26650211911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 11 — GaulFrancis John Haverfield

GAUL, the modern form of the Roman Gallia, the name of the two chief districts known to the Romans as inhabited by Celtic-speaking peoples, (a) Gallia Cisalpina (or Citerior, “Hither”), i.e. north Italy between Alps and Apennines and (b) the far more important Gallia Transalpina (or Ulterior, “Further”), usually called Gallia (Gaul) simply, the land bounded by the Alps, the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees, the Atlantic, the Rhine, i.e. modern France and Belgium with parts of Holland, Germany and Switzerland. The Greek form of Gallia was Γαλατία, but Galatia in Latin denoted another Celtic region in central Asia Minor, sometimes styled Gallograecia.

(a) Gallia Cisalpina was mainly conquered by Rome by 222 B.C.; later it adopted Roman civilization; about 42 B.C. it was united with Italy and its subsequent history is merged in that of the peninsula. Its chief distinctions are that during the later Republic and earlier Empire it yielded excellent soldiers, and thus much aided the success of Caesar against Pompey and of Octavian against Antony, and that it gave Rome the poet Virgil (by origin a Celt), the historian Livy, the lyrist Catullus, Cornelius Nepos, the elder and the younger Pliny and other distinguished writers.[1]

(b) Gaul proper first enters ancient history when the Greek colony of Massilia was founded (? 600 B.C.). Roman armies began to enter it about 218 B.C. In 121 B.C. the coast from Montpellier to the Pyrenees (i.e. all that was not Massiliot) with its port of Narbo (mod. Narbonne) and its trade route by Toulouse to the Atlantic, was formed into the province of Gallia Narbonensis and Narbo itself into a Roman municipality. Commercial motives prompted the step, and Roman traders and land speculators speedily flocked in. Gradually the province was extended north of Massilia, up the Rhone, while the Greek town itself became weak and dependent on Rome.

It is not, however, until the middle of the 1st century B.C. that we have any detailed knowledge of pre-Roman Gaul. The earliest account is that contained in the Commentaries of Julius Caesar. According to this authority, Gaul was at that time divided among three peoples, more or less distinct from one another, the Aquitani, the Gauls, who called themselves Celts, and the Belgae. The first of these extended from the Pyrenees to the Garumna (Garonne); the second, from that river to the Sequana (Seine) and its chief tributary the Matrona (Marne), reaching eastward presumably as far as the Rhenus (Rhine); and the third, from this bounding line to the mouth of the last-named river, thus bordering on the Germans. By implication Caesar recognizes as a fourth division the province of Gallia Narbonensis. By far the greater part of the country was a plain watered by numerous rivers, the chief of which have already been mentioned, with the exception of its great central stream, the Liger or Ligeris (Loire). Its principal mountain ranges were Cebenna or Gebenna (Cévennes) in the south, and Jura, with its continuation Vosegus or Vogesus (Vosges), in the east. The tribes inhabiting Gaul in Caesar’s time, and belonging to one or other of the three races distinguished by him, were numerous. Prominent among them, and dwelling in the division occupied by the Celts, were the Helvetii, the Sequani and the Aedui, in the basins of the Rhodanus and its tributary the Arar (Saône), who, he says, were reckoned the three most powerful nations in all Gaul; the Arverni in the mountains of Cebenna; the Senones and Carnutes in the basin of the Liger; the Veneti and other Armorican tribes between the mouths of the Liger and Sequana. The Nervii, Bellovaci, Suessiones, Remi, Morini, Menapii and Aduatuci were Belgic tribes; the Tarbelli and others were Aquitani; while the Allobroges inhabited the north of the Provincia, having been conquered in 121 B.C. The ethnological divisions thus set forth by Caesar have been much discussed (see Celt, and articles on the chief tribes).

The Gallic Wars (58–51) of Caesar (q.v.) added all the rest of Gaul, north-west of the Cévennes, to the Rhine and the Ocean, and in 49 also annexed Massilia. All Gaul was now Roman territory. Now the second period of her history opens; it remained for Roman territory to become romanized.

Caesar had no time to organize his conquest; this work was left to Augustus. As settled by him, and in part perhaps also by his successor Tiberius, it fell into the following five administrative areas.

(i) Narbonensis, that is, the land between Alps, sea and Cévennes, extending up the Rhone to Vienne, was as Augustus found it, distinct in many ways from the rest of Gaul. By nature it is a sun-steeped southern region, the home of the vine and olive, of the minstrelsy of the Provençal and the exuberance of Tartarin, distinct from the colder and more sober north. By history it had already (in the time of Augustus) been Roman for from 80 to 100 years and was familiar with Roman ways. It was ready to be Italianized and it was civilized enough to need no garrison. Accordingly, it was henceforward governed by a proconsul (appointed by the senate) and freed from the burden of troops, while its local government was assimilated to that of Italy. The old Celtic tribes were broken up: instead, municipalities of Roman citizens were founded to rule their territories. Thus the Allobroges now disappear and the colonia of Vienna takes their place: the Volcae vanish and we find Nemausus (Nîmes). Thus thrown into Italian fashion, the province took rapidly to Italian ways. By A.D. 70 it was “Italia verius quam provincia” (Pliny). The Gauls obviously had a natural bias towards the Italian civilization, and there soon became no difference between Italy and southern Gaul. But though education spread, the results were somewhat disappointing. Trade flourished; the corporations of bargemen and the like on the Rhone made money; the many towns grew rich and could afford splendid public buildings. But no great writer and no great administrator came from Narbonensis; itinerant lecturers and journalists alone were produced in plenty, and at times minor poets.

(ii.-iv.) Across the Cévennes lay Caesar’s conquests, Atlantic in climate, new to Roman ways. The whole area, often collectively styled “Gallia Comata,” often “Tres Provinciae,” was divided into three provinces, each under a legatus pro praetore appointed by the emperor, with a common capital at Lugudunum (Lyons). The three provinces were: Aquitania, reaching from the Pyrenees almost to the Loire; Lugudunensis, the land between Loire and Seine, reaching from Brittany in the west to Lyons in the south-east; and Belgica in the north. The boundaries, it will be observed, were wholly artificial. Here also it was found possible to dispense with garrisons, not because the provinces were as peaceful as Narbonensis, but because the Rhine army was close at hand. As befitted an unromanized region, the local government was unlike that of Italy or Narbonensis. Roman municipalities were not indeed unknown, but very few: the local authorities were the magistrates of the old tribal districts. Local autonomy was here carried to an extreme. But the policy succeeded. The Gauls of the Three Provinces, or some of them, revolted in A.D. 21 under Florus and Sacrovir, in 68 under Vindex, and in 70 under Classicus and Tutor (see Civilis, Claudius). But all five leaders were romanized nobles, with Roman names and Roman citizenship, and their risings were directed rather against the Roman government than the Roman empire. In general, the Gauls of these provinces accepted Roman civilization more or less rapidly, and in due course became hardly distinguishable from the Italian. In particular, they eagerly accepted the worship of “Augustus and Rome,” devised by the first emperor as a bond of state religion connecting the provinces with Rome. Each August, despite the heat, representatives from the 60 (or 64) tribes of Gallia Comata met at Lyons, elected a priest, “sacerdos ad aram Augusti et Romae,” and held games. The post of representative, and still more that of priest, was eagerly coveted and provided a scope for the ambitions which despotism usually crushes. It agrees with the vigorous development of this worship that the Three Provinces, though romanized, retained their own local feeling. Even in the 3rd century the cult of Celtic deities (Hercules Magusanus, Deusoniensis, &c.) were revived, the Celtic leuga reintroduced instead of the Roman mile on official milestones, and a brief effort made to establish an independent, though romanized, Gaul under Postumus and his short-lived successors (A.D. 250–273). Not only was the area too large and strong to lose its individuality: it was also too rural and too far from the Mediterranean to be romanized as fully and quickly as Narbonensis. It is even probable that Celtic was spoken in forest districts into the 4th century A.D. Town life, however, grew. The chefs-lieux of the tribes became practically, though not officially, municipalities, and many of these towns reached considerable size and magnificence of public buildings. But they attest their tribal relations by their appellations, which are commonly drawn from the name of the tribe and not of the town itself. Thus the capitals of the Remi and Parisii were actually Durocortorum and Lutetia: the appellations in use were Remis or Remus, Parisiis or Parisius—these forms being indeclinable nouns formed from a sort of locative of the tribe names. Literature also flourished. In the latest empire Ausonius, Symmachus, Apollinaris, Sidonius and other Gaulish writers, chiefly of Gallia Comata, kept alive the classical literary tradition, not only for Gaul but for the world.

(v.) The fifth division of Gaul was the Rhenish military frontier. Augustus had planned the conquest of Germany up to the Elbe. His plans were foiled by the courage of Arminius and the inability of the Roman exchequer to pay a larger army. Instead, his successor Tiberius organized the Rhine frontier in two military districts. The northern one was the valley of the Meuse and that of the Rhine to a point just south of Bonn: the southern was the rest of the Rhine valley to Switzerland. Each district was garrisoned at first by four, later by fewer legions, which were disposed at various times in some of the following fortresses: Vetera (Xanten), Novaesium (Neuss), Bonne (Bonn), Moguntiacum (Mainz), Argentorate (Strassburg) and Vindonissa (Windisch in Switzerland). At first the districts were purely military, were called, after the garrisons, “exercitus Germanicus superior” (south) and “inferior” (north). Later one or two municipalities were founded—Colonia Agrippinensis at Cologne (A.D. 51), Colonia Augusta Treverorum at Trier (date uncertain), Colonia Ulpia Traiana outside Vetera—and about 80–90 A.D. the two “Exercitus” were turned into the two provinces of Upper and Lower Germany. The armies in these districts formed the defence of Gaul against German invaders. They also helped to keep Gaul itself in order and their presence explains why the four provinces of Gaul proper contained no troops.

These provincial divisions were modified by Diocletian but without seriously affecting the life of Gaul. The whole country, indeed, continued Roman and fairly safe from barbarian invasions till after 400. In 407 a multitude of Franks, Vandals, &c., burst over Gaul: Roman rule practically ceased and the three kingdoms of the Visigoths, Burgundians and Franks began to form. There were still a Roman general and Roman troops when Attila was defeated in the campi Catalaunici in A.D. 451, but the general, Aetius, was “the last of the Romans,” and in 486 Clovis the Frank ended the last vestige of Roman rule in Gaul.

For Roman antiquities in Gaul see, beside articles on the modern towns (Arles, Nîmes, Orange, &c.), Bibracte, Alesia, Itius Portus, Aqueduct, Architecture, Amphitheatre, &c.; for religion see Druidism; for the famous schools of Autun, Lyons, Toulouse, Nîmes, Vienne, Marseilles and Narbonne, see J. E. Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship (ed. 1906–1908), i. pp. 247-250; for the Roman provinces, Th. Mommsen, Provinces of the Roman Empire (trans. 1886), vol. i. chap. iii. See also Desjardins, Géographie historique et administrative de la Gaule romaine (Paris, 1877); Fustel de Coulanges, Histoire des institutions politiques de l’ancienne France (Paris, 1877); for Caesar’s campaigns, article Caesar, Julius, and works quoted; for coins, art. Numismatics and articles in the Numismatische Zeitschrift and Revue numismatique (e.g. Blanchet, 1907, pp. 461 foll.). (F. J. H.) 

  1. When Cisalpine Gaul became completely Romanized, it was often known as “Gallia Togata,” while the Province was distinguished as “Gallia Bracata” (bracae, incorrectly braccae, “trousers”), from the long trousers worn by the inhabitants, and the rest of Gaul as “Gallia Comata,” from the inhabitants wearing their hair long.