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Bill Thayer

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Ch. 4
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Romans
on the Riviera and the Rhone

by W. H. Hall

originally published by Macmillan & Co., Ltd.,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Ch. 6

 p45  Chapter V
The Ligurians

Before entering upon the subject of the wars waged by the Romans against the Ligurians single-handed, I must draw the special attention of the reader to the claims which this much neglected race can justly make to our notice.

Having been settled for upwards of 3000 years in their present possessions, along the north-western shores of the Mediterranean, the Ligurians can boast of being probably the oldest family and the purest blood in Western Europe.

The late Karl Müllenhof in his authoritative work Deutsche Altertumskunde,​1 now appearing in a new edition (Berlin), writes of the Ligurians of the Riviera:

"Die Liguren waren hier älter als die Kelten in Gallien und die Ausoner (Latiner, Umbrer, Osker) in Italien.

"Sie gehörten, wie die Raeter in Tirol, und die Iberer an den Pyräneen, zu der vor-arischen Urbevölkerung Europas."

Although absolute certainty cannot be arrived at in the present state of our knowledge as to their origin and affinities, it is now generally accepted that the Ligurians are a branch of the ancient Iberian family, of which the Basques are the only other survivors in Europe.

In his Nouvelle Géographie Universelle Elisé Réclus writes of the Ligurians as "probablement frères de nos  p46 Basques ;" and the late Emmanuel Celesia of Genoa in his Antichissimi idiomi degli Liguria finds many roots common to the Basque in his native Ligurian patois.

Some modern writers assert them to be akin to Celts, and to belong to the Aryan family. But Strabo expressly states that the Ligurians are of a different race from the Celts, although they closely resemble them in their manner of life.2

The physical type, however, of the Ligurian differed as widely as possible from that of the Celt or Gaul, for the Ligurian was of small stature, nervous and wiry, far more capable of enduring fatigue than the 'Gaul,' whose huge, soft body melted away like wax before the scorching sun of Italy and Provence. In a stand-up fight a Ligurian was considered a match for a Gaul twice his size. At field labour the Ligurian men and women alike were renowned for their endurance.

M. d'Arbois de Jubainville, whose conclusions on the subject of the Ligurians do not always commend themselves to me any more than his eccentric views in limiting the Gauls in Caesar's day to 15,000 combatants, brings them into Europe by the vault of the Danube as predecessors of the Celts. But although I cannot bring myself to accept all M. D'Arbois' conclusions I yield to none in my admiration of the remarkable learning and industry displayed in all his researches.

As an almost necessary corollary of his view that the Ligurians like the Celts came into Europe by the valley of the Danube, M. D'Arbois derives them from an Aryan stock, in direct opposition to the opinion of Müllenhof, of whom notwithstanding he avows himself a disciple. He likewise endeavours to prove that a Ligurian population extended northwards through France and Western Europe right up to the shores of the North Sea, differing entirely from Müllenhof. Nor does M. D'Arbois hesitate to carry his Ligurians across the Channel into the British Isles.

 p47  For Müllenhof in commenting on the passage on which M. D'Arbois seems mainly to rely for taking the Ligurians into the frozen north pronounces it an undoubted interpolation. The passage runs:

"Si quis dehinc

Ab insulis Oestrymnicis lembum audeat

Urgere in undas, axe qua Lycaonis

Rigescit aethra, cespitem Ligurum subit

Cassum incolarum."

Festus Avienus, Ora Maritima, 129‑133.

If, as Müllenhof argues, the insulae Oestrymnicae represent the British Isles, as is generally supposed, a voyage beyond them could only lead to the North Sea and the Baltic.​3 But he dismisses this supposition as ridiculous, asking, "Wer aber hätte hier von Liguren gehört?"

M. D'Arbois is however not any longer alone in locating Ligurians on the North Sea. For in his La Gaule avant les Gaulois M. Alexandre Bertrand, also a distinguished member of the French Institut, does not dispute the presence of Ligurians on the northern shores, refusing only to accept the theory of their reaching so far north by land. M. Bertrand seems also to rely mainly on the passage of Festus Avienus quoted above.

M. Bertrand argues, that if the Ligurians had spread upwards through Gaul by land they must have left traces of their passage, especially if they were as civilized as M. D'Arbois makes them out to have been. M. Bertrand holds that they arrived by sea, the Ligurians being considered by him to have been essentially sea-rovers, the Normans of antiquity.

Amongst the ancient Greek writers there is a general consensus that at the dawn of European history the Ligurians were found scattered sporadically along the coasts and in the islands of the western basin of the Mediterranean.

Elba is undoubtedly the Ligurian 'Ilva' — a word  p48 repeated in the Ligurian tribe Ilvates located in the Apennines behind Genoa. In Corsica M. D'Arbois cites 20 names of places ending in the distinctively Ligurian termination of ‑asca. In his work Les premiers habitants de l'Europe he cites 257 modern names of places in Northern Italy ending in ‑asca or a slight variation of that termination of which only 36 are in the modern Italian province of Liguria as restricted to the sea-coast. The reader must remember that the Liguria or Regio IX of Augustus comprised the entire western half of Cispadana, as far as the Trebia, and that the Libui and Stoeni — tribes of Ligurian stock — were settled also in Transpadana. No similar termination is to be found in the north of France, though not a few occur in the Ligurian district of the basin of the Rhone. So M. D'Arbois's contention is not supported by his own linguistic discoveries.

Philistus of Syracuse, and several other ancient Greek writers, of whose works only fragments have been preserved, testify to the fact that the Ligurians were the original occupants of the seven hills before the foundation of Rome. "Albula," the former name of the Tiber, is, as we read in Virgil,​4 certainly of Ligurian origin, as also the name of the town of 'Alba' Longa.

The view that the Ligyes may perhaps be identified with the Libui of the African continent is lucidly stated, although not definitely accepted, by Professor Ettore Pais, of Pisa University, in his recently published Storia della Sicilia. The fact that the two most westerly mouths of the Rhone, which formed the boundary of ancient Liguria, were named Libica5 seems to corroborate this view, as well as the mention by Livy​6 of the Libui, a Ligurian tribe settled in eastern Transpadana, near Verona, before the invasion of that region by the Celtic Cenomani.

 p49  The fact that a fragment of Eratosthenes as quoted by Strabo​7 applies the term Λιγυστικὴ to the entire Iberian peninsula; that such an accurate writer as Thucydides​8 locates Ligyes on the river Sicanos in Iberia, whence they displaced the Iberian Sicani, who emigrated to Sicily; and that a city "Ligustine"​9 is mentioned by Hecataeus, and a "Lacus Ligusticus" by Festus Avienus, as existing near the mouth of the river Guadiana in the south-western corner of the Iberian peninsula (known to the ancients as Tartessus, the Tarshish of the Bible), the weight of authority seems to incline to a south-western rather than a north-eastern introduction of Ligurians into Europe.

The foundation of Marseilles ἐν Λιγυστικῇ, B.C. 600, on territory ceded to Phocaean settlers by them is the first historical fact we can connect with the Ligurians of the Riviera. The next is the presence of Ligurians as mercenaries at the battle of Himera in Sicily B.C. 480; an incident in itself sufficient to prove that they were amenable to some kind of military discipline more than three centuries before their conquest by the Romans.

To what extent the Ligurians yielded to civilizing influences in general is much more doubtful. That they ultimately repented of their concession of territory to the Greeks is proved by their persistent acts of hostility and sieges laid to Marseilles and her colonies along the coast, to which I shall refer in more detail further on.

Yet, as the Ligurians had enjoyed friendly intercourse with the Phocaean Greeks while they were building their city and for some time afterwards, it is certain that they must have acquired some degree of civilization by this contact. It can hardly indeed be doubted that the Ligurians of the plains of Provence, represented mainly by the powerful confederation of the Salyes, attained  p50 earlier to some degree of civilization, than the Ligurians of the Italian Riviera.

Poseidonius of Rhodes, the Stoic philosopher and friend of Cicero, who visited both the sea-board and the interior of Cisalpine and Transalpine Liguria, is the first traveller to throw any light on the habits of the natives. For the history of Polybius, who travelled over partly the same ground when he accompanied Scipio Aemilianus to the siege of Numantia B.C. 134, tells us nothing about the inhabitants of the country. The journal of Poseidonius has unfortunately not been preserved — a loss perhaps even more regrettable than that of the books of Livy dealing with the Roman conquest of Transalpine Liguria. The fragments which remain have been collected into a small volume, in which I failed to find much information that was useful for my purpose.

It is known however that both Strabo and Plutarch largely availed themselves of the first‑hand information published by Poseidonius, who appears to have been Plutarch's main authority for his facts about Liguria.

In a passage referring to the Italian Riviera (p219) Strabo writes, "There is nothing worth mentioning about it, except that the people dwell in villages, ploughing and digging the intractable land, or rather, as Poseidonius expresses it, 'hewing the rocks.'

Seizing upon the word 'ploughing' in the above passage, M. D'Arbois seems to rely a great deal too much upon it in building up his theory of the superior civilization of the Ligurians whom he adopts as his clients. He cannot control his indignation against Helbig (quoting a passage from p38 of the French translation of his work Die Italiker in der Po‑ebene) for describing his clients as "bien mauvais agriculteurs, incapables de repos, sauvages et pillards, faisant de temps en temps dans la plaine, des deux côtés de l'Apennin, des expéditions militaires, qui n'étaient que  p51 de grands brigandages."​10 Yet the above quotation after all closely agrees with the character which both Livy and Strabo give to the Ligurians of the Italian Riviera.

For we find in Strabo (p203), "They (i.e. the Ligurians) closed all the roads into Iberia along the sea-coast, and carried on a system of pillage by land and by sea."

The truth of the matter seems to be that there were two kinds of Ligurians, highlanders and lowlanders. The highlanders were known to the Romans as Ligures capillati (longhaired), and the lowlanders later, as tonsi (shorn) — Coa lunga and Coa raza in Ligurian patois.

The capillati, unable to wring even a bare subsistence out of the rocks of the higher ridges of the Maritime Alps and Apennines, amongst which they found refuge, were driven to acts of brigandage and piracy. Like famished wolves, they could only keep themselves alive by cattle-lifting and raids on any food on which they could lay hands in the lowlands.

These capillati however clung so desperately to their strongholds in the Maritime Alps behind Monaco and Nice, that even Julius Caesar failed to force a passage through them. The Ligures capillati succeeded in maintaining their independence of the Romans till the middle of the reign of Augustus. The monument of La Turbie commemorates their final subjugation, and the opening up of the pass of the Maritime Alps to peaceful traffic by Augustus B.C. 14.

The Ligures tonsi, on the other hand, who occupied the lower slopes, and the deltas at the mouth of the torrents which descend into the Mediterranean all along the Italian Riviera, were comparatively civilized even before the period of the Roman conquest. They must in fact have been the victims of the raids of their highland kinsmen before the Roman colonists settled in the plains around Pisa and Bologna. It was probably  p52 these latter, whom Poseidonius found engaged in ploughing as well as digging.

While the oppida belonging to the Ligures capillati were mere hill tops surrounded by walls of immense accumulations of uncemented and unwrought stones, it is probable that the towns of the Ligures tonsi consisted in part of roofed-in dwellings.

We know from Plutarch's life of Marius, that the Italian Ligurians furnished a contingent of socii to the army, with which Marius, the uncle of Julius Caesar, annihilated the Ambrones and the Teutones. We find too in the muster-roll of the forces in the opening of Lucan's Pharsalia a Ligurian contingent gathered round Caesar himself when about to engage in the civil war with his rival Pompey.11

It is Mommsen's opinion​12 that as early as the date of the second Punic War, Genoa (the chief trading centre of the Italian Ligurians) stood on much the same footing of friendly relations with Rome as Marseilles. This would explain why it was singled out for attack by Mago, Hannibal's younger brother, who sacked and burned it B.C. 205.

It would also explain the aid given by the Romans towards the rebuilding of the Ligurian capital, which possibly received a Roman garrison. It is singular however that the Romans have left so few traces at Genoa, that no museum of Roman antiquities exists there.

As it was always the policy of the Romans to make friends with some section of the nation which they were about to attack as a whole, it is probable that the Genuates were won over early to play the part in Liguria in which the Aedui figured so conspicuously in Gaul. At the outset of the second Punic War, when Scipio found himself too late to stop Hannibal on the Rhone,  p53 he hurried back to Genoa with only a small escort, reckoning on a friendly reception there. For the shortest cut to the valley of the Po, where Scipio expected to encounter Hannibal on his descent from the Alps, lay up the valley of the river Polcevere on the south side of the pass of the Apennines and down the Scrivia on the north. This was the course followed by the Via Postumia leading from Genoa by Libarna to Dertona.

Although Genoa was the chief centre of Ligurian trade, no coins of an earlier date than the Roman conquest have ever been found there. It is probable therefore that Ligurian commerce was confined to exchange of commodities by barter.

Nothing whatever is known of the religious observances of the Ligurians, and no vestiges of religious edifices have ever been discovered in Liguria. There is however a very fine 'Dolmen' near Draguignan in Provence and a solitary 'Menhir' near Brignolles,º but both are of unknown origin and date.

It has however been my good fortune to have been, as far as I know, the first Englishman to visit and draw attention to the very striking remains of a series of Ligurian oppida still extant in Provence.

Of these by far the most extensive and important is Entremont (Inter-montes), hardly known even in France beyond the precincts of the city of Aix-en‑Provence.

About 50 years ago the attention of French antiquarians was drawn to the existence of Entremont by the discovery amongst its ruins of some ancient bas-reliefs, pronounced to be pre-Roman and commonly described as Gaulish.

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Bas-reliefs found in ruins of Ligurian "oppidum," Entremont, environs of Aix-en‑Provence

But as Provence was never occupied by Gauls and Entremont remained up to the period of its conquest by the Romans the chief stronghold of the Salluvii, the powerful Ligurian confederation, which occupied almost the whole of Provence, there is every reason to believe that the bas-reliefs in question are Ligurian and not Gaulish.

 p54  If my supposition is correct, these bas-reliefs, which are now preserved in the Museum at Aix, are of the highest possible interest, as being the only specimens of Ligurian sculpture hitherto discovered.

That Entremont was an oppidum of Ligurians and not Gauls is further proved by the absence of any signs of wooden beams, alternating with layers of stone, described and approved of by Caesar (De Bello Gallico, Lib. VII c. 22).

Consisting of two lofty plateaus, separated by a depression from the midst of which rises up an isolated wooden mamelon, Entremont presents a most commanding aspect as approached by the ascent (about 2 miles) from Aix. Both plateaus are surrounded by massive walls of uncemented stones and varying height and thickness. The perimeter of the outside wall which follows the contour of the western plateau, now known as the "Quartier Celony," appears to measure from two to three kilometres, but its irregularity makes it difficult to estimate. The wall is composed of unhewn and uncemented stones of all sizes, the largest measuring about 2 ft. by 15 inches, being laid with some attempt at regularity. The wall in some portions of the enceinte is from 9 to 12 ft. high on the outside, but not more than 5 on the inside. The westernmost portion of the encircling wall for a distance of at least 500 or 600 yards presents the remarkable feature of being provided with a raised footway on the inside composed of blocks of stone, raised more than a foot from the ground, as if to enable a sentinel as he paced up and down to keep a look out over the wall without exposing his whole body.

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Ancient wall and raised footway at Entremont

The outside wall, although the most ancient and picturesque in outward appearance, being overgrown with verdure and shaded in places by a fringe of ancient trees, whose roots interlace themselves in the loose stones, is by no means the most massive. The walls, which  p55 divide the plateau transversely into separate areas, varying from 4 acres to 6 acres in extent, are in some places at least 20 feet in thickness. Where this is the case they are composed of comparatively small, and generally rather flat, stones.

The area of the eastern plateau, to which the application of the name of Entremont seems to be now confined, is much more limited in extent. The exterior and interior walls are of similar construction and dimensions to those in the Quartier Celony, with the exception of the total absence of the raised footway in the inside of the wall of the enceinte.

A great deal of broken red pottery, both ancient and modern, lies about on the surface of the wide wall tops, which serve for refuse heaps when lying near the dwellings of the peasants who cultivate the enclosed areas. There is nothing distinctively Ligurian about these broken pieces of pottery, which have every appearance of being Roman, leading to the supposition that Romans must have occupied Entremont at a later date.

Although unfortunately few details have been handed down to us concerning the lives of the inhabitants of Entremont, yet the broad facts of their history are clear and indisputable, as I shall endeavour to show later on when I bring the Romans into contact with the Salluvii. Inasmuch as Aix-en‑Provence lies only 20 miles due north of Marseilles on the Alpine line to Grenoble and can be reached by train within the hour, the plateaus of Entremont can easily be explored in a short day with a return ticket from Marseilles.

Another oppidum, hardly less interesting than Entremont, but of a different character and covering much less ground, is to be found on the edge of the battlefield of Aix near the village of Pourrières, about 15 miles to the eastward. It is now known under the name of "Pain de Munition," and crowns the highest point of a long ridge which slopes gently upwards from south to north. The oppidum or stronghold is at a height  p56 of about 2000 ft. above the sea. As the ground falls abruptly on the north side, there was less need of artificial defenses.

But a triple enceinte was notwithstanding carried completely round the enclosures, which are all circular, varying from 200 to 500 yards in circumference. The outermost fossa is about twice the depth of the two inner, the bottom of the ditch appearing to be about 40 ft. below the top of the vallum. The exterior vallum, composed as at Entremont of unhewn and uncemented limestones, in its present source of partial collapse is about 30 ft. wide.

As I shall refer to the Pain de Munition again in the description of the battle of Aix, on which occasion it was perhaps utilized by Marius for commissariat purposes, I shall say no more about it here.

Besides Entremont and Pain de Munition, I visited another oppidum over­looking the Étang de Berre, marked "Ruines de Constantine" in the map of the French État Majeur, and presenting the singular feature of high, isolated natural rocks being pressed into the service of towers in the line of circumvallation. Les Ruines de Constantine are about 7 miles from the station of St Chamas, following the road which skirts the eastern shore of the Étang de Berre; in a southeasterly direction, about a mile from St Chamas, the road is carried across the little river Touloubre by a perfect gem of a Roman bridge called 'Pont Flavien' — in itself well worth stopping at St Chamas to see. At either end of the bridge is a perfectly preserved ornamental Roman arch — a feature I have never met with elsewhere. The oppidum of Constantine, which over­looks the Étang de Berre, is difficult to find, as it lies about a mile back from the main road and is approached by a narrow track, winding through a rocky defile.

The Author's Notes:

1 Vol. I p86.

2 p128.

3 Deutsche Altertumskunde, Ch. I p96.


"fluvium cognomine Thybrim

Diximus, amisit verum vetus Albula nomen."

Aen. VIII.331, 2.

5 Pliny, Hist. Nat. III.5.

6 Liv. V.35.

7 p92.

8 Thucyd. VI.2.

9 Λιγυστίνη, πόλις Λιγύων, τῆς δυτικῆς Ἰβηρίας ἐγγὺς καὶ τῆς Ταρτησσοῦ πλησίον. Hecataeus, ap. Steph. Byzant.

10 Cited vol. II p80, Premiers habitants de l'Europe.


"Et nunc, tonse Ligur, quondam per colla decora

Crinibus effusis, toti praelate Comatae."

Lib. I.442.

12 CIL vol. V p885.

Thayer's Note:

a Sic. The author's name is properly Emanuele Celesia, and the correct (and grammatical) title of the work is Dell' antichissimo idioma de' Liguri. The book is online as a raw photostat.

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