Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Arverni - the also rans

Parallels are frequently made between the rise of Carthage and Rome - they were founded at roughly the same time and used different economic models to become the pre-eminent Mediterranean superpowers of the 3rd and 2nd-centuries BC. Ultimately we got to see the Roman model of 'world domination' by military might and financial trade trumped 'world domination' by controlling mercantile trade. However, often forgotten in this scenario is another western tribal state with again many parallels and connections to Rome and Carthage. This is the regional - rather than city - state of the Arverni.

Just as the Romans were arriving in Italy, the Arvernians arrived in central France around 700BC. The Romans and Arvernians both originated from parts of modern day Austria and these two Celtic cultures both replaced existing populations where they settled. In the area around Clermont-Ferrand the Arvernians displaced a much older European culture that was forced westwards to the Atlantic coast to become the Aquitani - who have since become the linguistically unique Basques. The Arvernians then established the tribal hilltop capital -  Gergovia - but unlike the Romans who settled for a single city, the Arvernians took control of a vast area of central Gaul west of the Loire River, south to and over the Central Massif and west into the Dordogne and Lot Valleys. In doing so they held almost all of the richest river valley's across western Gaul giving them prime agricultural ground and an ability to trade directly into the Atlantic.

The fact their trade routes were westward facing rather than eastward gives some big hints that as the Mediterranean power bases moved from Greece and Egypt to North Africa, Italy and Spain, early Arverni wealth was almost certainly derived from the British metal trade moving cross-country into Gaul or southeast to Etruria. However, as Carthage became more heavily involved in the Atlantic sea trade during the 5th and 4th-centuries it would seem the Arverni were in a perfect position to tax and profit from those growing Atlantic trade routes crossing Gaul, and new overland corridors to Carthaginian Spain. In other words, while later Arverni history was intrinsically shaped by Rome, the formative centuries leading to the creation of a Pan-Gallic Arvernian kingdom was most likely driven by Carthage.

For more Arvernian history - check out 'The Hitherto Unknown' - live on Amazon now