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BELGAE Caesar (Caes. Gal. 1.1) makes the Belgae, by which he means the country of the Belgae, one of the great divisions of Gallia. The Belgae were separated from their southern neighbours the Celtae by the Seine and the Marne (Matrona), a branch of the Seine. Their boundary on the west was the Ocean; on the east and north the lower course of the Rhine. Caesar's Gallia extends as far as the outlets of the Rhine (B. G. 4.10), and includes the Insula Batavorum [BATAVORUM INSULA] ; but there is a debated point or two about the outlets of the Rhine, which is better discussed elsewhere [RHENUS]. Caesar does not fix the boundary of the Belgae between the source of the Marne and the Rhine; but as the Lingones and the Sequani seem to be the most northern of the Celtae in these parts, the boundary may have run from the source of the Marne along the Côte d'Or and the Faucilles to the Vosges (Vosegus Mons); and the Vosegus was the boundary from the north bank of the Doubs (Dubis) to its termination in the angle formed by the juncture of the Nahe and the Rhine, near Bingen, with this exception that the Mediomatrici extended to the Rhine (B. G. 4.10). The people on the east of the Vosges were Germans, Vangiones, Nemetes, Tribocci, who occupied the plain of Alsace, and perhaps somewhat more. (Tacit. German. 28.) These three tribes, or a part of each, were in the army of Ariovistus. (Caes. Gal. 1.51.) As to the Tribocci at least, their position on the left bank of the Rhine in Caesar's time, is certain. (B. G. 4.10). Strabo (p. 194) speaks of them as having crossed the Rhine into Gallia,without mentioning the time of this passage. The Nemetes and Vangiones may have settled west of the Rhine after Caesar's time, and this supposition agrees with Caesar's text, who does not mention them in B. G. 4.12, which he should have done, if they had then been on the Gallic side of the Rhine. Caesar's military operations in Gallia did not extend to any part of the country between the Mosel and the Rhine. The battle in which he defeated Ariovistus was probably fought in the plain of Alsace, north of Bale; but Caesar certainly advanced no further north in that direction, for it was unnecessary: he finished this German war by driving the Germans into the Rhine.

Caesar gives to a part of the whole country, which lie calls the country of the Belgae, the name of Belgium (B. G. 5.12, 24, 25); a term which he might form after the fashion of the Roman names, Latium and Samnium. But the reading “Belgio” is some-what uncertain, for the final o and the s may easily have been confounded in the MSS.; and though the MSS. are in favour of “Belgio” in 5.12, 25, they are in favour of “Belgis” in 5.24. The form “Belgio” occurs also in Hirtius (B. G. 8.46, 49, 54), in the common texts. The form “Belgium,” which would decide the matter, does not occur in the Gallic war. But whether Belgium is a genuine form or not, Caesar uses either Belgium or Belgae, in a limited sense, as well as in the general sense of a third part of Gallia. For in 5.24, where he is describing the position of his troops during the winter of the year B.C. 54--53, he speaks of three legions being quartered in Belgium or among the Belgae, while he mentions others as quartered among the Morini, the Nervii, the Essui, the Remi, the Treviri, and the Eburones, all of whom are Belgae, in the wider sense of the term. The part designated by the term Belgium or Belgae in 5.24, is the country of the Bellovaci (5.46). In Hirtius (8.46, 47) the town of Nemetocenna (Arras), the chief place of the Atrebates, is placed in Belgium. The position of the Ambiani, between the Bellovaci and the Atrebates, would lead to a probable conclusion that the Ambiani were Belgae; and this is confirmed by a comparison with 5.24, for Caesar placed three legions in Belgium, under three commanders; and though he only mentions the place of one of them as being among the Bellovaci, we may conclude what was the position of the other two from the names of the Ambiani and Atrebates being omitted in the enumeration in 5.24. There was, then, a people, or three peoples, specially named Belgae, whom Caesar places between the Oise and the upper basin of the Schelde, in the old French provinces of Picardie and Artois. We might be inclined to consider the Caleti as Belgae, from their position between the three Belgic peoples and the sea; and some geographers support this conclusion by a passage in Hirtius (8.6), but this passage would also make us conclude that the Aulerci were Belgae, and that would be false.

In B. G. 2.4, Caesar enumerates the principal peoples in the country of the Belgae in its wider sense, which, besides those above enumerated, were: the Suessiones, who bordered on the Remi; the Menapii in the north, on the lower Maas, and bordering. on the Morini on the south and the Batavi on the north; the Caleti, at the mouth of the Seine;2 the Velocasses on the Seine, in the Vexin; the Veromandui, north of the Suessiones, in Vermandois, and the Aduatuci on the Maas, and probably about the confluence of the Maas and Sambre. The Condrusi, Eburones, Caeraesi, and Paemani, who are also mentioned in B. G. 2.4, were called by the general name of Germani. They were all in the basin of the Maas, extending from Tongern, southwards, but chiefly on the east side of the Maas; and the Eburones extended to the Rhine. The Aduatuci were said to be Teutones and Cimbri. (B. G. 2.29.)

Besides these peoples, there are mentioned by Caesar (Caes. Gal. 5.5) the Meldi, who are not the Meldi on the Seine, but near Bruges, or thereabouts; and the Batavi, in the Insula Batavorum. [BATAVORUM INSULA] The Segni, mentioned in B. G. 6.32 with the Condrusi, were probably Germans, and situated in Namur. The Ambivareti (B. G. 4.9, 7.90) are of doubtful position. The Mediomatrici, south of the Treviri, were included in Caesar's Belgae; and also the Leuci, south of the Mediomatrici. The Parisii, on the Seine, were Celtae. These are the peoples included in Caesar's Belgae, except some few, such as those mentioned in B. G. 5.39, of whom we know nothing.

This division of Gallia comprehends part of the basin of the Seine, the basin of the Somme, of the Schelde, and of the Maas; and the basin of the Mosel, which belongs to the basin of the Rhine. It [p. 1.387]is a plain country, and contains no mountain range except the Vosges. The hills that bound the basin of the Mosel are inconsiderable elevations. The tract of the Ardennes (the Arduenna Silva), is rugged, but not mountainous. There is also the hilly tract along the Maas between Dinant and Liège, and north and east as far as Aix-la-Chapelle. The rest is level, and is a part of the great plain of Northern Europe.

Caesar (Caes. Gal. 1.1) makes the Belgae distinct from the Celtae and Aquitani in usages, political constitution, and language; but little weight is due to this general expression, for it appears that those whom Caesar calls Belgae were not all one people; they had pure Germans among them, and, besides this, they were mixed with Germans. The Remi told Caesar (Caes. Gal. 2.4) that most of the Belgae were of German origin, that they had crossed the Rhine of old, and, being attracted by the fertility of the soil, had settled in the parts about there, and expelled the Galli who were the cultivators of those parts. This is the true meaning of Caesar's text: a story of an ancient invasion from the north and east of the Rhine by Germanic people, of which we have a particular instance in the case of the Batavi [BATAVI]; of the Galli who were disturbed, being at that remote time an agricultural people, and of their being expelled by the Germans. But Caesar's words do not admit any further inference than that these German invaders occupied the parts near the Rhine. The Treviri and Nervii affected a German origin (Tacit. German. 28), which, if it be true, must imply that they had some reason for affecting it; and also that they were not pure Germans, or they might have said so. Strabo (p. 192) makes the Nervii Germans. The fact of Caesar making such a river as the Marne a boundary between Belgic and Celtic peoples, is a proof that he saw some marked distinction between Belgae and Celtae, though there were many points of resemblance. Now, as most of the Belgae were Germans or of German origin, as the Remi believed or said, there must have been some who were not Germans or of German origin; and if we exclude the Menapii, the savage Nervii, and the pure Germans, we cannot affirm that any of the remainder of the Belgae were Germans. The name of the Morini alone is evidence that they are not Germans; for their name is only a variation of the form Armorici.

Within the time of man's memory, when Caesar was in Gallia, Divitiacus, a king of the Suessiones, was the most powerful prince in all Gallia, and had established his authority even in Britain (B. G. 2.4). Belgae had also passed into Britain, and settled there in the maritime parts (B. G. 5.12), and they retained the names of the peoples from which they came. The direct historical conclusion from the ancient authorities as to the Belgae, is this: they were a Celtic people, some of whom in Caesar's time were mixed with Germans, without having lost their national characteristics. Caesar, wanting a name under which he could comprehend all the peoples north of the Seine, took the name of Belgae, which seems to have been the general name of a few of the most powerful peoples bordering on the Seine. Strabo (p. 176), who makes a marked distinction between the Aquitani and the rest of the people of Celtica or Gallia Transalpina, states that the rest have the Gallic or Celtic physical characteristics, but that they have not all the same language, some differing a little in tongue, and in their political forms and habits a little; all which expresses as great a degree of uniformity among peoples spread over so large a surface as could by any possibility exist in the state of civilization at that time. Strabo, besides the Commentarii of Caesar, had the work of Posidonius as an authority, who had travelled in Gallia.

When Augustus made a fourfold division of Gallia, B.C. 27, which in fact subsisted before him in Caesar's time,--for the Provincia is a division of Gallia independent of Caesar's threefold division (B. G. 1.1),--he enlarged Aquitania [AQUITANIA], and he made a division named Lugdunensis, of which Lugdunum (Lyon) was the capital. Strabo's description of this fourfold division is not clear, and it is best explained by considering the new division of Gallia altogether. [GALLIA.] Strabo, after describing some of the Belgic tribes, says (p. 194), “the rest are the peoples of the Paroceanitic Belgae, among whom are the Veneti.” The word Paroceanitic is the same as Caesar's Armoric, or the peoples on the sea. He also mentions the Osismi, who were neighbours of the Veneti. This passage has been used to prove (Thierry, Hist. des Gaulois, Introd.) that these Paroceanitic Belgae, the Veneti and their neighbours, and the Belgae north of the Seine, were two peoples or confederations of the same race; and as the Veneti were Celts, so must the Belgae north of the Seine be. It might be said that Strabo here uses Belgae in the sense of the extended Belgian division, for he clearly means to say that this division comprehended some part of the country between the Loire and the Seine, the western part at least. But his account of the divisions of Gallia is so confused that it cannot be relied on, nor does it agree with that of Pliny. It is certain, however, that some changes were made in the divisions of Gallia between the time of Augustus and the time of Pliny. [GALLIA.]


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  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 1.51
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 2.4
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 5.5
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 1.1
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