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Gaul and the Gauls.


The district upon whose government Caesar entered in the spring of B. C. 58 consisted primarily of the two Gallic provinces, Cisalpine and Transalpine. Cisalpine Gaul was the northern portion of Italy, which several centuries earlier had been occupied by invaders from Gaul proper, and was not yet reckoned politically as a part of Italy; it was a wealthy, populous, and orderly country, the proconsul's main dependence for troops and supplies, and his regular winter residence. Transalpine or Narbonnese Gaul received its name from its capital, the Roman colony Narbo. It contained some thriving cities and peaceful districts; but as a whole it had been but recently brought under the authority of Rome, and was still essentially a foreign country. It comprised the whole coast of the Mediterranean from the Pyrenees to the Alps, having for its northern boundary an irregular and uncertain line, which separated the territory of the conquered nations of Gaul from the states which were still free. To these two provinces was added also Illyricum, which was a source of strength, but did not receive much of his attention.

The authority of the governor over his province was that of a military commander, whose power was not limited by the laws which protected the citizens of Rome. A few privileged cities or nations such as the old Greek city Massilia, were wholly exempted from his authority; but all other parts of theprovince, including Roman colonies like Narbo, were liable to tribute and under the jurisdiction of the governor, though the rights of Roman citizens were secured to them. A consular army consisted regularly of two legions; to these were added auxiliaries, both foot and horse, but the governor had power to levy new legions as he required them. Thus we find that Caesar had six legions in his campaign against the Nervii.

The free territories adjoining a Roman province were in no respect under the authority of the governor; but they were regarded as a legitimate field for his ambition, if there was any excuse for war, and of such excuses there was usually no lack. The Roman policy was to enter into friendly relations with one of the parties or tribes in the free territory, load this with favors and privileges, and make use of it to overcome its rivals; in Gaul the Haedui, attached to Rome through some local rivalries, very well served this purpose.

Caesar's province, at its western extremity, reached to Spain, a country which had belonged to the empire for more than a hundred and fifty years. To the north lay four great nationalities, with all of which he was ultimately brought in contact. These were the Gauls proper, the Belgians, the Germans, the Britons.

Free Gaul (Libera Gallia) at that time consisted of all the unsubdued territory between the Pyrenees and the ocean on the one side, and the Rhine and the Alps on the other, thus comprising, in general, modern France and Belgium, with parts of Holland, Germany, and Switzerland. The central portion of this territory, fully a half of it in extent and population, was occupied by the Gauls proper, or, as they called themselves, Celts, no doubt originally the same word. Southwest of these were the Aquitani, a separate people of Iberian race, cognate to the Spanish; of these, the Basques of the present day are the representatives. To the northeast lived the Belgians, whose ethnic affinities are much disputed; all that can be considered certain is that they were largely mixed with Germans. The Belgians occupied more territory than is now known as Belgium, including a considerable part of Holland on the one hand, and the northern belt of France on the other.

The Gallic People.

Origin and Early History.

The Gauls were a branch of the great nations of the Indo-European family that in prehistoric times occupied parts of Asia and the greater part of Europe. They were known to the ancients as Celts or Gauls, and this name was applied without discrimination to all the barbarous peoples of the unknown west of Europe. The term was rather geographical than racial. The Romans, though they had been brought into contact with the barbarians of the north by war and commerce for many centuries, made no distinction, before Caesar's time, between German and Gaul.

The Phoenicians, those pioneer traders and intrepid sailors of antiquity, had had commercial dealings with the Gauls at a very remote period. Several centuries later, but still at an early date (about B. C. 600), the Greeks had made a settlement near the mouth of the Rhone, which afterwards grew into the prosperous city of Massilia (Marseilles), and opened up some trade routes into the interior. Both Phoenicians and Greeks found the most powerful part of the Celts already well established in western Europe, and showing evidence of previous possession for a period going back of any assignable date.

The Celts had been for centuries a migratory and always a warlike people. These characteristics led them into many countries where they made settlements of more or less importance. Besides those who occupied Gaul proper, there were Iberian Celts (Celtiberi) in Spain, British Celts, Belgic Celts, Italian Celts in northern Italy, Celts in the Alps (notably the Helvetii), Illyrian Celts, and Asiatic Celts, who had settled in Asia Minor and were known as Galatians. It was to them, after they were Christianized, that Paul wrote his well-known epistle.

What knowledge the Greeks and Romans had of this powerful nation of barbarians was extremely vague. They had long hung like a dark storm-cloud on the northern frontier of both countries, and at intervals poured forth in overwhelming and destructive numbers. Once they spread desolation and dismay through Greece, and all but succeeded in plundering the rich temple of Delphi. In B. C. 390 Rome was destroyed by these same barbarians, and in B. C. 102 it was only the military genius of C. Marius that spared Italy a similar visitation.

Long before the time of Caesar, the Romans had succeeded in subduing the Gauls south of the Alps, making the prosperous and orderly province of Cisalpine Gaul, as related above. Transalpine Gaul and Illyricum were more recent additions to the empire, and were less thoroughly subdued and civilized. They had been finally conquered by Q. Fabius Allobrogicus. All to the north had as yet been unexplored and uninvaded by Roman arms. The Gauls, according to circumstances and location, showed at this time various degrees of civilization. Those to the south and west, being nearer to the refinement of the province, had made rapid strides, had built many flourishing cities, enjoyed prosperous and on the whole peaceful community life, and practiced the arts and commerce. But those farther removed in the east and north, and the Britons, were still in a semi-savage condition. Caesar's expeditions among these are somewhat like similar military expeditions that nations are sending in our day to explore and subdue unknown Africa; and the trading posts established among them by the enterprising Greek merchants of Massilia, like the business ventures formerly sent among the Indians.

Character and Customs.

The Gauls are described as tall and of great physical strength, with a fair skin and blonde hair, which they often reddened by artificial means. Men of rank and of authority wore the hair andbeard long. The more barbarous tribes gave themselves a terrible aspect by painting hideous devices on their half-naked bodies. Their voices were rough and harsh, their words few, and their language obscure and figurative. Disparaging others, boastful of themselves, arrogant, fond of idleness, they were very quarrelsome and always ready to fight, to relieve the monotony of their existence, if for no other reason. They were, however, high-spirited and brave to utter recklessness and contempt for death.

The Gallic women are described by an ancient writer as the most beautiful of all barbarian women and as thrifty housewives. He adds that, aided by his wife, who is much more formidable than he, the Gaul will hold his own in any conflict. The Roman invaders were often witnesses of the heroism of these veritable Amazons.

The Gauls lacked stability of character, and are often criticized by Caesar for their fickleness; they were also very avaricious and given to superstitions. On the other hand, they were not vicious, but naturally of a simple and teachable disposition. They were very quick to learn and adopt whatever useful arts their neighbors brought to them. Their love of freedom was passionate; but their long years of wandering had not developed in them that feeling of national unity and that love of the soil that we include under the term patriotism.

The life of the less civilized tribes was rude in the extreme. Their houses were little more than huts of clay and wood, thatched with straw and branches. The dwelling was open to daylight by the door alone, and had little or no furniture. Their beds were heaps of straw or furs. War was their principal occupation. They gave some attention to agriculture, raising the coarser grains, the better sort of fruits and vegetables being unknown to them. They also had large flocks and herds. They ate but little bread, but large quantities of meat, which they are described as cutting with their swords and eating in a ravenous manner.

The Gauls knew something of the arts and sciences. They did some weaving, and those on the coast had skill in shipbuilding and in navigation, and the Aquitanians were skilful miners Their attempts at art were mainly imitations of what other lands brought to them. For example, they made more or less successful attempts to imitate the artistic coins of the Greeks and Romans. Several illustrations of Gallic coins may be found in the text (see Figs. 29, 64, 66, 81, etc., etc.). Caesar was the first to bring to the world authentic information about most of these matters, and the student is referred for farther interesting details to his narrative (see especially Bk. vi).


The details of Gallic dress are not fully known. Like most semi-civilized or savage people, they were very fond of bright colors and finery. They wore much jewelry — both men and women — of gold, if they could afford it, otherwise of bronze. Especially characteristic was the heavy collar of twisted gold (torquis, see Fig. 77), worn about the neck. The principal garments were a short; bright-colored tunic, either with or without sleeves, confined by a girdle of silver or gold, and trousers (bracae). Over the shoulders was worn a short cloak (sagum) often of fine material and of gorgeous color. The character of the costume depended upon the rank and wealth of the wearer. The feet were protected by shoes or by soles of wood strapped on with leathern thongs. See Fig. 28.

Arms and Military Tactics.

As has been said, a Gaul's chief business was war. He was always a soldier and, whether in youth or in old age, hastened to war with the same ardor. His principal weapon was a long two-edged sword, hanging from an iron or steel chain at the right side. It was adapted for striking and cutting, but not so much for thrusting, and was but poorly tempered. This in itself gave the Romans a great advantage through the superiority of their arms. The Gallic bronze sword came into use later, and was a much better weapon. In Caesar's time the iron sword probably still predominated. They had also various kinds of pikes, lances, and javelins, some made with peculiar waving and twisted blades to cause an uglier wound. Many weapons are mentioned with special names, but they are not capable of identification. Bows and slings,too, were used by them.

Ordinarily the Gaul wore no defensive armor. In fact, the common soldier went into battle with body almost bare. But the principal warriors wore chain mail (see Fig. 86), which is said to be a Gallic invention. At first this was made of iron. Later, better and lighter suits were made of bronze, and were sometimes adorned with silver and gold. The usual means for defence were the helmet and the shield. Shields were of various shapes and sizes and were adorned with figures of animals, etc., to suit the caprice or wealth of the owner, but the designs were of ancient origin. The helmets were surmounted with great horns, forms of birds or beasts, etc., designed to terrify the enemy (see Fig. 11). These also were, no doubt, survivals of earlier barbarism.

In battle they placed much reliance on their cavalry and in Northern Gaul and Britain on their war chariots. The infantry was arranged in great masses of men in close order, like the old Greek phalanx, with a line of shields before and on the sides, and sometimes with a roof of shields overhead, something like the testudo formation of the Romans. When they had drawn near, champions were accustomed to leave the ranks, and, brandishing their arms, challenge the foe to single combat. The first onset of the Gallic phalanx was terrific and often swept everything before it; but if that could be withstood, the advantage lay with the open and pliable order of the legion. In the latter every soldier was called into action, but in the former the great bulk of the Gallic warriors was practically imprisoned in the mass, and only those on the outside could use their arms.


The Gauls were not a single nation, but a group of nations or tribes, about sixty in number, united by a very slight bond of consanguinity and common religion. These tribes, which may be loosely compared to those of the North American Indians, though most of them were at a very much higher degree of civilization, varied greatly in extent and power, the smaller ones often maintaining only a nominal independence under the protection of some larger one. They were for the most part ruled by a turbulent and oppressive aristocracy, sometimes with an elected chief magistrate But sometimes an ambitious leader, like Orgetorix, succeeded in establishing for a time a kingly power. Thus the several states were torn by hostile parties, and were at the same time grouped into national factions, under the lead of the more powerful states. At the time of Caesar, royalty had been almost abolished, and yearly magistrates (vergobrets) were elected instead. Every year representatives from the different states met in assembly, and questions of national policy were discussed. Owing to the violent and excitable natures of the Gauls, these assemblies often ended in tumultuous scenes of disorder.

At the commencement of war, a call to arms was sounded, to which old and young responded. The last man to appear was put to death with tortures in the presence of the assembled people.

Religion. — The Druids.

Caesar says that the Gauls were devoted to religious matters. They were under the control of a class of priests known as Druids, who acted not only as priests, but also as arbiters and judges. By them was treasured the religious and philosophic lore of the Gauls, and to them the Gallic youth went for instruction, some of them remaining in training as long as twenty years. One of their most important doctrines was that of the transmigration of souls. Belief in immortality gave the Gauls a contempt for death which enabled them to face the greatest dangers without flinching.

The Druids gave their instructions and performed their bloody sacrifices in the depths of the forest. The oak and the mistletoe were sacred in their eyes. The mysterious rites of their worship are not well known, but many cruel and horrible practices are attributed to them by ancient writers, among them human sacrifices. Caesar mentions these, but did not know of their actual occurrence from personal observation.

The principal religious observances of the Gauls were gradually abolished under Roman rule, but many of them were 'baptized' into Christianity and survive to-day in various modified forms as a part of the popular religion.

The strange monuments of stone found in many lands, called 'cromlechs' and 'menhirs,' popularly supposed to be Druidic monuments, are far older than the Druids and have nothing to do with their religion.

Caesar gives the first authentic information about the Druids in his narrative (Bk. vi. 13-16).


Caesar left Gaul subdued and open to Roman occupation and greed. The country was rapidly colonized and civilized. Augustus divided it into four provinces and established the Roman authority on a firm basis. Only one great patriotic uprising occurred after Caesar's time, though the Gauls took part in the contests later for the imperial throne. In course of time the very language of Gaul became Latin, and this became the parent of modern French. In the fifth century tribes of Germans began to make inroads on the Roman domain, and the Franks, under Clovis as king, firmly established themselves in the north. Their power spread; they subjugated the inhabitants, and gave their name to the country, which it bears to this day, — France, the lands of the Franks. There were many social and political changes after this time, but the same life flowed on from Roman Gaul to modern France. The French still display many of the characteristics of the ancient Gauls; they live in substantially the same limits; many of their mountains, cities, and streams still bear the old names.

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