The Nervii were one of the most powerful Belgic tribes of northern Gaul at the time of its conquest by Rome. Their territory corresponds to the central part of modern Belgium, including Brussels, and stretched southwards into French Hainault. During their 1st century BC Roman military campaign, Julius Caesar's contacts among the Remi stated that the Nervii were the most warlike of the Belgae. In times of war, they were known to trek long distances to take part in battles. Being one of the distant northern Belgic tribes, with the Menapii to the west, and the Eburones to their east, they were considered by Caesar to be relatively uncorrupted by civilization.
The territory of the Nervii had its western and northwestern border on the Scheldt (French Escaut) river and stretched in the south through Hainaut to the forests of Arrouaise and Thiérache. To the east, the boundaries are unclear but it is possible that they stretched as far as the Dyle river valley in the north, near Louvain, and the Meuse in the south in modern Wallonia, near Namur. An oppidum found near Asse may have belonged to them but it was isolated and near to the territory of the Menapii. A large population occupied the southern territories, near the river Sambre with the biggest being at Avesnelles, near Avesnes-sur-Helpe. Caesar also mentions smaller tribes who were expected to contribute troops to Nervian forces; Levaci, Pleumoxii, Geidumni, Ceutrones, and Grudii.
The Nervii spoke a Celtic language. Others included the Menapii and Morini, to the west of the Nervii on the English channel, and the Germani cisrhenani to the east of the Nervii, stretching to the Rhine.
Caesar claimed that the Belgae generally had received immigration from Germanic people from east of the Rhine. The Romanized Greek Strabo wrote that the Nervii were of Germanic origin. Tacitus, in his book Germania, says that in his time the Nervii and Treveri both claimed Germanic ancestry, similar to that of their mutual neighbours the Tungri, in order to distinguish them from the weaknesses of the Gauls.
The Romans were not precise in their ethnography of northern barbarians: by "Germanic" Caesar may simply have meant "originating east of the Rhine" with no distinction of language intended. During Caesar's lifetime, Germanic languages east of the Rhine may have been no closer than the river Elbe. It has instead been argued based on place name studies that the older language of the area, though apparently Indo-European, was also not Celtic (see Nordwestblock) and that Celtic, though influential amongst the elite, might never have been the main language of the part of the Belgic area north of the Ardennes. On the other hand, these same studies of placenames such as those of Maurits Gysseling, have also shown evidence of Germanic languages entering the Belgic area north of the Ardennes, before the Roman conquest, while strong evidence for old Celtic place names is found in the Ardennes and to the south of them. Luc van Durme summarizes competing evidence of Celtic and Germanic influence at the time of Caesar by saying that "one has to accept the rather remarkable conclusion that Caesar must have witnessed a situation opposing Celtic and Germanic in Belgium, in a territory slightly more to the south than the early medieval Romance-Germanic language border", but van Durme also accepts that "second century BC Germanisation did not block the celtisation coming from the south. . .but that both phenomena were simultaneous and interfering instead".
Julius Caesar considered the Nervii to be the most warlike of the Belgic tribes, and that the Belgic tribes were the bravest in Gaul. He says that their culture was a Spartan one: they would not partake of alcoholic beverages or any other such luxury, feeling that the mind must remain clear to be brave. He also says they disliked foreign trade and had no merchant class / would not permit merchants within their territory.
Remarkably, given the archaeological evidence of a Celtic La Tène culture having been present in the pre-Roman past, Caesar reports that the Nervii had no cavalry. In fact they established hedges throughout their lands in order to make them difficult for cavalry.
The Frasnes hoard, accidentally unearthed by foresters in 1864 near Frasnes-lez-Buissenal in Hainaut, along with coins associated with the Morini and the Nervii, also contained characteristically Gallic gold torques, one of which was in Alastair Bradley Martin's Guennol collection.
The Nervii were part of the Belgic alliance that resisted Julius Caesar in 57 BC. After the alliance broke up and some tribes surrendered, the Nervii, under the command of Boduognatus and aided by the Atrebates and Viromandui, came very close to defeating Caesar (the Atuatuci had also agreed to join them but did not arrive in time). In 57 BC at the battle of the Sabis (now identified as the river Selle, near modern Saulzoir; previously identified as the Sambre), they concealed themselves in the forests and attacked the approaching Roman column at the river. Their attack was so quick and unexpected that some of the Romans didn't have time to take the covers off their shields or even put on their helmets. The element of surprise briefly left the Romans exposed. However Caesar grabbed a shield, made his way to the front line, and quickly organised his forces; at the same time, the commander of the tenth legion, Titus Labienus, attacked the Nervian camp. The two legions who had been guarding the baggage train at the rear arrived and helped to turn the tide of the battle. Caesar says the Nervii were almost annihilated in the battle and is effusive in his tribute to their bravery, calling them "heroes".
When Ambiorix and the Eburones rebelled in 53 BC, the remaining Nervii joined the uprising and besieged Quintus Tullius Cicero – brother of the orator – and his legion in their winter camp until they were relieved by Caesar in person.
The Nervian civitas was at Bagacum. The city was founded to the south of the traditional Nervian territory and is now known as Bavay, a town in France near the Belgian border. The forum has been excavated. The town was founded in c.30 BC and rapidly became a centre of Roman civilization. Towns belonging to the Nervian territory were Fanum Martis (Famars), and Geminiacum (Liberchies).
Inscriptions found on artifacts recovered at Rough Castle Fort along the Antonine Wall across the Central Belt of Scotland indicate that in the 2nd century the fort was the base for 500 men of the Sixth Cohort of Nervii, an infantry unit. According to Tacitus, the Nervians also served in cohorts based along the Rhine border. Altars found at the Roman fort of Whitley Castle in Northumberland, also known as Epiacum, bear inscriptions showing that the Second Nervians were garrisoned at the fort.
After the disastrous attacks by the Franks in 260-275 AD, a new chief city was designated at Camaracum (Cambrai), further south than Bavay, and Bavay itself, and the main road it was on, became part of a new secondary fortified border zone. The northern part became de-populated, and then settled by Germanic groups, leaving the southern part, medieval Hainaut, more Romanized. By 432 it seems the country of the Nervians had been taken over by the Franks. Their king Childeric I was buried in Tournai. The medieval Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cambrai continued to cover the same approximate area as the Roman civitas until 1559.
Hainaut was sometimes referred to as the county of the Nervians (comitatus nerviensis) in medieval Latin, and when this came to be politically united with mainly Dutch speaking Brabant again, the counties were still distinguished in the official Latin titles (comitatus Nerviensis atque Bracbatensis). Today, Hainaut is divided between France and Belgium. To its north the modern Belgian provinces of Antwerp, Flemish Brabant and French-speaking Walloon Brabant approximate the rest of the old Nervian territory.
The Nervii and their western neighbours the Menapii are the main subjects of the comic book Asterix in Belgium. In it, a competition between the Belgians and the Gauls from Armorica takes place to decide who was the bravest, under the unlikely adjudication of Julius Caesar.
The Nervii are featured in the video game Total War: Rome II.
Year 57 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. Contemporaneously, in the Roman Republic, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Lentulus and Metellus (or, less frequently, year 697 Ab urbe condita). The denomination 57 BC for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.Ambiorix
Ambiorix (Gaulish "king in all directions") was, together with Cativolcus, prince of the Eburones, leader of a Belgic tribe of north-eastern Gaul (Gallia Belgica), where modern Belgium is located. In the nineteenth century Ambiorix became a Belgian national hero because of his resistance against Julius Caesar, as written in Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico.Ambiorix's revolt
Ambiorix's revolt was an episode during the Gallic Wars between 54 and 53 BC in which the Eburones tribe, under its leader, Ambiorix, rebelled against the Roman Republic.
Discontent among the subjugated Gauls prompted a major uprising amongst the Belgae against Julius Caesar in the winter of 54–53 BC, when the Eburones of north-eastern Gaul rose in rebellion under their leader Ambiorix. Fifteen Roman cohorts were wiped out at Atuatuca Tungrorum (modern Tongeren in Belgium) and a garrison commanded by Quintus Tullius Cicero narrowly survived after being relieved by Caesar in the nick of time. The rest of 53 BC was occupied with a punitive campaign against the Eburones and their allies, who were said to have been all but exterminated by the Romans.Atuatuci
The Atuatuci or Aduatuci were, according to Caesar, a Germanic tribe who had been allowed to settle amongst the Germanic tribes living in east Belgium. They descended from the Cimbri and Teutones, who were tribes thought to have originated in the area of Denmark. Much later, the Atuatuci sent troops to assist their Belgic neighbours, especially the Nervii, in the Battle of the Sabis, but were too late. They were later defeated by the Romans after withdrawing to a fortified city. After their defeat by Caesar they disappear from the written record, but their survivors possibly contributed to the later tribal grouping known as the Tungri in Roman imperial times.
Before the Roman attack in 57 BC the oppidum of the Atuatuci (possible modern day Namur in Belgium or near the city of Thuin) were home to 57,000 including refugees fleeing the Romans.
The oppidum of the Atuatuci were seized by the Romans and after the fall of the city with 4,000 dead the entire surviving population of 53,000 were sold as slaves.Auxilia palatina
Auxilia palatina (sing. auxilium palatinum) were infantry units of the Late Roman army, first raised by Constantine I as part of the new field army he created in about 325.
Some of the senior and probably oldest of these units had special names such as Cornuti or Brachiati; others were named after the tribes from which they were recruited (many of these in eastern Gaul, or among the German barbarians). These units all became palatine units when a distinction was drawn between palatina and the remainder of the comitatenses around 365. There is no direct evidence for the strength of an auxilium, but A.H.M. Jones (History of the Later Roman Empire, Blackwell, Oxford, 1964 p 682) estimates that it may have been 600 or 700. Some auxilia are attested as limitanei, especially on the Danube. It is not clear whether these were regarded as a different category of unit.Battle of the Sabis
The Battle of the Sabis, also (arguably erroneously) known as the Battle of the Sambre or the Battle against the Nervians (or Nervii), was fought in 57 BC near modern Saulzoir in Northern France, between the legions of the Roman Republic and an association of Belgic tribes, principally the Nervii. Julius Caesar, commanding the Roman forces, was surprised and nearly defeated. According to Caesar's report, a combination of determined defence, skilled generalship, and the timely arrival of reinforcements allowed the Romans to turn a strategic defeat into a tactical victory.Belgae
The Belgae () were a large Gallic-Germanic confederation of tribes living in northern Gaul, between the English Channel, the west bank of the Rhine, and northern bank of the river Seine, from at least the third century BC. They were discussed in depth by Julius Caesar in his account of his wars in Gaul. Some peoples in Britain were also called Belgae and O'Rahilly equated them with the Fir Bolg in Ireland. The Belgae gave their name to the Roman province of Gallia Belgica and, much later, to the modern country of Belgium; today "Belgae" is also Latin for "Belgians".Betasii
The Betasii (or Baetasii) was the name Germanic tribal grouping within the Roman province of Germania Inferior, which later became Germania Secunda. Their exact location is still unknown, although two proposals are, first, that it might be the source of the name of the Belgian village of Geetbets, and second, that it might be further east, nearer to the Sunuci with whom they interacted in the Batavian revolt, and to the Cugerni who lived at Xanten. The area of Gennep, Goch and Geldern has been proposed for example.As with many of the tribal groups of Germania Inferior, such as the Toxandrians, and Tungrii, the origins of the tribe are unknown, but it is likely that their ancestry included a mixture of older populations and Germanic immigrants from the east of the Rhine who had been arriving for generations. Germania Inferior was on the west of the Rhine and had been described by Julius Caesar, at the time of Roman conquest of the area, as part of Belgic Gaul. Many of the tribal names and personal names which he reported from this area, are considered to be Celtic, not Germanic. However already long before his time there appears to have been an influx of people coming from the east of the Rhine, including, in the particular area where the Betasii lived, the tribal grouping which Tacitus later claimed to be the original tribal group which had been called "Germani", the so-called "Germani Cisrhenani". Whether these original Germani had all spoken a Germanic language is unknown. Caesar and Tacitus were more interested in the fact that tribes from the east of the Rhine, who all eventually came to be referred to as Germani, were less softened by civilization, and therefore difficult to defeat in battle or incorporate into the Roman empire.
Some specific tribes who entered the empire later, such as the Ubii who lived on the west bank of the Rhine, are understood to be speakers of Germanic languages, and records exist concerning their immigration and settlement. However for the Betasii, there is no such clear record and it is their position which generally leads to them being understood as being a group settled during imperial times, and Germanic in the modern sense of speaking a Germanic language. It has been proposed that like their neighbours the Cugerni, they descend from the Sicambri, who were already actively jumping to this side of the Rhine in Caesar's time, and who Strabo records as living in this area. On the other hand there have been suggestions that they might represent the descendants, at least partly, of the Germani tribes described by Caesar as having been in this region since at least the 2nd century BCE when the Cimbri moved through the area.
In the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder places the Betasi in his list of tribes in this region in between the Frisiabones and the Leuci, but this may not indicate position in any meaningful way. They contributed troops to the Roman military, including some who are known to have been stationed in Britain. Tacitus also mentioned the Betasii, as a people of this region during the Batavian revolt. Some of them joined Claudius Labeo, who held a bridge over the Meuse, with a force of Betasii, Tungri and Nervii. For this reason, it is often thought that the Betasii lived close to the Tungri and Nervii, and possibly near the river Meuse (Dutch Maas, Latin Mosa).
Amongst evidence of Betasii from inscriptions made concerning soldiers, the Betasii are often mentioned as "Traianenses Baetasii", which has been taken as evidence that the Betasii, like the Cugerni (or Cuberni) lived in the northeastern "Civitas Traiana" with its capital near modern Xanten. Xanten itself was the area where the Cugerni lived and was on the Rhine border, so this would put the Betasii one step away from the Rhine. Geetbets, in contrast, would have been in the Civitas Tungrorum. Joining the military was eventually a way to become a Roman citizen, and by early 2nd century CE the inscriptions show that the soldiers referred to their origin as "Traianenses Baetasii", replacing their exclusive tribal affiliation with a new Roman identity.Like other peoples in the northern part of Germania Inferior, what happened to them in the later part of the Roman era is uncertain. Archaeological and other evidence agrees that the area was largely de-populated apart from military positions along the Rhine. It became the home of new groups who crossed the Rhine, especially the Sallii. These became part of the amalgamation of tribes known as the Franks. They united under kings, and became dominant in northern Germania Inferior, giving it an older name, Toxandria. They later became semi-independent within the empire, started moving into more populated Romanized areas to their south, and then proceeded to conquer a large part of Western Europe which became the Holy Roman empire. If any of the Betasii remained in the area, they became part of this development.Boduognatus
Boduognatus (? – 57 BC) was a leader of the Belgic Nervii during the Gallic Wars. He was the overall commander of the Belgic forces at the Battle of Sabis in 57 BC, in which he surprised, and almost defeated, Julius Caesar.Cohors VI Nerviorum
The Cohors VI Nerviorum (English: Sixth Cohort of Nervii) was an auxiliary unit of Roman Army Cohors quinquagenaria peditata type attested in the Roman province of Britannia from the second century to the early fifth century AD.Eburones
The Eburones (Greek: Ἐβούρωνες, Strabo), were a Gallic-Germanic tribe who lived in the northeast of Gaul, in what is now the southern Netherlands, eastern Belgium, and the German Rhineland, in the period immediately before this region was conquered by Rome. Though living in Gaul, they were also described as being both Belgae, and Germani (for a discussion of these terms, see below).
The Eburones played a major role in Julius Caesar's account of his "Gallic Wars", as the most important tribe within the Germani cisrhenani group of tribes, i. e. Germani living west of the Rhine amongst the Belgae. Caesar claimed that the name of the Eburones was wiped out after their failed revolt against his forces during the Gallic Wars. Whether any significant part of the population lived on in the area as Tungri, the tribal name found here later, is uncertain but considered likely.Frasnes Hoard
The Frasnes Hoard was accidentally unearthed in 1864 by foresters digging out the roots of a tree near Frasnes-lez-Buissenal in Hainaut, Belgium. The torcs and some other pieces are now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.Along with at least eighty uninscribed coins of types often found in Gaul and Britain and associated with the Belgic tribes of Morini and Nervii, which were dated by John Evans to ca. 80 BC, the hoard discovered at Frasnes also contained two characteristically Gallic Late La Tène style gold torcs, one plain with flattened-ball terminals, the other with repoussé decoration of a frontal bull's head among raised facetted scrolls some of which manifested a design repertory comparable to finds in Britain. The torc was constructed of sheet gold over an iron ring wrapped in a hard cement. There was also a ring "nearly 1⅝ inches in diameter", too large in diameter to be a finger ring, yet too small to be a bracelet or armband; it had continuous granular ornament of globules of gold soldered together round into outer face.Gallic Wars
The Gallic Wars were a series of military campaigns waged by the Roman proconsul Julius Caesar against several Gallic tribes. Rome's war against the Gallic tribes lasted from 58 BC to 50 BC and culminated in the decisive Battle of Alesia in 52 BC, in which a complete Roman victory resulted in the expansion of the Roman Republic over the whole of Gaul (mainly present-day France and Belgium). While militarily just as strong as the Romans, the internal division between the Gallic tribes helped ease victory for Caesar, and Vercingetorix's attempt to unite the Gauls against Roman invasion came too late. The wars paved the way for Julius Caesar to become the sole ruler of the Roman Republic.
Although Caesar portrayed this invasion as being a preemptive and defensive action, most historians agree that the wars were fought primarily to boost Caesar's political career and to pay off his massive debts. Still, Gaul was of significant military importance to the Romans, as they had been attacked several times by native tribes both indigenous to Gaul and farther to the north. Conquering Gaul allowed Rome to secure the natural border of the river Rhine. The Gallic Wars are described by Julius Caesar in his book Commentarii de Bello Gallico, which remains the most important historical source regarding the conflict.Germani cisrhenani
The Germani cisrhenani (Latin cis-rhenanus "on the hither side of the Rhine", also "Left bank Germani".), were a group of tribes who lived west of the Lower Rhine at the time of the Gallic Wars (mid-1st century BC).
The name is first mentioned by Julius Caesar, who was writing specifically about tribes near the Meuse river, who had settled among the Belgae before Roman intrusion into the area. Tribes who were certainly considered to be among the original Germani cisrhenani include the Eburones, the Condrusi, the Caeraesi, the Segni and the Paemani, who collectively form a group which apparently later came to be referred to as Tungri, in order to avoid confusion with other "Germani" once, by the time of Tacitus, the term had been extended to include the vast area of Germania magna beyond the limits of the Roman Empire.Indutiomarus
Indutiomarus (died 53 BCE) was a leading aristocrat of the Treveri (the people of the area around present-day Trier) at the time of Julius Caesar's conquest of Gaul. He was the head of the anti-Roman party and the political rival of his pro-Roman son-in-law Cingetorix for "supreme power" in the state.In 54 BCE, Indutiomarus made preparations for war against the Romans and evacuated non-combatants to the Ardennes. However, when Caesar arrived in the territory of the Treveri en route to Britain, Indutiomarus was deserted by many of his leading supporters and submitted to Caesar in the hopes of preserving his position. Caesar accepted his submission, taking 200 hostages including several of Indutiomarus' close family members, but he also took the opportunity to promote Cingetorix to power among the Treveri at Indutiomarus' expense.Deprived of much of his power, Indutiomarus became all the more bitter an enemy of the Romans, and waited for a favourable opportunity to take his revenge. Such an opportunity arrived soon. To ensure adequate food supplies, Caesar had separated his troops into winter quarters dispersed in different parts of Gaul. Indutiomarus encouraged Ambiorix and Cativolcus, chiefs of the Eburones, to attack the Roman legion stationed in their country; he himself soon afterwards marched against Titus Labienus, who was encamped among the Remi, immediately west of the Treveri. Forewarned of Caesar's victory over the Nervii, Indutiomarus withdrew his forces into Treveran country and raised fresh troops. He also spent the winter sending ambassadors to the Germans in search of allies. Other peoples began sending ambassadors to Indutiomarus of their own accord as well – these included the Senones, the Carnutes, the Nervii and the Aduatuci.Now emboldened, Indutiomarus declared Cingetorix an enemy of the state and confiscated his property.
He marched against Labienus again and surrounded the Roman camp. Indutiomarus took to riding around the camp with his cavalry force almost daily, both to reconnoitre and to intimidate the Romans within. Labienus one day sneaked a large contingent of auxiliary cavalry into the Roman camp, and during one of these exercises the auxiliaries surprised the Treveran force with a sudden sally. Indutiomarus himself was killed in the rout while crossing a river. His death was still a source of anger and rebellion as of 51 BCE, when the Treveri remained in the field on the side of Ambiorix.Menapii
The Menapii were a Belgic tribe of northern Gaul in pre-Roman and Roman times. According to descriptions in such authors as Strabo, Caesar, Pliny the Elder and Ptolemy their territory had stretched northwards to the mouth of the Rhine in the north, but more lastingly it stretched along the west of the Scheldt river. In later geographical terms this territory corresponds roughly to the modern Belgian coast, the Belgian provinces of East and West Flanders. It also extended into neighbouring France and the river deltas of the Southern Netherlands.Tante Sidonia
Tante Sidonia is a Flemish comics character from the Belgian comics series Suske en Wiske. In the franchise she is the aunt of Wiske and the adoptive aunt of Suske, of whom she both takes care.
In the original Flemish publications her name was Sidonie, while the translations in the Netherlands named her Sidonia. After the series changed to Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands in 1964 the character was changed to her definitive name Sidonia. She even announces this to the readers at the start of the album "De Nerveuze Nerviërs" ("The Nervous Nervii") (1964). In English translations of the series, she has been called Aunt Agatha, Aunt Sidonia, and Aunt Sybil.Toxandri
The Toxandri (or Texuandri, Taxandri, Toxandrians etc.) were a people living at the time of the Roman empire. Their territory was called Toxandria, Toxiandria or Taxandria, a name which survived into the Middle Ages. It was roughly equivalent to the modern Campine (Dutch Kempen) geographical region of northeastern Flanders and southern Netherlands. In modern terms this covered all or most of North Brabant, the east of Antwerp Province, and the north of Belgian Limburg.
Their name is also preserved in modern placenames such as Tessenderlo, which is in the modern Belgian province of Limburg where it borders upon the provinces of Antwerp and Flemish Brabant.Vorenus and Pullo
Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo were two Roman centurions of the 11th Legion (Legio XI Claudia) mentioned in the personal writings of Julius Caesar.
Part of: Celtic tribes in Europe