Rome and Gaul


Overview of Gaul and the Strategic Importance of the Province

As Rome’s power expanded through Italy, the republic’s first encounter  with the Gauls was with tribesmen who had settled in Northern Italy around 400 BC.  In 390 BC half of Italy was overrun and the capital was occupied and sacked.  Rome defeated the Boii who had settled in Northern Italy around 400 BC twice, in 282 BC and in 225 BC.  During the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), encouraged by the Carthaginian invasion of Italy under Hannibal the Boii again fought Rome until they were finally defeated in 191 BC.  Many of them were driven out of Northern Italy while the Romans soon assimilated those that stayed.

In the late 2nd century BC Rome had secured the Mediterranean coast between the Pyrenees and the Alps, establishing the province of Transalpine Gaul in 121 BC.  Semi-civilized Celtic peoples inhabited the rest of Gaul, divided into a polyglot of independent, warring tribes.  Rome’s earliest recorded contact with Gaul beyond the Alps was in 123 BC when the Aedui sought Roman support against rival tribes and were recognized as “Friends and Allies of the Roman People.”

The Cimbri and Teutoni crossed the Rhine and overran all of Celtic Gaul managing in 109-105 BC to defeat three Roman armies in the Province and seriously threaten Italy.  Although Gaius Marius, who reorganized the Roman army from a ragtag civilian militia into a professional army in 100 BC, averted another invasion from the north when he defeated the Germanic Cimbri and Teutones tribes in 102-101 BC the memory of the threat remained in the collective Roman consciousness.

The republic enjoyed friendly relations with the Greek trading colony of Massilia (Marseilles) which was founded about 600 BC.  When attacked in 125 BC Massalia appealed to Rome for help.  With the assistance of the Gallic Aedui, Romans campaigned in the Rhone Valley against the Allogroges and Arverni.  Rome became master of the lower Rhone when they defeated the Arverni in 121 BC resulting in the annexation of Southern Gaul and the formation of a new province, Transalpine Gaul.

Control of the Rhone Valley was important to Rome due to strong economic interests and successive Roman campaigns in the region were designed to protect those interests.  The Garonne River was also one of the traditional routes by which metals, particularly tin, were brought to the Mediterranean from Brittany and Britain.

By the beginning of the 1st century one of the burgeoning population concentrations lay in the area from southern Germany, through France to Britain.  Migratory movements from the previous century were far from over.

In 77 BC the tribes of Transalpine Gaul rose in sympathy with the rebellion of Quintus Sertorius in Spain.  The Allobroges revolted in 61 BC and there was danger in Germany where the Subii, a confederacy of tribes were slowly making their way westward.  Between 70 and 65 BC the Sequani and Arverni enlisted the aid of the Subii to help them in their fight against the Aedui.  A German kingdom in Gaul was subsequently planned but never realized following the Aeduian defeat in 61 BC after which a large part of Sequanian territory in Alsace was retained by the Subian king Ariovistus.

In 59 BC after the German king Ariovistus had settled in Alsace and refused to leave the Aedui appealed for Roman help in evicting him.  The Romans were, at first, unresponsive.  A year later, an increasingly volatile situation came to a head when the Helvetii in Switzerland decided to seek a new homeland in western Gaul.  Their intended migration route took them directly through Roman territory.  Rome, through Caesar, finally responded.

The Province was a soft underbelly characterized by a relatively direct invasion route and the fertile Po Valley was an enticing prize for those willing to take the risk. Roman control often took the form of undermanned garrisons scattered throughout large areas.  Discipline and vigilance were often uncharacteristically slack.  The region was sparsely populated by homesteading settlers  and a smattering of aging, retired legionnaires.

Vulnerable to attack, The Province and the very real threat of an invasion by barbaric hoards gave Caesar the justification he needed to wage an attritional war of military and personal conquest.

Slaves During Caesar’s Time

By in large the economy of the Empire was slave-based.  Military conquests in far-flung lands allowed the State to import slaves at a rate and number that satisfied an ever-growing need.  Slaves performed innumerable and often valuable services in and out of the household.  Some were educated and highly specialized.

The Centurion would have known that the Liburnian slave came from the kingdom of Liburnia that was west of Moesia and north of Macedonia.

Moesia was a Roman province between the Danube River and the Balkan mountains while Nubia was a kingdom in northeast Africa between the Red Sea and the Sahara desert.  It is now part of Egypt.

The Cyrenaican slave in the Centurion’s sister’s household came from an ancient land in northern Africa near the region of modern Libya.