A. Camerer, E. MacLean, A. Vaughan, A. Luu

In our group essay, we explore the give and take the relationship between Gaul and Rome through the 1st century BCE to the 5th century BC. The conflict and war that existed between Rome and Gaul was in many ways a loss for both groups, we argue that the conflict between the Gauls and the Romans influenced each other’s cultures in a manner that was unanticipated and intertwined in many ways. This paper explores how both societies subtly influenced each other over the years. By utilizing primary and secondary sources we illustrate the ways in which Gauls had an impact on Roman society and how Roman society picked up distinct characteristics and practices from the nation they conquered. We discuss the obvious influences as well as the more nuanced details of how Roman society and politics impacted the Gauls. We will begin by examining everyday life in Gaul and how that changed upon conquering, then move further into how political structures of power changed. From there we will discuss changes in religion and then finally the war and conflict that existed periodically between the two states.

The Everyday Gaul

While Gallic society as a whole was influenced by Rome in large nation-sweeping ways, Gauls also experienced change in smaller day to day aspects of life. As the Romans expanded their dominion into Gallic territories they began to influence the norms in smaller towns and settlements. This new status quo was, on the whole, a move towards assimilation. The expectation for Gauls was to trade their traditional cultural practices for much more “civilized” Roman ones. This is where we will delve into just how a normal, everyday Gaul was impacted by Roman influence.

A conquered nation is often subjected to the rules and regulations of the nation that did the conquering. However, a more nuanced view can actually see how the civilian Gaul, lacking a responsibility role, was influenced and changed. Viewing the everyday routine of the population and its changes can be just as helpful as the sight of its politics and cultural changes. As Gregory Woolf notes, “He (Strabo) attributes the prosperity of ‘outer Celtica’ more to the size of the population than to its energy, ‘since the women are good at bearing and raising children, but the men are fighters rather than farmers: now, however, they have been compelled to lay down their weapons and to farm’. The barbarians who inhabited the hinterland of Marseille became progressively more peaceful ‘turning their attention from warfare to civilized life (politeia) and farming, on account of the dominance of the Romans” (Woolf 1998, 54). Thus, we begin to understand Roman culture was seen as “civilized” and what was considered “barbarian.” Specifically, Romans viewed farming as something a civilized man does. Woolf also notes that the Gallic community began to adopt this idea as well. This would directly impact the everyday life of a Gaul. Turning him from a warfighter and a warrior to a farmer. No longer did the Gaul feel compelled to war against their neighbor but to begin to farm and thus bolstering Rome’s economy in the process.

As a whole Gaul was changed. The everyday Gaul was forced to learn the Latin language and change their lifestyle. Again, Woolf explains,“The Volcae Arecomici ‘are no longer barbarians since most of them have been converted to Roman standards of language and lifestyle, and some civic life too’” (Woolf 1998). This was a massive project put forward by Rome to educate the Gauls in Roman tradition as well as language, thus changing the everyday routine of the Gauls. Education becomes common in the villages as Rome attempted to instill the sweeping common language of Latin upon their newly conquered territory. Such actions caused the Gallic language to die at an accelerated rate. Roman gods were also part of the education process. Replacing the Gallic gods with the Roman, however, meant that, on occasion, a Gallic god actually snuck into Roman culture. One such case was Espona. Among other duties, Epona’s unique protectorate was fertility. Nevertheless, what seems noteworthy here is, for the most part, the blatant disregard for Gallic culture in preference for Roman.

Another change is the extensive road network that was brought into Gaul by the Roman empire. It is speculated that roughly 8,000 to 13,000 miles of roads were made within a hundred years after the conquest. According to Norman DeWitt, “Urbanization has been widely treated by moderns too, as a central component of the changes encompassed in the term Romanization” (DeWitt 1938). With an extensive road network, the everyday Gauls mobility skyrocketed as well as the ease of access to travel around large towns. Allowing the quick movement of caravans from town to town and consequently bolstering trade and community and economy. Now towns much further from the coast can participate in Mediterranean trade as well as travel much further than before to see the world without having to dedicate years to travel.

Walled cities were replaced with open palaces. Warriors and swords were replaced with hoe and farmhand. Culture was cut and cropped into an ever-morphing standard of that which is Roman. Overall, Roman conquest of Gaul was both beneficial and destructive to the everyday population of the region. On one hand, it brought Gallic communities into a more connected world and brought a significant amount of peace and prosperity to the land. However, further analysis also illustrates the complete destruction and decimation of that which is Gallic. Rome’s interactions with Gaul suggests cultural appropriation as well as ethnocentrism that is prominent in Roman culture. The Gallic wars left 500,000 dead Gauls, which leaves one last thing that changed for the everyday Gaul, they became intimate with the cold hand of death.

Politics in Gaul as a Response to Roman Rule

In this portion of our essay, we propose that careful analysis of primary and secondary sources reveals a distinct intermingling of Roman and Gallic governmental styles through the 1st century BCE to the 5th century BC. We will begin by discussing government in Gaul prior to Roman control.

In his journal article Druids and Romanization, scholar Norman Dewitt discusses Gallic political structures as they were before the imposition of Roman sovereignty. He argues that religious leaders called druids held most of the societal and structural power within Gaul because of the weight of their position in the community. He writes, “Thus the Druids acted as arbiters in civil and criminal suits, enforcing their decrees by religious sanctions. Boundaries and inheritances, we are told, were frequent subjects of dispute. Decisions were no doubt based in large part upon formulae and precedents which the Druids alone knew. Not only the private individual, but also the tribal state (populus) submitted to their jurisdiction” (DeWitt 1938, 326). In this quote, the author asserts that Druids were the largest political actors in the Gallic states. They operated as a kind of governing force across the loosely unified states of Gaul and settled most if not all disputes. Much of their power came specifically from the fact that they alone held the information and knowledge that was necessary to govern the vaguely aligned peoples of Gaul. Druids held a monopoly over the functions of Gallic government and as such, they were the only real force of power in pre-Roman Gaul. However, this structure changed with the intrusion of Rome into every facet of Gaul. Later in the article, Dewitt maintains that the advent of raised literacy rates in the wake of Roman influence leads to the downfall of the druid rule. He states, “Equally dangerous to the Druids was the increase of literacy, which was stimulated, though probably not begun, by the Roman conquest. The Druids themselves, in Caesar’s account, were already using the Greek alphabet, although refusing to commit the main body of their doctrine to writing. This very refusal, however, indicates that the question had been raised, and that Druidism was on the defensive in this department even before the Roman period. The Druids must have been aware that the commitment of their doctrines to writing would spell their doom. Once the material known only to them, and only by memory, became published, their unique power would be gone” (Dewitt 1938, 329). Dewitt succinctly tells the reader that a main flaw of Druidism is that their power lies directly in the seclusion of knowledge. Once Romans spread literacy at a faster rate, this lead to the quick and fairly succinct loss of intellectual monopoly that Druids used to maintain their societal and governmental power. Dewitt also points out further down on page 329 that in granting citizenship to powerful Gauls, Romans created a class of nobility that existed outside of the jurisdiction of the Druids. This, in addition to the expansion of literacy and knowledge, was a contributing factor in the change of Gallic political structures when faced with the new customs of Rome.

File:A Gallic druid is using a mallet to remove a ring which hemm Wellcome V0048007.jpg

A depiction of a Gallic druid is using a mallet to remove a ring which hemmed in a globe inscribed “Gaul”; Here we see a depiction of a political figure in Gaul, a druid. Artist Unknown, Date of Creation Unknown. Etching.

Another analysis of Gallic government and political structures is given by Aaron Irvin in his journal article titled Political Organization of the Civitates of the Three Gauls and the Myth of Republican Exceptionalism. By doing a close reading of epigraphic remains Irvin argues that with the intervention of Rome, rather than restructure and create a new system of government modeled after the Roman system, Gauls adapted their preexisting forms of power to fit a new example. Irvin discusses the slight changes given to older positions of power within the Gallic authority so that they would fit better within a Roman context. He says, “old Gallic titles were stripped away in favor of titles familiar to the Romans; the vergobretus became the duumvir, triumvir, or quatrovir, and the arcantodon became the quaestor. The inscriptions in Latin likewise speak to the intended audience of the funerary stele and dedications from which these offices are derived; they were primarily for the consumption of a Roman, or at least Latin literate audience, rather than the local Gallic-speaking population” (Irvin 2017, 147). Therefore we see a translation of Gallic structures into the Roman language of power. To Romans, this action may have looked like a change and in many aspects, it was a kind of assimilation into dominant culture, but it did not change the fundamental parts of Gallic jurisdiction in its territories. Irvin essentially tells the reader that this renaming meant a lot to Roman powers, but for the common Gaul meant little to nothing. There was no change in how these structures and strongholds of power operated, just new and improved names for the colonizer’s benefit. Another aspect of Irvin’s argument points out the difference in the structure of the elite in Gaul versus the structure of the elite in Rome. He contrasts the two and writes, “While Gallic government might have changed under the Romans, over time it merely re-expressed itself in a Gallic form. Power remained in the hands of a competitive elite based on influence and prestige rather than a formal hierarchy of rank and status defined by offices. The same group of friends, families, and notables who had held power in Gallic society continued to do so under Roman rule, granting to themselves Roman titles and positions, but still fundamentally operating within their own social structure and organization” (Irvin 2017, 145). This paragraph illustrates a profound dichotomy between the organization of power in Gaul and in Rome. Roman authority was based mainly on hierarchy and rank, a trend that was thoroughly and strictly ingrained within structures of power. However, the epigraphic remains from Gaul tell a very different story of the elite in the three Gallic states. Instead of an elite ruling class that was bound by structures and hierarchies, Gallic elites were a part of a much more fluid echelon. The ruling class was made up of powerful and influential people from a variety of backgrounds. They were people who held wealth, personal power, and cachet both inside and outside of Gaul. These people had the ability to connect to others and use their connections for the benefit of the places they represented. This is in many ways a direct contradiction of the Roman rule and illustrates that the politics of Gaul were not an act of conformity on the part of the Gallic population. Therefore, this is fairly direct evidence of the fact that the Roman rule of Gaul did not fully reach into its structures of authority but rather an intervention into Gaul meant an intermingling of culture and politics.


The influence of Roman conquest on Gallic religion was widespread leading to changes in local worship as well as the creation of a new type of Gallo-Roman religion that combined worship of deities from both cultures. The change of Gallic religion to become more Roman-influenced began in the last century BC (Woolf 1998, 218). Gods were worshipped side-by-side and often combined to create one god. Religious organizations became restructured in Gaul to more closely reflect worship in Rome and imperial cults were established throughout Western Europe. This included the organization of official cults as well as government positions in religion.

Roman polytheism was not typically excluding of gods from different religions; Gallic, as well as Eastern cults, were largely accepted by Rome due to the belief that gods not worshipped by Romans existed. (Woolf 1998, 214). The interpretation of outside gods often involved assigning names of equivalent gods from Rome which was known as interpretatio. (James 1993, 144). In Julius Caesar’s Bellum Gallicum he writes that the Gauls worship Mercury above other gods, literary evidence of interpretatio (Caesar, Project Gutenberg). In cases where there was no similar god, their worship was considered to be a cult, such as the horse goddess Epona (Woolf 1998, 214). Due to the acceptance of the Gallic gods after Roman conquest, their worship was not seen to be uncivilized.

Gallic temples often included gods of both Gallic and Roman religions such as the sanctuary of the Altbachal at Trier which includes local gods, Roman gods, and gods labeled with both names such as ‘Vertumnus or Pisintus’. (Woolf 1998, 215). Terracotta statues crafted in the first century AD depicted Roman gods like Minerva and Mercury as well as Epona. Another example of the combining of Gallic and Roman religion is the a Pillar of the Boatman, a pillar dedicated to Jupiter that depicts Roman gods as well as local gods like Boudana, even though the construction as a whole is dedicated to Jupiter as a supreme god (Alcock and Osbourne 2012, 282). The worship of both Roman and Gallic deities shows the inclusiveness of both Rome and Gaul to outside religions whether that be through combining two separate gods into one or adopting new gods.

The Pillar of the Boatmen

The Romanization and civilizing process was instead focused on how the gods were worshipped rather than which gods were worshipped. Gods that were depicted as animals were unusual to Romans, but anthropomorphized versions of the same gods were acceptable. Due to the spread of Roman influence, Gauls began to only depict their gods as anthropomorphized such as the horse goddess Epona who was previously symbolically depicted as just a horse or calf (Linduff 1979, 817). Gods associated with animals were almost entirely predicted with animal companions rather than as the animals themselves after Roman conquest, resembling the goddess Nehalennia whose dog was depicted beside her (Woolf 1998, 233). This was both an effort to seem legitimate and avoid criticism as well as a result of the influence of Roman customs.

While the worship of gods depicted as animals was considered merely unusual to the Romans, negative stereotypes about Druids, Gallic clergy, emerged due to the belief that they practiced human sacrifice. This led to Suetonius calling the Druids’ religion “cruel and inhuman” (Suetonius, 17). Attempts by early Roman emperors were made to eradicate the Druids largely due to this belief that they practiced human sacrifice. Augustus, Tiberius, and Claudius all tried to get rid of Druids during their reigns (James 1993, 143). However, most of Gallic religion was not significantly affected by negative stereotypes and their religions and cults were accepted by both the emperors and other Romans.

Imperial cults are the most obvious examples of Roman influence on Gallic religion. These cults worshipped the emperors as deities, entirely new gods that were derived from neither classic Gallic gods nor classic Roman gods. Augustus and subsequent emperors became new gods unique from traditional Gallic gods. Because the most amount of religious change occurred after Caesar’s conquering of Gaul and the establishment of the empire, the imperial cults were mostly dedicated to Augustus who was worshipped as a god. (Woolf 1998, 216) The imperial cult established at Lugundum (modern-day Lyon) in 12 BC is one of the earliest examples and is certainly the largest given its status as the cult center of Gaul (Fishwick 1972, 46). This cult to Augustus became the model for other imperial cults throughout Gaul, which were symbols of both the religious and cultural conversion of the Gauls to the Roman Empire.

The structure of Gallic religion also changed with the influence of Rome. Priesthoods sometimes became elected positions and a way to gain status, such as the priesthood at the imperial cult in Lyon which became the most distinguished office in Gaul. To the Gallic elite, priesthoods were ways of getting power and influence in both Rome and Gaul (Woolf 1998, 216). The priests were almost entirely from local elites, much in the same way as the Roman priesthoods. These offices were seen as both a way to gain power as well as a public service, reflecting the way Gallic view of government was changing with the empire. For the first time in Gaul, it was seen as one’s civic duty to be a religious official. (James 1993, 142). Gallo-Roman public cults were officially recognized by the government which included the worship of gods specific to each Gallo-Roman state along with imperial cults (Woolf 1998, 224).

The Gallic religion was heavily influenced by Rome after the conquest by Julius Caesar. Two religions merged in Gaul and created a new Gallo-Roman religion that featured combinations of gods who were worshipped together. The structure of religion in Gaul changed with the introduction of Roman government and the imperial cult. Gaul’s religion became similar to Rome’s as the culture changed.

Gallo-Roman Warfare and Technology

When one imagines a war, they are likely to think of destruction on a massive scale – whole cites and oftentimes countries are reduced to an unrecognizable state. Many lives are lost even by those who are not directly involved in the conflict. Each side views the other as evil, unjust, and weak. While war can easily be labeled as simply a negative interaction between the groups in question, there do exist positive outcomes during times of conflict. On the homefront, wartime production spurs a sense of nationalism and purpose for forwarding technology. Economies are stimulated to address the needs of their respective armies. However, the direct conflict between countries brings them into contact with each other – a perverse cultural exchange parallels the war. While the other sections of this paper elucidate upon the domestic changes on each side, this one elaborate on the nature of the prolonged and storied conflict between the Romans and the Gauls and how it then lead into shaping Gaul into what we read about today.

Actual battle during the Gallic Wars exemplified the differences of values predating the Gallo-Roman society of the postwar. The Gallic style of warfare revolved around one’s individual ability to fight. As a result, one-on-one combat was the common form of battle. Large and intimidating, Gallic warriors dressed scantily or extremely ornately in order to make yourself stand out more effectively (Giliver et. al. 2005). With their long swords and brutal charges, the Gauls proved to be a formidable foe for the Romans, who on the converse incorporated more modern strategies of combat that are now infamous. Their smaller stature was compensated for by their formations – packed closely together, supporting their comrade to each side with their shield (Goldsworthy 2003, 176). However, both sides of the war gave immense importance to an honorable death. Fortunately for them, dying whilst in battle was of the highest honor, giving more incentive for the battles to become bloody and casualty-heavy. (Goldsworthy 2003). From these differences, the conflicts that made up the Gallic War led to the Romans as victors, thanks to superior tactics both on and off the battlefield under the leadership of Julius Caesar. Consequently, the favor that Caesar gained after defeating the Gauls acted as the catalyst in his ascent to the leader of the Roman Empire. As one would imagine, this would have immense repercussions on Roman lifestyle.

Gaul Soldiers

As for the Gauls, the aftermath of the Gallic Wars led to extensive cultural, technological, and societal changes. Since Gaul now belonged to the Caesar’s Roman Empire, their infrastructure soon followed suit. The Romanization of Gaul is perhaps best seen today through the various constructs and artifacts of Gallic communities. Highlighted within Woolf’s book, “Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul”, are the ways the aforementioned communities changed with the completion of the Gallic Wars. Prior to the war, Gallic tribes organized their dwellings in a haphazard fashion made of wattle, timber, and daub (Woolf 1998, 118). Organizations of these houses were termed oppida dotted the Gaul countryside. However, from archaeological evidence that has been unearthed, Roman building materials such as stone and even metals began to appear in what remains of newer houses. We can deduce that these newer houses were built after the wars due to the manner in which they were arranged and the materials they were constructed with (Woolf 1998, 113). While each city is different on a per case basis, for the most part, the establishment of new cities within Gaul in a Roman-style followed a common procedure. Firstly, new foundations were made or preexisting ones were leveled. From their plans of the new housing grid and positioning of monuments were made. Finally, buildings and walls were constructed out of Roman materials (Woolf 1998, 113).  The Romans, with their implementation of their distinctive urban planning in a way made for “an expression of religious and political ideology [if of itself]” (Purcell 1990).

An easier method for measuring the extent of Roman culture within Gaul can be seen by the extent of Roman pottery, amphorae, within Gaul. Distinctive in its appearance, they most often were used to contain wine and oils – distinctive exports of Italy. While amphorae have mostly been found near the southern coast of Gaul, some have been found several hundred kilometers inland (Woolf 175). The range of the vessels should be noted due to their cultural significance – the Gauls did not drink wine or utilize oil until their contact with the Romans. Keeping in theme with being barbarians, they were remarked by their – likely exaggerated – diet of raw meat and milk. Additionally, the accuracy of the amphorae is somewhat validated by the perception the Gauls held to it – according to Greek and Roman tropes, wine was significantly overvalued. As a result, only those who were in high social standing could afford to purchase these amphorae that contained wine (Woolf 1998, 177). As such, the appearance of these Roman artifacts within Gaul highlights the infiltration of their culture in an absolute manner, something that is difficult to achieve when discussing culture and the concept that is Romanization.

Undoubtedly, the changes that occurred during and after the Gallic wars had a profound impact on the Gauls and their land. The Romanization of their culture and society is no better exemplified by the lack of a modern day Gaul. While the effects that Gaul had on Rome may not be initially apparent, they are arguably at fault for the rise of the Roman Empire, as Caesar utilized the Gallic Wars as a way to leverage his power within the Roman senate. Overall, the wars may have been bad for the preservation of the Gallic identity, but those who remained certainly benefited from technological advances that quickly followed.


Throughout this essay, we have examined the complex relationship between Rome and Gaul from the 1st century BCE all the way through to the 5th century BC. We have explored the effects of Roman conquest on the daily structure of Gallic life, with the imposition of agriculture and roads by Romans. Then we looked at how Romanization changed certain aspects of the Gallic political system and how Romans changed worship and religion in Gaul. Finally, we discussed the conflict that existed between Gaul and Rome throughout the many centuries that they interacted with one another. As a whole, we took these arguments to make a greater cohesive statement about the larger influences that each culture had upon the other. For these reasons, we argue that the conflict between the Gauls and the Romans created a multifaceted and intricate web of influence between the two powers.


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