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Celts: The Aedui

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In this article we will give a short history on the Aedui tribe of Gaul. One of the best known of the Gallic tribes the Aedui played a major role in the politics of the region, both before and after the Roman conquest.

Not much is known of the Aedui. It is unfortunate but like with most of the Gallic tribes we do not know a lot about the Aedui outside of their interactions with Rome. We know that the Aedui were in existence in the 6th Century BC, for Livy tells us that the Aedui were part of the great invasion of Italy under Bellovesus. The Insubres, who founded a city that would later become known as Mediolanum, were a sub tribe of the Aedui. It is interesting to note that the Aedui claimed to be the rightful heirs of the Bituriges (which means incidentally kings of the world), the rulers of Gaul in the 6th Century.

Roman contact had a great impact on the Aedui. From what little we know of them we know that contact with Rome must have happened fairly early in the history of the Aedui. For by the time of the 3rd Century they already have a Roman style political system in place. Of all the Gallic tribes the Aedui have the best recorded political system. Again by the 3rd Century we hear of them of having an assembly that elected a magistrate, called the Vergobret, whose power matched that of a Roman Consul according to Caesar. We also know the wealth of the Aedui increased by this time as the trade routes between the Greco-Roman cultures of the Mediterranean and Northern Europe went through their territory from Massilia (modern Marseilles). Gold coins, minted by the Aedui themselves, date from the 3rd Century. It is also from this time that we first hear of the long standing bad blood between the Aedui and Arverni. Previously the Arverni Confederacy had been the undisputed masters of much of Gaul, from the Pyrenees to the Rhine. The rising influence of the Aedui threatened their supremacy, and when the Aedui formed an alliance against them, tensions rose. If any wars broke out between them we cannot say for certain, but the bad blood started in the 3rd Century.

By the time of the 2nd Century the tide of power had turned. As we move forward in time more becomes clear. The 2nd Century was one of momentous change for the Aedui, and for all of Gaul. It was in these years the Roman Republic first made its presence felt. When Massilia became threatened Rome intervened on their behalf, and that conflict drew in the Arverni. They were nearly wiped out by the Romans, and the power of their confederacy was broken beyond all repair. The Aedui, who had supported the Romans as far as they could with out going to war, prospered for their support. In 125 the Senate officially recognized the Aedui as friends and brothers of the Roman people, giving them privileged status. When Roman trade from the newly established Province began arriving in force the Aedui switched to using Roman style silver coinage to fully take advantage of the new trading opportunities. Bibracte, the capital, became among the richest and largest of the Gallic cities. When Rome began to meddle in the political stage of Gaul they choose to back the Aedui, and it was Roman power that backed the formation of an Aedui Confederacy. But this new force never attained the same level of power the Arverni had, and the cracks soon showed. The rising power of the Sequani became a major thorn to the Aedui, and a even greater threat then the Arverni.

In the 1st Century BC we have the most information. We know the most about the Aedui during the period of Caesar's conquest of Gaul, with whom they allied themselves. In 71 BC the Sequani (allied with the Arverni) and the Aedui were at war and from all accounts the latter appeared to be winning. The Sequani as a result called a man we know as Ariovistus to help them. Ariovistus appears to have been a war leader amongst the Germanic Sweboz, whom the Romans called the Suebi. The Germanic peoples were the only warriors the Celts truly feared, and their entrance into the war turned the tide against the Aedui. To their credit they managed to hold the Sweboz off for ten years before appealing to Rome for aid. The arrival of Diviciacus in 61, a druid who was also Vergobret, is significant as not only one of the few named Vergobrets but also as the only named druid who really existed. Diviciacus left a great impact on Rome, and he even made friends with the great orator Cicero. However the Senate refused to help him and his people, and as a result the Aedui fell to their enemies soon after Diviciacus' mission. When Caesar arrived in Gaul he restored the Aedui to their former lands, and pushed the hated Sweboz back over the Rhine. Over the course of Caesar's conquests the Aedui were Rome's greatest Celtic allies and many young Aeduan nobleman joined Caesar's legions as a cavalry auxilia. For these reasons it is hard for historians, even to this day, to understand what motivated the Aedui to suddenly switch sides when the Gallic revolt began in 53. It has been suggested that the reason was a change in leadership. In 53 Diviciacus had lost his bid to be re-elected as Vergobret, so the new magistrate, possibly an anti-Roman, would have had good reason to align with the rebels. Interestingly enough Vercingetorix, who was an Arverni, was elected leader of the revolt at Bibracte. When the revolt was defeated by Caesar at Alesia in 51 it was the Aedui who were the first of the tribes to beg Caesar for forgiveness. Because the ties between the Aedui and Rome were still strong Caesar spared them and the Aedui quickly assumed a leadership position in the new Roman order.

The last mention of the Aedui comes in the 1st Century AD. When Augustus began his reorganization of Gaul in the early years of the new era the Aedui were among the first to be affected. Augustus dismantled Bibracte and built a new capital, a blending of Roman and Gallic cultures, for them. This new capital was called Augustodunum. In 21 AD an Aeduan nobleman named Julius Sacrovir rose in revolt in protest against the high taxes demanded by the Roman government. Tiberius dispatched Legio II Augusta under Gaius Silius to put down the revolt, which ended swiftly. Despite this the long history of friendship prevailed and the Emperor Claudius bestowed upon them jus honorum, the right to run for public office. After this we have no more mention of the Aedui as a separate people.

In conclusion the Aedui were an important part of Gallic history. Even though we do not have a lot of information about them the Aedui were certainly a major power in Gaul. And as a benefit of their long standing friendship with Rome the Aedui became the first Celts to run for Roman office.

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