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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Tolosates (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, 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 Tolosates formed a seemingly small group which was centred on the chief settlement of Tolosa (modern Toulouse in France). The tribe's name simply means 'people of Tolosa', although there seems to be little consensus when deciphering the name of the settlement.

The same oppidum was claimed as the capital of the Volcae Tectosages, while the area was neighboured to the north by the Ruteni, to the east by the Helvii, to the south by the Sordones and the Atacini, and across the Garonne to the west by the Garites and the tribes of the Aquitani which included the Ausci and Convenae.

Modern French sources make it clear that Tolosa was occupied by the Tolosates. This later became a city in the Roman province of Gallia Transalpina in 121 BC (otherwise known as Gallia Narbonennsis, with its capital at the Narbo Martius capital of the Volcae Arecomisci). It lay outside the Aquitani lands on the other side of the Garonne and was largely removed from their resistance against Roman dominance.

It is the Tolosates who are mentioned in the Roman saga, The Lost Gold of Tolosa, of 105 BC. According to contemporary supposition and rumour, a unit of Volcae Tectosages had taken part in the Celtic invasion of Greece, returning to their old lands when the main body of Celts progressed into Anatolia. When their later settlement of Tolosa was seized by Rome in 106 BC during the Cimbric War, a vast horde of treasure was found and confiscated. Despite orders for it to be sent to Rome it never arrived. Theft was suspected but never proven, and the treasure was never seen again.

According to L'Arbre Celtique, the Tolosates were probably part of the Volcae Tectosages, although a precise relationship has yet to be defined. A Tolosates connection with the Ausci was picked up from one of the French sources for information on the Volcae tribe.

Ancient Britons

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information by Trish Wilson, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Pritchard, from the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith, from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, from Celts and the Classical World, David Rankin, from Europe Before History, Kristian Kristiansen, from Geography, Ptolemy, and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and L'Arbre Celtique (The Celtic Tree, in French).)

123 - 121 BC

The Allobroges come into direct conflict with Rome following the latter's defeat of the Salluvii. That tribe's king, Tuto-Motulus, flees northwards and seeks shelter with the Allobroges. They welcome him in, and when Rome demands that he is handed over, they refuse. Having declared war, Rome sends Quintus Fabius Maximus to attack them in 121 BC.

Map of Alpine and Ligurian tribes, c.200-15 BC
This map shows the post-Celtic, but pre-Roman, occupancy of the Alps and surrounding regions (click or tap on map to view full sized)

He campaigns in Gallia Transalpina (the modern Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes regions) with Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, fighting the Allobroges, Arverni, and Helvii. They are defeated and the consul is awarded the honour of a triumph which is famous for its spectacle, with the Arverni ruler, Bituitus, being displayed in his silver battle armour.

The Ruteni, Segovellauni, Vocontii, and Volcae Arecomisci are subjugated at the same time, although in the latter's case it is at least a voluntary submission. Across the River Hérault, the Volcae Tectosages (and therefore the Tolosates) remain outside the Roman sphere of control.

107 BC

During the Cimbric War it is Consul Lucius Cassius Longinus who enters Gallia Narbonensis to oppose the Cimbri. He is killed along with his lieutenant, Lucius Piso (grandfather of Lucius Calpurnius Piso, father-in-law to Julius Caesar), at the Battle of Burdigala, the chief town of the Bituriges Vivisci.

The victors are the Helvetii, who rout the Roman force under Cassius and humiliatingly force it to 'pass under the yoke' after it has surrendered the bulk of its supplies.

The Teutones wandering in Gaul
An illustration depicting the Teutones wandering in Gaul, part of a large-scale migration from modern Denmark into northern Italy in the second century BC

106 BC

With Roman authority badly damaged by its defeat at Burdigala, a fresh force is sent under the command of Consul Quintus Servilius Caepio to regain control of several towns which includes Tolosa of the Volcae Tectosages (and Tolosates). This is achieved, cementing Roman control in Gallia Narbonensis.

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, Tolosates, and Volcae).

Then he enters 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. Again successful, Crassus marches into the territories of the Vocates and Tarusates. They prove to be a rather more difficult opponent.

River Vézère
The River Vézère in France probably formed one of the territorial borders of the Petrocorii tribe following their arrival in the region

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.

52 BC

While Caesar is tied down in Rome, the Gauls begin their revolt, resolving to die in freedom rather than be suppressed by the invaders. The Carnutes take the lead under Cotuatus and Conetodunus when they kill the Roman traders who have settled in Genabum.

Despite the best levels of heroic defiance, defeat follows and the revolt's commander, Vercingetorix, surrenders to Caesar. Following the pan-Gaulish defeat at Alesia, the Volcae Tectosages submit to Roman authority and administration.

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)

With this action, all of Gaul 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.

Tolosa of the Tolosates later becomes a major city of the Visigoth kingdom, from AD 418. Narbonne later emerges as a county of the 'Spanish March', during the early years of the Frankish-dominated reconquest of Iberia.

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