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Eth. NE´RVII (Eth.Νερούιοι, Eth. Νερβιοι), a nation of Belgica, whose capital according to Ptolemy (2.9.11) was Bagacum (Bavai). When Caesar was preparing (B.C. 57) to march against the Belgian confederates, he was informed that the Nervii had promised to supply 50,000 men for the general defence, and that they were considered the most savage of all the confederates. (B. G. 2.4.) The neighbours of the Nervii on the south were the Ambiani. (B. G. 2.15.) In Caesar's time the Nervii had not allowed “mercatores” to come into their country; they would not let wine be imported and other things which encouraged luxury. When Caesar had marched for three days through their territory, he learned that he was not more than 10 Roman miles from the Sabis (Sambre), and the Nervii were waiting for him on the other side with the Atrebates and Veromandui, their border people. Thus we ascertain that the Atrebates, whose chief town is Arras, and the Veromandui, whose chief place was St. Quentin, were also neighbours of the Nervii. The Nervii had no cavalry, and their country was made almost impenetrable to any attack from the cavalry of their neighbours by quickset hedges which a man could not get through, and indeed hardly see through them. (B. G. 2.17.) On the banks of the Sambre Caesar had a desperate fight with the Nervii, commanded by Boduognatus. During this invasion the old men, the women, and children of the Nervii, were removed to the aestuaries and marshes, somewhere near the coast. The Nervii lost a great number of men in this battle: “the nation and the name were nearly destroyed.” (B. G. 2.27.) Their “senatores” as Caesar calls them, their chief men, were reduced from 600 to three, and out of the 60,000 who were in the battle there were said to be only 500 left capable of bearing arms. After this terrible slaughter the Nervii rose again in arms against Caesar (B.C. 54), when they joined the Eburones and others in the attack on Quintus Cicero's camp. (B. G. 5.38.) Some of the commentators have found a difficulty about the appearance of the Nervii again in B.C. 54, after having been nearly destroyed in B.C. 57. We must suppose that Caesar wrote of the events as they occurred, and that he did not alter what he had written. In B.C. 57 he supposed that he had destroyed most of the fighters of the Nervii. In B.C. 54 he found that he was mistaken. In B.C. 53 the Nervii were again preparing to give trouble to the Roman governor; but he entered their country in the winter season, and before they had time to rally or to escape, he took many prisoners, drove off many head of cattle, and ravaged their land, and so compelled them to come to terms. (B. G. 6.2.) When the meeting of the Gallic states in B.C. 52 was settling the forces that each nation should send to the relief of Alesia, the contingent of the Nervii was 5000 men. (B. G. 7.75.)

Some of the nations between the Seine, the sea, and the Rhine, were Germans in Caesar's time, but these Germans were invaders.. The Nervii (Tac. Germ. 100.28) claimed a Germanic origin, and they may have been a German or a mixed German and Gallic race; but there is no evidence which can settle the question. Appian (de Bell. Gall. 1.4) speaks of the Nervii as descendants of the Teutones and Cimbri; but this is worth very little. Appian had probably no authority except Caesar, whom he used carelessly; and he may have applied to the Nervii what Caesar says of the origin of the Aduatuci. (B. G. 2.29.) Strabo (p. 194) also says that the Nervii were a Germanic nation, but he does not even know the position of the Nervii, and he misplaces them.

Caesar mentions some smaller tribes as dependent on the Nervii (B. G. 5.39): these tribes were Grudii, Levaci, Pleumoxii, Geiduni, of all whom we know nothing.

Pliny (4.17) mentions in Belgica as inland people, the Castologi (apparently a corrupted name), Atrebates, Nervii liberi, Veromandui; an order of enumeration which corresponds with the position of the Nervii between the Atrebates and the Veromandui; for the chief place of the Atrebates is Arras, of the Nervii Bavai, and of the Veromandui St. Quentin. [AUGUSTA VEROMANDUORUM] As Pliny calls the Nervii liberi, we must suppose that in his time they were exempt from the payment of taxes to the Romans, and retained their own internal government; probably in Pliny's time the Romans had not yet fully reduced their country. [p. 2.421]

The territory of the Nervii did not extend beyond the limits of the old diocese of Cambrai, which was, however, very large. The capital of the Nervii was Bagacum (Bavai), but Cambrai was also a town of the Nervii. [CAMARACUM]

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  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.17
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 2.9
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