History Files

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapVeragri (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, and they also extended into Switzerland, northern Italy, and along the Danube. By the middle of the first century BC, there was a cluster of smaller tribes in the Alpine region of western Switzerland and the French/Italian border. This included the Veragri who were located in western Switzerland, around the Great St Bernard Pass to the immediate south-east of Lake Geneva. They were neighboured to the north by the Nantuates, to the east by the Seduni, to the south by the Graioceli, and to the west by the Allobroges.

The tribe's name is an easy one to break down. Veragri is two words combined, the first being 'ver', from 'wiro-', meaning 'a man', plus 'agro-', meaning 'slaughter' in the sense of warfare. They are 'the slaughtermen'. It is interesting to note that 'ver' is used instead of 'vir'. This is more of a German pronunciation, although they used 'wer' instead of 'wir'. How an Alpine Celtic tribe may have come to receive a German influence is anyone's guess (the nearby Vellavi exhibit the same potential influence). The only easy answer is that it came from Germanic or Belgic tribes, most likely during the Cimbric migration of the late second century BC.

This Alpine tribe occupied territory that roughly matched the western section of the modern Valais. They were situated between Martigny-la-Ville and Martigny-Bourg, on the left bank of the Rhône, near the point at which it bends northward towards Lake Geneva. They had an oppidum at Octodorus, and were one of the first tribes to be affected by Julius Caesar's excursions into Gaul.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information 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.)

56 BC

Following his successful campaign against the Belgae in the previous year, Caesar heads for Italy. He sends Servius Galba ahead with the Twelfth Legion and part of the cavalry to secure the way. The pass through the Alps has been dominated by the Nantuates, Seduni, and Veragri tribes, making the route a dangerous one for Roman merchants, and now is the time to end that danger. Galba conducts a few successful battles and storms several of their forts, until the tribes send embassies and hostages, and peace is concluded.

Galba stations two cohorts among the Nantuates, and sets up camp with the legion's remaining cohorts in the village of Octodurus, which belongs to the the Veragri. The village is situated in a valley with a small plain, and is bounded on all sides by very high mountains. Galba takes the unoccupied half of the village as winter quarters for his troops, and fortifies it with a rampart and ditch.

Great St Bernard's Pass
The region around the Great St Bernard's Pass was a perfect mix of fertile plains and protective high mountains for small but aggressive Celtic tribes in the four centuries or so between their settlement of the area and domination by Rome

Several days later, the Veragri tribe has vanished from the village and has assembled in the mountains overlooking the valley with a very large force of Nantuates and Seduni. The legion, which is reduced in size after detachments have been made, appears vulnerable to the Celts, who are convinced that the Romans want to conquer all of Gaul. The Romans decide to defend their position, and are hard-pressed by the superior numbers attacking them, perhaps 30,000 in all. The six hour battle ends when the exhausted Romans make a last-ditch sally that takes the Celts by surprise and inflicts heavy casualties on them, forcing them to withdraw. Having survived the onslaught the Romans withdraw in good order, heading westwards into the territory of the Allobroges where they settle into safer winter quarters. Before they leave, however, they burn Octodorus to the ground.

25 - 15 BC

Augustus determines that the Alpine tribes need to be pacified in order to end their warlike behaviour, alternately attacking or extracting money from Romans who pass through the region, even when they have armies in tow. He wages a steady, determined campaign against them, and in a period of ten years he 'pacifies the Alps all the way from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian seas' (written by Augustus himself). Following this, the history of the Alpine region's population of Celts is tied to that of the empire.