In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Roman Gaul

  • Introduction
  • Standard Archaeological Works on Roman Gaul
  • Urbanism and Urban Life
  • The Third Century and the “Gallic Empire”

Classics Roman Gaul
Ralph Haeussler
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0378


After the Second Punic War (218–201 BCE), Gaul began to enter Rome’s sphere of influence. Southern Gaul was essential for communication between Italy and Rome’s Iberian possessions, which resulted in increased interaction not just in the south, but also in central and northern areas of Gaul. The conquest of southern Gaul in 125 BCE established the Roman provincia, Gallia Transalpina—called Gallia Narbonensis beginning in Augustan times—and the first Roman settlements, Aquae Sextiae (Aix-en-Provence, next to the “oppidum” Entremont) in 123 BCE and Narbo Martius (Narbonne) in 118 BCE, while the Greek colony of Massalia (Marseille) remained a federate city. The Allobrogi—living in the mountainous region between Vienne and Geneva—were defeated in 120 BCE and became Rome’s allies. Rome’s cultural influence on the region, however, was still relatively limited. This significantly changed with Caesar as governor. His permanent presence, making substantial use of all available resources, including manpower, made a significant social, economic, political, and cultural impact. Between 59 and 50 BCE, he conquered the Tres Galliae, leading to the creation of the provinces of Gallia Lugdunensis, Belgica, and Aquitania. Caesar’s Gallic Wars, however oversimplified they might appear, reminds us that Gaul was geographically and culturally diverse (Caes. BG 1.2). In addition, eastern Gaul must equally be part of this article, even though some of these peoples later came to be attributed to Germania Superior and Inferior, which was an administrative measure to distinguish the military frontier regions along the Rhine from the non-military part of Gaul, while insinuating to the Romans that Germania had been conquered despite the defeat of Varus in 9 CE. It is obvious that the peoples described as Vangiones, Nemetes, and Triboci are closely related to the neighboring “Gallic” peoples, notably the Mediomatrici, both in pre-Roman and Roman times (see Haeussler 2008 [cited under Sociocultural Change in Gaul]). In addition, Alpes Cottiae and Alpes Maritimae can also be considered part of Roman Gaul as they belonged to neither Italy nor Gallia Narbonensis. While modern boundaries between nation-states do not fit the ancient notion of Gallia, due to national funding bodies, many research projects, such as important epigraphic and iconographic corpora, end at national frontiers. Apart from the Rhine frontier and the late Antique litus Saxonicum, Gaul was not a frontier province and its inhabitants experienced a rather peaceful time for most of the imperial period, leading to a flourishing economy and a highly developed urban culture. Pliny the Elder said that Gallia Narbonensis could be “more truthfully described as a part of Italy than as a province” (NH 3.20). We can see this very vividly in the large number of Roman-style temples, theaters, and aqueducts that reflect this Mediterranean culture. But the situation is far more complex, as shown by the extent of the diversity found across the regions of Gaul.

General Works on Roman Gaul

A number of useful overviews on Gaul are available. In English, they include Anthony King’s Roman Gaul and Germany (King 1990) and Greg Woolf’s Becoming Roman in Gaul (Woolf 1998), still essential reading for their methodology (both cited under General Works on Roman Gaul in English). Some books provide a useful gazetteer to the main archaeological sites in Gaul, such as Rivet 1988 and Bromwich 1993, Bromwich 2003, and Bromwich 2014 (all cited under General Works on Roman Gaul in English), but there is no replacement for the detailed Carte Archéologique de la Gaule (CAG) (cited under Standard Archaeological Works on Roman Gaul). Moreover, since 2008 a Franco-German series of books provide excellent overviews with many useful maps and images for the various provinces of Roman Gaul, published by Picard (French version) and Zabern (German version).

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