Gaul (Lat. Gallia)

Encyclopædia Orbis Latini


Ancient designation for the land South and West of the Rhine, West of the Alps, and North of the Pyrenees. The name was extended by the Romans to include Italy from Lucca and Rimini northwards, excluding Liguria. This extension of the name is derived from its settlers of the 4th and 3d cent. B.C.—invading Celts, who were called Gauls by the Romans. Their cousins in Gaul proper (modern France) probably had been there since 600 B.C., for the Greeks of Massilia (Marseilles) knew them. The Gaul in Italy was called Cisalpine Gaul [Cisalpine, from Lat.=on this side the Alps], as opposed to Transalpine Gaul; Cisalpine Gaul was divided into Cispadane Gaul [on this side the Po] and Transpadane Gaul.

Roman Rule

By 121 B.C., Rome had acquired Southern Transalpine Gaul, and by the time of Julius Caesar it had been pacified. It was usually called the Province (Provincia, hence modern Provence), and it included a strip 100 mi (160 km) wide along the sea from the Eastern Pyrenees northeastward and up the Rhone valley nearly to Lyons. Julius Caesar conquered Gaul in the Gallic Wars (58 B.C.–51 B.C.). He is the best ancient source on Gaul, and he has immortalized its three ethnic divisions, Aquitania (South of the Garonne), Celtic Gaul (modern central France), and Belgica (very roughly Belgium). Aquitania was probably inhabited by the ancestors of the Basques, and the Belgae were probably Celts, like the rest of the Gauls.

On the basis of these distinctions, Augustus in 27 B.C. set up great administrative divisions: Narbonensis (the old Province), under the direct rule of the Roman senate; Aquitania, now extending from the Pyrenees to the Loire; Lugdunensis (Celtic Gaul), a central strip mainly between the Loire and the Seine; and Belgica, including most of the rest. The latter three provinces were administered from Lugdunum (now Lyons), capital of Lugdunensis. Upper and Lower Germany were taken from Gaul; these included the upper Rhine, Alsace, Western Switzerland, the Franche-Comté, Eastern Belgium, Southern Netherlands, and the Rhineland.

In Roman Gaul it often became customary to call the chief center of a tribe or the country around it by some form of the tribe’s name. Many of these names survive today. The principal tribes of Gaul (with the modern survivals or locations) were: Abrincati (Avranches); Aedui; Allobroges; Ambiani (Amiens); Andecavi (Angers, Anjou); Atrebates (Arras); Baiocassi (Bayeux); Bellovaci (Beauvais); Bituriges (Bourges, Berry); Cadurci (Cahors, Quercy); Carnutes (Chartres); Catalauni (Châlons); Cenomani (Le Mans, Maine); Eburovici (Évreux); Helvetii; Lemovices (Limoges, Limousin); Lingones (Langres); Lexovii (Lisieux); Meldae (Meaux); Namnetes (Nantes); Nervii; Parisii (Paris); Petrocorii (Périgueux, Périgord); Pictones or Pictavi (Poitiers, Poitou); Redones (Rennes, Breton Roazon); Remi (Reims); Ruteni (Rodez); Santones (Saintes); Senones (Sens); Sequani, in the Franche-Comté; Silvanecti (Senlis); Suessiones (Soissons); Treveri (Trier, French Trèves); Tricassi (Troyes); Turones (Tours, Touraine); Veneti (Vannes, Breton Gwened).

Effects of Roman Rule

Although the Romans had won political control over Gaul, they never succeeded in imposing Roman culture throughout the land. Various provinces differed greatly in the degree to which they accepted Roman culture. The only serious attempt to rebel politically against Rome was the uprising of Postumus (A.D. 257), but Gallo-Roman civilization was too strong to fall before anything but the Germans of the 5th and 6th cent.

The villa system spread. A landed aristocracy grew up, employing the laborers, who made up the principal part of the population. The influence of Christianity and the ravages of Germanic invaders forwarded the local organization around the cities. The greatest testimony to the stability and thoroughness of the culture of Roman Gaul is the survival of the Latin language as French. However, an indication of regionalism is that Provençal, also a Romance language, survived in Southern France for centuries.
 
 

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