Map showing the relative position of
( ) were a Celtic
tribal confederation constituted sometime before the Gallic raid of
combined Gauls that invaded Macedon
270s BCE and defeated the assembled Greeks at the Battle of Thermopylae in 279
. Though our view of Celtic tribal
configuations has to be pieced together from mentions in Greek and
Latin sources, for archaeology determines no tribal identities
purely through material culture of
the late La
Tène Celts, tribes called Volcae were to be
found simultaneously in southern France, Moravia, the Ebro River valley,
and Galatia in Asia Minor (Anatolia).
Driven by highly mobile groups operating outside the tribal system
and comprising diverse elements, the Volcae were one of the new
formed during the
Celtic military expansion at the beginning of the third century BC.
in the famous excursion
into the Balkans, ostensibly, from the Hellene point-of-view,
to raid Delphi, a branch of
the Volcae split from the main group on the way into the Balkans
and joined two other tribes, the Tolistobogii and the Trocmi, to
settle in central Asia
Minor and establish a new Gaulish identity as the
Tectosagii were a sept of the Volcae who moved
through Macedonia into Asia Minor circa 270 BC.
Strabo says the Tectosagii came originally from the
region near modern Toulouse, in France.
Volcae of the Danube
Caesar was convinced that the Volcae had originally been settled
north-east of the Rhine, in what is
now western and central Germany in the basin
of the Weser River, for he mentioned the
Volcae Tectosages as a Celtic tribe which still
remained in western Germany in his day (Gallic War 6.24):
Ethnogenesis and migrations of the
- "And there was formerly a time when the Gauls excelled the
Germans in prowess, and waged war on them offensively, and, on
account of the great number of their people and the insufficiency
of their land, sent colonies over the Rhine."
related a tradition associating the Celtic tribe of the Volcae to
the vast Hercynian forest, though
they were more probably to be located in the eastern range of the
Mittelgebirge; yet, Volcae of his time were settled in Moravia, east of the Boii.
- "Accordingly, the Volcae Tectosages, seized on those parts
of Germany which are the most fruitful [and lie] around the
Hercynian forest, (which, I
perceive, was known by report to Eratosthenes and some other Greeks, and which
they call Orcynia), and settled there. Which nation to
this time retains its position in those settlements, and has a very
high character for justice and military merit; now also they
continue in the same scarcity, indigence, hardihood, as the
Germans, and use the same food and dress; but their proximity to
the Province and knowledge of commodities from countries beyond the
sea supplies to the Gauls many things tending to luxury as well as
civilization. Accustomed by degrees to be overmatched and
worsted in many engagements, they do not now even compare
themselves to the Germans in
Their apparent movement may indicate that
the Volcae were newcomers to the region. Caesar's remark about the
wealth of this region may have referred not only to agriculture but
also to the mineral deposits there, while the renown attributed to
the Volcae "in peace and in war" resulted from their metallurgical
skills and the quality of their weapons, both attracting the
attention of their northern neighbors . Together with the
Boii in the upper basin of the Elbe river to the west and the Cotini in Slovakia to the east, this area of Celtic settlement in
oppida led to the exploitation of
natural resources on a grand scale and the concentration of skilled
craftsmen under the patronage of strong and wealthy
This culture flourished from the mid second to
the mid first century BC, until it buckled under the combined
pressure of the Germans
North and the Dacians
from the East.
Allowance must be made for Julius Caesar's usual equation of
primitive poverty with admirable hardihood and military prowess and
his connection of luxurious imports and the proximity of
"civilization", meaning his own, with softness and decadence. In
fact, long-established trading connections furnished Gaulish elites
with Baltic amber and Greek and Etruscan wares.
took it as a given that the Celts in the Hercynian Forest were
emigrant settlers from Gaul who had "seized" the land, but modern
archeology identifies the region as part of the La Tène homeland.
As Henry Howarth noted a century
ago, "The Tectosages reported by Caesar as still being around the
Hercynian forest were in fact living in the old homes of their
race, whence a portion of them set out on their great expedition against
, and eventually settled in Galatia
, in Asia Minor, where one of the tribes was
Volcae of Gaul
Volcae Arecomici (Οὐόλκαι Ἀρικόμιοι of Ptolemy's
Geography ii), according to Strabo, dwelt on the western
side of the lower Rhone, with their metropolis
at Narbo (Narbonne):
"Narbo is spoken of as the naval-station of these people alone,
though it would be fairer to add "and of the rest of Celtica", so
greatly has it surpassed the others in the number of people who use
it as a trade-centre."
They were not alone in occupying
their territory, with its capital at Nemausus
Volcae Arecomici of their own accord surrendered to the Roman Republic in 121 BC, after which they
occupied the Roman province of
Gallia Narbonensis (the area
around modern day Narbonne), the southern part of Gallia Transalpina. They held their
assemblies in the sacred wood of Nemausus,
the site of modern Nîmes.
times, the Volcae Arecomici occupied the district between the
River (Garumna), the Cévennes (Cebenna mons), and the
Rhône River;, corresponding roughly
to the Roman province of Gallia
Narbonensis. In Gaul they were divided into two tribes in
widely separated regions, the Arecomici on the east, living among
the Ligures, and the Tectosages (whose
territory included that of the Tolosates) on the west, living among
the Aquitanians; the territories were
separated by the Hérault River (Arauris) or a line between the Hérault
River and the Orbe River
the Arecomici the Volcae Tectosages (whose
territory included that of the Tolosates) lived among the Aquitanians; the territories were separated by
River (Arauris) or a line between the Hérault
River and the Orbe River
(Orbis). Strabo says the Volcae Tectosages came
originally from the region near modern Toulouse, in France, and they
were a sept or clan of the
Tectosages coins, Southern France,
5th-1st century BCE.
The territory of the Volcae Tectosages (Οὐόλκαι Τεκτόσαγες of
ii) lay outside the Roman Republic, to
the southwest of the Volcae Arecomici. From the 3rd century
BC, the capital city of the
Volcae Tectosages was Tolosa (modern Toulouse).
When the Cimbri
invaded Gaul, the Tectosages
allied themselves with them, and their town Tolosa was sacked in
retribution by Servilius Caepio
106 BC. Tolosa was incorporated into the Roman Republic
as part of the province of
with the conquest
in 52 BC. The Roman conquest of Tolosa ended the
cultural identity of the Volcae Tectosages.
to Ptolemy's Geography, their inland towns were Illiberis, Ruscino, Tolosa
colonia, Cessero, Carcaso, Baetirae, and Narbon
The Volcae Tectosages were among the successful raiders of the
were said to have transported their booty to Tolosa. Venceslas Kruta
suggests that their movement into this region was probably
motivated by a Carthaginian recruiting-post situated close by, a main
attraction of the region for Celtic mercenaries eager for more
Indeed, after crossing the Pyrenees in 218 BC,
in travelling through southern
Gaul was greeted by warlike tribes: the Volcae, the Arverni
, the Allobroges
and the Gaesatae
of the Rhône
Valley, who rose to prominence around
the middle of the 3rd century BC. From around that time, this part of
Gaul underwent a process of stabilization
buttressed by the formation of new and powerful tribal
confederations as well as the development of new-style settlements
resembling the urban centers of the Mediterranean world, of which Tolosa and Nemausus (Nîmes) were no exception .
In 107, the Volcae, allies of the Tigurini
a branch of the Helvetii
who belonged to a
coalition that formed around the Cimbri and the Teutons, defeated a
Roman army at Tolosa . In 106-5, Q. Servilius Caepio was sent with an army to
put down the revolt, and as a result, Tolosa was sacked, and
thereafter the town and its territory were absorbed into the Roman
Province, thereby establishing
firm control over the western Gallic trade corridor along the
Carcassonne Gap and Garonne river .
Traditional etymologies have attributed Volcae
to a word
akin to Welsh golchi
wash" and Irish folc
making this tribe the "river people" after a rough semantic
adjustment. A more likely scenario is that this or a cognate in
was used to name the river Volcos
, from which
the Volcae took their name . C.W. von Glück
from a word related to Old Irish folg
Most Celticists today seem to agree that the tribal name Uolcae is
related to Welsh gwalch
"hawk" (and they compare the
Gaulish personal name Catuuolcus to Welsh cadwalch
literally "battle-hawk"), though some prefer to translate Gaulish
*uolco- as "wolf" and, by semantic extension, "errant
The name Tectosages
, literally "possession-seekers", meant
"claim-stakers", perhaps closer in sense to "claim-jumper" or "land
grabber", and a direct cognate is found in Old Irish
"he/she seeks to (re)establish a land claim"
The Volcae were highly influential in Moravia, and together with
the Boii and the Cotini and other Danubian tribes, they controlled
a highly active network of trade routes connected to the
Mediterranean and the German lands. The prowess of these tribes and
their proximity led to the their name being borrowed into Germanic
, a generic term for "Celt" and eventually
"Roman" as the two cultures merged in time. (See also Walha
.) This word has been applied vigorously to any
former Roman provincials, including the Welsh, Italians, and
French, and was borrowed by the Slavs who used it to refer to the
. Compare: English Welsh
Flemish Dutch waalsch
"Walloons", German welsch
"Italian", Swiss German Chürwältsch
"Romansch", Old Norse
- Kruta, Venceslas. Celts: History and Civilization.
London: Hachette Illustrated, 2004: 204.
- George Long, in editing the Gallic Wars, noted that
some manuscripts have Volgae and some
- First century BC.
- Green, D. H. Language and History in the Early Germanic
World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998: 163.
- Howorth 1908:431.
- Strabo, IV.1.12
- "Capital" applied to Gallic tribes offers misleading
- "Situated alongside the Arecomici as far as the Pyrenees, are
other tribes, which are without repute and small" (Strabo,
- The Cévennes "formed a natural boundary between the Volcae
Arecomici and the Gabali
and Ruteni" to the east
- "At the time of Hannibal's invasion of Italy, the Volcae had also
possessions east of the Rhône" (Smith 1854); see Livy xxi. 26 and Strabo 203).
- "that people of the Volcae who are called Tectosages" (Strabo,
IV.1.12 ( on-line text).
- Tectosages was also the name of one of the three great
communities of Gauls who invaded and settled in Asia Minor in the country
called after them Galatia.
- Howorth 1908:432.
- In Roman times Illiberis— in Basque, "iri-berri" or
"ili-berri", still signifies "new town"— signified more than one
place: see Illiberis.
- Kruta, Venceslas. Celts: History and Civilization.
(London: Hachette Illustrated), 2004: 82-3.
- Kruta 2004:99.
- Kruta 2004:108.
- Cunliffe, Barry. The Ancient Celts. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1997: 236
- Glück, Die bei Cäsar vorkommenden Keltischen Namen
(Munich:Beck) 1857:96, noted by Henry H. Howorth, "The Germans of
Caesar" The English Historical Review 23
No. 91 (July 1908:417-433) p433 note 98.
- Some earlier pseudo-scholarly attempts erroneously connected
the name of this tribe to the Germanic word folk, based
purely on the fact that modern German has Volk (vs. Old High German
folc), ignoring the obvious fact that the Volcae were not
Germans. Others have proposed a cognate of IE *wl.kos
"wolf", which instead would give *(v)ulp in P-Celtic.
- See John Koch, "The Celtic Lands", in Medieval Arthurian
Literature: A Guide to Recent Research, edited by Norris J
Lacy, (Taylor & Francis) 1996:267. For a full discussion of the
etymology of Gaulish *uolco-, see Xavier Delamarre,
Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (Editions Errance),
2001:274-6, and for examples of Gaulish *uolco- in various ancient
personal Celtic names see Xavier Delamarre Noms des personnes
celtiques (Editions Errance) 2007, p. 237.
- from Sims-Williams, Patrick. Ancient Celtic Place-Names in
Europe and Asia Minor. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006: 298 quoting
Joseph, Lionel S. "The Origin of the Celtic Denominatives in
*-sag-". Studies in Memory of Warren Cowgill. Berlin:
- The walha element is contained in Wallachia, Wallis, Wallonia, and also, in the original meaning of
"Gallic" or "Roman" appears in the word walnut and Old English Galwal "Gaul;
France". (See also Walha and
the etymology of Vlach).