Tasgetius, the Latinized form of Gaulish Tasgetios or Tasgiitios (d. 54 BC), was a ruler of the Carnutes, a Celtic polity whose territory corresponded roughly with the modern French departments of Eure-et-Loir, Loiret, and Loir-et-Cher. Julius Caesar says that as Roman proconsul he made Tasgetius king in reward for his support during the Gallic Wars. His reign would have begun in late 57 BC, following Caesar's campaign against the Belgic civitates in northern Gaul that year; it ended with his assassination in 54 BC. The overthrow of a king appointed by Caesar was one of the precipitating events that led to the pan-Gallic rebellion of 52 BC under the Arvernian leader Vercingetorix.
Caesar gives only a succinct account of Tasgetius's reign and death:
|“||Tasgetius was born a man of highest rank among the Carnutes. His ancestors used to control the kingship in their country. Because of his quality as a person and his goodwill toward Caesar, and because in all his military campaigns Caesar had made use of his exceptional capability, Caesar had restored Tasgetius to his ancestral rank. In the third year of his reign, he was killed by his enemies. Many men from his own country were among the instigators, without any pretense of secrecy. These events were reported to Caesar, who was concerned, since so much was at stake, that under the influence of these men the community as a whole would defect. He ordered Lucius Plancus to take a legion and advance rapidly from Belgian territory to the Carnutes. Plancus was to establish winter quarters there and investigate the actions of those who had killed Tasgetius. These men were to be arrested and sent to Caesar.||”|
The land of the Carnutes was regarded as the sacred center of Gaul where each year the druidry held their pan-Gallic synod. Like several other of the larger polities in Gaul, the Carnutes had once been ruled by kings, but seem to have adopted an oligarchic or proto-republican form of government. Rome often found it more convenient to deal with client states through centralizing power in a king rather than a fractious council or "senate," as Caesar often refers to such bodies on analogy with the Roman senate. The ancestors of Tasgetius had held supreme power, and his ascent was presented as a restoration. The Carnutes had perhaps preferred not to live under a monarchy again, since Caesar's royal appointment was assassinated by his fellow citizens. Caesar attributes opposition to Tasgetius to an anti-Roman faction among the Carnutes, but it has been argued that the normal internal politics of Gaul were at play, which Caesar chose to exploit for his own purposes and propagandize as symptoms of a brewing rebellion.
Caesar says that the Carnutes were assigned to the Remi, Rome's most loyal Belgic ally, as a client state; George Long thought this was probably a consequence of Tasgetius's murder. These formal relations existed usually among contiguous polities, but the territory of the Remi (roughly modern-day Champagne) was at some remove from that of the Carnutes.
Caesar acknowledged the loss of Tasgetius by taking note of the goodwill (benevolentia) he had shown the proconsul. The word benevolentia appears only twice in the Bellum Gallicum; in Book 7, Caesar insists on his own goodwill toward the Aedui, despite their having joined the opposition to Rome. In Latin usage contemporary with Caesar, the word is common in the letters and philosophical works of Cicero, who prefers it to the benignitas ("kindness") more likely to be encountered in other sources. Beneficia are kindnesses or good deeds, favors or good works; benevolentia is a cast of mind, a voluntary state of inclination that makes friendship possible. Writing about ten years after the death of Tasgetius, Cicero defines friendship as "a relationship based on agreement about all human and divine matters, together with goodwill (benevolentia) and affection." But benevolentia, as a predisposition to form social relationships, also has an inherently utilitarian side, and after noting the benevolentia of Tasgetius, Caesar immediately remarks on his usefulness (usus).
Tasgetius is one of only six individuals that Caesar praises in his Gallic war commentaries for virtus, the quality of true manhood (Latin vir, "man"), usually translated as "virtue" or "valor." The only other man from independent Gaul said to possess virtus is Commius of the Atrebates, whom Caesar also installed as king but who chose during the Gallic uprising to assert the sovereignty of his people. Although virtus is an active and potentially aggressive quality, benevolentia belongs to a class of Roman virtues characteristic of those who are kind, generous, and humane.
Name and Celtic badger lore
The name Tasgetius derives from Gaulish tasgos, also tascos or taxos, "badger," an element found in many other Celtic personal names from inscriptions, such as Tascos, Tasgillus, Tassca, and Tasciovanus ("Badger Killer"), as well as in place names. Moritasgus ("Great Badger" or "Sea Badger") was the name of a ruler of the Senones contemporary with Tasgetius, and was also the name of a Celtic healing deity in territory within the Aeduan sphere of influence (see Moritasgus). Another Celtic word for "badger," broccos, also yields a number of personal and place names.
The substance taxea or adeps taxonina, "badger fat," was regarded as medically potent and traded by Germanic and Celtic peoples to the Greeks and Romans. The 4th-century medical writer Marcellus, who was from Bordeaux and whose book De medicamentis is a unique source for Gallic herbology and lore, includes badger fat as an ingredient in his pharmacological recipes. A short 5th-century treatise De taxone deals with the magico-medical properties of the badger, and prescribes the correct incantations to utter when dissecting the animal. It is perhaps a reference to the badger's medicinal or mythic properties that the Irish saint Molaise descended to hell dressed in badger skins to rescue a leper.
Although Isidore of Seville understands the word as equivalent to Latin lardum, "bacon, lard," taxea is a secretion of the badger's subcaudal glands comparable in its medicinal use to the better-known castoreum, an ingredient from the scent sacs of the beaver. Only the European species of badger possesses these subcaudal glands, which produce a pale-yellow fatty substance with a gentle musky scent. Like the beaver, the badger was regarded in the classical tradition as one of the hermaphroditic animals.
Primary among the medical uses of taxea was the treatment of impotence, which casts a different swagger on a phrase from the Latin comic poet Afranius: "The cloaked Gaul, fattened up on badger grease." The Gaulish word tasgos may be related to an Indo-European root meaning "peg, stake," because of the badger's pointed nose; it has been argued that the root can also have a phallic meaning, and that the use of taxea for impotence was thus a form of sympathetic magic.
Although its cultural significance among the Celts of Gaul is murky, the badger appears much later as a totem animal for Tadhg mac Céin, a legendary insular Celtic king whose name contains an Old Irish form for "badger." In Welsh lore, a number of games involved "playing badger," including in the first book of the Mabinogion where the game Broch ygkot ("a badger in a bag") is explained cryptically as "let him who is a head be a bridge." The narrative is presented as an aetiology of the game, involving two rivals for Rhiannon, her first husband Pwyll who carelessly loses her to Gwawl, and a magic bag that is Rhiannon's gift to Pwyll. The bag cannot be filled no matter how much food is put in it, and generosity can meet only with insatiability. Gwawl thinks that he can gain some infinite quality by climbing into the bag himself; thus captured, he receives beatings instead.
Tasgiitios, with the double i representing vowel lengthening, appears on numerous examples of a bronze coin assumed to be issued by Caesar's friend. The coin depicts on its obverse a crowned head of "Apollo" with a three-lobed ivy leaf, a usual symbol of Dionysus, and the name or cult title ΕΛΚΕSΟΟΥΙΞ (Elkesovix). A winged horse, usually called "Pegasus" in numismatic literature, appears on the reverse with the name Tasgiitios.
The obverse has been seen as imitating a Roman denarius of the gens Titia. Although a winged horse appeared on Celtic coins as early as the 3rd century BC, during the period 60–50 BC the Roman moneyer Quintus Titius issued a series of denarii with Pegasus on the reverse and various figures on the obverse, including Apollo, a winged Victory, and a bearded figure sometimes identified as the Roman phallic god Mutunus Tutunus. The Apollo denarius of Titius may have been the model for Tasgetius's issue, and the name Elkesovix has been interpreted as an epithet of Apollo, or as that of Tasgetius's grandfather or other ancestor. The appearance of an Apollo on the coin of the badger-named Tasgetius, and the "badger" semantic element in the name Moritasgus for a god equated with Apollo, raises the question of whether the god of healing was associated in Celtic religion and myth with an animal used in healing.
A coin of the Suessiones dated ca. 60–50 BC — that is, roughly contemporary with that of Tasgetius — also depicts a winged horse on the reverse, which appears with the name Cricironus. The profile of the helmeted head on the obverse faces left instead of right. Tasgetius's series has been studied in connection with the coins of Commius, the Atrebatan king also supported by Caesar.
A hoard discovered in 1956 at the fork of a Gallic road included coins of Tasgetius. It is estimated to have been buried in 51 BC. The coins may have been hidden by refugee Carnutes during the last campaigns of the Gallic Wars in Belgica, as narrated by Aulus Hirtius in his continuation (Book 8) of Caesar's commentaries.
- Julius Caesar, Bellum Gallicum 5.25.2. Although Tasgetius is conventionally called a "king," Caesar uses verbal phrases in reference to his rule rather than the noun rex: his ancestors regnum obtinuerant, "had held the kingship," and Tasgetius was in his third year of ruling at the time of his murder: tertium iam hunc annum regnantem.
- Stephen L. Dyson, "Native Revolts in the Roman Empire," Historia 20 (1971), p. 242.
- Inimici rather than hostes; that is, his personal enemies rather than opponents in war.
- Caesar, Bellum Gallicum 5.25: Erat in Carnutibus summo loco natus Tasgetius, cuius maiores in sua civitate regnum obtinuerant. Huic Caesar pro eius virtute atque in se benevolentia, quod in omnibus bellis singulari eius opera fuerat usus, maiorum locum restituerat. Tertium iam hunc annum regnantem inimici, multis palam ex civitate eius auctoribus, eum interfecerunt. Defertur ea res ad Caesarem. Ille veritus, quod ad plures pertinebat, ne civitas eorum impulsu deficeret, Lucium Plancum cum legione ex Belgio celeriter in Carnutes proficisci iubet ibique hiemare quorumque opera cognoverat Tasgetium interfectum, hos comprehensos ad se mittere.
- Caesar, Bellum Gallicum 6.13.10. The late-19th-century historian of religion Alexandre Bertrand believed that the religious institution of the druids in Gaul, described most fully among the extant Greek and Latin sources by Caesar (BG 6.13–14), had a direct influence on the reception of Christianity in Western Europe, particularly in regard to the organization of monastic communities; see La religion des Gaulois: Les druides et le druidisme (Paris, 1897), appendix 2, pp. 417–424 online. Although Bertrand's highly conjectural argument was the object of immediate and vigorous attack — see review by Gaston Boissier, Journal des Savants (1898) 574–580, especially 578ff. online — the 20th-century art historian Walter Horn drew on scientific methodologies to trace pre-Christian influences on medieval architecture in the regions formerly inhabited by Celts; see “On the Origins of the Medieval Cloister,” Gesta 12 (1973) 13–52, and for discussion and major works, Academic career and scholarship. At any rate, the organization of the druids, with their oversight of religious matters, had existed in Gaul, and the medieval dioceses to which modern French departments more or less correspond were formed along pre-Roman political boundaries (see also Diocese: History) — boundary disputes (de finibus controversia) being one of the juridical functions of the druids, according to Caesar (BG 6.13.5).
- Elections held by the Aedui are a major part of Caesar's narrative in Book 7; see 7.32–33 in particular. The last king of the Sequani was Catamantaloedes, whose son Casticus was accused of attempting to restore the monarchy (1.3.3). The kingship of the Arverni had evidently given way to oligarchy or a proto-republic after their defeat by the Romans in the 120s BC; in BG 7.4.1, Caesar says that Celtillus, the father of Vercingetorix, had been put to death by his people for his imperial ambitions (see also Bituitos, the last known Arvernian king).
- Sean B. Dunham, “Caesar’s Perception of Gallic Social Structures,” in Celtic Chiefdom, Celtic State: The Evolution of Complex Social Systems in Prehistoric Europe (Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 110–115; David C. Braund, Rome and the Friendly King: The Character of the Client Kingship (Croom Helm, 1984) passim.
- Serge Lewuillon, "Histoire, société et lutte des classes en Gaule: Une féodalité à la fin de la république et au début de l'empire. Tasgétios et César," Aufstieg under Niedergang der römische Welt (1975), pp. 463–465 online.
- Caesar, Bellum Gallicum 6.4.
- George Long, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, edited by William Smith (London, 1872), vol. 1, p. 523 online.
- BG 7.43.4.
- Cicero, De amicitia 6.20: Omnium divinarum humanarumque rerum cum benevolentia et caritate consensio.
- Wilkie Collins, The Brothers of Romulus: Fraternal pietas in Roman Law, Literature, and Society (Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 67–69 online; Gloria Vivenza, "Classical Roots of Benevolence in Economic Thought," in Ancient Economic Thought (Routledge, 1997), pp. 198–199, 204–208 online; Cicero's influence on patristic views, Carolinne White, Christian Friendship in the Fourth Century (Cambridge University Press, 1992, 2002), pp. 16–17 online, 32, and 255, note 13. It is equivalent to Greek eunoia.
- Three of the possessors of virtus are the Roman officers Gaius Volusenus (BG 3.5.2), Quintus Cicero (5.48.6), and Titus Labienus (7.59.6); a fourth is the Romanized Celt Valerius Troucillus, who held Roman citizenship and acted as diplomatic envoy and interpreter for Caesar. See Myles Anthony McDonnell, Roman Manliness: virtus and the Roman Republic (Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 308 online. The centurions Vorenus and Pullo dispute each other's claim to virtus at 5.44.
- Commios's virtus at Bellum Gallicum 4.21.7, the only instance of the word in Book 4. Caesar uses the word frequently in other books, most often to describe Roman soldiers collectively (for instance, in Book 1 at 40.4, 51.1, 40.15) or Celtic polities as a whole (again taking Book 1 as an example, the Helvetii at 1.4, 2.2, 13.4 thrice; Boii,1.28.4; Aedui, 1.31.7). The German king Ariovistus claims virtus for himself and his Germani at 1.36.7 and 1.44.1. See further discussion at Valerius Troucillus: Humanitas, virtus and becoming Roman.
- Edwin S. Ramage, “Aspects of Propaganda in the De bello gallico: Caesar’s Virtues and Attributes,” Athenaeum 91 (2003) 331–372.
- Taisson is a French dialectal variant for "badger," usually blaireau; see also Italian tasso and Spanish tejon. These are often derived from late Latin taxus, but the usual word for badger in Latin is meles, maeles or melo, melonis (mil, millonis in the Gallic medical writer Marcellus Empiricus, De medicamentis 33.7), and taxus is likely a borrowing from Gaulish. The word has also been related to Basque azkoin or asku, "badger," with loss of the initial t from a reconstructed "pre-Basque" form *(t)askone. The Gaulish is sometimes thought to have been borrowed from Germanic (modern German Dachs), but the borrowing is more likely to have gone the other way. See discussion by Victor Hehn, The Wanderings of Plants and Animals from Their First Home (John Benjamins, 1976), pp. 493–494 online.
- Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (Éditions Errance, 2003), pp. 292–293.
- If Moritasgus is construed as "Sea Badger," it may be a name for another animal (cf. "sea lion" in English) such as a seal or sea otter; see John T. Koch, Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia (ABC-Clio, 2006), p. 231 online.
- Caesar, Bellum Gallicum 5.54.
- Delmarre, Dictionnaire pp. 90–91.
- Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 20.2.24.
- Marcellus, De medicamentis 36.5, in a multi-ingredient preparation for podagram, "gout," to be compounded for greatest efficacy in the month of August.
- Joshua T. Katz, “Hittite tašku- and the Indo-European Word for ‘Badger’,” Historische Sprachforschung 111 (1998) 61–82.
- Marcellus, De med. 33.7, 36.5.
- The Epistula de taxone (also Epistola or Liber) is framed as a letter from a fictional Egyptian ruler named Idpartus (or Hidpartus) to the emperor Octavianus Augustus. See Maria Amalia D'Aronco, "Gardens on Vellum: Plants and Herbs in Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts," in Health and Healing from the Medieval Garden (Boydell, 2008), p. 122 online; H.J. Rose, A Handbook of Latin Literature from the Earliest Times to the Death of St. Augustine (Routledge, 1936, 1996), p. 429 online; sample passages in Alf Önnerfors, "Magische Formeln im Dienste römischer Medizin," Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 2.37.1 (1993), p. 212 online. It is part of the 5th-century compilation Medicina de Quadrupedibus attributed to Sextus Placitus, and also exists in an Old English translation in an 11th-century manuscript; see R.D. Fulk and Christopher M. Cain, A History of Old English Literature (Blackwell, 2003), p. 157 online. Constantinus Africanus summarizes the contents in Medici de animalibus liber, "De taxione," p. 115 (ed. Ackermann) online. Among the collections of the Science Museum (London) is a 16th-century Italian jar used to store badger fat, which may be viewed online.
- John B. Cunningham, "Tracking down St. Molaise," The Fermanagh Miscellany 2 (Enniskillen, 2008), p. 18 online.
- Isidore, Etymologiae 20.2.24: taxea lardum est Gallice dictum, "'taxea' is what lard is called in Gaulish."
- The anal glands, which the European badger shares with other badger species, secrete a rank and overpowering musk; see Julie Bonner Bellquist, "'Badger' in Indo-European," Journal of Indo-European Studies 21 (1992) 331–346.
- Luc Brisson, Sexual Ambivalence: Androgyny and Hermaphroditism in Graeco-Roman Antiquity (University of California Press, 2002), pp. 136–137 online.
- Catherine Rider, Magic and Impotence in the Middle Ages (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 26 online.
- Gallum sagatum pingui pastum taxea, quoted by Isidore, Etymologiae 20.2.24 (Com. Fragm. v. 284 Rib.)
- Joshua T. Katz, “Hittite tašku- and the Indo-European Word for ‘Badger’,” Historische Sprachforschung 111 (1998) 61–82. Katz notes that Epiphanius of Salamis called a heretical Christian sect from Galatia the Taskodrougitai, "Badger-snouts" or "Peg-noses," referring to their attitude at prayer, with pointed finger touching nose. Galatia was formed in the 3rd century BC by migrating Celts, who continued to speak a Celtic language in the region as late as the time of Jerome.
- Alan Mac an Bhaird, "Tadhg mac Céin and the Badgers," Ériu 31 (1983) 150–155; Bernhard Maier, Die Religion der Kelten: Götter, Mythen, Weltbid (C.H. Beck, 2001), pp. 69–70 online and p. 193, note 152 on etymology. "The Adventure of Tadhg mac Céin" (Eachtra Thaidhg Mhic Céin) is an early modern Irish voyage tale from the Book of Lismore; see president's address, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 24 (1895), p. 466 online. The name (see Tadhg) is usually thought to mean "bard" or "poet," but even this meaning has been connected to "badger" as a characterization of the fierce Celtic satirist of legend; see Delamarre, Dictionnaire de langue gauloise, p. 293.
- Koch, Celtic Culture, p. 793.
- Broch is the Welsh derivative of broccos, the other Celtic word for "badger."
- A vo penn bit pont; E. Anwyl, "The Value of the Mabinogion for the Study of Celtic Religion," Transactions of the Third International Congress for the History of Religions 2 (1908), p. 238 online.
- For the significance of the bag in Celtic mythology, see W.M. Parker's note to his edition of Mabinogion 1, and American, African, and Old European Mythologies, edited by Yves Bonneoy and Wendy Doniger (University of Chicago, 1993), p. 207 online.
- Joachim Lelewel, Études numismatiques et archéologiques: Type gaulois, ou celtique (Brussels, 1841), vol. 1, p. 228.
- For an example, see the gold stater of the Mediomatrici, dated 3rd–2nd century BC, at CoinArchives.com, which is more likely to be modeled after Greek staters.
- Robert Forrer, Keltische Numismatik der Rhein- und Donaulande (Strassburg, 1908), p. 119.
- Bunnell Lewis, "Roman Antiquities in South Germany," Archaeological Journal 58 (1901), pp. 290–291 online. Examples of Quintus Titius's other denarii with Pegasus on the reverse may be viewed at CoinArchive.com, including the winged Victory and Mutunus Tutunus.
- Lelewel, Études numismatiques, vol. 1, p. 249 online.
- This coin of the Suessiones may be viewed at CoinArchives.com, where the winged horse is described as "Celticized Pegasos flying left."
- L. de la Saussaye, "Attribution d'une médaille en bronze à Tasget, roi des Carnutes," Revue de la numismatique françoise 2 (1837), p. 1 online.
- Jean-Mary Couderc, "Un pont antique sur la Loire en Aval de Tours," in La Loire et les fleuves de la Gaule romaine et des régions voisines (Presses Universitaires de Limoges, 2001), p. 63 online.