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An extensive and populous country of Europe, bounded on the west by the Atlantic, on the north by the Insula Batavorum and part of the Rhenus (Rhine), on the east by the Rhenus and the Alps, and on the south by the Pyrenees. The greatest breadth was 600 English miles, but much diminished towards each extremity. Its length was from 480 to 620 miles. It was therefore more extensive than modern France before the Revolution, though inferior to the Empire under Napoleon I. Gaul was originally divided among the three great peoples—the Belgae, the Celtae, and the Aquitani. The Romans called the inhabitants of this country by one general name, Galli, while the Greeks styled them Κελταί. (See Celtae.) The Greeks called the country itself Galatia (Γαλατία) and Celtica (Κελτική). Of the three great nations of Gaul, the Celtae were the most extensive and the Belgae the bravest. The Belgae and Celtae were of like blood, though differing in temperament, the Belgae being more staid and less impulsive and vivacious, while the Celtae showed the mercurial disposition of the modern French. The Aquitani, on the south, were of a different (Iberian) stock, unlike the rest of the Gauls both physically and temperamentally, being dark of complexion, less sociable, and somewhat less intelligent, but more tenacious of purpose and enduring— traits which still mark the inhabitants of the Basque provinces to-day. The Celtae extended from the Sequana (Seine) in the north to the Garumna (Garonne) in the south. Above the Celtae lay the Belgae, between the Seine and the Lower Rhine. They were intermixed with Germanic tribes. The Aquitani lay between the Garonne and the Pyrenees, and were intermingled with Spanish tribes. These three great divisions, however, were subsequently altered by Augustus (B.C. 27), who extended Aquitania into Celtica as far as the Liger or Loire; the remainder of Gallia Celtica above the Liger was called Gallia Lugdunensis, from the colony of Lugdunum (Lyons); while the territory towards the Rhine was added to the Belgae under the title of Gallia Belgĭca. Lastly, the south of Gaul, which, from having been the first provinces possessed by the Romans, had been styled Gallia Provincia, was distinguished by the name of Narbonensis, from the city of Narbo (Narbonne). This province was also anciently called Gallia Bracata, from the bracae or trousers worn by the inhabitants; while Gallia Celtica was styled Comata, from the long hair (coma) worn by the natives. These four great provinces, in later ages, were called the four Gauls, and subdivided into seventeen others.

As far back as one can penetrate into the history of the West, we find the race of the Gauls occupying that part of the continent comprehended between the Rhine, the Alps, the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees, and the Ocean, as well as the two great islands situated to the northwest, opposite the mouths of the Rhine and Seine. Of these two islands, the one nearer the continent was called Alb-in, “White Island” (cf. the remark of Pliny , Pliny H. N. xiv. 16, Albion insula, sic dicta ab albis rupibus quas mare alluit”). The other island bore the name of Er-in, “Isle of the West” (from Eir or Iar, “the west”). The continental territory received the special appellation of Galltachd, “Land of the Gauls.” From this word the Greeks formed Γαλατία, and from this latter the generic name of Γαλάται. The Romans proceeded by an inverse method, and from the generic term Galli deduced the geographical denomination Gallia.

The population of Gaul was divided into families or tribes, forming among themselves many distinct communities or nations. Oftentimes they united together, in their turn, and formed confederations or leagues. Such were the confederations of the Celtae, Aedui, Armorici, Arverni, etc.

The Gaul was robust and of tall stature. His complexion was fair, his eyes blue, his hair of a blond or chestnut colour, to which he endeavoured to give a red or flaming hue by certain applications (Pliny , Pliny H. N. xxviii. 12; Mart.viii. 33). The hair itself was worn long (Diod. Sic.v. 28). The beard was allowed to grow by the people at large; the nobles, on the other hand, removed it from the face, excepting the upper lip, where they wore thick moustaches. The attire common to all the tribes consisted of trousers or bracae (Armoric). These were of striped materials. They wore also a short cloak, having sleeves, likewise formed of striped materials, and descending to the middle of the thigh. Over this was thrown a short cloak or sagum sae, Armoric; cf. Isidor. Orig. xix. 24), striped like the shirt, or else adorned with flowers and other ornamental work, and, among the rich, superbly embroidered with silver and gold (Verg. Aen. viii. 660; Sil. Ital. iv. 152; Diod. Sic.v. 28). It covered the back and shoulders, and was secured under the chin by a clasp of metal. The lower classes, however, wore in place of it the skin of some animal, or else a thick and coarse woolen covering. The offensive arms of the nation were, at first, hatchets and knives of stone; arrows point

Head of Gaul. (Villa Amendola.)

ed with flint or shells; clubs; spears hardened in the fire, and named gaïs (in Latin gaesum, in Greek γαισόν and γαισός); and others called cateïa, which they hurled while on fire against the enemy. Foreign traffic, however, made them acquainted, in process of time, with arms of iron, as well as with the art of manufacturing them for themselves from the copper and iron of their own mines. Among the arms of metal which thenceforward came into use may be mentioned the long sabre of iron or copper and a pike resembling the halberd, the wound inflicted by which was considered mortal. For a long time the Transalpine as well as the Cisalpine warriors of the Gallic race had rejected the use of defensive armour as inconsistent with true courage, and a point of honour had induced them even to strip off their vestments and engage naked with the foe. This prejudice, however, was almost entirely effaced in the second century when the military costume of Rome and Greece formed a singular combination with the ancient array of the Gaul. To a helmet of metal, of greater or less value according to the fortune of the warrior, were attached the horns of an elk, buffalo, or stag; while for the rich there was a headpiece representing some bird or savage beast, the whole being surmounted by a bunch of feathers, which gave to the warrior a gigantic appearance (Diod. Sic.v. 28). Similar figures were attached to their bucklers, which were long, quadrangular, and painted with the brightest colours. A buckler and casque after this model, a cuirass of wrought metal, after the Greek and Roman fashion, or a coat of mail formed of iron rings, after the manner of Gaul (Varr. L. L. iv. 20); an enormous sabre hanging on the right thigh, and suspended by chains of iron or brass from a belt glittering with gold and silver, and adorned with coral; a collar, bracelets, rings of gold around the arm and on the middle finger (Pliny, xxxiii. 1); trousers; a sagum hanging from the shoulder; and long red moustaches—such was the Gallic warrior.

Hardy, daring, impetuous, born, as it were, for martial achievements, the Gallic race possessed, at the same time, an ingenious and active turn of mind. They were not slow in equalling their Phœnician and Grecian instructors in the art of mining. The same superiority to which the Spaniards had attained in tempering steel, the Gauls acquired in the preparation of brass. Antiquity assigns to them the honour of various useful inventions, which had hitherto escaped the earlier civilization of the East and of Italy. The process of tinning was discovered by the Bituriges; that of veneering by the Aedui (Pliny , Pliny H. N. xxxiv. 17). The dyes, too, of Gaul were not without reputation (Pliny, viii. 48). In agriculture, the wheelplough and boulter were Gallic discoveries (Pliny , Pliny H. N. xviii. 18; xviii. 11). With the Gauls, too, originated the employment of marl for enriching the soil (Pliny xviii. 6 foll.). The cheeses of Mount Lozère, among the Gabali; those of Nemausus; and two kinds made among the Alps, became, in time, much sought after by the inhabitants of Italy (Pliny, xi. 49). The Gauls also prepared various kinds of fermented drinks, such as barley-beer, called cervisia (Pliny, xxii. 15); and likewise another kind of beer, made from corn, and in which honey, cumin, and other ingredients were mingled. (See Cervisia.) The froth of beer was employed as a means for leavening bread: it was used also as a cosmetic, and the Gallic women frequently applied it to the face, under the belief that it imparted a freshness to the complexion (Pliny, xxii. 25). It was from the Greeks of Massilia that they learned the process of making wine, as well as the culture of the grape.

The dwellings of the Gauls, spacious and of a round form, were constructed of posts and hurdles, and covered with clay both within and without; a large roof, composed of oak-shingles and stubble, or of straw cut and kneaded with clay, covered the whole (Vitruv. i. 1). Gaul contained both open villages and cities: the latter, surrounded by walls, were defended by a system of fortification, of which we find no example elsewhere. Caesar gives a description of these ramparts (B. G. vii. 23). To the

Restoration of Wall of Mursceints. (Duruy.)

north and east, among the more savage tribes, there were no cities properly so called; the inhabitants resided for the most part in large enclosures, formed of trunks of trees.

It was, as has been already remarked, in war, and in the arts applicable to war, that the genius of the Gauls displayed itself to most advantage. This people made war a regular profession, while the management of arms became their favourite employment. To have a fine martial mien, to retain for a long period strength and agility of body, was not only a point of honour for individuals, but a duty to the State. At regular intervals, the young men went to measure their size by a girdle deposited with the chief of the village, and those whose corpulence exceeded the official standard were severely reprimanded as idle and intemperate persons, and were, besides, punished with a heavy fine. In preparing for foreign expeditions, a chieftain of acknowledged valour generally formed a small army around him, consisting, for the most part, of adventurers and volunteers who had flocked to his standard; these were to share with him whatever booty might be obtained. In internal wars, however, or defensive ones of any importance, levies of men were forcibly made; and severe punishments were inflicted on the refractory, such as the loss of noses, ears, an eye, or some one of the limbs (B. G. vi. 4). If any dangerous crisis arrived, the supreme chief convened an armed council (B. G. v. 66). All persons able to bear arms were compelled to assemble at the place and day indicated, for the purpose of deliberating on the situation of the country, of electing a chief, and of discussing the plan of campaign. It was expressly provided by law that the individual who came last to the place of rendezvous should be cruelly tortured in the presence of the assembled multitude (B. G. v. 66). This form of assembly was, however, of rare occurrence, and was only resorted to in the last extremity. Neither infirmities nor age freed the Gallic noble from the necessity of accepting or seeking military commands. Oftentimes were seen, at the head of the forces, chieftains hoary and almost enfeebled by age, who could even scarcely retain their seats on the horse which supported them (B. G. viii. 12). This people would have believed that they dishonoured their aged warriors by making them die elsewhere than on the field of battle.

To the ferocity of the attack and to the violence of the first shock were reduced nearly all the military tactics of the Gauls on level ground and in pitched battle. In the mountainous regions, on the other hand, and especially in the vast and thick forests of the North, war had a close resemblance to the chase: it was prosecuted in small parties, by ambuscades and all sorts of stratagems; and dogs, trained up to pursue men, tracked out and aided in conquering the foe (Silius Ital. x. 77; Ovid, Met. i. 533; Mart.iii. 47). A Gallic army generally carried along with it a multitude of chariots for the baggage, which embarrassed its march (B. G. viii. 14; B. G. i. 51). Each warrior bore a bundle of straw, put up like a sack, on which he was accustomed to sit in the encampment, or even in the line of battle while waiting the signal to engage (B. G. viii. 15).

The Gauls, like other nations, for a long period were in the habit of killing their prisoners of war, either by crucifixion, or by tying them to trees as a mark for their weapons, or by consigning them to the flames amid cruel rites. Long prior, however, to the second century of our era, these barbarous practices were laid aside, and the captives of transalpine nations had nothing to fear but servitude. Another custom, not less savage, that of cutting off the heads of their slain enemies on the field of battle, was not slower in disappearing. It was long a settled rule in all wars that the victorious army should possess itself of such trophies as these; the common soldiers fixed them on the points of their spears, the horsemen wore them suspended by the hair from their horses; and in this way the conquerors returned to their homes, making the air resound with their triumphal shouts. Each one then hastened to nail up these hideous testimonials of his valour to the gate of his dwelling; and, as the same thing was done with the trophies of the chase, a Gallic village bore a strong resemblance to a charnel-house. Carefully embalmed and saturated with oil of cedar, the heads of hostile chieftains and of famous

Tomb of Gallic Chief. (Musée de Cluny, Paris.)

warriors were deposited in large coffers, and arranged by their possessor according to the date of acquisition. Sometimes the skull, cleansed and set in gold or silver, served as a cup in the temples, or circulated in the festivities of the banquet, and the guests drank out of it to the glory of the victor and the triumphs of their country. These fierce and brutal manners prevailed for a long period over the whole of Gaul. Civilization, in its on ward march, abolished them by degrees, until, at the commencement of the second century, they were confined to the savage tribes of the North and West. It was there that Posidonius found them still existing in all their vigour, when the sight of so many human heads, disfigured by outrages and blackened by the air and the rain, roused in him mingled emotions of horror and disgust.

The Gauls affected, as more manly in its character, a strong and rough tone of voice (Diod. Sic.v. 31). They conversed but little, and by means of short and concise phrases, which the constant use of metaphors and hyperboles rendered obscure and almost unintelligible to strangers. But, when once animated by dispute, or incited by something that was calculated to interest or arouse, at the head of armies or in political assemblies, they expressed themselves with copiousness and fluency.

The Gauls, in general, were accused of drinking to excess—a habit which took its rise both in the grossness of their manners and in the wants of a cold and humid climate. The Massilian and Italian traders were not slow in furnishing the necessary means for the indulgence of this vice. Cargoes of wine found their way, by means of the navigable rivers, into the very heart of the country. Drink was also conveyed over land in wagons (Diod. Sic.v. 26). About the first century, however, of our era, drunkenness began gradually to disappear from among the higher classes, and to be confined to the lower orders, at least with the nations of the South and East.

Milk and the flesh of animals, especially that of swine, formed the principal food of the Gauls. A curious account of their repasts is given by Posidonius (ap. Athen. iv. p. 13). After an excessive indulgence in the pleasures of the banquet, they loved to seize their arms and defy each other to the combat. At first it was only a sportive encounter; but, if either party chanced to be wounded, passion got so far the better of them that, unless separated by their friends, they continued to engage till one or the other of them was slain. So far, indeed, did they carry their contempt of death and their ostentatious display of courage, that they might be seen agreeing, for a certain sum of money or for so many measures of wine, to let themselves be slain by others; mounted on some elevated place, they distributed the liquor or gold among their most intimate friends, and then reclining on their bucklers, presented their throats to the sword ( Posidon. l. c.). Others made it a point of honour not to retire from their dwellings when falling in upon them, nor from the flames, nor from the tides of ocean and the inundations of rivers; and it is to this foolish daring that the Gauls owed their fabulous renown of being an impious race, who lived in open war with nature.

The working of mines, and certain monopolies enjoyed by the heads of tribes, had placed in the hands of some individuals enormous capital; hence the reputation for opulence which Gaul enjoyed at the period of the Roman invasion, and even still later. It was the Peru of the ancient world. The riches of Gaul even passed into a proverb (Ioseph. ii. 28; Caes.; Caes., etc.). Posidonius makes mention of a certain Luern or Luer (Λουέρνιος, Posidon. ap. Athen. iv. p. 13; Λουέριος, Strab. 191), king of the Arverni, who caused a shower of gold and silver to descend upon the crowd as often as he appeared in public. He also gave entertainments in a rude style of barbarian magnificence; a large space of ground was enclosed for the purpose, and cisterns were dug in it, which were filled with wine, mead, and beer.

Properly speaking, there was no domestic union or family intercourse among the Gallic nations; the women were held in dependence and servitude. The husband had the power of life and death over his wife as well as over his offspring. When a person of high rank suddenly died, and the cause of his death was not clearly ascertained, his wife or wives (for polygamy was practised among the rich) were seized and put to the torture; if the least suspicion was excited of their having been privy to his death, the victims perished in the midst of the flames, after the most frightful punishments (B. G. vi. 19). One custom, however, shows that even then the condition of women had undergone some degree of melioration: this was the community of goods between husband and wife. The children remained under the care of their mother until the age of puberty (B. G. vi. 18).

Among some nations of Belgic Gaul, where the Rhine was an object of superstitious adoration, a curious custom prevailed; the river was made the means of testing the fidelity of the wives. When a husband had doubts respecting its paternity, he took the new-born infant, placed it on a board, and exposed it to the current of the stream. If the plank and its helpless burden floated safely upon the waters, the result was deemed favourable, and all the father's suspicions were dissipated. If, on the contrary, the plank began to sink, the infant perished, and the parent's suspicions were confirmed.

Government and Religion.—Two privileged orders ruled in Gaul over the rest of the population —the priests and the nobles. The people at large were divided into two classes—the inhabitants of the country and the residents of cities. The former of these constituted the tribes or clients appertaining to noble families. The client cultivated his patron's domains, followed his standard in war, and was bound to defend him with his life. To abandon his patron in the hour of peril was regarded as the blackest of crimes. The residents of cities, on the other hand, found themselves beyond the control of this system of clientship, and, consequently, enjoyed greater freedom. Below the mass of the people were the slaves, who do not appear, however, to have been at any time very numerous.

When we examine attentively the character of the facts relative to the religious belief of Gaul, we are led to recognize the existence of two classes of ideas, two systems of symbols and superstitions entirely distinct from each other; in a word, two religions—one, altogether reasonable in its character, based on the personification of natural phenomena and recalling by its forms much of the polytheism of Greece; the other, founded on a material, metaphysical, mysterious, and sacerdotal pantheism, presenting at least a superficial conformity with the religions of the East. This latter has received the name of Druidism, from the Druids, who were its first founders and priests; the other system has been called the Gallic Polytheism. (See Druidae.) Druidism was said to have been established in Gaul by Heus or Hesus, a warrior and law-giver who was subsequently deified. The polytheistic system which prevailed, more especially in Southern Gaul, was fundamentally like that of the Greeks and Romans themselves. In its list of deities were Tarann, the god of thunder, the Gallic Zeus, though in parts of Gaul Hesus held this supremacy; Pennin, the god of the mountains (Livy, xxi. 38); Bel or Belew, the sun-god, the Gallic Apollo (Auson. Carm. 2); Teutates, the Gallic Hermes, presiding over the useful arts and commerce (Fel. Minuc. 30; Lactant. Div. Inst. i. 21); Ogmius, represented as leading a train of captives by chains of gold and amber proceeding from his mouth, typifying the power of eloquence; and Arduenna, the goddess of the forests. These deities, as was natural, were identified by Caesar with the gods of the Roman system (B. G. vi. 7).

The God Tarann. (Gadoz,
Relig. Gaul.
pl. i.)

This resemblance between the two systems of religion changed into identity when Gaul, subjected to the dominion of Rome, had felt for some years the influence of Roman ideas. It was then that the Gallic polytheism, honoured and favoured by the emperors, ended its career by becoming totally merged in the polytheism of Italy; while, on the other hand, Druidism, its mysteries, its doctrine, and its priesthood, were utterly proscribed. See Druidae.

General History.—The history of Gaul divides itself naturally into four periods. The first of these comprises the movements of the Gallic tribes while yet in their nomadic state. None of the races of the West ever passed through a more agitated or brilliant career. Their course embraced Europe, Asia, and Africa; their name is recorded with terror in the annals of almost every nation. They burned Rome; they wrested Macedonia from the veteran legions of Alexander; they forced Thermopylae and pillaged Delphi; they then proceeded to pitch their tents on the plains of the Troad, in the broad parks of Miletus, on the borders of the Sangarius, and those of the Nile. They besieged Carthage, menaced Memphis, and numbered among their tributaries the most powerful monarchs of the East; they founded in Upper Italy a powerful empire, and in the bosom of Phrygia they reared another—Galatia, which for a long time exercised its sway over the whole of Lower Asia. See Galatia.

During the Second Period—that of their sedentary state—we see the gradual development of social, religious, and political institutions, conformable to their peculiar character as a people; institutions original in their nature, and a civilization full of movement and of life, of which Transalpine Gaul offers the purest and most complete model. One might say, in following the animated scenes of this picture, that the theocracy of India, the feudal system of the Middle Ages, and the Athenian democracy had met on the same soil for the purpose of contending with each other and reigning by turns. Soon this civilization undergoes a change; foreign elements are introduced, brought in by commerce, by the relations of neighbourhood, by reaction from subjugated nations. Hence arose and multiplied a variety of social combinations. In Italy it is the Roman influence that exerts itself on the manners and institutions of the Gauls; in the south of Gaul it is that of the Massiliots; while in Phrygia one finds a most singular compound of Gallic, Grecian, and Phrygian civilization. To this succeeds the Third Period in the history of the Gallic race—that of national struggles and subjugation. By a singular coincidence, it is always by the Roman sword that the power of the Gallic tribes is destined to fall; in proportion as the Roman dominion extends, that of the Gauls recedes and declines. It would seem, indeed, that the victors and the vanquished, in the battle on the banks of the Allia, followed each other over the whole earth to decide the ancient quarrel of the Capitol. In Italy, the Cisalpine Gauls were reduced, but only after two centuries of obstinate resistance. When the rest of Asia had submitted to the yoke, the Galatae still defended against Rome the independence of the East. Gaul eventually fell, but through complete exhaustion, after a century of partial conflicts and nine years of general war under Caesar. Finally, the names of Caractacus and Galgacus shed a splendour on the last and ineffectual efforts of Keltic freedom. It is everywhere an unequal conflict between ardent and undisciplined valour on the one hand, and cool and steady perseverance on the other. The Fourth Period comprehends the organization of Gaul into a Roman province, and the gradual assimilation of transalpine manners to the customs and institutions of Italy—a work commenced by Augustus and completed by Claudius. See Thierry, Histoire des Gaulois (1827, last ed. 1872); the Recueil des Historiens des Gaules et de la France, edited by Bouquet and others, 26 vols. (1738-1885); Marin de Tyr, La France avant César (Paris, 1865); De la Forte Maison, Les Francs (Paris, 1868); Godwin, Hist. of France, vol. i. (New York, 1860), the best account of ancient Gaul in the English language; Martin, Histoire de France (4th ed. 1865); Fauriel, Histoire de la Gaule Méridionale (Paris, 1836); Coulanges, Histoire des Institutiones Politiques de l'Ancienne France (Paris, 1877); and the authors cited in the articles Celtae and Druidae (q. v.).

hide References (17 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (17):
    • Strabo, Geography, 4.2.3
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 1.533
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 8.660
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 11.49
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 14.16
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 17.6
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.11
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.18
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 22.15
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 22.25
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 28.12
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.1
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 34.17
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 8.48
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 21, 38
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 3.47
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.33
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