The Cimbm Migration

During the last decades of the second century BC a seemingly aimless Germanic migration led to conflict between Germans, Gauls, and Romans. The German Cimbri and their Celtic allies defeated a series of Roman armies, before being forced down into Italy by the northern Gauls. The Roman legions of Gaius \larius defeated the migrating tribes and, in saving Rome, laid foundations for Roman intervention in Celtic affairs.

In 113 BC reports reached Republican j Rome of the fullscale migration of a barbarian horde headed toward Italy from Bohemia. According to Roman historian Plutarch the horde comprised two Germanic tribes—the Cimbri and the Teutones— possessing a military strength of 300,000 men. Most accounts record that the two tribes had amalgamated for convenience, and were referred to generically as the Cimbri.

Although the Celtic Boii in Bohemia persuaded these intruders to kep moving, conflict with other tribes was inevitable. Somewhere in the vicinity of Belgrade they came into contact with the Scordisci, a tribe of Danubian Celts. The Celts defeated the Germans and forced them to divert to the west, into Noreia (modern Austria). When the Cimbri encroached on the territory of the Taurisci Celts, who were Roman allies, the Senate began to take notice of the migration. The Taurisci invoked the terms of their protection treaty and called on the Senate for help.

Carbo, one of the two Roman consuls for the year, set out and brought the Germans to battle at Noreia (113 BC), where he was soundly defeated for his pains. Carbo committed suicide and the remnants of his army straggled back into Italy. Italy lay at the mercy of the two German tribes, but inexplicably they turned away and spent the next three years in the northern Alpine foothills of Austria and southern Germany.

The migration of the Cimbri and Teutones between 115-102 bc, and the positions of the major Germanic peoples across the Rhine at the start of Julius Caesar's Gallic conquests.





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Cimbri after Arausio

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German territory held by Rome. 12 bc to ad 9

expansion of Germanic tribes c.50 bc

German Tribes

When they reached the Rhone valley, the Cimbri were joined by a number of Gauls, including the Helvetii and the Tigurini. In 109 BC the Roman consul Marcus Julius Silanus marched into the Rhone valley to bring the Cimbri to battle, but once again the barbarians were victorious. When news of the Roman defeat spread, other Gauls joined the migration. The Volcae-Tectosages Gauls from around Tolosa (Toulouse) broke their diplomatic ties with Rome, but the Celts were defeated by the Consul Lucius Cassius Longinus in 107 BC.

For Longinus, it was to be a short-lived victoiy. When he turned and marched against the Tigurini, Longinus was defeated. The new first consul for 106 BC was Quintus Servilius Caepio. An experienced soldier, he was expected to reverse the string of Roman defeats. After recapturing Tolosa (and capturing the fabled Celtic gold of Tolosa), Caepio repeated the mistakes Longinus had made.

Rome acts decisively

The Senate was exasperated. A mob of barbarian Germans and Gauls had defeated every army sent against it by Rome. In 104 BC the veteran soldier Gaius Marius was elected consul for a second term of a year, breaking established Republican protocol. It was an indication of the seriousness with which the Roman Republic viewed the Cimbri threat that it was prepared to create what amounted to a dictatorship.

Marius took the opportunity to overhaul and reorganize the Roman Army, recognizing that the traditions of a once agrarian tribe no longer suited the requirements of a city-state rapidly expanding into an empire. The result was the professional standing army that came to epitomize Roman military might throughout the western world for 500 years.

By 102 BC the Cimbri had returned to southern Gaul, and Marius and his revitalized legionaries marched north to meet them. He found that the Cimbri had split into three groups. The Teutones and Ambrones were moving eastward into Italy along the Mediterranean coast. At Aquae Sextiae, the modern Aix-en-Provence, Marius decisively beat both tribes in a two-day defensive battle (102 BC). The Cimbri entered the Po valley, forcing the Roman garrison there to retreat ahead of them. When Marius arrived, the Romans went over to the attack. At Vercellae (101 BC), the Cimbri warriors were slaughtered, as were their families who accompanied them. The Gallic Tigurini avoided battle, and turned north again to join the Helvetii in the Swiss Alps. Although both Rome and Gaul had been saved, the Roman Senate subsequently considered southern Gaul as a vital protectorate; a buffer state against further barbarian incursion. Fifty years later, this would lead to the Roman conquest of the whole of Gaul.

Above: Romans fighting Gauls—relief from a triumphal arch at Les Antique, St. Remey, Provence. In reality, Celtic and Germanic armies repeatedly defeated the Romans in battle until the military reforms of Gaius Marius.

CaesaR's Conquest of GauL

In 58 BC, Julius (Caesar led his Roman legions into Gaul, ostensibly to proteet the Celts from external enemies, such as the Germans or the Helvetii. In reality he was launching a full-scale invasion of Celtic Gaul. By-adopting a policy of divide and conquer he schemed, allied, and fought his way through the Celtic and neighboring Bclgic nations and defeated the disunited Gauls in battle after battle. Within three years he had conquered most of Gaul, and even launched expeditions into Britain. Within six years the conquest was complete.

In 125 BC the Greek colony of Nlassilia | (now Marseilles) had been besieged by the Saluvii Gauls, and it appealed to Rome for help. A Roman army captured the Saluvii capital, then defeated an allied Gallic army comprised of the Saluvii and the neighboring Allobroges. Another tribe, the Arvemi, joined in and were also defeated.

Rome duly annexed the coastal territories of the Saluvii, the Allobroges, and Nlassilia and turned the region into the province of Gallia Narbonensis, named after its capital at Narbonensis (modern Narbonne). Together with Gallia Cisalpina (conquered in the early second century BC), the two previously Gallic prov inces were given the collective name of Gallia Transalpina. This region was destined to lie Caesar's base for his conquest ot the rest of Gaul.

His opportunity came in 58 BC. A decade before, in 70 BC a Germanic people called the Suevi had crossed the Rhine and settled in Alsace, in northeast Gaul. Ten years later their king, Ariovistus, defeated a Gallic army sent to drive the Suevi back into Germany. At the same time the Dacians subdued the Danube Celts, including the Boii, then made an alliance with the Suevi. Faced with this joint threat from north and east, the Celtic Helvetii people (of modern Switzerland) migrated toward the relative safety of southeast Gaul.

Superior tactics

Caesar refused to give them permission to cross the territory of the Allobroges to safety, and portrayed the migration to the Senate as a serious threat to Gallia Transalpina. He reinforced his troops in the region, then when the Helvetii entered the Gallic lands of the Sequani, he moved up the Rhône to attack them. At the Battle of Bibractc (58 BC) his four legions

Caesar's battle against the Helvetii at Bibracte, 58 bc, where the bravery of Gallo-Celtic warriors was no match for superior discipline and tactics.

The Helvetii charge the Roman battle formation grouped around the hilltop.

Roman legions Helvetii Helvetii allies

Caesar deploys his four experienced legions in the frontline, ready to meet the Helvetii attack, and leaves newly raised troops on the hilltop as a reserve. In the event, they are not needed, despite the massing of Helvetii allies on the hilltop to Caesar's right flank.

Helvetii allies, the Boii and Tulingi, attack the Roman flank from the northwest.

Helvetii allies, the Boii and Tulingi, attack the Roman flank from the northwest.

Caesar's battle against the Helvetii at Bibracte, 58 bc, where the bravery of Gallo-Celtic warriors was no match for superior discipline and tactics.

The Helvetii charge the Roman battle formation grouped around the hilltop.

Roman Allies

Roman legions Helvetii Helvetii allies

The remaining frontline soon makes short work of the undisciplined and demoralized Helvetii warriors.

The Roman pila (javelins) take their toll on the Helvetii troops, disorganizing their ranks. The four forward legions charge and drive the enemy across the stream and onto the ridge behind it.

The remaining frontline soon makes short work of the undisciplined and demoralized Helvetii warriors.

Roman Frieze Gauls
Left: Detail from a 2nd-century bc temple frieze near Sassferrato depicting a dying Gaul.

defeated the greater number of Helvetii and their Celtic allies, and drove them back into the Swiss Alps. He used the support of pro-Roman Gallic chiefs such as Divitiacus of the Aedui to force the Senate to nominate him FYotector of the Gauls.

Caesar now had the excuse to move even further north and attack Ariovistus of the Suevi. Caesar already occupied the lands of the Sequani, and was allied to the Aedui further east. With his lines of communication secured by garrisons, he advanced into Alsace, where he defeated the Suevi. After spending the winter in eastern Gaul, Caesar heard of disunity in the tribal ranks of the Belgae, his neighbors to the northwest. There were 11 distinct tribal subdivisions of the Belgae. Caesar attacked them in 57 BC, destroying each tribal host individually before they could combine forces.

His most serious opponents were the Nervii and the Aduatuci, who almost checked Caesar on the Sambre before he defeated them. During the same year, Publius Licinius Crassus, Caesar's lieutenant, subdued the various small tribes who inhabited modern Normandy and Brittany. In the following year (56 BC) a revolt by the maritime Veneti people of Brittany prompted Caesar to build a fleet, which he manned with crewmen from Gallia Transalpina and Roman legionaries.

While the Veneti relied on large sailing craft, Caesar used a force built around war galleys. During a sea battle fought in Morbihan Bay in Brittany, his galleys attacked the becalmed Veneti and destroyed them. With control of the sea, Caesar was free to launch a reconnaissance against the Belgae tribes in southeast Britain.


ALesia: The final BattLe

If Caesar's Gallie campaigns were marked by innovative tactics, Celtic disunity was also a major factor in Roman success... until Vercingetorix. This unsual prince of the Avcrni led the Gallic tribes in rebellion, and his guerrilla tactics almost ejected the Romans from Gaul. The first mistake Vercingctorix made—closing his army in the fortress of Alesia—was also his last, and the outcome of the siege would determine the fate of Gaul.

supply. The first signs of revolt came in the form of attacks on Roman outposts and patrols. With his supply lines threatened, Caesar had to prove he still held the upper hand. He thwarted a Gallic invasion of Gallia Transalpina, then helped defend his Aedui allies. Vercingetorix responded by instituting a scorched-earth policy, and called on his fellow Gallic rebels to support him by destroying their vulnerable strongholds.

French museum model of the Roman lines of circumvallation built around Alesia in 52 bc.

Gallic Army Alesia

Below: Statue in honor of Vercingetorix by Aimé Millet (1819-91).

Aim Millet Vercing Torix

Below: Statue in honor of Vercingetorix by Aimé Millet (1819-91).

while t is likely that Caesar first contemplated launching an expedition against Britain re was campaigning in Brittany. An initial expedition in 55 BC was met with fierce opposition from the Cantii tribe in Kent, and storms disrupted Roman communications with Gaul. The expedition was recalled. In the following year the Romans returned and fought their way through the Cantii heartland to reach the River Thames. Caesar fought a British coalition of tribes led by Cassivelaunus of the Catuvellauni and defeated them before returning to Gaul.

Caesar's return was in part prompted by logistical problems of cross-Channel supply and also by a growing revolt among the Gauls. Unrest was stirring among the Senones, the Carnutes, and the Eburones. During the first phase of his campaign, Caesar was able to play on the lack of unity between the various Celtic tribes. But as Gallic resistance hardened, this became increasingly difficult.

In 52 BC, Celtic resistance centered around Vercingetorix, a prince of the Averni. The Carnutes led the call for rebellion against Rome. Vercingetorix called for a concerted strategy, aimed at severing Caesar's lines of

End of Gallic resistance

Vercingetorix was a realist among Celts—he recognized that his people were no match for the sleek Roman fighting machine in open battle. He favored a guerilla policy, abandoning fixed positions and fullscale battles. This ran contrary to everything the Celtic warrior

French museum model of the Roman lines of circumvallation built around Alesia in 52 bc.

Celtic People Migrate France

Gallic relief forces attept a surprise attack on this weak point, but are


River Plain

Northwest Mount


Migration The Celst

Camp f^orth riverj

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Caesar 's main vantage pint

Above: A coin of Vercingetorix. Several types of coin were minted. The drawing below depicts another, with Vercingetorix's hair arranged in traditionally jagged Gallic spikes.

f^orth riverj believed in, but was a vital change in strategy. The scorched earth policy failed when the Bituriges tribe refused to destroy their principal Oppidum to prevent the Romans occupying it.

Roman engineering overcame Gallic resistance, and the city fell, with the loss of 40,000 inhabitants. Next, Caesar besieged the rebel hilltop stronghold of Gergovia (near modern Clermont-Ferrand), only to be driven off by the defenders. This was Caesar's first setback, and he planned a general withdrawal into Transalpine Gaul to reorganize his forces. But now, Vercingetorix made a fatal error. While his army was harassing the retreating Romans, he allowed his cavalry to become involved in a large engagement, where they were defeated by Caesar's German mercenary cavalry. This time it was the turn of the Gauls to retreat, and Caesar pursued them northward.

Vercingetorix rallied his forces at the hilltop fortress of Alesia, the capital of the Mandubii. When Caesar arrived he laid siegeworks around the hilltop; lines of circumvallation, with two lines of defenses, facing outward as well as inward. A "minefield" of sharpened stakes, caltrops, and ditches reinforced these defensive lines. After a month, Vercingetorix sent the women and children away from the fortress, but Caesar refused them passage through the Roman lines. They were left to perish between relief army finally arrived, and concerted Gallic attacks were launched on both sides of the Roman siege lines. Caesar's defenses resisted three furious assaults before the relief army withdrew.

With his men starving, Vercingetorix rode to Caesar's camp and surrendered, bringing to an end the last concerted resistance to Roman rule in Gaul. Over the following year Caesar consolidated Roman control, subduing all the remaining Gallic tribes and capturing their capitals. With Celtic resistance crushed in Gaul, only the British Isles remained as a bastion of Celtic civilization.

Plan of Caesar's siegeworks at Alesia. The inner ring penned in Vercingetorix and his Gallic force, while the outer ring protected Caesar's legions from the anticipated Gallic relief force.



East Ridge

River Plain

Inner and outer fortifications

( ■ watchtowers water-filled Inner trench defensive walls



Northwest Mount

Gallic relief forces attept a surprise attack on this weak point, but are



South Mount

Flat filled with lethal mantraps to Impede attacks from Vercingetorix.

Caesar 's main vantage pint

Conquest of Bmtain

In AD 43 a Roman army landed in Kent and carved out a bcachhcad. What probably started as an opportunistic military enterprise soon became a lengthy campaign of conquest. Despite fierce Celtic opposition the Romans spread out across southern Britain, expanding and consolidating their control over the island. This was the beginning of nearly four centuries of Roman occupation that would put an end to the Celtic way of life in all but the remotest corners of the British Isles.

ing Verica of the Atrebates appealed to Rome in AD 43 for help in a war against the neighboring Catuvellauni tribe. The Roman Emperor Claudius realized that this offered an opportunity for military glory, and duly assembled a force of four legions and supporting troops in northwest Gaul. These legions were // Augusta, XIV Cemina, and XX Valeria from Germany, and IX llispania from

Hispania Gaul And Britannia 150 Bce

Eburacumo r»ri<u






Portus Gesoriacus

Maiden Castle X* Durnoveria

(Gloucester) (Dorchester)

The Initial routes of the Roman expeditionary force to Albion under Aulus Plautius. and the forming of the new province of Britannia.




[Isle of Wight,

□ Roman forts • Celtic/Roman centers

Reconstruction of the ancient British hillfort at Maiden Castle in Dorset, c.lst century ad.

the Dacian border, plus Batavian, Dacian, Thracian, and German auxiliaries, including cavalry. The veteran Roman general Aulus Plautius commanded the expeditionary force.

The Roman navy transported Plautius's force across the Channel to land at what is now Richborough, in Kent. There was little Celtic opposition and, after establishing a fortified beachhead and supply base, Plautius marched northwest through the territory of the Cantii. The tribe and their Belgic allies made a stand on the line of the Medway, but were brushed aside. The Romans continued their advance to the Thames, where a second Celtic force was defeated. According to Roman historians, in both battles Plautius used his auxiliary troops to lead the assault, keeping his veteran legionaries back as a reserve.

From a fortified camp on the south bank of the Thames, the Roman forces forded or used boats to cross the river, and on the site of what is

Roman Paulinus

bastions, so in \l> 59 the Roman governor Suetonius Paulinus led two legions into north Wales in the largest show of force seen since the initial invasion ot Britain.

His two-year campaign culminated in the reduction of a series of Celtic fortified positions, ending with the holy island of Mona (Anglesey). An amphibious assault across the Menai Straits met with bitter resistance, but eventually the defenders were crushed, the Druids massacred and the sacred Celtic sanctuaries destroyed. When the fighting was over in Wales it seemed as if resistance in Britain was finally crushed. The Romans were unprepared for the re\'olt that would soon come.

Below: Carved tombstone of the 1st century ad from Colchester, showing a Roman cavalryman riding down a naked Celtic warrior.

now London established another fortified camp on the north bank (probably in the vicinity of the site ol the Tower of London). Here, they waited for reinforcements and supplies. In August Emperor Claudius visited his army, escorted by the Praetorian Guard. Under his nominal command the army advanced on the fortified town of Camulodonum (Colchester), the capital of the Cunobelinus of the Catuvellauni. The capital fell, and within its walls Claudius received the formal surrender of a series of British tribal chieftains.

Divide and conquer

In early AO 44 the Romans divided into three columns. While the XX Valeria remained in Colchester, II Augusta moved west to occupy the lands of the people who had called Rome for help, their erstwhile allies the Atrebates. AVI' Gemina and IX Hispania marched together northwest into the territory of the Cornovii. In the course of the next few years the legions conquered the Dobunni and Durotriges tribes, captured over 20 towns and large settlements, and conquered the Isle of Wight.

Their most spectacular achievement was the capture of the massive Iron Age Celtic hillfort at Maiden Castle in Dorset. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of the Roman siege, including catapult bolts and the remains of siegeworks. By AD 47 the Romans had conquered the south of Britain as far west as the River Severn, and as far north as the River H umber.

Over the next 12 years the Romans consolidated their hold on Britain, and extended their borders. Campaigns against the Silures led to the subjugation of what is now the south of Wales, while similar campaigns in the north pushed the Brigantes back from the Humber to the Solway Firth. Another campaign against the Ordovices in the north of Wales and along the Mersey was waged in the face of desperate British resistance. A series of intermittent campaigns in central Wales failed to dislodge the Celts from their mountain


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