Around 567 BC the region was the settlement of a Celtic tribe, the Bituriges Vivisci, who named the town Burdigala, probably of Aquitanian origin.
In 107 BC the Battle of Burdigala was fought by the Romans who were defending the Allobroges, a Gallic tribe allied to Rome, and the Tigurini led by Divico. The Romans were defeated and their commander, the consul Lucius Cassius Longinus, was killed in battle.
The city came under Roman rule around 60 BC, and it became an important commercial centre for tin and lead. It continued to flourish, especially during the Severan dynasty (3rd century), and acquired the status of capital of Roman Aquitaine. In 276 it was sacked by the Vandals. The Vandals attacked again in 409, followed by the Visigoths in 414, and the Franks in 498, and afterwards the city fell into a period of relative obscurity.
In the late 6th century the city re-emerged as the seat of a county and an archdiocese within the Merovingian kingdom of the Franks, but royal Frankish power was never strong. The city started to play a regional role as a major urban center on the fringes of the newly founded Frankish Duchy of Vasconia. Around 585 Gallactorius was made count of Bordeaux and fought the Basques.
In 732 the city was plundered by the troops of Abd er Rahman who stormed the fortifications and overwhelmed the Aquitanian garrison. Duke Eudes mustered a force to engage the Umayyads, eventually engaging them in the Battle of the River Garonne somewhere near the river Dordogne. The battle had a high death toll, and although Eudes was defeated he had enough troops to engage in the Battle of Poitiers and so retain his grip on Aquitaine.
In 735 following his father Eudes's death, the Aquitanian duke Hunald led a rebellion to which Charles responded by launching an expedition that captured Bordeaux. However, it was not retained for long, during the following year the Frankish commander clashed in battle with the Aquitanians but then left to take on hostile Burgundian authorities and magnates. In 745 Aquitaine faced another expedition where Charles's sons Pepin and Carloman challenged Hunald's power and defeated him. Hunald's son Waifer replaced him and confirmed Bordeaux as the capital city (along with Bourges in the north).
During the last stage of the war against Aquitaine (760–768), it was one of Waifer's last important strongholds to fall to the troops of King Pepin the Short. Charlemagne built the fortress of Fronsac (Frontiacus, Franciacus) near Bordeaux on a hill across the border with the Basques (Wascones), where Basque commanders came and pledged their loyalty (769).
In 778 Seguin (or Sihimin) was appointed count of Bordeaux, probably undermining the power of the Duke Lupo, and possibly leading to the Battle of Roncevaux Pass. In 814 Seguin was made Duke of Vasconia, but was deposed in 816 for failing to suppress a Basque rebellion. Under the Carolingians, sometimes the Counts of Bordeaux held the title concomitantly with that of Duke of Vasconia. They were to keep the Basques in check and defend the mouth of the Garonne from the Vikings when they appeared in c. 844. In Autumn 845 the Vikings were raiding Bordeaux and Saintes, count Seguin II marched on them but was captured and executed.
From the 12th to the 15th century Bordeaux regained importance following the marriage of Duchess Eléonore of Aquitaine to the French-speaking Count Henri Plantagenet, born in Le Mans, who within months of their wedding became King Henry II of England. The city flourished, primarily due to the wine trade, and the cathedral of St. André was built. It was also the capital of an independent state under Edward, the Black Prince (1362–1372), but after the Battle of Castillon (1453) it was annexed by France, and so extended its territory. The Château Trompette (Trumpet Castle) and the Fort du Hâ, built by Charles VII of France, were potent symbols of the new regime, which halted the wine commerce with England and so deprived the city of its wealth.
In 1462 Bordeaux created a local parliament. However, it only regained its importance during the 16th century when it became a major trading centre for sugar and slaves from the West Indies, along with its traditional wine exports.
Bordeaux adhered to the Fronde, being effectively annexed to the Kingdom of France only in 1653, when the army of Louis XIV entered the city.
Rue Sainte-Catherine in 1905
The 18th century saw the golden age of Bordeaux. Many downtown buildings (about 5,000), including those on the quays, are from this period. Victor Hugo found the town so beautiful he said: "Take Versailles, add Antwerp, and you have Bordeaux". Baron Haussmann, a long-time prefect of Bordeaux, used Bordeaux's 18th-century large-scale rebuilding as a model when he was asked by Emperor Napoleon III to transform a then still quasi-medieval Paris into a "modern" capital that would make France proud.
Towards the end of the Peninsula war on 12 March 1814, the Duke of Wellington sent William Beresford with two divisions and seized Bordeaux encountering little resistance. Bordeaux was largely anti-Bonapartist and the majority supported the Bourbons, so the British troops were treated as liberators.
In 1870, at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian war against Prussia, the French government temporarily relocated to Bordeaux from Paris. This recurred during the First World War and again very briefly during the Second World War, when it became clear that Paris would fall into German hands. However, on the last of these occasions the French capital was soon moved again to Vichy. In May and June 1940, Bordeaux was the site of the life-saving actions of the Portuguese consul-general, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who illegally granted thousands of Portuguese visas, which were needed to pass the Spanish border, to refugees fleeing the German Occupation.
From 1940 to 1943, the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina Italiana) established BETASOM, a submarine base at Bordeaux. Italian submarines participated in the Battle of the Atlantic from this base, which was also a major base for German U-boats as headquarters of 12th U-boat Flotilla. The massive, reinforced concrete U-boat pens have proved impractical to demolish and are now partly used as a cultural center for exhibitions.