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Rebellion of Florus and Sacrovir in Gaul

(21 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman sculpture from the 1st century CE showing Galatian killing his wife and himself
Roman sculpture from the 1st century CE showing Galatian killing his wife and himself

Conquered by Julius Caesar Gaul, she came to terms with being incorporated into the Empire relatively quickly. There were no more anti-Roman uprisings resembling the Vercingetorix revolt. However, in the province governed by imperial officials, there were sometimes minor protests against the new government.

The situation in Gaul after Caesar’s campaign ends

After subjugating the Gauls, Julius Caesar withdrew most of his army from their lands. However, the meagre source information shows that during his dictatorship and during the rule of Augustus there was unrest in Gaul. But they only encompassed a handful of tribes. The factors that shaped anti-Roman sentiments among the Gauls were the creation of a new administration and censuses (carried out at least three times from 27 BCE) to tax the population. Roman officials imposed heavy burdens on the local population, and the local aristocracy even sent petitions to Augustus complaining about the imperial liberator, who invented two new months in the calendar and thus collected additional tributes from the Celtic tribes. The situation required the intervention of the legions.

Between 38 and 19 BCE Agrippa, Octavian’s son-in-law, made several military campaigns in Gaul. Military operations in the province, but on a smaller scale, were also carried out by other Roman commanders. The situation in Gaul was complicated by the invasions of the Germans crossing the left bank of the Rhine, which the Roman authorities did not manage to repel. Some of them took on menacing dimensions. In 16 BCE an army of Sugambras, Tenkters and Usipets ambushed a Roman cavalry unit and defeated Governor Marcus Lolius’ army. The inability of the Romans to defend the province was read as the weakness of the Empire, which only encouraged the local tribes to act more and more boldly.

Rise of Florus and Sacred Heart

Tiberius

The anti-Roman uprising in Gaul took place during the Tiberius reign in 21 CE when the indebtedness of local aristocrats led to a boil. Its main leaders were two nobiles – Julius Florus from the Trewer tribe and Julius Sacrovir from the Edu tribe. They both had Roman citizenship, as they came from families that used to be meritorious for the Empire. At secret meetings held by the conspirators, it was established that Florus would incite the Belgians to revolt, and Sacrovir would conduct a similar agitation among the people living closer to the Edu lands. At these meetings, participants complained about the greed of governors and increasing taxes, emphasizing the weakness of the Roman state. However, some researchers see the cause of the rebellion more in the attempts to preserve wealth and influence by aristocratic leaders, which was to lead to their considerable indebtedness. They counted on the low morale of the legions agitated by the death of Germanicus, the general military weakness of Italy and the demoralization of the population of the Imperial capital.

The Andekaw and Turonian tribes joined the anti-Roman uprising first. The first of them was opposed by the legate Acylius Avivola, who, with the cohort guarding Lugdunum, suppressed the Andekaw rebellion. Then, with the legions from Lower Germania, with the support of several Gallic contingents, he defeated Turoni. The future commander of the Edu uprising, Sacrovir, who fought with his head uncovered, to emphasize his courage, distinguished himself in these battles. However, it was a ploy to lull the Romans’ vigilance. The reaction of Emperor Tiberius, who disregarded information about these events, thus prolonging the war, is puzzling. In the north, Florus attempted to raise a cavalry force (ala) made up of his tribe to the uprising. Few of the cavalrymen, however, could be persuaded to revolt, for which the legionaries from the Rhine provinces were appointed to suppress. The insurgents gained support only from a small group of Florus’ clients and indebted aristocrats. Then they moved towards the forested hills of Arduenna, but the forces of the governor of Lower Germania, Viselius Varro and Gaius Silius prevented them from taking these positions. Both commanders moved on to Florus from opposite directions to surround his group. Moreover, the Romans were supported by contingents of Gallic allies. One of them, the Trooper aristocrat Julius Indus, turned out to be very zealous in fighting him due to his personal settlements with Florus. The very name of the unit ala Gallorum Indiana, which existed in the Roman army for the following centuries, certainly comes from him. The small range of the uprising allowed the Romans to deal quickly with Florus. His people died in battle or were captured. The leader himself escaped the manhunts for a short time, but eventually, surrounded by Roman expeditions, he committed suicide.

Roman legionaries from the principate

While the Treveri uprising covered areas within the reach of the Rhine legions, the Edu uprising took place away from larger groups of Roman troops. The Edu tribe was wealthy and numerous, and therefore posed a more serious challenge to the emperor. Sacrovir even organized a weapons production workshop but trying to keep it a secret diminished the effects of this activity. The Edu concentrated considerable forces which captured Augustudunum (former tribal seat at Bibrakte). The rebels took hostages of the nobles educated in this city by the Romans in order to force their families to participate in the uprising. The size of Sacrovir’s army grew to 40,000 men, of which only 1/?were armed like the Roman army. The army of the insurgents also included liberated gladiators and masses of the population armed with improvised weapons. Initially, the Romans did not send troops to defeat Sacrovir due to the quarrels between Varro and Silius. Only when the elderly Varro gave the supreme command to the latter, a strong Roman expedition set off on Augustudunum. Silius, at the head of two legions supported by auxilia, set off for the lands allied with the Aedui of the Seine. When the Romans encountered Sacrovir’s army, he accepted the challenge to battle. He placed armoured gladiators in the centre, and troops armed in a Roman pattern on the sides. The retreat consisted of provisionally armed Gauls. The Roman cavalry on the wings defeated the flank troops of Sacrovir, only the centre put up a tough resistance, however, and here the Romans finally achieved their goal. After escaping from the battlefield, Sakrovir of Augustudunum went with his closest companions to a nearby villa, where they all took their own lives.

Summary

The rebellion of Florus and Sacrovir was the last mass uprising of the Gauls against the Romans. However, its coverage was small, covering only 2 of the 4 counties of Gaul. Even if the population silently supported these demonstrations, they could be cautious about participating in them due to the low chance of success and fear of Roman repression. In addition, as with the Indus, there could be personal reckoning involved. This situation was very useful to the Romans who consistently applied the principle of divide and rule in the provinces. The insurgents’ defeat was due to their military weakness caused by the lack of skill infighting among the local tribes. The subjugated Gallic chiefs no longer had teams of warriors that could constitute the cadre of a larger army. The occupation of the tribal elites was only the competition for offices, prestige and wealth among the local community within the Roman Empire.

Author: Marcin Bąk (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
Sources
  • Goldsworthy A., In the Name of Rome. The men, who won the Roman Empire, London 2006
  • Goldsworthy A., Pax Romana. War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World, London 2016
  • Tacitus, Annales
  • Illustration showing legionnaires: Warus w Lesie Teutoburskim 9 r. n.e. (w:) BATALIE I WODZOWIE WSZECH CZASÓW, 2008/Nr 7

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