Ancient sources

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The term "Raetic" is derived from the ethnonym Latin raeti / Greek ῥαιτοί, which is attested in the works of ancient geographers and historiographers, as well as in classical epigraphic sources. The following provides an overview of the relevant quotes and comments as well as some remarks on the integration of the information into the study of Raetic. See Modern research on Raetic for the reasons behind the association of the ancient ethnonym with the epigraphic corpus as defined on Raetica.

Historiography and geography


Concerning the origin and affiliation of the raeti, we have two roughly contemporaneous statements from Pompeius Trogus and Livy (second half of the 1st century BC), who agree on an Etruscan ancestry. Pompeius Trogus reports that

"tusci quoque duce raeto avitis sedibus amissis alpes occupavere et ex nomine ducis gentem raetorum condiderunt" (transmitted in Justin XX 5)
'the tusci [Etruscans] also, under their leader raetus, after they had lost their inherited seats, occupied the Alps and, after the name of their leader, founded the tribe of the raeti.'

Pompeius Trogus may have been the source for Pliny's statement (around AD 80):

"raetos tuscorum prolem arbitrantur a gallis pulsos duce raeto" (Nat. Hist. III 133)
'The raeti are considered descendants of the tusci [Etruscans], expulsed by the galli [Gauls] under their leader raetus.'

Livy does not mention the mythical raetus, but provides information about the raeti's language:

"alpinis quoque ea gentibus haud dubie origo est maxime raetis quos loca ipsa efferarunt ne quid ex antiquo praeter sonum linguae nec eum incorruptum retinerent" (V 33, 11)
'This [Etruscan] origin is without doubt also that of the Alpine tribes; mostly so of the raeti, whom the area itself has imbruted, so that they retained nothing of the old ways apart from
the sound of the language, and that not unadulterated.'

Settlement area

The data on the localisation of the raeti is less unanimous. Polybios (2nd century BC), in his description of the Alps, mentioned them in his list of Alpine passes (Hist. XXXIV 10, 18):

"τέτταρας δ᾽ ὑπερβάσεις ὀνομάζει μόνον διὰ Λιγύων μὲν τὴν ἔγγιστα τῷ Τυρρηνικῷ πελάγει εἶτα τὴν διὰ Ταυρίνων ἣν Ἀννίβας διῆλθεν εἶτα τὴν διὰ Σαλασσῶν τετάρτην δὲ τὴν διὰ Ῥαιτῶν
ἁπάσας κρημνώδεις" (Strabo, Geogr. IV 6, 12)
'He [Polybios] names four passes: that via the liguri nearest the Tyrrhenian Sea, then that via the taurini, which Hannibal crossed, then that via the salassi, and the fourth that via
the rhaeti, all of them precipitous.'

The first three passes are located in the Alps between Italy and France; the fourth one is likely the easternmost one, but remains unidentified – according to Lunz 1981b: 24, it may refer to the Julier or Septimer pass (Graubünden) (cf. Heuberger 1932: 3 f.).

The earliest literary reference to a group of Alpine dwellers called raeti dates back to Cato the Elder (234~150 BC), who, according to Servius (Virgil Georg. comm. II 95), praised the Raetic grapes in his Praecepta ad Filium. Raetic wine is also mentioned by Suetonius (Div. Aug. LXXVII) as a favourite of the emperor Augustus. Remarks by Pliny (Nat. Hist. XIV 16 and 67) and Strabo (Geogr. IV 6, 8) tell us that Raetic wine was grown in the area of Verona – they appear to refer to Valpolicella (Frei-Stolba 1992: 359):

"ante eum raeticis prior mensa erat uvis ex veroniensium agro" (Pliny, Nat. Hist. XIV 16)
'Before him [the emperor Tiberius], the highest place at table belonged to the Raetic grapes from the area of the Veronese.'

Pliny also provides information about the inhabitants of Verona, which he calls an oppidum "raetorum et euganeorum" (III 130), while the feltrini, tridentini and beruenses inhabit "raetica oppida" (ibid.), viz. Feltre and Trento – the localisation of the beruenses, who are otherwise only attested in inscriptions (Frei-Stolba 1992: 659 with n. 14), is more difficult: the oppidum Berua has been identified with settlements in the Val di Non, the Valsugana, the Alto Vicentino, the Cadore, and recently with Montebelluna (Luciani 2016). Pliny further reports that the raeti and vindelici, neighbours of the norici, are "omnes in multas civitates divisi" (III 133; see also III 146), and locates two Raetic tribes (vennonenses and sarunetes) at the sources of the Rhein (III 135). Strabo (Geogr. IV 3, 3) has raeti and vindelici settling at the Bodensee, dwelling in and partly beyond the Alps. He later elaborates that these peoples occupy the entire Eastern Alps beyond Verona and Como from the above-mentioned vineyards in the south to the Alpenrheintal, counting the leponti and camunni among them. He locates the vindelici (and norici) on the north side of the mountains, together with the "Illyrian" breuni and genaunes (IV 6, 8). However, he also mentions raeti and vennones northeast of Como, while claiming that tridentini (Trento) and stoni (Stenico) settled "on the other side" (in the north-west) together with the now separated leponti (IV 6, 6). Concerning Como, Strabo reports that the raeti are responsible for the sack and destruction of the Celtic oppidum in 94 BC (V 1, 6; see further VII 1, 5, VII 5, 1 and VII 5, 2). Strabo's inconsistent testimony is due to the fact that he used different sources and sometimes failed to resolve discrepancies (Frei-Stolba 1992: 660).

Cassius Dio (Hist. Rom. LIV 22), chronicling the Roman Alpine campaign under Augustus, reports the raeti settling

"μεταξὺ τοῦ τε Νωρίκου καὶ τῆς Γαλατίας πρὸς ταῖς Ἄλπεσι ταῖς πρὸς τῇ Ἰταλία ταῖς Τριδεντίναις"
'between Noricum and Gaul near the Tridentine Alps which are close to Italy',

where they were defeated by the emperor's stepson Drusus. According to Dio's propagandistic reports, the raeti had been raiding Gaul and even Italy and hindering passage over the mountains, killing all male captives, including children. After the raeti had been repelled from Italy, they allegedly kept making a nuisance of themselves by raids into Gaul, so that ultimately Drusus, together with Tiberius, attacked Raetia proper in the summer of 15 BC – a lake crossed with ships by Tiberius appears to be the Bodensee. Invading simultaneously at many points and taking on each tribe at a time, they managed to subdue the unruly raeti.

Further mentions of the raeti's name are made in various contexts, but none of them are particularly enlightening. In an ode extolling Drusus (Carm. IV, 4), Horace makes mention of an "Amazonia securi[s]" wielded by raeti and vindelici – conceivably a Hellebardenaxt (see Archaeology in the Raetic area). Fearsome raeti also feature in Carm. IV, 14. Pliny ascribes the invention of a new type of plough to them:

"non pridem inventum in raetia galliae ut duas adderent tali rotulas quod genus vocant plaumorati" (Nat. Hist. XVIII 172)
'Not a long time ago [it was] invented in Gaulish Raetia that they added to such [a coulter] two little wheels, which type they call plaumorati.'

Both the term plaumorati (plough of the raeti? a Latinised Germanic compound word for Räderpflug?) and the precise meaning of raetia galliae are unclear (Salomon 2006: 40–43).

Epigraphic sources

The raeti are explicitly named in only three inscriptions. The inscription CIL X 6087 on the mausoleum of L. Munatius Plancus records a "triumph over the Raetians" – as the man was governor of Gallia Comata, this corroborates the historiographers' accounts of a Raetic presence around the Bodensee and/or in the northern Bündner Alpen around the middle of the 1st century BC (Frei-Stolba 1992: 662f.).


A Latin Imperial-age inscription from Sant'Ambrogio di Valpolicella (CIL V 3927) refers to a "pontifex sacrorum raeticorum", about whose status and function we can only speculate:


Finally, the north building of the Sebasteion in Aphrodisias (Asia Minor), erected in the first half of the 1st century AD, featured about fifty statues of female figures representing tribes conquered by Rome; two of the preserved ones allegorise peoples from Northern Italy: the ἔθνος Ῥαιτῶν and the ἔθνος Τρουνπείλων (the trumplini). (Images can be found on

Two more inscriptions are assumed to contain the names of Raetic tribes or valley communities (Talgemeinschaften). The inscription on the Tropaeum Alpium (CIL V p. 906), a victory monument erected in 7/6 BC in La Turbie (Monaco), lists specifically the tribes which were defeated in the Alpine campaign (Lunz 1981b: 7–9). The inscription is only fragmentarily preserved in the original, but the text is transmitted by Pliny (Nat. Hist. III 136–138; below only the list of "gentes"):


It is not clear how the list is ordered (chronologically? geographically? by importance of the victory?) and whether the reference to four Vindelican tribes stands on its own, or whether the four names after the phrase name these tribes. Certain parts of the list may reflect the chronology of individual campaigns, e.g., that of Drusus, who marched over the Brenner pass via Innsbruck into the Swabian-Bavarian highland (Frei-Stolba 1992: 664 f.; Lunz 1981b: 10). The name raeti is notably absent, but some of the tribes must be Raetic. The trumplini – here apparently considered equivalent to individual Raetic tribes – and camunni can be connected with the Val Trompia and the Val Camonica west of the Adige; the venostes gave their name to the Vinschgau (Val Venosta). The ambisontes, together with the laianci (Lienz) and saevates (Sebatum), are mentioned as a Noric (Celtic) tribe in an inscription from the Magdalensberg (HD 018230). Ptolemy (Geogr. II 12, 2) identifies five of the enumerated tribes as expressly Raetic: the brixentes (Bregenz) are the ones settling furthest in the north; the vennonetes and suanetes (possibly identical to the tribes mentioned by Pliny), calucones and rugusci may be assumed to inhabit the upper valleys of the Rhein and Inn (Frei-Stolba 1992: 666). Ptolemy (II 12, 4) goes on to locate the rucinates, leunoi, cosuanetes, genaunes, breuni and licates (from north to south) in Vindelicia; the licates can be connected with the river Lech, the breuni with the Inn valley around Innsbruck (through Mediaeval sources), and the isarci with the Eisacktal (Val d'Isarco; see also Gleirscher 1991: 5–7 and Anreiter 1997: 8–10). breuni and genaunes are sometimes set apart, being counted among the "Illyrians" (Strabo, Geogr. IV 6, 8) or the presumably Celtic vindelici (Horace, Carm. IV 14, 8–13), which may be reflected in their material culture (see Archaeology in the Raetic area). Anreiter 1997: 10 f. suggests that Strabo's choice of the term ἰλλυριῶν can be explained as referring to the custom district publicum portorii illyrici, which included the province Raetia. In light of the fact that a considerable number of toponyms from the assumed areas of settlement of the breuni, genaunes and focunates in Nordtirol can be explained as Indo-European, Anreiter considers these tribes, as well as the venostes, isarci and saevates, to be non-Celtic speakers of Indo-European dialects (also p. 150).

The Raetic tribes south of Meran were peacefully integrated into the Roman Empire, and therefore do not feature on the Tropaeum Alpium (cf. the evidence of Republican coins adduced by Demetz 1992: 633 f. with Abb. 1). Some are mentioned in less sombre contexts. The Tabula Clesiana (CIL 5050; AD 46), found on the Campi Neri near Cles in the Val di Non, records, in its second part, the anauni, tulliasses and sinduni:


'As concerns the status of anauni and tulliasses and sinduni, a part of whom, an informant is said to have found, are attributed to the tridentini, a part unattributed –
although I understand that this group of people does not have too strong a basis for Roman citizenship, nevertheless, it is said that they are in possession of it through long usage,
and are so intermingled with the tridentini that they cannot be separated from them without grave injury to that splendid municipality. I permit them to remain in that legal
status in which they believed themselves to be, as my favour to them, indeed all the more freely because many of this group of people are said to be even soldiers in my
Praetorian Guard, some indeed line commanders, and a few enrolled in panels at Rome to judge cases at law. This favour I thus do them, that I declare that whatever they
have done and spoken either among themselves or with thetridentini or with anyone else as if they were Roman citizens, be legally binding, and the names, which they had before,
as if they were Roman citizens, I thus permit them to retain.'

Being closely associated with the Tridentini, the three tribes are thought to have settled in the relative vicinity of Trento. The anauni can in fact be located in the Val di Non (Lat. anaunia), and the two other tribes may be expected to have settled somwhere thereabouts – the area in question includes the Val di Fiemme, the Ultental, and the Adige valley between Rovereto and Meran (Gleirscher 1991: 5 f.).

Indirectly attested are the arusnates, after whom the pagus arusnatium is named. The latter is mentioned in three inscriptions from the area of Fumane (CIL V 3915, 3926, 3928; Frei-Stolba 1992: 660). The arusnates appear to be an epichoric population in the Valpolicella who managed to hang on to their own cult for some time – the inscriptions from the pagus arusnatium (CIL V 3898–3990) include references not only to the above-mentioned minister of specifically Raetic cults, but also to a notable number of otherwise unknown deities; see Valvo 1994 for an overview. An identification of the arusnates as a Raetic tribe is suggested, besides the "pontifex sacrorum raeticorum", by simple geographical considerations – the Valpolicella has so far only yielded Raetic vernacular inscriptions (San Giorgio di Valpolicella, Castelrotto, Montorio Veronese, San Briccio) – and, tentatively, by the comparison of the ethnonym with the Raetic name SR-3.1 aruśnas.


The information provided by the classical authors, even apart from confusion arising from conflicting sources, has to be taken cum grano salis, as we do not know inhowfar the ancients' (or any individual author's) definition of "Raetic" coincides with our modern, archaeologically, epigraphically or linguistically determined one (Lunz 1981b: 26–32; pertinent methodological remarks (and full quotes) in Marzatico 2001: 484–492.). Earlier theories which assume that the raeti were an inhomogenous conglomerate of tribes, such as Menghin's theory (e.g. 1970: 141 f.) of a cult community, which is based on the notion that the name raeti is derived from that of the Venetic goddess Reitia, is made obsolete by the linguistic and archaeological unity of the core area, but this does not mean that tribes especially in the periphery were not considered (or considered themselves) to be Raetic on other than linguistic grounds. Gleirscher 1991: 60 points out that the fact that the Raetic tribes could be subdued successively suggests that they were not unified, as indeed reported by Pliny; that the southern tribes appear never to have been at war with Rome in the first place points in the same direction. Marzatico 2001: 484 also raises the question of the "livello di omogeneità e di autoidentificazione" of a Raetic people. While it is tempting to think of the ethnic situation in the pre-Roman Alps in terms of "Ureinwohner", we must expect reality to have been much more complex – already in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, but even more so with the later Celtic expansion into the east and consequent intermixture of tribes and their names, which must also have muddled the picture for the ancients.

Yet the evidence for the localisation of the raeti is, all in all, surprisingly coherent and fits with the extension of the province Raetia et Vindelicia, which was created around the middle of the 1st century AD. The province included modern Graubünden and the cantons to its north up to the Bodensee (with the Alpenrheintal and the sources of the Rhein, the Engadin and Münstertal), the Vinschgau, Passeiertal and Wipptal, the Inntal down to about Wörgl, and the Alpine foreland west of the Inn to the Donau. Its northern border was originally constituted by the Donau and the limes, from the middle of the 3rd century AD by the Donau-Iller-Rhein limes (Lunz 1981b: 22). The province appears to include the lands of the Celtic vindelici in the Alpine foreland and those of the Raetic tribes which were subdued by force, while the southern parts of the Raetic area became part of Italy proper (regio X Venetia).

The map below shows the possible areas of settlement of the tribes or valley communities mentioned above, largely following Abb. 1 in Gleirscher 1991: 7 (see also Lunz 1981b, Heuberger 1932: 10–50, and Anreiter 1997: 9 f., 173 for Nordtirol). Names associated with the raeti are in green, presumed Celtic tribes in brown, the Veneti in blue; the three tribe names located in the epigraphically Camunic area are left black. The map means to assist with quick locating of the names and places referred to above, and to give a general idea of how to think of a "tribe" in geographical terms – the locations chosen are often just best guesses, as the reconstruction of precise areas of settlement is in most cases impossible; please refer to the literature for details.

Raetic tribes map.png

(Text: Corinna Salomon)


Anreiter 1997 Peter Anreiter, Breonen, Genaunen und Fokunaten. Vorrömisches Namengut in den Tiroler Alpen [= Archaeolingua Series Minor 9], Budapest: 1997.
Demetz 1992 Stefan Demetz, "Rom und die Räter. Ein Resümee aus archäologischer Sicht", in: Ingrid R. Metzger, Paul Gleirscher, Die Räter / I Reti [= Schriftenreihe der Arbeitsgemeinschaft Alpenländer, Neue Folge 4], Bozen: Athesia 1992, 631–653.
Frei-Stolba 1992 Regula Frei-Stolba, "Die Räter in den antiken Quellen", in: Ingrid R. Metzger, Paul Gleirscher, Die Räter / I Reti [= Schriftenreihe der Arbeitsgemeinschaft Alpenländer, Neue Folge 4], Bozen: Athesia 1992, 657–671.
Gleirscher 1991 Paul Gleirscher, Die Räter, Chur: Rätisches Museum 1991.
Heuberger 1932 Richard Heuberger, Rätien im Altertum und Frühmittelalter [= Schlern-Schriften 20], Innsbruck: 1932.
Luciani 2016 Franco Luciani, "Berua, Raeticum oppidum dei Beruenses", Geographia antiqua 25 (2016), 99–127.
Lunz 1981b Reimo Lunz, Venosten und Räter. Ein historisch-archäologisches Problem [= Archäologisch-historische Forschungen in Tirol Beiheft 2], Calliano (Trento): 1981.
Marzatico 2001 Franco Marzatico, "La prima età del Ferro", in: Michele Lanzinger, Franco Marzatico, Annaluisa Pedrotti (Eds), Storia del Trentino. Vol. 1: La preistoria e la protostoria, Bologna: Il Mulino 2001, 417–477.