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Conquest of Gallia Narbonensis

(125-120 BCE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

The division of Gaul with major cities around 58 BCE
The division of Gaul with major cities around 58 BCE. On the map we see Gaul of Narbonne

For a long period, the Romans treated Transalpine Gaul only as a transit country. Even at the beginning of the 2nd century BCE, they were not interested in conquering these territories, as they claimed that the communication route from Italy to Spain would be secured by their ally Massilia. Everything changed in the middle of this century.

In 154 BCE the Massilians turned to the Romans for help, asking for support in repelling the invasions of the Ligurian-Gallic people of the Saluvii, who had their headquarters on the Drunia River north of Massilia. The attacks were repulsed, and for thirty years there was peace on the frontier. However, in 125 B.C.E. Massilia sent another request to Rome for help against the invasion of the incorrigible Saluvians. Thus began Rome’s penetration of the Gallic territories beyond the Alps.

According to Louis Rawlings, the Roman expansion into Transalpine Gaul had two goals – to help the Greeks of Massilia repel the attack and to secure communications with the Roman provinces in Spain. The cause of the conflict with the Saluvians could also be the establishment of a Greek colony in Glanum on their territory. Consul Marcus Fulvius Flaccus, sent by the Senate across the Alps, defeated the Saluvians, for which around 122 BCE was given the right to triumph. After Salluvia, it was the turn of the Wokoncjas, who had their seats between the Alps and the Rhône. The final defeat of the Saluvia was inflicted by another Roman commander, Gaius Sextius Calvinus, in the fights fought in 123-122 BCE. Their capital city of Entremont was then destroyed. Calvinus founded a settlement (castellum) of Roman veterans in Aquae Sextiae to protect Massilia from the north.

Soon the Romans came into conflict with the Allobroges when Teutomalius, king of the Saluvians, fled to the territory of this tribe, which refused to hand him over. Meanwhile, another tribe, the Aedui, in trade with Massilia, accused the Allobroges of breaking the peace. The Senate sent the army of consul Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus across the Alps in 122, which pulled north. Soon Ahenobarbus was joined by the consul of 121, Quintus Fabius Maximus. The combined forces of both commanders encountered the armies of the Allobroges, followers of Teutomalius, and the Arverni under the command of their king Bituitus near Vindalium near Avignon. The clash was settled by the elephants used by the Romans, which caused panic among the Gauls and their horses. It is said that 20,000 Allobroges died during the battle and 3,000 were taken prisoner. Bituitus managed to escape the slaughter. This victory gave the Romans control over the entire area on the left bank of the Rhône up to today’s Geneva. However, they had to contend with the Arverni, who were asked for help by the defeated Allobroges. At the confluence of the Jizera and the Rhône, a battle was fought that decided the fate of the south of Gaul. Little is known about this match. It is believed that the elephants used at Vindalium took part in the fight. Fabius, who had been wounded before the battle, led the battle from a litter. The Romans, despite having a significant advantage by the enemy, won a crushing victory. Orosius states that the Gauls lost 150,000 men, although this is questioned. The clash ended in their defeat, mainly because the bridges over the Rhône collapsed under the weight of the retreating Gauls. Appian states that Maximus was to lose only 15 soldiers!

The fate of the Arverni tribe was decided when Fabius’ successor, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus captured their king Bituitus and his son. Both were sent back to Rome. Then the Arverni, deprived of their rulers, made peace with the Republic (120 BCE). They relinquished the lands south of the Cevenna Mountains between Garumna and Rhône, inhabited by their Volki people. These areas, as well as the lands of the Saluvians, Wokoncjas and Allobroges, became part of the new province of Gallia Narbonensis – Gaul of Narbonne named after the settlement of Narbo veterans, which is the capital of the new province.

The importance of the conquest of Narbonne Gaul

Capturing southern Gaul did not immediately result in the desire to conquer the rest of the Gauls as far as the Rhine and the North Ocean. However, the alliance with the Aedui allowed the Romans to interfere in the affairs of the tribes in the north. The rise of Narbonne Gaul linked Italy more closely to its western provinces. During these battles, a road was built linking the Rhône with the Pyrenees (via Domitia). The conquest of southern Gaul was also important for Massilia. The aforementioned settlement of Narbo, located on the road via Domitia, turned out to be a serious commercial competition for this centre, and a blow to the Greeks of Massilia was the bypassing of the important trade centre of Massilia, Agde, by the aforementioned communication artery.

Author: Marcin Bąk (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Carry M., Scullard H.H., Dzieje Rzymu. Od czasów najdawniejszych do Konstantyna, Warszawa 1992
  • Romanowski T., Massalia 49 p.n.e., Warszawa 2016
  • Battle of the Isere River. Military Wiki/Fandom

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