The Belgae ( /, / ) were a large confederation of tribes living in northern Gaul, between the English Channel, the west bank of the Rhine, and northern bank of the river Seine, from at least the third century BC. They were discussed in depth by Julius Caesar in his account of his wars in Gaul. Some peoples in Britain were also called Belgae and O'Rahilly equated them with the Fir Bolg in Ireland. The Belgae gave their name to the Roman province of Gallia Belgica and, much later, to the modern country of Belgium; today "Belgae" is also Latin for "Belgians".
The consensus among linguists is that the ethnic name Belgae comes from the Proto-Celtic root *belg- or *bolg- meaning "to swell (particularly with anger/battle fury/etc.)", cognate with the Dutch adjective gebelgd "very angry" (weak perfect participle of the verb belgen "to become angry") and verbolgen "being angry" (strong perfect participle of obsolete verbelgen "to make angry"), as well as the Old English verb belgan, "to be angry" (from Proto-Germanic *balgiz), derived ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root *bhelgh- ("to swell, bulge, billow"). Thus, a Proto-Celtic ethnic name *Bolgoi could be interpreted as "the people who swell (particularly with anger/battle fury)".
Julius Caesar describes Gaul at the time of his conquests (58–51 BC) as divided into three parts, inhabited by the Aquitani in the southwest, the Gauls of the biggest central part, who in their own language were called Celtae, and the Belgae in the north. Each of these three parts was different in terms of customs, laws, and language. He noted that the Belgae, were "the bravest, because they are furthest from the civilization and refinement of [our] Province, and merchants least frequently resort to them, and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind; and they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine , with whom they are continually waging war".Ancient sources such as Caesar are not always clear about the things used to define ethnicity today. While Caesar or his sources described the Belgae as distinctly different from the Gauls, Strabo stated that the differences between the Celts (Gauls) and Belgae, in countenance, language, politics, and way of life was a small one, unlike the difference between the Aquitanians and Celts. The fact that the Belgae were living in Gaul means that in one sense they were Gauls. This may be Caesar's meaning when he says "The Belgae have the same method of attacking a fortress as the rest of the Gauls".
Caesar in Bello Gallico, II.4 wrote:
So Caesar used the word "Germani" in two ways. He described a grouping of tribes within the Belgic alliance as the "Germani", distinguishing them from their neighbours. The most important in his battles were the Eburones.The other way he uses the term is to refer to those related tribes east of the Rhine, who were not Celtic. So the Germani among the Belgae are called, based on Caesar's account, the Germani cisrhenani , to distinguish them from other Germani living east of the Rhine in what he understood to be their homeland. However, the later historian Tacitus was informed that the name Germania was known to have changed in meaning:
In other words, Tacitus understood that the collective name Germani had first been used in Gaul, for a specific people there with connections beyond the Rhine, the Tungri being the name of the people living where the Eburones had lived in later imperial times, and was later adopted as a collective name for the non-Celtic peoples beyond the Rhine, the other, better-known way that Caesar used the term.
Caesar's book The Gallic Wars begins: "All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in ours Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws." However, many modern scholars believe that the Belgae were a Celtic-speaking group.On the other hand, at least part of the Belgae may also have had significant genetic, cultural, and historical connections to peoples east of the Rhine, including Germanic peoples, judging from archaeological, placename, and textual evidence. It has also been argued based on placename studies that the older language of the area, though apparently Indo-European, was not Celtic (see Nordwestblock) and that Celtic, though influential amongst the elite, might never have been the main language of the part of the Belgic area north of the Ardennes. For example, Maurits Gysseling suggested that prior to Celtic and Germanic influences the Belgae may have comprised a distinct Indo-European branch, termed Belgian.
However, most of the Belgic tribal and personal names recorded are identifiably Gaulish, including those of the Germani cisrhenani, and this is indeed also true of the tribes immediately over the Rhine at this time, such as the Tencteri and Usipetes. Surviving inscriptions also indicate that Gaulish was spoken in at least part of Belgic territory.
The Romans were not precise in their ethnography of northern barbarians: by "Germanic", Caesar may simply have meant "originating east of the Rhine" (the homeland of the Germani cisrhenani) with no distinction of language intended. The east of the Rhine was not necessarily inhabited by Germanic speakers at this time. It has been remarked that Germanic language speakers might have been no closer than the river Elbe in the time of Caesar.However, studies of placenames such as those of Maurits Gysseling, have been argued to show evidence of the pre-Roman presence of early Germanic languages throughout the Belgic area north of the Ardennes, where the Germani cisrhenani lived. The sound changes described by "Grimm's law" appear to have affected names with older forms, apparently already in the second century BC. Strong evidence for old Celtic placenames, though, is found in the Ardennes and to the south of them. According to Strabo, the country of the Belgae extended along the coast where 15 tribes were living from the Rhenus (Rhine) to the Liger (Loire). Strabo also says that "Augustus Caesar, when dividing the country into four parts, united the Keltae to the Narbonnaise; the Aquitani he preserved the same as Julius Caesar, but added thereto fourteen other nations of those who dwelt between the Garonne and the river Loire, and dividing the rest into two parts, the one extending to the upper districts of the Rhine (Gallia Lugdunensis) he made dependent upon Lugdunum, the other [he assigned] to the Belgae (Gallia Belgica)."
Apart from the Germani, the report of Caesar seems to indicate that more of the Belgae had some Germanic ancestry and ethnicity, but this is not necessarily what defines a tribe as Belgic. Edith Wightman proposed that Caesar can be read as treating only the southwestern Belgic tribes, the Suessiones, Viromandui, and Ambiani and perhaps some of their neighbours, as the true ethnic Belgae, as opposed to those in a political and military alliance with them. She reads Caesar as implying a "transition zone" of mixed ethnicity and ancestry for the Menapii, Nervii, and Morini, all living in the northwest of the Belgic region, neighbours to the Germani cisrhenani in the northeast.(Caesar also mentions his allies the Remi being closest to the Celts amongst the Belgae. )
It seems that, whatever their Germanic ancestry, at least some of the Belgic tribes spoke a variety of the Celtic Gaulish language as their main language by Caesar's time, and all of them used such languages in at least some contexts. [ page needed ] Luc van Durme summarizes competing evidence of Celtic and Germanic influence at the time of Caesar by saying that "one has to accept the rather remarkable conclusion that Caesar must have witnessed a situation opposing Celtic and Germanic in Belgium, in a territory slightly more to the south than the early medieval Romance-Germanic language border", but van Durme accepts that Germanic did not block "Celticisation coming from the south" so "both phenomena were simultaneous and interfering".
The medieval Gesta Treverorum compiled by monks of Trier claims that the Belgae were descendants of Trebeta, an otherwise unattested legendary founder of Trier, the Roman Augusta Treverorum, "Augusta of the Treveri".
Caesar names the following as Belgic tribes, which can be related to later Roman provinces:
|Belgae of Caesar's "Belgium", in late Roman Belgica II||Belgae in late Roman Belgica II sometimes described by Caesar as if not in "Belgium"||Germani Cisrhenani , in northeast. Imperial Germania Inferior or Germania II.||Southeast: Not mentioned as Belgae, but part of imperial Roman Gallia Belgica (late Roman Belgica I)|
Later, Tacitus mentioned a tribe called the Tungri living where the Germani cisrhenani had lived, and he also stated that they had once been called the Germani, (although Caesar had claimed to have wiped out the name of the main tribe, the Eburones). Other tribes that may have been included among the Belgae in some contexts were the Leuci, Treveri, and Mediomatrici. Posidonius includes the Armoricani, as well.
Caesar conquered the Belgae, beginning in 57 BC. He writes that the Belgae were conspiring and arming themselves in response to his earlier conquests; to counter this threat, he raised two new legions and ordered his Gallic allies, the Aedui, to invade the territory of the Bellovaci, the largest and fiercest of the Belgae tribes. Wary of the numbers and bravery of the Belgae, Caesar initially avoided a pitched battle, resorting mainly to cavalry skirmishes to probe their strengths and weaknesses. Once he was satisfied his troops were a match for them, he made camp on a low hill protected by a marsh at the front and the river Aisne behind, near Bibrax (between modern Laon and Reims) in the territory of the Remi.
The Belgae attacked over the river, but were repulsed after a fierce battle. Realising they could not dislodge the Romans and aware of the approach of the Aedui into the lands of the Bellovaci, the Belgae decided to disband their combined force and return to their own lands. Caesar's informants advised him that whichever tribe Caesar attacked first, the others would come to their defence. They broke camp shortly before midnight. At daybreak, satisfied the retreat was not a trap, Caesar sent cavalry to harass the rear guard, followed by three legions. Many of the Belgae were killed in battle.
Caesar next marched into the territory of the Suessiones and besieged the town of Noviodunum (Soissons). Seeing the Romans' siege engines, the Suessiones surrendered, whereupon Caesar turned his attention to the Bellovaci, who had retreated into the fortress of Bratuspantium (between modern Amiens and Beauvais). They quickly surrendered, as did the Ambiani.
The Nervii, along with the Atrebates and Viromandui, decided to fight (the Atuatuci had also agreed to join them, but had not yet arrived). They concealed themselves in the forests and attacked the approaching Roman column at the river Sabis (previously thought to be the Sambre, but recently the Selle is thought to be more probable). Their attack was quick and unexpected. The element of surprise briefly left the Romans exposed. Some of the Romans did not have time to take the covers off their shields or to even put on their helmets. However, Caesar grabbed a shield, made his way to the front line, and quickly organised his forces. The two Roman legions guarding the baggage train at the rear finally arrived and helped to turn the tide of the battle. Caesar says the Nervii were almost annihilated in the battle, and is effusive in his tribute to their bravery, calling them "heroes" (for more details see Battle of the Sabis).
The Atuatuci, who were marching to their aid, turned back on hearing of the defeat and retreated to one stronghold, were put under siege, and soon surrendered and handed over their arms. However, the surrender was a ploy, and the Atuatuci, armed with weapons they had hidden, tried to break out during the night. The Romans had the advantage of position and killed 4000. The rest, about 53 thousand, were sold into slavery.
In 53 BC, the Eburones, led by Ambiorix, along with the Nervii, Menapii, and Morini, revolted again and wiped out 15 cohorts, only to be put down by Caesar. The Belgae fought in the uprising of Vercingetorix in 52 BC.
After their final subjugation, Caesar combined the three parts of Gaul, the territory of the Belgae, Celtae, and Aquitani, into a single unwieldy province (Gallia Comata, "long-haired Gaul") that was reorganized by the emperor Augustus into its traditional cultural divisions. The province of Gallia Belgica was bounded on its east by the Rhine and extended all the way from the North Sea to Lake Constance (Lacus Brigantinus), including parts of what is now western Switzerland, with its capital at the city of the Remi (Reims). Under Diocletian, Belgica Prima (capital Augusta Trevirorum, Trier) and Belgica Secunda (capital Reims) formed part of the diocese of Gaul.
|Belgae in Britain|
Belgae and neighbours in Britain
|Capital||Venta Belgarum (Winchester)|
The Belgae had made their way across the English Channel into southern Britain in Caesar's time. [ citation needed ] linked to the Belgae as well. The arrival and spread of Aylesford-Swarling pottery across the southeastern corner of Britain has been related to the Belgic invasion since Arthur Evans published his excavation of Aylesford in 1890 which was then thought to show "the demonstrable reality of a Belgic invasion", according to Sir Barry Cunliffe, although more recent studies tend to downplay the role of migration in favour of increasing trade links; the question remains unclear.Caesar asserts they had first crossed the channel as raiders, only later establishing themselves on the island. The precise extent of their conquests is unknown. After the Roman conquest of Britain, the civitas of the Belgae was bordered to the north by the British Atrebates, who were also a Belgic tribe, and to the east by the Regnenses, who were probably
A large number of coins of the Ambiani dating to the mid-second century BC have been found in southern Britain and the remains of a possible Belgic fort have been unearthed in Kent.Within memory of Caesar's time, a king of the Suessiones (also referred to as Suaeuconi) called Diviciacus was not only the most powerful king of Belgic Gaul, but also ruled territory in Britain. Commius of the Atrebates, Caesar's former ally, fled to Britain after participating in Vercingetorix's rebellion and either joined or established a British branch of his tribe. Based on the development of imagery on coins, by the time of the Roman conquest, some of the tribes of south-eastern Britain likely were ruled by a Belgic nobility and were culturally influenced by them. The later civitas (administrative division) of Roman Britain had towns including Portus Adurni (Portchester), and Clausentum (Southampton). The civitas capital was at Venta Belgarum (Winchester), which was built on top of an Iron Age oppidum (which was itself built on the site of two earlier abandoned hillforts), which remains the Hampshire county town to this day.
T.F. O'Rahilly claims in his invasion model that a branch of the Belgae also settled in Ireland, and were later represented by the historical Iverni (Érainn), Ulaid, and other kindreds. He claims a variety of evidence suggests memories of this were preserved in later Irish tradition, and also makes an elaborate linguistic case.According to his theory, the name of the legendary Fir Bolg (whom O'Rahilly identifies with the Érainn) is the Irish equivalent of Belgae. Fintan O'Toole suggested the Keshcarrigan Bowl represents evidence for the movement of people into Ireland following upheaval and displacement, triggered by the Belgae arriving into Britain as refugees from the Romans.
Ambiorix was, together with Cativolcus, prince of the Eburones, leader of a Belgic tribe of north-eastern Gaul, where modern Belgium is located. In the nineteenth century Ambiorix became a Belgian national hero because of his resistance against Julius Caesar, as written in Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico.
Gaul was a region of Western Europe first described by the Romans. It was inhabited by Celtic tribes, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switzerland, and parts of Northern Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany, particularly the west bank of the Rhine. It covered an area of 494,000 km2 (191,000 sq mi). According to Julius Caesar, Gaul was divided into three parts: Gallia Celtica, Belgica, and Aquitania. Archaeologically, the Gauls were bearers of the La Tène culture, which extended across all of Gaul, as well as east to Raetia, Noricum, Pannonia, and southwestern Germania during the 5th to 1st centuries BC. During the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, Gaul fell under Roman rule: Gallia Cisalpina was conquered in 203 BC and Gallia Narbonensis in 123 BC. Gaul was invaded after 120 BC by the Cimbri and the Teutons, who were in turn defeated by the Romans by 103 BC. Julius Caesar finally subdued the remaining parts of Gaul in his campaigns of 58 to 51 BC.
The Nervii were one of the most powerful Belgic tribes of northern Gaul at the time of its conquest by Rome. Their territory corresponds to the central part of modern Belgium, including Brussels, and stretched southwards into French Hainault. During their 1st century BC Roman military campaign, Julius Caesar's contacts among the Remi stated that the Nervii were the most warlike of the Belgae. In times of war, they were known to trek long distances to take part in battles. Being one of the distant northern Belgic tribes, with the Menapii to the west, and the Eburones to their east, they were considered by Caesar to be relatively uncorrupted by civilization.
Gallia Aquitania, also known as Aquitaine or Aquitaine Gaul, was a province of the Roman Empire. It lies in present-day southwest France, where it gives its name to the modern region of Aquitaine. It was bordered by the provinces of Gallia Lugdunensis, Gallia Narbonensis, and Hispania Tarraconensis.
Gallia Belgica was a province of the Roman Empire located in the north-eastern part of Roman Gaul, in what is today primarily northern France, Belgium, and Luxembourg, along with parts of the Netherlands and Germany.
The Menapii were a Belgic tribe of northern Gaul in pre-Roman and Roman times. According to descriptions in such authors as Strabo, Caesar, Pliny the Elder and Ptolemy their territory had stretched northwards to the mouth of the Rhine in the north, but more lastingly it stretched along the west of the Scheldt river. In later geographical terms this territory corresponds roughly to the modern Belgian coast, the Belgian provinces of East and West Flanders. It also extended into neighbouring France and the river deltas of the Southern Netherlands.
The Tungri were a tribe, or group of tribes, who lived in the Belgic part of Gaul, during the times of the Roman Empire. Within the Roman Empire, their territory was called the Civitas Tungrorum. They were described by Tacitus as being the same people who were first called "Germani" (Germanic), meaning that all other tribes who were later referred to this way, including those in Germania east of the Rhine river were named after them. More specifically, Tacitus was thereby equating the Tungri with the "Germani Cisrhenani" described generations earlier by Julius Caesar. Their name is the source of several place names in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, including Tongeren, Tongerlo Abbey, and Tongelre.
The Eburones, were a Gallic-Germanic tribe, dwelling in the northeast of Gaul, in what is now the southern Netherlands, eastern Belgium, and the German Rhineland, in the period immediately preceding the Roman conquest of the region. Though living in Gaul, they were also described as being both Belgae and Germani.
The Suessiones were a Belgic tribe, dwelling in the modern Aisne and Oise regions during the La Tène and Roman periods.
The Morini were a Belgic coastal tribe, dwelling in the modern Pas de Calais region, around present-day Boulogne-sur-Mer.
The Atuatuci were a Gallic-Germanic tribe, dwelling in the eastern part of modern-day Belgium during the Iron Age.
The Condrusi were one of the peoples described by Julius Caesar as Germani Cisrhenani. They survived the Roman invasion and lived in what is now eastern Belgium, during the Roman period.
The Paemani were a tribe of Belgae in Gallia Belgica, mentioned by Julius Caesar in his commentary of his Gallic Wars as Germani.
Ambiorix's revolt was an episode during the Gallic Wars between 54 and 53 BC in which the Eburones tribe, under its leader, Ambiorix, rebelled against the Roman Republic.
For around 450 years, from around 55 BC to around 410 AD, the southern part of the Netherlands was integrated into the Roman Empire. During this time the Romans in the Netherlands had an enormous influence on the lives and culture of the people who lived in the Netherlands at the time and (indirectly) on the generations that followed.
The Caeroesi were a Belgic-Germanic tribe, living in Belgic Gaul when Julius Caesar's Roman forces entered the area in 57 BCE. They are known from his account of the Gallic War, and are generally also equated with the Caeracates mentioned briefly by Tacitus in his Histories.
The Segni were a Germani Cisrhenani tribe, dwelling in the province of Gallia Belgica during the Roman period.
The Germani cisrhenani, or "Left bank Germani", were a group of Germanic peoples who lived west of the Lower Rhine at the time of the Gallic Wars in the mid-1st century BC.
The Civitas Tungrorum was a large Roman administrative district dominating what is now eastern Belgium and the southern Netherlands. In the early days of the Roman Empire it was in the province of Gallia Belgica, but it later joined the neighbouring lower Rhine River border districts, within the province of Germania Inferior. Its capital was Aduatuca Tungrorum, now Tongeren.