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Roman Gaul

The history of France may well begin with the words which open his famous chronicle - "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur. Hi omnes lingua, institutis, legibus inter se differunt. Gallos ab Aquitanis Garumna flumen, a Belgis Matrona et Sequana dividit." "All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which is inhabited by the Belgae, another by the Aquitani, and a third by the people called in their own tongue Celtae, in the Latin Galli. All these are different one from another in language, institutions, and laws. The Galli are separated from the Aquitani by the river Garonne, from the Belgae by the Marne, and the Seine."

The extinct tribes which once thinly peopled the soil of France have left but scanty traces of their existence - weapons and ornaments dug out of gravel-beds and river courses. However interesting they may be to the student of ethnology and of the origin of man, they find no place in history ; for neither in blood, nor manners, nor speech have they left any mark on the land they inhabited. Very different are those tribes whom Caesar met when he first entered Gaul.

The Iberians were in all ways differeut from the others; for the Iberians were a people of other origin, shorter, darker of complexion, less sociable, less bright, of more tenacity, possessed of that power of resistance which those whom stronger peoples drive out of the plains into the mountains quickly learn. Ou the northward and southward slopes of the Pyrenees, amid the fastnesses of that great chain, and in the Basque provinces of Spain, this people still dwells, easily discerned by characteristics of speech and appearance, which mark them off alike from Spaniards and Frenchmen.

The Belgians and the Gauls were blood-relations. The former, dwelling chiefly in the northern districts of France, were iater comers than their kinsmen the Gauls, stronger men and of a finer development. The Gauls, the men of central France, were a bright intelligent people, full of vivacity, frank and open of disposition, brave and scornful of tactics, as though all strategy were a lie and a disgrace. The Belgians seem to have been more staid, less active, less easily cast down, more thoughtful; they were not without a physical and moral resemblance to their neighbours and distant cousins the Germans. From these two tribes has sprung the modern Frenchman, who to this day, according to his part of France, bears the mark and sign of one or other origin.

When Julins Caesar entered Gaul (58 BC), he found these natives in a half-barbarous state, split up into clans, each with its elected chieftain, its Druids or priests, and its body of warriors or horsemen ; while below these was an undistinguished company of servile men, women, and children, who did all works of peace for their idle fighting aristocracy. Each clan lived to itself, with little or no power of combining even with its nearest neighbours. Its home was usually an open village of circular wattled huts, with one family dwelling in each hut. Sometimes, in places of strength and importance, the Gaul built himself a fortified town enclosed by earthworks, perched sometimes, like Alesia, on a strong hill-top, or entrenched in dark recesses of wood and marsh. The more close the tightening of the Celtic clanship, the more completely did each little community live to itself, apart from other clans; so that in spite of the great difficulties of the country, Caesar found the reduction of it a tolerably easy task.

Before Caesar's days Gaul had already known something of foreign invasion. On her northern and eastern frontiers were the Germans ; in the south stood the Greek city of Massilia, the ancient rival of Carthage; and in 122 BC Cains Sextins had founded the town which bore his name, Aquae Sextiae, now Aix in Provence, whence, as from a center, the Roman occupation spread through the district watered by the Rhone and its tributaries, until it received the name of Gallia Braccata, and became a province of the republic. Narbonne (Narbo Martins, founded 118 B.c.) was the new capital of the district, the first Roman municipinm on the soil of Gaul.

But invasion took an entirely new character when Caesar was made proconsul (59 BC). Cassar entered on his great conquest in the following year and the reduction of the whole country was complete by 50 BC. In the course of those years the great Roman penetrated to the utmost limits of Gaul, beat down all opposition, crushed the Helvetians back into their Swiss home; he defeated the Germans who had made secure lodgment in the Sequanian lands, and drove them into the Rhine; broke the resistance of the Nervii, all but exterminating that gallant tribe; severed the connexion between Gaul and Britain, on which the Armoricans especially relied, by two expeditions across the Channel, in which he gained a great addition of glory, if little fresh power; the conquest of far-off Britain fired the imaginations of men: finally he brought the long wars to a close by the submission of Vercingetorix under the walls of Alesia.

Then he Caesar, these things being accomplished, having conquered the Gauls, became their emperor. He saw what boundless supplies of force, of enthusiasm and intelligence, were now at his disposal; with Gallic support and his own devoted legions, he was now able to give law to Rome herself. Meanwhile, he did all in his power for Gaul - lightened her tribute, mitigated slavery, forbade human sacrifices, repressed the Druids. The country lost its independence, and became the docile pupil and follower of Roman civilized life.

For more than four hundred years the Roman domination influenced Gaul. At the beginning of the time the natives were savages, dwelling in a wild land of forests and wastes, a thinly scattered company of unsociable clans, without towns or roads or industries; at the end they had fine cities, and much cultivated land, wore the Roman dress, had adopted the Roman law, and had exchanged their own tongue for a new form of the common Latin language.

After the murder of Julius Caesar, the administrative genius of Augustus found wide scope for its activity in Gaul. Lyons was the new capital, whence his four great roadways and his civilization radiated out in every direction. Several of the later emperors vied with him in their interest in Gallic affairs: Caligula spent much time at Lyons, and, in his grotesque way, encouraged letters there; Claudins was a native of that city, and threw open the senate to the Gallic chiefs ; he established schools, emancipated slaves, and taught the Gauls the equality of all men under the law; Nero, with his Greek sympathies, delighted in Provence, though he cared little for the rest of the country-then called "Imperial" Gaul. All through this period new ideas, new pleasures and efforts, characterize the life of Gaul; and after the fall of Civilis in 70 AD, no one in all the country dreamed of any further struggle in behalf of the independence she had finally lost.

The next great influence which should affect the Gallic race was Christianity. For nearly a century, though Gaul and Rome seemed together to tread the downward path towards ruin, the Roman ideas as to justice, law, and order, were fitting the Gallic mind for the reception of Christianity. And Christianity soon came. In 160 or 161 AD a bishop of Lyons, Pothinus, and with him the well-known name of Irenaeus. These men ministered at first to Greek and other settlers, for the early church of Lyons long bore marks of a Greek not a Latin origin. Gradually, however, the ideas and doctrines of Christianity spread abroad among the Gauls, and churches sprang up at Autun, Dijon, Besancon, and other towns within comparatively easy reach of Lyons. Roman Christendom, however, did little for Gaul till the middle of the 3d century (244 AD)., when seven Latin bishops were sent thither, and formed new centers of Christian life in the land at Limoges, Tours, and even Paris, whither came Dionysius with a little company of brethren in 251. Henceforward Christianity spread swiftly; and though in the next century St Martin of Tours still found heathen temples to overthrow and multitudes of country pagans to convert, still we may say generally that in three generations from the time of the Roman mission of 244 AD all Gaul had embraced the Christian faith.

These were also the days of what is called "the Gallo-Roman empire"; of the provincial emperors who strove to sever the Eastern from the Western world. Along her northern frontier also Gaul saw the establishment of the two Germanies, districts on the left bank of the Rhine, where German warriors held their lands by feudal tenure of the sword. Thus as Gaul herself languished under the loss of her independence and the influence of the moral corruption of Rome, she began to become aware of the two powers which were destined to mould her character - the Christian Church, and the fierce Germans. They advance upon her from south and north; when they meet, the Gaul bows the head before them, and in new union the feudalism of the Teuton and the Christianity of the Latins begin their task of education.

The combination of the institutions of Germany with those of the church forms the basis on which the history of France is reared. The Germans, who now began to overrun the soil of Gaul, were a very different race from those with whom they came into contact. Stronger and larger in frame, they were also more stable and enduring than the Gauls. Far back they claimed the same ancestry; in language and in personal characteristics alike we can trace the connexion. Yet, thanks to climate and circumstances, the two races were by this time completely severed, alien in speech, ideas, institutions, and tastes. The German was a hunter, a man of independence of character ; the Gaul lived in his clan, and shrank from personal freedom; slaves were unknown in Germany, while they swarmed in Gaul; the Gaul had an organized faith, a regular hierarchy between him and the supernatural; the German worshipped, independent and alone, without human mediator, in the depths of his forests. The fighting-men who grouped themselves round a German chief were his free comrades, connected with him only by a personal tie, each prepared to act independently if his time came, and to build up for himself a lordship of his own. On many sides these men now began to press into Gaul.

The Goths, after wandering apparently from Scandinavia to the Black Sea and thence into western Europe, settled down - the Ostrogoths in Italy, the Visigoths in Spain and southern France. The Burgundian Vandals, from Low Germany about the Elbe and Vistula, began to stream over into eastern Gaul, giving their name to a large district of the country; the Franks, an aggregate of northern tribes, Low Germans of the centre and the west, were destined to be the chief conquerors of the land, the authors of her modern name. But before the German had become master of Gaul, the organic Christian Church had already firmly established itself.

Thanks to the support he received from Christianized Gaul, Constantine was enabled (312 AD) to enter Rome in triumph, and to assure the victory to the church in her struggle against paganism. Henceforth the church, which had always endeavoured in her organization to copy the civil power, was officially modelled on the lay institutions of the later empire; her dioceses corresponded in position and extent to those of the civil administration; the chief clergy became important magistrates. The bishop of each city with his clergy took the place of the older curials, the members of the civil municipality; the old relations of church and state were profoundly modified by the rise of the bishop of Rome to the position of supreme pontiff, a title given up by the emperor. In the downfall of Roman society in the fourth century, the clergy alone retained some power, and showed promise of the future. The lay power struggled hard for a while against the German invasion, specially against the Franks; the church stayed in the cities, secure and growing stronger against the day when she too would have to face the invader, and to convert him from a heathen foe into a firm ally and friend.

In the 5th century the Germans ceased to plunder and ravage, and began to settle; it is the age in which Gaul exchanges her Latin for her Teutonic masters. Early in the century a vast horde crossed the Rhine on the ice in mid-winter, and streamed over northern, central, even southern Gaul, passing thence a little later into Spain. In 412 Ataulf the Visigoth settled down in the valley of the Rhone, and allied himself with Rome; the Burgundians also occupied the Sequanian lands. These two tribes were friendly towards the older inhabitants, and were recognized as peaceable settlers by the imperial power; they showed that they deserved well of the falling empire by the gallant and successful resistance with which in 450 the Visigoths and Gallo-Romans defeated the terrible hordes of Attila at Chalons-sur-Marne.

Yet the empire thus saved for a time could not be saved from internal decay; confusion reigned throughout Gaul, the Germans and the Gallo-Romans struggling as it were in the dark for possession; and when in 476 the empire of the West finally went under, Ewarik (or Euric), the prudent Visigoth, was left as master of all that had belonged to Rome beyond the Alps towards the west. The Arian Goths, with Toulouse as their capital, might have secured their authority over all France if the church had accepted the views of Ewarik, and if that vigorous prince had lived. He died, however, in 485, leaving behind him only a weak boy as his successor; and far to the north the fierce Frankish warriors had already taken as their chief the youthful Hlodowig (Clovis).

The Franks, a loose confederation of Germanic tribes, were in existence in the third century on the right bank of the Rhine, and for a long time showed no wish to migrate into Gaul. By degrees one of these tribes, the Salians, headed by a family called the Merewings or Merwings (the Merovingians), began to take the lead; they soon made themselves formidable by their incursions on northern Gaul, and established themselves masters of the left bank of the lower Rhine. As the Roman power declined along thatdistrict, their authority increased; early in the 5th century they had spread from the Rhine to the Somme. Another leading tribe of Franks, the Ripuarians, whose home lay on the Rhine about Cologne, less tempted towards Gaul, seemed to hold themselves in reserve for the future.

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Page last modified: 10-01-2012 19:23:32 ZULU