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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Tarvisii (Celto-Veneti?)

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).

By the middle of the first century BC, the Tarvisii were noted as being a minor Gaulish tribe. They were neighboured by the Adriatic Veneti and Euganei to their immediate north, by the Camunes and Trumpilini to their distant west, and the much larger Cenomani less distant, with the Lingones to their south, and the waters of the Adriatic to their east.

Following the Gaulish ingress into northern Italy after 600 BC, the Tarvisii supposedly found a home on the Venetian plain, somewhat to the north of where Venice itself would later be founded and, presumably, pushing back the long-settled Adriatic Veneti to do so.

Given that this area was firmly in Veneti territory, about as far as it was possible to get from the Gauls to the north, the Carni and Catubrini, and pretty distant from those of the south, the Cenomani and Lingones, this seems highly unlikely.

The tribal capital was at Treviso, an inland town of the modern Venetia area, but again it seems unlikely that this was taken from the Veneti as they were not a pushover when it came to battle. Perhaps instead the Tarvisii could best be described as a Celto-Veneti hybrid people.

It is indeed likely that there could have been Celtic settlers who made their way northwards from, say, the Cenomani, probably in the period 400-200 BC. It is equally likely that they found some land - or were allowed some - and gradually integrated into Veneti society along its borders. Unfortunately there is nothing in the historical record to say either way.

The Alps

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from Celts and the Classical World, David Rankin (1996), from Europe Before History, Kristian Kristiansen, from Geography, Ptolemy, from Encyclopaedia of European Peoples, Carl Waldman & Catherine Mason (Facts on File, 2006), from The Celtic Encyclopaedia, Harry Mountain, and from External Link: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars.

c.600 BC

Bellovesus and his massed horde of people from the Bituriges, Insubres, and several other tribes begin a migration across the Alps and into northern Italy. This barrier is one which has apparently not previously been breached by Celts, but they are also deterred by a sense of religious obligation, triggered by news reaching them that another group looking for territory, a force of Massalians, is under attack by the Salyes (Ligurians).

Map of Alpine and Ligurian tribes, c.200-15 BC
The origins of the Euganei, Ligurians, Raeti, Veneti, and Vindelici are confused and unclear, but in the last half of the first millennium BC they were gradually being Celticised or were combining multiple influences to create hybrid tribes (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Seeing this as an omen of their own fortunes, the Celts briefly go to the assistance of the Massalians to help them secure their position. Then they make the crossing with some trepidation, heading through the passes of the Taurini and the valley of the Douro.

Following that they defeat Etruscans in battle not far from the Ticinus. Bellovesus and his people settle around the Ticinus and build a settlement called Mediolanum (modern Milan).

474 BC

It seems that the Celtic arrival in northern Italy has not been entirely welcomed. The Etruscans, who themselves have been migrating northwards to the River Po from central Italy, have been clashing increasingly with the Celts for domination of the region.

Etruscan art
Early Etruscan civilisation was heavily influenced by the Phoenicians and Greeks and, in turn, it influenced early Roman (Latin) culture

A pivotal showdown takes place at the Battle of Ticinum in this year (which must be located close to the main Celtic settlement of Mediolanum which had been founded by the Bituriges and Insubres of Bellovesus around a century before).

The Etruscan force, which is little more than a well-armed militia, is butchered by the Celts in a ferociously fought battle. This victory confirms Celtic domination of the region for the next couple of centuries, so that it is called Gallia Cisalpina (Gaul on 'our' side of the Alps, 'ours' being the Latin and Italic side).

From this conquest it is likely that Celtic groups fan out in search of their own slice of territory, all the while being under the protection of Mediolanum. This is the most likely period for the Tarvisii finding a home near the Adriatic and soon intermixing with nearby Veneti locals to produce a Celto-Veneti hybrid group (if indeed that is what the Tarvisii are).

Western Alps
The Celtic tribes of northern Italy were large and dangerous to the Romans, unlike their fellow Celts in the Western Alps, who were relatively small in number and fairly fragmented, although they made up for that by being even more belligerent than their easterly cousins

49 BC

In the same year that the peoples of Gallia Transalpina are granted Roman citizenship (including the Cenomani and Veneti - and presumably the Tarvisii too), civil war erupts between Julius Caesar and Pompey as the former crosses the Rubicon.

Rome's various allies and subject peoples take sides, but the days of the Veneti as a readily-identifiable people are coming to an end. They are now Romans, and they share the soon-to-be empire's highs and lows.

In the fifth century AD, increasing turbulence in the now-rapidly-declining empire sees refugees from Aquileia and other nearby cities (including Altinum) escape into the lagoon marsh islands for mutual protection, forming a settlement there which will become the republic of Venice.

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