Bibracte and Swiss History
16 November 2020
One of the crucial events in the history of Switzerland took place in 58 BC, in the Celtic or Gallic oppidum Bibracte on the Beuvray mountain in Burgundy, near Autun.
Cesar stopped the migration or advance of the Helvetians (Helvetii) and some other Celtic tribes from northern Switzerland.
This battle between the Roman and Celtic tribes is mentioned in De Gallo Bellico (written by Cesar). Caesar sent the survivors back to their Swiss territory to prevent the arrival of the Germanic tribes.
Caesar did not occupy this Swiss region, but he made allies (Foederati) of the Helvetians and other tribes.
He also founded two Roman colonies (Colonia Iulia Equestris (Nyon), on the territory of the Helvetians, and Colonia Augusta Raurica (Augst), on the territory of the Rauraces.
These cities became centres of romanisation after 15-13 BC. Nyon remained a small town throughout the Middle Ages, Augst became a small fishing village.
Bibracte’s fate was even more uncertain. Scholars first thought that Autun was Bibracte. Bibracte was abandoned after 20 BC, when Autun was founded, ex novo, in the early years of the regime of Emperor August around 20 BC.
The name of the city was Augustodunum. It was the capital of the civitas of the Aedui people.
The Celts are known for their fortified oppidum on hills, like Bibracte, but the Romans had other ideas and founded cities at the intersection of the main roads or waterways in the plains.
The first excavations of the Bibracte-site began in 1864 after a scholar (Jacques-Gabriel Bulliot, 1817-1902) had discovered that Autun and Bibracte were different cities.
Today, Mont Beuvray is home to an important European archaeological centre and a museum (www.bibracte.fr). (Source: D. Tabary, Bibracte – Mont Beuvray, Langres, 2016).