Neroi/Neruoi (Nervii)

*Special thanks to Segomâros Widugeni and Farwater again for the linguistic help*

Reading what little there is on the tribal group known as the Nervii, I came across the notion in a Wikipedia article that they led a ‘Spartan’ lifestyle. While it’s very unlikely the Spartan culture made it’s way into Gallia Belgica and influenced the various tribes, it does offer an interesting proposal; Is it possible to construct a Nervian structure for group and hearth praxis within Senobessus Bolgon?

One would have to assume that military based cultures have a roughly similar structure in social and religious hierarchy for this to be viable. Therefore we will attempt to take what we know of the Nervii and reconcile it with what understand about Spartan culture in an attempt to revive a possible Nervian outlook. Whether or not this is how it truly was in antiquity is speculation, but if the goal is revival of tribal beliefs and practices, wholesale recreation is something that needs not apply.

(It’s important to note, that the social structures of Iron Age societies contained slavery. For all intents and purposes, the terms of those who were enslaved will be included as an intellectual exercise. Slavery is abhorrent and should never be forgotten, lest it becomes a repeated act. And on that note, the mistreatment of the other social classes by ‘higher’ social classes throughout history must also never be forgotten.)

We will start with what little we know of the Nervii from Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico and compare it with Spartan outlooks in the same vein;

Spartans

Nervii (Neroi/Neruoi)

Military based culture.

Military based culture.

Used iron obols for currency.

Used Greco-Roman design inspired staters.

Had cavalry, but infantry based army.

No cavalry, infantry based. Hedge warfare against cavalry is evidenced.

Limits on alcohol on alcohol consumption.

Limits on alcohol on alcohol consumption.

Discouraged foreign trade based on fear of weakening Spartan government. Had a merchant class. Relied on farming and war for resources.

According to Caesar, discouraged foreign trade, had no merchant class and did not permit merchants in their territory.

Surrender was discouraged as well as suicidal recklessness was as well.

Fought to the last man, standing on corpses of fellow soldiers while throwing the enemy’s spears back at them.

As one can see, the Spartans and the Nervii are fairly comparable in shallow instances. Nuances of Spartan culture and classical Nervii culture would have made them distinguishable from each other, but with what is currently presented, it may be possible to cause a Nervian revival.

We can then take a very brief look at Spartan social Hierarchy, and compare them to similar terms found in Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic by Ranko Matasovic, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloiseby Xavier Delamarre, and Raimund Karl’s Altkeltische Sozialstrukturen for a possible skeleton that we can modify for contemporary uses.

Spartan

Celtic

Elder overseers

Ephor/Ephoroi (5 total, 1 per village). ‘Governed’ the Kings. Were overseers.

Uercobretos/Uercobertoi would be the closest term similar to Ephors, but *Druits/*Druides would be similar in function.

Kings

2 overall Kings from a common legendary lineage, but separate over time.

Toutoriges (People kings)

Aristocrats

Spartiates (full time warriors, commited to the state, privelaged, equal under the law, required to train by law, no menial tasks), came from Homoioi (must train to become Spartiate and have parents that are married or else would be outcast)

Arios/Arioi (Noble)

Donnos/Donnoi (Also noble)

These don’t have the connotations of warrior off the bat, but would for the Nervii more than likely.

Middle Class

Perioeci (Crafters, Farmers, Artisians. Required to pay taxes. Served in infantry if adult male. Participated in some religious holidays. Could not intermarry with Spartiates)

Matasovic says *Altiyos for Client (from MW Ellit, unfree landowner,subject, vassal)

R.K. makes the case for Ambaxtos/Ambaxtoi for a middle class that could rub elbows with nobility.

Slaves

Helots

Delamarre says Caxtos/Caxtoi and R.K. says Camula for female slaves, and Magus for male slaves.

This is all very quick speculation and again does not have the maximum amount of nuance it could have.

We could also look quickly at Spartan religion and their gods in terms of importance, and then compare them to gods found in Nervian regions or in regions surrounding them, assuming that the Belgae had no qualms about freely adopting other indigenous gods into their retinue.

Main Spartan Gods (in order of importance)

Comparative potential Nervii (Neroi/Neruoi) Gods or Gods surrounding their region

Athena Poliachos (Athena that protects the city. She was the warrior that Spartans strived to be; fierce but tempered)

Vihansa (A possible war goddess of Tungri origin, but possibly be understood through a modern interpretatio of Athena)

Artemis Orthia (Connected with hunting, the Agoge, and childbirth)

Arduinna (Tutelary goddess of the Ardennes, often ‘mistakenly’ thought as classically interpetatio’d with Diana, who is the Roman equivalent to Artemis, but Senobessus Bolgon modernly does so, and thus she could fill this role easily)

Possibly Sirona as well.

Apollon (Music, poetry, science, medicine, and moderation (nothing in excess)

Grannos or Borvo (Both are interpretatio’d to Apollo are sometimes paired with Sirona)

Herakles (Legendary progenitor of the two lines of Spartan kings)

Magusanus (Possibly an Eburonic god in origin, but most assuredly the patron of the Batavians. He was offered to for protection during military service and thanked with the weapons of soldiers once their service was complete. Also protected children)

Zeus (Connected to leaders and kings, also insisting on the sanctity of oaths)

Taranuos (Various spellings, most often referred by Taranis in contemporary literature. This spelling is found in Gallia Belgica. He is often equated to IOM (Jupiter Optimus Maximus) which is the Roman equivalent to Zeus)

Asklepios (Son of Apollon, but also depicted as a warrior)

Lenus (if we consider the Treverian tribal god to be analogous in warfare and healing as the Spartans considered Asklepios)

Ares (Surprisingly not as high in the hierarchy as one would think, but had a chained statue in Sparta to ensure victory never left)

Camulos (Many inscriptions found in Gallia Belgica. Thought to be the patron of the Remi. Often equated to Mars, the Roman equivalent to Ares)

The table above is merely an attempt at Interpretatio Graeca. Whether or not the Nervii in antiquity held all of these gods in similar ranking of importance, or even if they held all of these gods, is speculative. However, since we are fleshing out a hypothetical praxis based on Spartan culture, this ranking in the Belgic pantheon would serve similar purpose to the Nervii as it did the Spartans.

Function in Pantheon Hypothetical Nervian Pantheon
Protector of the city/people; Warrior to model after. Vihansa (Tentatively Uicansa for those with a ‘Celtic’ disposition, assuming Vihansa means ‘battle goddess’ or ‘lady of battles’)
Hunting; Childbirth; Warband training Arduinna
Music; poetry; science; medicine; moderation (nothing in excess) Grannos and/or Borvo
Royal descent; Dis Pater function; Athletic endeavors Magusanus (Alternate spelling: Macusanus or Magusenos for a Celtic variant)
Leadership; Oaths; Possibly governmental arbitration Taranuos (Belgic variant of Taranis)
Healer of warriors; Protector of warriors; Medicine Lenus
Victory; Combat; Martial Arts Camulos

It must be noted that Camulos is a highly attested god in these regions, so his importance can not be overstated in terms of historicity.

The table above could be seen as placing certain gods in a hierarchy, but not irreversibly so. In fact, for the aspiring Neruos/Neruas, it’s recommended that Camulos be placed in equal importance to Vihansa in terms of praxis, as the brief qualities stated do not fully (and cannot) encapsulate these gods.

To quickly summarize a hypothetical revival of Nervian culture (which includes religion);

The Neroi/Neruoi (Nervii) are a people who prized honor (social currency/ethical and moral value) above the material. Their virtues include (but not necessarily limited to) moderation, desire for minimalism, bravery tempered with sensibility, being unyielding in the completion of tasks, and the disgust towards corruption and corruptibility. While Stoicism may not fit completely in this polytheistic path, certainly much of it would fit within the idea of this hypothetical revival.

While Gaulish peoples were notorious to be quick to anger, the Neroi distinguished themselves from other Gauls in that they were not prone to corruption and decadence. This keynote sets a precedence for the idea of Stoic integration in some sections of philosophy.

Their cultural gods would be Vihansa (Uicansa), Arduinna, Grannos/Borvo, Taranuos, Magusanus, Lenus and Camulos. These gods would be intricately tied into the culture, but would not prevent for more to enter in for personal religious expression, or further sub-divisions of the Neroi/Neruoi.

For contemporary praxis, there would be no social hierarchy in terms of ruling classes, but titles that would be in charge of arbitration of certain tasks for the ‘tribe’/people. There would be no slave class, and no role would be above one or the other, but serve in equity for the benefit of all in the group. These terms would have warrior/soldier connotations grafted to them as the Neroi/Neruoi (Nervii) are reputed to be the most ‘warlike’ and ‘heroic’ of the Belgae.

Role

Uercobretos/Uercobretoi

*Druits/Druides

Toutoriges

Arios/Arias/Arioi

*Altiyos/Altiyas/Altiyoi

Ambaxtos/Ambaxtas/Ambaxtoi

Function

Overseer of the Toutoriges. Intellectualizer of the gods when divination must play a role.

Leaders of group. Arbitrators of tasks. Possibly fills the role of Uates (priest) during group ritual.

Warrior/Soldier role. Tasked with oversight, training/fosterage and care of *Altiyoi.

Uninitiated’ warrior/soldier/citizen. Can remain this role for lifetime if chosen.

Daily life would include physical readiness/training of sorts, similar to Spartan daily life, as well as personal religious expressions for guidance, protection, sustainability, and requests pertinent to this way of life. Athletic cultus would also be a possible staple. To help guide the Neros/Neras/Neroi (or Neruos/Neruas/Neruoi), we attempted to translate the Warrior’s Ethos (which has roots in Spartan ethics and values) into a Gaulish dialect. For soldiers (current and retired), these will be familiar as they are part of the U.S. Army Soldier’s creed.

English:

I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never quit.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.


Gaulish:

Lungsiûmi uextin cintus do aiwî. (Other version: Lilâs uextin cintus do aiwî.)

Nedamsiâmi dwîtun do aiwî.

Nedîwediûmi mon wikîmin do aiwî.

Neitsiûmi ex kelyê anxtacon do aiwî.

rules

This isn’t an entirely fleshed out ‘tribal/regional’ practice, but that’s the point. This is a potential baseline for those who have a tendency towards warrior cultus, militaristic lifestyles, martial arts, etc.

white_nervii
And one more time, the “Au Rameau” design found on Nervian staters. An appropriate emblem for new Neroi/Neruoi.

Resources used:

1. Commentarii de Bello Gallico

2.Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic by Ranko Matasovic

3.Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise by Xavier Delamarre

4.Raimund Karl’s Altkeltische Sozialstrukturen

5. Heidelberger Akademie Der Wissenschften; Epigrapische Datenbank Heidelberg

6. L’Arbre Celtique (http://www.arbre-celtique.com/)

7. Celtic Religions in The Roman Period edited by Ralpha Haeussler & Anthony King

8. How Spartan were the Stoics? By Donald Robertson

9. Theoi.com

10.Sparta and Lakonia. A Regional History 1300 to 362 BC by Paul Cartledge

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