Gallic Tribes: The Sequani, Friend and Foe

Updated on February 5, 2018
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ata1515 is a student of history, focusing on the modern, medieval, and ancient histories of Europe.

Greater Sequania, Roman Province after conquest
Greater Sequania, Roman Province after conquest

Long Haired Gaul

Western civilization is based in the history of Rome and Greece. The philosophical and legal backbone of the Euro-American world was established by Roman hegemony over Europe. Looking back it seems inevitable that the Roman Empire would rise to take control of the Western world, but at the time it was not so.

The Roman Republic was plagued by hordes of howling barbarians from the north, and none were more feared than the Gauls. The Gauls were a Celtic people settled in what would become France and Belgium, so when Gallic armies sacked the Roman republic during its infancy they imprinted a legacy of fear among the Roman people.

At the rise of Julius Caesar, the man who secured Roman dominance in Europe, Gaul was very much a real threat for Rome. Tribal forces had worked to unite many of the tribes against Roman rule, and prolonged exposure to Roman armies had begun to alter the Gallic way of war. Caesar would begin his invasion not as a conqueror, but as a liberator, all thanks to the actions of a small tribe called the Sequani.

Sequani coin depicting a horse
Sequani coin depicting a horse

Inter-Tribal Conflict

Gaul was divided up by many tribes. They were not united in a singular political entity, but rather by shared cultural values and societal norms. This meant that the tribes often came to blows with each other as much as outsiders, a fact which honed them into the fierce warrior society that they were.

For the Sequani, their tribal enemy was the Aedui. Neighbors in central Gaul, the two tribes had been at war with each for some time when history finds them in Caesar’s Gallic Wars. The war must not have been going well for the Sequani, because they sought an alliance outside of Gaul, and brought an allied horde of warriors from Germania into Gaul under their warchief Ariovistus.

With German help, the Sequani crushed the Aedui, but were subsequently placed under the thumb of the German chief, who we are led to believe was a ruthless tyrant. The Aedui would call upon the Roman Senate for aid, and thus Caesar found his opening into Gaul.

Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar, ending organized Gallic resistance
Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar, ending organized Gallic resistance

The Gallic Wars

Julius Caesar led the Roman legions against the Suebi under Ariovistus, and after defeating them drove the Suebi back across the Rhine. Caesar restored the Aedui’s land back to them, and in doing so planted the seed of hatred in the Sequani.

Caesar’s legions would ostensibly stay in Gaul, striking at enemies of the Roman allied tribes, and generally causing discontent in Gaul for his own advantage. Each battle brought new enemies into the war against Caesar, and as the war dragged on many Celtic tribes joined against Caeser, even as they abandoned their old grudges.

After it became apparent that the Roman legions were in Gaul to stay, many of the tribes united under Vercinegetorix to try to drive off the Roman war machine, with old enemies like the Aedui, Sequani and Arveni joining together. At the Battle of Alesia the Gauls, including the Sequani, were defeated, and the final hope for independence in their lifetime crushed.

Gaul in the 1st Century
Gaul in the 1st Century

Vestiges of Independence

Many of the Gallic tribes defeated at Alesia faded into obscurity as their ancient lands were mashed together and Roman colonization swept Western Europe. The Sequani would have suffered the same fate if not for their loyalty to the Roman Empire.

After the death of Emperor Nero, a Gallic revolt sprung up. It was an effort to create an independent state in the 1st century AD, while the Roman Empire was recovering from the throes of Nero’s reign. Some tribes joined Julius Sabinus and the Lingones in the rebellion, but the Sequani attacked and routed the rebel army.

For their victory the Sequani territory was expanded, and enjoyed relative peace until the civil wars of the 4th century. The territory continued to hold the Sequani name until the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire, and then they too faded into history.

Sources

Caesar, Julius, and H. J. Edwards. The Gallic war. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2006.

Tacitus, Cornelius, Harold B. Mattingly, and J. B. Rives. Agricola ; Germania. London: Penguin, 2010.

Ellis, Peter Berresford. A brief history of the Celts. London: Robinson, 2003.

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