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A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times
by Guizot, M.

The Frenchman of to-day inhabits a country, long ago civilized and Christianized, where, despite of much imperfection and much social misery, thirty-eight millions of men live in security and peace, under laws equal for all and efficiently upheld. There is every reason to nourish great hopes of such a country, and to wish for it more and more of freedom, glory, and prosperity; but one must be just towards one's own times, and estimate at their true value advantages already acquired and progress already accomplished. If one were suddenly carried twenty or thirty centuries backward, into the midst of that which was then called Gaul, one would not recognize France. The same mountains reared their heads; the same plains stretched far and wide; the same rivers rolled on their course. There is no alteration in the physical formation of the country; but its aspect was very different. Instead of the fields all trim with cultivation, and all covered with various produce, one would see inaccessible morasses and vast forests, as yet uncleared, given up to the chances of primitive vegetation, peopled with wolves and bears, and even the urns, or huge wild ox, and with elks, too—a kind of beast that one finds no longer nowadays, save in the colder regions of north-eastern Europe, such as Lithuania and Courland. Then wandered over the champaign great herds of swine, as fierce almost as wolves, tamed only so far as to know the sound of their keeper's horn. The better sort of fruits and of vegetables were quite unknown; they were imported into Gaul—the greatest part from Asia, a portion from Africa and the islands of the Mediterranean; and others, at a later period, from the New World. Cold and rough was the prevailing temperature. Nearly every winter the rivers froze sufficiently hard for the passage of cars. And three or four centuries before the Christian era, on that vast territory comprised between the ocean, the Pyrenees, the Mediterranean, the Alps, and the Rhine, lived six or seven millions of men a bestial life, enclosed in dwellings dark and low, the best of them built of wood and clay, covered with branches or straw, made in a single round piece, open to daylight by the door alone, and confusedly heaped together behind a rampart, not inartistically composed of timber, earth, and stone, which surrounded and protected what they were pleased to call a town.

Of even such towns there were scarcely any as yet, save in the most populous and least uncultivated portion of Gaul; that is to say, in the southern and eastern regions, at the foot of the mountains of Auvergne and the Cevennes, and along the coasts of the Mediterranean. In the north and the west were paltry hamlets, as transferable almost as the people themselves; and on some islet amidst the morasses, or in some hidden recess of the forest, were huge intrenchments formed of the trees that were felled, where the population, at the first sound of the war-cry, ran to shelter themselves with their flocks and all their movables. And the war-cry was often heard: men living grossly and idly are very prone to quarrel and fight. Gaul, moreover, was not occupied by one and the same nation, with the same traditions and the same chiefs. Tribes very different in origin, habits, and date of settlement, were continually disputing the territory. In the south were Iberians or Aquitanians, Phoenicians and Greeks; in the north and north-west, Kymrians or Belgians; everywhere else, Gauls or Celts, the most numerous settlers, who had the honor of giving their name to the country. Who were the first to come, then? and what was the date of the first settlement? Nobody knows. Of the Greeks alone does history mark with any precision the arrival in southern Gaul. The Phoenicians preceded them by several centuries; but it is impossible to fix any exact time. The information is equally vague about the period when the Kymrians invaded the north of Gaul. As for the Gauls and the Iberians, there is not a word about their first entrance into the country, for they are discovered there already at the first appearance of the country itself in the domain of history.

The Iberians, whom Roman writers call Aquitanians, dwelt at the foot of the Pyrenees, in the territory comprised between the mountains, the Garonne, and the ocean. They belonged to the race which, under the same appellation, had peopled Spain; but by what route they came into Gaul is a problem which we cannot solve. It is much the same in tracing the origin of every nation, for in those barbarous times men lived and died without leaving any enduring memorial of their deeds and their destinies; no monuments; no writings; just a few oral traditions, perhaps, which are speedily lost or altered. It is in proportion as they become enlightened and civilized, that men feel the desire and discover the means of extending their memorial far beyond their own lifetime. That is the beginning of history, the offspring of noble and useful sentiments, which cause the mind to dwell upon the future, and to yearn for long continuance; sentiments which testify to the superiority of man over all other creatures living upon our earth, which foreshadow the immortality of the soul, and which are warrant for the progress of the human race by preserving for the generations to come what has been done and learned by the generations that disappear.

By whatever route and at whatever epoch the Iberians came into the south-west of Gaul, they abide there still in the department of the Lower Pyrenees, under the name of Basques; a people distinct from all its neighbors in features, costume, and especially language, which resembles none of the present languages of Europe, contains many words which are to be found in the names of rivers, mountains, and towns of olden Spain, and which presents a considerable analogy to the idioms, ancient and modern, of certain peoples of northern Africa. The Phoenicians did not leave, as the Iberians did, in the south of France distinct and well-authenticated descendants. They had begun about 1100 B.C. to trade there. They went thither in search of furs, and gold and silver, which were got either from the sand of certain rivers, as for instance the Allege (in Latin Aurigera), or from certain mines of the Alps, the Cevennes, and the Pyrenees; they brought in exchange stuffs dyed with purple, necklaces and rings of glass, and, above all, arms and wine; a trade like that which is nowadays carried on by the civilized peoples of Europe with the savage tribes of Africa and America. For the purpose of extending and securing their commercial expeditions, the Phoenicians founded colonies in several parts of Gaul, and to them is attributed the earliest origin of Nemausus (Nimes), and of Alesia, near Semur. But, at the end of three or four centuries, these colonies fell into decay; the trade of the Phoenicians was withdrawn from Gaul, and the only important sign it preserved of their residence was a road which, starting from the eastern Pyrenees, skirted the Gallic portion of the Mediterranean, crossed the Alps by the pass of Tenda, and so united Spain, Gaul, and Italy. After the withdrawal of the Phoenicians this road was kept up and repaired, at first by the Greeks of Marseilles, and subsequently by the Romans.

As merchants and colonists, the Greeks were, in Gaul, the successors of the Phoenicians, and Marseilles was one of their first and most considerable colonies. At the time of the Phoenicians' decay in Gaul, a Greek people, the Rhodians, had pushed their commercial enterprises to a great distance, and, in the words of the ancient historians, held the empire of the sea. Their ancestors had, in former times, succeeded the Phoenicians in the island of Rhodes, and they likewise succeeded them in the south of Gaul, and founded, at the mouth of the Rhone, a colony called Rhodanusia or Rhoda, with the same name as that which they had already founded on the north-east coast of Spain, and which is nowadays the town of Rosas, in Catalonia. But the importance of the Rhodians on the southern coast of Gaul was short-lived. It had already sunk very low in the year 600 B.C., when Euxenes, a Greek trader, coming from Phocea, an Ionian town of Asia Minor, to seek his fortune, landed from a bay eastward of the Rhone. The Segobrigians, a tribe of the Gallic race, were in occupation of the neighboring country. Nann, their chief, gave the strangers kindly welcome, and took them home with him to a great feast which he was giving for his daughter's marriage, who was called Gyptis, according to some, and Petta, according to other historians. A custom which exists still in several cantons of the Basque country, and even at the centre of France in Morvan, a mountainous district of the department of the Nievre, would that the maiden should appear only at the end of the banquet, and holding in her hand a filled wine-cup, and that the guest to whom she should present it should become the husband of her choice. By accident, or quite another cause, say the ancient legends, Gyptis stopped opposite Euxenes, and handed him the cup. Great was the surprise, and, probably, anger amongst the Gauls who were present. But Nann, believing he recognized a commandment from his gods, accepted the Phocean as his son-in-law, and gave him as dowry the bay where he had landed, with some cantons of the territory around. Euxenes, in gratitude, gave his wife the Greek name of Aristoxena (that is, "the best of hostesses"), sent away his ship to Phocea for colonists, and, whilst waiting for them, laid in the centre of the bay, on a peninsula hollowed out harbor-wise, towards the south, the foundations of a town, which he called Massilia—thence Marseilles.

Scarcely a year had elapsed when Euxenes' ship arrived from Phocea, and with it several galleys, bringing colonists full of hope, and laden with provisions, utensils, arms, seeds, vine-cuttings, and olive-cuttings, and, moreover, a statue of Diana, which the colonists had gone to fetch from the celebrated temple of that goddess at Ephesus, and which her priestess, Aristarche, accompanied to its new country.

The activity and prosperity of Marseilles, both within and without, were rapidly developed. She carried her commerce wherever the Phoenicians and the Rhodians had marked out a road; she repaired their forts; she took to herself their establishments; and she placed on her medals, to signify dominion, the rose, the emblem of Rhodes, beside the lion of Marseilles. But Nann, the Gallic chieftain, who had protected her infancy, died; and his son, Conran, shared the jealousy felt by the Segobrigians and the neighboring peoplets towards the new corners. He promised and really resolved to destroy the new city. It was the time of the flowering of the vine, a season of great festivity amongst the Ionian Greeks, and Marseilles thought solely of the preparations for the feast. The houses and public places were being decorated with branches and flowers. No guard was set; no work was done. Conran sent into the town a number of his men, some openly, as if to take part in the festivities, others hidden at the bottom of the cars which conveyed into Marseilles the branches and foliage from the outskirts. He himself went and lay in ambush in a neighboring glen, with seven thousand men, they say, but the number is probably exaggerated, and waited for his emissaries to open the gates to him during the night. But once more a woman, a near relation of the Gallic chieftain, was the guardian angel of the Greeks, and revealed the plot to a young man of Marseilles, with whom she was in love. The gates were immediately shut, and so many Segobrigians as happened to be in the town were massacred. Then, when night came on, the inhabitants, armed, went forth to surprise Conran in the ambush where he was awaiting the moment to surprise them. And there he fell with all his men.

Delivered as they were from this danger, the Massilians nevertheless remained in a difficult and disquieting situation. The peoplets around, in coalition against them, attacked them often, and threatened them incessantly. But whilst they were struggling against these embarrassments, a grand disaster, happening in the very same spot whence they had emigrated half a century before, was procuring them a great accession of strength and the surest means of defence. In the year 542 B.C., Phocea succumbed beneath the efforts of Cyrus, King of Persia, and her inhabitants, leaving to the conqueror empty streets and deserted houses, took to their ships in a body, to transfer their homes elsewhere. A portion of this floating population made straight for Marseilles; others stopped at Corsica, in the harbor of Alalia, another Phocean colony. But at the end of five years they too, tired of piratical life and of the incessant wars they had to sustain against the Carthaginians, quitted Corsica, and went to rejoin their compatriots in Gaul.

Thenceforward Marseilles found herself in a position to face her enemies. She extended her walls all round the bay, and her enterprises far away. She founded on the southern coast of Gaul and on the eastern coast of Spain, permanent settlements, which are to this day towns: eastward of the Rhone, Hercules' harbor, Moncecus (Monaco), Niccea (Nice), Antipolis (Antibes); westward, Heraclea Cacabaria (Saint-Gilles), Agaththae (Agdevall), Emporia; (Ampurias in Catalonia), &c., &c. In valley of the Rhone, several towns of the Gauls, Cabellio were (Cavaili like on), Greek Avenio (Avignon), Arelate (Arles), for instance, colonies, so great there was the number of travellers or established merchants who spoke Greek. With this commercial activity Marseilles united intellectual and scientific activity; her grammarians were among the first to revise and annotate the poems of Homer; and bold travellers from Marseilles, Euthymenes and Pytheas by name, cruised, one along the western coast of Africa beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, and the other the southern and western coasts of Europe, from the mouth of the Tanais (Don), in the Black Sea, to the latitudes and perhaps into the interior of the Baltic. They lived, both of them, in the second half of the fourth century B.C., and they wrote each a Periplus, or tales of their travels, which have unfortunately been almost entirely lost.

But whatever may have been her intelligence and activity, a single town situated at the extremity of Gaul and peopled with foreigners could have but little influence over so vast a country and its inhabitants. At first civilization is very hard and very slow; it requires many centuries, many great events, and many years of toil to overcome the early habits of a people, and cause them to exchange the pleasures, gross indeed, but accompanied with the idleness and freedom of barbarian life, for the toilful advantages of a regulated social condition. By dint of foresight, perseverance, and courage, the merchants of Marseilles and her colonies crossed by two or three main lines the forests, morasses, and heaths through the savage tribes of Gauls, and there effected their exchanges, but to the right and left they penetrated but a short distance. Even on their main lines their traces soon disappeared; and at the commercial settlements which they established here and there they were often far more occupied in self-defence than in spreading their example. Beyond a strip of land of uneven breadth, along the Mediterranean, and save the space peopled towards the south-west by the Iberians, the country, which received its name from the former of the two, was occupied by the Gauls and the Kymrians; by the Gauls in the centre, south-east and east, in the highlands of modern France, between the Alps, the Vosges, the mountains of Auvergne and the Cevennes; by the Kymrians in the north, north-west, and west, in the lowlands, from the western boundary of the Gauls to the ocean.

Whether the Gauls and the Kymrians were originally of the same race, or at least of races closely connected; whether they were both anciently comprised under the general name of Celts; and whether the Kymrians, if they were not of the same race as the Gauls, belonged to that of the Germans, the final conquerors of the Roman empire, are questions which the learned have been a long, long while discussing without deciding. The only facts which seem to be clear and certain are the following.

The ancients for a long while applied without distinction the name of Celts to the peoples who lived in the west and north of Europe, regardless of precise limits, language, or origin. It was a geographical title applicable to a vast but ill-explored territory, rather than a real historical name of race or nation. And so, in the earliest times, Gauls, Germans, Bretons, and even Iberians, appear frequently confounded under the name of Celts, peoples of Celtica.

Little by little this name is observed to become more restricted and more precise. The Iberians of Spain are the first to be detached; then the Germans. In the century preceding the Christian era, the Gauls, that is, the peoples inhabiting Gaul, are alone called Celts. We begin even to recognize amongst them diversities of race, and to distinguish the Iberians of Gaul, alias Aquitanians, and the Kymrians or Belgians from the Gauls, to whom the name of Celts is confined. Sometimes even it is to a confederation of certain Gallic tribes that the name Specially applies. However it be, the Gauls appear to have been the first inhabitants of western Europe. In the most ancient historical memorials they are found there, and not only in Gaul, but in Great Britain, in Ireland, and in the neighboring islets. In Gaul, after a long predominance, they commingled with other races to form the French nation. But, in this commingling numerous traces of their language, monuments, manners, and names of persons and places, survived and still exist, especially to the east and south—cast, in local customs and vernacular dialects. In Ireland, in the highlands of Scotland, in the Hebrides and the Isle of Man, Gauls (Gaels) still live under their primitive name. There we still have the Gaelic race and tongue, free, if not from any change, at least from absorbent fusion.

From the seventh to the fourth century B.C., a new population spread over Gaul, not at once, but by a series of invasions, of which the two principal took place at the two extremes of that epoch. They called themselves Kymrians or Kimrians, whence the Romans made Cimbrians, which recalls Cimmerii or Cimmerians, the name of a people whom the Greeks placed on the western bank of the Black Sea and in the Cimmerian peninsula, called to this day Crimea. During these irregular and successively repeated movements of wandering populations, it often happened that tribes of different races met, made terms, united, and finished by amalgamation under one name. All the peoples that successively invaded Europe, Gauls, Kymrians, Germans, belonged at first, in Asia, whence they came, to a common stern; the diversity of their languages, traditions, and manners, great as it already was at the time of their appearance in the West, was the work of time and of the diverse circumstances in the midst of which they had lived; but there always remained amongst them traces of a primitive affinity which allowed of sudden and frequent comings, amidst their tumultuous dispersion.

The Kymrians, who crossed the Rhine and flung themselves into northern Gaul towards the middle of the fourth century B.C., called themselves Bolg, or Belg, or Belgians, a name which indeed is given to them by Roman writers, and which has remained that of the country they first invaded. They descended southwards, to the banks of the Seine and the Marne. There they encountered the Kymrians of former invasions, who not only had spread over the country comprised between the Seine and the Loire, to the very heart of the peninsula bordered by the latter river, but had crossed the sea, and occupied a portion of the large island opposite Gaul, crowding back the Gauls, who had preceded them, upon Ireland and the highlands of Scotland. It was from one of these tribes and its chieftain, called Pryd or Prydain, Brit or Britain, that Great Britain and Brittany in France received the name which they have kept.

Each of these races, far from forming a single people bound to the same destiny and under the same chieftains, split into peoplets, more or less independent, who foregathered or separated according to the shifts of circumstances, and who pursued, each on their own account and at their own pleasure, their fortunes or their fancies. The Ibero-Aquitanians numbered twenty tribes; the Gauls twenty-two nations; the original Kymrians, mingled with the Gauls between the Loire and the Garonne, seventeen; and the Kymro-Belgians twenty-three. These sixty-two nations were subdivided into several hundreds of tribes; and these petty agglomerations were distributed amongst rival confederations or leagues, which disputed one with another the supremacy over such and such a portion of territory. Three grand leagues existed amongst the Gauls; that of the Arvernians, formed of peoplets established in the country which received from them the name of Auvergne; that of the AEduans, in Burgundy, whose centre was Bibracte (Autun); and that of the Sequanians, in Franche-Comte, whose centre was Vesontio (Besancon). Amongst the Kymrians of the West, the Armoric league bound together the tribes of Brittany and lower Normandy. From these alliances, intended to group together scattered forces, sprang fresh passions or interests, which became so many fresh causes of discord and hostility. And, in these divers-agglomerations, government was everywhere almost equally irregular and powerless to maintain order or found an enduring state. Kymrians, Gauls, or Iberians were nearly equally ignorant, improvident, slaves to the shiftings of their ideas and the sway of their passions, fond of war and idleness and rapine and feasting, of gross and savage pleasures. All gloried in hanging from the breast-gear of their horses, or nailing to the doors of their houses, the heads of their enemies. All sacrificed human victims to their gods; all tied their prisoners to trees, and burned or flogged them to death; all took pleasure in wearing upon their heads or round their arms, and depicting upon their naked bodies, fantastic ornaments, which gave them a wild appearance. An unbridled passion for wine and strong liquors was general amongst them: the traders of Italy, and especially of Marseilles, brought supplies into every part of Gaul; from interval to interval there were magazines established, whither the Gauls flocked to sell for a flask of wine their furs, their grain, their cattle, their slaves. "It was easy," says an ancient historian, "to get the Ganymede for the liquor." Such are the essential characteristics of barbaric life, as they have been and as they still are at several points of our globe, amongst people of the same grade in the scale of civilization. They existed in nearly an equal degree amongst the different races of ancient Gaul, whose resemblance was rendered much stronger thereby than their diversity in other respects by some of their customs, traditions, or ideas.

In their case, too, there is no sign of those permanent demarcations, those rooted antipathies, and that impossibility of unity which are observable amongst peoples whose original moral condition is really very different. In Asia, Africa, and America, the English, the Dutch, the Spanish, and the French have been and are still in frequent contact with the natives of the country—Hindoos, Malays, Negroes, and Indians; and, in spite of this contact, the races have remained widely separated one from another. In ancient Gaul not only did Gauls, Kymrians, and Iberians live frequently in alliance and almost intimacy, but they actually commingled and cohabited without scruple on the same territory. And so we find in the midst of the Iberians, towards the mouth of the Garonne, a Gallic tribe, the Viviscan Biturigians, come from the neighborhood of Bourges, where the bulk of the nation was settled: they had been driven thither by one of the first invasions of the Kymrians, and peaceably taken root there; Burdigaia, afterwards Bordeaux, was the chief settlement of this tribe, and even then a trading-place between the Mediterranean and the ocean. A little farther on, towards the south, a Kymrian tribe, the Bolans, lived isolated from its race, in the waste-lands of the Iberians, extracting the resin from the pines which grew in that territory. To the south-west, in the country situated between the Garonne, the eastern Pyrenees, the Cevennes, and the Rhone, two great tribes of Kymro-Belgians, the Bolg, Volg, Volk, or Voles, Arecomican and Tectosagian, came to settle, towards the end of the fourth century B. C., in the midst of the Iberian and Gallic peoplets; and there is nothing to show that the new comers lived worse with their neighbors than the latter had previously lived together.

It is evident that amongst all these peoplets, whatever may have been their diversity of origin, there was sufficient similitude of social condition and manners to make agreement a matter neither very difficult nor very long to accomplish.

On the other hand, and as a natural consequence, it was precarious and often of short duration: Iberian, Gallic, or Kymrian as they might be, these peoplets underwent frequent displacements, forced or voluntary, to escape from the attacks of a more powerful neighbor; to find new pasturage; in consequence of internal dissension; or, perhaps, for the mere pleasure of warfare and running risks, and to be delivered from the tediousness of a monotonous life. From the earliest times to the first century before the Christian era, Gaul appears a prey to this incessant and disorderly movement of the population; they change settlement and neighborhood; disappear from one point and reappear at another; cross one another; avoid one another; absorb and are absorbed. And the movement was not confined within Gaul; the Gauls of every race went, sometimes in very numerous hordes, to seek far away plunder and a settlement. Spain, Italy, Germany, Greece, Asia Minor, and Africa have been in turn the theatre of those Gallic expeditions which entailed long wars, grand displacements of peoples, and sometimes the formation of new nations. Let us make a slight acquaintance with this outer history of the Gauls; for it is well worth while to follow them a space upon their distant wanderings. We will then return to the soil of France, and concern ourselves only with what has passed within her boundaries.


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