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History of France
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For Gallia or Gaul before the Roman conquest, see Gaul.

Roman Gaul consisted of an area of provincial rule in the Roman Empire, in modern day France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and western Germany. Roman control of the area lasted for 600 years. The Roman Empire began its takeover of what was Celtic Gaul in 121 BC, when it conquered and annexed the southern reaches of the area. Julius Caesar completed the task by defeating the Celtic tribes in the Gallic Wars of 58-51 BC and the romanization was quick and large; Latin was spoken by a majority of Gauls in the third century AD but with some remains of the Gallic language. Following the Romans' defeat by the Frankish at the Battle of Soissons in AD 486, Gaul came under the rule of the Merovingians, the first kings of France.

Contents

Geographical divisions

Gaul had three geographical divisions, one of which was divided into multiple Roman provinces.

The Romans gave these divisions the term pagi (from which comes the French word pays, "region"); these pagi were organized into civitates (provinces). 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.

Language and culture

The Vachères warrior, a statue of a Gaulish warrior wearing Roman clothing (ca. 1st century BC).

In the five centuries between Caesar's conquest and the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the Gaulish language and cultural identity underwent a syncretism, and evolved into a hybrid Gallo-Roman culture. Current historical research believes that Roman Gaul was "Roman" only in certain (albeit major) social contexts (the importance of which hindered a better historical understanding of the permanence of many Celtic elements). The Roman influence was most apparent in the following areas:

  • The Druidic religion was suppressed by Emperor Claudius I, and in later centuries Christianity was introduced. The prohibition of Druids and the syncretic nature of the Roman religion led to disappearance of the Celtic religion. It remains to this day poorly understood: current knowledge of the Celtic religion is based on archeology and via literary sources from several isolated areas such as Ireland and Wales.
  • The Romans easily imposed their administrative, economic, artistic (especially in terms of monumental art and architecture) and literary culture, all the more so given that there was little in the pre-existing Celtic culture to compete with these areas.

After the Roman conquest of Gaul (finished in 51 BC), "romanization" of the Celtic upper classes proceeded more rapidly than the "romanization" of the lower classes. These lower classes may have spoken a Latin language mixed with Gallic. The Gauls wore the Roman tunic instead of their traditional clothing. The Romano-Gauls generally lived in the vici, small villages similar to those in Italy, or in villae, for the richest.

Surviving Celtic influences also infiltrated back into the Roman Imperial culture in the 3rd century. For example, the Gaulish tunic—which gave Emperor Caracalla his surname—had not been replaced by Roman fashion. Similarly, certain Gaulish artisan techniques, such as the barrel (more durable than the Roman amphora) and chain mail were adopted by the Romans.

The Celtic heritage also continued in the spoken language (see History of French). Gaulish spelling and pronunciation of Latin are apparent in several 5th century poets and transcribers of popular farces[1] The last pockets of Gaulish speakers appear to have lingered until the 6th or 7th century.

Germanic placenames were first attested in border areas settled by Germanic colonizers (with Roman approval). From the 4th to 5th centuries, the Franks settled in northern France and Belgium, the Alemanni in Alsace and Switzerland, and the Burgundians in Savoie.

After the fall of Rome

The Roman administration finally collapsed as remaining troops were withdrawn southeast to protect Italy. Between 455 and 475 the Visigoths, the Burgundians, and the Franks assumed power in Gaul. However, certain aspects of the ancient Celtic culture continued after the fall of Roman administration.

Certain Gallo-Roman aristocratic families continued to exert power in episcopal cities (as in the cases of the Mauronitus family in Marseilles and Bishop Gregory of Tours). The appearance of Germanic given and family names becomes noticeable in France from the middle of the 7th century on, most notably in powerful families, thus indicating that the centre of gravity had definitely shifted.

The Gallo-Roman, or Vulgar Latin, dialect of the late Roman period evolved into the dialects of the Oïl languages and Old French in the north, and Occitan in the south.

Gallia and its equivalents continued to be used, at least in writing, until the end of the Merovingian period. Slowly, during the Carolingian period, the expression Francia, then Francia occidentalis spread to describe the political reality of the kingdom of the Franks (regnum francorum).

References and notes

  • Portions of this article are based on a translation of the article Gaule from the French Wikipedia on February 2007.

Notes

  1. ^ Histoire de France, ed. Les Belles lettres, Paris.

See also

External links

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