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Unformatted text preview: CHAPTER 2 Roman Gaul The incorporation of the southern part of France into the Roman sphere of influence proved to be only the first act of a long-lasting saga in which France became the core of Roman Gaul a a province, or set of provinces, within one of the great world-histori- cal empires. In acquiring Gaul, Rome increased the size of its empire by one third — an empire which, in time, would stretch from the Scottish borderlands in the north to the shores of the Upper Nile in the south, from Morocco and }°ortugal in the west to Armenia in the east. Roman authority brought in its train Rome’s taxes, conscription, coinage, markets, officials, soldiers, language and writing. Allin their different ways would immeasurably enrich the cultural fabric of a massive, sprawling area which included not only the whole of future France, but also 'all of Belgium and Luxembourg plus much of the Netherlands, western Germany and Switzerland and some Alpine fringes of Italy. Roman Gaul was far more than “France” under the Romans. _ CONQUEST AND CONTROL The Roman Empire was assembled by force of arms. Its rationale in Gaul as elsewhere was conquest, pacification and exploitation; anything else was a bonus. Like any im- perial power Rome was sensitive to developments outside the immediate orbit of its control. Roman armies had, for example, beaten back an invasion of southern France by the Germanic Cimbri and Teutones from 109 to 101 BC. Alleged preparations for another such invasion in 58 BC — by the Helvetii, who were preparing to migrate from southern Switzerland into southern France a alerted Rome to the coming danger. This was combined with the threat of destabilization further north, where the Germanic Chieftain Ariovistus had joined in a squabble involving the Arverni, the Sequani and ' Rome's long-standing allies, the Aeduans. To combat this politico-military threat Rome sentjulius Caesar. “There was a time," Caesar later noted in his Gallic Wars, “when the Gauls were more warlike than the Germans. " That day, he claimed, had passed, and Gaul required occupation and control if it was not to fall into the hands of the Germans, who would be unruly neighbours for Rome. Ambitious, already prominent in Roman domestic politics and seeking a wider stage for his talents, Caesar took on the task of subjugata ing Gaul with relish. It probably took longer, and needed more force — and more luck — than he had anticipated. The Gauls overcame their famed divisiveness and, under the Arvernian leader Vercingetorix, fought a relatively united struggle against the Roman armies. Caesar's victory in 52 BC at the siege of Alésia, however, forced Vercingetorix to yield. Mopping~up operations continued into 51/50 BC; but the back of Gaulish resistance had been broken. Roman Gaul was thus a creature of the Roman army, and the threat of naked coer- cion was never far away. The legionary presence on the Rhine frontier stood perma~ nently on guard. The fact that colonized settlements were staffed by armyveterans also Roman Gaul 31 The first move was made by Ver— eingetorix, a young Arvernian with very great power in his tribe He called his dependants together and had no difficulty in rousing their pas- sions. When it was known what he intended to do, there was a rush of armed men to join him Hevialso) raised a band of beggars and outcasts from the countryside. Once he had recruited these, he brought over to his side all the Awernians he approached, and he soon collected a large force of men, by urging them to take up arms in thecause of Gaulish freedom He quickly won the support of the Senones. the Parisii. the Pictones, the Toroni, the Aulerci. the Lemovices, the Andes and all the other tribes of the Atlantic coast. By general 'consent he was given the supreme command. ' Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars is a justi— fication as well_ as an account of his conquest of Gaul between 58 and 51 ac, and We may reasonably suspect that this portrait of his most the Arvernian’s importance, so ‘as to make Caesar's victory over him all the more impressive. . Yet although there seems littie doubt that Vercingeto'rix'was a formi— dable opponent, it is altogether more questionable whether he was acting in the cause of ”Gaulish freedom". An Vercingetorix aristocrat from the powerful Arverni tribe. based in the Massif Central. which had gulte recently switched from a monarchy to an oligarchic republic, he. may well have been promoting his own cause. Caesar describes him as "a man of enormous redoubtable Gaulish opponentinflates G919 min-(““1 the head 0E _ '_'Vercingetorix._ energy". and "a very strict disciplis fha'riari", using "savage means" — cut— ting offan ear or putting out an eye for even slight offences, for example ~ to ' put together a powerful army. By this time, however, the wars were going badly forthe Gauls. In 58 BC Caesar had dealt with the main causes of the wars, forcing the migrant Helvetii back into Switzerland and clipping the wings of the German leader. Ariovistus, who returned across the Rhine. The following year, he had brought the Belgi and north—western tribes to heel, then in 55 ac pacified the west and south-west, winning a naval battle over the powerful Venetii near Vannes. Sorties into England and ‘ across the Rhine in 55 BC and 54 BC were crowned with less obvious suc— cess. however. and though Caesar was establishing his position in 53 BC, the Vercingetorix coalition caught the Roman commander off balance. The war was fought with great ferocity. The Arvernian leader .enjoyed‘ some suc— cesses, but in 51 ac was finally hemmed in with his troops' at the stronghold of Alésia (near Alise'SainteHReine in Burgundy}. The conflict was effectively over. Vercingetorix was taken to Rome to ' appear in chains at Caesar's official tri— um ph in 46 ac, and was then strangled. Caesar's conquest was achieved with the loss of much Gaulish blood. Battlefield losses and civilian mas— sacres amounted to over a million dead. and it seems likely that between half a million and a million Gauls over the next decade were exported to the ltalian peninsula, where they flooded the slave-markets. played a role in exerting authority. The network of Roman roads developed out of politico—military rather than economic motivation: troops could travel last to any point where order had broken down. The symbolic language of Roman power had a strongly militaristic flavour which seemingly affected even Rome's Gaulish adversaries. Significantly, julius Sabinus, leader of the most notable rebellion, in AD 69—70, pos— tured not as the heir of Vercingetorix but rather as a descendant of one of Caesar‘s bas- tards. Overall Gaul was far less mmbustious and rebellioust than the neighbouring < I 32 The sight of inanacled Gaulish prisoners on the triumplial arch in Carp entras was a powerful reminder of Rome's martial superiority. After the fall of the Roman Empire the arch was converted into the porch of the city’s first cathedral. THE CAMBRIDGE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF FRANCE Iberian peninsula. The “Roman peace”; or pox romana, won support from most Gauls, who perhaps felt that Rome had more to offer than their bellicose, barbarian neigh— bours in Germany. The Gaul which stopped at or around the Rhine was only in certain respects a single area. Caesar remarked that it was divided into three parts, Gallia Belgica (in the north), Gallia Iberica (in the southwest) plus the sprawling trunk of Gallia Celtica. The list excludes, however, already Romanized Gallia Narbonensis, the firm springboard for Caesar’s conquests H “more like Italy than a province,” as the Roman first-century naturalist, the Elder Pliny, put it. In the administrative settlement of the region by Augustusin 13 BC, this four-part organization was retained — albeit with considerably reworked frontiers and different names (Aquitania, Belgica and Lugdunensis to the north of Narbonensis) . With some minor retouching this structure stayed in placeuntil the third century. . But although the region’s administration was subdivided, the term “Gaul” did come _ to denote a certain cultural entity, at least as regards the three northern provinces. In 43 BC Lugdunum (Lyon) was designated the capital of the “Three Gauls". Its role as a Roman Gaul 33 symbol of GaIIOJRoman unity was endorsed by the construction in 12 BC of an Altar of Rome and Augustus at the meeting-point of the rivers Rhone and Saone. Representatives from the Three Gauls were permitted to hold an annual conference on the site, to discuss judicial and administrative affairs and formulate grievances to be passed on to Rome — as well as to participate in public worship of the Roman emperor. The high priest in these annual ceremonies of the imperial cult was, moreover, a Gaul. Such measures formed part of a standard imperialistic strategy aimed at eliciting political consent without the need for coercion. The institution of administrative divi- sion within a vaguer cultural union typified a more general policy of divide and rule. The Arverni, for example, the leading edge of Gaulish resistance in the Gallic War, were divided up. Other tribal units competed against each other to gain tax and other priv- ileges. Despite the massacres committed by him and in his name,Julius Caesar showed I clemency to many of his erstwhile enemies, and incorporated them into his train of dependants. Caesar and Augustus liberally gave Roman status to magistrates — this long before the Emperor Caracalla (r. AD 211—17) made all free men within the empire Roman citizens in AD 212. In Gaul, moreover, this status could be inherited by chil- dren, thus increasing the spread of citizenship. The army too became an important career channel for ambitious Gauls, along with administration andlocal government. In AD 48 Emperor Claudius (r. AD 41—54) persuaded the Roman senate to admit Gauls among their number. This decision, part of broader moves to widen the Roman gov~ eming class, established a ladder of ascent which reached the very highest levels: the grandfather of Emperor Antoninus Pius (r. AD 13&61) had come from Nimes.’ The impact of the Gauls on Rome‘s central governmental apparatus was never con— siderable. Virtually all Gauls in the Roman governing class originated in more heavily Romanized southern Gaul, and their number in the senate was far exceeded by Africans, for example. Yet if Gauls made little impact in Rome, Romans were relatively few in administrative and governmental posts within Gaul. To a great extent, in fact, the Roman Empire in Gaul was administered by Gauls — and largely for Gauls too. Immigrants from the Italian peninsula seem to have been few, and one numerous cat— egory, military veterans, was clustered in southern Gaul. Generally the Roman author» ities followed the inclination of Julius Caesar to graft local government on to preexisting tribal forms. The Celtic tribe was transmuted — often literally — into the Gallo-Roman city-state, or civitas. Pre-conquest tribal groupings formed the basis of the sixty civitates of the Three Gauls, while the twenty-two administrative units of Gallia Narbonensis were also closely linked to pre—conquest divisions. , To most intents and purposes the civitns was the tribe in a togaEThe Gaulish elites were allowed to dominate, if they submitted to Roman orders. Magistrates still often used the Gaulish title of vergobret. The curia, or city council, introduced in each local capital, owed much to pre-conquest forms. At village level no change was probably detectable. The new taxes may have been Roman in origin, but they were assessed and collected according to existing forms — and were still rather low. Not surprisingly Celtic tribal elites welcomed being refashioned into Gallo-Roman notables. Roman Gaul 35 ”was romanitas — Roman identity u more than skin—deep, however? just as Roman political forms overlay older Celtic institutions, so Latin culture influenced, but never erased, the pate-conquest linguistic heritage. Latin replaced the Gaulish tongue as the language of written communication, but Celtic had in any case been an oral rather than a written language e the druids had been wont to educate the Gaulish political elite without the benefit of writing or even their own alphabet. Under Rome, Latin became the language of education for the elite: many towns a Marseille, Autun, Rein-15, Toulouse, Bordeaux and others H contained schools in which the Gallo—Roman aris— tocracy, by imbibing Latin, could learn the language of power, social ascent and cul— tural clout. The imposition of Roman power was successful in creating a new, Gallo-Roman cul~ rural amalgam. But the blend of Gaulish and Roman elements varied according to time, place and social level. It was in the interests of anyone who had dealings with political and cultural institutions to know Latin. In the towns putters dependent on wealthy clients learnt in time to put fecit instead of the Celtic avot on the bottom of their pots and vases. Yet even the heavily Romanized social elite never totally lost contactwith its Celtic roots, while the further one descended the social ladder, and the further one moved from the towns, the more the balance between Celtic and Roman'was weighted towards the former. The heavy concentration of Gaulish words in placenames, outliv- ing Roman and later Germanic accretions, underlines this, as does the fact that many contemporary French words for agricultural implements and techniques have Celtic origins, for example mpent (acre) and soc (ploughshare). The longer Roman occupation lasted, however, the more Latin penetrated and won over even backward rural areas. Rome’s merchants, officials, labourers and soldiers acted as vectors of everyday Romanization. For some time bilingualism must have been the norm for many: one talked “up" in Latin, “down” in Gaulish. But in the long term a vulgar latin far removed from the language of the rhetoricians prevailed. By the fifth century AD there is evidence that Gaulish was no longer understood in rural areas. Significantly, the Germanic invaders of the period Called the inhabitants of Gaul “Romans”. Even as Rome fell Latin was triumphing — and was to prove the basis for the development of the French language. Evidence suggests that religion also evolved by cultural mixing rather than replace ment. Roman government launched a campaign against druidism, whose secrecy, practice of human sacrifice and potential for subversion marked it out as dangerous. Emperors regulated the polytheistic cult that was to be followed in the empire, adding worship of themselves in the form of the so-called imperial cult. So closely was religion tied into the imp erial system that it would have been unthinkable for the Gaulish polit— ical elite to shun the pagan and imperial cults, which appear to have prospered in Gaul. There were strong efforts to assimilate earlier beliefs within the accepted framework. Thus the annual religious ceremony at the Altar of Rome and Augustus in Lyon attended by representatives of the Three Gauls could be seen as echoing the annual druidic ceremony held in the forest of the Carnutes. It was held on 1 August, 'the Opposite This arch at Saintes contains a Gaulish genealogy. The Roman-sounding name of the constructor, CaiusJulius Rufus, contrasts with the semi- Romanized name of his grandfather Caiusjulius Gedomo and his great— grandfather, the utterly Gaulish Epotsorovidus. In such ways the Gaulisli elite assumed a Roman identity. Statue of the god Mercury, from the Clermont—Ferrand region, dating front the late first to the fourth century AD. Mercuiy was one of the most popular Roman gods, probablybecause he corresponded fairly closely to a similar pre—Rornan god. The horns represent virility, aggression and fertility. 36 THE CAMBRIDGE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY or FRANCE ceremonial birthday of Emperor Augustus, but also the festival day of the Celtic god Lug, whose cult had given Lugdunum (Lyon) its name. in addition, despite official pressure towards conformity, many Roman gods were “gallicized”. Roman temples too were often erected on Celtic shrine sites; while Roman thermal spas were built around the healing springs allegedly inhabited by Celtic deities. Gallo—Roman polytheism was thus a distinctive blend of two strong and resilient cultural forms. The strength of the Gallo-Roman religious hybrid may also explain Christianity's slowness to penetrate Gaul. It was merely one of a number of usually Greek-speaking, Eastern mystical cults (worship of Isis and Osiris, for example, and Mithraism) that fol- lowed the lines of trade and administration into the province from the late second cen— tury onwards. Lyon seems to have harboured the first Christian community, and initially the cult was closely linked to the towns of the Rhone corridor. Only from the fourth century were the churches making efforts to organize rural parishes and to spread the cult into country areas fl significantly, the Latin term paganus came to denote both “peasant" and “pagan”. The sect’s apparent secrecy triggered rumours of horrible and murderous rituals. Monotheistic, exclusive and intolerant — yet heroically committed to an interior ethic fl Christianity seemed the polar opposite of Roman reli» gion’s open willingness to assimilate, Diocletian (r. so 284—305) stepped up the intensity of the persecution to which Christians had sporadicallybeen subjected. Yet within a couple of decades Christianity had been transformed from a minor cult into the official religion of the Roman Empire. In the Edict of Milan in AD 313 joint-emperors Licinius and Constantine (the latter a Christian himself) restored freedom of worship to Christians. The earlier pattern was now reversed. By the end of the fourth century Christianity was the religion of the state and emperors were persecuting pagans and closing down their temples. The diocesan framework that developed in the fourth century underpinned the civitates, and closely integrated civil and religious power. Latin became the language not only of liturgy and theological dispute, but also of conversion. This was a tribute to how deep Roman cul- ture had penetrated, and the Church acted as an important channel for the relaying of latinate culture into rural areas. PAX ROMANA AND rue “ETERNAL CITY" The incorporation of Gaul into the Roman Empire not only created new political, administrative and cultural forms; the pro: romana also transformed the region’s econo- my. Julius Caesar had found Gaul politically anarchic, and the imposition of Roman authority allowed its economic potential to be realized. The effect of the Roman pres- ence was that much of the wealth of the eastern Mediterranean moved west. The rela» tively underdeveloped Gaulish economy received a boost from Roman investment, immigration, urban building, road improvement, tax demands and military occupa— tion. The prolonged period of internal security — both against incursions from outside the empire and from banditry within — plus the fact that Roman taxes were generally low and still collected by local agents also facilitated steady economic growth. Roman Gaul 37 Nowhere was economic prosperity more in evidence than in the cities, where life blossomed under the Romans. Cities were constructed in stone rather than wood and wattle—and-daub, and were planned imaginatively. Sornetimes’laid out geometrically, their model was often “the eternal city", Rome itself, and many buildings were virtual replicas of Roman originals. Private dwellings co existed alongside an impressive array of commercial and public buildings. Towns housed a colourful artisans’ sector: besides the building trade, which employed large numbers, there was a whole range of urban trades and occupations. Lyon, for example, had guilds for shippers, rafters, wine importers, corn and oil merchants, cloak-makers, plasterers, silversmiths, gla...
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