A Gallic Warrior and Romanisation

Cover from Asterix le Gaulois, R. Goscinny and A. Uderzo. Photo: TES.

The Roman Conquest of Gaul, a territory that today compromises the whole of France and parts of Switzerland, Germany and the Low Countries, was written down by Julius Caesar in de bello gallico. Despite his claim to have conquered Gaul already by 52 B.C., fighting certainly continued well into Augustus’ imperial reign. Even afterwards major disturbances were reported until late in the first century. A small village, however, is reported to have challenged Roman rule successfully. It might be a coincidence that the myth of Gallic resistance was created in 1959, only two decades after the German occupation of France. It could also be that the myth of the Gallic resistance had to strengthen the myth of the consequent French resistance during the German occupation. Whatever the parallels, fact is that Gaul became a part of what soon would become The Roman Empire.

Although there were considerable differences in the treatment of conquered territories and Romanization of southern and northern Gaul in particular, the Roman presence left a long lasting heritage. It remains a topic of scholarly debate how the growth of the common Roman civilization should be understood, but it is clear that the elites took over Roman culture within one generation. Wine, dress, houses, city planning, theaters, aqueducts, language, legal and administrative system, citizenship and many other Roman characteristics replaced Gallic culture or at least a mixed Gallo-Roman culture came into being. It was the first and last time in history that European citizens really existed, whether they lived as Roman citizens in Alexandria, Cordóba, Rome or Athens. The accomplishment of Roman culture and Roman way of life is that there existed no forced assimilation or integration. Conquered peoples took the change of adapting to a higher culture, prosperity and pax romana. Romanization is an umbrella to conceal a multitude of separate processes, often lengthy and complicated and differing from region to region. The process as such, however, was all too real.

The French comic Asterix, the first edition appeared in 1959, offers an exemplary anecdote. The unbeatable Gallic warrior Asterix wanted to take part at the Olympics of 48 B.C. For this occasion he surrendered to Rome, because only Roman citizens were allowed to participate. Such was the high prestige of the new rulers and their ancient predecessors. (Source: G. Woolf, Becoming Roman. The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul (Cambridge 2003).