The Gauls were a Continental Celtic people of
Classical Antiquity, the inhabitants of Gaul(roughly corresponding to modern France, Belgium, Switzerlandand northern Italy), speakers of the Gaulish language.
Archaeologically, they were the bearers of the
La Tène culture(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 Anatolia, as the Galatians. They were conquered by Julius Caesarin the Gallic Warsin the 50s BC, and during the Roman Empireperiod became assimilated into a Gallo-Roman culture. During the crisis of the third century, there was briefly a breakaway Gallic Empireunder Postumus, Marcus Aurelius Mariusand Tetricus I.
By the arrival of the
Franksduring the Migration period(5th century), the Gaulish language had been replaced by Vulgar Latin.
Druids were not the only political force in Gaul, however, and the early political system was complex, if was 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, a tribe of Gaul, 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
invasionof 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 "long haired 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 Aquitaniwere probably Vascons, the Belgaewould thus probably be counted among the Gaulish tribes, perhaps with Germanic elements. Julius Caesar, in his book, " Commentarii de Bello Gallico", comments:
All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in ours Gauls, the third.
All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws.
Garonne Riverseparates the Gauls from the Aquitani; the River Marneand the River Seineseparate them from the Belgae.
Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest, because they are furthest from the civilisation and refinement of (our) Province, and merchants least frequently resort to them, and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind; and they are the nearest to the Germani, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war; for which reason the Helvetii also surpass the rest of the Gauls in valour, as they contend with the Germani in almost daily battles, when they either repel them from their own territories, or themselves wage war on their frontiers. One part of these, which it has been said that the Gauls occupy, takes its beginning at the
River Rhone; it is bounded by the Garonne River, the Atlantic Ocean, and the territories of the Belgae; it borders, too, on the side of the Sequani and the Helvetii, upon the River Rhine, and stretches toward the north.
The Belgae rises from the extreme frontier of Gaul, extend to the lower part of the River Rhine; and look toward the north and the rising sun.
Aquitania extends from the
Garonneto the Pyreneesand to that part of the Atlantic( Bay of Biscay) which is near Spain: it looks between the setting of the sun, and the north star.
Gaulish or Gallic is the name given to the
Celtic language that was spoken in Gaulbefore the Vulgar Latinof the late Roman Empirebecame 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 Galatian as Continental Celtic. The Lepontic language is sometimes considered to be a dialect of Gaulish. Gaulish is a P-Celticlanguage.
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 "Saturn." 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
Gaulin the 1st century BC, showing the relative positions of the Celtic tribes.]
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.
Aulerci, a generic term used by Julius Caesarthat includes several tribes
List of Celtic tribes
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