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Gaul (Latin: Gallia) is a historical name used in the context of Ancient Rome in references to the region of Western Europe approximating present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, but also sometimes including the Po Valley, western Switzerland, and the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the west bank of the Rhine. In English, the word Gaul may also refer to an inhabitant of that region (French: Gaulois), although the expression may be used more generally for all ancient speakers of the Gaulish language (an early variety of Celtic). This language was widespread in Europe, but it shared Gaul with other languages (including at least the Aquitanian language, and also possibly a separate Belgic language[1]). The Latin name for Gaul, still used as the modern Greek word for France, is Gallia.

Gauls under Brennus defeated Roman forces in a battle circa 390 BC. In the Aegean world, a huge migration of Eastern Gauls appeared in Thrace, north of Greece, in 281 BC. Another Gaulish chieftain, also named Brennus, at the head of a large army, was only turned back from desecrating the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece at the last minute — he was alarmed, it was said, by portents of thunder and lightning.[2] At the same time a migrating band of Celts, some 10,000 warriors, with their women and children and slaves, were moving through Thrace. Three tribes of Gauls crossed over from Thrace to Asia Minor at the express invitation of Nicomedes I, king of Bithynia (which was a small geographical location just south of the Bosphorus and the Black Sea in the northern portion of modern-day Turkey, southeast of modern-day Istanbul), who required help in a dynastic struggle against his brother. Eventually they settled down in eastern Phrygia and Cappadocia in central Anatolia, a region henceforth known as Galatia.



Map of Gaul circa 58 BC.

The names Gallia and Galatia sometimes are linked to the ethnic name Gael, which is, however, derived from Old Irish Goidel (derived, in turn, from Old Welsh Guoidel "Irishman", now spelled Gwyddel, from a Brittonic root *Wēdelos meaning literally "forest person, wild man"[3]), and cannot be directly related. It is uncertain whether the Gal- names are from a native name of a tribe, or if they are exonyms. Birkhan (1997) considers a root * g(h)al- "powerful" (PIE * gelh, well-attested in Celtic, and with cognates in Balto-Slavic), but speculates that the name also could be taken from a Gallos River, comparable to the names of the Volcae and the Sequani which are likely derived from hydronyms. There also have been attempts to trace Keltoi and Galatai to a single origin. It is most likely that the terms originated as names of minor tribes * Kel-to and/or Gal(a)-to- which were the earliest to come into contact with the Roman world, but which have disappeared without leaving a historical record.[4]

Josephus claimed that the Gauls were descended from Gomer, the grandson of Noah.

In English usage the words Gaul and Gaulish are used synonymously with Latin Gallia, Gallus and Gallicus. However, the similarity of the names is probably accidental: the English words are borrowed from French Gaule and Gaulois, which appear to have been borrowed themselves from Germanic walha- (likely via a Latinization of Frankish Walholant "Gaul", literally "Land of the Foreigners/Romans", making it partially cognate with the name Wales), the usual word for the non-Germanic-speaking peoples (Celtic-speaking and Latin-speaking indiscriminately)[5]. The Germanic w is regularly rendered as gu / g in French (cf. guerre = war, garder = ward), and the diphthong au is the regular outcome of al before a following consonant (cf. cheval ~ chevaux). Gaule or Gaulle can hardly be derived from Latin Gallia, since g would become j before a (cf. gamba > jambe), and the diphthong au would be incomprehensible; the regular outcome of Latin Gallia is Jaille in French which is found in several western placenames.[6][7]

Hellenistic etiology connects the name with Galatia (first attested by Timaeus of Tauromenion in the 4th c. BC), and it was suggested that the association was inspired by the "milk-white" skin (γάλα, gala, "milk") of the Gauls (Greek: Γαλάται, Galatai, Galatae).


Pre-Roman Gaul

A map of Gaul in the 1st century BC, showing the relative positions of the Celtic tribes.

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 rarely coincide.

The major source of materials on the Celts of Gaul was Poseidonios of Apamea, whose writings were quoted by Timagenes, Julius Caesar, the Sicilian Greek Diodorus Siculus, and the Greek geographer Strabo.[8]

Many cultural traits of the early Celts seem to have been carried northwest up the Danube Valley, although this issue is contested. It seems as if they derived many of their skills (like metal-working), as well as certain facets of their culture, from Balkan peoples. Some scholars think that the Bronze Age Urnfield culture represents an origin for the Celts as a distinct cultural branch of the Indo-European-speaking peoples (see Proto-Celtic). The Urnfield culture was preeminent in central Europe during the late Bronze Age, from ca. 1200 BC until 700 BC. The spread of iron-working led to the development of the Hallstatt culture (ca. 700 to 500 BC) directly from the Urnfield. Proto-Celtic, the latest common ancestor of all known Celtic languages, is considered by some scholars to have been spoken at the time of the late Urnfield or early Hallstatt cultures.

Massalia (modern Marseille) silver coin with Greek legend, 5th-1st century B.C.

The Hallstatt culture was succeeded by the La Tène culture, which developed out of the Hallstatt culture without any definite cultural break, under the impetus of considerable Mediterranean influence from the Greek, Phoenician, and Etruscan civilizations. 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, Austria, southwest Germany, Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia and Hungary. Farther north extended the contemporary Pre-Roman Iron Age culture of northern Germany and Scandinavia.

By the 2nd century BC, France was called Gaul (Gallia Transalpina) by the Romans. In his Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar distinguishes among three ethnic groups in Gaul: the Belgae in the north (roughly between Rhine and Seine), the Celts in the center and in Armorica, and the Aquitani in the southwest, the southeast being already colonized by the Romans. While some scholars believe that the Belgae south 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. French historians adopted fully the explanation of Caesar who stated that Gaul stretched from the Pyrenees up to the Rhine in the north. This fitted the French expansionist aspirations of the time under Napoleon III. In the north of (modern) France, the Gaul-German language border was situated somewhere between the Seine and the Somme. Northern Belgic tribes like the Nervians, Atrebates or Morini appear to be Germanic tribes who migrated from the Germanic hinterland and adopted Celtic language and customs[citation needed], as all of the names of their leaders and towns are Celtic. 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 Ligures had merged with the Celts to form a Celto-Ligurian culture.

In the 2nd century BC, Mediterranean Gaul had an extensive urban fabric and was prosperous, while the heavily forested northern Gaul had almost no cities outside of fortified compounds (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 125 BC, and by 121 BC they had conquered the Mediterranean region called Provincia (later named Gallia Narbonensis). This conquest upset the ascendancy of the Gaulish Arverni tribe.

Conquest by Rome

Gauls in Rome.

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 tribes (for example, the Aedui) he managed to conquer nearly all of Gaul. But the Arverni tribe, under Chieftain Vercingetorix, still defied Roman rule. Julius Caesar was checked by Vercingetorix at a siege of Gergorvia, a fortified town in the center of Gaul. Caesar's alliances with many Gallic tribes 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 to Caesar. The Germans 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 Rome.

As many as a million people (probably 1 in 4 of the Gauls) died, another million were enslaved, 300 tribes 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.[9] During Julius Caesar's campaign against the Helvetii (present-day Switzerland) approximately 60% of the tribe was destroyed, and another 20% was taken into slavery.

Roman Gallia

Soldiers of Gaul, as imagined by a late 19th century illustrator for the Larousse dictionary, 1898.

The Gaulish culture then was massively submerged by Roman culture, Latin was adopted by the Gauls, Gaul, or Gallia, was absorbed into the Roman Empire, all the administration changed and Gauls eventually became Roman citizens.[10] From the 3rd to 5th centuries, Gaul was exposed to raids by the Franks. The Gallic Empire broke away from Rome from 260 to 273, consisting of the provinces of Gaul, Britannia, and Hispania, including the peaceful Baetica in the south.

Following the Frankish victory at the Battle of Soissons in AD 486, Gaul (except for Septimania) came under the rule of the Merovingians, the first kings of France. Gallo-Roman culture, the Romanized culture of 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 Loire, where Gallo-Roman culture interfaced with Frankish culture in a city like Tours and in the person of that Gallo-Roman bishop confronted with Merovingian royals, Gregory of Tours.

The Gauls

Social structure and tribes

The Dying Gaul, an ancient Roman marble copy of a lost ancient Greek statue, thought to have been executed in bronze, commissioned some time between 230 BC – 220 BC by Attalos I of Pergamon to honor his victory over the Galatians.

The 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 tribe, which itself consisted of one or more of what Caesar called "pagi". Each tribe had a council of elders, and initially a king. Later, the executive was an annually-elected magistrate. Among the Aedui, a tribe of Gaul, the executive held the title of "Vergobret", a position much like a king, but its powers were held in check by rules laid down by the council.

The tribal groups, or pagi as the Romans called them (singular: pagus; the French word pays, "region", comes from this term) were organized into larger super-tribal groups that 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 tribes were moderately stable political entities, Gaul as a whole tended to be politically-divided, there being virtually no unity among the various tribes. 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 Gaulia Comata into three broad groups: the Aquitani; Galli (who in their own language were called Celtae); and Belgae. In the modern sense, Gaulish tribes are defined linguistically, as speakers of dialects of the Gaulish language. While the Aquitani were probably Vascons, the Belgae would thus probably be counted among the Gaulish tribes, perhaps with Germanic elements.

Julius Caesar, in his book, Commentarii de Bello Gallico, comments:

All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, 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 Garonne River separates the Gauls from the Aquitani; the River Marne and the River Seine separate them from the Belgae. Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest, because they are furthest from the civilisation 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 Germani, 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 valour, as they contend with the Germani 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 Garonne River, the Atlantic Ocean, and the territories of the Belgae; it borders, too, on the side of the Sequani and the Helvetii, upon the River Rhine, and stretches toward the north. The Belgae rises from the extreme frontier of Gaul, extend to the lower part of the River Rhine; and look toward the north and the rising sun. Aquitania extends from the Garonne to the Pyrenees and to that part of the Atlantic (Bay of Biscay) which is near Spain: it looks between the setting of the sun, and the north star.


Gold coins of the Gaul Parisii, 1st century BC, (Cabinet des Médailles, Paris).

The 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 worshiped, as well as tribal and household gods. Many of the major gods were related to Greek gods; the primary god worshiped at the time of the arrival of Caesar was Teutates, the Gallic equivalent of Mercury. The "father god" in Gallic worship was "Dis Pater" (cf. Dyaus Pitar), who could be assigned the Roman name "Saturn". However there was no real known theology, just a set of related and evolving traditions of worship.

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 rude temples. They also appear to have held the responsibility for preserving the annual agricultural calendar and instigating seasonal festivals which corresponding to key points of the lunar-solar calendar. The religious practices of druids were syncretic and borrowed from earlier pagan traditions, especially of ancient Britain. 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 sanctuary in Anglesey, also known as Holyhead, 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 worshipers, 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.[citation needed]

The 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.[11]

See also

Roman silver Denarius with the head of captive Gaul 48 BC, following the campaigns of Julius Caesar.


Asterix is a gaul in the popular comic book series by Goscinny and Uderzo.


  • Birkhan, H. (1997). Die Kelten. Vienna. 


  1. ^ Caesar wrote that: "All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in our Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws." Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur. Hi omnes lingua, institutis, legibus inter se differunt. Gallos ab Aquitanis Garumna flumen. (Julius Caesar, De bello Gallico, T. Rice Holmes, Ed., 1.1
  2. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, Phocis
  3. ^ Koch, John, "Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia", ABC-CLIO, 2006, pp. 775-6
  4. ^ Birkhan 1997:48.
  5. ^ Sjögren, Albert, "Le nom de "Gaule", in "Studia Neophilologica", Vol. 11 (1938/39) pp. 210-214
  6. ^ Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (OUP 1966), p. 391.
  7. ^ Nouveau dictionnaire étymologique et historique (Larousse 1990), p. 336.
  8. ^ Berresford Ellis, Peter (1998). The Celts: A History. Caroll & Graf. pp. 49–50. ISBN 0-786-71211-2. 
  9. ^ Julius Caesar The Conquest of Gaul
  10. ^ Helvetti
  11. ^ see e.g. Diodorus Siculus, 5.2

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GAUL, the modern form of the Roman Gallia, the name of the two chief districts known to the Romans as inhabited by Celtic-speaking peoples, (a) Gallia Cisalpina (or Citerior, " Hither"), i.e. north Italy between Alps and Apennines and (b) the far more important Gallia Transalpina (or Ulterior, " Further"), usually called Gallia (Gaul) simply, the land bounded by the Alps, the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees, the Atlantic, the Rhine, i.e. modern France and Belgium with parts of Holland, Germany and Switzerland. The Greek form of Gallia was FaXaria, but Galatia in Latin denoted another Celtic region in central Asia Minor, sometimes styled Gallograecia. (a) Gallia Cisalpina was mainly conquered by Rome by 222 B.C.; later it adopted Roman civilization; about 42 B.C. it was united with Italy and its subsequent history is merged in that of the peninsula. Its chief distinctions are that during the later Republic and earlier Empire it yielded excellent soldiers, and thus much aided the success of Caesar against Pompey and of Octavian against Antony, and that it gave Rome the poet Virgil (by origin a Celt), the historian Livy, the lyrist Catullus, Cornelius Nepos, the elder and the younger Pliny and other distinguished writers?

(b) Gaul proper first enters ancient history when the Greek colony of Massilia was founded (? 600 B.C.). Roman armies began to enter it about 218 B.C. In 121 B.C. the coast from 1 When Cisalpine Gaul became completely Romanized, it was often known as "Gallia Togata," while the Province was distinguished as "Gallia Bracata" (bracae, incorrectly braccae, " trousers"), from the long trousers worn by the inhabitants, and the rest of Gaul as "Gallia Comata," from the inhabitants wearing their hair long.

Montpellier to the Pyrenees (i.e. all that was not Massiliot) with its port of Narbo (mod. Narbonne) and its trade route by Toulouse to the Atlantic, was formed into the province of Gallia Narbonensis and Narbo itself into a Roman municipality. Commercial motives prompted the step, and Roman traders and land speculators speedily flocked in. Gradually the province was extended north of Massilia, up the Rhone, while the Greek town itself became weak and dependent on Rome.

It is not, however, until the middle of the 1st century B.C. that we have any detailed knowledge of pre-Roman Gaul. The earliest account is that contained in the Commentaries of Julius Caesar. According to this authority, Gaul was at that time divided among three peoples, more or less distinct from one another, the Aquitani, the Gauls, who called themselves Celts, and the Belgae. The first of these extended from the Pyrenees to the Garumna (Garonne); the second, from that river to the Sequana (Seine) and its chief tributary the Matrona (Marne), reaching eastward presumably as far as the Rhenus (Rhine); and the third, from this bounding Iline to the mouth of the last-named river, thus bordering on the Germans. By implication Caesar recognizes as a fourth division the province of Gallia Narbonensis. By far the greater part of the country was a plain watered by numerous rivers, the chief of which have already been mentioned, with the exception of its great central stream, the Liger or Ligeris (Loire). Its principal mountain ranges were Cebenna or Gebenna (Cevennes) in the south, and Jura, with its continuation Vosegus or Vogesus (Vosges), in the east. The tribes inhabiting Gaul in Caesar's time, and belonging to one or other of the three races distinguished by him, were numerous. Prominent among them, and dwelling in the division occupied by the Celts, were the Helvetii, the Sequani and the Aedui, in the basins of the Rhodanus and its tributary the Arar (Saone), who, he says, were reckoned the three most powerful nations in all Gaul; the Arverni in the mountains of Cebenna; the Senones and Carnutes in the basin of the Liger; the Veneti and other Armorican tribes between the mouths of the Liger and Sequana. The Nervii, Bellovaci, Suessiones, Remi, Morini, Menapii and Aduatuci were Belgic tribes; the Tarbelli and others were Aquitani; while the Allobroges inhabited the north of the Provincia, having been conquered in 121 B.C. The ethnological divisions thus set forth by Caesar have been much discussed (see Celt, and articles on the chief tribes).

The Gallic Wars (58-51) of Caesar (q.v.) added all the rest of Gaul, north-west of the Cevennes, to the Rhine and the Ocean, and in 49 also annexed Massilia. All Gaul was now Roman territory. Now the second period of her history opens; it remained for Roman territory to become romanized.

Caesar had no time to organize his conquest; this work was left to Augustus. As settled by him, and in part perhaps also by his successor Tiberius, it fell into the following five administrative areas.

(i) Narbonensis, that is, the land between Alps, sea and Cevennes, extending up the Rhone to Vienne, was as Augustus found it, distinct in many ways from the rest of Gaul. By nature it is a sun-steeped southern region, the home of the vine and olive, of the minstrelsy of the Provençal and the exuberance of Tartarin, distinct from the colder and more sober north. By history it had already (in the time of Augustus) been Roman for from 80 to loo years and was familiar with Roman ways. It was ready to be Italianized and it was civilized enough to need no garrison. Accordingly, it was henceforward governed by a proconsul (appointed by the senate) and freed from the burden of troops, while its local government was assimilated to that of Italy. The old Celtic tribes were broken up: instead, municipalities of Roman citizens were founded to rule their territories. Thus the Allobroges now disappear and the colonia of Vienna takes their place: the Volcae vanish and we find Nemausus (Nimes). Thus thrown into Italian fashion, the province took rapidly to Italian ways. By A.D. 70 it was "Italia verius quam provincia" (Pliny). The Gauls obviously had a natural bias towards the Italian civilization, and there soon became no difference between Italy and southern Gaul. But though educa tion spread, the results were somewhat disappointing. Trade flourished; the corporations of bargemen and the like on the Rhone made money; the many towns grew rich and could afford splendid public buildings. But no great writer and no great administrator came from Narbonensis; itinerant lecturers and journalists alone were produced in plenty, and at times minor poets.

(ii.-iv.) Across the Cevennes lay Caesar's conquests, Atlantic in climate, new to Roman ways. The whole area, often collectively styled "Gallia Comata," often "Tres Provinciae," was divided into three provinces, each under a legatus pro praetore appointed by the emperor, with a common capital at Lugudunum (Lyons). The three provinces were: Aquitania, reaching from the Pyrenees almost to the Loire; Lugudunensis, the land between Loire and Seine, reaching from Brittany in the west to Lyons in the south-east; and Belgica in the north. The boundaries, it will be observed, were wholly artificial. Here also it was found possible to dispense with garrisons, not because the provinces were as peaceful as Narbonensis, but because the Rhine army was close at hand. As befitted an unromanized region, the local government was unlike that of Italy or Narbonensis. Roman municipalities were not indeed unknown, but very few: the local authorities were the magistrates of the old tribal districts. Local autonomy was here carried to an extreme. But the policy succeeded. The Gauls of the Three Provinces, or some of them, revolted in A.D. 21 under Florus and Sacrovir, in 68 under Vindex, and in 70 under Classicus and Tutor (see CIvILIs, Claudius). But all five leaders were romanized nobles, with Roman names and Roman citizenship, and their risings were directed rather against the Roman government than the Roman empire. In general, the Gauls of these provinces accepted Roman civilization more or less rapidly, and in due course became hardly distinguishable from the Italian. In particular, they eagerly accepted the worship of "Augustus and Rome," devised by the first emperor as a bond of state religion connecting the provinces with Rome. Each August, despite the heat, representatives from the 60 (or 64) tribes of Gallia Comata met at Lyons, elected a priest, "sacerdos ad aram Augusti et Romae," and held games. The post of representative, and still more that of priest, was eagerly coveted and provided a scope for the ambitions which despotism usually crushes. It agrees with the vigorous development of this worship that the Three Provinces, though romanized, retained their own local feeling. Even in the 3rd century the cult of Celtic deities (Hercules Magusanus, Deusoniensis, &c.) were revived, the Celtic leuga reintroduced instead of the Roman mile on official milestones, and a brief effort made to establish an independent, though romanized, Gaul under Postumus and his short-lived successors (A.D. 259-273) Not only was the area too large and strong to lose its individuality: it was also too rural and too far from the Mediterranean to be romanized as fully and quickly as Narbonensis. It is even probable that Celtic was spoken in forest districts into the 4th century A.D. Town life, however, grew. The chefs-lieux of the tribes became practically, though not officially, municipalities, and many of these towns reached considerable size and magnificence of public buildings. But they attest their tribal relations by their appellations, which are commonly drawn from the name of the tribe and not of the town itself. Thus the capitals of the Remi and Parisii were actually Durocortorum and Lutetia: the appellations in use were Remis or Remus, Parisiis or Parisiusthese forms being indeclinable nouns formed from a sort of locative of the tribe names. Literature also flourished. In the latest empire Ausonius, Symmachus, Apollinaris, Sidonius and other Gaulish writers, chiefly of Gallia Comata, kept alive the classical literary tradition, not only for Gaul but for the world.

(v.) The fifth division of Gaul was the Rhenish military frontier. Augustus had planned the conquest of Germany up to the Elbe. His plans were foiled by the courage of Arminius and the inability of the Roman exchequer to pay a larger army. Instead, his successor Tiberius organized the Rhine frontier in two military districts. The northern one was the valley of the Meuse and that of the Rhine to a point just south of Bonn: the southern was the rest of the Rhine valley to Switzerland_ Each district was garrisoned at first by four, later by fewer legions, which were disposed at various times in some of the following fortresses: Vetera (Xanten), Novaesium (Neuss), Bonne (Bonn), Moguntiacum (Mainz), Argentorate (Strassburg) and Vindonissa (Windisch in Switzerland). At first the districts were purely military, were called, after the garrisons, "exercitus Germanicus superior" (south) and "inferior" (north). Later one or two municipalities were founded - Colonia Agrippinensis at Cologne (A.D. 51), Colonia Augusta Treverorum at Trier (date uncertain), Colonia Ulpia Traiana outside Vetera - and about 80-90 A.D. the two "Exercitus" were turned into the two provinces of Upper and Lower Germany. The armies in these districts formed the defence of Gaul against German invaders. They also helped to keep Gaul itself in order and their presence explains why the four provinces of Gaul proper contained no troops.

These provincial divisions were modified by Diocletian but without seriously affecting the life of Gaul. The whole country, indeed, continued Roman and fairly safe from barbarian invasions till after 400. In 407 a multitude of Franks, Vandals, &c., burst over Gaul: Roman rule practically ceased and the three kingdoms of the Visigoths, Burgundians and Franks began to form. There were still a Roman general and Roman troops when Attila was defeated in the campi Catalaunici in A.D. 451, but the general, Aetius, was "the last of the Romans," and in 486 Clovis the Frank ended the last vestige of Roman rule in Gaul.

For Roman antiquities in Gaul see, beside articles on the modern towns (ARLES, NiMES, ORANGE, &C.), BIBRACTE, ALESIA, ITIUS PORTUS, AQUEDUCT, ARCHITECTURE, AMPHITHEATRE, &C.; for religion see DRUIDISM; for the famous schools of Autun, Lyons, Toulouse, Nimes, Vienne, Marseilles and Narbonne, see J. E. Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship (ed. 1906-1908), i. pp. 247-250; for the Roman provinces, Th. Mommsen, Provinces of the Roman Empire (trans. 1886), vol. i. chap. iii. See also Desjardins, Geographie historique et administrative de la Gaule romaine (Paris, 18 77); Fustel de Coulanges, Histoire des institutions politiques de l'ancienne France (Paris, 1877); for Caesar's campaigns, article CAESAR, JULIUS, and works quoted; for coins, art. NUMISMATICS and articles in the Numismatische Zeitschrift and Revue numismatique (e.g. Blanchet, 1907, pp. 461 foll.). (F. J. H.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




From French Gaule, from Latin Gallia


Proper noun


countable and uncountable; Gauls

Gaul (countable and uncountable; plural Gauls)

  1. (uncountable) A Roman-era region roughly corresponding to modern France and Belgium
  2. (countable) A person from that region.


Related terms


  • Anagrams of aglu
  • Agul



From Middle High German gūl



Gaul m. (plural Gäule)

  1. horse
  2. hack, nag (bad, old or incapable horse)

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

The Church of Gaul first appeared in history in connexion with the persecution at Lyons under Marcus Aurelius (177). The pagan inhabitants rose up against the Christians, and forty-eight martyrs suffered death under various tortures. Among them there were children like the slave Blandina and Ponticus, a youth of fifteen. Every rank of life had members among the first martyrs of the Church of Gaul: the aristocracy were represented by Vettius Epagathus; the professional class by Attalus of Pergamus, a physician; a neophyte Maturus, died beside Pothinus, Bishop of Lyons, and Sanctus, deacon of Vienne. The Christians of Lyons and Vienne in a letter to their brethren of Smyrna give an account of this persecution, and the letter preserved by Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., V, i-iv), is one the gems of Christian literature. In this document the Church of Lyons seems to be the only church organized at the time in Gaul. That of Vienne appears to have been dependent on it and, to judge from similar cases, was probably administered by a deacon. How or where Christianity first gained a foothold in Gaul is purely a matter of conjecture. Most likely the first missionaries came by sea, touched at Marseilles, and progressed up the Rhone till they established the religion at Lyons, the metropolis and centre of communication for the whole country. The firm establishment of Christianity in Gaul was undoubtedly due to missionaries from Asia. Pothinus was a disciple of St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, as was also his successor, Irenaeus. In the time of Irenaeus, Lyons was still the centre of the Church in Gaul. Eusebius speaks of letters written by the Churches of Gaul of which Irenaeus is bishop (Hist. Eccl., V, xxiii). These letters were written on the occasion of the second event which brought the Church of Gaul into prominence. Easter was not celebrated on the same day in all Christian communities; towards the end of the second century Pope Victor wished to universalize the Roman usage and excommunicated the Churches of Asia. Irenaeus intervened to restore peace. About the same time, in a mystical inscription found at Autun, a certain Pectorius celebrated in Greek verse the Ichthus or fish, symbol of the Eucharist. A third event in which the bishops of Gaul appear is the Novatian controversy. Faustinus, Bishop of Lyons, and other colleagues in Gaul are mentioned in 254 by St. Cyprian (Ep. lxviii) as opposed to Novatian, whereas Marcianus of Axles was favourable to him.

No other positive information concerning the Church of Gaul is available until the fourth century. Two groups of narratives, however, aim to fill in the gaps. On the one hand a series of local legends trace back the foundation of the principal sees to the Apostles. Early in the sixth century we find St. Caesarius Bishop of Arles, crediting these stories; regardless of the anachronism, he makes the first Bishop of Vaison, Daphnus, whose signature appears at the Council of Arles (314), a disciple of the Apostles (Lejay, Le rôle théologique de Césaire d'Arles, p. 5). One hundred years earlier one of his predecessors, Patrocles, based various claims of his Church on the fact that St. Trophimus, founder of the Church of Arles, was a disciple of the Apostles. Such claims were no doubt flattering to local vanity; during the Middle Ages and in more recent times many legends grew up in support of them. The evangelization of Gaul has often been attributed to missionaries sent from Rome by St. Clement--a theory, which has inspired a whole series of fallacious narratives and forgeries, with which history is encumbered. More faith can be placed in a statement of Gregory of Tours in his "Historia Francorum" (I, xxviii), on which was based the second group of narratives concerning the evangelisation of Gaul. According to him, in the year 250 Rome sent seven bishops, who founded as many churches in Gaul: Gatianus the Church of Tours, Trophimus that of Arles, Paul that of Narbonne, Saturninus that of Toulouse, Denis that of Paris, Stremonius (Austremonius) that of Auvergne (Clermont), and Martialis that of Limoges. Gregory's statement has been accepted with more or less reservation by serious historians. Nevertheless even though Gregory, a late successor of Gatianus, may have had access to information on the beginnings of his church, it must not be forgotten that an interval of three hundred years separates him from the events he chronicles; moreover, this statement of his involves some serious chronological difficulties, of which he was himself aware, e. g. in the case of the bishops of Paris. The most we can say for him is that he echoes a contemporary tradition, which represents the general point of view of the sixth century rather than the actual facts. It is impossible to say how much legend is mingled with the reality.

By the middle of the third century, as St. Cyprian bears witness, there were several churches organized in Gaul. They suffered little from the great persecution. Constantius Chlorus, the father of Constantine, was not hostile to Christianity, and soon after the cessation of persecution the bishops of the Latin world assembled at Arles (314). Their signatures, which are still extant, prove that the following sees were then in existence: Vienne, Marseilles, Arles, Orange, Vaison, Apt, Nice, Lyons, Autun, Cologne, Trier, Reims, Rouen, Bordeaux, Gabali, and Eauze. We must also admit the existence of the Sees of Toulouse, Narbonne, Clermont, Bourges, and Paris. This date marks the beginning of a new era m the history of the Church of Gaul. The towns had been early won over to the new Faith; the work of evangelization was now extended and continued during the fourth and fifth centuries. The cultured classes, however, long remained faithful to the old traditions. Ausonius was a Christian, but gives so little evidence of it that the fact has been questioned. Teacher and humanist, he lived in the memories of the past. His pupil Paulinus entered the religious life, at which, however, the world of letters was deeply scandalized; so much so, indeed, that Paulinus had to write to Ausonius to justify himself. At the same period there were pagan rhetoricians who celebrated in the schools, as at Autun, the virtues and deeds of the Christian emperors. By the close of the fifth century, however, the majority of scholars in Gaul were Christians. Generation by generation the change came about. Salvianus, the fiery apologist (died c. 492), was the son of pagan parents. Hilary of Poitiers, Sulpicius Severus (the Christian Sallust), Paulinus of Nola, and Sidonius Apollinaris strove to reconcile the Church and the world of letters. Sidonius himself is not altogether free from suggestions of paganism handed down by tradition. In Gaul as elsewhere the question arose as to whether the Gospel could really adapt itself to literary culture. With the inroads of the barbarians the discussion came to an end.

It is none the less true that throughout the Empire the progress of Christianity had been made chiefly in the cities. The country-places were yet strongholds of idolatry, which in Gaul was upheld by a twofold tradition. The old Gallic religion, and Graeco-Roman paganism, still had ardent supporters. More than that, among the Gallo-Roman population the use of spells and charms for the cure of sickness, or on the occasion of a death, was much in vogue; the people worshipped springs and trees, believed in fairies, on certain days clothed themselves in skins of animals, and resorted to magic and the practice of divination. Some of these customs were survivals of very ancient traditions; they had come down through the Celtic and the Roman period, and had no doubt at times received the imprint of the Gallic and Graeco-Roman beliefs. Their real origin must of course, be sought further back in the same obscurity in which the beginnings of folk-lore are shrouded. This mass of popular beliefs, fancies, and superstitions still lives. It was the principal obstacle encountered by the missionaries in the rural places. St. Martin, a native of Pannonia, Bishop of Tours, and founder of monasteries, undertook especially in Central Gaul a crusade against this rural idolatry. On one occasion, when he was felling a sacred tree in the neighbourhood of Autun, a peasant attacked him, and he had an almost miraculous escape. Besides St. Martin other popular preachers traversed the rural districts, e.g. Victricius, Bishop of Rouen, another converted soldier, also Martin's disciples, especially St. Martin of Brives. But their scattered and intermittent efforts made no lasting effect on the minds of the peasants. About 395 a Gallic rhetorician depicts a scene in which peasants discuss the mortality among their flocks. One of them boasts the virtue of the sign of the cross, "the sign of that God Who alone is worshipped in the large cities" (Riese, Anthologia Latina, no. 893, v. 105). This expression, however, is too strong, for at that very period a single church sufficed for the Christian population of Trier. Nevertheless the rural parts continued the more refractory. At the beginning of the fifth century, there took place in the neighbourhood of Autun the procession of Cybele's chariot to bless the harvest. In the sixth century, in the city of Arles, one of the regions where Christianity had gained its earliest and strongest foothold, Bishop Caesarius was still struggling against popular superstitions, and some of his sermons are yet among our important sources of information on folk-lore.

The Christianization of the lower classes of the people was greatly aided by the newly established monasteries. In Gaul as elsewhere the first Christian ascetics lived in the world and kept their personal freedom. The practice of religious life in common was introduced by St. Martin (died c. 397) and Cassian (died c. 435). Martin established near Tours the "grand monastère", i.e. Marmoutier, where in the beginning the monks lived in separate grottoes or wooden huts. A little later Cassian founded two monasteries at Marseilles (415). He had previously visited the monks of the East, and especially Egypt, and had brought back their methods, which he adapted to the circumstances of Gallo-Roman life. Through two of his works "De institutis coenobiorum" and the "Collationes XXIV", he became the doctor of Gallic asceticism. About the same time Honoratus founded a famous monastery on the little isle of Lérins (Lerinum) near Marseilles destined to become a centre of Christian life and ecclesiastical influence. Episcopal sees of Gaul were often objects of competition and greed, and were rapidly becoming the property of certain aristocratic families, all of whose representatives in the episcopate were not as wise and upright as Germanus of Auxerre or Sidonius Apollinaris. Lérins took up the work of reforming the episcopate, and placed many of its own sons at the head of dioceses: Honoratus, Hilary, and Caesarius at Arles; Eucherius at Lyons, and his sons Salonius and Veranius at Geneva and Vence respectively; Lupus at Troyes; Maximus and Faustus at Riez. Lérins too became a school of mysticism and theology and spread its religious ideas far and wide by useful works on dogma, polemics, and hagiography. Other monasteries were founded in Gaul, e.g. Grigny near Vienne, Ile Barbe at Lyons, Réomé (later known as Moutier-Saint-Jean), Morvan, Saint-Claude in the Jura, Chinon, Loches etc. It is possible, however, that some of these foundations belong to the succeeding period. The monks had not yet begun to live according to any fixed and codified rule. For such written constitutions we must await the time of Caesarius of Arles. Monasticism was not established without opposition. Rutilius Namatianus, a pagan, denounced the monks of Lérins as a brood of night-owls; even the effort to make chastity the central virtue of Christianity met with much resistance, and the adversaries of Priscillian in particular were imbued with this hostility to a certain degree. It was also one of the objections raised by Vigilantius of Calagurris, the Spanish priest whom St. Jerome denounced so vigorously. Vigilantius had spent much time in Gaul and seems to have died there. The law of ecclesiastical celibacy was less stringent, less generally enforced than in Italy, especially Rome. The series of Gallic councils before the Merovingian epoch bear witness at once to the undecided state of discipline at the time, and also to the continual striving after some fixed disciplinary code.

The Church of Gaul passed through three dogmatic crises. Its bishops seem to have been greatly preoccupied with Arianism; as a rule they clung to the teaching of Nicaea, in spite of a few temporary or partial defections. Athanasius, who had been exiled to Trier (336-38), exerted a powerful influence on the episcopate of Gaul; one of the great champions of orthodoxy in the West was Hilary of Poitiers, who also suffered exile for his constancy. Priscillianism had a greater hold on the masses of the faithful. It was above all a method, an ideal of Christian life, which appealed to all, even to women. It was condemned (380) at the Synod of Saragossa where the Bishops of Bordeaux and Agen were present; none the less it spread rapidly in Central Gaul, Eauze in particular being a stronghold. When in 385 the usurper Maximus put Priscillian and his friends to death, St. Martin was in doubt how to act, but repudiated with horror communion with the bishops who had condemned the unfortunates. Priscillianism, indeed, was more or less bound up with the cause of asceticism in general. Finally the bishops and monks of Gaul were long divided over Pelagianism. Proculus, Bishop of Marseilles, had obliged Leporius, a disciple of Pelagius, to leave Gaul, but it was not long until Marseilles and Lérins, led by Cassian, Vincent and Faustus, became hotbeds of a teaching opposed to St. Augustine's and known as Semipelagianism. Prosper of Aquitaine wrote against it, and was obliged to take refuge at Rome. It was not until the beginning of the sixth century that the teaching of Augustine triumphed, when a monk of Lérins, Caesarius of Arles, an almost servile disciple of Augustine, caused it to be adopted by the Council of Orange (529).

In the final struggle Rome interfered. We do not know much concerning the earlier relations between the bishops of Gaul and the pope. The position of Irenaeus in the Easter Controversy shows a considerable degree of independence; yet Irenaeus proclaimed the primacy of the See of Rome. About the middle of the third century the pope was appealed to for the purpose of settling difficulties in the Church of Gaul and to remove an erring bishop (Cyprian, Epist. lxviii). At the Council of Arles (314) the bishops of Gaul were present with those of Brittany, Spain, Africa, even Italy; Pope Sylvester sent delegates to represent him. It was in a way a Council of the West. During all that century, however, the episcopate of Gaul had no head, and the bishops grouped themselves according to the ties of friendship or locality. Metropolitans did not exist as yet, and when advice was needed Milan was consulted. "The traditional authority", says Duchesne, "in all matters of discipline remained always the ancient Church of Rome; in practice, however, the Council of Milan decided in case of conflict." The popes then took the situation in hand, and in 417 Pope Zosimus made Patrocles, Bishop of Aries, his vicar or delegate in Gaul, and provided that all disputes should be referred to him. Moreover, no Gallic ecclesiastic could have access to the pope without testimonial letters from the Bishop of Aries. This primacy of Aries waxed and waned under the succeeding popes. It enjoyed a final period of brilliancy, under Caesarius, but after his time it conferred on the occupant merely an honorary title. In consequence, however, of the extensive authority of Arles in the fifth and sixth centuries, canonical discipline was more rapidly developed there, and the "Libri canonum" that were soon in vogue in Southern Gaul were modelled on those of the Church of Aries. Towards the end of this period Caesarius assisted at a series of councils, thus obtaining a certain recognition as legislator for the Merovingian Church.

The barbarians, however, were on the march. The great invasion of 407 made the Goths masters of all the country to the south of the Loire, with the exception of Bourges and Clermont, which did not fall into their hands until 475; Arles succumbed in 480. Then the Visigoth kingdom was organized, Arian in religion, and at first hostile to Catholicism. Gradually the necessities of life imposed a policy of moderation. The Council of Agde, really a national council of Visigothic Gaul (506), and in which Caesarius was dominant, is an evidence of the new temper on both sides. The Acts of this council follow very closely the principles laid down in the "Breviarium Alarici" -- a summary of the Theodocian Code drawn up by Alaric II, the Visigothic king, for his Gallo-Roman subjects -- and met with the approval of the Catholic bishops of his kingdom. Between 410 and 413 the Burgundians had settled near Mains; in 475 they had come farther south along the Rhone, and about this time became Arians. The Franks, soon to be masters of all Gaul, left the neighbourhood of Tournai, defeated Syagrius in 486, and established their power as far as the Loire. In 507 they destroyed the Visigoth Kingdom, and in 534 that of the Burgundians; in 536 by the conquest of Arles they succeeded to the remnants of the great state created by the genius of King Theodoric; with them began a new era (see FRANKS).

The transition from one regime to another was made possible by the bishops of Gaul. The bishops had frequently played a beneficent rôle as intermediaries with the Roman authorities. Before the barbarian invasions they were the true champions of the people. Indeed it was long believed that they had been invested with special powers and the official title of defensores civitatum (defenders of the States). While this title was never officially borne by them, the popular error was only formal and superficial. Bishops like Sidonius Apollinaris, Avitus, Germanus of Auxerre, Caesarius of Arles, were truly the defenders of their fatherland. While the old civic institutions were tottering to their fall, they upheld the social fabric. Through their efforts the barbarians became amalgamated with the native population, introducing into it the germs of a new and vigorous life. Lastly the bishops were the guardians of the classical traditions of Latin literature and Roman culture, and long before the appearance of monasticism had been the mainstay of learning. Throughout the sixth and seventh centuries manuscripts of the Bible and the Fathers were copied to meet the needs of public worship, ecclesiastical teaching, and Catholic life. The only contemporary buildings that exhibit traces of classical or Byzantine styles are religious edifices. For all this, and for much more, the bishops of Gaul deserve the title of "Makers of France".

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.

Simple English

Gaul (Latin: Gallia) was the name given in ancient times to the area of Western Europe that included northern Italy, France, Belgium, western Switzerland and the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the west bank of the Rhine river.

In English, the word Gaul (French: Gaulois) may also mean a Celtic inhabitant of that region, although the expression may be used for all ancient speakers of the Gaulish language as well. In this way, "Gaul" and "Celt" are sometimes used in the same sense.

Gauls under Brennus attacked Rome with the Battle of the Allia (390 BC).

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