Who was Segovesus?

Celtic expansion into north Italy and eastern Europe

Excerpted from: Cremin, A. (1992) "The Celts in Europe"
Aedeen Cremin, BA, MA NUI, PhD Syd, is Director of the Celtic Studies Foundation at the University of Sydney.

From the mid-fifth century BC, an important development in the eastern part of the Celtic world was the practice of mass emigration to new agricultural lands. Emigration was facilitated by the Celts' superior iron technology, by their skill in carpentry and wheelwrighting, which enabled entire groups to transport dependents and chattels, and also probably by the rising status of the individual. To conquer new land was an obviously heroic deed and in later times, some of the emigrants would create descent myths to explain their move. Livy, for instance, tells us the story of the King of Gaul who,


being now an old man and wishing to relieve his kingdom of the burdensome excess of the population, announced his intention of sending his two nephews, Bellovesus and Segovesus, both of them adventurous young men, out into the world to find such new homes as the gods by signs from heaven might point the way to; he was willing to give them as many followers as they thought would ensure their ability to overcome any opposition they might encounter. The gods were duly consulted, with the result that to Segovesus were assigned the Hercynian forest in western Bohemia (Czech Republic) while Bellovesus was granted the much pleasanter road into Italy. (V,34)

The purpose of such stories, which are usually composed long after the event, is to legitimise the takeover of territory and to assert the primacy of a ruling family. In this case, the king of Gaul has of course no authority whatsoever to grant land in Germany or Italy. The gods therefore are called in to give approval: it is the divine will that the Gauls take over somebody else's territory. Simultaneously the invaders are given status within their own group by their connection with a mythical King.

The reality was that individual groups moved as they saw fit. The purpose was to acquire more land, a recurrent necessity in an economic system which is heavily dependent on agriculture and mining. The Celtic groups justified their actions by saying that the land they took was not actually used by anybody else at the time -- this statement has been made by European colonists ever since and has a very familiar ring to it. Whatever the details of conquest the Celtic advance was inexorable: they crossed the Alps into north Italy and settled the entire Po valley, expelling the Etruscan and Italian residents. Where there had been towns, as at Bologna (ancient Felsina) they were taken over. Other towns were newly established such as Milan (Mediolanum). At about the same time, other groups were moving eastwards following the course of the Danube valley, creating settlements at Vienna (Vindobona) and Budapest.

[ Content ] [ Main Page ] [ Kdo to byl segovesus? [CZ] ]