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Celts: The Arverni

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In this article we will give a short history of the Arverni tribe of Gaul. As one of the most powerful tribes the Arverni had a major presence in Gallic politics. Vercingetorix, the most famous Celt of all, was of this tribe.

Much of the Arverni's history is unknown. Because of the nonexistence of Gallic sources much of what we know of the Arverni must be reconstructed from the archeology, the Hellenes, the Romans. The historian Livy tells us the Arverni, like their Aedui foes, were part of the great migration to Italy under Bellovesus in the 6th Century. It has been suggested the Arverni belief that they were destined to rule Gaul may have started in this period, due to the influence of the Bituriges. This in fact may be the root of their name, as Arverni is Gaulish for Superior Ones.

Not much more is known until the 3rd Century. When we hear of the Arverni again in the 3rd Century BC they had prospered and grown to amazing heights. By this time the Arverni had long since surpassed the Bituriges and had begun a great conquest of Gaul. The primary force behind this conquest was religious in nature, and tied to their kings. The Arverni choose their kings by election, in which all free men took part. The king, whom they called the Verrix, was believed to be divine, the incarnation of Arvernos. To them the natural place of the Verrix was to be high king of Gaul. The formation of the Arverni Confederacy dates from this period. This confederacy allowed for Arverni power to spread from the Pyrenees to the Rhine. Their domestic might was also great from this time on. It is said there was no home in Gaul did not have Arverni made pottery, so great was their reputation for making pots. Gergovia, the Arverni capital, is now believed to have been home to the greatest kilns in Gaul, in terms in quality and sheer numbers. This, combined with Arverni control of the northern trade routes, made them very wealthy. So wealthy that for a time the Arverni fielded the best equipped army in Gaul. However the rising power of the Aedui and their allies threatened their power. This became the start of the famous feud between the two alliances.

The 2nd Century was both the high tide and the beginning of the end. Under a succession of brilliant Verrix the power of the Arverni Confederacy expanded to cover nearly the entirety of Gaul, and even the Belgae, the fierce tribes of what is now Belgium, feared them. The Hellenic traders of Massilia left behind a record speaking of the appearance of the Verrix Luernos when he visited their city at the height of Arverni glory. From this we know that at least in the mid 2nd Century the Arverni leadership had started to adopt some aspects of Hellenic dress. Luernos wore a robe of purple and gold (this speaks well for the wealth of the Arverni). We also know from this account the Arverni's main emblem was a wild boar. But all of this was about to come crashing down. When the Romans arrived in Gaul to the aid of Massilia the Arverni were drawn in by treaty ties tying them to the Allobroges. In the resulting conflict the powerful Arverni Confederacy was utterly broken by Rome (121 BC). The Arverni themselves were nearly wiped out, and the Verrix was humiliated. Following this the kingship lost its religious significance and was abolished. Gaul soon afterwards broke once more into chaos, the fragile unity brought by the Arverni's iron fist gone.

In the 1st Century the most famous Celt of all appeared. It is in this period that we know the most about the Arverni, and that even in their twilight they could still pose a threat to Rome. By the time of the 1st Century the Arverni had defied all belief by beginning to recover from what had appeared to be a mortal wounding at the hands of Rome. This rising strength enabled the Arverni to, with the help of the Sequani, challenge the power of the Roman backed Aedui. But even so the Arverni still suffered heavily, and they appeared to be losing the war. When the Sequani proposed inviting the Sweboz to help them the chief of the Arverni, Celtillus, was vehement in his opposition. The Arverni and the Sweboz hated each other, and Celtillus did not want their help. Nevertheless the Sequani invited them anyway, and brought disaster on themselves when the Sweboz turned on the hand that paid them. But this, ironically enough, would be a good thing. With the Aedui all but wiped out, and the Sequani beaten, the Arverni stood a good chance of regaining their former power. Celtillus began to develop dreams of grandeur, if he had not already, believing the path open to revive the office of Verrix. Thus he set out to unite Gaul. But his dreams were all cut short when his nobility assassinated him out of fear what a united Gaul would bring on them. As the son of Celtillus, the deliberately named Vercingetorix (which means Man who is Chief of a Hundred Heads), was too young to rule so the nobles ruled in his place. Vercingetorix would go on to eventually take control of the Arverni and in time became the leader of the great revolt against Rome in 53. Alongside the Arverni Guard, an elite formation he created, Vercingetorix lead his men into battle. In 52 the Gallic tribes, united in thier entirety for the first and only time, elected Vercingetorix as the Verrix, high king of Gaul. But his reign would be short, Caesar was relentless. When the Gallic Revolt ended Caesar spared the Arverni from destruction. Why he did so remains a mystery, but it is commonly believed that Caesar respected them for their nobility of person and fighting spirit. After this we hear no more of the Arverni as a separate people, except for a few scattered references here and there.

In conclusion the Arverni were a major power in Gaul. Rising from relative obscurity to become nearly masters of Gaul, to being all but wiped out by Rome, only to recover and almost defeat Julius Caesar himself, truly the Arverni were among the greatest movers and shakers in Gallic history.

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