Gallia Belgica: Wikis


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The Roman empire in the time of Hadrian (ruled 117-38 AD), showing, in northeastern Gaul, the imperial province of Gallia Belgica (Belgium/Picardie/Champagne)
Province of Gallia Belgica highlighted

Gallia Belgica (sometimes given as Belgica Prima[1]) was a Roman province located in what is now the southern part of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, northeastern France, and western Germany. The indigenous population of southern Gallia Belgica consisted of a mixture of Celtic and Germanic tribes, often described as the Belgae as well. According to Julius Caesar, the border between Gallia and Belgica was formed by the Marne and the Seine[2] and that with Germania by the Rhine[3] The area is the historical heart of the Low Countries, a region corresponding roughly to the current Benelux group of states, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg as well as the French Flanders and some part of the Rhineland.


Roman conquest

In 57 BC, Julius Caesar led the conquest of the tribes in the region which Romans would later call Gallia Belgica. Modern accounts hold that there were eighteen peoples in the region.[4] Save the southern Remi, all the tribes allied against the Romans, fearful of isolation if the rest of the region was conquered and angry at the Roman decision to garrison legions in their territory the preceding winter. Contemporary estimates of the allies’ combined strength numbered the troops at 288,000, led by the Suession king, Galba.[5] Due to the Belgic coalition’s size and reputation for uncommon bravery, Caesar avoided meeting the combined forces of the tribes in battle. Instead, he used cavalry to skirmish with smaller contingents of tribesmen. Only when Caesar managed to isolate one of the tribes did he risk conventional battle. The tribes fell in a piecemeal fashion and Caesar claimed to offer lenient terms to defeated, including Roman protection from the threat of surrounding tribes.[6] Most tribes agreed to the conditions. A series of uprisings followed the 57 BC conquest. The largest revolt was led by the Bellovaci in 52 BC, after the defeat of Vercingetorix. During this rebellion it was the Belgae who avoided direct conflict. They harassed the Roman legions, led personally by Caesar, with cavalry detachments and archers. The rebellion was put down after a Bellovaci ambush of the Romans failed. The revolting party was slaughtered.

Julius Caesar's commentary

Julius Caesar wrote in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico:

Gaul is divided in three parts, one is inhabited by the Belgae, the other by the Aquitanians, the third part by those who call themselves the Celts, but those we call Gauls. They all have other languages, institutions and laws. The Gauls are separated from the Aquitanians by the Garonne and from the Belgae by the Marne and the Seine. The bravest Gauls are the Belgae, because their culture and inhabitants are located far away from the rest of the province, because few merchants visit them, and because they are close to Germania, which is across the Rhine and with whom they are at war.

Formation of Gallia Belgica

The province of Gallia Belgica was originally part of Gallia Comata, however this governmental structure proved ineffective. Following a census of the region in 27 BC, Augustus ordered a restructuring of the provinces in Gaul. Therefore in 22 B.C., Marcus Agrippa split Gallia Comata into three regions (Gallia Aquitania, Gallia Lugdunensis and Gallia Belgica.) Agrippa made the divisions on what he perceived to be distinctions in language, race and community - Gallia Belgica was meant to be a mix of Celtic and Germanic peoples.[7] The capital of this territory was Reims, according to the geographer Strabo, though later the capital moved to modern day Trier. The date of this move is uncertain.

Modern historians view the term ‘Gaul’ and its subdivisions as a “product of faulty ethnography” and see the split of Gallia Comata into three provinces as an attempt to construct a more efficient government, as opposed to a cultural division.[8] Successive Roman emperors struck a balance between Romanizing the people of Gallia Belgica and allowing pre-existing culture to survive. The Romans allowed local governments to survive, typically in the form of Cantons, however their number in Gallia Belgica was curbed. Roman government was run by Concilia in Reims or Trier. Additionally, local notables from Gallia Belgica were required to participate in a festival in Lugdunum (modern Lyon) which typically celebrated or worshiped the emperor’s genius. The gradual adoption of Romanized names by local elites and the Romanization of laws under local authority demonstrate the effectiveness of this concilium Galliarum.[9] With that said, the concept and community of Gallia Belgica did not predate the Roman province, but developed from it.

Under the Emperors

During the 1st century AD (estimated date 90 AD), the provinces of Gaul were restructured. Emperor Domitian reorganized the provinces in order to separate the militarized zones of the Rhine from the civilian populations of the region.[10] The northern Gallia Belgica was renamed Germania Inferior (around modern Belgium), the eastern part Germania Superior (West Germany and Eastern France) and the southern border of Gallia Belgica was extended to the south. The newer Gallia Belgica included the cities of Camaracum (Cambrai), Nemetacum (Arras), Samarobriua (Amiens), Durocorter (Reims), Diuidorum (Metz) and Augusta Treverorum (Trier).

Emperor Diocletian restructured the provinces around 300, and split Belgica into two provinces: Belgica Prima and Belgica Secunda. Belgica Prima had Treveri (Trier) as its main city, and consisted of the eastern part. The border between Belgica Prima and Belgica Secunda was approximately along the River Meuse.

Fall of Gallia Belgica

In 406 AD, the Vandals, Burgundians and other tribes crossed the Rhine and defeated the Gaulish forces. The Franks had already infiltrated Germania Inferior and controlled it since at least 350 AD. They emerged victorious and Belgica Secunda became in the 5th century the center of Clovis' Merovingian kingdom and during the 8th century the heart of the Carolingian Empire. After the death of Charlemagne's son, Louis the Pious, the region was divided by the Treaty of Verdun in 843. The three sons of Louis the Pious divided his territories into three kingdoms: East Francia, West Francia which became the kernel of modern France, and Middle Francia which was succeeded by Lotharingia. Though often presented as the dissolution of the Frankish empire, it in fact the continued adherence to Salic patrimony. Lotharingia was divided in 870 by the Treaty of Meerssen under West- and East Francia.

Belgica as the name of the Low Countries

Representation of the Low Countries as Leo Belgicus by Claes Janszoon Visscher, 1609.

Although the name "Belgica" is now reserved for Belgium, before the division of the Low Countries into a southern and a northern half in the 16th century, the name referred to the entire Low Countries. The Seventeen Provinces of the Low Countries were then divided into the independent Belgica Foederata or the federal Dutch Republic and the Belgica Regia or the royal Southern Netherlands under the Habsbourgian crown. For example, several contemporary maps of the Dutch Republic, which consisted of the Northern Netherlands, and therefore has almost no intersection with the country of Belgium, show the Latin title Belgium Foederatum.[11]

In a Belgian dictionary Latin-French (edited in Brussels in 1826 by P.J. De Mat) the word "Belga" is translated as "Flamand" (Flemish).

See also


  1. ^ "Luxembourg." Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, 16. Funk & Wagnalls, Inc., 1990. ISBN 0-8343-0091-5
  2. ^ "Gallos ab Aquitanis Garumna flumen, a Belgis Matrona et Sequana diuidit.", Commentarii de Bello Gallico
  3. ^ "Proximique sunt Germanis, qui trans Rhenum incolunt." Commentarii de Bello Gallico
  4. ^ Jean-Pierre Picot. Dictionnaire Historique de la Gaule (Paris: La différence, 2002), p. 321.
  5. ^ Gaius Julius Caesar. The Conquest of Gaul. Trans. S.A. Handford (New York: Penguin, 1982), pp. 59-60.
  6. ^ Ibid., pp. 59, 70, 72.
  7. ^ Matthew Bunson. Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire (New York: Facts on File, 1994), p. 169.
  8. ^ The Cambridge Ancient History, New Ed., Vol. 10 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 469.
  9. ^ Edith Mary Wightman, Gallia Belgica (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985), pp. 57-62, 71-74.
  10. ^ Mary T. Boatwright, Daniel J. Gargola and Richard J. A. Talbert. A Brief History of the Romans (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 224.
  11. ^ For example, the map "Belgium Foederatum" by Matthaeus Seutter, from 1745, which show the current Netherlands.[1]


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