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


It was Rome herself that soon crossed that barrier of the Alps which she had pronounced fixed by nature and insurmountable. Scarcely was she mistress of Cisalpine Gaul when she entered upon a quarrel with the tribes which occupied the mountain-passes. With an unsettled frontier, and between neighbors of whom one is ambitious and the other barbarian, pretexts and even causes are never wanting. It is likely that the Gallic mountaineers were not careful to abstain, they and their flocks, from descending upon the territory that had become Roman. The Romans, in turn, penetrated into the hamlets, carried off flocks and people, and sold them in the public markets at Cremona, at Placentia, and in all their colonies.

The Gauls of the Alps demanded succor of the Transalpine Gauls, applying to a powerful chieftain, named Cincibil, whose influence extended throughout the mountains. But the terror of the Roman name had reached across. Cincibil sent to Rome a deputation, with his brother at their head, to set forth the grievances of the mountaineers, and especially to complain of the consul Cassius, who had carried off and sold several thousands of Gauls. Without making any concession, the Senate was gracious. Cassius was away; he must be waited for. Meanwhile the Gauls were well treated; Cincibil and his brother received as presents two golden collars, five silver vases, two horses fully caparisoned, and Roman dresses for all their suite. Still nothing was done.

Another, a greater and more decisive opportunity offered itself. Marseilles was an ally of the Romans. As the rival of Carthage, and with the Gauls forever at her gates, she had need of Rome by sea and land. She pretended, also, to the most eminent and intimate friendship with Rome. Her founder, the Phocean Euxenes, had gone to Rome, it was said, and concluded a treaty with Tarquinius Priscus. She had gone into mourning when Rome was burned by the Gauls; she had ordered a public levy to aid towards the ransom of the Capitol. Rome did not dispute these claims to remembrance. The friendship of Marseilles was of great use to her. In the whole course of her struggle with Carthage, and but lately, at the passage of Hannibal through Gaul, Rome had met with the best of treatment there. She granted the Massilians a place amongst her senators at the festivals of the Republic, and exemption from all duty in her ports. Towards the middle of the second century B.C. Marseilles was at war with certain Gallic tribes, her neighbors, whose territory she coveted. Two of her colonies, Nice and Antibes, were threatened. She called on Rome for help. A Roman deputation went to decide the quarrel; but the Gauls refused to obey its summons, and treated it with insolence. The deputation returned with an army, succeeded in beating the refractory tribes, and gave their land to the Massilians. The same thing occurred repeatedly with the same result. Within the space of thirty years nearly all the tribes between the Rhone and the Var, in the country which was afterwards Provence, were subdued and driven back amongst the mountains, with notice not to approach within a mile of the coast in general, and a mile and a half of the places of disembarkation. But the Romans did not stop there. They did not mean to conquer for Marseilles alone. In the year 123 B.C., at some leagues to the north of the Greek city, near a little river, then called the Coenus and nowadays the Arc, the consul C. Sextius Calvinus had noticed, during his campaign, an abundance of thermal springs, agreeably situated amidst wood-covered hills. There he constructed an enclosure, aqueducts, baths, houses, a town in fact, which he called after himself, Aquae Sextice, the modern Aix, the first Roman establishment in Transalpine Gaul. As in the case of Cisalpine Gaul, with Roman colonies came Roman intrigue and dissensions got up and fomented amongst the Gauls. And herein Marseilles was a powerful seconder; for she kept up communications with all the neighboring tribes, and fanned the spirit of faction. After his victories, the consul C. Sextius, seated at his tribunal, was selling his prisoners by auction, when one of them came up to him and said, "I have always liked and served the Romans; and for that reason I have often incurred outrage and danger at the hands of my countrymen." The consul had him set free,—him and his family,—and even gave him leave to point out amongst the captives any for whom he would like to procure the same kindness. At his request nine hundred were released. The man's name was Crato, a Greek name, which points to a connection with Marseilles or one of her colonies. The Gauls, moreover, ran of themselves into the Roman trap. Two of their confederations, the AEduans, of whom mention has already been made, and the Allobrogians, who were settled between the Alps, the Isere, and the Rhone, were at war. A third confederation, the most powerful in Gaul at this time, the Arvernians, who were rivals of the AEduans, gave their countenance to the Allobrogians. The AEduans, with whom the Massilians had commercial dealings, solicited through these latter the assistance of Rome. A treaty was easily concluded. The AEduans obtained from the Romans the title of friends and allies; and the Romans received from the AEduans that of brothers, which amongst the Gauls implied a sacred tie. The consul Domitius forthwith commanded the Allobrogians to respect the territory of the allies of Rome. The Allobrogians rose up in arms and claimed the aid of the Arvernians. But even amongst them, in the very heart of Gaul, Rome was much dreaded; she was not to be encountered without hesitation. So Bituitus, King of the Arvernians, was for trying accommodation. He was a powerful and wealthy chieftain. His father Luern used to give amongst the mountains magnificent entertainments; he had a space of twelve square furlongs enclosed, and dispensed wine, mead, and beer from cisterns made within the enclosure; and all the Arvernians crowded to his feasts. Bituitus displayed before the Romans his barbaric splendor. A numerous escort, superbly clad, surrounded his ambassador; in attendance were packs of enormous hounds; and in front; went a bard, or poet, who sang, with rotte or harp in hand, the glory of Bituitus and of the Arvernian people. Disdainfully the consul received and sent back the embassy. War broke out; the Allobrogians, with the usual confidence and hastiness of all barbarians, attacked alone, without waiting for the Arvernians, and were beaten at the confluence of the Rhone and the Sorgue, a little above Avignon. The next year, 121 B.C., the Arvernians in their turn descended from the mountains, and crossed the Rhone with all their tribes, diversely armed and clad, and ranged each about its own chieftain. In his barbaric vanity, Bituitus marched to war with the same pomp that he had in vain displayed to obtain peace. He sat upon a car glittering with silver; he wore a plaid of striking colors; and he brought in his train a pack of war-hounds. At the sight of the Roman legions, few in number, iron-clad, in serried ranks that took up little space, he contemptuously cried, "There is not a meal for my hounds."

The Arvernians were beaten, as the Allobrogians had been. The hounds of Bituitus were of little use to him against the elephants which the Romans had borrowed from Asiatic usage, and which spread consternation amongst the Gauls. The Roman historians say that the Arvernian army was two hundred thousand strong, and that one hundred and twenty thousand were slain; but the figures are absurd, like most of those found in ancient chronicles. We know nowadays, thanks to modern civilization, which shows everything in broad daylight, and measures everything with proper caution, that only the most populous and powerful nations, and that at great expenditure of trouble and time, can succeed in moving armies of two hundred thousand men, and that no battle, however murderous it may be, ever costs one hundred and twenty thousand lives.

Rome treated the Arvernians with consideration; but the Allobrogians lost their existence as a nation. The Senate declared them subject to the Roman people; and all the country comprised between the Alps, the Rhone from its entry into the Lake of Geneva to its mouth, and the Mediterranean, was made a Roman consular province, which means that every year a consul must march thither with his army. In the three following years, indeed, the consuls extended the boundaries of the new province, on the right bank of the Rhone, to the frontier of the Pyrenees southward. In the year 115 B.C. a colony of Roman citizens was conducted to Narbonne, a town even then of importance, in spite of the objections made by certain senators who were unwilling, say the historians, so to expose Roman citizens "to the waves of barbarism." This was the second colony which went and established itself out of Italy; the first had been founded on the ruins of Carthage.

Having thus completed their conquest, the Senate, to render possession safe and sure, decreed the occupation of the passes of the Alps which opened Gaul to Italy. There was up to that time no communication with Gaul save along the Mediterranean, by a narrow and difficult path, which has become in our time the beautiful route called the Corniche. The mountain tribes defended their independence with desperation; when that of the Stumians, who occupied the pass of the maritime Alps, saw their inability to hold their own, they cut the throats of their wives and children, set fire to their houses, and threw themselves into the flames. But the Senate pursued its course imperturbably. All the chief defiles of the Alps fell into its hands. The old Phoenician road, restored by the consul Domitius, bore thenceforth his name (Via Donaitia), and less than sixty years after Cisalpine Gaul had been reduced to a Roman province, Rome possessed, in Transalpine Gaul, a second province, whither she sent her armies, and where she established her citizens without obstruction. But Providence seldom allows men, even in the midst of their successes, to forget for long how precarious they are; and when He is pleased to remind them, it is not by words, as the Persians reminded their king, but by fearful events that He gives His warnings. At the very moment when Rome believed herself set free from Gallic invasions, and on the point of avenging herself by a course of conquest, a new invasion, more extensive and more barbarous, came bursting upon Rome and upon Gaul at the same time, and plunged them together in the same troubles and the same perils.

In the year 113 B.C. there appeared to the north of the Adriatic, on the right bank of the Danube, an immense multitude of barbarians, ravaging Noricum and threatening Italy. Two nations predominated; the Kymrians or Cimbrians, and the Teutons, the national name of the Germans. They came from afar, northward, from the Cimbrian peninsula, nowadays Jutland, and from the countries bordering on the Baltic which nowadays form the duchies of Holstein and Schleswig. A violent shock of earthquake, a terrible inundation, had driven them, they said, from their homes; and those countries do indeed show traces of such events. And Cimbrians and Teutons had been for some time roaming over Germany.

The consul Papirius Carbo, despatched in all haste to defend the frontier, bade them, in the name of the Roman people, to withdraw. The barbarians modestly replied that they had no intention of settling in Noricum, and if the Romans had rights over the country, they would carry their arms elsewhere. The consul, who had found haughtiness succeed, thought he might also employ perfidy against the barbarians. He offered guides to conduct them out of Noricum; and the guides misled them. The consul attacked them unexpectedly during the night, and was beaten.

However, the barbarians, still fearful, did not venture into Italy. They roamed for three years along the Danube, as far as the mountains of Macedonia and Thrace. Then retracing their steps, and marching eastward, they inundated the valleys of the Helvetic Alps, now Switzerland, having their numbers swelled by other tribes, Gallic or German, who preferred joining in pillage to undergoing it. The Ambrons, among others, a Gallic peoplet that had taken refuge in Helvetia after the expulsion of the Umbrians by the Etruscans from Italy, joined the Cimbrians and Teutons; and in the year 110 B.C. all together entered Gaul, at first by way of Belgica, and then, continuing their wanderings and ravages in central Gaul, they at last reached the Rhone, on the frontiers of the Roman province.

There the name of Rome again arrested their progress; they applied to her anew for lands, with the offer of their services. "Rome," answered M. Silanus, who commanded in the province, "has neither lands to give you nor services to accept from you." He attacked them in their camp, and was beaten.

Three consuls, L. Cassius, C. Servilius Omepio, and Cu. Manlius, successively experienced the same fate. With the barbarians victory bred presumption. Their chieftains met and deliberated whether they should not forthwith cross into Italy, to exterminate or enslave the Romans, and make Kymrian spoken at Rome. Scaurus, a prisoner, was in the tent, loaded with fetters, during the deliberation. He was questioned about the resources of his country. "Cross not the Alps," said he; "go not into Italy: the Romans are invincible." In a transport of fury the chieftain of the Kymrians, Boiorix by name, fell upon the Roman, and ran him through. Howbeit the advice of Scaurus was followed. The barbarians did not as yet dare to decide upon invading Italy; but they freely scoured the Roman province, meeting here with repulse, and there with re-enforcement from the peoplets who formed the inhabitants. The Tectosagian Voles, Hymrian in origin and maltreated by Rome, joined them. Then, on a sudden, whilst the Teutons and Ambrons remained in Gaul, the Kymrians passed over to Spain without apparent motive, and probably as an overswollen torrent divides, and disperses its waters in all directions. The commotion at Rome was extreme; never had so many or such wild barbarians threatened the Republic; never had so many or such large Roman armies been beaten in succession. There was but one man, it was said, who could avert the danger, and give Rome the ascendency. It was Marius, low-born, but already illustrious; esteemed by the Senate for his genius as a commander and for his victories; swaying at his will the people, who saw in him one of themselves, and admired without envying him; beloved and feared by the army for his bravery, his rigorous discipline, and his readiness to share their toils and dangers; stern and rugged; without education, eloquence, or riches; ill-suited for shining in public assemblies, but resolute and dexterous in action; verily made to dominate the vigorous but unrefined multitude, whether in camp or city, partly by participating their feelings, partly by giving them in his own person a specimen of the deserts and sometimes of the virtues which they esteem but do not possess.

He was consul in Africa, where he was putting an end to the war with Jugurtha. He was elected a second time consul, without interval and in his absence, contrary to all the laws of the Republic. Scarcely had he returned, when, on descending from the Capitol, where he had just received a triumph for having conquered and captured Jugurtha, he set out for Gaul. On his arrival, instead of proceeding, as his predecessors, to attack the barbarians at once, he confined himself to organizing and inuring his troops, subjecting them to frequent marches, all kinds of military exercises, and long and hard labor. To insure supplies he made them dig, towards the mouths of the Rhone, a large canal which formed a junction with the river a little above Arles, and which, at its entrance into the sea, offered good harborage for vessels. This canal, which existed for a long while under the name of Rossae Mariance (the dikes of Marius), is filled up nowadays; but at its southern extremity the village of Foz still preserves a remembrance of it. Trained in this severe school, the soldiers acquired such a reputation for sobriety and laborious assiduity, that they were proverbially called Marius's mules.

He was as careful for their moral state as for their physical fitness, and labored to exalt their imaginations as well as to harden their bodies. In that camp, and amidst those toils in which he kept them strictly engaged, frequent sacrifices, and scrupulous care in consulting the oracles, kept superstition at a white heat. A Syrian prophetess, named Martha, who had been sent to Marius by his wife Julia, the aunt of Julius Caesar, was ever with him, and accompanied him at the sacred ceremonies and on the march, being treated with the greatest respect, and having vast influence over the minds of the soldiers.

Two years rolled on in this fashion; and yet Marius would not move. The increasing devastation of the country, fire, and famine, the despair and complaints of the inhabitants, did not shake his resolution. Nor was the confidence he inspired both in the camp and at Rome a whit shaken: he was twice re-elected consul, once while he was still absent, and once during a visit he paid to Rome to give directions to his party in person.

It was at Rome, in the year 102 B.C., that he learned how the Kymrians, weary of Spain, had recrossed the Pyrenees, rejoined their old comrades, and had at last resolved, in concert, to invade Italy; the Kymrians from the north, by way of Helvetia and Noricum, the Teutons and Ambrons from the south, by way of the maritime Alps. They were to form a junction on the banks of the Po, and thence march together on Rome. At this news Marius returned forthwith to Gaul, and, without troubling himself about the Kymrians, who had really put themselves in motion towards the north-east, he placed his camp so as to cover at one and the same time the two Roman roads which crossed at Arles, and by one of which the Ambro-Teutons must necessarily pass to enter Italy on the south.

They soon appeared "in immense numbers," say the historians, "with their hideous looks and their wild cries," drawing up their chariots and planting their tents in front of the Roman camp. They showered upon Marius and his soldiers continual insult and defiance. The Romans, in their irritation, would fain have rushed out of their camp, but Marius restrained them. "It is no question," said he, with his simple and convincing common sense, "of gaining triumphs and trophies; it is a question of averting this storm of war and of saving Italy." A Teutonic chieftain came one day up to the very gates of the camp, and challenged him to fight. Marius had him informed that if he were tired of life he could go and hang himself. As the barbarian still persisted, Marius sent him a gladiator.

However, he made his soldiers, in regular succession, mount the ramparts, to get them familiarized with the cries, looks, arms, and movements of the barbarians. The most distinguished of his officers, young Sertorius, who understood and spoke Gallic well, penetrated, in the disguise of a Gaul, into the camp of the Ambrons, and informed Marius of what was going on there.

At last the barbarians, in their impatience, having vainly attempted to storm the Roman camp, struck their own, and put themselves in motion towards the Alps. For six whole days, it is said, their bands were defiling beneath the ramparts of the Romans, and crying, "Have you any message for your wives? We shall soon be with them."

Marius, too, struck his camp, and followed them. They halted, both of them, near Aix, on the borders of the Coenus, the barbarians in the valley, Marius on a hill which commanded it. The ardor of the Romans was at its height; it was warm weather; there was a want of water on the hill, and the soldiers murmured. "You are men," said Marius, pointing to the river below, "and there is water to be bought with blood." "Why don't you lead us against them at once, then," said a soldier, "whilst we still have blood in our veins?" "We must first fortify our camp," answered Marius quietly.

The soldiers obeyed: but the hour of battle had come, and well did Marius know it. It commenced on the brink of the Coenus, between some Ambrons who were bathing and some Roman slaves gone down to draw water. When the whole horde of the Ambrons advanced to the battle, shouting their war-cry of Ambra! Ambra! a body of Gallic auxiliaries in the Roman army, and in the first rank, heard them with great amazement; for it was their own name and their own cry; there were tribes of Ambrons in the Alps subjected to Rome as well as in the Helvetic Alps; and Ambra! Ambra! resounded on both sides.

The battle lasted two days, the first against the Ambrons, the second against the Teutons. Both were beaten, in spite of their savage bravery, and the equal bravery of their women, who defended, with indomitable obstinacy, the cars with which they had remained almost alone, in charge of the children and the booty. After the women, it was necessary to exterminate the hounds who defended their masters' bodies. Here again the figures of the historians are absurd, although they differ; the most extravagant raise the number of barbarians slain to two hundred thousand, and that of the prisoners to eighty thousand; the most moderate stop at one hundred thousand. In any case, the carnage was great, for the battle-field, where all these corpses rested without burial, rotting in the sun and rain, got the name of Campi Putridi, or Fields of Putrefaction, a name traceable even nowadays in that of Pourrires, a neighboring village.

As to the booty, the Roman army with one voice made a free gift of it to Marius; but he, remembering, perhaps, what had been lately done by the barbarians after the defeat of the consuls Manlius and Czepio, determined to have it all burned in honor of the gods. He had a great sacrifice prepared. The soldiers, crowned with laurel, were ranged about the pyre; their general, holding on high a blazing torch, was about to apply the light with his own hand, when suddenly, on the very spot, whether by design or accident, came from Rome the news that Marius had just been for the fifth time elected consul. In the midst of acclamations from his army, and with a fresh chaplet bound upon his brow, he applied the torch in person, and completed the sacrifice.

Were we travelling in Provence, in the neighborhood of Aix, we should encounter, peradventure, some peasant who, whilst pointing out to us the summit of a lull whereon, in all probability, Marius offered, nineteen hundred and forty years ago, that glorious sacrifice, would say to us in his native dialect, "Aqui es lou deloubre do la Vittoria:" "There is the temple of victory." There, indeed, was built, not far from a pyramid erected in honor of Marius, a little temple dedicated to Victory. Thither, every year, in the month of May, the population used to come and celebrate a festival and light a bonfire, answered by other bonfires on the neighboring heights. When Gaul became Christian, neither monument nor festival perished; a saint took the place of the goddess, and the temple of Victory became the church of St. Victoire. There are still ruins of it to this day; the religious procession which succeeded the pagan festival ceased only at the first outburst of the Revolution; and the vague memory of a great national event still mingles in popular tradition with the legends of the saint.

The Ambrons and Teutons beaten, there remained the Kymrians, who, according to agreement, had repassed the Helvetic Alps and entered Italy on the north-east, by way of the Adige. Marius marched against them in July of the following year, 101 B.C. Ignorant of what had occurred in Gaul, and possessed, as ever, with the desire of a settlement, they again sent to him a deputation, saying, "Give us lands and towns for us and our brethren." "What brethren?" asked Marius. "The Teutons." The Romans who were about Marius began to laugh. "Let your brethren be," said Marius; "they have land, and will always have it; they received it from us." The Kymrians, perceiving the irony of his tone, burst out into threats, telling Marius that he should suffer for it at their hands first, and afterwards at those of the Teutons when they arrived. "They are here," rejoined Marius; "you must not depart without saluting your brethren;" and he had Teutobod, King of the Teutons, brought out with other captive chieftains. The envoys reported the sad news in their own camp, and three days afterwards, July 30, a great battle took place between the Kymrians and the Romans in the Raudine Plains, a large tract near Verceil.

It were unnecessary to dwell on the details of the battle, which resembled that of Aix; besides, fought as it was in Italy and by none but Romans, it has but little to do with a history of Gaul. It has been mentioned only to make known the issue of that famous invasion, of which Gaul was the principal theatre. For a moment it threatened the very existence of the Roman Republic. The victories of Marius arrested the torrent, but did not dry up its source. The great movement which drove from Asia to Europe, and from eastern to western Europe, masses of roving populations, followed its course, bringing incessantly upon the Roman frontiers new comers and new perils. A greater man than Marius, Julius Caesar in fact, saw that to effectually resist these clouds of barbaric assailants, the country into which they poured must be conquered and made Roman. The conquest of Gaul was the accomplishment of that idea, and the decisive step towards the transformation of the Roman republic into a Roman empire.

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