The Helvetians and Romanisation
14 December 2020
The Helvetians (Helvetii in Latin), one of the great Celtic tribes, are mentioned for the first time by Roman and Greek authors around 100 BC.
They are said to have settled in Switzerland from Germany. Roman authors report two important events.
These were the victory in 107 BC over Roman legions and the attempt of the Helvets (and some other Celtic tribes) to move to the southwest of Gaul in the spring of 58 BC.
This event marks the entry of Julius Caesar and the beginning of the Gallic War and De Bello Gallico, Caesar’s account of this war.
The Helvetians lived on the Swiss plateau in (about twelve) settlements or oppida (oppidum in the singular), villages and numerous farms.
The most important oppidum was in the Engehalbinsel (Bern). Other oppida have been found, among others, in Mont-Vully, the hill of Sermuz, the plain of the Orbe, Yverdon-les-Bains. Foundations of Celtic walls have also been found on the Münster in Basel.
After crossing the Jura and then the Saône, they were defeated by Caesar near Bibracte (an ancient Celtic settlement and later Roman town near Autun in Burgundy) in 58 BC and returned to their territory.
Caesar did not punish the Helvetians but concluded a treaty.
He did this to have a buffer against the Germanic tribes. It is probably because of these tribes that the Helvets wanted to settle in Gaul. It was their bad luck (or luck afterwards) that Caeser had other plans.
To strengthen the Roman position Caesar founded two cities on the territory of the Helvets just before his death: today’s Nyon and Augst.
The Roman army occupied the territory of the Helvets (and Switzerland) in 13-15 BC. The Romanisation could begin. (Source: G. Kaenel, P. Crotti, Celtes et Romaines and pays de Vaud, Lausanne 1992).