, or Martigny
, as the French call it), is in the Swiss canton of Wallis
on the left bank of the Rhone,
near the bend where the river takes a northern course to the lake of Geneva. The Drance,
one branch of which rises at the foot of the Great St. Bernard,
joins the left bank of the Rhone
The road over the Alps from Martigny
ascends the valley of the Drance,
and the summit of the road is the Alpis Pennina, or Great St. Bernard.
This pass has been used from a time older than any historical records. When Caesar was in Gallia (B.C. 57--56) he sent Servins Galba with the twelfth legion and some cavalry into the country of the Nantuates, Veragri, and Seduni. His purpose in sending this force was to open the pass over the Alps, the pass of the Great St. Bernard,
“by which road the mercatores had been used to travel at great risk, and with the payment of great tolls.” (B. G.
The people of the Alps allowed the Italian merchants to pass, because if they plundered them the merchants would not come; but they got as much out of them as they could. Galba, after taking many strong places, and receiving the submission of the people, sent off two cohorts into the country of the Nantuates, and with the remaining cohorts determined to winter “in a town of the Veragri named Octodurus, which town being situated in a valley with no great extent of level ground near it, is confined on all sides by very lofty mountains.” There is some level ground at Martigny,
and the valley of the Rhone at this part is not very narrow. Caesar says that the town of Octodurus was divided into parts by a river, but he does not mention the river's name.
It is the Drance.
Galba gave one part of the town to the Galli to winter in, and assigned the other to his troops.
He fortified himself with a ditch and rampart, and thought he was safe.
He was, however, suddenly attacked by the Galli before his defences were complete or all his supplies were brought into the camp. The Romans obstinately defended themselves in a six hours' fight; when, seeing that they could no longer keep the enemy out, they made a sortie, which was successful. The Romans estimated the Galli at more than 30,000, and Caesar says that more than a third part were destroyed.
The slaughter of the enemy was prodigious, which has been made an objection to Caesar's veracity, or to Galba's, who made his report to the commander.
It has also been objected that the valley is not wide enough at Martigny
to hold the 30,000 men.
There may be error in the number that attacked, and also in the number who perished. [p. 2.463]
But it is not difficult to answer some of the objections made to Caesar's narrative of this fight. Roesch has answered the criticism of General Warnery, who, like many other of Caesar's critics, began his work by misunderstanding the author. (Roesch, Commentar fiber die Commentarien, &c.
p. 220, Halle, 1783.)
After this escape Galba prudently withdrew his troops, and marching through the country of the Nantuates reached the land of the Allobroges, where he wintered.
The position of Octodurus is determined by Caesar's narrative and by the Antonine Itin. and the Table. Pliny (3.100.20
) says that the Octodurenses received the Latinitas (Latio donati).
In the Notit. Prov. the place is called “Civitas Vallensium Octodurus.” The modern names Wallis
are formed from the word Vallenses.
At a later period it was called Forum Claudii Vallensium Octodurensium, as an inscription shows. One authority speaks of the remains of a Roman aqueduct at Martigny.
Many coins, and other memorials of the Roman time, have been found about the place.
The name Octodur is manifestly Celtic.
The second part of the name is Dur, “water.” The first part, probably some corrupt form, is not explained.
The distances on the Roman road from Augusta Praetoria (Aosta
) in Italy to Octodurus are stated in Vol. I. p. 110.