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Not much of a modder, but writes an Medieval 2: Total War AAR and designs scenarios for Empire Earth.
This article was written by PSYCHO V, a member of the mod Europa Barbarorum (Rome: Total War). It gives a lot of information about the political events in ancient Gaul before it became a Roman province.
To give a good account of Celtic prehistory would take considerable time and effort. A book in itself. I think it suffices to say that basically the ‘Celts’ (as we have come to know them) of Gaul originated along the Danube River and migrated west due to trade, population pressure, better soil and opportunistic exploitation of indigenous cultures and peoples.
During the 7th and 6th century BC the Celtic tribe of the Aedui (derived from the god Aedos, ‘the fiery one’) settled in the middle of Gaul. They soon began to extend their influence and control over neighbouring Celts and even took part in the expedition of the Celtic Warchief Bellovesus into Italy in the 6th century B.C (Livy, Histories, v. 34). The remnants of that expedition were to later become the tribe of Insubres.
During the mid 5th C BC a new Celtic tribe emerged from the forests of Germany and their impact upon Gallic history was immense. The Cubi (meaning ‘Victors’) were led by their king Ambicatus (‘he who turns battles’) who quickly wrested control of central Gaul from the Aedui. His power continued to spread and it wasn’t long before the majority of Gaul and Southern Britain was drawn under his control in his new ‘great confederacy’. Such was the prestige of this king that he became known in later folk lore as the Celtic archetype of a successful ruler, rich and courageous whose “reign was blessed”. A proto King Arthur, he was the first Celt in recorded history to assume the title Biturix (‘world-king’).
He founded his capital at Avaricum (Bourges) and enjoyed decades of peace and prosperity; so prosperous in fact that by the end of his reign, there was a huge population explosion. His kingdom became full of disaffected / bored young warriors who had no means to advance or prove themselves through battle. This internal instability caused Ambicatus to siphon off young troublesome warriors from his Gaulish confederacy, creating a horde of warbands moving southwards along the valley of the Rhone, thus beginning the great Celtic migrations and movements throughout the ancient world.
By the beginning of the 4th C BC, Ambicatus had been long dead and his successors had succumb to a re-emergence of the Aedui. The Cubi tribe now became known as the Bituriges (‘World Kings’) and despite retaining great respect amongst all Celts, their power was never to reach the same level that it achieved under their ‘High King’ Ambicatus. The Aedui seized power of the great confederacy for themselves.
In 388 BC the Aedui confederacy sent support to the warchief Brennos and his Senone warband at battle of Allia River. In this battle the Celts slaughtered the Roman army, marking the day forever in the Roman consciousness as the ‘infaustus dies’ (unlucky day). Brennos went on to sack Rome.
During this period, the Aedui became increasingly concerned by a new threat to their south. The large tribe of Arverni had become rich and powerful through trade with other Mediterranean powers and states. Now jealous of the power wielded by the Aedui, contemptuous of their power and unwilling to pay further tribute, they formed their own powerful alliance with the southern tribes of the Allobroges, Sequani, Salluvii and others. The Northern Aedui were initially either unable or unwilling to act against these southern ‘rebels’, but by the mid 4th C BC, Arverni raiding and looting of Aedui trade and lands had reached such a point that war was declared.
For half a century the first great civil war raged but by the end of the 3rd C BC it was coming to a close. The Aedui confederacy was exhausted and collapsed. The the Southern Alliance pillaged at will till a peace was agreed upon and the Aedui made tributaries to the Arverni.
With little further reward / loot to be gained from further hostilities north, many Arverni warriors turned their attention south. They had heard for some time about the wealth of the Romans and Italians from the Gauls of Cisalpine (Celts that had settled in Northern Italy). In 299 BC warriors of the Arverni confederacy force their way through Cisalpine Gaul in order to get at Roman wealth. Despite the peace, the Cisalpine Gauls who were either related or nominally allied to the Aedui feared their intentions. They “tried to divert the horde by presents and by appeals to their ties of kindred. Eventually, they had no alternative but to undertake a new attack on Rome with them. They took a great quantity of booty and when returned home, they quarrelled over the division between the two groups and the whole army as well as the best of their leaders were destroyed in fighting”
By 289 BC the Arverni alliance refused to send / allow further support South and the Celts of Cisalpine Gaul were left to defend themselves. The first tribe to suffer were the very Senones who had sacked Rome. Having won a number of battles against the Romans since 390 BC they finally succumbed to a Roman army in 283 BC, their force slaughtered almost to a man. From this point on, the Cisalpine Celts were generally on the defensive from aggressive Roman encroachment.
By the mid 3rd C BC, the Aedui were faced with a new foe to their north. A Celtic people called the Belgae who were culturally a little backward in comparison to their Celtic cousins had noted the Aedui weakness and saw an opportunity. Seeking the fertile plains of northern France, Lowlands etc and feeling the increasing pressure from a new strange peoples called the Germani who raided their North Eastern borders, they left their forest dwellings and crossed the Rhine enmasse.
The Aedui were completely unprepared and the Belgae advanced all down the Western seaboard to Armorica. In breach of the previous peace agreement, the Aedui reformed a 'defensive' confederacy.
In the ensuing struggle with the Belgae, it seems the Aedui called upon their strong allies the Carnutes to help lead the defence of the confederacy. This the Carnutes did to such effect that they undertook the leadership for a time and drove some of the Belgae across the channel to Britain. Once the immediate threat was contained, they handed control back to the Aedui and increasingly concerned themselves with Druidic practice and teachings. Britain was no longer regarded part of the Aedui confederacy and the Belgae fought with the former inhabitants for control of the Island.
The Aedui confederacy had reclaimed their lands but at such a high cost that when their kin needed help to the South with the rising power of Rome, they could offer little help.
In 236 BC when the Boii chieftains Atis and Galatos invited more Arverni confederates to help fight the Romans, their own people killed them and then in the ensuing battle both forces were wiped out (much to amusement and relief of the watching Roman forces).
Once the Romans had wiped out the Senone tribe, the Boii and Insubres became so concerned that they made an alliance of mutual support against any Roman aggression in 231 BC and desperately seeking help from the north, they hired bands of elite Gaesatae. After initial successes they were trapped between two Roman armies and defeated at Telamon in 225 BC. Refusing any peace terms the Romans raped, pillaged and plundered their way through Cisalpine Gaul. The Insubres and Boii lost a number of battles, having been forced to arm their old men and boys to defend themselves.
Both had sent envoys to a great distant leader called Hannibal Barca, imploring his help. Hannibal didn’t need much convincing, having no love for Rome himself. He was forced however to fight his way through some of the Southern Alliance tribes who obviously didn’t want the Carthaginian strengthening their former enemy’s position. The Allobroges, noting the prowess of the Carthaginain forces, were happy to speed him on his way by offering assistence. Once the great Carthaginian was over the Alps, they had opportunity for revenge. In 217 BC Hannibal defeated the Romans at the battle of Lake Trasimene . An Insubre cavalry officer (Ducarios) recognised Consul Flaminius, the “destroyer of his nation”. Swaring to “offer him as a sacrifice to the ghost of our people who were foully slain”, he slew his way through the Romans, struck down the standard bearer and impaled the consul on his spear, lifting him off the ground before his men bore his body away. Similarly, the Boii attacked Postumius Albinus, slaughtered his 25,000 troops, stripped his body, beheaded him and covering his skull with gold, used it thence forth as a religious vessel.
The two tribes fought on but the huge Roman war machine had no scruples concerning the wholesale slaughter of villages and destruction of the countryside. Despite several victories, the Celts in Cisalpine Gaul could no longer sustain losses and after suffering crushing defeats, finally capitulated in 175 BC. The Roman Senate “proclaimed a three-day thanksgiving and the sacrifice of 40 victims”.
Prosperity, Belgae migrating to Briton.
The Arverni now had complete control of the trade routes and were also making a fortune from tributes. The Very wealthy King Lovernios (fox) became an icon for Arverni success and prosperity.
“In an attempt to win popular favour amongst the Gauls, he (King Lovernios ) rode in a chariot over the plains, distributing gold and silver to throngs of thousands. Moreover, he made a square enclosure one and a half miles each way, within which he filled vats with expensive liquor, and prepared so great a quantity of food that for many days all who wished could enter and enjoy the prepared feast, it being served without break by the attendant”.
All this display was to be their undoing however, as the Romans of course, were very anxious to reduce and loot a kingdom which had such a reputation for wealth. The opportunity came in 154BC. The Salluvii, a dependant of the Allobroges, member of the Arverni alliance, were not content with trading with Greek Marseilles and attacked them. The attack failed against the combined forces of Massaliotes and Romans. In 125 BC the Greek relinquish control to Rome in exchange for protection. The Romans pushed the Salluvii back and then in 121 BC launched an assault on Arverni and Allobroges under two huge armies led by Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Quintus Fabius Maximus. The Arverni King Bituitis made attempts for a peaceful settlement, but Romans would have none of it.
At the Battle of Vindalium (8th August 121 BC), King Bituitis built pontones to cross the river Sorgue with a very well equipped army, himself wearing variegated armour and driving a silver chariot. When the Romans suddenly charged with Elephants, the Gauls never having seen such beasts ran without a blow being struck. In the ensuing rout, the pontones collapsed, drowning many of the Gallic forces. Many others were chased down by Roman cavalry. The Southern Alliance lost some 20,000 dead, 3,000 captured and collapsed. The Romans establish Gallia Narbonensis with an administrative centre at Narbone.
Power shifted back to Aedui but their alliance was so enfeebled and they themselves were so weak that they quickly concluded peace with Rome (fall 121 BC), offering tribute and coming under their protection.
Before the Romans could head further north the Cimbri and Teutones marched into the limelight of recorded history. ‘Clad in primitive hides and furs and rumoured to be eaters of raw flesh, the tall, blond Northern Germans appeared to the Romans as a race of savage giants’.
Ocean levels had risen and large tracts of the Danish coast had been inundated by sea water. The two tribes decided on resettling further south and trekked down the Elbe and then East along the Danube. Here they ran into a group of Boii whose resistance persuaded them to head further South. Here they met with the Celtic Scordisci and both groups recoiled from the conflict. The Scordisci south into Macedonia and the Cimbri / Teutones west towards Italy. In 113BC the Cimbri / Teutones sent envoys conveying reassurances of peace to Rome. Consul Papirus Carbo, then sought treachery to bring himself glory. He pretended to befriend them, offering guides to a land of ‘beauty’ with the intent of ambush and annihilation. Confident that the disciplined Consular Roman legions could deal with these primitive albeit huge savages, he put his plan into action but it back fired. The Cimbri / Teutones viciously counterattacked and massacred the Roman army at what would be later called the battle of Noreia. Accounts state that if it wasn’t for a violent storm, none would have survived.
In 109 BC Cimbri / Teutones had approached the Roman Province of Narbonesis Gaul and again sought some peaceful agreement with the Romans stating “the people of Mars should give them some land by way of pay and use their hands and weapons for any purpose they wished” Consul M.Iunius was sent from the senate with the message that “Rome has no lands to give”. The Roman Consular army was promptly slaughtered in the following battle.
By 107 BC, the Cimbri / Teutones turned north to plunder Celtic Gaul. The Tigurini (‘claimers’, a tribe of the Celtic Helvetii) were encouraged to join the German mayhem and under chieftain Divico, pillaged the Roman territories along the Rhone. The Romans sent Consul L. Cassius Longinus with another Consular army to stop them and were slaughtered at the battle of Tolosa (Agen). The few survivors were humiliated and made to “pass under the yoke”.
The Cimbri / Teutones, having fought bloody engagements in Gaul were unable to make progress and eject the Gauls from there fortifications. On returning again to Narbonesis Gaul in 105 BC, they were met by three Roman armies under Consul Gnaeus Mallius, Consul Quintus Servilius Caepio and Legatus Marcus Aurelius Scarus. With a total combined force of 80,000 troops and 40,000 camp followers, they outnumbered the ‘barbarians’ by at least 2:1. At the battle of Arausio (Orange) that followed, the Romans were completely slaughtered and according to classical text, only 10 men survived. We are told that the Cimbri and Teutons went ‘beserk’ and ‘ahead of them ran the war dogs, huge beasts..’ Following this victory the Cimbri / Teutone force headed toward Spain but were repulsed by Roman and Celtiberian forces. Returning yet again to Italy, they split their forces.
In 102 BC, under the 7’1” Teutone King Teutobod, the Teutone and Ambrone forces were caught unprepared and defeated at Aquae Sextiae by the ‘new Roman legions’ of Consul Gaius Marius. 50,000 men, women and children were killed or committed suicide. Teutobod escaped, only to be caught by the vengeful Gauls. The following year the Cimbri army of 20,000 under their king Boiorix routed the Army of Proconsul Quintus Lutatius Catulus at Tridentum and forced their way into Italy. They were brought to a halt by Marius at Vercellae in 101 BC. By this time the Cimbri had armed themselves with elaborate armour, refashioned from the spoils taken in their campaigns. The Cimbri Cavalry “now splendidly equipped. Their helmets resembled the heads of wild beasts or creatures of legend and adorned with crests of feathers. Breastplates of iron protected their bodies and they carried gleaming white shields. Each had two lances and a large, heavy sword”. In the following battle, the Romans won a narrow victory and in the rout, the whole Cimbri force was destroyed. Boiorix fell fighting to the last with a mound of dead Romans around him. His war dogs guarded his body for some time before they were “slain by missiles”. The Helvetian tribe of Tigurini who had been guarding the passes to the rear withdrew back to their home territory.
The Romans were temporarily distracted by events elsewhere. In Gaul, the uneasy peace was shattered again when the Arverni began agitating the southern tribes, pointing to the Aedui inability to protect them from foreign invaders. The Allobroges and Volcae took matters into their own hands and began mobilising their forces in 90 BC. The Romans under Praetor Gaius Caecilius, moved swiftly and rapidly quelled the discontent by force of arms.
The Southern Gauls simmered with hatred toward the Aedui “as much for their inaction as the Romans for the offences” and once the Romans retreated south again they reformed their confederation with the Arverni and renewed war with the Northern alliance. Some scholars believe that this was a contributing factor to why Spartacus’ slave army surprisingly turned around and headed south (72BC), back into Italy to fight and pillage the hated Romans rather than flee to war torn / devastated Gaul.
By 71 BC both factions had reached stalemate. The Arverni and their Sequani allies then sought to bring in Germanic mercenaries to turn the tide of the war. The Suebi king Ariovistus answered the call.
In 65 BC the Sequani and German allies defeated the Aedui and appropriated their revenues from the Saone River. Following this battle however, the German Ariovistus, once entrenched in the Sequani territory, enslaved the Sequani, established his own kingdom and called in more Germans from across the Rhine. The Southern confederacy collapsed and the Aedui then spearheaded the united Gallic league in resistance against Ariovistus and his Germans.
Allobroge Emissaries headed to Rome, allegedly to ‘seek help’ but swayed by ‘pie in the sky’ promises of Lucius Catilina, were drawn into the ‘Catiline conspiracy’ of 63 BC to overthrow civil power in Rome. Despite a change of heart and deciding to actually take no part in the coup, the mud stuck and more 'reason' given for the traditional fear of the 'barbarians'. By 61 BC the Gauls had had enough and marched against the Germans and in the huge battle of Admagetobriga (Alsace), were narrowly defeated by the Germans. In the following rout, the “Aedui lost most of their best warriors and virtually the whole of their national council”. Ariovistus then expanded his territory to control all of middle Gaul and demanded the children of all Gallic Chieftains as hostages. German successes brought hordes of new opportunistic warriors from their home territories and Ariovistus began a campaign of fear and intimidation through tortured and pillage.. The Belgae put their differences with their Southern cousins aside and focussed their energies in holding back / fighting their old foe the Germans.
In their hour of desperation, the Druid Magistrate Diviciacus went to Rome requesting aid against the Germans, reminding them of their alliance of 117BC and promising that his tribe would be loyal to Roman interests. No doubt with the Catiline debacle fresh in mind, an ambitious Roman by the name of Caius Julius Caesar argued against sending support, convincing the Senate to support the German Ariovistus. The Romans feared the incursion of a huge Darcian army to the East under their king Boerebistas. An alliance was entered into between the Roman state and Germanic league of Ariovistus because parties considered the defence of Noricum to be crucial to a mutual defence.
Already pressed by the Germans, the Allobroges became increasingly concerned by Roman encroachments from the South. They sent further delegations to the Roman senate requesting peace, but they feel on deaf ears. The Romans had already cast a greedy eye at the wealth of the Allobriges but when the Roman army under Manlius Lentinus marched north and besieged the fort (oppida) at Valence, they were defeated by an Allobroge relief army led by their chieftain Catugnatos. The Roman army was reinforced but was again defeated at the battle of Isere River, only being “saved from annihilation by a sudden storm”. A third Roman army was given to Manlius Lentinus and together with the forces of Gaius Pomptinus (Governor of Narbonesis Gallia) they finally defeated the heavily outnumbered Allobroges at Solonium (La Sone).
In 60 BC Caesar was made Consul and in 59 BC he, Crassus and Pompey formed a triumvirate and took supreme power for themselves.
In 58 BC the Celtic Helvetii became discontent with their homeland, “hemmed in as they were by natural obstacles” and sought the fertile land of Gaul. They had lived next to the Germans for hundreds of years around the mountains of modern Switzerland and were confident that given their fighting prowess and the weakened state of the Western cousins, they could seize power for themselves.
Aedui Magistrate Dumnorix (‘king of the world’, brother of Chief Magistrate Diviciacus ) had no love for the Romans whom his brother thought so highly of. He set upon a plan to wrest power for himself and use the Helvetii to liberate Gaul from both the Germans and Romans. He used his influence to organise safe passage for the Helvetii through tribal lands so as to settle in South Western Gaul. There was only one problem…Caesar.
The Helvetii needed to pass through Gallia Narbonensis and the Helvetian king Divico went in person to Caesar to request peaceful passage. For assurance of safe passage, Divico offered to “only settle in a region which would please Caesar”.
Unfortunately for the Helvetii, Caesar regarded them of more value dead or defeated than alive and free. The two sides engaged in battle at Bibracte and the Helvetii were promptly joined by a hastily raised multi-tribal (albeit small) force of other Gallic tribes. The Helvetii used heavy infantry fighting in dense phalanx to slaughter Caesars cavalry but the broken ground work against the Helvetii as they tried to force Caesar off an entrenched hill. The Battle lasted from midday till late at night at which point the Helvetii withdrew. The Helvetii tribe of the Tigurini (who had been involved with the Cimbri years before) suffered the most heavily in the battle and all prisoners taken were themselves, in revenge made to “pass under the yoke”.
For three days there was a stand off and extremely weak from lack of provisions, the Helvetii agreed to surrender enmass if their lives and liberty were ensured. Caesar, now concerned with the growing power his German ally Ariovistus, agreed and informed them to return to their home territory to provide a Gallic defence against German incursions. This he feared would be overrun with Germans which could then threaten Roman territory again or even Italy itself. Having burnt their own supplies behind them, Caesar instructed the Allobroges to supply the Helvetii with all the necessities of life.
Caesar, moved north and called the great ‘General council of the Gauls’. There was heated debate among the Gauls and many regarded the Romans a greater threat to their liberty than the Germans. The Gallic League dissolved when almost all the Belgae and a number of Gallic tribes refused to attend and take direction from the now Pro-Roman Aedui. For those that did attend, Caesar listened to the appeals of the Gallic chieftains and formulated a plan to expel the Germans. In 58 BC, the majority of Gallic tribes led by the Aedui, submitted themselves as tributaries to Caesar / Rome.. in pay, they thought, for military assistance.
When the Darcians turned East, Caesar realised that the growing power and ambition of Ariviovistus posed the more immediate threat to Roman, and more importantly, ‘his’ interests. He acted quickly, sending numerous envoys requesting a parley, but was ignored. Finally demanding a meeting the two meet in Alsace. A huge number of Aedui, Remi, Biturige and Carnute cavalry went with Caesar. In the following discussion, Ariviovistus angered the egotistical Caesar by speaking to him as an equal. Ariviovistus claimed that they were both conquerors and that they should carve up Gaul between them. Caesar wasn’t going to share glory with anyone and demanded he withdraw his forces back across the Rhine. Ariviovistus refused and the two armies met at the battle of Vosges (Mulhausen). The Gauls, fired up for revenge and led by the Carnutes defeated the Germans in the initial cavalry engagement. The elite Roman legions of Caesar then advanced and after hard fighting slaughtered the routed German army. Only Ariviovistus and a few of his body guard managed to escape back across the Rhine which he never again crossed.
Oh course this ‘friend of Gaul’ was to turn on them also. The Sequani were the first to loose their independence immediately following the removal of the Germans and the Sequani lands became part of the Roman Empire. The rest of Caesar’s campaign in Gaul was just the standard divide and conquer routine between the major factions. Neither of which were to give any significant support to the other. This involved subjugating the Belgae tribe by tribe and mopping up those isolated pockets of resistance. After Caesar headed to Britain, the Gauls would finally realise the dire straights they were in. They belatedly united in the Great Gallic League but it was too little too late, Alesia was to became the mausoleum of Gallic Liberty., The very word Alesia, to be forever etched in the minds and history books as an epitaph to a noble but gullible people who believed in the “peace of their time”! What they failed to realise until too late, was that it was to be a Pax Romana!
Plutarch comments that the Celts of Gaul had experienced 1,000 towns destroyed, 300 tribes erased, 1 million men, women and children slaughtered and 1.5 million captives taken as slaves. “There was one final act left in the gruesome drama. Caesar returned to Italy to wild jubilation, and finally he achieved his lifelong ambition..and was appointed dictator. Having kept Vercingetrix the Arvernian in misery for 6 long years, he had him beheaded as part of his triumphant celebrations.
Adrian Gilbert, The Encyclopedia of Ancient Warfare,
Adrian Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars
Adrian Goldsworthy, Cannae
Ann Ross, Druids - Preachers of Immortality
Barry Cunliffe, The Ancient Celts
David Chandler, The Dictionary of Ancient Battles
Ernle Bradford, Hannibal
Iain Zaczek, The Art of the Celts
James Harvey Robinson, History of Western Europe
James Mitchell, Ancient History
John Collis, The Celts - Origins, Myths and Inventions
John Haywood, The Historical Atlas of the Celtic World
Jon e. Lewsi, The Mammoth book of How it Happened - Ancient Rome
Julius Caesar, The Civil War
Julius Caesar, The Gallic War
Livy, The Early History of Rome
Livy, The War with Hannibal
Mark Healy, Cannae 216 BC Hannibal smashes Rome's Army (Osprey)
Martin Windrow & Angus McBride, Imperial Rome at War (Concord)
Peter Berresford Ellis, Celt and Greek : Celts in the Hellenic World
Peter Berresford Ellis, Celt and Roman : The Celts of Italy
Peter Berresford Ellis, The Celtic Empire
Peter Berresford Ellis, The Druids
Peter Wilcox, Rome's Enemies (2) Gallic and British Celts (Osprey)
Polybius, The Rise of the Roman Empire
Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, A History of Pagan Europe
Simon James, Exploring the World of the Celts
Stephen Allen, Celtic Warrior 300 BC–AD 100 (Osprey)
Strabo, Geography (Internet, Ukans.edu)
Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars
T.G.E Powell, The Celts
Tacitus, The Agricola and Germania
Terence Wise, Armies of the Carthaginian Wars 265-146 BC (Osprey)
Tim Newark & Angus McBride, Ancient Armies (Concord)
Tim Newark & Angus McBride, Barbarians (Concord)
Venceslas Kruta, Celts - History and Civilization
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