Sunday 15 September 2013
The Arvernian Kingdom - was this the beginning of the French state?
As is usual with Gallic history, if the Greeks or Romans didn't write about it, we pretty much don't know what happened in Gaul other than what 2000-year old ruins can tell us. Add to this a few preconceptions the Romans in particular have provided modern scholars and we can have a lot of trouble nailing down exactly what was happening in central or 'Celtic' Gaul before 126 BC. At some point during the 4th or early 3rd centuries BC the Arverni began doing their own empire building - again roughly corresponding with Rome's rise in Italy. The neighbouring tribal states of the Cadurci, Eleuteti, Gabali and Vellavii - mostly to the southwest or across the Central Massif, were folded into a growing Arvernian Kingdom. In doing so, this probably made the Arvernian Kingdom the third most powerful 'nation' state west of Greece - behind Rome and Carthage. And the growth didn't stop there. By the end of the 3rd-century BC - around the time Hannibal was campaigning in Italy, the Arvernian Kingdom had expanded eastwards to swallow up the vital trading routes along the Rhone and Saone valleys, placing the powerful tribal states of the Allobroges and Aedui under Arvernian rule. At this point the Arvernian Kingdom stretched across all of southern France to the Alps, and almost as far north as Orleans, Paris and the borders of Belgic Gaul. At this point, the Arverni probably controlled more lands and people than Rome or Carthage. While understated, this point in history defines the long standing southern, eastern and western boundaries of the proto-French state for the first time.
So how did they do it? Brute strength - like Rome - would be the easy answer, however luck and circumstance can't be ignored. As I've already mentioned, they controlled most of the land routes between Carthaginian Spain and Gaul for at least three centuries. By the 3rd-century BC, they controlled all of the land routes, not to mention the Rhone and any access to the Alps. Hannibal's journey across Gaul was almost entirely through the Arvernian Kingdom, and much of his Gallic troops and resources were provided by tribes controlled by the Arverni. What we can take from this is a strong alliance existed between the Arverni and the Carthage during the Second Punic war, something that has been overlooked in the past with most historians considering Hannibal's passage of Gaul as an event independent of Gallic approval. And on the back of this alliance, with Rome busy fighting off Hannibal and warriors from parts of the Arvernian Kingdom, the Arverni reach the height of their powers and wealth...coincidence? With Carthage behind them, the Arverni were too powerful to be stopped by Rome. But what would happen when Carthage vanished?
For more Arvernian history check out 'The Hitherto Unknown' - live on Amazon now