GaLLic Unicy

Julius Caesur begun his account of the Gallic Wars between Gaul and Rome by describing the politieal and geographical nature of the Celtic state. When he recounted that Gaul was divided into many parts, he referred to the politieal patchwork that prevented any concerted military opposition to himself and his legions. Gallic society was administered by a series of local, civic, and tribal councils. These unions were never permanent, and reflect shifts in tribal influence rather than any serious attempt to unify- the Celtic world.

Facing below: The typical Gallic tribal area constituted a river valley, with its low pastureland and high grazing slopes for livestock and timber.

j uring the La Tene period, Caul was ¡divided into approximately 16 tribal areas. Some of these were not truly Celtic, such as the Ligurian and Saluvii people of northern Italy, or the Veneti or Aquitani on the Atlantic coast, who apparently retained many aspects of their pre-Celtic roots well into the late Iron Age.

Around the start of the fourth century BC the Ligurians entered into an alliance with the

Celtic and Belgic Gaul 100-50 BC.

Belgae migrate to southwest of Britain during this period

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1 Arelate • Massilia

neighboring Gallic tribes, forming the Celto-I jgurian league. Perceiving this alliance as a threat, the Romans were prompted into military action to safeguard the northern borders of Roman Italy. Roman influence also spread into Provence as a result of Celto-Ligurian threats to the safety of Massallia. About 125 BC the Romans annexed the Mediterranean coast of Gaul and founded the province of IYovence. This in turn would provide a springboard for Caesar's conquest of the rest of Gaul.

Further to the north, a fresh wave of tribal refugees, known as the Belgae, arrived in northern Gaul during the fourth and third centuries BC. They were seeking refuge from the Germanic trilxrs, and after crossing the Rhine the tribe carved out a new homeland in northwestern Gaul. Caesar reported that they considered themselves to be Teutons rather than Gauls. They also proved to be some of the toughest opponents Rome would encounter in Gaul. The Belgae also established settlements in southeastern Britain, and there is substantial evidence of a busy cross-Channel trade and cultural exchange that predated the Roman conquests of Gaul and Britain.

Tribal organization

Gaul's tribal groups have been described by a succession of Roman historians, who referred to them as naliones (nations or peoples), as well as by other less appropriate appellations, such as civitates (cities). These in turn were sub-divided into pagi (pagtts, a rural district or portion of a civitate), reflecting the smaller tribal units which had amalgamated into larger tribal entities during the course of the fourth and third centuries BC. For example, the Aedui tribe of central Gaul was subdivided into six pagi, the leading one being the Bibracte. These sub-divisions were based around sub-chiefs or lesser tribal rulers, who owed allegiance to the high chiefs.

It appears that these sub-units also

formed their own military units, and the smaller groups were then united into larger tribal armies. The larger units (n at tones) usually had their capital in one of the regional pagi. Some pagi became large towns that still exist today; Paris the capital of the Parisii, Trier the capital of the Treveri, and Chartres of the Carnuti. These also became major trading centers, as well as providing markets for Celtic artisans and metalsmiths. The tribal capitals housed the courts of the high kings or chieftains, such as the king Ambigat of the Bituriges, who was mentioned in Caesar's Gallic Wars.

On occasion these tribal chiefs or kings formed alliances among themselves. During the third century BC the Bituriges from central Gaul dominated the neighboring Gallic tril>es, uniting them into a larger confederation. A century later the Arverni were the dominant tribe, allying themselves with the Allobroges and the Aedui to form another large tribal confederation. By the time of the Roman invasion of Gaul in 59 BC, the Aedui, the Sequani, and the Arverni had broken another alliance, and were vying with each other for supremacy.

Caesar exploited this with ruthless efficiency. In a last ditch attempt to repel the invaders, the Gauls united under Vercingetorix of the Arverni, but the Gallic leader was outmaneuvered and defeated by Caesar. Following the Gallic defeat at Alesia in 52 BC (seepages 88-89), Gaul became a Roman province, and would remain under Roman domination for five centuries. Although the Gauls adapted and even prospered under Rome, the torch of Celtic culture was extinguished. From that point on, the Celtic world was effectively confined to the British Isles.

Right: Gallo-Roman Bronze statue of Greek inspiration depicting a dying Gaul The lack of political unity among Celtic tribes meant that many would indeed die at Roman hands.


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