Rome in Gaul Before Caesar III

The growth of Rome’s empire had led to severe internal strains. The influx of wealth and the greater rewards for the elite that came with imperial expansion had intensified competition among aristocrats as mentioned earlier. It had also opened up opportunities for Roman knights (equites, members of the equestrian order) who were no longer defined by their cavalry service but by their wealth and were both landowners and businessmen. The empire offered important opportunities for them in performing public functions such as the collection of taxes, which could be extraordinarily lucrative, and presented them with new commercial opportunities in the provinces. One consequence of these developments was that their interests often tended to diverge from, and put them at odds with, those senators who commanded Rome’s armies and governed her provinces. In the same manner the pressures of war and economic dislocation had created difficulties for the peasant farmers who filled the legions. Forced off their lands and into the cities and towns of Italy they were eager to acquire new land and to share in the profits of empire.

The difficulties brought about by the loss of land and a bloody and unrewarding series of wars in Spain had led to problems in levying troops. The minimum property necessary for service in the legions had been lowered several times and finally in 107 the practice began of admitting men into the legions without any minimum at all. Long and continuous service abroad and the absence of personal property requirement produced men who saw military service as a profession and not simply part of their obligations as citizens. Since these men could no longer return to their farms on the completion of their service, and the state provided nothing for them on retirement, they began to look to their generals to provide for them through special legislation. This financial tie to their commanders was strengthened by the development of personal ties to their generals due to the increased length of military commands. Caesar and his army in Gaul offer the best example of what these ties could mean. These close bonds offered opportunities for commanders or governors to use this military support for their own ends.

The expansion of the empire had created other problems as well. Perhaps the most pressing as the first century began was the relation of Rome to her Italian allies. The burden of Rome’s wars had fallen disproportionately on her Italian allies. In the course of these wars allied communities had often provided twice as many troops as the Romans. In addition, they received a smaller share of booty and were subject to harsher penalties for violations of military discipline. Although Italian businessmen and merchants had benefitted handsomely from the business opportunities that Roman expansion had opened up, they had little control over the direction of Roman policy. The land law of Tiberius Gracchus exacerbated the situation. Its distribution of Roman public land to Roman citizens threatened the interests of the Italian elite, which had used large amounts of this land for their own benefit. Without citizenship the Italian elites were unable to hold office and use the votes of their fellow citizens to influence Roman policy. In response to the increasing pressure, Rome had taken a number of steps that made the inferior position of the Italians even more galling.

Finally in 90 the storm broke. Frustrated in their attempt to gain citizenship, many but not all of the allies rebelled and joined together to wrest their independence from Rome. The bloody and large-scale conflict lasted for two years and ended in the military collapse of the Italian forces. Despite this the Romans granted a series of concessions that gave citizenship to most Italian communities south of the Po. In the course of the war one of the Roman commanders, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, had been extremely effective and his success led to him being elected consul for 88.

Despite the end of the war and the grant of citizenship, Italian demands had not been totally met. Citizenship had been granted but with certain restrictions that hindered its exercise. An attempt was made to remedy this situation by Sulla’s opponents. Further complicating the situation was a new war in the east against the Mithridates, king of Pontus in north-central Asia Minor. The command was attractive both for the wealth that would accrue and the prestige that it would bring. Fighting erupted between Sulla and his allies with their opponents that led to the first march of the legions on Rome. Sulla attempted through a set of reforms to bring stability and assert the control of the Senate. He soon left to wage war on Mithridates and in his absence his opponents gained control. Sulla returned to Italy in the spring of 83 after his victory over Mithridates. His arrival resulted in a hard-fought civil war that lasted until November of 82, with mopping-up operations continuing for at least another year.

One of Sulla’s adversaries was Quintus Sertorius. He had fled Italy for his province of Nearer Spain after Sulla’s victories in 83. Driven out of it in 81 by supporters of Sulla he returned to Spain in 80 and garnered widespread support among the natives because of his integrity, just dealings and charismatic personality. These qualities, as well as dissatisfaction with Roman rule, enabled him to raise a substantial army and an allied navy. He quickly gained control of much of Spain and defeated a number of commanders sent against him. Among them was Lucius Manlius, proconsul of Transalpine Gaul, who was twice defeated by Lucius Hirtuleius, a lieutenant of Sertorius, first in Nearer Spain and then in Gaul in 78. Despite the arrival the year before of a consular army in Spain, Sertorius was more than able to hold his own and by 77 retained control of much of Spain. The situation had become so serious that one of the consuls of 78, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, was assigned both Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul for 77, but staged a rebellion against the Senate and was killed before he could take up his command.

The sudden appearance of Roman commanders in Gaul is evidence of the renewed importance that Transalpine Gaul had now assumed. The intensification of the conflict with Sertorius in Spain had a parallel with the Second Punic War, when Rome had first become interested in southern Gaul. It was once again a major conduit for men and supplies as it had been in the earlier conflict. The difficulties that the central government was having in Spain led to the dispatch of the young Pompey in 77, although he did not reach Spain until the next year. During his march to Spain he had to force a passage by defeating a number of Gallic tribes during the winter of 77/76 and was forced to winter in Narbo. He returned to Gaul over the winter of 75/74. There is no doubt that Pompey was involved in some serious fighting, although the trophy he is said to have erected in the Pyrenees recording the capture of 876 towns between the Alps and the Pyrenees as well as having pacified the whole province seems to have greatly exaggerated his real accomplishments. He apparently did make some modifications in the provincial structure of Transalpine Gaul. In addition, lands were taken from the Helvii, whose territory lay on the right bank of the Rhône, and their neighbours the Volcae Arecomici and was given to Massalia, which may have led to conflict.

However, it seems most likely that the fighting was precipitated by Roman demands for money and supplies for the war in Spain. The situation was further exacerbated by a poor harvest in 74. The demands and the resistance to them are attested by a speech of Cicero defending Marcus Fonteius’s conduct as governor of Transalpine Gaul on a charge of extortion brought by a number of Gallic tribes. Fonteius had been praetor in 75 and was probably serving in Gaul from 74 to 72. Cicero’s speech in his defence was probably given in 70 or 69. Only part of the speech has survived but enough has survived to provide some revealing details about Fonteius’s tenure.

Fonteius’s main task as governor was supplying the Roman armies in Spain. Cicero mentions that he had requisitioned substantial quantities of grain as well as levying considerable numbers of Gallic infantry and cavalry for service in Spain. Excessive demands seem to have led to violent local reactions. Fonteius fought against the Vocontii near Narbo and probably against the Volcae, who also directly menaced the Roman colony at Narbo. Cicero also mentions his eviction of Gauls on the orders of Pompey from their farms as punishment for their rebellion. We also learn that he carried out repairs on the Via Domitia, especially necessary with the war raging in Spain.

Fonteius instituted new administrative measures, including a transit duty on wine, which points to the importance of Roman trade with the south in this period. Cicero has a striking passage describing the economic penetration of the economy of Gaul by Roman and Italian traders and merchants in this period:

Gaul is filled with traders and Roman citizens. No Gaul does business without a Roman citizen. No money changes hands without being noted in Roman account books.

The Romans had not conquered southern Gaul for economic reasons, but the advance of Roman control was accompanied by an influx of Roman and Italian businessmen who could enjoy the protection of Roman governors and their subordinates. This development was not limited to Gaul but occurred in most of the territory into which Rome expanded.

There is a striking increase in the number of Italian amphorae (wine jars) found in Gaul in this period. They indicate that the consumption of wine increased tenfold after 125. By 100 Italian wines had totally replaced those of Massalia. The founding of Narbo placed the Romans astride important north-south and east-west trade routes. Although Narbo produced a wide range of goods locally, its role as a middleman in this trade was probably of more importance. Fonteius’s decree instituting transit taxes for wine carried inland from Narbo is evidence for its importance of it as a port of entry.

One major east-west route linked Narbo to Tolosa and a tremendous number of amphorae have been found along it and at Tolosa. The garrisoning of the site gave the Romans control of the Carcassonne Gap, a passage between the Pyrenees to the south and the Massif-Central to the north. A major route from Tolosa led north to the Atlantic coast and another turned south towards Spain. It seems likely that Tolosa became the major Italian trading centre west of the Rhône. This would suggest that the trade was in the hands of Italian merchants resident in Gaul. A major Gallic export appears to have been metals. Gaul produced silver, copper, lead and gold. Major concentrations of amphorae have been found in mining areas from this period. Another crucial export was slaves. A reasonable estimate has put the number of slaves imported into Italy during years when there were no wars with Rome at about 25,000 per year. Although of lesser importance, wool and hams were also imported.

The trade and probably the increased Italian presence had important effects on Gallic society far beyond the borders of the Roman province. From the middle- or late-second century large centralized settlements appear in central Gaul. They are located at sites that were close to mining areas or along navigable rivers, which bears witness to the increased importance of trade in Gallic life. Luxury goods imported from the Mediterranean begin to appear in this area at about the same time that these settlements appear. Associated with them is a change in Gallic tribal coinage. Previously, issues had been small and irregular and limited to large denominations, mostly in silver or occasionally in gold. Their main function seems to have been to serve in gift exchanges. Coinage now issued in restricted areas implies centralized control over its issue, and smaller denominations appear first in silver and then in bronze. The smaller denominations point to the development of a local market economy. Political institutions in some Gallic states began to approximate the Roman and Mediterranean models. Certainly trade with Italy played an important role in these developments: what is less certain is the presence of Roman businessmen and merchants who might have influenced and accelerated this process.

Trade was not the only economic opportunity created by Roman domination of southern Gaul. The political conflicts fuelled by the hunger for land of dispossessed peasants and veterans had continued unabated since the 130s. The Gallic province contained rich land suitable for agriculture or herding and had the further advantage that its climate was very similar to that of Italy. The founding of Narbo was a prelude to further Roman settlement. In 100, soon after Marius’ victories in Gaul and Italy over the Germans, the tribune Lucius Appuleius Saturninus proposed a law to distribute to Romans and their Italian allies the land that the Cimbri had seized while in Gaul. Despite a great deal of violence the law was finally passed. The controversy about this and other legislation of the tribune has left it uncertain as to whether the law was actually implemented, but it is clear that the Romans saw Gaul as a place for settlement. There is evidence for Roman land surveys among the Vocontii, Volcae and Saluvii, though no clear evidence for settlement.

The first clear evidence we have for Roman ownership of land outside the colony at Narbo comes from a speech for the defence given by Cicero in 81. Probably in the early 80s, the brother of Cicero’s client Publius Quinctius, in partnership with a Sextus Naevius, bought land in southern Gaul perhaps near Narbo for ranching and agriculture. The suit between the partners over their mutual debts reveals as well that that Publius individually owned additional land in the vicinity of Narbo in his own name. What is striking is the assumption that land ownership in Gaul was nothing unusual. This seems to imply that many Romans and Italians owned land there. It is part of a wider pattern in which Romans acquired properties in many of the areas they had conquered. The scope for exploitation increased with the confiscations of native land in accordance with a senatorial decree made by Fonteius as governor in the late 70s.

A later speech of Cicero’s points to a different aspect of Rome’s involvement in Gaul. In 63 Cicero spoke on behalf of Lucius Licinius Murena who had just been elected consul for the following year. Murena was accused of using illegal methods to gain the consulship. In the course of his defence of Murena’s character Cicero brought forward Murena’s actions as governor of Gaul the year before. He mentions that Gaul is full of Roman businessmen and Cicero singles out for praise Murena’s diligence in helping Romans to recover debts owed to them by Gauls. It is clear as well from other evidence that debt was a heavy burden for the Gallic tribes in this period and was the cause of several revolts against Roman rule. The origin of the debts is less clear. Presumably, taxes and exactions such as those of Fonteius helped to exacerbate debt problems. The influx of Roman businessmen and merchants, often lending money at exorbitant rates, also contributed to it. They may also have taken over trading operations on which various tribes depended. It was helpful to have a friendly governor such as Murena on their side.

The history of Roman Gaul until the arrival of Caesar as governor in 58 is poorly known, as the sources only contain sporadic references to the province. In 66 and 65 one of the consuls of 67, Gaius Calpurnius Piso, was assigned both Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul, a not infrequent combination. He is mentioned as subduing a revolt of the Allobroges, which was probably caused by an unbearable burden of debt.

He was replaced in 64 and 63 by Murena, whom Cicero later defended. The difficult situation that faced the Allobroges had not improved. During the conspiracy of Cataline in the autumn of 63 in Rome, Allobrogan envoys who were in Rome to try to gain some measure of relief from the weight of both private and public debts were approached by the conspirators who hoped to coordinate their rising in Rome with a rebellion in Gaul. In light of Cicero’s defence of Murena it is revealing that the Allobroges complained of the greed of Roman magistrates. The situation had still not improved in the next year when Gaius Pomptinus governed Transalpine Gaul. Once again the Allobroges found their situation intolerable and rebelled. The Roman campaign against them was a difficult undertaking. It appears that the rebellion began at Valentia (Valence) on the east bank of the Rhône about 65 miles (105km) south of Lyon. One of Pomptinus’s legates, Manlius Lentulus, launched an attack on the city that was initially successful, as most of the inhabitants had fled and those remaining sent an embassy to seek peace. They were temporarily rescued by an attack on the Romans by the rural population near the town. In response the Roman commander Lentulus ravaged the countryside. The Allobroges assembled a much more formidable force under their leader Catugnatus and almost captured the legate. It was only when that force withdrew, probably due to lack of supplies (a perennial problem for Gallic armies), that Lentulus returned and finally captured the town. The climactic battle was fought at the town of Solonium, whose exact location is uncertain but which lay west of the Rhône, by the governor himself and all of his troops. The town was taken and this seems to have ended the phase of large-scale warfare. The Romans then proceeded to subjugate the remaining districts still in open rebellion.

Pomptinus continued as governor into 61. Despite his success against the Allobroges the situation in Gaul looked potentially dangerous. Rome’s close allies the Aedui had suffered a defeat at the hands of their eastern neighbours the Sequani in early 60 at the Battle of Admagetobriga, somewhere in Alsace. In their war with the Aedui, the Sequani and their allies the Arverni had called upon the aid of the German Ariovistus, a Suebian chief. The Suebi were a confederation of various German tribes whose huge territory stretched from the Rhine to the Elbe and south to the Danube. The section of the Suebi under the control of Ariovistus had been invited in to help the Sequani in their war against the Aedui and their help had come at a high price. The Sequani had to surrender a third of their lands to Ariovistus and his Germans, who settled in lower Alsace. They were now not only neighbours of the Aedui, but also bordered on the Allobroges, who with their frequent revolts had been a source of trouble for the Romans. Ariovistus’ lands were also adjacent to and constrained the Celtic Helvetii, who lived in the area of modern Switzerland. The pressure of the Germans and other factors had persuaded the Helvetii to migrate and this posed a further threat to the Romans. The weakening of the buffer provided by the Aedui, the possible expansion of the Germans and the uncertain course of a Helvetian migration gave cause for worry.

The anxiety at Rome can be glimpsed in a letter of 15 March 60 by Cicero to his most intimate friend Atticus:

For the present there is a great deal of fear that a war will break out in Gaul. For our brothers the Aedui have recently been defeated and the Helvetii without a doubt have taken up arms and make raids on the Province. The Senate has decreed that the two consuls are to be allocated the two Gauls as their provinces, that a levy should be held, all leaves cancelled and that a delegation with full powers should be sent to the Gallic communities to keep them from joining the Helvetii.

The problems in Gaul died down of their own accord. Cicero could write that the war scare in Gaul was over and that his friend Metellus Celer, one of the consuls of 60, who had been awarded Transalpine Gaul, was now disappointed since the return of peace dimmed his prospects for a triumph.46 As it was, Celer was deprived of his province in political infighting and died suddenly in April 59 before he could leave the city. Pomptinus most likely remained in command until Caesar’s arrival in 58.