History Files

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapVolcae (Gauls)
Incorporating the Volcae Arecomisci & Volcae Tectosages

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 large and powerful tribe of the Volcae were located in south-eastern France, between the Alps and the French coastline. They were neighboured to the north by the Ruteni, to the east by the Helvii, to the south, along the coastline, by the Sordones, and across the Garonne to the west by the Garites and the tribes of the Aquitani.

The Arecomisci were also known as the Arecomici. Their name seems to be that of a location, translated roughly as 'at the place with water', being broken down into 'ar' plus 'comm' plus 'esk'. The Tectosages name is a difficult one. The second part, '-sages', is 'sag' plus an '-es' plural. It may come from 'segos', meaning 'victory'. The first part, 'Tecto' does not appear to be a Celtic word, which is rather odd, but 'texto' certainly is a Celtic word, *text-(e)je/o-, meaning 'obtain'. The tribe were called 'they who obtain victory'.

The tribe settled a wide swathe of what is now south-eastern France, occupying the entire central and western parts of the later Roman province of Narbonensis. They appear to have been divided into two divisions by the River Hérault, with the larger Tectosages group to the west, although elements of this group had previously migrated to Galatia in Anatolia. The Arecomisci settled on the Mediterranean coast in the Narbonensis area around Nemasus (modern Nîmes, their ritual centre), and Narbo Martius (modern Narbonne, their naval centre). The Tectosages had their capital at Tolosa (modern Toulouse). Julius Caesar mentioned them in his Gallic Wars as a tribe that still had a branch remaining in Germania. This could have been around a site near Hercynia Silva (the Hercynian Forest).

(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.)

4th century BC?

In his entry for 53 BC, Julius Caesar writes in his Gallic Wars that there had formerly been a time when the Gauls had excelled the Germans in prowess, and had waged war on them offensively. On account of the great number of their people and the insufficiency of their land, the Gauls of this period send colonies over the Rhine. One of these, a division of the powerful Volcae Tectosages, seizes fertile areas of Germany close to the Hercynian Forest, (known to the Greeks as Orcynia), and settle there.

Hercynian Forest
The Riesengebirge was part of the once-vast Hercynian Forest which spread eastwards from southern Germany and which proved a serious impediment to Roman expansion

During the time since their settlement they decline in power and strength to become thoroughly absorbed into German culture, while not even being a match for the Germans in battle. Despite this, their position close to the Roman 'Province' (Narbonensis) means that they are able to maintain contacts with Mediterranean culture and continue to import luxury goods.

Around the same time - the fourth century BC - it is believed that a branch of the Volcae Tectosages joins the latter stages of the Celtic migration into Iberia. There they find some territory in the eastern centre of the peninsula where they dominate a local Iberian tribe, forming a new ruling elite for them as the Olcades.

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.

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 at least it is a voluntary submission. Across the River Hérault, the Volcae Tectosages remain outside the Roman sphere of control.

107 BC

During the Cimbrian 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 force it to 'pass under the yoke' after it has surrendered the bulk of its supplies.

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. This is achieved, cementing Roman control in Gallia Narbonensis.

80 - 72 BC

The Sertorian War in Hispania causes the Celts of Mediterranean Gaul to be subjected to troop levies and forced requisitions in order to support the military efforts of Metellus Pius, Pompeius, and other Roman commanders against the rebels. However, some Celtic polities, including, remarkably, the Helvii, support Sertorius and they pay the price for their support after his assassination. The Helvii and Volcae Arecomisci are forced to cede a portion of their territory to the Greek city state of Messalina. Caesar mentions this land forfeiture but does not provide any details of the Helvii actions against Rome.

Sertorian War
The Sertorian War was fought for control of Hispania between the Roman statesman and general, Quintus Sertorius, and the regime of Sulla, dictator of the Roman republic

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. 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, and Volcae) before entering 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.

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.

He sends Lucterius of the Cadurci into the territory of the Ruteni to gain their support, and marches in person to the Bituriges. The latter, under the protection of the Aeduii, send to them for help to resist the Arverni but are forced to join the revolt. Lucterius continues to the Gabali and Nitiobroges and wins their support, collecting together a large force ahead of an advance into the province of Narbonensis. Caesar gets there first and rallies the garrisons among the Ruteni and Volcae Arecomisci, and Lucterius is forced to retreat. From there Caesar circles through the territory of the generally pro-Roman Helvii (who provide auxiliaries) to reach that of the Arverni, despite deep winter snows in the mountains.

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

Vercingetorix, his cavalry subsequently routed in battle, withdraws in good order to Alesia, which Caesar besieges. 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, which does not include the tribes of pro-Roman Gallia Narbonensis. Defeat follows and Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar.

Following the pan-Gaulish defeat at Alesia, the Volcae Tectosages submit to Roman authority and administration. All of Gaul has been brought under Roman domination, and the history of its population of Celts is tied to that of the empire. Narbonne later emerges as a county of the Spanish March, during the early years of the Frankish-dominated reconquest of Iberia.