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Peoples of Cisalpine Gaul 391-192 BC.

The Insubres or Insubri were a Gaulish[citation needed] population settled in Insubria, in what is now the Italian region of Lombardy. They were the founders of Mediolanum (Milan). Though ethnically Celtic at the time of Roman conquest (at the beginning of the 2nd century BC), they were most likely the result of the fusion of pre-existing Ligurian, Celtic, Etruscan, and "Italic" population[citation needed] (such as the Golasecca culture) strata with Gaulish tribes who had come from what is now southern France.

Classical sources[edit]

The Insubres are mentioned by Cicero, Polybius, Livy, Pliny the Elder, Strabo and Caecilius Statius.

Ethnicity of the Insubres[edit]

Approximate distribution of languages in Iron Age Italy during the 6th century BC.

Regarding the ethnic origin of the Insubres there are two main theories.[citation needed] The first sees them as a Celtic population, resulted from migrations of the 7th and 6th centuries BC of Gaulish Celtic tribes towards Northwest Italy and their intermixing with the natives. The second, and the most reliable being supported by archaeological findings and their analysis,[citation needed] sees them as part of the Italic people.

The Roman historian, Livy, wrote about the Insubres. According to his writings all of Northern Italy (between the northern and western Alpine watershed, the rivers Adda and Oglio at the east and Emilian Apennine to south) suffered in the course of centuries of repeated invasions by Celtic tribes from the region of Gaul. He claimed that before the invasion of the 4th century BC there was a previous one, dated around the late 7th and early 6th century BC.

This hypothesis, however, besides being supported only by Livy among the ancient historians, doesn't get any confirmation in archaeological terms. If the hypothesis of the Celtic invasion during the 7th/6th century is true there would have to be significant changes in habits and customs of the Golasecca culture people around that period.[citation needed][dubious ] The study of objects found in the funeral burials due to the Golasecca culture between the 10th and 4th century BC (date of the first established Celtic invasion of northern Italy), however, shows a gradual and slow cultural evolution without any radical change. There are effectively significant Celtic cultural elements from the areas north of the Alps, but there are also elements drawn from the Venetic, Halstatt and, mainly, Etruscan cultural districts which prove[citation needed][dubious ] that Celticization was the turnout of a cultural exchange, not of an invasion.

Finally, regarding their origin can be said that the Insubres, together with other peoples of the Culture of Golasecca, arrived in northern Italy in a period that goes from the 2nd millennium BC to the Bronze Age migrating from the south of modern France, occupying part of the Ligurian territory and then forming that stock of populations defined as Celtic-Ligurians.

Culture and society[edit]

The Insubres culture followed then what was a slow and of its own evolution. Thanks to the cultural and commercial exchanges with neighboring areas, such as Etruria, Venetia and Transalpine Gaul, the Insubres knew progress and created a distinct society of their own. In the light of archaeological findings it can be also assumed that it was an oligarchic society, where power was in the hands of a few Lords.


The Insubres, or rather the Gaul-Insubres, being at the time the Gaulish element at least culturally and politically dominant, fought the Roman advance into Northern Italy.

Together with the Boii, Lingones, Taurini, Gaesatae and other Gaulish groups, they were defeated in 224 or 225 BC by the Roman army led by consul Lucius Aemilius Papus at the Battle of Telamon. Two years later the Romans, backed by their Gaulish allies the Cenomani, reduced the only fortified place of the Insubres at Acerrae, and defeated them again at the Battle of Clastidium. After the defeat of the Gaesatae, they were compelled to accept the Roman occupation of Milan in 221 and forcible alliance with Rome, while the victors annexed much of their territory.

During the invasion of Hannibal of 218-217 BC, the Insubres rebelled in support of the Carthaginians. They supported the Carthaginians again in 200 BC, this time under Hamilcar. After several other clashes, they definitively allied with Rome in 194, maintaining some autonomy for their capital. In 89 BC they obtained Latin citizenship and, in 49 BC, Roman citizenship.

Romanization of the Insubres was probably quick, also due to the reported similarities of the Celtic and Latin languages; in a short span of time after the Roman conquest several literary figures emerged, like that of Caecilius Statius.

Insubria and Insubric language are named after the Insubres.


See also[edit]


  • Ardovino A.G, Archeologi e storici sulla Lombardia preromana, tra equivoci e prospettive, dall’etnogenesi alla Wölkerwanderung al diffusionismo, in La protostoria in Lombardia, (Atti del 3° Convegno Archeologico Regionale Como 1999), Como 2001, pp. 77–96.
  • ARSLAN E. A. 2004d, Dai Golasecchiani agli Insubri, in Celti dal cuore dell’Europa all’Insubria, Celti d’Insubria. Guerrieri del territorio di Varese, Catalogo della mostra (Varese, 28.11.2004-25.4.2005), pp. 18–25.
  • Raffaele De Marinis (1991). "I Celti Golasecchiani". In Multiple Authors, I Celti, Bompiani.
  • Raffaele De Marinis (1990). Liguri e Celto-Liguri, Officine grafiche Garzanti Milano, Garzanti-Scheiwiller
  • Giangiulio M, Storiografie, ideologie, metodologie. Ancora sul transitus Gallorum in Italiam in Livio (V,34-35) e nella tradizione letteraria, in Rassegna Studi del Civico Museo Archeologico di Milano 63-64 1999, pp. 21–34.
  • GRASSI M. T. 1995, La romanizzazione degli Insubri. Celti e Romani in Transpadana attraverso la documentazione storica e archeologica, Milano.
  • GRASSI M. T. 1999, I Celti della Cisalpina Centrale: dall’ager Insubrium alla XI Regio Transpadana, in Insubri e Cenomani tra Sesia e Adige, Seminario di Studi (Milano 27-28.2.1998), “Rassegna di Studi del Civico Museo Archeologico e del Civico Gabinetto Numismatico di Milano”, LXIII-LXIV, pp. 101–108.
  • Tibiletti Bruno, M. G. (1978). "Ligure, leponzio e gallico". In Popoli e civiltà dell'Italia antica vi, Lingue e dialetti, ed. A. L. Prosdocimi, 129–208. Rome: Biblioteca di Storia Patria.
  • Tibiletti Bruno, M. G. (1981). "Le iscrizioni celtiche d'Italia". In I Celti d'Italia, ed. E. Campanile, 157–207. Pisa: Giardini.
  • Whatmough, J. (1933). The Prae-Italic Dialects of Italy, vol. 2, "The Raetic, Lepontic, Gallic, East-Italic, Messapic and Sicel Inscriptions", Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press