Conquest by Caer Australis; original image by S Rhys Jones 2007

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Cover illustration by David Bergen (De Lint 1988)

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"The Romans mean to install themselves in our lands, declared Critognatus" - Caesar


"I have no need to obtain from Caesar by treachery the power I can secure by victory - a victory already in my grasp, and to be shared by the whole Gallic people." This declaration by Vercingetorix in 52BC (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,20) defines the power of the man, the identity of the invader, and, above all, the change in feeling among the tuatha of Gaul: the feeling of unity, achieved among the Celts for the first real time.

For centuries, the tuatha of Gaul had been been divided as separate countries, aligning with and antagonising against each other according to need. Powerful tuatha exerted their influence upon their neighbours, and exerted resistance against others of like rank. Two great tuatha had emerged in the second century BC, the Arverni to the west of the Loire, and their northern neighbours the Aedui. These two centrally located tuatha had been intermittently at war, and in a bid to gain an upper hand the Aeduans had formed an allegience with Rome, becoming 'Brothers and Kinsmen of the Roman People' in 122BC. The polarity of the two tuatha came to define the condition of Gaul.


The Celts sufferred a shock at the close of the second century BC, when the Cimbri and Teutones invaded their lands, and the people "were forced into their strongholds [as] the Cimbri...devastated Gaul and grievously afflicted her, [but] did eventually evacuate our country and migrate elsewhere", as described by Critognatus, a noble Arvernian (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,77). The Aeduans would have well appreciated their alliance with Rome at the experience so sufferred, and had cause to call on assistance. In the course of the powerplay between the Arvernians and Aeduans, through the hiring of German mercenaries between 70-65BC, the German Ariovistus had invaded the territory of the Sequani and a general German invasion threatened.

In 61BC, the druid Diviciacus, brother of the Aeduan ri Dumnorix "went to Rome to claim assistance from the Senate" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 1,31), but this was refused. Three years later he again invoked the alliance with Rome, and called on Caesar to "deter [Ariovistus] from bringing in fresh hordes across and protect all Gaul from his depredations"(Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 1,31). With this casus belli, Caesar had the justification to extend the Roman imperium north of Narbonensis that had become the provincia of Roman rule in 125BC.

Over the years following 58BC, whose events are described in detail in Caesar's Bellum Gallium, it became clear, as explained by Critognatus, that the Romans "mean to install themselves in our lands and towns and fasten the yoke of slavery on us forever...only look at the part of Gaul on your own borders that has been made into a Roman province, with new laws and institutions imposed on it" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,77).


The presence of Roman troops in Gaul following the expulsion of Ariovistus was an unsettling prospect for many of the Gallic tuatha. When Ariovistus was ordered "to desist, he obeyed and moved away from the Aedui and desired to be accounted a 'Friend of the Roman People', and this was granted, Caesar being consul and voting for it" (Appian, Gallic History, Embassies fragment). For the Gauls, peace in their lands was clearly becoming linked to Roman imperium.

While the Senate in 121BC may have "refrained from annexing their land or exacting tribute [and had] determined that, although conquered, [Gaul] should be allowed self-government" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 1.45), following the war with the Germans it was unlikely the Romans would risk instability to their north. Some tuatha, including the Aedui and others such as the Remi and Lingones, of the Seine region, took the view that a Roman presence was a stabilising force needed for the time, providing to Caesar "all they possessed under the protection and at the disposal of the Roman people...ready to give hostages, to obey his orders, to admit him into their strongholds, and to furnish corn and other supplies" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 2,3). In 57BC, Caesar began his campaigns, in the north and then in central Gaul. Across the land, Roman imperium was being exerted. A tremendous dilemma amongst the magistries of the tuatha, with factions developing for and against Rome.

The military skill of Rome and particularly of Caesar led to defeat of individual resistances, and Roman troops had safe areas within the territory. In 54 and 53 BC, many tuatha resisted in unison. Ambiorix the Eburonian ri declared in 53BC "I admit that I am greatly indebted to Caesar for the services which he has rendered me [but] I am not an absolute ruler: the people have as much power over me as I have over them [and my tuath] could not oppose the movement in which all the Gauls suddenly leagued themselves together...The whole of Gaul is united in this attempt [at] the recovery of our national liberty" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 5,27). And still the Gauls met defeat.

Vercingetorix elected

In 52BC, the tuatha were, in Caesar's own words "smarting under their subjection to Rome" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,1). In assembly at the opening of that year, a concerted Gallic effort against Roman imperium was made. The tuath of the Carnutes lay in a central position in Gaul: here annually the druids from throughout the tuatha convened (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 6,13), and it was from the centre of Gaul in the Carnute market town of Cenabum, that the word was shouted - literally - that the rebellion against Rome had begun. In the assembly, the Carnutes led the call for the Gauls " to stack their military standards together [so] to bind themselves by an oath... and fixed a date for the rising" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,2).

The Arvernians had been firm in their opposition to Rome, and from their nobility the son of one of their past leaders rose to become general of the campaign. Vercingetorix had the capacity of "exciting their passions [and] was proclaimed king by his adherants, and sent embassies in every direction [and] secured the support of the Senones, Parisii, Cadurci, Turoni, Aulerci, Lemovices, Andes, Pictones, and all the other tribes of the west coast, who unanimously elected him commander-in-chief" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,4).

Aeduan support

Critical for the success of the campaign was the support of the 'Brothers and Kinsmen' of the Romans, the Aeduans. He marched to the terriory of the Biturges, a tuath who had been placed under the authority of the Aeduans, and they joined him. Aeduan cavalry sent to resist Vercingetorix marched to the Loire river boundary with the Biturges, "but turned back without venturing to cross it" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 6,5), which appears to be the first sign of their faltering with Rome. Caesar confronted the Biturges for convincing the Aeduans to back off "reproached them for this, [at which] they said an ancient alliance had the precedence" (Appian, Gallic History, Vatican MSS of Cardinal Mai fragment)

A further shift in Aeduan allegience developed within its magistrates. At the annual elections for the position of ri, or chief magistrate, of the Aeduans, turmoil erupted. Valetiacus, whose term was ending, had secretly appointed his brother Cotus as ri whereas Convictolitavis had been "appointed constitutionally, under the presidency of the priests and at a time when the magistracy was vacant" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,34). When confirmed in the position through the adjudication of Caesar, Convictolitavis entered into talks with the Arvernians, for so long rivals to the Aeduans for power in Gaul. The new Aeduan ri appointed the Aeduan nobles Litaviccus and his brothers the task of convincing the Aeduan army to support the Gallic cause for national liberty, saying "it was the Aeduans alone who hindered the Gallic victory which, but for them, would be certain. Their influence kept the other tribes loyal to Rome; and if they changed sides, the Romans would be unable to maintain their position in Gaul" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,37).

The campaign of Vercingetorix had sufferred a major setback at the loss of Avaricum, but he was able to maintain his nerve: "I am working hard to bring over the tribes which are standing aloof from us. The whole of Gaul will then be united, and when we are all of one mind the entire world cannot stand against us" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,29). Moreover, Vercingetorix displayed his military co-ordination skills by arranging "reinforcements from the various tribes, fixing the precise number of each quota and the date by which it was to arrive at the camp. He ordered all the archers who could be found [and thus] repaired the losses at Avaricum, and Teutomatus, king of the Nitiobroges (son of Ollovico, who was granted the title of 'Friend' by the Roman Senate), now joined him" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,31).

Gallic unity

A Roman loss at Gergovia followed, in which the Aeduan army still fought on the side of Caesar, which at last confirmed the military skill and persistence of Vercigetorix, and sent a blow to Caesar. After this battle, a conference at the important Aeduan town of Bibracte was held in which "Convictolitavis and a large number of the Aeduan councillors [met and] an official embassy [was] sent to Vercingetorix to conclude a treaty of peace and alliance" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,55). An act of rivalry between the tuatha of the Arverni and the Aedui was played out at the arrival of Vercingetorix, when the command of the campaign was attempted to be usurped by the Aeduans, but "a pan-Gallic council [with] a full attendance of tribesmen from all parts...unanimously confirmed the appointment of Vercingetorix" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,63).

Gaul had never seen such unity, and was full of hope. Vercingetorix addressed the Gauls, "The hour of victory has come. The Romans are fleeing to the Province and abandoning Gaul [following their recent loss]. But although this will assure our liberty for the moment, for future peace and security we need more than that; otherwise they will return in increased force and continue the war indefinitely. So let us attack them on the march" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,66).

It was at this council at Bibracte that Vercingetorix won unity among the Gallic people, confirming over them a singular purpose that had the potential to continue into the future. His own father, Celtillus, "had been put to death by the Gauls because they thought he was aiming at making himself an absolute ruler" (Plutarch, Life of Caesar, 25), and his uncle, Gobannitio, an Arvernian magistrate "thought the enterprise too risky" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 6,4), but the Arvernian noble had demonstated his prowess and had gained the trust from across the many tuatha, not only from those originally opposed to Rome, but from those who had adopted 'Friends of Rome' status out of fear or practicality, and most importantly from their long-standing rivals, the Aedui. So excited were they by this prospect of independence of Roman imperium, they sent embassies to the Allobroges in the south "that they should be made rulers of the whole Province [of Narbonensis]" following victory (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,64).


The war was intended to be brought south, into the Roman Province, but a routing in the field changed all that. Vercingetorix brought his command to the Mandubian caer of Alesia, situated on the Mont Auxois, between the rivers Oze and Ozerain, in northeast Gaul. The siege of Alesia lasted two months, with Vercingetorix inside the caer with 80,000 troops, surrounded by Caesar's siege works, for "it was impregnable except for blockade" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,69), and at last surrounded further by 250,000 Gallic troops whose roll-call (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,75) included troops from 47 tuatha, "the best fighting troops from every nation in Gaul" (Plutarch, Life of Caesar, 27) under four generals, Commius of the Atrebates, Viridomarus and Eporedorix of the Aedui and Vercassivellaunus, a cousin of Vercingetorix, of the Arverni.

"Both sides realized that this was the time, above all others, for a supreme effort. The Gauls knew that unless they broke through the [Roman] lines they were lost; the Romans, if they could hold their ground, looked forward to the end of all their hardships" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,85). The Romans held, and the seige lost, along with Gallic liberty. Vercingetorix ordered the Gauls to "make amends with the Romans by killing me or surrender me alive as you think best [and] was delivered up, and the arms laid down" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,89). Vercingetorix "put on his most beautiful armour, had his horse carefully groomed, and rode out through the gates. Caesar was sitting down and Vergentorix, after riding round him in a circle, leaped down from his horse, stripped off his armour, and sat at Caesar's feet silent and motionless until he was taken away under arrest, a prisoner reserved for the triumph" (Plutarch, Life of Caesar, 27), which was held six years later, at which he was executed. Caesar "went to the counrty of the Aedui and recieved their submission [and] decided to winter at Bibracte....A thanksgiving of twenty days was celebrated in Rome" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 7,90).

Roman Gaul

Gaul became a Roman Province, and the Aeduans were great beneficiaries. The wide sweep of Gaul, with her sixty-four states, was organised with a capital, Lugdunum. Established at the confluence of the Saône and the Rhone, two years after Caesar's assasination, it was a purpose built Roman colony, and became the caput Galliarum capital of Gaul. Here, at an altar to Rome and Augustus, an annual council of delegates met and in an act echoing the druid delegates of the former tuatha, the election of the sacredos Galliarum chief priest of Gaul was made (Morris, 2005, 27).

The Gallo-Roman institutions allowed problems and policies to be heard and referred to the governing Roman magistrate, and over the years Gaul developed in security since Rome ruled lightly and encouraged the nobles of the developing cities to nurture commerce and many ordinary citizens became successful and agriculture flourished (Morris, 2005, 28). Gallic gods were worshipped in temples to paired Roman deities. An altar to Cernunnos, the antlered lord of the forest and riches, was erected in Paris by the Shipping Association of the Seine (Morris, 2005, 28), symbolising the continuance of Gallic culture, suitably adapted, within the Roman Empire. Some institutions were destroyed and replaced: the druids were replaced by the sacredi, and the luni-solar Celtic calendar, of which a destroyed copy inscribed on bronze from the first century BC is held in the Palais des Arts in Lyon, was replaced with the solar Julian calendar, which Caesar had created after the conquest by "the best scholars and mathematicians of the day" (Plutrach, Life of Caesar, 59).

In the third century AD, in Augustodunum, the Aeduan state affirmed her Gallo-Roman pride, addressing the Emporer Constantine with a speech that might have had Vercingetorix turn in his grave at the allusion to the old rivalry, but showed the level of comfort within the Empire Gaul had gained: "What people in all the world can claim to precede the Aedui in their love for the Roman name? Uniting all the peoples of the Celts and the Belgae together into one common peace, the Aedui had joined to the Romans those they had detached from the barbarians" (Woolf, 1998, 3).

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