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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapVeliocasses / Viducasses (Belgae)

FeatureIn general terms, the Romans coined the name 'Gaul' to describe the Celtic tribes of what is now central, northern, and eastern France. To the north of these were the tribes of the Belgae, divided from the Gauls by the rivers Marne and the Seine. By the middle of the first century BC, the Veliocasses were located in Gaul between what is now Rouen and Paris on the lower Sequana (the River Seine). They were neighboured to the north by the Bellovaci, to the east by the Suessiones, to the south-east by the Parisii, to the south by the Senones, and to the west by the Eburovices and Lexovii.

The Belgae would seem to be an eastern branch of Celts who migrated to the Atlantic coast some time after their Gaulish cousins had already established themselves to the south. Their dialect probably used a 'b' or a 'v' sound where their western cousins in Gaul used a 'w' sound, opening up different interpretations for their names. The Veliocasses name is particularly difficult to interpret. Ptolemy adds to the confusion by rendering it as Oueneliokasioi. Correcting his Greek spelling and removing the Greek suffix produces Weneliocasi (or Veneliocassi when Romanising the spelling, because the 'v' is pronounced as a 'w'). This is still very odd due to the 'n' inserted in the first part of the core name. 'Wello' means 'better', so is it this, or is it 'wallo', which is usually (not always) taken to mean 'leader'. The possibility also exists that it might be a pun, along the lines of 'a better leader'. 'Cass' seems to be some alternate form of 'cat', which is the proto-Celtic verb for 'fight' or 'war'. So the Veliocasses could have been the 'war leaders' or 'battle leaders'. The name is very like a reversed form of the Catuvellauni tribal name. Ptolemy's version of it should probably be enthusiastically ignored. Caesar muddies the waters by naming them the Velocasses, probably due to a simple mishearing or misinterpretation.

FeatureHowever, to examine this particular problematic name more closely, there is a suspicion that 'wallo' or 'wello' is also the proto-Celtic noun for 'fight' or 'war' (or close to it), assuming that it is cognate in Latin as 'bell' (with the '-um' suffix from 'bellum' removed), and assuming that 'duell' (with the '-um' suffix again removed) is from 'duo' plus 'vell' or 'bell', meaning a fight between two parties. 'Vell' is a possibility because in Oscan (the language of the Opici and several other Iron Age Italic tribes), 'volloíom' means to destroy, which supports the supposition regarding 'vell'. In proto-Indo-European (PIE), *wal seems to mean 'strong', 'powerful'. This may have mutated into multiple extended meanings. This gives us yet another possible meaning for the Catuvellauni: 'strong in battle' ('battle strong' in its Celtic word order). Was 'vell' extended in early Q-Celtic to reference war itself, as it comes down to us from Latin? (See the feature link for the full discussion in relation to the Catuvellauni.)

This minor tribe occupied territory on the plains of Caen in modern Normandy. They had an oppidum at Aragenuae (modern Vieux in the Calvados region). In Natural History, Pliny the Elder mentions them as the Viducasses, but they should not be confused with the similarly named Vodiocasses who were nearby.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, from Geography, Ptolemy, from Complete Works of Tacitus, Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb, & Lisa Cerrato (1942), from Roman History by Cassius Dio, translation by Earnest Cary (1914-1927), from Germania, Tacitus, from Roman Soldier versus Germanic Warrior: 1st Century AD, Lindsay Powell, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed).)

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.

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

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.

The Veliocasses' role in the war is not mentioned, but Caesar either faces down the other Belgic tribes in battle (especially at the Axona) or accepts their surrender during the course of a single campaigning season. With this action, northern Gaul has been brought under Roman domination, while the victorious legions winter amongst the Andes, Carnutes, and Turones.

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. His cavalry subsequently routed in battle, he 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.

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

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 three thousand men each from the Aulerci Eburovices, Bellocassi, Lexovii, and Veliocasses. Together they attempt to relieve Vercingetorix at the siege of Alesia, but the combined relief force is soundly repulsed by Julius Caesar. 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 and Aquitani is tied to that of the emerging Roman empire. Under Augustus, the Veliocasses are included in the Roman province of Gallia Lugdunensis.

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