Pre Roman Europe? What was it like?

Aug 2018
Traditional history narrarates that the Europeans of Pre-Roman France, Iberia, Germany, and Brittain were relatively primitive tribes who the romans conquered, and romanized without too much difficulty, and often leaves it at that [...] How much of this narrative is actually true?.

Here's some information on the Celtic 'La Tène ' culture which dominated much of western and central Europe prior to the Roman conquest.


From The Celtic World, (1995):

Archaeological evidence suggests that, by the early fifth century BC, centres of power and wealth in central Europe had shifted north and west to the Rhineland and the Marne. This may have occurred because, at a time when Etruria was becoming a major power, the trade-routes were perhaps reoriented to facilitate direct trading between the Celts and the Etruscans. This geographical shift is marked by the appearance of new elements in material culture, which archaeologists call La Tène, after the metal-work from the site of the same name on Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland. Precious items of war-gear and other implements, together with animals, were deliberately deposited in the water over a long period, presumably as a series of votive acts. The La Tène phase of the European Iron Age demonstrates the presence of a warrior-aristocracy, some of whom were still buried with vehicles, but now with a light two-wheeled cart or chariot replacing the heavy wagon of the later Hallstatt period. The La Tène tradition is above all characterised by a fine art, essentially an aristocratic art which was employed principally for the embellishment of metalwork. La Tene artists owed much to their Hallstatt forebears but they were also heavily influenced by themes and art forms from both the classical world and the Near East. Celtic art was dominated by abstract, geometric designs, but images from the natural world - foliage, animals and human faces - were often incorporated as integral components of these designs. The material culture of the La Tène phase represents the ‘floruit’ of Celtic civilisation. The archaeological record presents us with a picture of a heroic society in which war, feasting and display were important, a society which is recognisable as that alluded to by classical chroniclers of their ‘Celtic’ neighbours.

Celtic culture per se is generally considered to come to an end around the end of the first century BC, when most of temperate Europe was subjected to the domination of the Roman world. The new hybrid culture resulting from the interaction between Roman and indigenous Celtic ideas retained many elements of pre-Roman tradition, whilst at the same time adopting new influences from Graeco-Roman Europe. […]

Ancient literary sources, archaeological evidence and, to a lesser extent, language, all contrive to present us with a picture of a Celtic world which, in its heyday (the later first millennium BC), stretched from Ireland and Spain in the west and Scotland in the north to Czechoslovakia in the east and northern Italy in the south, and even beyond Europe to Asia Minor. But we need to examine the nature of that Celtic culture and how it expanded from its original central European heartlands. When we speak of Celtic expansion over Europe, how far do we perceive this in terms of vast folk movements? Classical writers refer to marauding bands of Celts sacking Rome in the early fourth century BC, Delphi in the early third century, and to the establishment of the Celtic Galatians in Asia Minor at the same time. But some Celtic expansion was surely the result of the spread of fashions, ideas and traditions at least as much as of actual ethnic Celts.

Green, M. ’The Celtic World’. Routledge, 1995. p.5-7.

Urbanisation: Oppida

"The Mediterranean world has dominated notions of European civilization since the founding of the Roman Empire. What was swept away in Northern Europe [by the Roman Conquest] was itself a dynamic indigenous culture extending across the transalpine landmass, usually known today as that of the Celts. The proto-urban Oppida - a Latin word used by Julius Caesar himself - remain one of the most striking manifestations of this pre-Roman northern European civilization. These sites developed in Europe at the end of the Ist millenium BC. Located to the North of the Alps, they extend between Southern Britain to the West and Hungary to the East. Archaeological research reveals a dense, organised occupation, geared towards a major activity of production."

Oppida celtiques, atlas des fortifications celtiques Europe, villes celtiques, oppidum gaulois


Source: Oppida celtiques, atlas des fortifications celtiques Europe, villes celtiques, oppidum gaulois

From The Celtic World:

The second and first centuries BC represented a period of radical change in settlement pattern and social, political and economic organisation in central and western Europe. By the time Caesar reached Gaul, the predecessors of Roman and modern towns were already in existence as administrative and trading centres - Vesontio (Besancon), Durocororum (Reims), Lutetia (paris), Avaricum (Bourges) and others. In the Celtic-speaking parts of Spain sites such as Numantia formed the major centres of resistance, while Camulodunum (Colchester) was considered the capital of Britain, sufficiently important for the Emperor Claudius himself to take part in its capture. Over a broad zone, Portugal, central Spain, southern Britain, France, southern and central Germany, the Alpine zone, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia major settlements, often labelled by ancient authors and modern archaeologists alike as ‘oppida’, had come into existence. […]

The third and second centuries BC saw enormous strides in production and exchange in central and western europe. There are two industries which document this development most clearly, but similar things were probably happening in other industries as well. In iron production we can demonstrate both a qualitative and a quantitative leap, and huge quantities of iron objects suddenly become common on all types of settlement. Something similar happens in the pottery industry, and this can be characterised first in the increased importance of wheel-turned pottery over hand-made, and second in the construction of elaborate kilns for mass-production. They are indicators of increased specialisation in a broad range of other industries - wood - and leather-working, glass, metallurgy, textiles, and at Manching Jacobi (1974) has identified the specialist tools that accompanied these changes. […]

Some of the innovation of this period, for instance the advances in pottery production, can be traced back to the Mediterranean world, but some aspects, like the iron industry and coin use, were more advanced than in the Mediterranean, and indicate indigenous changes.

In conclusion, urbanisation in the Celtic-speaking world seems mainly to be connected with an upsurge in production, partly due to contacts with the Mediterranean world, but partly indigenous. This increased production in turn stimulated increased trade contacts with the mediterranean, bringing in luxury goods such as wine, and the upsurge in trade itself became a factor in urbanisation. […] in Gaul, Britain and Spain it laid the foundations for subsequent urban development, and many major settlements were already well established by the time of the Roman conquest.

Collis, John. ‘The First Towns’. In ’The Celtic World’, Ed. Miranda Green. Routledge, 1995. p.159-173.
Aug 2018

“Traditionally, Gallic roads have been underestimated by archaeologists, but aerial photography is revealing a network of roads linking major oppida and providing communications with farmsteads. The mention of bridges by Caesar implies that many of these roads were more than simple tracks, a view strengthened by the use of Gallic names for a range of two-wheel and four-wheel carts and the Gauls’ contemporary reputation for skilful wheel making.”

The Roman Remains of Northern and Eastern France (James Bromwich, 2013)

"Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient highway built before the Roman Conquest which suggests that Iron Age man may have beaten them to it.The discovery is the first of its kind and proves that ancient Britons built and used complex roads a century earlier than the invaders. It even raises the possibility that the Romans were inspired by Iron Age man, as their road was built on top of the original foundations, which date from 2,100 years ago. Tim Malim, the archaeologist leading the project, said his team had been brought in to investigate what was believed to be a Roman road. But on closer inspection, they realised that the construction was actually built upon the original foundations of another road, which was found to date from the Iron Age. The discovery is now likely to prompt archaeologists in other parts of Britain to re-examine some more typically Roman-looking roads to see whether they too were constructed by Britons.”

UK Home | Daily Mail Online


"The excavated oppida yield evidence of writing in the final two centuries before Christ, both in the form of writing implements - ‘stili’ and bronze frames from wooden writing tablets (Jacobi 1974b), and in inscriptions in Greek characters scratched into pottery, as at Manching [Germany] (Kramer 1982) and in central and southern Gaul (Raubenheimer 1987). This writing was probably introduced in the context of trade between the oppidum communities and the Mediterranean world and provides another indication of the increasingly specialised role of the Celtic merchants in the expanding commerce of the late iron age centres."

Wells, Peter S. ‘Trade and Exchange’. In The Celtic World, Ed. Miranda Green. Routledge, 1995. p.241.

Gaulish is found in some 800, often fragmentary, inscriptions including calendars, pottery accounts, funeral monuments, short dedications to gods, coin inscriptions, statements of ownership, and other texts, possibly curse tablets. Gaulish texts were first written in the Greek alphabet in southern France and in a variety of the Old Italic script in northern Italy. After the Roman conquest of those regions, writing shifted to the use of the Latin alphabet.[6]

Lepontic language, attested from a small area on the southern slopes of the Alps, around the present-day Swiss town of Lugano, is the oldest Celtic language known to have been written, with inscriptions in a variant of the Old Italic script appearing around c. 600 BC. It has been described either as an "early dialect of an outlying form of Gaulish", or else as a separate Continental Celtic language.[9] Attestations of Gaulish proper in present-day France are known as "Transalpine Gaulish". Its written record begins in the 3rd century BC with inscriptions in the Greek alphabet, found mainly in the Rhône area of southern France (where Greek cultural influence was present via the colony of Massilia, founded c.600 BC).

At least 13 references to Gaulish speech and Gaulish writing can be found in Greek and Latin writers of antiquity. The word "Gaulish" (gallicum) as a language term is first explicitly used in the Appendix Vergiliana in a poem referring to Gaulish letters of the alphabet.[13] Julius Caesar reported in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico of 58 BC that the Celts/Gauls and their language are separated from the neighboring Aquitanians and Belgae by the rivers Garonne and Seine/Marne, respectively.[14] Caesar relates that census accounts written in the Greek alphabet were found among the Helvetii [15] He also notes that as of 53 BC the Gaulish druids used the Greek alphabet for private and public transactions, with the important exception of druidic doctrines, which could only be memorised and were not allowed to be written down.[16] According to the Recueil des Inscriptions Gauloises, nearly three quarters of Gaulish inscriptions (disregarding coins) are in the Greek alphabet.

According to the Recueil des Inscriptions Gauloises, more than 760 Gaulish inscriptions have been found throughout present-day France, with the notable exception of Aquitaine, and in northern Italy.[40]Inscriptions include short dedications, funerary monuments, proprietary statements, and expressions of human sentiments, but the Gauls also left some longer documents of a legal or magical-religious nature,[3] the three longest being the Larzac tablet, the Chamalières tablet and the Lezoux dish.

Gaulish language - Wikipedia


Celtic coinage was minted by the Celts from the late 4th century BC to the late 1st century BC. Celtic coins were influenced by trade with and the supply of mercenaries to the Greeks, and initially copied Greek designs, especially Macedonian coins from the time of Philip II of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great. [1][2][3] Thus Greek motifs and even letters can be found on various Celtic coins, especially those of southern France.[4]

After this first period in which Celtic coins rather faithfully reproduced Greek types, designs started to become more symbolic, as exemplified by the coinage of the Parisii in the Belgic region of northern France.[2] The Armorican Celtic style in northwestern Gaul also developed from Celtic designs from the Rhine valley, themselves derived from earlier Greek prototypes such as the wine scroll and split palmette.[2]

Over 45,000 of the ancient British and Gaulish coins discovered in Britain have been recorded at the Oxford Celtic Coin Index.[7][8] The Trinovantian tribal oppidum of Camulodunon (modern Colchester) was minting large numbers of coins in the first centuries BC and AD, which have been found across Southern Britain.[9] Common motifs on the Camulodunon coins included horses and wheat/barley sheafs,[10] with the names of the rulers written mostly in Latin script, and more rarely in Greek.[10]

Celtic coinage - Wikipedia
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Aug 2018
Political organisation

Excerpt from 'The Ancient Celts' (Barry Cunliffe, 1997, p.224-232):

"Some reflection of the change in style of power and prestige [in the later La Tene period] is reflected in Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War, which depict Gaulish society in a state of evolution. the situation among the Helvetii is informative. Orgetorix, we are told, was the richest and most distinguished man in the tribe, but he ‘aspired to kingship’ and. according to Caesar, attempted to persuade Casticus, a noble of the Sequani, and Dumnorix of the Aedui to do the same. ‘The three exchanged an oath of loyalty, hoping that when each had seized royal power they would be able to control the whole of Gaul’. However, the conspiracy was discovered and Orgetorix was arrested to stand trial. If he were found guilty, the punishment would be death by burning. To evade the procedure Orgetorix called together his kin and clients (some 10,000 according to Caesar), but the magistrates amassed a force to oppose him, and in the chaos which followed he died, possibly by suicide. The incident is informative in that it shows that among certain tribes government by elected magistrates had replaced kingship, but such was the social instability that to aspire to kingship was regarded as a very serious offence. The point is again made when Caesar mentions in passing that Celtillus, an Avernian and the father of Vercingetorix, had once been the most powerful man in the whole of Gaul and had been killed by his fellow tribesmen because he wished to become king.

The leadership of these more socially evolved tribes was in the hands of an annually elected magistrate, called the Vergobret by the Aedui, who had the power of life and death over his people. During his term of office the magistrate was forbidden to leave his country, and a further rule laid down that two members of the same family could not be appointed magistrates while both were alive or indeed might not be members of the council altogether. These strict controls were evidently designed to prevent an elected representative from leading a raiding force into another territory and to make sure that power did not concentrate in the hands of any one family. Regulations of this kind hint that the change from the old system to the new had only just got underway and that the elected magistracy was still a delicate growth. […]

Elsewhere in Gaul kings were still much in evidence, though the system allowed for war leaders to be appointed to command the troops of more than one tribe when the need arose. Vercingetorix, who led the opposition to Caesar in 52 BC, is the prime example. [...]

[At the town of Bibracte, capital of the Aedui] envoys from other tribes were received by the chief magistrate and most of the tribal councils met during Caesar’s Gallic campaigns, and here in 52 BC, Vercingetorix was confirmed as supreme war leader by Gauls who had gathered from all over the country."

Barry Cunliffe - The Ancient Celts

From Wikipedia:

"At the head of the Aedui state sat a senate comprising one member of each Aedui aristrocratic family. What is today called executive power was held by the vergobret, the supreme magistrate, who exercised his functions over the course of a year. He was forbidden from leaving the borders of the territory during this period, which prevented him from commanding the army outside the borders.[21] This measure, along with that which authorized only one voice per aristocratic family in the senate, aimed to prevent any individual or their family from monopolizing the reins of power. The vergobret was publicly elected by a council directed by the druids. Among the Aedui, it seems like the vergobret also exercised a judiciary role, since Caesar reports that he had "the right to life and death over his fellow citizens". Finally, it is thought that the vergobret was responsible for the administration of the territory.[21] Caesar adds that the druids were charged with this: "They believe that religion does not allow them to put the material of their education in writing, while for the rest in general, for public and private administrative acts, they used the Greek alphabet."[22] No excavation has permitted the rediscovery of such acts, the backings of which, being wood covered with wax, are perishable.

Furthermore, it is known that the druids held high functions since Diviciacus came to Rome to plead the case of the Aedui during the Germanic invasion led by Ariovistus on the account of the Sequani.;[23] he also directed the Aedui cavalry during the Gallic War after the death of his brother Dumnorix. Therefore, it is thought that some druids held high military positions."

"The Aedui installed a system of customs that taxed products passing through their territory to increase their wealth, as attested in the texts of Julius Caesar: "It was typical of Dumnorix: the man was audacious, his generosity made him popular, and he wanted political change. For years, he has had the control of the customs and all the other taxes of the Aedui, because when he bid, no one dared bid against him."[20] The Aedui and the Sequani fought each other to control the Arar (now the Saône) because controlling the river allowed taxation of Roman and Celtic products traveling north."

Bibracte - Wikipedia


"A vergobret was a person in the society of Ancient Gaul who held the highest office in many Gallic cities, especially among the Aedui. Julius Caesar discusses the role of the vergobret several times in his Commentaries on the Gallic War, referring to the office with the terms princeps civitatis, principatus, and magistratus.[1]

Elected every year under the aegis of the druids,[2] the vergobret had the right of life and death, and that of commanding the army in defensive action. He was however forbidden from leaving the borders of the territory of his people: "The laws of the Aedui forbid those who held the highest office from crossing the borders".[2] He could not therefore command the army outside of the borders. This made it necessary to name a general and prevented the vergobret from seizing power beyond this magistrature.[3] The vergobret was chosen from among the most powerful people. Coins have been found in the effigies of Aedui and Remi vergobrets (for instance, staters at the effigy of Dumnorix).

One of the rare archaeological traces of the vergobret came from the 1978 excavations of Dr. Allain in the zone of the temples to Argentomagus (Saint-Marcel, Indre), where an olla of terra nigra, engraved after being fired, bears the inscription, "vercobretos readdas". The meaning of the inscription is along the lines of "the vergobret has sacrificed/consecrated/given" (cf. P-Y Lambert 2003 and X. Delamarre 2003). Several names of vergobrets are currently known: Liscus, Valetiacos, Convictolitavis of the Aedui, and Celtillos of the Arverni.

For the Lemovices, two names are probable: Sedullos, killed at Alesia, was called dux et princeps lemovicum,[4] "military and civil leader", which probably corresponds to the title of vergobret. Furthermore, an inscription in rock in the Galloroman city of Augustoritum has been found, which is a sign of a yet incomplete Romanization: it cites a certain "Postumus, vergobret, son of Dumnorix" (the latter having no relation to the Aedui of the same name).[5]"

Vergobret - Wikipedia
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Aug 2018

A druid was a member of the high-ranking professional class in ancient Celtic cultures. While perhaps best remembered as religious leaders, they were also legal authorities, adjudicators, lorekeepers, medical professionals and political advisors. While the druids are reported to have been literate, they are believed to have been prevented by doctrine from recording their knowledge in written form, thus they left no written accounts of themselves. They are however attested in some detail by their contemporaries from other cultures, such as the Romans and the Greeks.

The earliest known references to the druids date to the fourth century BCE and the oldest detailed description comes from Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico (50s BCE). They were also described by later Greco-Roman writers such as Cicero,[2] Tacitus[3] and Pliny the Elder.[4] Following the Roman invasion of Gaul, the druid orders were suppressed by the Roman government under the 1st century CE emperors Tiberius and Claudius, and had disappeared from the written record by the 2nd century.

Julius Caesar's description of the druids:

"The Druids are concerned with divine worship, the due performance of sacrifices, public and private, and the interpretation of ritual questions: a great number of young men gather about them for the sake of instruction and hold them in great honour. In fact, it is they who decide in almost all disputes, public and private; and if any crime has been committed, or murder done, or there is any dispute about succession or boundaries, they also decide it, determining rewards and penalties: if any person or people does not abide by their decision, they ban such from sacrifice, which is their heaviest penalty. Those that are so banned are reckoned as impious and criminal; all men move out of their path and shun their approach and conversation, for fear they may get some harm from their contact, and no justice is done if they seek it, no distinction falls to their share. Of all these Druids one is chief, who has the highest authority among them. At his death, either any other that is pre-eminent in position succeeds, or, if there be several of equal standing, they strive for the primacy by the vote of the Druids, or sometimes even with armed force. These Druids, at a certain time of the year, meet within the borders of the Carnutes, whose territory is reckoned as the centre of all Gaul, and sit in conclave in a consecrated spot. Thither assemble from every side all that have disputes, and they obey the decisions and judgments of the Druids. It is believed that their rule of life was discovered in Britain and transferred thence to Gaul; and today those who would study the subject more accurately journey, as a rule, to Britain to learn it.

The Druids usually hold aloof from war, and do not pay war taxes with the rest; they are excused from military service and exempt from all liabilities. Tempted by these great rewards, many young men assemble of their own motion to receive their training; many are sent by parents and relatives. Report says that in the schools of the Druids they learn by heart a great number of verses, and therefore some persons remain twenty years under training. And they do not think it proper to commit these utterances to writing, although in almost all other matters, and in their public and private accounts, they make use of Greek letters. I believe that they have adopted the practice for two reasons; that they do not wish the rule to become common property, nor those who learn the rule to rely on writing and so neglect the cultivation of the memory; and, in fact, it does usually happen that the assistance of writing tends to relax the diligence of the student and the action of the memory. The cardinal doctrine which they seek to teach is that souls do not die, but after death pass from one to another; and this belief, as the fear of death is thereby cast aside, they hold to be the greatest incentive to valour. Besides this, they have many discussions as touching the stars and their movement, the size of the universe and of the earth, the order of nature, the strength and the powers of the immortal gods, and hand down their lore to the young men."

Caesar • Gallic War — Book VI, chs. 11‑20

Description of the druids by Pomponius Mela (c.43 AD): "They profess to know the size and shape of the earth and the universe, the motion of the sky and the stars, and what the gods want"

The Ancient Paths (Graham Robb, 2013)

One of the few things that both the Greco-Roman and the vernacular Irish sources agree on about the druids is that they played an important part in pagan Celtic society. In his description, Julius Caesar claimed that they were one of the two most important social groups in the region (alongside the equites, or nobles) and were responsible for organizing worship and sacrifices, divination, and judicial procedure in Gaulish, British and Irish society.[19] He also claimed that they were exempt from military service and from the payment of taxes, and had the power to excommunicate people from religious festivals, making them social outcasts.[19] Two other classical writers, Diodorus Siculus and Strabo, also wrote about the role of druids in Gallic society, claiming that the druids were held in such respect that if they intervened between two armies they could stop the battle.[20] The earliest record of the druids comes from two Greek texts of c. 300 BCE: one, a history of philosophy written by Sotion of Alexandria, and the other a study of magic widely attributed to Aristotle. Both texts are now lost, but were quoted in the 2nd century CE work Vitae by Diogenes Laertius [55]:

"Some say that the study of philosophy originated with the barbarians. In that among the Persians there existed the Magi, and among the Babylonians or Assyrians the Chaldaei, among the Indians the Gymnosophistae, and among the Celts and Gauls men who were called druids and semnothei, as Aristotle relates in his book on magic, and Sotion in the twenty-third book of his Succession of Philosophers." (Diogenes Laertius, Vitae, Introduction, Section 1)

Another classical writer to take up describing the druids was Diodorus Siculus, who published this description in his Bibliotheca historicae in 36 BCE. Alongside the druids, or as he called them, drouidas, whom he viewed as philosophers and theologians, he also remarked how there were poets and singers in Celtic society whom he called bardous, or bards.[29] Such an idea was expanded on by Strabo, writing in the 20s CE, who declared that amongst the Gauls, there were three types of honoured figures: the poets and singers known as bardoi, the diviners and specialists in the natural world known as o'vateis, and those who studied "moral philosophy", the druidai.[67]

Pythagorean philosophy

Alexander Cornelius Polyhistor referred to the druids as philosophers and called their doctrine of the immortality of the soul and reincarnation or metempsychosis "Pythagorean": "The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among the Gauls' teaching that the souls of men are immortal, and that after a fixed number of years they will enter into another body." Diodorus Siculus, writing in 36 BCE, described how the druids followed "the Pythagorean doctrine", that human souls "are immortal and after a prescribed number of years they commence a new life in a new body."[29]

Druid - Wikipedia

" 'The Celtic Druids investigated to the very highest point the Pythagorean philosophy', said Hippolytus of Rome; they practice divination 'from calculations and numbers by the Pythagorean art'. [...] Celtic art was a scientific attempt to decipher the secrets of creation, 'for offerings should be rendered to the gods by philosophers who are experienced in the nature of the divine and who speak, as it were, the same language as the gods' (Diodorus Sculls). In order to learn that language, they 'conducted investigations and attempted to explain the system of interrelations [or, in a variant text, 'the inner laws'] and the highest secrets of nature' (Timagenes)."

The Ancient Paths (Graham Robb, 2013)
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Diviciacus the Druid

Diviciacus or Divitiacus of the Aedui is the only druid from antiquity whose existence is attested by name. His date of birth is not known, but he was an adult during the late 60s BC, at which time he was described by Julius Caesar as a "senator" of the Aedui. In Caesar's The Gallic War the word "senator" is used to refer to Gallic aristocrats who took part in their clans' decision-making. He supported the Aedui's preexisting alliance with Rome.

In 63 BC, at the age of 32, he survived the Battle of Magetobriga, where forces of the Sequani and Arverni, together with Germanic troops under the Suebi King Ariovistus, massacred the Aedui.[2] Thereafter, the Aedui became tributary to the Sequani. Following the Aedui's defeat at Magetobriga, Diviciacus traveled to Rome and spoke before the Roman Senate to ask for military aid. While in Rome, he was a guest of Cicero, who spoke of his knowledge of divination, astronomy and natural philosophy, and names him as a druid.[3] Julius Caesar, who knew him well, noted his particular skills as a diplomat without calling him a druid.

Following Caesar's victory over the Helvetii, Diviciacus went as a prominent member of the Gallic delegation to Caesar, and was appointed as their chief spokesman. He brought the Gallic people's concerns to Caesar over Ariovistus, who had taken much of the Sequani lands and taken hostages.[4][5] The Gaul's request provided the catalyst for the next phase of Caesar's Conquest of Gaul, when Caesar went on to confront and defeat Ariovistus.

In addition to holding the religious office of druid, Diviciacus may have been the Uergobretos, the annually elected political leader or chief magistrate[6] of the Aedui, one of the most powerful nations in Gaul. If true, his combination of military and religious office responsibilities in Aedua paralleled Caesar's duties among the Romans. For in Rome, Caesar was Pontifex Maximus in addition to being a magistrate and general.

Diviciacus (Aedui) - Wikipedia
Aug 2018

The Veneti were a seafaring Celtic people who lived in the Brittany peninsula (France), which in Roman times formed part of an area called Armorica. They built their strongholds on coastal eminences, which were islands when the tide was in, and peninsulas when the tide was out. Their most notable city, and probably their capital, was Darioritum (now known as Gwened in Breton or Vannes in French), mentioned in Ptolemy's Geography. The Veneti built their ships of oak with large transoms fixed by iron nails of a thumb's thickness. They navigated and powered their ships through the use of leather sails. This made their ships strong, sturdy and structurally sound, capable of withstanding the harsh conditions of the Atlantic.

Judging by Caesar's Bello Gallico the Veneti evidently had close relations with Iron Age Britain; he describes how the Veneti sail to Britain.[1] They controlled the tin trade from mining in Cornwall and Devon.[2] Caesar mentioned that they summoned military assistance from that island during the war of 56 BCE.[3] Given the highly defensible nature of the Veneti strongholds, land attacks were frustrated by the incoming tide, and naval forces were left trapped on the rocks when the tide ebbed. Despite this, Caesar managed to engineer moles and raised siegeworks that provided his legions with a base of operations. However, once the Veneti were threatened in one stronghold, they used their fleet to evacuate to another stronghold, obliging the Romans to repeat the same engineering feat elsewhere.

Since the destruction of the enemy fleet was the only permanent way to end this problem, Caesar directed his men to build ships. However, his galleyswere at a serious disadvantage compared to the far thicker Veneti ships. The thickness of their ships meant they were resistant to ramming, whilst their greater height meant they could shower the Roman ships with projectiles, and even command the wooden turrets which Caesar had added to his bulwarks. The Veneti manoeuvred so skilfully under sail that boarding was impossible.

These factors, coupled with their intimate knowledge of the coast and tides, put the Romans at a disadvantage. However, these advantages would not stand in the face of Roman perseverance and ingenuity. Caesar's legate Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus was given command of the Roman fleet, and in a decisive battle, succeeded in destroying the Gaulish fleet in Quiberon Bay, with Caesar watching from the shore. Using long billhooks, the Romans struck at the enemy's halyards as they swept past (these must have been fastened out-board), having the effect of dropping the huge leathern mainsails to the deck, which hopelessly crippled the vessel whether for sailing or rowing. The Romans were at last able to board, and the whole Veneti fleet fell into their hands.

Veneti (Gaul) - Wikipedia

Julius Caesar's description of the Veneti:

"The influence of this state is by far the most considerable of any of the countries on the whole sea coast, because the Veneti both have a very great number of ships, with which they have been accustomed to sail to Britain, and excel the rest in their knowledge and experience of nautical affairs; and as only a few ports lie scattered along that stormy and open sea, of which they are in possession, they hold as tributaries almost all those who are accustomed to traffic in that sea."

Gallic War, Book 3, Chapter 8

Julius Caesar's description of the Veneti ships:

"For their ships were built and equipped after this manner. The keels were somewhat flatter than those of our ships, whereby they could more easily encounter the shallows and the ebbing of the tide: the prows were raised very high, and, in like manner the sterns were adapted to the force of the waves and storms. The ships were built wholly of oak, and designed to endure any force and violence whatever; the benches which were made of planks a foot in breadth, were fastened by iron spikes of the thickness of a man's thumb; the anchors were secured fast by iron chains instead of cables, and for sails they used skins and thin dressed leather. These [were used] either through their want of canvas and their ignorance of its application, or for this reason, which is more probable, that they thought that such storms of the ocean, and such violent gales of wind could not be resisted by sails, nor ships of such great burden be conveniently enough managed by them. The encounter of our fleet with these ships' was of such a nature that our fleet excelled in speed alone, and the plying of the oars; other things, considering the nature of the place [and] the violence of the storms, were more suitable and better adapted on their side; for neither could our ships injure theirs with their beaks (so great was their strength), nor on account of their height was a weapon easily cast up to them; and for the same reason they were less readily locked in by rocks. To this was added, that whenever a storm began to rage and they ran before the wind, they both could weather the storm more easily and heave to securely in the shallows, and when left by the tide feared nothing from rocks and shelves: the risk of all which things was much to be dreaded by our ships.

Caesar, after taking many of their towns, perceiving that so much labor was spent in vain and that the flight of the enemy could not be prevented on the capture of their towns, and that injury could not be done them, he determined to wait for his fleet. As soon as it came up and was first seen by the enemy, about 220 of their ships, fully equipped and appointed with every kind of [naval] implement, sailed forth from the harbor, and drew up opposite to ours; nor did it appear clear to Brutus, who commanded the fleet, or to the tribunes of the soldiers and the centurions, to whom the several ships were assigned, what to do, or what system of tactics to adopt; for they knew that damage could not be done by their beaks; and that, although turrets were built [on their decks], yet the height of the stems of the barbarian ships exceeded these; so that weapons could not be cast up from [our] lower position with sufficient effect, and those cast by the Gauls fell the more forcibly upon us."

Gallic War, Book 3, Chapter 13-14

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
Those places were not true cities. That lacked features of what we regard as "cities" rather than villages

1. No separation of crafts into specific areas of the city

2. No separate administration to manage the city

3. Designated market areas?

Although the difference between a city and a large village might not be clear cut, none of the iron age urban areas approached the 30,000 to 40,000 of Roman London, or the 100,000 of Roman Trier, nor did they have any harbors as part of urban areas.

And they were not exchanging letters, or writing books and treatises, even if they did use runes and such to write inscriptions. The elites of Iron Age Europe were not reading written works of their favorite poet. Being able to inscribe a few runes on a grave marker does not make a literate society.