Period I

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

Switzerland and the Roman Empire

Celtic tribes inhabited the territory of present-day Switzerland before the conquest by the Romans in the last decade BC.

The Romans had occupied Genava (Geneva), the town of the Allobroges,  in 120 BC. Geneva became part of the Roman province of Gaul Transalpine. This province consisted of the present-day provinces of Languedoc-Roussillon, Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Rhône Alpes, except the independent (Greek) city-state of Massilia (Marseille).

Emperor August reorganized this territory and called it the province Narbonensis in 22 BC. Narbo was the provincial capital, including lacus lemanus (Lake of Geneva) and Geneva.

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

An estimated 300 000 men, women, and children were on the move, leaving behind their settlements. The invasions and threats of the Germanic tribes forced them to move to the West. Caesar (governor of Gallia Narbonensis) won a decisive battle at Bibrace (Mont-Beuvray), near Autun (France), in 58 BC.

Caesar feared the vacuum in Switzerland and an 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) and the Colonia Raurica (Augst).

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

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 Romans founded the Colonia Augusta Praetoria (Aosta) soon afterwards.

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

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

German invasions swept over the region in 260 AD after a relatively peaceful period. The Pax Romana was over.

(Source: R. Fellmann, La Suisse Gallo-Romaine, Cinq siècles d’histoire, Lausanne 1992).