Atrebates

Attested:  Caesar  Atrebates;  Ptolemy Ατρεβατιοι;  AI iter 7 Galleva Atrebatum;  RC Caleba Arbatium

Where:  A Belgic tribe in Gaul, centered around modern Arras, who appear to have had an offshoot in Britain, around Silchester, under king Commius.

Name Origin:  To understand Atrebates one needs to go beyond the usual practice of citing Celtic parallels, such as Irish ad-treba ‘inhabits, possesses’, and look at the whole range of words across Indo-European languages that are related to the place-name element –thorpe, very common in the former Danelaw of England.  Their linguistic evolution has been much discussed, but the best analysis was by Szemerenyi (1977: 99-100), whose crucial text has been scanned and posted here.  All the words that describe various forms of dwelling and their inhabitants evolved from an original word that meant ‘crowd, throng’.  It follows that Atrebates meant essentially ‘ad-troop-ed’, which sounds like a description of their social organisation.

Notes:  Little is known about the Atrebates beyond Caesar’s account of finding them tough opponents at the battle of the Sabis.  Did they choose that name themselves, or was it applied by outsiders?

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Last Edited: 30 April 2016