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The Helvetii

Updated on February 3, 2010

The were an ancient Celtic tribe, which migrated about 200 B.C. from southern Germany to a region bounded by the Rhine and Rhone rivers, Lake Geneva, and the Jura mountains. The region today forms western Switzerland. The Greek geographer-historian Strabo describes them as a wealthy and peace loving people.

Because of pressure from Germanic tribes in the 60's B.C., die Helvetii planned a migration across Gaul into the Loire Valley. In 58 their route through the adjoining Roman province of Transalpine Gaul was blocked by its governor, Julius Caesar, who pursued and defeated them near Bibracte (Autun). The survivors were restored to their homes to serve as a buffer between the Roman province and the Germans.

In subsequent years, the Helvetii were semi-autonomous under the supervision of a Roman legion stationed at Vindonissa (Windisch) on the upper Rhine. In 69 A.D., when the Helvetii refused to recognize the emperor Vitellius' claim to the throne, their territory was ravaged, and their capital Aventicum (Avenches) was all but destroyed by troops loyal to Vitellius. The succeeding emperor, Vespasian, revived their prosperity and gave Aventicum the status of a Roman colony. The area then enjoyed peace until the invasions by the Germanic Alamanni in the middle of the 3rd century A.D. The territory of the Helvetii was finally absorbed by the Alamanni and the Burgundians about 400.

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