The Aquitani

The Aquitani tribes: Not celts nor Iberians

A definition: The Aquitani and Vasci

The Aquitanians (Latin: Aquitani) were a people living in what is now southern Aquitaine and southwestern Midi-Pyrénées, France, called Gallia Aquitania by the Romans in the region between the Pyrenees, the Atlantic ocean, and the Garonne, present-day southwestern France. They were an ancient non-Indo-European population that lived in the northern slopes of the Pyrenees. They spoke the Aquitanian language, related to Old Basque. The Vasci are the ancestors of today's Basques. They lived both sides of the Pyrhenees range, separating Gaul from Iberia.

Classical authors such as Julius Caesar and Strabo clearly distinguish them from the other peoples of Gaul and Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula). With the process of Romanization, in the centuries of Roman Empire, they adopted the Latin Language (Vulgar Latin) and Roman civilization. Their old language, the Aquitanian language, was the substrate for the Gascon language (one of the Romance languages) spoken in Gascony.

Aquitanian language

The Aquitanian language was spoken on both sides of the western Pyrenees in ancient Aquitaine (approximately between the Pyrenees and the Garonne, the region later known as Gascony) and in the areas south of the Pyrenees in the valleys of the Basque Country before the Roman conquest. It probably survived in Aquitania until the Early Middle Ages.

Archaeological, toponymical, and historical evidence show that it was a Vasconic language or group of languages that represent a precursor of the Basque language. The most important pieces of evidence are a series of votive and funerary texts in Latin which contain about 400 personal names and 70 names of gods

The Basque Tribes

The Greek geographer Strabo (63 B.C.-24 A.D.) indicated us the location of the following tribes, which are considered Basques according to the current information available: Aquitanians, Autrigones, Caristii, Varduli and Vascones.

Those tribes extended north to near Bordeaux, southwards to the river Ebro, to the west up to part of eastern Cantabria and eastwards to part of northwest Aragon, although people of Basque speech already spread through the peninsular Pyrenees up to Catalonia at least since the 3rd-2nd centuries B.C.

evocation ancient aquitani
An evocation of ancient aquitani -

Aquitanians: this tribe extended through southeast France, northwards to the river Garonne (to near Bordeaux) and southeast up to the Pyrenees, in the Arán Valley (current province of Lleida). The geographer Strabo clearly differentiated between the Aquitanians and the northern Gauls, precisely mentioning their languages as a distinguishing mark, while he pointed out the similarities of the Aquitanians and the inhabitants of southern Pyrenees.

Strabo (who died approximately in A.D. 24) says in his 'Geography': 'The Aquitainians are completely different (from the rest of the Gauls) not only linguistically, but bodily and they are more like the Iberians than like the Gauls'. Further on, he writes: 'To express it clearly: the Aquitanians differ from the tribe of the Gauls in their body constitution and in their language and are more similar to the Iberians'. In those sentences, it is commonly explained that instead of referring to the Iberians themselves, Strabo was talking about the whole population of southern Pyrenees, especially Iberians and Basques.

basque peoples map
The Vasci (Basques) tribes in red.

The Aquitanians were not a compact people, but a population which was in turn divided into different ethnic groups. The most important of them, from north to south, were the following ones: Boiates, Vasates, Lactorates, Elusates, Tarusates, Biguerri, Tarbelli, Auscii, Venarni, Ilurones, Convenae and Consoranni.

One of those Aquitanian groups were the Sibulates, also documented as Sibyllates or Sybillates. The suffix -ates was used in Latin to denominate the peoples, while the roots sibul- sibyll- or sybill- refer to the land in which that people inhabited. Sibul, as well as the rest of the forms, were the Latin adaptations of the archaic Basque toponym Zubel, which possibly meant 'black or dark wood'. This toponym acquired over time the Basque suffix -oa, with the meaning of 'land' or 'region', the same as other Basque toponyms (Gipuzkoa, Nafarroa, Aezkoa) and became Zubeloa ('the land of the black or dark wood'). In the Middle Ages, the intervowel /l/ became /r/ as a common evolution in the Basque phonetics: Zubeloa > Zuberoa; ili > hiri (town, city); Alaba > Araba (Álava). As we can see, the toponym we are referring to finally evolved to the current Zuberoa, which is one of the territories of the Basque Country.

Basajaun, the proto-basque mythological forest wild man (cc)

As a consequence of the Romanisation of the Basque-speech population of Aquitaine, there arose the current Gascon people and its Latin language.

References: Strabo Geography: Book IV Chapter 2

Next1(189), I must discuss the Aquitani, and the tribes which have been included within their boundaries,68 namely, the fourteen Galatic tribes which inhabit the country between the Garumna and the Liger, some of which reach even to the river-land of the Rhone and to the plains of Narbonitis. For, speaking in a general way, the Aquitani differ from the Galatic race in the build of their bodies as well as in their speech; that is, they are more like the Iberians.69 Their country is bounded by the Garumna River, since they live between this and the Pyrenees. There are more than twenty tribes of the Aquitani, but they are small and lacking in repute; the majority of the tribes live along the ocean, while the others reach up into the interior and to the summits70 of the Cemmenus Mountains, as far as the Tectosages. But since a country of this size was only a small division,190 they71 added to it the country which is between the Garumna and the Liger.

These rivers are approximately parallel to the Pyrenees and form with the Pyrenees two parallelograms, since they are bounded on their other sides by the ocean and the Cemmenus Mountains. And the voyage on either of the rivers is, all told, two thousand stadia. The Garumna, after being increased by the waters of three rivers, discharges p215its waters into the region that is between those Bituriges that are surnamed "Vivisci" and the Santoni — both of them Galatic tribes; for the tribe of these Bituriges is the only tribe of different race that is situated among the Aquitani; and it does than pay tribute to them, though it has an emporium, Burdigala, which is situated on a lagoon that is formed by the outlets of the river. The Liger, however, discharges its waters between the Pictones and the Namnitae. Formerly there was an emporium on this river, called Corbilo, with respect to which Polybius, calling to mind the fabulous stories of Pytheas, has said: "Although no one of all the Massiliotes who conversed with Scipio72 was able, when questioned by Scipio about Britain, to tell anything worth recording, nor yet any one of the people from Narbo or of those from Corbilo, though these were the best of all the cities in that country, still Pytheas had the hardihood to tell all those falsehoods about Britain."

Basque Forest
Deep Forest in Basque country - land of legends (cc)

The city of the Santoni, however, is Mediolanium. Now the most of the ocean-coast of the Aquitani is sandy and thin-soiled, thus growing millet, but it is rather unproductive in respect of the other products. Here too is the gulf which, along with that Galatic Gulf which is within the coastline of Narbonitis, forms the isthmus (itself too, like the latter gulf, having the name "Galatic"). The gulf is held by the Tarbelli, in whose land the gold mines are most important of all; for in pits dug only to a slight depth they find slabs of gold as big as the hand can hold, which at times require but little refining; but the rest is gold p217dust and nuggets, the nuggets too requiring no great amount of working. The interior and mountainous country, however, has better soil: first, next to the Pyrenees, the country of the "Convenae" (that is, "assembled rabble"),73 in which are the city of Lugdunum and the hot springsa of the Onesii74 — most beautiful springs of most potable waters; and, secondly, the country of the Auscii also has good soil.

Vasci Elites

Those tribes between the Garumna and the Liger that belong to Aquitania are, first, the Elui, whose territory begins at the Rhodanus, and then, after them, the Vellavii, who were once included within the boundaries of the Arverni, though they are now ranked as autonomous;75 then the Arverni, the Lemovices, and the Petrocorii; and, next to these, the Nitiobriges, the Cadurci, and those Bituriges that are called "Cubi";76 and, next to the ocean, both the Santoni and the Pictones, the former living along the Garumna, as I have said,191the latter along the Liger; but the Ruteni and the Gabales closely approach Narbonitis. Now among the Petrocorii there are fine iron-works, and also among the Bituriges Cubi; among the Cadurci, linen p219factories; among the Ruteni, silver mines; and the Gabales, also, have silver mines. The Romans have given the "Latin right"77 to certain of the Aquitani just as they have done in the case of the Auscii and the Convenae.

Antique Road network - src archeolandes The AQUITANIANS (Lat. Aquitani) as a people lived in what is now southern Aquitaine and southwestern Midi-Pyrénées, France, called Gallia Aquitania by the Romans in the region between the Pyrenees, the Atlantic ocean, and the Garonne, present-day southwestern France. They were an ancient non-Indo-European population that lived in the northern slopes of the Pyrenees. They spoke the Aquitanian language, related to Old Basque.

Classical authors such as Julius Caesar and Strabo clearly distinguish them from the other peoples of Gaul and Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula ). With the process of Romanization, in the centuries of Roman Empire, they adopted the Latin Language (Vulgar Latin) and Roman civilization . Their old language, the Aquitanian language, was the substrate for the Gascon language (one of the Romance languages) spoken in Gascony. gallaecians
Gallaecian warriors

Mentions of the Aquitanii

At the time of the Roman conquest, Julius Caesar, who defeated them in his campaign in Gaul, describes them as making up a distinct part of Gaul:

All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgæ inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in ours Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws. The river Garonne separates the Gauls from the Aquitani.

Despite apparent cultural and linguistic connections to Iberia ( Vascones ) and to Iberians, the area of Aquitania, as a part of Gaul ended at the Pyrenees according to Cæsar:

Aquitania extends from the river Garonne to the Pyrenæan mountains and to that part of the ocean which is near Spain: it looks between the setting of the sun, and the north star.

Relation to Basque people & Language

Aquitani tribes

Tribes in Aquitania (as was defined in the 1st century BCE) Late distribution of tribes in Novempopulania at the end of the 6th century CE, former Aquitania proper (as was defined in the 1st century BCE) Although the country where the original Aquitanians lived came to be named Novempopulania (nine peoples) in the late years of the Roman Empire and Early Middle Ages (up to the 6th century), the number of tribes varied (about 20 for Strabo, but comparing with the information of other classical authors such as Pliny, Ptolemy and Julius Caesar, the total number were 32 or 33).

Tribes lists

  • Arenosii/Airenosini: Aran valley, high Garonne valley
  • Apiates or Aspiates in Asp Valley
  • Aturenses: Banks of the Adour (Aturus) river
  • Ausci east Aquitania, around Auch. Elimberris, metropolis of Aquitania
  • Benearni/Benearnenses. Also called Venarni: In and around low Béarn, Pau, and western Pyrénées
  • Bercorates/Bercorcates Bigerriones/Begerri west of High Pyrenees (medieval county of Bigorre)
  • Boiates: Also called Boates or Boii but more commonly Boiates lat. Boviates. Celtic tribe from the Pays de Buch, Pays de Born, Northwest Landes around the Arcachon basin. They were possibly related to the Boii or a mixed Celtic-Aquitanian tribe
  • Camponi/Cocosates/Sexsignani: Wwest of Landes département
  • Consoranni: Settled on the tributary streams of the high Garonne river (Couserans country), west half of Ariège Dpt. now to the extreme south of Haute-Garonne
  • Convenae Tribe of the southeast (high Garonne valley) around Lugdunum and Convenarum
  • Datii in Valley of Osse (Osse Valley)
  • Elusates in the northeast around Eauze (Elusa)
  • Gates between the Elusates and the Ausci
  • Iluronenses in and around Iluro (Oloron-Sainte-Marie)
  • Lactorates or Lectorates, in and around Lectoure
  • Monesii: No info
  • Onobrisates From Nébouzan
  • Osii/Onesii High Garonne river valley (Louchon), mentioned in Strabo's Geographica
  • Oscidates From the valleys and slopes of west Pyrenees, Ossau, high Béarn and south of the Iluronenses
  • Oscidates Campestres and Montani & Ptianii in Orthez
  • Sassumini Also known as Lassumini or Lassunni, location unknown
  • Sibyllates Or Suburates: Probably around Soule/Xüberoa and Saubusse (Cæsar’s Sibuzates and Sibusates possibly
  • Sotiates: From the north, Sos-en-Albret (south of Lot-et-Garonne)
  • Succasses - No info
  • Tarbelli Also lat. Tarbelii and Quattuorsignani, coastal side of Landes, Dax (called Aquis Tarbellicis)
  • Tarusates Midou, Douzeand Midouze valley, east of Cocosates and Tarbelli
  • Tarusci High Ariège river valley, former Foix country. Today east Ariège
  • Umbranici No info
  • Vasates or Vocates, around Bazas (Gironde south)
  • Vellates in high Bidassoa river valley
  • Venami or Venarni, no info

Aquitani-related tribes or peoples

In the southern slopes of western Pyrenees Mountains, not in Aquitania but in northern Hispania Tarraconensis: The Iacetani in high Aragon River valley, in and around Jaca, in the southern slopes of western Pyrenees Mountains in today's northwestern Aragon, Spain and the Vascones in the southern slopes of western Pyrenees Mountains in today's Navarra, Spain et al.

Basque pantheon
Basque pantheon

Religion-wise, their main figure in their belief system was the female goddess Mari. According to collected legends near Ataun, her consort Sugaar was also quite important. The Basque pantheon however comorised a dozen main gods, based on attributes linked to mythological creatures. This was reconstructed as a chthonic religion, all its characters dwelling either on earth or below it. The sky was just a passing area for gods;

Aquitanian warfare

Basque pantheon
Dosidaskateli (Vasci elites)

Aquitani appearance

There are very little pictorial evidence about the Aquitani to draw any convincing picture. It seems however as most historians agrees, that the Aquitani wore tunics, not trousers like the Celts. This was common with the Iberians, however the Basques being mountaineers, they more usually had sheepskins and sheepskins laced around the forelegs. They probably also had sandals. The Landes shepherds probably used also already used stilts on the salty fields.

The mentions of the Solduri by casear is full of interesting bits as this unit type was identified with the Aquitani. This showed the same level of loyalty, fanatic loyalty and clientelism, same as the Iberian Devotio. But that gave no indication of armament or tactics. Strabo is adamanet about the fact Iberians and Aquitani were physically very close and spoke almost the same language. Ptolemy spoke about the Ouaskoonooï. They seemed to be relatively tall, even taller than Gauls such as the Parisii, at 1.69 m on average versus 1.64 m as observed from archaeological remains in the region.

Warriors types and names

In local language, the equivalent of the Batoroi whould have been the Aari ("ram"). Also drawn by the language, trance warriors using wold pelts and acting like berserkers, were called the Gizotso and possibly later durduri- or urduri- (restless, energetic, audacious). Night raiders were called Gaueko-. A noble was called 'Jaun' or 'Aide Nagusi' (Clan chief) or Buru- as adjective (chief, top man). Very tall warriors and chosen ones were called Mairu ("giant"), and fast throwers (javelineers, slingers) were likely called Oinazkar and Oneztarri for elite slingers. Horsemen names were named with a composition from the prefix Zaldi- (Horse) like in Zaldiegal, 'cavalry wing'. In basque, burtzi was a spear or lance, like in burtzigizon ('man with spear'), and added to Korta/Gorda, a group of spear warriors. Naked warriors were probably called gorri-gizon ('Naked' and 'fierce'). A fortified house or building was called 'torre-etxe' and 'dorre' for a tower.

Aquitani weaponry and tactics

This chapter is only conjectural as no bas-relief or sculpture shows any warriors or scenes to draw for. Tomb were found, and artefacts retrieved, including a few weapons. The most specific one to the region has been a javelin, the famous soliferrum. This heavy javelin able to pierce a shield probably inspired the Roman Pila. There are reasons why few sculpture and carving has been found: Only early Christian stones were found and former Gallo-Roman settlements around Burdigala. The terrain explains this. Few stone quarries, lots of forests and therefore wood available, as sand as the main soil type in the whole region, which is flat and almost featureless.

Gallic tombs and fortifications or settlements has been found further north, in the Charentes-Maritime region. Some funerary artefacts were found at Belin-Beliet.

About the Dosidaskateli

Courtesy of Europa Barbarorum, this is the only Vasci unit in their mod. Decomposed as Dos-ed-at-ah-skeel-ee these were apparently heavily armed and armored shock infantry, foot bodyguards of the Vasci kings like the Soldurii. Recruited in Cantabria-Vasconnia (So Basque Country and North of Spain, Pyrhenees), they used the Fenlana armor, in "Fish Scale", fastened to a layer of felt and sewn a layer of chain. It was both impenetrable, flexible but heavy.

The Dosidataskeli were reserve and schock troops, which can breakthrough any line of needed, and launching a solifera on their charge, then engage with heavy spears and in melee with a sword if needed. Theuir equipment, training and the men themselves, which had to be especially though and hardy, made them the supreme chosen ones. They are written about by Greek historians and known for their fierceness. Apparently this infanty concept made its way north, and played a role in the first unifications of Ireland while the Seleucids copied this type of infantry for siege warfare.


Advances in Proto-Basque Reconstruction with Evidence for the Proto-Indoeuropean comparisons
Etymological Dictionary of Basque

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