The Aedui, the Celtic people who considered themselves the original brother of the Romans

It is known as Gallic Wars to the military conflict waged between the Roman proconsul Julius Caesar and the Gallic tribes between 58 and 51 BC These were not a handful of barbarians, quite the contrary, they were civilized tribes with great influence from Rome, most of which had abandoned the monarchical system by systems similar to the Roman Republic. However, they were very divided and in continuous conflict with each other.

Thus, when in the year 52 BC the underworld chief Vercingetorix united all the Gallic tribes against Caesar, only one initially resisted joining the rebellion, although he did so briefly later.

The reason for such reluctance is that this tribe had long been proclaimed sister of the roman republic and as such it was a firm and faithful ally of Rome. It was the Aedui.

The confederation of the Aedui / photo Rowanwindwhistler on Wikimedia Commons

Not only that, Julius Caesar considered them blood brothers of the Romans and would later be granted Roman citizenship by Emperor Claudius in 48 AD

After making this speech, he dismissed the assembly; and, in addition to those statements, many circumstances led him to think that this matter should be considered and taken up by him; especially when he saw that the Aedui, designated (as they had been) repeatedly as “brothers” and “kinsmen” of the senate, were subjected to the slavery and rule of the Germans

Julius Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic Wars I-33

Statue of Diviciaco in Autun / public domain photo on Wikimedia Commons

Who were the Aedui and why did they have such a privileged relationship with Rome?

It was a confederation of towns settled in the Saône river valley and with its capital in the city of Bibracte, on Mount Beuvray. They rivaled the neighboring confederation of the Arverni, a fact that Rome took advantage of to control Gaul by establishing an alliance with the Aedui, whom she supported in their war against them in 121 BC.

The Aedui had a political system based on a senate that brought together aristocratic families, like the Roman Republic, with the limitation that only one member per family could belong to it.

By Hermolaus, a grammarian who wrote in Constantinople in the sixth century, at the time of Justinian, an epitome of the Ethnica from Stephen of Byzantium (which in turn collected works by older Greek authors) we know that before the year 138 BC the alliance between Rome and the Aedui had already taken shape.

This alliance was based, surprisingly, on the common origin of both peoples, descendants of the Trojans through Aeneas (in the Roman case) and of other Trojan refugees in the case of the Aedui. Because of this unfounded common ascendancy, the Roman Senate declared the Aedui blood brothers.

Reconstruction of Roman defenses in the Museum-Park of Alesia / photo Arnaud 25 in Wikimedia Commons

The Arverni, who also claimed such status, were ignored by Rome, and the true reasons for such an alliance have long been the subject of speculation by historians. One hypothesis is that Rome was interested in the alliance with the Aedui because the rivers that flowed through its territory were one of the main routes used by Roman merchants in Gaul. According to historian Camille Jullian:

Roman products went up the Rhône (the waterways were the fastest at the time) and then took the Arar, Loire or Allier rivers, which passed through the Aedui territory before joining the Loire and Seine basins. The Aedui were situated at an important commercial crossroads between the Celtic world and Rome, not least because Bibracte dominates the Loire Valley to the west and the Saône Valley to the east. In doing so, they enabled the spread of Roman goods throughout Gaul as early as the 1st century BC, allowing their allies in the confederacy to benefit from their trade with Rome and, no doubt, with Greek colonies such as Massilia. Proof of this are the large quantities of amphorae and ceramics from Italy that are found in landfills and on the floors of houses.

Camille Julian, History of Gaul

At the same time, the Aedui were interested in having the power and prestige of Rome on their side, to compete with their neighboring peoples.

As we said before, the first time that the alliance became effective was in the year 121 BC when Rome helped the Aedui to defeat the Arverni and their allies:

The first transalpine nation to feel the force of our arms were the Salies, whose raids forced the city of Marseilles, our most faithful friend and ally, to complain to us. Then we subdued the Allobroges and the Arverni, against whom the Aedui similarly complained, and they asked for our aid and succor. We had as witnesses to our victories, both the Var and the Isère, the Sorgue and the Rhône, the fastest of rivers. The barbarians experienced the greatest terror at the sight of elephants, worthy to compete with these ferocious nations. Nothing in the triumph was so remarkable as King Bituitus, covered in multi-colored weapons and riding a silver chariot, as he had fought.

Lucio Anneo Floro, Epitome of the history of Tito Livio I-XXXVII

Vercingétorix surrendering his arms to Caesar, painting by Lionel Royer, 1899 / public domain photo on Wikimedia Commons

The Aedui played a strange double role in the rise of the Gallic tribes of 52 AD On the one hand they recognized Vercingetorix as king of the Gauls, but on the other they remained faithful to Julius Caesar, in a kind of double game that possibly sought to maintain their special status. Thus, after Vercingetorix’s defeat at Alesia, they returned to Caesar’s side.

Tacitus states that the first senators of Gaul Comata were Aedui:

because of an ancient alliance and because only they among the Gauls have the name of brotherhood with the Roman people

Tacit, Annals 11.25

And Plutarch also echoes that traditional brotherhood:

But now Caesar, whose ingenuity was to take advantage of all the accidents for the war, and above all to seize the opportunity at the very moment of the announced rebellion, set up camp, returned by the same road that he had come, and with force and the speed of their march, despite the indicated obstacles, proved to the barbarians that the army that pursued them was indefatigable and invincible; For when they believed that in a long time neither messenger nor mail could reach him, they saw him already upon him with the whole army, cutting down their lands, seizing their posts, ravaging their cities and returning to their friendship those who had made the move; until the nation of the Aedui also entered the war against him, who, having called themselves in all former times brothers of the Romans, had then united with the rebels, being a cause of no small discouragement to the army of Caesar

Plutarch, Parallel Lives: Julius Caesar 26

Bibracte walls today / photo Wikimedia Commons

Augustus dismantled their original capital, Bibracte, relocating them to a new city to which he gave a half-Roman, half-Gallic name: Augustodunum (present-day Autun). It would not be until the end of the 19th century that Bibracte would be rediscovered, thanks in part to the personal interest of Emperor Napoleon III.

Claudius gave the Aedui the right to be senators in Rome. And according to Andrew C.Johnston in his work The Sons of RemusEven in Late Antiquity, the memory of their essential connection to Rome through a shared Trojan origin played an important role in shaping the common identity of the Aedui.


Pax Romana: War, Peace, and Conquest in the Roman World (Adrian Goldsworthy) / The Sons of Remus (Andrew C.Johnston) / Commentaries on the Gallic Wars (Julius Caesar) / Wikipedia.

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