Period I newsletter

Mont Vully. Photo/Foto: TES.

The Helvetians

The Helvetians (Helvetii in Latin) was the name for some Celtic tribes. They inhabited the Swiss Plateau.

The names of some of these tribes are known, the Tigurini, Ambrones, Verbigeni and Tugini. The Rauraci and Suebi inhabited the regions of Basel, Southern Alsace and Baden in the same period.

The other tribes in present-day Switzerland and neighbouring areas were:

the Nantuates in Chablais, the Veragri in the Martigny region, the Seduni in the central part of Wallis, the Raetii in Graubünden (Grisons) and the area around St. Gallen, the Lepontii in Ticino, the Salassi in the Valley of Aosta and the Allobroges in Geneva (Roman territory from 122 B.C.).

The sources are Roman and Greek authors and archaeology.

The Celts had no written culture. Their culture, settlements (called oppidum/oppida by Caesar) and societies are much better known nowadays through archaeology.

The Bello Gallico by Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) describes the history of the Helvetians, their migration and defeat in 58 B.C. at Bibracte (near the city of Autun).

The first testimony about the Helvetians dates from the end of the 4th century B.C., however.

The first concrete date and the first historical Helvetian name is Divico. He is known from the attle of Agen in 107 B.C. as captain of the Tigurini. They defeated the Roman legions. The Helvetians are presented by Caesar as the most powerful of the Celtic peoples.

His information provides an insight into their society. Slavery, aristocracy and warlords were the main characteristics. Their priests were called druids.

Today, around fifteen oppida on the Swiss territory have been discovered, most of them in the Swiss Plateau (Mont-Vully, Lausanne, Roggwil, Bern, Luzens, Basel (murus gallicus), Jensberg, Bois de Châtel, Sermuz, Yverdon, Üetliberg, Windisch, Rheinau, Zürich, Altenburg).

The course of history after the defeat in 58 B.C. is Roman. The centuries of Aventicum as capital of the Helvetians and Romanisation began, in particular after the Roman conquest in 13 B.C. (Source: G. Kaenel, L’an, -58. Les Helvètes. Archéologie d’un peuple celte, Lausanne 2012).