Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Word of the Day -- Helvetii

The Helvetii were a Gallic tribe or tribal confederation occupying most of the Swiss plateau at the time of their contact with the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC. According to Julius Caesar, the Helvetians were divided into four subgroups or pagi. Of these Caesar only names the Verbigeni and the Tigurini, while Poseidonios mentions the Tigurini and the Tougeni. They feature prominently in the Commentaries on the Gallic War, with their failed migration attempt to southwestern Gaul (58 BC) serving as a catalyst for Caesar's conquest of Gaul.

The endonym Helvetii can be derived from the PIE root *pelh1u- "many", Celtic elu-, which is seen in Welsh elw, meaning "gain" or "profit", and the Old Irish prefix il-, meaning "many" or "multiple". The second part of the name has sometimes been interpreted as *etu-, "terrain, grassland", thus interpreting the tribal name as "rich in land".

The name of the national personification of Switzerland, Helvetia, and the country's Neo-Latin name, Confoederatio Helvetica, are both derived from the name of the Helvetii.

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