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Division of Gaul with major cities around 58 BCE
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Gaul (Gallia) was a historical land in Western Europe, located in what is now France, Belgium and northern Italy. These lands were inhabited by Celtic tribes.
Until the time of Julius Caesar, these lands had no real state or intertribal organization. There were only some loose cultural similarities and not very intense economic ties between the individual tribes. As a result of the conquest in the years 58 – 52 B.C.E. Gaul was partially romanized. Despite constant revolts, the Celts failed to maintain sovereignty for a long time. The situation was aggravated by constant internal struggles between the tribes, which prevented the conclusion of an anti-Roman alliance.

Gaul was divided into:

  • Transalpine Gaul (Gallia Transalpina), also called Gaul Further (Gallia Ulterior). The southeastern part of Transalpine Gaul became a Roman province in 121 BCE. In 118 BCE the colony of Narbo was founded here, thanks to which a second name was created for the new province – Gaul of Narbonne (Galia Narbonensis), today’s Provence.
  • Cisalpine Gaul (Gallia Cisalpina), also called Nearer Gaul (Gallia Citerior). Occupied by the Romans in the 3rd century BCE, it was finally incorporated in 42 BC. within Italy.
    This land included all the lands north of Italy, between the Pyrenees and the Rhine.

After winning the battle of Alesia in 52 BCE, Caesar granted all of Gaul the status of a province. Further structural transformations in Gaul took place only during the reign of Octavian Augustus, who divided Gaul and changed its borders, creating separate provinces:

  • Aquitaine (Gallia Aquitania)
  • Gallia Belgica (Gallia Belgica)
  • Lugdunian Gaul (Gallia Lugdunensis)
  • Gallia Narbonne (Gallia Narbonensis)
  • Germania Upper (Germania Superior)
  • Germania Lower (Germania Inferior)

Gallia Aquitania, Gallia Belgica and Gallia Lugdunensis became Imperial property, with the most Romanized Gallia Narbonensis from 22 BCE. was a Senate province.
From the 1st century BCE to the 1st century CE, most of the areas inhabited by the Celts (Iberia, Gaul, Britain) were conquered by Rome. The people of Iberia and Gaul were romanized, and the only Celtic tribe that was not subjugated to Rome were the Irei of Ireland.

The Gauls were among the fiercest opponents of Rome. They conquered and colonized the north of Italy, destroying the Etruscans at the same time. The Romans subjugated them only in three stages: in northern Italy, southern France, and finally through the conquest of northern France by Julius Caesar. There was a cultural and commercial exchange (mainly weapons) between the Gauls and the Italians.
In the years 260 – 274 CE Gaul was a separate state, thanks to Postumus, one of the many emperors from the anarchy period. Only Emperor Aurelian managed to cross out the autonomy of Gaul.


Dying Gaul, a Roman marble copy of a Greek work from the 3rd century BCE

The Celts were an Indo-European people whose original seat was the basin of the upper Rhine, Danube and Main. They spread during the 1st millennium BC. throughout Europe, including The British Isles, in the 7th century BCE. Gaul (henceforth known as the Gauls). Then they reached northern Italy, where in 390 BCE captured, sacked and burned Rome. Over time, the Romans drove the Celtic tribes north. The Gauls reached the Carpathians, and even beyond them to the territory of today’s Poland (Silesia, Lesser Poland). Some of them, in turn, headed for the Balkans, where they plundered Greece and entered Asia Minor. Another faction of the Celts crossed around 600 BCE Pyrenees. There they mixed with the local Iberian population and have since been known from Roman sources as the Celtiberians.
The main occupations of the Celts were: breeding and agriculture. They knew how to smelt metals, and make weapons, and over time, trade developed in the territories of the Celts.

The Celts, the best producers of the iron at that time, initiated the manufacture of iron helmets, and probably around 300 BCE, they invented mail. The contribution of the Italians is the invention of the scutum and cheek guards. A coloured drawing depicts a tribal leader or noble from southern France (1st century BCE). The Celtic horseman used a saddle with horns (and a bridle), which was adopted by the Romans. His pot helmet was of the “Agen” type. He was rich enough to afford the latest type of chain mail and a gold necklace and bracelets. His weapons are a long Celtic sword and spear (about 2.5 m) with a typical Celtic long and flattened tip, as described by Diodor. The ornaments on the horse’s harness depict human heads. They had ritual significance. The Celts are wild bounty hunters. This rider has short trousers (braccae) and leather boots. Long trousers were worn in northern France. The cavalry, led by chieftains like this, fought against the Romans as well as on the Roman side. Most of the riders had little or no armour. The round shield was more popular than the one shown in the picture.

The drawing shows a typical northern French tribal warrior wearing checkered trousers. His weapons are a simple long shield and a sword. Like the Romans, the Celts carried a sword on their right side. His hair is glued together with a mixture of clay and lime.

The Celtic army was characterized by poorly armoured infantry, usually armed with long, heavy and two-handed swords and an oblong shield. The typical tribal warrior of northern France was dressed in checkered trousers. Like the Romans, the Celts carried a sword on their right side. His hair was glued together with a mixture of clay and lime.
The weakness of the infantry was made up for by the excellent cavalry. The Celtic rider used a saddle with horns adopted from the Romans. In the history of this period, it is difficult to meet such excellent cavalry. The heavily armoured horsemen were well protected from both arrows and sword slashes. Their weapons are a long Celtic sword and spear (about 2.5 m) with a typical Celtic long and flattened point. The Gallic cavalry, like the Germanic one, was enlisted en masse in the regular Roman army.

A common feature of the beliefs of the Celts was polytheism, but under the influence of Romanization, the Gauls gradually began to reject their faith.

The Gauls were clearly divided, which resulted in the development of many Gallic tribes. The most important ones living in the province during the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar were:

  • Arverni lived in the centre of Gaul. Thanks to this, they concentrated trade within their reach. They also controlled two major rivers: the Allier and the Loire. They tried to form a confederation so that they could influence all the peoples of Gaul. Their main town was Gergovia (Gergovia). The name of this tribe, arverni, means “farmers”.
  • Belovaci, which means “warriors”, lived in the territory of Belgian Gaul.
  • Bituringians were south of the Loire. They occupied an area in the very centre of Gaul. From the southeast, they bordered the Arwens. Their main city, Avarikum, was the richest town in all of Gaul. Their name means “kings of the world”.
  • Aedui occupied much of modern Burgundy. Their capital was Bibracte. In 5 BCE Aedui left this city and took Augustodunum (present-day Autun in France). Even before the conquest of Gaul, these people decided to ally with Rome, thanks to which they could effectively compete for hegemony in Gaul with the neighbouring Arverni.
  • Lignoni means “Those who jump well on horses”. In their territories, there was an important sanctuary of the Seine for the peoples of Gaul.
  • Ruthenians derived their name from the word “gingers”.
  • Botheroyd Sylvia i Paul F., Słownik mitologii celtyckiej
  • Drinkwater John, Roman Gaul (Routledge Revivals): The Three Provinces, 58 BC-AD 260, 2014
  • Piegdoń Maciej, Galia Przedalpejska
  • Schlette Friedrich, Celtowie

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