Gaul (Latin: Gallia) was a region of
Western Europe during the Iron
Age that was inhabited by Celtic tribes, encompassing present day
France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switzerland, Northern Italy, as
well as the parts of the
Germany on the west bank of
the Rhine. It covered an area of 494,000 km2
(191,000 sq mi). According to the testimony of Julius
Gaul was divided into three parts: Gallia Celtica, Belgica and
Aquitania. Archaeologically, the
Gauls were bearers of the La Tène
culture, which extended across all of Gaul, as well as east to Raetia,
Pannonia and southwestern
Germania during the 5th to 1st
centuries BC. During the 2nd and 1st centuries BC,
Gaul fell under Roman rule:
Gallia Cisalpina was conquered in 203 BC
Gallia Narbonensis in 123 BC.
Gaul was invaded after 120 BC
Cimbri and the Teutons, who were in turn defeated by the Romans
by 103 BC.
Julius Caesar finally subdued the remaining parts of
Gaul in his campaigns of 58 to 51 BC.
Roman control of
Gaul lasted for five centuries, until the last Roman
rump state, the Domain of Soissons, fell to the
Franks in AD 486.
While the Celtic
Gauls had lost their original identities and language
during Late Antiquity, becoming amalgamated into a Gallo-Roman
culture, Gallia remained the conventional name of the territory
throughout the Early Middle Ages, until it acquired a new identity as
the Capetian Kingdom of
France in the high medieval period. Gallia
remains a name of
France in modern Greek (Γαλλία) and modern
Latin (besides the alternatives
Francia and Francogallia).
2.1 Pre-Roman Gaul
2.2 Initial contact with Rome
2.3 Conquest by Rome
2.4 Roman Gaul
2.5 Frankish Gaul
3.1 Social structure, indigenous nation and clans
4 See also
7 External links
Further information: Names of the
Celts § Galli, Galatai
The Greek and
Galatia (first attested by Timaeus of
Tauromenium in the 4th century BC) and Gallia are ultimately derived
from a Celtic ethnic term or clan Gal(a)-to-. The Galli of Gallia
Celtica were reported to refer to themselves as Celtae by Caesar.
Hellenistic folk etymology connected the name of the Galatians
(Γαλάται, Galátai) to the supposedly "milk-white" skin
(γάλα, gála "milk") of the Gauls. Modern researchers say it is
related to Welsh gallu, Cornish galloes, "capacity, power",
thus meaning "powerful people".
Gaul is from French Gaule and is unrelated to Latin
Gallia, despite superficial similarity. The name
Gaul is derived from
Old Frankish *Walholant (via a Latinized form *Walula)
literally "Land of the Foreigners/Romans", in which *Walho- is reflex
of Proto-Germanic *walhaz, "foreigner, Romanized person", an exonym
applied by Germanic speakers to
Celts and Latin-speaking people
indiscriminately, making it cognate with the names
Wallachia. The Germanic w- is regularly rendered as gu- / g- in
French (cf. guerre "war", garder "ward"), and the historic diphthong
au is the regular outcome of al before a following consonant (cf.
cheval ~ chevaux). French Gaule or Gaulle cannot be derived from Latin
Gallia, since g would become j before a (cf. gamba > jambe), and
the diphthong au would be unexplained; the regular outcome of Latin
Gallia is Jaille in French, which is found in several western
placenames, such as
La Jaille-Yvon and Saint-Mars-la-Jaille.
Proto-Germanic *walha is derived ultimately from the name of the
Also unrelated in spite of superficial similarity is the name
Gael. The Irish word gall did originally mean "a Gaul", i.e. an
inhabitant of Gaul, but its meaning was later widened to "foreigner",
to describe the Vikings, and later still the Normans. The
dichotomic words gael and gall are sometimes used together for
contrast, for instance in the 12th-century book Cogad Gáedel re
As adjectives, English has the two variants: Gaulish and Gallic. The
two adjectives are used synonymously, as "pertaining to
Gaul or the
Gauls", although the Celtic language or languages spoken in
predominantly known as Gaulish.
Further information: Prehistoric France, Celts, La Tène culture, and
Greeks in pre-Roman Gaul
Roman Gaul (Droysens Allgemeiner historischer Handatlas, 1886)
The early history of the
Gauls is predominantly a work in
archaeology—there being little written information (save perhaps
what can be gleaned from coins) concerning the peoples that inhabited
these regions—and the relationships between their material culture,
genetic relationships (the study of which has been aided, in recent
years, through the field of archaeogenetics) and linguistic divisions
Before the rapid spread of the
La Tène culture
La Tène culture in the 5th to 4th
centuries BC, the territory of eastern and southern
participated in the Late Bronze Age
Urnfield culture (c. 12th to 8th
centuries BC.) out of which the early iron-working Hallstatt culture
(7th to 6th centuries BC) would develop. By 500 BC, there is strong
Hallstatt influence throughout most of
France (except for the Alps and
the extreme north-west).
Out of this Hallstatt background, during the 7th and 6th century
presumably representing an early form of
Continental Celtic culture,
La Tène culture
La Tène culture arises, presumably under Mediterranean influence
from the Greek, Phoenician, and Etruscan civilizations, spread out in
a number of early centers along the Seine, the Middle
Rhine and the
upper Elbe. By the late 5th century BC, La Tène influence spreads
rapidly across the entire territory of Gaul. The La Tène culture
developed and flourished during the late
Iron Age (from 450 BC to the
Roman conquest in the 1st century BC) in France, Switzerland, Italy,
Austria, southwest Germany, Bohemia, Moravia,
Slovakia and Hungary.
Farther north extended the contemporary pre-Roman
Iron Age culture of
Germany and Scandinavia.
The major source of materials on the
Gaul was Poseidonios of
Apamea, whose writings were quoted by Timagenes, Julius Caesar, the
Sicilian Greek Diodorus Siculus, and the Greek geographer Strabo.
In the 4th and early 3rd century BC, Gallic clan confederations
expanded far beyond the territory of what would become Roman Gaul
(which defines usage of the term "Gaul" today), into Pannonia,
Illyria, northern Italy, Transylvania and even Asia Minor. By the 2nd
century BC, the Romans described
Gallia Transalpina as distinct from
Gallia Cisalpina. In his Gallic Wars,
Julius Caesar distinguishes
among three ethnic groups in Gaul: the
Belgae in the north (roughly
Rhine and Seine), the Celtae in the center and in Armorica,
Aquitani in the southwest, the southeast being already
colonized by the Romans. While some scholars believe the
of the Somme were a mixture of Celtic and Germanic elements, their
ethnic affiliations have not been definitively resolved. One of the
reasons is political interference upon the French historical
interpretation during the 19th century.
In addition to the Gauls, there were other peoples living in Gaul,
such as the
Greeks and Phoenicians who had established outposts such
as Massilia (present-day Marseille) along the Mediterranean coast.
Also, along the southeastern Mediterranean coast, the
merged with the
Celts to form a Celto-Ligurian culture.
Initial contact with Rome
In the 2nd century BC, Mediterranean
Gaul had an extensive urban
fabric and was prosperous, while the best known cities in northern
Gaul include the Biturigian capital of
Avaricum (Bourges), Cenabum
Autricum (Chartres) and the excavated site of Bibracte
Autun in Saône-et-Loire, along with a number of hillforts (or
oppida) used in times of war. The prosperity of Mediterranean Gaul
encouraged Rome to respond to pleas for assistance from the
inhabitants of Massilia, who were under attack by a coalition of
Ligures and Gauls. The Romans intervened in
Gaul in 154 BC and
again in 125 BC. Whereas on the first occasion they came and went,
on the second they stayed. In 122 BC Domitius Ahenobarbus managed
to defeat the
Allobroges (who were allied to the Salluvii), while in
the ensuing year Quintus Fabius Maximus "destroyed" an army of the
Averni led by their king Bituitus, who had come to the aid of the
Allobroges. Massilia was allowed to keep its lands, but Rome added
to its territories the lands of the conquered tribes. The direct
result of these conquests was that by now, Rome controlled an area
extending from the
Pyrenees to the lower
Rhône river, and in the east
up to the
Rhône Valley to Lake Geneva. By 121 BC, they had
conquered the Mediterranean region called Provincia (later named
Gallia Narbonensis). This conquest upset the ascendancy of the Gaulish
Conquest by Rome
Gauls in Rome
Main article: Gallic Wars
The Roman proconsul and general
Julius Caesar pushed his army into
Gaul in 58 BC, on the pretext of assisting Rome's Gaullish allies
against the migrating Helvetii. With the help of various Gallic clans
(e.g. the Aedui) he managed to conquer nearly all of Gaul. While
militarily just as strong as the Romans, the internal division between
the Gallic tribes guaranteed an easy victory for Caesar, and
Vercingetorix's attempt to unite the
Gauls against Roman invasion came
Julius Caesar was checked by
Vercingetorix at a
siege of Gergovia, a fortified town in the center of Gaul. Caesar's
alliances with many Gallic clans broke. Even the Aedui, their most
faithful supporters, threw in their lot with the Arverni, but the
ever-loyal Remi (best known for its cavalry) and Lingones sent troops
to support Caesar. The Germani of the Ubii also sent cavalry, which
Caesar equipped with Remi horses. Caesar captured
Vercingetorix in the
Battle of Alesia, which ended the majority of Gallic resistance to
As many as a million people (probably 1 in 5 of the Gauls) died,
another million were enslaved, 300 clans were subjugated and 800
cities were destroyed during the Gallic Wars. The entire
population of the city of
Avaricum (Bourges) (40,000 in all) were
slaughtered. Before Julius Caesar's campaign against the Helvetii
(present-day Switzerland), the Helvetians had numbered 263,000, but
afterwards only 100,000 remained, most of whom Caesar took as
Soldiers of Gaul, as imagined by a late 19th-century illustrator for
the Larousse dictionary, 1898
Main articles: Roman Gaul, Gallo-Roman culture, and History of France
The Gaulish culture then was massively submerged by Roman culture, and
Latin was adopted by the Gauls; Gaul, or Gallia, was absorbed into the
Roman Empire, all the administration changed, and
became Roman citizens. From the third to 5th centuries,
exposed to raids by the Franks. The Gallic Empire, consisting of the
provinces of Gaul, Britannia, and Hispania, including the peaceful
Baetica in the south, broke away from Rome from 260 to 273.
Main articles: Neustria, Frankish Aquitaine, Frankish Burgundy, and
Further information: Visigothic Kingdom, Christianity in Gaul, and
List of Frankish synods
Following the Frankish victory at the Battle of Soissons in 486 AD,
Gaul (except for Septimania) came under the rule of the Merovingians,
the first kings of France. Gallo-Roman culture, the Romanized culture
Gaul under the rule of the Roman Empire, persisted particularly in
the areas of
Gallia Narbonensis that developed into Occitania, Gallia
Cisalpina and to a lesser degree, Aquitania. The formerly Romanized
north of Gaul, once it had been occupied by the Franks, would develop
into Merovingian culture instead. Roman life, centered on the public
events and cultural responsibilities of urban life in the res publica
and the sometimes luxurious life of the self-sufficient rural villa
system, took longer to collapse in the Gallo-Roman regions, where the
Visigoths largely inherited the status quo in the early 5th century.
Gallo-Roman language persisted in the northeast into the Silva
Carbonaria that formed an effective cultural barrier, with the Franks
to the north and east, and in the northwest to the lower valley of the
Gallo-Roman culture interfaced with Frankish culture in a
Tours and in the person of that Gallo-Roman bishop
confronted with Merovingian royals, Gregory of Tours.
Massalia (modern Marseille) silver coin with Greek legend, 5th–1st
Gold coins of the
Gaul Parisii, 1st century BC, (Cabinet des
Denarius with the head of captive
Gaul 48 BC, following
the campaigns of Julius Caesar.
A map of
Gaul in the 1st century BCE, showing the relative positions
of the Celtic ethnicites: Celtae,
Belgae and Aquitani.
Expansion of the Celtic culture in the 3rd century BC.
Main article: Gauls
Social structure, indigenous nation and clans
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Druids were not the only political force in Gaul, however, and the
early political system was complex, if ultimately fatal to the society
as a whole. The fundamental unit of Gallic politics was the clan,
which itself consisted of one or more of what Caesar called pagi. Each
clan had a council of elders, and initially a king. Later, the
executive was an annually-elected magistrate. Among the Aedui, a clan
of Gaul, the executive held the title of Vergobret, a position much
like a king, but his powers were held in check by rules laid down by
The regional ethnic groups, or pagi as the Romans called them
(singular: pagus; the French word pays, "region" [a more accurate
translation is 'country'], comes from this term), were organized into
larger multi-clan groups the Romans called civitates. These
administrative groupings would be taken over by the Romans in their
system of local control, and these civitates would also be the basis
of France's eventual division into ecclesiastical bishoprics and
dioceses, which would remain in place—with slight changes—until
the French Revolution.
Although the individual clans were moderately stable political
Gaul as a whole tended to be politically divided, there
being virtually no unity among the various clans. Only during
particularly trying times, such as the invasion of Caesar, could the
Gauls unite under a single leader like Vercingetorix. Even then,
however, the faction lines were clear.
The Romans divided
Gaul broadly into Provincia (the conquered area
around the Mediterranean), and the northern Gallia Comata ("free Gaul"
or "long haired Gaul"). Caesar divided the people of Gallia Comata
into three broad groups: the Aquitani; Galli (who in their own
language were called Celtae); and Belgae. In the modern sense, Gaulish
peoples are defined linguistically, as speakers of dialects of the
Gaulish language. While the
Aquitani were probably Vascons, the Belgae
would thus probably be a mixture of Celtic and Germanic elements.
Julius Caesar, in his book, The Gallic Wars, comments:
Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the
Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called
Celts, in ours Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in
language, customs and laws. The
Belgae are the bravest, because they
are furthest from the civilization and refinement of [our] Province,
and merchants least frequently resort to them, and import those things
which tend to effeminate the mind; and they are the nearest to the
Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually
waging war; for which reason the
Helvetii also surpass the rest of the
Gauls in valor, as they contend with the Germans in almost daily
battles, when they either repel them from their own territories, or
themselves wage war on their frontiers. One part of these, which it
has been said that the
Gauls occupy, takes its beginning at the river
Rhone; it is bounded by the river Garonne, the ocean, and the
territories of the Belgae; it borders, Garonne separates the Gauls
from the Aquitani; the Marne and the
Seine separate them from the
Belgae. Of all these, the
Belgae too, on the side of the Sequani and
the Helvetii, upon the river Rhine, and stretches toward the north.
Belgae rises from the extreme frontier of Gaul, extend to the
lower part of the river Rhine; and look toward the north and the
Aquitania extends from the river Garonne to the Pyrenaean
mountains and to that part of the ocean which is near Spain: it looks
between the setting of the sun, and the north star.
Main article: Celtic polytheism
Gauls practiced a form of animism, ascribing human characteristics
to lakes, streams, mountains, and other natural features and granting
them a quasi-divine status. Also, worship of animals was not uncommon;
the animal most sacred to the
Gauls was the boar which can be
found on many Gallic military standards, much like the Roman eagle.
Their system of gods and goddesses was loose, there being certain
deities which virtually every Gallic person worshipped, as well as
clan and household gods. Many of the major gods were related to Greek
gods; the primary god worshipped at the time of the arrival of Caesar
was Teutates, the Gallic equivalent of Mercury. The "ancestor god" of
Gauls was identified by
Julius Caesar in his Commentarii de Bello
Gallico with the Roman god Dis Pater.
Perhaps the most intriguing facet of Gallic religion is the practice
of the Druids. The druids presided over human or animal sacrifices
that were made in wooded groves or crude temples. They also appear to
have held the responsibility for preserving the annual agricultural
calendar and instigating seasonal festivals which corresponded to key
points of the lunar-solar calendar. The religious practices of druids
were syncretic and borrowed from earlier pagan traditions, with
probably indo-European roots.
Julius Caesar mentions in his Gallic
Wars that those
Celts who wanted to make a close study of druidism
went to Britain to do so. In a little over a century later, Gnaeus
Julius Agricola mentions Roman armies attacking a large druid
Anglesey in Wales. There is no certainty concerning the
origin of the druids, but it is clear that they vehemently guarded the
secrets of their order and held sway over the people of Gaul. Indeed,
they claimed the right to determine questions of war and peace, and
thereby held an "international" status. In addition, the Druids
monitored the religion of ordinary
Gauls and were in charge of
educating the aristocracy. They also practiced a form of
excommunication from the assembly of worshippers, which in ancient
Gaul meant a separation from secular society as well. Thus the Druids
were an important part of Gallic society. The nearly complete and
mysterious disappearance of the Celtic language from most of the
territorial lands of ancient Gaul, with the exception of Brittany
France, can be attributed to the fact that Celtic druids refused to
allow the Celtic oral literature or traditional wisdom to be committed
to the written letter.
Celts practiced headhunting as the head was believed to house a
person's soul. Ancient Romans and
Greeks recorded the Celts' habits of
nailing heads of personal enemies to walls or dangling them from the
necks of horses.
Asterix—a French comic about
Gaul and Rome, mainly set in 50 BC
Braccae—trousers, typical Gallic dress
Roman Villas in Northwestern Gaul
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^ Nouveau dictionnaire étymologique et historique (Larousse 1990), p.
^ Koch, John Thomas (2006). Celtic culture: a historical encyclopedia.
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Gael is derived from
Old Irish Goidel (borrowed, in turn, in the 7th
century AD from Primitive Welsh Guoidel—spelled Gwyddel in Middle
Welsh and Modern Welsh—likely derived from a Brittonic root
*Wēdelos meaning literally "forest person, wild man"): John Koch,
"Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia", ABC-CLIO, 2006, pp.
^ Linehan, Peter; Janet L. Nelson (2003). The Medieval World. 10.
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^ Archaeologies of Colonialism: Consumption, Entanglement, and
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^ a b Drinkwater 2014, p. 5.
^ a b c d Drinkwater 2014, p. 6.
^ "France: The Roman conquest". Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved April 6, 2015. Because of chronic
internal rivalries, Gallic resistance was easily broken, though
Vercingetorix’s Great Rebellion of 52 bc had notable
^ "Julius Caesar: The first triumvirate and the conquest of Gaul".
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its mastery of strategy, tactics, discipline, and military
engineering. In Gaul, Rome also had the advantage of being able to
deal separately with dozens of relatively small, independent, and
uncooperative states. Caesar conquered these piecemeal, and the
concerted attempt made by a number of them in 52 BC to shake off the
Roman yoke came too late.
^ Plutarch, Caesar 22
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^ see e.g. Diodorus Siculus, 5.2
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Drinkwater, John (2014).
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Provinces, 58 BC-AD 260. Routledge. ISBN 978-1317750741.
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