100 BC

The Helvetii were a Celtic 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. Helvetians were possibly divided into four subgroups or pagi, of which three are known by names: Verbigeni Tigurini, and Tougeni. The Helvetians were subjugated after 52 BC, and under Augustus, Celtic oppida, such as Vindonissa or Basilea, were re-purposed as garrisons. In AD 68, a Helvetian uprising was crushed by Aulus Caecina Alienus. The Swiss plateau was at first incorporated into the Roman province of Gallia Belgica (22 BC), later into Germania Superior (AD 83). The Helvetians, like the rest of Gaul, were largely Romanized by the 2nd century.

The endonym Helvetii is mostly derived from a Gaulish elu-, meaning "gain, prosperity" or "multitude", cognate with Welsh elw and Old Irish prefix il-, meaning "many" or "multiple" (from the PIE root *pelh1u- "many").[6][3] The second part of the name has sometimes been interpreted as *etu-, "terrain, grassland", thus interpreting the tribal name as "rich in land". The earliest attestation of the name is found in a graffito on a vessel from Mantua, dated to c. 300 BC. The inscription in Etruscan letters reads eluveitie, which has been interpreted as the Etruscan form of the Celtic elu̯eti̯os ("the Helvetian"), presumably referring to a man of Helvetian descent living in Mantua.

Although the Gaulish language had mostly been replaced by Latin by the 3rd century, many Celtic toponyms have survived in Switzerland. Of the ten largest present-day Swiss cities, at least six have Celtic placename etymologies, and most major Swiss rivers have either Celtic or pre-Celtic names. Here are several examples of toponyms with established Gaulish etymology:

  • Solothurn, from Salodurum. The -durum element means "doors, gates; palisade; town". The etymology of the salo- element is unclear.
  • Thun, Berne: dunum "fort"
  • Windisch, Aargau, Latin Vindonissa: first element from *windo- "white"
  • Winterthur, Zürich, Latin Vitudurum or Vitodurum, from vitu "willow" and durum
  • Yverdon-les-Bains, from Eburodunum, from eburo- "yew" and dunum "fort".
  • Zürich, Latin Turicum, from a Gaulish personal name Tūros
  • Limmat, from Lindomagos "lake-plain", originally the name of the plain formed by the Linth and Lake Zurich.

In 1890, so-called Potin lumps were found, whose largest weights 59.2 kilograms (131 lb) at the Prehistoric pile dwelling settlement Alpenquai in Zürich, Switzerland. The pieces consist of a large number of fused Celtic coins, which are mixed with charcoal remnants. Some of the 18,000 coins originate from the Eastern Gaul, others are of the Zürich type, that were assigned to the local Helvetii, which date to around 100 BC. The find is so far unique, and the scientific research assumes that the melting down of the lump was not completed, therefore the aim was to form cultic offerings. The site of the find was at that time at least 50 metres (164 ft) from the lake shore, and probably 1 metre (3 ft) to three meters deep in the water. There's also an island sanctuary of the Helvetii in connection with the settlement at the preceding Oppidi Uetliberg on the former Grosser Hafner island, as well as the settlement Kleiner Hafnerat the Sechseläuten square on the effluence of the Limmat on Zürichsee lake shore.

The name of the Helvetians lived on in the Latin name of Switzerland, Helvetia during the Middle Ages, when Latin was used as a common European language for diplomacy and science. The Swiss Revolution of 1798 was first of all a rebellion against the supremacy of the founders of the Old Swiss Confederacy, Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden and the cities of Lucerne, Zurich and Bern over the rest of the country. So it seems quite logical that the revolutionaries preferred the Latin name Helvetia to the colloquial name Schweiz (in German, derived from Schwyz) or Suisse (in French). Consequently they proclaimed the Helvetic Republic. The name was changed back again when the revolutionary experiment failed. In the Latin form it continued to exist, however.

Today, Helvetia is used as a keyword for Switzerland when a short name not depending on one of the four official languages spoken in different parts of Switzerland is needed. Modern Swiss coins bear the latin legend "Confoederatio Helvetica" and Swiss stamps are labeled HELVETIA. The abbreviation CH (Confoederatio Helvetica), is used for the CH-sticker on Swiss cars and Switzerland's top level internet domain .ch). Swiss aircraft are identified by HB-... (H=Helvetia, B=second country code beginning with H) and Swiss radio amateurs by HB9....

Swiss History Timeline - Helvetii
Helvetii coin