Period I newsletter

Swiss territory and Roman provinces 14 AD. Marc Zanoli. Photo: Wikipedia.

Switzerland and the Roman Empire

The population of Switzerland before the conquest by the Romans in the last decades before Christ consisted of Celtic tribes.

The Romans occupied in 122 BC as the most northern city of the Allobroges and the Roman province of Gaul Transalpine. This included the regions Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Rhône Alpes, except the independent city-state of Massilia (Marseille).

Emperor August reorganised this territory into the province Narbonensis in 22 BC with Narbo as the provincial capital, including lacus lemanus (Lake of Geneva) and Geneva.

A special event took place in 58 BC, when the Celtic tribes of Helvetii and Raurici, inhabiting the region of Basel, Jura and the Swiss Plateau, immigrated to Gaul.

An estimated 300 000 men, women, children were on the move, leaving behind their settlements. The reasons are unknown, but the pressure of Germanic tribes the tribes of Raetii is the most likely reason.

Caesar (governor of Gallia Narbonensis at this time) stopped this immigration/invasion by a decisive victory at Bibrace (Mont-Beuvray), close to Autun in 58 BC.

Caesar feared the vacuum in Switzerland and the invasion of German tribes. The Helvetians and Rauraci were sent back to their homelands and became allies (foederati) of Rome.

Caesar founded two Roman cities in this region, Colonia Julia Equestris (Nyon) in the territory of the Helvetii, and the Colonia Raurica (Augst) in the territory of the Raurici.

Many other settlements of the Helvetians and the Raurici became Roman towns, for example, Lousonna (Lausanne), Basilea (Basel), Petinesca (Studen) or Eburodunum (Yverdon).

The territory of the tribe of the Salassi on the other side of Mont-Iovis (mountain of Jupiter or the Grand Saint-Bernard) was conquered in 25 BC. The Colonia Augusta Praetoria (Aosta) was founded soon afterwards.

Many Celtic settlements became Roman towns or the Romans founded new cities (ex novo), for example Curia (Chur), Turicum (Zürich), Vindonissia (Windisch), Aquae Helveticae (Baden), Tenedo (Zurzach), Aventicum (Avenches), Salodurum (Solothurn), Vitudurum (Oberwintherthur), Tasgaetium (Eschenz) or Forum Claudii Vallensium (Martigny).

Emperor August and his successors reorganized these territories various times.

The creation of the provinces Germania Superior, including the northern part of Switzerland and Aventicum as the provincial capital of the Helvetii

In the east, August founded the province Raetia (Augst (Augusta Vindelicum) was the capital), in the south he created the province Alpes Poeninae. The province Alpes Graiae was on the other side of the Small Saint-Bernard. Aime (Forum Claudii Centronum) was the capital.

Lyon (Lugdunum) was the provincial capital of Lugdunensis.

This should remain the situation until 260 AD, when German invasions swept over the region after a relatively peaceful period of 250 years. The Pax Romana was over.