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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapTurones (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. By the middle of the first century BC, the Turones were a minor tribe that was located along the south bank of the Liger (the modern Loire) in central Gaul, on the eastern side of the River Vienne tributary. They were neighboured to the west by the Andes and Ambiliati, to the north by the Cenomani, to the east by the Carnutes, to the south-east by the Bituriges Cubi, and to the south-west by the powerful Pictones.

Also called the Turoni (which is the same, but with a different plural suffix), the tribe's name is hard to break down. The plural suffixes are '-on' and '-es'. Removing these leaves 'tur' as the basic name, but proto-Celtic doesn't have a 'tur'. Could 'Turones' be some kind of altered name then? Could it be *tarwo-, meaning 'bull', or 'torano-', meaning 'thunder', or *tū, meaning 'you', or *tu (?) to *tu (?), meaning 'your (sg.), or *tū- (tu-), meaning 'defend', or *tu-(φro-)slī-je/o-, meaning 'deserve', or *tu-(φro-)slī-je/o-, again meaning 'deserve', or *tu, *tu-, meaning 'preposition', or perhaps even (*to) turi(t)-, meaning 'tower'...? It's impossible to say. Using some judgement and eliminating the lesser probabilities leaves one of the following options: 'tarwo', meaning 'bull;, which would make the tribe 'the bulls'; or 'torano', meaning 'thunder', making them 'the [people of] Taranis the Thunderer'.

The tribe occupied territory around modern Touraine in the Loire valley (to which they gave their name), an area which may have corresponded roughly to the département of Indre-et-Loire). They had a major settlement, probably their oppidum, at Turons (Latinised as Turonensis, modern Tours), which Ptolemy in Geography names as Caesarondunum (clearly a later addition to the name). During Julius Caesar's conquest of Gaul, it appears that the Turones largely supported him. Despite this, he still left two legions posted in their lands, and wintered there in 57 BC, both to intimidate the nearby Carnutes and almost certainly to ensure that the Turones didn't get any ideas themselves about using the situation in Gaul to their own advantage. A wise move, perhaps, as the Turones were enthusiastic supporters of the revolt of Vercingetorix in 52 BC, and they rebelled again in 21 BC.

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

57 BC

The Belgae enter into a confederacy against the Romans in fear of Rome's eventual domination over them. They are also spurred on by Gauls who are unwilling to see Germanic tribes remaining on Gaulish territory and are unhappy about Roman troops wintering in Gaul. The Senones are asked by Julius Caesar to gain intelligence on the intentions of the Belgae, and they report that an army is being collected. Caesar marches ahead of expectations and the Remi, on the Belgic border, instantly surrender, although their brethren, the Suessiones remain enthusiastic about the venture. The Bellovaci are the most powerful among the Belgae, but the confederation also includes the Ambiani, Atrebates, Atuatuci, Caerosi, Caleti, Condrusi, Eburones, Menapii, Morini, Nervii, Paemani, Veliocasses, and Viromandui, along with some unnamed Germans on the western side of the Rhine.

Battle of the Axona
The Battle of the (River) Axona (the modern Aisne in north-eastern France) witnessed the beginning of the end of the Belgic confederation against Rome

Rather than face such a large force with a reputation for uncommon bravery, Caesar elects to isolate them in groups using his cavalry, and manages to defeat or accept surrender from all of them in a single campaigning season. According to him, the Aulerci, Cariosvelites, Osismii, Redones, Sesuvii, Venelli, and Veneti, all of whom are located along the Atlantic coast, are subdued by the legion of Publius Licinius Crassus. The victorious legions winter amongst the Andes, Carnutes, and Turones.

53 BC

On 13 February 53 BC the disaffected Carnutes massacre every Roman merchant who is present in the town of Cenabum, as well as killing one of Caesar's commissariat officers. This is the spark that ignites a massed Gaulish rebellion. While Julius Caesar is occupied in the lands of the Belgae, Vercingetorix has renewed the Arverni subjugation of the Aeduii. He has also restored the reputation of Arverni greatness by leading the revolt that is building against Rome.

Despite his former allegiance to Julius Caesar, in the winter of 53-52 BC Commius of the Atrebates uses his contacts with the Bellovaci to convince them to contribute 2,000 men to an army. This army will join other Gauls to form a massive relief force at Alesia in the last stage of the revolt (this being a major fort that belongs to the Mandubii). The Lemovices are also amongst the first tribes to commit to joining Vercingetorix, contributing 10,000 men. The Mediomatrici send 5,000 men, and the Andes, Ruteni, and Turones are also amongst the first to commit. The warriors of the Pictones decide to supply 8,000 warriors, but their chief, Duratios, stands firm in his desire to maintain his alliance with Rome, and this difference of opinion causes a split in the tribe. The warriors join the chief of the Andes who heads for Lemonum to besiege Duratios. The king sends a messenger to the Roman legate, Caius Caninius, who comes to his aid from the territory of the Ruteni. This small force is soon backed up by a more effective unit under Caius Fabius and a Pictonii civil war is averted.

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. News of the event reaches the Arverni that morning, and Vercingetorix summons his people to arms. Despite being expelled from the town of Gergovia by his uncle, Gobanitio, and the rest of the nobles in their fear of such a risky enterprise, he gathers together an army. The Aulerci, Cadurci, Lemovices, Parisii, Pictones, Senones, and Turones all join him, as do all of the tribes that border the ocean. The Treveri support the revolt but are pinned down by German tribes.

Vercingetorix, his cavalry routed in battle, withdraws in good order to Alesia, a major fort belonging to the Mandubii. The remaining cavalry are dispatched back to their tribes to bring reinforcements. Caesar begins a siege of Alesia, aiming on starving out the inhabitants. Four relief forces amounting to a considerable number of men and horses are assembled in the territory of the Aeduii by the council of the Gaulish nobility. Among those demanded from the tribes of Gaul are eight thousand each from the Helvii (despite the tribe's pro-Roman standing), Parisii, Pictones, and Turones.

The site of Alesia
The site of Alesia, a major fort belonging to the Mandubii tribe of Celts, was the scene of the final desperate stand-off between Rome and the Gauls in 52 BC

Together they attempt to relieve Vercingetorix at the siege of Alesia, but the combined relief force is soundly repulsed by Julius Caesar's remarkable strategy of simultaneously conducting the siege of Alesia on one front whilst being besieged on the other. Seeing that all is lost, Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar. The garrison is taken prisoner, as are the survivors from the relief army. They are either sold into slavery or given as booty to Caesar's legionaries, apart from the Aeduii and Arverni warriors who are released and pardoned in order to secure the allegiance of these important and powerful tribes.

With this action, all of Gaul has been brought under Roman domination, and the history of its population of Celts is tied to that of the empire.

AD 21

The later writings of Tacitus, in his Annals, describe how many Gaulish tribes are heavily in debt, thanks to a Roman economic system they they have struggled to come to terms with. Now many of the tribes rise up in revolt, with the Andes and Turones at the forefront of events. A mixed force from the XX Valeria Victrix and the XXI Rapax, under the command of an officer from the I Germannica, is dispatched to suppress the rebellion, which it does in short order.

Despite this, the city of Turons itself appears to continue to enjoy special statute as a free city, demonstrated by an inscription which states 'civitas turonorum liberi'. Perhaps this is in return for the cavalry troops that the Turones provide to the empire. In time Turons or Turonensis (modern Tours) becomes a city of the Merovingians of Orleans.