Family Migration: The Belgae Tribe

Today, tracing family trees and migration of many families across the globe is becoming harder and harder due to increased promotion of the nuclear families and distant movement where some families have even lost the family connection. I am of European descent, but my great-grandparents migrated to the U.S. many years ago. Therefore, I often consider myself more American than European. Nonetheless, I asked my grandfather before his demise of our ancestry with the intent of understanding my family tree. To my surprise, he equally did not know much but mentions we hail from the Belgae family of Britain associated with the Y-chromosome haplogroup R-U152 which is prevalent in Ireland and Britain. I believe constructing a feasible family tree for the Belgae tribe may be relatively hard, but with the DNA mark of the haplogroup R-U152, many family lineages can be traced. Therefore, this is a review of the Belgae tribe.

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The Belgae tribe is primarily the inhabitants of Gaul located in the north of Seine (Sequana) and Marne (Motrona) rivers in Western Europe. The Belgae tribe is part of the Celtic tribes who migrated to Britain from France and Belgium. Most of the Celtic tribes are believed to reside in Switzerland, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, and parts of Germany, Britain and the Netherlands. The Belgae name originates from the modern region of Belgium. The group is coted to have been an influential and captivating ethnic-cultural group characterized by the dominant and remarkable ideological and political presence of the Celtic people of northern Europe before the Romanizations era. Frax (7) indicates that Julius Caesar the leader of the Roman empire noted in his book Comentarii De Bello Gallico that the interior regions of Britain were occupied British tribes of strong traditions and ruled by the Belgae descendants.

When the Romans invaded Gaul in 56 BC, the Belgae tribes of Gaul united against Caser, but they were defeated a year after by the Romans. The Belgae were thus forced to migrate during the early 1st or late 2nd century BC to Britain. With the continued expansion of the Roman empire proceeded by Gallic victories (54-51 BC), the Romans took with some Belgae refuges across the River Seine and Marne channel leading to a spread of the Belgic culture to the lowlands of Britain. Silchester, St. Albans, and Colchester are some of the renowned Belgic kingdoms. Frax (6) indicates that many archaeological authors and records dating from the third century BC show that the Belgic tribes migrated to Britain almost the same time when they inhabited the north of Gaul. They are believed to have arrived and settled in the regions in fairly small warrior groups that were able to be integrated quickly into the nobles of the local communities.

Caesar in his Comentarii De Bello Gallico book divided the inhabitants of Gaul into three groups namely the Galli, Aquitani and the Belgae. Each of these groups had their distinct and independent language and customs. The Belgae tribe despite being far from the civilization of Rome but close to the Germans proved to be the bravest and most influential of the three tribes (Hawkes 3). Frax (7) notes that Caesar claimed that the Belgae has descended from the tribes that had long ago migrated from Germany by crossing the Rhine. The Belgae are argued to have been the descendants of Trebata who was a legendary founder of the city of Trier, the oldest town in south-west Germany. The town was founded around 2000 BC by the Assyrians under the leadership of Trebata, the son of the great Assyrian of King Ninus (Frax 8).

Caesar further noted that some of the clans under the Belgae included Bellovoci, Atrebates, Remi, Nervi, Caleti, Ambiani, Suessiones, Viromandui, Morini, Veliocassees, and Menapii. The Atuatuci tribe is defined by Caesar to have originated from the Teurones and Germanic Cimbri while other four tribes namely Paemani, Caerosi, Eburones, and Condrusei were described as German tribes despite some having a Celtic name. The Remi is cited to have been the noblest and prominent Belgae tribe where their capital Durocortum present Reims of France was made the capital city of the Gallia Belgica province of Romans (Frax 8). The Catulvellauni tribe that were neighbours to the Remi despite being not directly mentioned by Ceasar in his book, they also believed to have been of Belgic tribe. In modern Britain, the tribes of Catulvellauni, Atrebates, Cantiaci, Belgae, and Regnenses are considered to be of Belgic descent. Therefore, a significant number of Britons residing across the globe are likely to have the Y-chromosome haplogroup R-U152.

William-Freeman (99) notes that the hypothesis that the invasion of the Belgae tribes to Britain in the 50 BC and their settlement in the coast of the Hampshire and further Silchester in the north by conquering Wessex and Somerset seems to be unsatisfactory to many archaeologists. William-Freeman (99) indicates that by the time the Belgae invaded Kent in 80 BC, it was not known they hailed from Gaul except the Suessiones and Catevellauni. The Atrebates tribes are alluded to have been north of the Suessiones and Catevellauni tribes, hence high likely to have equally participated in the invasion. Caesar recorded that the Belgic tribes had a tradition of keeping the names of their tribesmen in Gaul as well as there was constant communication between the continent and the island. Therefore, the Belgic tribes are less likely to have lost contact with other tribes are they migrated further into Britain. By 55 and 54 BC, the Belgae tribes occupied Kent and the northern Thames but not beyond St. Alban. The Roman conquest had spread to the east and north hence their capital in Colchester inhibited the Belgae from migrating further into the north. The Belgae are recorded to have scattered over Hampshire, Berkshire, and Wiltshire prior to the Claudian conquest. They moved into Somersetshire but not beyond Dorset where they established their capital at Calleva Atrebatum, currently the modern Silchester.

A significant degree of movement of the Belgae between the areas of settlement is evident. The Atrebates in Gaul resided in the north-east of River Seine while Catulvellauni occupied the south of Parisi and Remi. Nonetheless, many Gauls encompassing the Atrebates’ Commius are recorded to have settled in Britain after the Celtic lost the battle at Alsea in 50 BC. The Commius managed to establish a travel dynasty at Calleva with its own currency.

The Belgae tribes significantly contributed to the Y-chromosome haplogroup R-U152. The tribes include many groups primarily in Belgium, Picardy, and Normandy with their origin engraved on the Gaulish settlers who immigrated to England. Some tribes such as Carnutes, Auleceri, Conommanni, Senomes and Parisi are recorded to have settled near or along the Seine River valley. A Celtic tribe called Treveri that has strong relationships with the Moselle La Tene group and significantly contributed to the Belgae migration to Britain stellated in the far east. Archaeological recorded denote that the Belgae tribe was the most dominant group whose progenies managed to successfully migrate to England at various times regardless whether they migrated as refugees or La Tene migrants. The group begin to flourish and equally spread outside the European continent in the 450 BC.

Therefore, individuals with a Y-chromosome haplogroup R-U152 with a male parentage to Britain can use different location and geographical cues combined with surnames as well as traditional genealogical techniques incorporated by the Y-DNA haplotype analysis to create a distinct family tree. As alluded in the introduction, creating a distinct family tree is relatively a demanding exercise in the current generation, however, with the DNA information, it is possible to trace my exact ancestry in Europe. The DNA information as provided a start point of the migration map which I can use my surname and locational cues of the migration of my family to find another family member that are distant or do not know each other. The traditional genealogical techniques can only prove very vital as it provides the family lineage. With this information, I am confident with sufficient resources and time; I can trace m family ancestry up to at least the fourth generation. The DNA information can help to quickly identify and confirm the Belgic DNA strand as well as give vital clues about the entire lineage.


Works Cited

Faux, David K. The La Tene Celtic Belgae tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 – Hypothesis C. Seal Beach, California, 2008.

Hawkes, Christopher. “Colchester before the Romans or who were our Belgae?” Essex Arch. and Hist 14 (1982): 3-14.

Williams-Freeman, J. P. “the Belgae through Hampshire?.” (1932): 99-124.