Volcae (Latin pronunciation: [ˈwolkae̯]) were a tribal
confederation constituted before the raid of combined
invaded Macedonia c. 270 BC and fought the assembled Greeks at the
Battle of Thermopylae in 279 BC. Tribes known by the name
found simultaneously in southern Gaul, Moravia, the
Ebro valley of the
Iberian Peninsula, and
Galatia in Anatolia. The
Volcae appear to have
been part of the late La Tène material culture, and a Celtic identity
has been attributed to the Volcae, based on mentions in Greek and
Latin sources as well as onomastic evidence.
Driven by highly mobile groups operating outside the tribal system and
comprising diverse elements, the
Volcae were one of the new ethnic
entities formed during the Celtic military expansion at the beginning
of the 3rd century BC. Collecting in the famous excursion into the
Balkans, ostensibly, from the Hellene point of view, to raid Delphi, a
branch of the
Volcae split from the main group on the way into the
Balkans and joined two other tribes, the
Tolistobogii and the Trocmi,
to settle in central
Anatolia and establish a new identity as the
The Tectosagii were a sept of the
Volcae who moved through Macedonia
Anatolia c. 277 BC.
Strabo says the Tectosagii came originally
from the region near modern Toulouse, in France.
Volcae of the Danube
Volcae of Gaul
4 Continuation of the name
Volcae of the Danube
Caesar's ethnogenesis and migrations of the Volcae.
Julius Caesar was convinced that the
Volcae had originally been
settled east of the Rhine, for he mentioned the
Tectosages as a
Gaulish tribe which still remained in western Germany in his day
Gallic Wars 6.24):
And there was formerly a time when the
Gauls excelled the Germans in
prowess, and waged war on them offensively, and, on account of the
great number of their people and the insufficiency of their land, sent
colonies over the Rhine.
Volcae Tectosages, seized on those parts of Germany
which are the most fruitful [and lie] around the Hercynian forest,
(which, I perceive, was known by report to
Eratosthenes and some other
Greeks, and which they call Orcynia), and settled there. Which nation
to this time retains its position in those settlements, and has a very
high character for justice and military merit; now also they continue
in the same scarcity, indigence, hardihood, as the Germans, and use
the same food and dress; but their proximity to the Province and
knowledge of commodities from countries beyond the sea supplies to the
Gauls many things tending to luxury as well as civilization.
Accustomed by degrees to be overmatched and worsted in many
engagements, they do not now even compare themselves to the Germans in
Caesar related a tradition associating the Celtic tribe of the Volcae
to the vast Hercynian Forest, though they were more probably to be
located in the eastern range of the České Středohoří; yet, Volcae
of his time were settled in Moravia, east of the Boii. Their apparent
movement may indicate that the
Volcae were newcomers to the region.
Caesar's remark about the wealth of this region may have referred not
only to agriculture but also to the mineral deposits there, while the
renown attributed to the
Volcae "in peace and in war" resulted from
their metallurgical skills and the quality of their weapons, both
attracting the attention of their northern neighbors. Together with
Boii in the upper basin of the
Elbe river to the west and the
Slovakia to the east, this area of Celtic settlement in
oppida led to the exploitation of natural resources on a grand scale
and the concentration of skilled craftsmen under the patronage of
strong and wealthy chieftains. This culture flourished from the mid
second to the mid-1st century BCE, until it buckled under the combined
pressure of the
Germanic peoples from the North and the
Allowance must be made for Julius Caesar's usual equation of primitive
poverty with admirable hardihood and military prowess and his
connection of luxurious imports and the proximity of "civilization",
meaning his own, with softness and decadence. In fact,
long-established trading connections furnished Gaulish elites with
Baltic amber and Greek and Etruscan wares.
Caesar took it as a given that the
Celts in the
Hercynian Forest were
emigrant settlers from
Gaul who had "seized" the land, but modern
archeology identifies the region as part of the La Tène homeland. As
Henry Howarth noted a century ago, "The
Tectosages reported by Caesar
as still being around the Hercynian forest were in fact living in the
old homes of their race, whence a portion of them set out on their
great expedition against Greece, and eventually settled in Galatia, in
Asia Minor, where one of the tribes was called Tectosages."
Volcae of Gaul
Map showing the relative position of the
Volcae and Tectosages.
Volcae Arecomici (Οὐόλκαι Ἀρικόμιοι of Ptolemy's
Geography ii), according to Strabo, dwelt on the western side of
the lower Rhône, with their metropolis at Narbo (Narbonne): "Narbo
is spoken of as the naval-station of these people alone, though it
would be fairer to add 'and of the rest of Celtica', so greatly has it
surpassed the others in the number of people who use it as a
trade-centre." They were not alone in occupying their territory,
with its capital at
Volcae Arecomici of their own accord surrendered to the Roman
Republic in 121 BC. They occupied the district between the Garonne
Cévennes (Cebenna mons), and the Rhône, This
area covered most of the western part of the Roman province of Gallia
Narbonensis. They held their assemblies in the sacred wood of
Nemausus, the site of modern Nîmes.
Gaul they were divided into two tribes in widely separated regions,
the Arecomici on the east, living among the Ligures, and the
Tectosages (whose territory included that of the Tolosates) on the
west, living among the Aquitani; the territories were separated by the
Hérault (Arauris) or a line between the Hérault and the Orb (Orbis).
Tectosages coins, Southern France, 5th-1st century BC.
Coin of the
Volcae Tectosages, silver 3.58g. Monnaie de Paris.
West of the Arecomici the
Tectosages (whose territory included
that of the Tolosates) lived among the Aquitani; the territories were
separated by the Hérault (Arauris) or a line between the Hérault
River and the Orb (Orbis).
Strabo says the
originally from the region near modern
Toulouse and were a sept or
clan of the Volcae.
The territory of the
Τεκτόσαγες of Ptolemy's Geography ii) in
Gaul lay outside
the Roman Republic, to the southwest of the
Volcae Arecomici. From the
3rd century BC, the capital city of the
Tectosages was Tolosa
(Toulouse). When the
Teutones invaded Gaul, the Tectosages
allied themselves with them, and their town Tolosa was sacked in
Quintus Servilius Caepio in 106 BC. Tolosa was
incorporated into the
Roman Republic as part of the province of Gallia
Aquitania with the conquest of
Julius Caesar in 52 BC. The
Roman conquest of Tolosa ended the cultural identity of the Volcae
According to Ptolemy's Geography, their inland towns were
Illiberis, Ruscino, Tolosa colonia, Cessero, Carcaso, Baetirae,
and Narbo colonia.
Tectosages were among the successful raiders of the Delphi
expedition and were said to have transported their booty to Tolosa. A
significant part of these raiders however did not return and crossed
Bosporus instead. As a result,
Tectosages was also the name of one
of the three great communities of
Gauls who invaded and settled in
Anatolia in the country called after them "Galatia".
Venceslas Kruta suggests that their movement into this region was
probably motivated by a Carthaginian recruiting post situated close
by, a main attraction of the region for Celtic mercenaries eager for
more campaigning. Indeed, after crossing the Pyrenees in 218 BC,
Hannibal in travelling through southern
Gaul was greeted by warlike
tribes: the Volcae, the Arverni, the Allobroges, and the
Rhône Valley, who rose to prominence around the middle of the 3rd
century BC. From around that time, this part of
Gaul underwent a
process of stabilization buttressed by the formation of new and
powerful tribal confederations as well as the development of new-style
settlements resembling the urban centers of the Mediterranean world,
of which Tolosa and
Nemausus (Nîmes) were no exception.
In 107, the Volcae, allies of the Tigurini, a branch of the Helvetii
who belonged to a coalition that formed around the
Cimbri and the
Teutons, defeated a Roman army at Tolosa. In 106-5, Q. Servilius
Caepio was sent with an army to put down the revolt, and as a result,
Tolosa was sacked, and thereafter the town and its territory were
absorbed into Gallia Narbonensis, thereby establishing firm control
over the western Gallic trade corridor along the
Carcassonne Gap and
Most modern Celticists regard the tribal name Uolcae as being related
to Welsh gwalch 'hawk', perhaps related (at the Proto-Indo-European
level) to Latin falco 'hawk' (compare the Gaulish personal name
Catuuolcus to Welsh cadwalch 'hero', literally 'battle-hawk'), though
some prefer to translate Gaulish *uolco- as 'wolf' and, by semantic
extension, 'errant warrior'. There seems to be indication that
their name is related to their breed of war greyhounds since before
the 600 BC when the
Celts sacked Delphi.
Survivors left accounts of the fierce
Celts and the huge dogs who
fought with them and at their side. They were described by Julius
Caesar in his war reports, The Gallic Wars.
The name Tectosages, literally 'possession-seekers', meant
'claim-stakers', perhaps closer in sense to 'claim-jumper' or 'land
grabber', and a direct cognate is found in Old Irish techtaigidir
'he/she seeks to (re)establish a land claim'.
Continuation of the name
Main article: Walhaz
Volcae were highly influential in Moravia, and together with the
Boii and the
Cotini and other Danubian tribes, they controlled a
highly active network of trade routes connected to the Mediterranean
and the German lands. The prowess of these tribes and their proximity
led to their name being borrowed into Germanic as *Walhaz, a generic
term for "Celt" and eventually "Roman" as the two cultures merged in
time. This word has been applied widely to any former Roman
provincials, including the Welsh, Italians, and French. Compare:
English Welsh, Flemish Dutch waalsch "Walloons", German welsch
"French", Switzerland German Churwelsch "Churer Romance" (an old name
for Romansh, which used to be spoken in Chur), Old Norse Valir "Roman;
French". The word was also borrowed by the Slavs, who used it to refer
to the Vlachs. Polish applied it not only to
Vlachs (Wołosi) but also
Italians (Włosi); the same pair of ethnonyms also exist in Czech:
Vlachs or Wallachians) & Vlaši (= an archaic
denomination for Italians). Moreover, Hungarian name of Italy
(Olaszország) and the archaical ethnonym Oláhok (meaning Wallach,
i.e., Romanian) are derived from the same root.
More examples in German as used in Switzerland include Welschschweiz
"French-speaking Switzerland", Welschdörfli "Romansh Village" a
historic section of Chur, and Welschgraben "French trenches" formerly
a Burgundian defensive barrier. (See German Welsche.)
Walhaz is contained in Wallachia, Wallonia, and also, in the
original meaning of "Gallic" or "Roman" appears in the word walnut and
Old English Galwal "Gaul; France".
^ Kruta, Venceslas. Celts: History and Civilization. London: Hachette
Illustrated, 2004: 204.
^ Green, D. H. Language and History in the Early Germanic World.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998: 163.
^ Howorth 1908:431.
^ Strabo, IV.1.12
^ "Capital" applied to Gallic tribes offers misleading expectations.
^ "Situated alongside the Arecomici as far as the Pyrenees, are other
tribes, which are without repute and small" (Strabo, IV.1.12).
Cévennes "formed a natural boundary between the Volcae
Arecomici and the
Gabali and Ruteni" to the east (Smith 1854).
^ "At the time of Hannibal's invasion of Italy, the
Volcae had also
possessions east of the Rhône" (Smith 1854); see
Livy xxi. 26 and
^ "that people of the
Volcae who are called Tectosages" (Strabo,
IV.1.12 (on-line text).
^ Howorth 1908:432.
^ In Roman times Illiberis— in Basque, "iri-berri" or "ili-berri",
still signifies "new town"— signified more than one place: see
^ Kruta, Venceslas. Celts: History and Civilization. (London: Hachette
Illustrated), 2004: 82-3.
^ Kruta 2004:99.
^ Kruta 2004:108.
^ Cunliffe, Barry. The Ancient Celts. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
^ See John Koch, 'The Celtic Lands', in Medieval Arthurian Literature:
A Guide to Recent Research, edited by Norris J Lacy, (Taylor &
Francis) 1996:267. For a full discussion of the etymology of Gaulish
*uolco-, see Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise
(Editions Errance), 2001:274-6, and for examples of Gaulish *uolco- in
various ancient personal Celtic names see Xavier Delamarre Noms des
personnes celtiques (Editions Errance) 2007, p. 237.
^ from Sims-Williams, Patrick. Ancient Celtic Place-Names in Europe
and Asia Minor. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006: 298 quoting Joseph, Lionel S.
'The Origin of the Celtic Denominatives in *-sag-'. Studies in Memory
of Warren Cowgill. Berlin: 1987: 156-8
John King, Celt Kingdoms
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Volcae".
Encyclopædia Britannica. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Ptolemy, Geography at Lacus Curtius site
William Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854)
Iron Age tribes in Gaul
Volcae (Arecomici and Tectosages)
Part of: Celtic tribes in Europe