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The Carnutes, a powerful Celtic people in the heart of independent Gaul, dwelled in a particularly extensive territory between the Sequana (Seine) and the Liger (Loire) rivers. Their lands later corresponded to the dioceses of Chartres, Orléans and Blois, that is, the greater part of the modern departments of Eure-et-Loir, Loiret and Loir-et-Cher. The territory of the Carnutes had the reputation among Roman observers of being the political and religious center of the Gaulish nations. The chief fortified towns were Cenabum (mistakenly "Genabum"), the modern Orléans, where a bridge crossed the Loire, and Autricum (or Carnutes, thus Chartres). The great annual druidic assembly mentioned by Caesar took place in one or the other of these towns. Livy's history records the legendary tradition that the Carnutes had been one of the tribes which accompanied Bellovesus in his invasion of Italy during the reign of Tarquinius Priscus.

A map of Gaul in the 1st century BC, showing the relative positions of the Celtic tribes.

In the first century BC, the Carnutes minted coins, usually struck with dies, but sometimes cast in an alloy of high tin content called "potin." Their coinage turns up in hoards well outside their home territories, in some cases so widely distributed in the finds that the place of coinage is not secure. The iconography of their numismatics includes the motives of heads with traditional Celtic torcs; a wolf with a star; a galloping horse; the triskelion. Many coins show an eagle, with the lunar crescent, with a serpent or with a wheel with six or four spokes or a pentagrammatic star, or beneath a hand holding a branch with berries, holly perhaps. The wheel with four spokes forms a cross within a circle, an almost universal image since Neolithic times. Sometimes the circle is a ring of granules. It would be easy to make too much of the symbol as it appears on coinage, but among the Celts, rather than a solar symbol it may represent the cycle of the year divided in its four seasons [1]. See Cross.

In the time of Caesar the Carnutes were dependents of the Remi, who on one occasion interceded for them. In the winter of 58–57 BC, Caesar imposed a protectorate over the Carnutes and set up his choice of king, Tasgetius, picked from the ruling clan. Within three years, the Carnutes had assassinated the puppet king. On 13 February 53 BC the Carnutes of Cenabum massacred all the Roman merchants stationed in the town as well as one of Caesar's commissariat officers. The uprising was swiftly a general one throughout Gaul, under the leadership of Vercingetorix. Cenabum was burnt by Caesar, the men put to the sword and women and children sold as slaves, and the booty distributed among his soldiers, an effective way of financing the conquest of Gaul. During the war that followed, the Carnutes were able to send 12,000 fighting men to relieve Alesia, but shared in the defeat of the Gallic army. Having attacked the Bituriges Cubi, who appealed to Caesar for assistance, they were forced to submit. Cenabum, however, remained a mass of ruins garrisoned by two Roman legions for years.

After they had been pacified, though not Romanized, under Augustus, the Carnutes, as one of the peoples of Gallia Lugdunensis, were raised to the rank of civitas soda or foederati, retaining their own self-governing institutions, continuing to mint coins, and only bound to render military service to the emperor. Up to the 3rd century, Autricum (later Carnutes, whence Chartres) was the capital, but in 275 Aurelian refounded Cenabum, ordaining it no longer a vicus but a civitas and named it Aurelianum or Aurelianensis urbs (thus eventually "Orléans").

See Livy, v.34; Julius Caesar, Belli Gall. v. 25, 29, vii. 8, II, 75, viii. 5, 31 (see under "cenabuns); Strabo Geographia iv.2 - 3; Ptolemy Geographia, ii.8.

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