Statue of Ambiorix in Tongeren, Belgium.
|King and chieftain of the Belgae|
|Prince of the Eburones|
Ambiorix (Gaulish "king of the surroundings", or "king-protector") was, together with Cativolcus, prince of the Eburones, leader of a Belgic tribe of north-eastern Gaul (Gallia Belgica), where modern Belgium is located. In the nineteenth century Ambiorix became a Belgian national hero because of his resistance against Julius Caesar, as written in Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico.
It is generally accepted that Ambiorix is a Gaulish personal name formed with the prefix ambio- attached to rix ('king'). The meaning of the first element is debated. Lindeman (2007) interprets ambio- (Gaulish 'protector, ruler') as stemming from the Proto-Indo-European compound *h?mbhí-péh? ('protector'; compare with Old Indic adhi-pá- 'protector, ruler, master, king'), leading to 'Ambio-rix' as the 'protector-king'.Delamarre (2003) argues that ambio- ('enclosure'; compare with Old Irish imbe 'enclosure') is a thematized form of the Gaulish prefix ambi- ('around, on both sides'). In this view, 'Ambiorix' could be translated as the 'king of the enclosure', or the 'king of the surroundings'.
In 57 BC Julius Caesar conquered parts of Gaul and also Belgica (Belgium, modern-day Northern France, Luxembourg, part of present-day Netherlands below the Rhine River; and the north-western portion of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany). There were several tribes in the country who fought against each other frequently. The Eburones were ruled by Ambiorix and Catuvolcus. In 54 BC Caesar's troops urgently needed more food, and so the local tribes were forced to give up part of their harvest, which had not been good that year. Understandably the starving Eburones were reluctant to do so and Caesar ordered that camps be built near the Eburones' villages. Each centurion was ordered to make sure the food supplies were delivered to the Roman soldiers. This created resentment among the Eburones.
Although Julius Caesar had freed him from paying tribute to the Atuatuci, Ambiorix joined Catuvolcus in the winter of 54 BC in an uprising against the Roman forces under Q. Titurius Sabinus and L. Aurunculeius Cotta.
Because a drought had disrupted his grain supply, Caesar was forced to winter his legions among the rebellious Belgic tribes. Roman troops led by Q. Titurius Sabinus and L. Aurunculeius Cotta were wintering among the Eburones when they were attacked by them, led by Ambiorix and Cativolcus. Ambiorix deceived the Romans, telling them the attack was made without his consent, and further advised them to flee as a large Germanic force was preparing to cross the Rhine. Trusting Ambiorix, Sabinus and Cotta's troops left the next morning. A short distance from their camp, the Roman troops were ambushed by the Eburones and massacred.
Elsewhere, another Roman force under Q. Tullius Cicero, brother of the orator Marcus, were wintering amongst the Nervii. Leading a coalition of rebellious Belgic tribes, Ambiorix surrounded Cicero's camp. After a long while, a Roman messenger was finally able to slip through the Belgic lines and get word of the uprising to Caesar. Mobilizing his legions, Caesar immediately marched to Cicero's aid. As they approached the besieged Roman camp, the Belgae moved to engage Caesar's troops. Vastly outnumbered, Caesar ordered his troops to appear confused and frightened, and they successfully lured the Belgae to attack them on ground favourable to the Romans. Caesar's forces launched a fierce counterattack, and soon put the Belgae to flight. Later, Caesar's troops entered Cicero's camp to find most of the men wounded.
Meanwhile, Indutiomarus, a leader of the Treveri, began to harass Labienus's camp daily, eventually provoking Labienus to send out his cavalry with specific orders to kill Indutiomarus. They did so, and routed the remnants of Indutiomarus's army. Caesar personally remained in Gaul for the remainder of winter due to the renewed Gallic threat.
When the Roman senate heard what had happened, Caesar swore to destroy all the Belgic tribes. Ambiorix had killed fifteen cohorts. A Belgic attack on Q. Tullius Cicero, then stationed with a legion in the territory of the Nervii, failed due to the timely appearance of Caesar. The Roman campaigns against the Belgae took a few years, but eventually the tribes were slaughtered or driven out and their fields burned. The Eburones disappeared from history after this genocidal event. According to the writer Florus, Ambiorix and his men succeeded in escaping across the Rhine. They do not appear in Roman records after this point.
Caesar wrote about Ambiorix in his commentary about his battles against the Gauls, De Bello Gallico. In this text he also wrote the famous line: "Of these [three regions], the Belgae are the bravest." ("... Horum omnium fortissimi sunt Belgae ...").
Ambiorix remained a relatively obscure figure until the nineteenth century. When Belgium became independent in 1830 the national government[who?] started searching through their historical archives for people who could serve as national heroes. In Caesar's De Bello Gallico, Ambiorix and his deeds were rediscovered. In 1841, the Belgian poet Joannes Nolet de Brauwere Van Steeland wrote a lyrical epic about Ambiorix. Furthermore, on September 5, 1866, a statue of Ambiorix was erected on the main market square in Tongeren, Belgium, referred to by Caesar as Atuatuca, i.e. Atuatuca Tungrorum.
Today, Ambiorix is one of the most famous characters in Belgian history. Many companies, bars and friteries have named themselves after him, and in many Belgian comics such as Suske en Wiske and Jommeke he plays a guest role. There was also a short-lived comic called Ambionix, which featured a scientist teleporting a Belgic chief, loosely based on Ambiorix, to modern-day Belgium.
In the French comic Asterix, in the album Asterix in Belgium, Asterix, Obelix, Dogmatix and Vitalstatistix go to Belgium because they are angry with Caesar about his remark that the Belgians are the bravest of all the Gauls.
In honour of Ambiorix, visual artist Guy Bleus organized a mail art project in which 376 artists from 40 countries gave their artistic visions on the battle figure of Ambiorix. The exhibition ArtBiorix could be seen during the summer of 2000 in the Cultural Centre De Velinx of Tongeren.