Gallic Tribes: The Nervii, Bravest of the Brave

Updated on January 23, 2018
ata1515 profile image

ata1515 is a student of history, focusing on the modern, medieval, and ancient histories of Europe.

Belgica
Belgica

Long Haired Gaul

European history is the unfolding of a Graeco-Roman story starting in the democracy of Greece and ending with the fall of the Roman Empire to the Ostrogoths. Politics in Europe trace their roots to the Roman Empire and its inexorable march across history. Looking back it appears destined that the civilized polity of Rome would become the dominant power in Europe, but at the time of Caesar a grave threat loomed over Italy.

The Celtic people of Gaul and Belgica were the descendants of the armies that had sacked Rome and imprinted the fear of barbarians on the Roman psyche early in the republican period. While Rome had defeated the Gauls of Transalpine Gaul, and Narbonensis, the Celtic people of what became France and Belgium lived a tribal existence in the dark forests of Europe.

Fear of the Gauls drove Rome to great lengths to defend its border, and Gaius Julius Caesar would manipulate the Roman fear of Gauls to ultimately invade and conquer all of Gaul, but to do so he had to face down the most feared Celts in Europe, the Nervii.

Nervii coin depicting a horse
Nervii coin depicting a horse

Belgica

The Nervii lived in what would become Belgium and the Netherlands, fighting and raiding their neighbors. Despite being called barbarians by the Romans the Celts had an advanced culture and iron working skills. Jewelry, coins and weapons were all fashioned by Gallic smiths in Gaul and Belgica alike.

Culturally the celts had a nature religion based on the druids, forest and sacrifice. Caesar believed the Nervii were the bravest warriors in all of Gaul. This was partly founded in a Celtic religious belief that death was just another stage in life. Archeological evidence points to the Celts believing that death led to instantaneous rebirth, and was therefore not to be feared.

The Celts in Gaul traded with Rome for wine and other goods. In his writings Caesar described how this made them weak. Though the Gauls were once mighty warriors, those that traded with Rome steadily imported more and more wine, and they lost their edge because of its consumption.

The Nervii however refused to trade, going so far as banning merchants from existing in their land. They lived a laconic life focused on being peerless soldiers. Within the Nervii lands warriors followed strict rules regarding weight, muscle tone and health standards for battle. This focus on fielding strong brave warriors made the NerviI leaders within their community.

Gaius Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar

The Gallic Wars

Rome and the Gauls would meet in a series of conflicts throughout the first century. Caesar would lead the Roman armies in a series of campaigns against various Gallic tribes, ostensibly for the protection of Roman allied tribes.

In his war dispatches, compiled in The Gallic wars, Caesar wrote about the various Gallic people. After compelling the Germanic tribes to leave Gaul, Caesar conquered the celts one by one. The Belgica formed an alliance to fight Caesar, but were unable to hold the army together due to supply issues. Caesar waited for the army to break and then laid siege to the Belgae cities.

While the campaign was heavily tilted toward the Roman forces there was a moment in the campaign that the Gauls had a moment for victory. At the Battle of Sabis the Nervii led an ambush of Caesars army in between two hills. A screaming horde of barbarians broke from the woods and swarmed down over the Roman legions, but the distance was too much, and while Caesar states that lesser men would have broke and run, the Nervii fought to the last man as Roman reinforcements came up from the rear of the Roman column and slew the cream of the Nervii people on the battlefield. Caesar claimed to have killed 60,000 people at Sabis, including almost all of the Nervii tribal leaders.

Aftermath

After Sabis the Nervii never recovered as an independent people. They joined in later Gallic rebellions, fighting on as counterparts to the other Gauls, but never again as the focal point.

Some of the Nervii emigrated to Brittania where they settled and left archaological evidence. The proud, brave Celts of Belgica were overrun by the Romans, but their courage has made their name eternal.

Further Reading

Caesar, Julius The Gallic Wars

Tacitus Germania

Ellis, Peter Beresford The Celts: A History

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Jeremy Lewis 

      19 hours ago

      I have just played the title role of Shakespear's JC ,after stuying Roman history in Rhodesia 60 years ago -and failing !

      you have brought meaning to our set book

    • ata1515 profile imageAUTHOR

      ata1515 

      8 months ago from Buffalo, New York.

      Thanks for stopping by! There are many people that we’ve lost throughout history that are simply fascinating!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      8 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for sharing the information about the Nervii. I've never heard of them before. They sound like an interesting people.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)