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The Gauls were a Celtic people living in Gaul, the region roughly corresponding to what is now Francemarker and Belgiummarker, from the Iron Age through the Roman period. They spoke the Continental Celtic language called Gaulish.

Archaeologically, they were the bearers of the La Tène culturemarker (5th to 1st centuries BC). In the 3rd century BC, the Gauls expanded towards the southeast in a series of invasions, including the Gallic Invasion of Greece, settling as far east as Anatoliamarker, as the Galatians. They were conquered by Julius Caesar in the Gallic Wars in the 50s BC, and during the Roman period became assimilated into a Gallo-Roman culture. During the crisis of the third century, there was briefly a breakaway Gallic Empire under Postumus, Marcus Aurelius Marius and Tetricus I. By the arrival of the Franks during the Migration Period (5th century), the Gaulish language had been replaced by Vulgar Latin.


Gaulish culture developed out of the Celtic cultures over the first millennia BC. The Urnfield culture (c. 1300 BC – c. 750 BC) represents the Celts as a distinct cultural branch of the Indo-European-speaking people. The spread of iron working led to the Hallstatt culture in the 8th century BC; the Proto-Celtic may have been spoken around this time. The Hallstatt culture evolved into the La Tène culturemarker in around the 5th century BC. The Greek, Phoenicianmarker, and Etruscanmarker civilizations and colonies began to influence the Gauls especially in the Mediterraneanmarker area.

Gauls under Brennus sacked Rome circa 390 BC. In the Aegean world, a huge migration of Eastern Gauls appeared in Thrace, north of Greecemarker, in 281 BC. Another Gaulish chieftain also named Brennus, at the head of a large army, was only turned back from desecrating the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece at the last minute — he was alarmed, it was said, by portents of thunder and lightning. The Mediterranean Gauls were prosperous enough by the 2nd century that the powerful Greek colony of Massilia had to appeal to the Roman Republic for defense against them. The Northern Gauls remained primarily agricultural and had few large population centers beyond fortifications used in times of war.

The Romans intervened in southern Gaul in 125 BC, and conquered the area eventually known as Gallia Narbonensis by 121. In 58 BC Julius Caesar launched the Gallic Wars and conquered the whole of Gaul by 51. At this time Caesar noted that the Gauls were one of the three primary peoples in the area at the time, along with the Aquitanians and the Belgae. After the annexation of Gaul a mixed Gallo-Roman culture began to emerge.

Social structure

Gaulish society was dominated by the druid priestly class. The druids were not the only political force, however, and the early political system was complex, though ultimately fatal to the society as a whole. The fundamental unit of Gallic politics was the tribe, which itself consisted of one or more of what Caesar called "pagi". Each tribe had a council of elders, and initially a king. Later, the executive was an annually-elected magistrate. Among the Aedui tribe the executive held the title of "Vergobret", a position much like a king, but its powers were held in check by rules laid down by the council.

The tribal groups, or pagi as the Romans called them (singular: pagus; the French word pays, "region", comes from this term) were organised into larger super-tribal groups that the Romans called civitates. These administrative groupings would be taken over by the Romans in their system of local control, and these civitates would also be the basis of France's eventual division into ecclesiastical bishoprics and dioceses, which would remain in place — with slight changes — until the French Revolution.

Although the tribes were moderately stable political entities, Gaul as a whole tended to be politically divided, there being virtually no unity among the various tribes. Only during particularly trying times, such as the invasion of Caesar, could the Gauls unite under a single leader like Vercingetorix. Even then, however, the faction lines were clear.

The Romans divided Gaul broadly into Provincia (the conquered area around the Mediterranean), and the northern Gallia Comata ("free Gaul" or "wooded Gaul"). Caesar divided the people of Gaulia Comata into three broad groups: the Aquitani; Galli (who in their own language were called Celtae); and Belgae. In the modern sense, Gaulish tribes are defined linguistically, as speakers of dialects of the Gaulish language. While the Aquitani were probably Vascons, the Belgae would thus probably be counted among the Gaulish tribes, perhaps with Germanic elements.

Julius Caesar, in his book, Commentarii de Bello Gallico, comments:


Gaulish or Gallic is the name given to the Celtic language that was spoken in Gaul before the Vulgar Latin of the late Roman Empire became dominant in Roman Gaul. According to Julius Caesar in his Gallic Wars it was one of three languages in Gaul, the others being Aquitanian and Germanic. Gaulish is paraphyletically grouped with Celtiberian, Lepontic, and Galatianmarker as Continental Celtic. The Lepontic language is sometimes considered to be a dialect of Gaulish. Gaulish is a P-Celtic language.


The Gauls practiced a form of animism, ascribing human characteristics to lakes, streams, mountains, and other natural features and granting them a quasi-divine status. Also, worship of animals was not uncommon; the animal most sacred to the Gauls was the boar, which can be found on many Gallic military standards, much like the Roman eagle.

Their system of gods and goddesses was loose, there being certain deities which virtually every Gallic person worshiped, as well as tribal and household gods. Many of the major gods were related to Greek gods; the primary god worshiped at the time of the arrival of Caesar was Teutates, the Gallic equivalent of Mercury. The "father god" in Gallic worship was "Dis Pater," who could be assigned the Roman name "Jupiter." However there was no real theology, just a set of related and evolving traditions of worship.

Perhaps the most intriguing facet of Gallic religion is the practice of the Druids. There is no certainty concerning their origin, but it is clear that they vehemently guarded the secrets of their order and held sway over the people of Gaul. Indeed they claimed the right to determine questions of war and peace, and thereby held an "international" status. In addition, the Druids monitored the religion of ordinary Gauls and were in charge of educating the aristocracy. They also practiced a form of excommunication from the assembly of worshippers, which in ancient Gaul meant a separation from secular society as well. Thus the Druids were an important part of Gallic society.

List of Gaulish tribes

Celtic sword and scabbard circa 60 BCE.

After completing the conquest of Gaul, Rome converted most of these tribes into civitates, making for the administrative map of the Roman provinces of Gaul. This was then perpetuated by the early church, whose geographical subdivisions were based on those of late Roman Gaul, and lasted into the areas of French dioceses prior to the French Revolution.

Tribe Capital
Aedui Bibractemarker
Allobroges Viennemarker
Ambarri near junction of Rhône & Saône rivers
Ambiani Amiensmarker
Andecavi Angersmarker
Aquitani Bordeauxmarker
Atrebates Arrasmarker
Arverni Gergovia
Baiocasses Bayeuxmarker
Belgae Gallia Belgica
Boii Boii (Boui near Entrain)
Boii Boates Boates (La Tête de Buch)
Boii Bolognamarker
Bellovaci Beauvaismarker
Bituriges Bourgesmarker
Brannovices near Mâconmarker?
Cadurci Uxellodunum
Carnutes Chartresmarker
Catalauni Châlons-en-Champagnemarker
Caturiges Chorgesmarker
Cenomani Bresciamarker
Cenomani Le Mansmarker
Ceutrones Moûtiersmarker
Curiosolitae Corseul
Diablintes Jublainsmarker
Eburones Tongerenmarker
Eburovices Évreuxmarker
Helvetii La Tènemarker
Insubres Milanmarker
Lemovices Limogesmarker
Lexovii Lisieuxmarker
Mediomatrici Metzmarker
Medulli Médocmarker
Medulli Viennemarker
Menapii Casselmarker
Morini Boulogne sur Mermarker
Namnetes Nantesmarker
Nervii Bavaymarker
Orobii Bergamomarker
Osismii Vorgium
Parisii Parismarker
Petrocoriimarker Périgueuxmarker
Pictones Poitiersmarker
Rauricimarker Kaiseraugstmarker (Augusta Rauricamarker)
Redones Rennesmarker
Remi Reimsmarker
Ruteni Rodezmarker
Salassi Aostamarker
Santones Saintesmarker
Senones Sens
Sequani Besançonmarker
Suessiones Soissonsmarker
Tigurini Yverdonmarker
Tolosates Toulousemarker
Treveri Triermarker
Tungri Tongerenmarker
Turones Toursmarker
Unelli Coutancesmarker
Vangiones Wormsmarker
Veliocasses Rouenmarker
Vellavi Ruessiummarker
Veneti Vannes
Viducasses Vieuxmarker
Vindelici Augusta Vindelicorummarker
Vocontii Vaison-la-Romainemarker
Volcae Arecomici Languedoc

See also



  • Boardman, John The Diffusion of Classical Art in Antiquity, Princeton 1993 ISBN 0691036802

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