Recherches - Kingdoms of the Ligures : Commoni

Sources : The history files

The Ligurians were a people who, before and during the Roman republic period, could be found in north-western Italy. They largely occupied territory that today forms the region of Liguria, extending west into Piedmont to the south of the River Po and even as far as the French Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. Prior to Roman pressure they may have extended as far as northern Tuscany and across the Pyrenees into Catalonia, seemingly part of a pre-Indo-European population which occupied much of the western Mediterranean coastline.

The Ligurians were not one people, or even a single confederation, instead being formed of several smaller groups which included the Commoni. By the middle of the first century BC, the Commoni were a minor tribe that was located on the right bank of the Rhone, roughly between the ancient Greek port of Messalina (modern Marseille) and Cannes on the south coast of France. They were neighboured to the north-west by the Salluvii, and probably dominated by the Volcae Arecomisci, but were otherwise relatively isolated in their coastline home.

Not to be confused (possibly) with the Camuni of the Raeti, the Ligurian Commoni are also sometimes referred to in ancient records as the Cenomani (with Cenobrigi as an alternative form with a minor difference in meaning). It is not clear whether this is simply down to sloppy recording of their name or a confusion with better-known Cenomani tribes such as the Gaulish Cenomani in northern Italy, or the Aulerci Cenomani in north-western France. The Cenomani name appears to be a Germanic one. It seems to break down into 'cene' plus 'man' with a small Celticisation of the intervening 'o'. In Anglo-Saxon, 'cene' comes from 'céne' [ke:·ne] (adj), meaning something along the lines of keen, fierce, bold, brave, or warlike. In other words, to Gauls the name would mean 'the keen men', but how could that apply to Ligurians? Had this particular tribe been Celticised in the form of Celto-Ligurians before appearing in this form? It seems highly likely, especially as any notable Ligurian naming structure seems to have been entirely lost.

The '-brigi' suffix means 'hill fort' in Gaulish, yet another pointer to a good deal of Celtic influence on this tribe prior to its being recorded by Rome. The use of Cenobrigi may not refer to a tribe as such - the tribal name would be Ceni, with the '-i' added to denote the name in its plural form. Using Cenobrigi would be a geographical name, referring specifically to the fort of the Ceni.

The Secoani (or Secobrigi) name also seems to have referred to this tribe, but this is curious as once again it is clearly a Celtic name and is a simple one to interpret. The proto-Celtic word list gives: Sekʷanā- as a river name, so the Sequana would be the River Seine (at the other end of Gaul from the Ligurians!). In the tradition of Celtic rivers, Sequana was also a goddess, and her worship was especially focussed on the springs at the Seine's source. Called the Fontes Sequanae, 'the springs of Sequana', the headwaters are located in a valley in the Châtillon Plateau, which lies to the north-west of Dijon in Burgundy. This was the territory of the Gaulish Sequani, so could the Ligurian Secoani be a mere coincidence of names? As Secobrigi would, as above, be a geographical name, perhaps the root of this - Seci - possibly a Celtic translation of a Ligurian name, could have had the Celtic 'man' attached as 'Seci-man', which was later corrupted or incorrectly recorded as Secoani.

from c.2000 BC

Following their gradual arrival over the previous few centuries, West Indo-European groups (probably the earliest arrivals) have become amalgamated with Late Neolithic natives (Ligurians) to produce Celto-Ligurian hybrids. Expanding outwards from their initial Alpine and nearby territories, these tribes are currently in control of large areas of central and western Europe but not necessarily the deep Mediterranean coastal strip that is the core Ligurian territory. Represented by Bell Beaker culture, and with some knowledge of copper-working, some of their outermost elements begin moving into the British Isles. Those which remain behind are gradually superseded by Urnfield folk and eventually become fully Celticised.


102 - 101 BC

Consul Gaius Marius has been rebuilding the Roman forces while the Cimbri raid Iberia during the course of the Cimbrian War. Now the weakened Teutones are defeated and enslaved. The Ambrones are also defeated by Consul Marius, alongside allied Celto-Ligurians who, somewhat peculiarly, are also ascribed the name Ambrones when referring to their origin (see Plutarch's Lives, Vol II, XIX for details). Such an appellation must refer to entirely Celticised Ligurians.


c.600 BC

One event (or at least the beginning of a wave of related events) which does more to change Ligurian life is when Bellovesus and his mass horde of people from the Bituriges, Insubres, and several other tribes begin a migration across the Alps and into northern Italy.

This barrier is one that has apparently not previously been breached by Celts, but they are also deterred by a sense of religious obligation, triggered by news reaching them that another group looking for territory, a force of Massalians, are under attack by the Salyes (Ligurians). Seeing this as an omen of their own fortunes, the Celts briefly go to the assistance of the Massalians to help them secure their position. Then they make the crossing with some trepidation, heading through the passes of the Taurini and the valley of the Douro. Celtic settlement of northern Italy gradually increases, forcing back the Ligurians to their west and also gradually Celticising them before the Romans arrive to conquer them.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information by Maurizio Puntin, from Res Gestae, Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus), from Ligustica, Albert Karl Ernst Bormann (in three parts, 1864-1868), from Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, Harry Thurston Peck (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1898), from the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith, from Geography, Ptolemy, from The History of Rome, Volume 1, Titus Livius, translated by Rev Canon Roberts, and from External Links: Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Polybius, Histories, and Plutarch's Lives - Vol. II: Translated from the Greek, With Notes and a Life of Plutarch (XIX), translated by Aubrey Stewart & George Long (Read Books Ltd, 2019).)

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