Celts: Pliny the Elder on three Roman subdivisions of Gaul (first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Celts: Pliny the Elder on three Roman subdivisions of Gaul (first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 30, 2024, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=17050.

Ancient author: Pliny the Elder, Natural History 4.17-19 (link).

Comments: This passage from Pliny the Elder’s survey of Europe (reaching what is now France and Belgium) shows his penchant for simply listing as many peoples’ names as he can find without any pertinent details or descriptions of these people or their customs. However, it is also important here because of his explanation of what were the three main subdivisions of Gaul (Gallia), from a Roman hegemonic perspective, at least. Key barriers such as rivers and mountains are the denominators of imperial control in this case. These categories are not likely corresponding to how these peoples would divide up their territories, if they would even think of things that way. Pliny’s Roman imperial interests are also shown in his indications of whether sites were a free people or allies of Rome.


[Three subdivisions of Gaul, from a Roman hegemonic perspective]

(4.17-19) The whole of Gaul (Gallia) included under the general name of “Long-haired” (Comata) divides into three general populations (populi), which are mainly separated by the rivers: from the Scaldis [Scheldt] river to the Sequina [Seine] river is Belgian Gaul; from the Sequina to the Garumna [Garonne] is Celtic Gaul, also called Lyonese Gaul; and, from the Garumna to the projection of the Pyrenees mountains is Aquitanian Gaul, previously called Armorica. Agrippa calculated the entire length of the coast at 1,750 [Roman] miles, and the dimensions of the Gauls between the Rhenum [Rhine] and the Pyrenees mountains and the ocean and the mountains of the Cebenna [Cévennes] and the Jura, which exclude the Narbonne division of Gaul, as a length of 420 miles and a width of 318 miles.

[1. Belgian Gaul’s peoples (northern and eastern France into Belgium)]

The part beginning at the Scaldis river is inhabited by the Texuandrians, who have several names. Then there are the Menapians, the Morinians, and the Oromarsacians (adjacent to the district (pagus) called Chersiacus), the Bretons, the Ambianians, the Bellovacians and the Bassians. Further into the interior are the Catoslugians, Atrebatiuans, Nervians (free people), Veromanduians, Suaeuconians, Suessionians (free), Ulmanectians (free), Tungrians, Sunicians, Frisiavonians, Baetasians, Leucians (free), Treverians (free), Lingonians (allies), Remians (allies), Mediomatricians, Sequanians, Rauricians, Helvetians, as well as the Equestrian and Rauric colonies. The peoples (gentes) of Germany living on the banks of the Rhenus [Rhine] in the same province are the Nemetians, Tribocians and Vangionians. Among the Ubians are the Colony of Agrippina, the Gubernians, the Batavians and those whom we have already mentioned as residing on the islands of the Rhenus.

[2. Celtic or Lyonese Gaul’s peoples (western and south-central France)]

To Lyonese Gaul belong the Lexovians, Veliocassians, Galetians, Venetians, Abrincatuans, Ossismans, the famous river Ligera [Loire in France], and also the still more remarkable peninsula [Britanny peninsula in western France] that runs out into the ocean from the boundary of the Ossismians and measures 625 miles round and 125 miles across at its neck. Beyond that neck are the Namnetians and, in the interior, the Aeduians (allies), Carnutenians (allies), Boians, Senonians, Aulercians (both those named Eburovicians and those named Cenomanians), Neldians (free), Parisians, Tricassians, Andicavians, Viducassians, Bodiocassians, Venellians, Coriosvelitians, Diablintians, Rhedonians, Turonians, Atesuians, and Secusianians (free), in whose territory is the colony of Lyons.

[3. Aquitanians Gaul’s peoples (southern France below the Garonne river, approaching Hispania / Iberia / Spain)]

To Aquitanian Gaul belong the Ambilatrians, Anagnutians, Pictonians, Santonians (free), Biturigians, also named Viviscians (free), Aquitanians (who give their name to the province), Sediboviatians. Then there are the Convenians together forming one town, the Begerrians, the Tarbellian-Quattuorsignanians, Cocosatians-Sexsignanians, Venamians, Onobrisatians, Belendians. Then there is the Pyrenean pass, and below it the Monesians, mount Oscidates, Sybillatians, Camponians, Bercorcatians, Pinpedunnians, Lassunnians, Vellatians, Toruatians, Consorannians, Auseians, Elusatians, Sottiatians, Oscidatians of the Plain, Succassians, Latusatians, Basaboiatians, Vasseians, Sennatians and the Cambolectrian-Agessinatians. Joining on to the Pictonians are the Biturigians called Cubians (free), then the Lemovicians, Arvernians (free), Gabalians. Then, further, marching with the province of Gallia Narbonensis there are the Rutenians, Cadurcians, and Nitiobrogians. Separated by the river Tarn from the people of Toulouse are the Petrocorians. . .  [omitted subsequent discussion of Iberia / Hispania / Spain].


Source of the translation: H. Rackham, W.H.S. Jones, and D.E. Eichholz, Pliny: Natural History, 10 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1938-1962), public domain (Rackham passed away in 1944, Jones passed away in 1963, copyright not renewed as well), adapted by Harland.

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