo distinguished the Aquitani tribes from the Gauls in Western Europe both in their physical type and in their language, although the Aquitani were influenced by their Indo-European neighbours and, in turn, influenced them.

This tribe's name was recorded in a number of ways, with minor variations in spelling: Suburates, or Sibulates (this thanks to Caesar), or Siburates, or Sybillates (the latter thanks to Pliny). Caesar added yet another variation in the form of Sibusates or Sibuzates (both versions have been translated out of his writings). Their neighbours included the Oscidates and the Tarbelli but there is little recorded of the tribe, despite the multiple variations of their name.

That name gave rise to the name of the province of Xiberoa (using Souletin Basque), Zuberoa (in Standard Basque), Sola (in Gascon), Soule (in French), and Subola (in Latin). The tribe inhabited the former province of Soule, the smallest in today's Basque Country. Probably this included the Vallee du Saison, the River Saison, a left tributary of the Gave de Mauleon which is located in the Pyrenees Atlantiques.

They are certainly not mentioned in Ptolemy's later work, implying that they were included in a greater population, most certainly that of the Tarbelli. The Novempopulania map supports this.

There is plenty to suggest that it was only after the creation of Novempopulania (between AD 271-285) that the list of tribes was updated for this area, and that what had been the territory of the Tarbelli was reduced to accommodate updated information in the case of the former Suburates. Their territory now formed part of the home of the Illuronenses.

Pyrenees National Park in France

(Information by Trish Wilson, with additional information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, from the Encyclopaedia of European Peoples, Carl Waldman & Catherine Mason, from Caesar's Conquest of Gaul, TR Holmes, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Pritchard, 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 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 The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Euskomedia (in Spanish).)

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 subdue the tribes of the Aquitani - although the Vascones seem not to be involved themselves - and prevent an all-out war against stretched Roman troops.

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)

The Petrocorii are subdued early, while auxiliaries are recruited from the (Gaulish) Bebryces, Sordones, and Volcae. The Sotiates attack the Romans in a drawn-out and vigorously-contested engagement in which the Romans are only just victorious, having outlasted their hot-headed Celtic opponents in terms of stamina.

The Vocates and Tarusates prove to be a rather more difficult opponent, outnumbering Crassus perhaps by ten-to-one and holding a very strong position. However, and despite the odds, 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'.

Smaller Aquitani tribes such as the Benearni and Onesii - and even larger ones like the Consoranni and Convenae - are not mentioned directly but, as the smaller ones generally sit within the shadow of the much more powerful larger tribes, their surrender is entirely to be expected. Today those on the western bank of the Garonne form part of the largely unofficial Basque Country.

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.

Pyrenees National Park
The Pyrenees National Park on the French side of the western-central Pyrenees reveals a level of lush terrain and grazing opportunities which can surprise anyone who thinks of the range as being pure, uninhabitable mountains

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.

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.

Midi du Bigorre in the French region of Aquitania
The territory into which the initially-Celtic Garumni and other such tribes had settled was typical of the Aquitani region, which was made up mostly of rugged foothills of the kind which 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


During his reign, Rome's Emperor Diocletian oversees the formulation of the Notitia Galliarum. One of the cities which are included in its pages is the city of 'ciuitas Elloronensium' (with 'ciutas' meaning 'civitas'). This Latin name is understood to derive from that of the people who are living in the city of Iluro (today's Oloron-Sainte-Marie).

However, this population is labelled the Iluronenses, and this is their first mention in history. Their territory is in the same vicinity as the former territory of the Oscidates and Suburates, but neither of those tribes are now mentioned.

This suggests that they had never been full tribes in their own right (the Tarbelli are the greater host in this region and may have absorbed any individual identity), or that population or Roman organisational changes over two centuries have resulted in naming changes.


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.

Map of Western Europe at the death of Clovis in AD 511
The founder of the Merovingian Frankish kingdom was Clovis, who followed an aggressive policy of conquest to build up the kingdom over much of modern France, although Aquitaine was a very late addition (click or tap on map to view full sized)

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