were a Gallic
people living on the east bank of the Rhône
Their main towns were Lucus Augusti (modern Luc-en-Diois
) and Vasio (modern Vaison-la-Romaine
), but they occupied an extensive territory stretching from Vercors
in the north, the buttresses of Mont Ventoux
in the south-west, Manosque
in the south-east and Embrun
in the east. Their territory was therefore distributed over five current départements of France
, Alpes de Haute-Provence
The first inhabitants of the region were Ligures. During the fourth century BCE, the Celtic Vocontii became settled there, with an oppidum south of modern Vaison (Garcia p.168); this seems to have been used to control trade between the Rhône and Durance rivers (Meffre).
The earliest historical mention of the Vocontii is from 218 BCE, the crossing of the Alps by Hanibal, as recounted in Livy (Ab Urbe Condita, 21.31):
- After composing the dissensions of the Allobroges, when he now was proceeding to the Alps, he directed his course thither, not by the straight road, but turned to the left into the country of the Tricastini, thence by the extreme boundary of the territory of the Vocontii he proceeded to the Tricorii; his way not being anywhere obstructed till he came to the river Druentia.
The Vocontii became Romanized between 125 and 118 BCE, at the time of the conquest of the province of Gallia Narbonensis. During the first century BCE, the Vocontii signed a treaty of friendship (foedus) with Rome; this enabled them to keep a certain autonomy and their traditional institutions (Peck). One thus finds a praetor and a senate leading the city of Vaison, assisted by praefecti sent to the surrounding districts (pagi), which are advised by local assemblies (vigintiviri). Public municipal officials and slaves supplement this administrative flow chart.
The Voconti are mentioned by Caesar (Commentarii de Bello Gallico, 1.10):
- ... Here (in the Alps) the Centrones and the Graioceli and the Caturiges, having taken possession of the higher parts, attempt to obstruct the army in their march. After having routed these in several battles, he arrives in the territories of the Vocontii in the Further Province on the seventh day from Ocelum, which is the most remote town of the Hither Province; thence he leads his army into the country of the Allobroges, ...
their location and borders are described in two passages by Strabo, writing in the first few decades of the first century CE. (Geographica, 4.1)
- But if you go by the other road — that leads through the country of the Vocontii and that of Cottius: from Nemausus the road is identical with the former road as far as Ugernum and Tarusco, but thence it runs across the Druentia River and through Caballio sixty-three miles to the frontiers of the Vocontii and the beginning of the ascent of the Alps; and thence, again, ninety-nine miles to the other frontiers of the Vocontii, at the country of Cottius, to the village of Ebrodunum; then, another ninety-nine through the village of Brigantium and Scingomagus and the pass that leads over the Alps to Ocelum, the end of the land of Cottius. Moreover, from Scingomagus on you begin to call the country Italy; and the distance from here to Ocelum is twenty-eight miles.
- After the Sallyes come the Albienses and the Albioeci and the Vocontii, who occupy the northerly parts of the mountains. But the Vocontii, stretching alongside the others, reach as far as the Allobroges; they have glens in the depths of their mountainous country that are of considerable size and not inferior to those which the Allobroges have.
The Vocontii are later mentioned by Tacitus (Historiae, Book I Chapter 66: Revolt of Vitellius) which took place in 69 CE:
- The army then proceeded by slow marches through the territory of the Allobroges and Vocontii, the very length of each day's march and the changes of encampment being made a matter of traffic by the general, who concluded disgraceful bargains to the injury of the holders of land and the magistrates of the different states, and used such menaces, that at Lucus, a municipal town of the Vocontii, he was on the point of setting fire to the place, when a present of money soothed his rage.
Between the second and third centuries CE, the towns of Gap, Sisteron and Vaison-la-Romaine became independent of the Vocontii, whose territory was now centered on the valley of the Drôme, with Dea (modern Die) their new capital. This city, which was honoured with the status of colony, was fortified by a rampart in later Antiquity and became the seat of a bishop in 325. Audentius, bishop of Die in the 5th century, carried the title of bishop of Voconces.
A 500-strong auxiliary cavalry unit, the Ala Augusta Vocontiorum civium Romanorum, was raised among the Vocontii. The troopers were Roman citizens. After service in Germania Inferior, from 122 it served at Trimontium, a mixed cavalry and infantry fort near Newstead, Scottish Borders. The unit is known by an inscription, (RIB 2121):
- Campestr(ibus) / sacrum Ael(ius) / Marcus / dec(urio) alae Aug(ustae) / Vocontio(rum) / v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) l(aetus) m(erito)
(To the sacred Goddesses of the Parade-Ground, Aelius Marcius, decurion¹ of the Vocontian Wing, willingly, gladly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.)
and by two military diplomas, dated 122 and 126; the former from Brigetio in Pannonia (CIL XVI, 65) and the latter from Britannia (AE 1997.1779a).
- Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Gallico
- Collingwood, R.G. and Wright, R.P. (1965). The Roman Inscriptions of Britain (RIB). Oxford, Clarendon Press. Available online
- Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) vol XVI, Diplomata militaria.
- Garcia, Dominique (2004) La Celtique Méditeranée: habitats et sociétés en Languedoc et en Provence, VIIIe - IIe siècles av. J.-C.. Paris, Editions Errance. ISBN 2-87772-286-4
- L'Année Épigraphique (AE), yearly volumes
- Livy, Ab Urbe Condita ("History of Rome")
- Meffre, Joël-Claude (2000) L'Âge du Fer dans la région de Vaison, pp.213-215. in Chausserie-Laprée, Jean (ed) Le temps des Gaulois en Provence. ISBN 2-908445-42-5
- Peck, Harry Thurston (1898) Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
- Strabo, Geographica
- Tacitus, Historiae