Boii (Latin plural, singular "Boius"; Greek polytonic|Βόϊοι) is the Roman name of an ancient Celtic tribe, attested at various times in Transalpine Gaul (modern France) and Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy), as well as in Pannonia (today Western Hungary), Bohemia, Moravia and western Slovakia.

Etymology and name

There is no commonly accepted etymology for the name "Boii". It might be explained as a Celtic term for either "warriors" (from Indo-European "*bhoi-") or "cattle owners" (from Indo-European "*gʷowjeh³s") [Birkhan, Helmut: "Die Kelten", Wien, 1997, S. 99] . Contemporary derived words include Boiorix ("king of the Boii", one of the chieftains of the Cimbri) and "Boiodurum" ("gate/fort of the Boii", modern Passau) in Germany.

Their memory also survives in the modern regional names of Bohemia (Germanic form found in a Roman source "Boio-haemum" = home of the Boii), and 'Bayern', Bavaria, which is derived from the Germanic "Baiovarii" tribe (Germ. "*baio-warioz": the first component is most plausibly explained as a Germanic version of "Boii"; the second part is a common formational morpheme of Germanic tribal names, meaning 'dwellers', as in Anglo-Saxon "-ware") [Indoeuropean short "o", as in the Celtic "Boii", developed to "a" in Germanic. As far as its formation is concerned, the name seems to be a hybrid between Celtic or Latin and Germanic, as the thematic vowel "bai-"o- would have to be an "a" in a Germanic compound (cf. Celtic "ambio-rix" vs. Germanic "þiuda-reiks", "Theoderic"). This, however, should not be used as an argument against the 'traditional' etymology, as such forms are quite common (cf. "Raetovarii", an Allemanic tribe) and are most likely influenced by the Latin background of the ancient writers.] ; this combination "Boii-dwellers" may have meant "those who dwell where the Boii formerly dwelt".


According to the classical authors, the Boii crossed "Poeninus mons" (the Great St Bernard Pass) and settled in the Po plain, where they subjugated the local Etruscans. [For the following, cf. Polybius 2,17,7; Strabo 4,195/5,216, and Livy 33,37.37.57 ] Other Celtic tribes, among them the Insubres, Cenomani, Lingones and Senones had also settled in Northern Italy, some of them, such as the Lepontii, since pre-historic times. The Boii occupied the old Etruscan settlement of Felsina and renamed it "Bononia" (Bologna). Archeological remains of their culture have been found at various sites, among others at Felsina, but also at Monte Bibele. Settlement forms as well as grave goods indicate a peaceful coexistence and probably intermarriage of Celtic and Etruscan populations. [James, Simon: "Das Zeitalter der Kelten", Dusseldorf, 1996, pp 34f. (German) The English original is titled "Exploring the World of the Celts", Thames&Hudson, London, 1993, without page ]

In the second half of the 3rd century BC, the Boii allied with the other Cisalpine Gauls and the Etruscans against Rome. They also fought alongside Hannibal, killing the Roman general L. Postumius Albinus, whose skull was then turned into a sacrificial bowl (Liv. XXIII, 24). A short time thereafter, they were defeated at Telamon in 224 BC and eventually in 193 BC near Mutina (modern Modena). After the loss of their capital, a large portion of the Boii left Italy. Contrary to the interpretation of the classical writers, the Pannonian Boii attested in later sources are not simply the remnants of those who had fled from Italy, but rather another division of the tribe, which had settled there much earlier. The burial rites of the Italian Boii show many similarities with contemporary Bohemia, such as inhumation, which was uncommon with the other Cisalpine Gauls, or the absence of the typically western Celtic torcs. [Cunliffe, Barry: "The Ancient Celts", Penguin Books 1999, pp. 72f.] This makes it much more likely that the Cisalpine Boii had actually originated from Bohemia rather than the other way round. [Birkhan, p. 124] Having migrated to Italy from north of the Alps, some of the defeated Celts simply moved back to their kinsfolk. [Other tribes of whom divisions are attested both in the 'Celtic homeland' and at the periphery include the Senones (Umbria and the Marne region), Lingones (Aemilia and the Langres plateau), Cenomani (Venetia and Maine), Tectosages (Galatia and Provence).]

The Pannonian Boii are mentioned again in the late 2nd century BC when they repelled the Cimbri and Teutones (Strabo VII, 2, 2). Later on, they attacked the city of Noreia (in modern Austria) shortly before a group of Boii (32,000 according to Julius Caesar - the number is probably an exaggeration) joined the Helvetii in their attempt to settle in western Gaul. After the Helvetian defeat at Bibracte, the influential Aedui tribe allowed the Boii survivors to settle on their territory, where they occupied the "oppidum" of Gorgobina. Although attacked by Vercingetorix during one phase of the war, they supported him with two thousand troops at the battle of Alesia (Caes. Bell. Gall., VII, 75).

Again, other parts of the Boii had remained closer to their traditional home, and settled in the Hungarian lowlands by the Danube and the Mur, with a centre at Bratislava. Around 40 BC they clashed with the rising power of the Dacians under their king Burebista and were defeated. When the Romans finally conquered Pannonia in 8 AD, the Boii seem not to have opposed them. Their former territory was now called "deserta Boiorum" (deserta meaning 'empty or sparsely populated lands'). [Birkhan, p. 251.] However, the Boii had not been exterminated: There was a "civitas Boiorum et Azaliorum" (the Azalii being a neighbouring tribe) which was under the jurisdiction of a prefect of the Danube shore ("praefectus ripae Danuvii"). [CIL IX 5363)] This civitas, a common Roman administrative term designating both a city and the tribal district around it, was later adjoined to the city of Carnuntum.

References in ancient written sources

Sometime between 205 BC and 184 BC, T. Maccius Plautus refers to the Boii in his work, "Captivi"::"At nunc Siculus non est, Boius est, Boiam terit":But now he is not a Sicilian — he is a Boian, he has got a Boian woman.(There is a play on words: "Boia" means "woman of the Boii", also "convicted criminal's restraint collar".) []

In volume 21 of his work "Ab Urbe Condita", Livy (59 BC - 17 AD) claims that it was a Boian man that offered to show Hannibal the way across the Alps.:When, after the action had thus occurred, his own men returned to each general, Scipio could adopt no fixed plan of proceeding, except that he should form his measures from the plans and undertakings of the enemy: and Hannibal, uncertain whether he should pursue the march he had commenced into Italy, or fight with the Roman army which had first presented itself, the arrival of ambassadors from the Boii, and of a petty prince called Magalus, diverted from an immediate engagement; who, declaring that they would be the guides of his journey and the companions of his dangers, gave it as their opinion, that Italy ought to be attacked with the entire force of the war, his strength having been nowhere previously impaired.

In the 1st century BC, the Boii living in an oppidum of Bratislava (Slovakia) minted Biatecs, high-quality coins with inscriptions (probably the names of kings) in Latin letters. This is the only "written source" provided by the Boii themselves.


*T. Maccius Plautus, The "Captiva" and the "Mostellaria", as published by Project Gutenberg, as published 1 January 2005 (EBook #7282) Accessed 29 January 2005.
*Caius Julius Caesar, "De Bello Gallico" and Other Commentaries, as published by Project Gutenberg, 9 January 2004 (EBook #10657) Accessed 29 January 2005.
*Titus Livius, "The History of Rome; Books Nine to Twenty-Six", as published by Project Gutenberg, 1 February 2004 (eBook #10907) Accessed 31 January 2005.

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