History Files

European Kingdoms

Western Europe


Roman Gaul (Celts)
52 BC - AD 500

The end of the Roman republic and the start of the Roman empire was not a clear-cut crossover between the two. Instead it was a period of gradual transition, in which the supporters of republic plotted to end the rule of Rome by a single family and bring about a return to republican ways, but who gradually saw their ambitions fade as key supporter after supporter was either assassinated or fell by the wayside. By the late first century AD the fact that Rome now had an empire that was ruled by a single emperor was accepted by almost all.

The Celts of this period were still not entirely under Roman control. While Caesar's conquest of Gaul, claimed by him in his Commentaries as being complete, was an effective domination of the territory, it was incomplete in regards to fully subjugating the Gaulish tribes. It is apparent to modern scholars that many tribes completely or partially fled Gaul for Britain and Ireland. It was not in Caesar's interests to list tribes whose members have sailed away, thumbing their noses in his general direction. This fleeing instead of submitting continued when the Romans conquer Britain.

It would take several generations for those Continental tribes that had been conquered to be fully assimilated into Roman culture, and many tribes still had not been fully conquered. Resentment and revolt flared up on more than one occasion. The Alpine tribes still maintained a good deal of independence, and the Celts of the Balkans were still a serious threat to Roman security. The most serious revolt was that of AD 69-70, during the troublesome 'Year of Four Emperors', but afterwards the Celts within the empire were largely peaceful and supportive of Roman administration, culture, and security. There were also some places in which Roman rule did not weigh heavily, such as Armorica and Wales, and some where it didn't reach at all - at least not permanently - such as Pictland and Ireland, but on the whole, Rome ruled the Celts for the best part of five centuries.

Rome's colosseum

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, and from External Link: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

46 BC

Following five years of imprisonment, Vercingetorix of the Arverni is publicly displayed at Julius Caesar's triumph. Afterwards, back in his cell, he is executed by strangulation. This removes the figurehead of Gaulish independence and with this action, Gaul's dreams of independence have been ended by Roman domination, and the history of its population of Celts is tied to that of the empire.

Vercingetorix and Caesar in 52 BC
Having surrendered with honour to Caesar in 52 BC, Vercingetorix remained a potent symbol of resistance to Roman domination, so his murder in 46 BC dealt a terminal blow to hopes of renewed Celtic freedom

35 - 33 BC

Eastern Tauriscan tribes are defeated by Octavian between these dates, while the western tribes that border the Carni come under the dominion of the 'Kingdom of Noricum'. This means that the rarely-mentioned Norici dominate and effectively absorb the western Taurisci, although perhaps only because the confederation as a whole has been defeated by Rome.

The Roman state gradually absorbs the Celtic and indigenous populations and completely Romanises them through a combination of military force, economic pressure, political organisation, and their own way of life. The indigenous population survives in the towns and village settlements, whose names frequently denote the area of a specific tribal group (such as, for example, Praetorium Latobicorum (modern Trebnje), and Municipium Flavium Latobi-corum Neviodunum (modern Drnovo, near Krško)).

28 BC

A second campaign by Crassus in Thrace is designed to 'punish' the Scordisci tribes of north-western Bulgaria (namely the Serdi, Meldi and Artacoi). Cassius Dio states that these tribes have 'never been captured and would not acknowledge his [Crassus] authority, priding themselves greatly upon this point and at the same time inspiring in the others both anger and a disposition to rebel'.

It seems strange that these tribes are only now mentioned, three decades after the Scordisci had been broken by Burebista. It suggests that the confederation itself had been broken by the attack, and that these three tribes may now be the only ones capable of mounting any serious resistance to Rome, but on an individual basis rather than as elements of the confederation. The campaign apparently does little more than push them into the hinterland, out of Rome's reach. Archaeological evidence shows a Celtic migration into the mountains from Thrace during this final period of Roman conquest over the more hospitable terrain.

27 BC - AD 14

During the period of office of Augustus in Rome, the Aquitani tribes are incorporated into the newly-formed province of Aquitania. The province extends from the Liger (the modern Loire) to the Pyrenees, and is bound on the northern side by Mons Cevennus. This is one of the three divisions of the Gauls, the others being Gallia Lugdunensis and Belgica.

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). The Brigantii and their immediate neighbours are defeated by 15 BC, with Brigantion being captured.

16 BC

The Celts of the former Scordisci confederation have one last surprise remaining for Rome. As imperial Rome stamps its authority on the Balkans, Celtic tribes swoop down from the Thracian mountains. They swarm into Macedonia and lay waste to the Roman province once again. The attack surely comes from the Rhodope Mountains in south-western Bulgaria, making it the last hurrah of the Scordisci and providing Rome with a brutal reminder that although the cities and plains may be civilised, the mountains of central and western Thrace are still areas to be feared.

Scordisci weapons
This photo displays material that were gathered from the Scordisci warrior burial at Montana in north-western Bulgaria - former Thrace - which was part of their territory at this time

c.8 - 6 BC

Various Germanic tribes can be located within the area of the Przeworsk culture at this time, including the Lugii and Vandali, along with the (possibly) Belgic Venedi of Eastern Europe. The Burgundians are also linked to the region prior to their migration. Arguments have existed for some time over whether the Przeworsk is the result of Germanic, proto-Slavic, or Celtic influence. The truth is probably that all three contribute. The Lugii especially are known to cross the boundary between Germanic and Celtic, while little is known of the proto-Slavs except that they first emerge between southern Poland and western Ukraine.

1st century AD

The interior of early Croatia is dominated by tribal peoples, with the Celts and native Elyrs (modern Kosovars and Albanians) most significant just before the Roman conquest. The Celtic Norican kingdom, which covers modern Austria, Slovenia and part of northern Croatia, briefly survives the conquest as a Roman tributary. Celts also occupy territory alongside Germanic peoples in Galicia.

AD 23

Strabo describes a tribal federation which appears to include the Butones (a questionable name, perhaps a misspelling of Gutones), Lugii, Mugilones, Senones, Sibini and Zumi.

AD 43 - 44

The Roman invasion of Britain brings them into direct contact with the Atrebates, Belgae, Cantii, Catuvellauni, Dobunni and Trinovantes. Within a year they have also conquered, subjugated, or becomes overlords to the Corieltavi, Cornovii, Durotriges, Iceni, and Parisi.

47 - 79

With the south and east of Britain subdued, the Roman campaign against the hardy tribes of Wales begins. The Deceangli are attacked first, followed by the Ordovices and Silures. The Demetae appear to be subdued in AD 51 but complete conquest is not effected until AD 79. The Dumnonians are also subdued by AD 55.

59 - 61

Once Prasutagus of the Iceni dies, the Romans begin to ignore the terms of the Iceni's client-statehood. Stirred up by imperial heavy-handedness, Boudicca leads a powerful uprising involving the Iceni, the Trinovantes and other tribes. It results in the loss to the Romans of lower eastern Britain. After sacking and burning Campulodunum, Londinium, and Verulamium (St Albans), the Celts are confronted by a fresh Roman army under Governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus and are defeated. Boudicca's fate is unknown, but it is presumed that she commits suicide rather than allow herself to fall into Roman hands.

69 - 70

Under the authority of self-proclaimed emperor, the Lingones noble, Julius Sabinus, Gaius Julius Civilis leads a Batavian insurrection against a Rome which is distracted by the events of the 'Year of the Four Emperors'. He is supported by the Bructeri, Canninefates, Chauci, Cugerni, and Tencteri, while the Sinuci are also mentioned as a people who live in the region (although their involvement in the revolt is uncertain). The tribes send reinforcements and Civilis is initially successful. Castra Vetera is captured and two Roman legions are lost, while two others fall into the hands of the rebels. In AD 70 the Chatti, Mattiaci, and Usipetes join in, besieging the legionary fortress at Mogontiacum (modern Mainz).

Eventual Roman pressure, with aid from the Mediomatrici, Sequani, and Tungri, forces Civilis to retreat to the Batavian island where he agrees peace terms with General Quintus Petilius Cerialis. His subsequent fate is unknown, but the Batavi are treated with great consideration by Emperor Vespasian. During the revolt, the Roman fortress ceases to be used (for obvious reasons) and the Oppidum Batavorum is razed. Quintus Petilius Cerialis soon gains the post of Governor of Britain in reward for his triumph.

The Gaulish and Germanic Batavian revolt of AD 69-70 was a major contributor to the instability experienced in the Roman empire during the 'Year of Four Emperors'


By the later part of the first century BC, the Venedi are neighboured even farther east by a collection of Finno-Ugric tribes and to the north-east by the Aestii and eastern Balts. To the west the situation is less certain, and is changing rapidly. Noted by Tacitus, a host of Germanic tribes have occupied territory on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea in the past century or so, including the Gepids, Goths, Heruli, Scirii, and Vandali. Farther south, in modern southern Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary and western Ukraine, the situation is even less clear, with elements of former Celtic tribes existing alongside encroaching Germanic tribes, including the Boii and Lugii for the former, and the Buri, Marcomanni, and Quadi for the latter.

Tacitus does not use the Vistula as a boundary, or even describe a boundary between Germania and the lands to its east. He does describe the Venedi as living along the eastern fringe of Germania, inferring some kind of borderland, but is uncertain of their ethnic identity. He refers to them as having borrowed from Sarmatians in their habit of plundering the mountainous and wooded country that lies between the Peucini to the south (in the Balkans) and the Finni to the north (generally accepted as being the Finns).

Even so, he says that they should be classed as Germans thanks to their settled houses, the shields they carry, and their fondness for travelling fast on foot, as opposed to the horse-riding Sarmatians. Clearly he was linking them with the nearest, most similar people without being aware of their migration and relationship to the Belgae of the Low Countries.

288 - 292

Gaul and Germany still present problems to Rome, especially where Heruli have crossed the Rhine to attack Gaul, along with Alemanni and Saxons. Emperor Maximianus is involved in heavy fighting on the Lower Rhine and also on the Upper Danube. He returns to take personal command on the Rhine in order to release his new deputy, Constantius, for an attack on Britannia.


The Tabula Peutingeriana dates from the fourth century AD. It mentions Venedi who are located on the northern bank of the Danube, some way upstream of the river's mouth into the Black Sea. It also mentions the Venadi Sarmatae along the Baltic coast. The latter are the Venedi of Sarmatia, this being the main body of Venedi along the east bank of the Vistula. The Venedi near the Danube would appear to be a migratory group that has followed the Vistula into modern Slovakia and then has probably skirted the Carpathians by travelling through modern western Ukraine towards the Black Sea.


A Celtic kingship is established in Armorica, the former territory of the Vannetais, apparently by early migrants from southern Britain. How independent this kingship is during a period in which Roman central control is beginning to crumble is not known.


Remarkably, the Treveri still exist as a recognisable group after nearly four hundred years of inclusion within the Roman empire. The best-known piece of evidence for Late Gaulish is found in St Jerome's (331-420) commentary on St Paul's letter to the Galatians, written in the year 386/387 (the calculation is somewhat imprecise). In it he says that the language of the Treveri in the Belgica is similar to that of the Galatians. Apart from the Greek language, which is spoken throughout the entire east of the empire, the Galatians have their own language which is almost the same as that of the Treveri. It serves to confirm that, whatever their mixed origins, the Treveri (and by extension all Belgae) spoke Celtic, not Germanic.


Saxons are sailing along the English Channel, hunting for settlement locations along the Gaulish coast. Despite the official end of Roman interest in Britain, it seems that Gaul is still a more attractive (and richer) option. Eadwacer leads a band of Saxons around the Gaulish coast to the River Loire. From there they sail up the river to capture Angers, only to be dislodged by Childerich of the Franks, acting as an ally of the Roman domain of Soissons. The chances of being able to break through the increasing Frankish domination of northern Gaul are apparently fading, and Britain is perhaps becoming a more realistic proposition for invasion and settlement.

468 - 469

Riothamus, 'King of the Britons' (with possible links to Cadbury Castle), crosses the Channel to Gaul, bringing 12,000 ship-borne troops. He remains in the country for a year or more, perhaps reinforced by Armorican Bretons, and is able to advance to Bourges (the ancient territory of the Bituriges) and even further.

Cadbury Castle
Even today, Cadbury Castle on the West of England presents the image of a powerful and defensible location, with views across the whole of Somerset giving it a level of strategic importance, and it could have links to Riothamus

Gaul's imperial prefect, the deputy of the Western Roman emperor, treacherously undermines him by apparently dealing with the Visigoths, probably to try and divert the Visigothic king to attacking the Breton territories to the benefit of Roman holdings. In the end, both Riothamus and the imperial army are defeated in separate battles, and Bourges falls to the Visigoths. Romano-Celtic Soissons and Armorica are cut off from Rome.


Romano-German general and emperor, Odoacer, destroys the Germanic tribe of the Rugians in central eastern Germany. The Langobards initially fill this vacuum, until they conquer much of Italy in 568, and then a new confederation, the Bavarii, forms in their place, perhaps consisting of elements of the Celtic Boii tribe.

8th century

The Venedi gradually disappear between the sixth and eighth centuries. Pressure from Germanic groups to their west, but more especially from migrating Slavs from the east sees them assimilated. The northernmost parts of their territory are absorbed by various natives which include the Prussians and Lithuanians, while the Veleti Union which lays on the west bank of the Oder, bordering the Pomeranians, slowly becomes Slavicised.

FeatureThat name, 'Veleti', is the same as 'Galati', but without the 'w' to 'gw' to 'g' shift which long ago produced 'Galati' (see feature link). Instead this 'Veleti' is either the original 'w' pronunciation (which seems most likely) or a Belgic-style 'w' to 'v' pronunciation (which is possible).

What this 'Veleti' means is that the Venedi and other Celtic groups in this region are recorded not by tribal name but by ethnic identity. These Celticised groups eventually adopt Slavic speech before being incorporated into the German empire, and the majority of the north is slowly amalgamated into early Poland.

Thanks to that assimilation, Germans largely see the new Slav masters of the Venedi as being of the same group, and the Venedi name is transferred to them (although they do not use it to describe themselves). In the German tongue they are called Wends (Wenden or Winden), while farther south the early Carinthians and Styrians (later to form part of Austria) refer to them as Windische. This helps to show just how great a territory had been settled by the Venedi in the millennium or more of their settlement east of the Vistula.

A personification of the early Wends was presented by a gospel book of 990 which showed them as the Sclavinia (early Slavs, of which the westernmost groups were known as Wends), plus Germania, Gallia, and Roma, all of whom were bringing tribute to Holy Roman emperor Otto III

The vocabulary of the proto-Slavic language shows signs of adoption from multiple sources, with evidence of loan words from Indo-European languages of Eastern Europe. Naturally the Venedi have been suggested as one of those sources. Given the probable origins of the Slavs between the rivers Bug and Dnieper (the latter of which runs through Belarus and Kyiv in Ukraine before draining into the Black Sea), the two groups have probably interacted long before the Slavs become dominant, in much the same way as Germans and Gauls interacted across the Rhine in the second and first centuries BC.

The heyday of the Celts may be over by this stage, but Celts remain independent in Wales until the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, while those in Cornwall and Brittany enjoy a good deal of autonomy, as do those of Strathclyde. The older communities of Ireland, formed of a mixture of Neolithic hunters, and proto-Celtic and Celtic settlers, retain their independence until the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Apart from the Strathclyde Britons, all of these groups retain a strong Celtic identity in modern times, the only Celts across Europe to do so.

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