Tuesday, June 12, 2007


In 56 B.C., Julius Caesar continued his war of conquest against the many tribes of Gaul. The contestants that 3rd year were the residents of Brittany. The most powerful tribe (per Caesar), the Veneti, lived around the Morbihan Bay and controlled the tin and metals trade and all the shipping with Britain. Caesar stormed several of their towns, but they always managed to vacate and escape by sea to an island or peninsula.

The city of Vannes sits on the Morbihan Bay and I believe its name is an homage to the Veneti. But this is not where the Veneti lived. No one has ever found the site of their city, which Caesar called Venetia.

That the Veneti had a pretty large town or oppidum (a fort) is certain. So much commerce would have to be warehoused and distributed. They struck coins indicating a pretty stable currency. They had hundreds of large ships. We know about them from The Gallic Wars, written by Caesar. He was pretty proud of the way fortune delivered the Veneti fleet to him, and how his men responded.

He sent Brutus (yup, the et-tu Brutus) up the Loire River to build dozens of Roman ships. Brutus delivered: little Roman carvels that couldn't even ram the larger Veneti ships. But, on the day of battle, as Caesar watched from shore (tradition puts him at St. Gildas) . . .

Our men had made ready in advance. . . sharpened hooks fixed into long poles, not unlike the kind of hooks used for pulling down walls in seiges. Using these hooks, our men seized the ropes binding the enemy yardarms to the masts and drew them tight: then our ship quickly rowed away, and the ropes broke.
The Veneti ships depended entirely on their leather sails for mobility; they didn't have rowers. The Roman carvels disabled a few ships in this manner, but the Veneti caught on and kept their distance. Then a miracle happened:

. . . suddenly a dead calm fell, and they were unable to sail away.
No wind, no movement. One by one the great ships were surrounded and boarded. The Veneti fought hard but were slaughtered piecemeal.

All their warriors had been on those ships; there was no one left to defend the towns. Caesar executed their surviving rulers and sold all of the people into slavery.

Hoards of Veneti coins have been found buried over the past two thousand years. Merchants and tradesment fled with all their wealth, hoping to escape. The one place that these coins have NOT been found is Vannes. In Vannes, which sits at the site of the Roman settlement Darioritum, archeaologists find Roman coins and artefacts dating to the first century B.C. when the Romans moved in--but nothing earlier.

So where was Venetia? Some people hope to find Atlantis or the grave of Attila. I'd rather find the remnants of a great Veneti town, looted or not.

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