History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapViromandui (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 Viromandui were located around the headwaters of the River Somme, in the modern Oise and Aisne départements in France. They were neighboured to the north by the Atrebates and Nervii, the Segni to the east, the Remi and Suessiones to the south, and the Bellovaci to the west.

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 Viromandui (or Veromandui) tribal name appears to be simple to break down. 'Viro' is Celtic/P-Italic for 'man'. The second part of the name, 'mandui', is not obvious. Remove the suffix '-i' and you have 'mandu'. This could possibly be two parts joined together, with 'man' meaning 'hand', and 'du' meaning 'two'. So the tribe could have been the 'two handed men'. Perhaps it referred to the possibly distinctive way in which they wielded their swords or spears.

The tribe occupied territory which included the northern section of the modern département of Aisne, the eastern Somme, and the diocese of Noyon. Perhaps a stronger, larger tribe than the small area of their civitas would show, their chief oppidum or tribal centre was Viromandurorum. It was indeed a small centre, amounting to no more than fourteen hectares of land, and may only have been used in times of need. Unlike other Gaulish oppida, it doesn't seem to have formed a civilian centre at the time of its conquest. The tribe left its name behind in the modern Vermandois and its capital at Vermand.

(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, 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

Caesar encourages his ally, Diviciacus of the Aeduii, to attack the Bellovaci and divert part of the Belgic forces. The remaining Belgae march against the Romans en masse, and rather than face such a large force with a reputation for uncommon bravery, Caesar elects to isolate them in groups using his cavalry. The Bellovaci are defeated at the Battle of the Axona, and the Suessiones are forced to surrender. The surviving Bellovaci also surrender, as do the Ambiani, while the Nervii, refusing any surrender, assemble with the Atrebates and Viromandui to offer battle. The Atuatuci are expected to join them, but the Nervii launch an early surprise attack at the Battle of the Sabis (probably the River Selle).

The Romans are supported by auxiliaries sent by the Treveri, while the Nervii are backed up by the Atrebates. The attack surprises the Romans, but they rally and turn potential defeat into a near-massacre of the Nervii. The Atuatuci, who had been marching to the assistance of the Nervii, return home once they hear that they have missed the battle. They are attacked there by the Romans and are completely defeated. With this action, northern Gaul has been brought under Roman domination, while the victorious legions winter amongst the Andes, Carnutes, and Turones. The history of the region's population of Celts is now tied to that of the Roman empire.

5th century

As Roman authority fades, with Soissons being its last stronghold in northern Gaul, the later diocese of Noyen retains the limits of the tribe's core civitas of Viromandurorum.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.