The integration of the Gallic elites

The conquest of Gaul by Caesar in 51 BC. What about the Gallic elites ? Did the notables also succeed in integrating with the imperial elites? What is their relationship with Rome and the emperor?

The sources

Evoking the Gallo-Roman elites poses a problem of sources, because they are few in number. With regard to texts, in addition to Comments of Caesar, we can cite Livy (died in 17 AD and close to Augustus), Strabo (died around 25 AD), but even more Tacitus and Suetonius, both living in the second century AD. J-C.

Epigraphy is a major source, the inscriptions being mostly made by elites. Finally, the funeral monuments also inform us about the Romanization of these elites.

What elites?

We will deal here with the Gallo-Roman elites in the broad sense, that is to say the Gallic notables following the Romanization of the Gauls. The latter are socially recognized at the local level, for political, administrative, or even broader activities such as the economic field. They become elites by integrating the highest spheres of power, up to the Senate in Rome. We will discuss here the Three Gauls and the Narbonnaise, up to the Antonins.

A “pro-Roman” Gallic elite?

Long before the Gallic Wars, there was already an elite that could be described as "pro-Roman". This is particularly the case with the Aedui. The latter's relations with Rome date back to around 120 BC. J-C, when the Romans defeat Arverne Bituit, which benefits the Aedui. The latter then become privileged partners of Rome, especially for trade, so that they are considered as "Populi Romani consanguineic brothers". It is therefore no coincidence that Caesar claims to respond to their call for help in 58, and that following the Gallic Wars it is, with his help, the Aedui who became the first Gauls to enter the country. Senate. A predominance that we find later under Claude.

However, the Aedui are not the only ones who are already close to Rome. In fact, since the Republican era, the Narbonne elites have become culturally and institutionally Romanized, which ultimately gives a more positive image of them in Rome than that of the notables of Hairy Gaul, including Eduans.

The domination of Iulii

Victorious, Caesar rewards his allies with citizenship, a cast deemed generous and criticized, if we trust Suetonius (source admittedly much later): “Caesar leads the Gauls to triumph, and also to the curia. The Gauls left their breeches, they took the laticlave ”. However, the reward is individual, as with grants of magistracies or gifts of land. It is the same under Augustus who founded Autun (Augustodunum), new capital of the Aedui, where universities were created in which Gallo-Roman notables learned Latin.

The Gauls elevated to the rank of citizens by Caesar and Augustus are called Iulii, by Julius. They are mainly from a military nobility and landed aristocracy. The fate of two Aedui may be interesting to note: Aedui chief cited by Caesar in his Comments, Eporédirix is ​​first pro-Roman (he is with them in Gergovia!), Then rallied to Vercingetorix, he is taken prisoner (or his namesake, it is not clear in Caesar) in Alésia. Inscriptions from the 1st century BC. J-C then mention a C. Iulius Eporédirix (Roman citizen from the 40s-30s), and we can follow them until the 1st century AD. J-C, and a character, Iulius Calenus, who, in 69, is charged by the victors of Vitellius to negotiate with the vanquished in Cremona. This tribune, an Eduen therefore, seems to be a distant descendant of Eporédirix. Or how we went from an Aeduan chief to a Roman knight, the journey of a Gallic family seemingly perfectly integrated into the Empire.

However, this course should not be generalized or idealized. The access of Gallic notables to the imperial elites did not happen overnight, and it was not systematic. This explains the request made to Claudius, and the latter's response, in 48 AD. J-C.

Claude's role in favor of the Gallo-Roman elites

Born in Lyon in 10 BC. J-C, emperor in 41 AD. J-C (he succeeds Caligula), Claude has close links with Gaul. On his accession, Hairy Gaul no longer had full citizenship, and the notables no longer had access to ius honorum. Indeed, if under Caesar and in the early days of Augustus, the Gauls (Iulii for the Three Gauls, Domitii, Valerii or Pompeii for the Narbonnaise) were able to access the equestrian order, even the Senate, this is no longer the case from 18 BC. J-C. La Narbonnaise obtained this right in 14 AD. J-C, but this is not yet the case with Hairy Gaul. Hence the request made to Emperor Claudius.

The latter responds with a famous text, which we know from Tacitus, but especially from the Claudian Table, a bronze plaque found in the 16th century! Claude makes the decision to grant the ius honorum to the Aedui (then, a little later, to the other Gauls). This provokes the ire of the Roman senators, as Claudius had foreseen, as his words prove: "Of course, I can see in advance the objection that will be presented to me [...]". Indeed, hairy Gaul, unlike Narbonnaise, still has a negative image in Rome, imbued with terror gallicus

The Council of Gauls, a meeting place for Gallo-Roman elites

As in the rest of the Empire, it was imperial worship that made the link between the local elites and the emperor.

In 12 BC J-C, Drusus, the father of the future Emperor Claudius, had the federal sanctuary of the Gauls built in Condate, near Lyon. Each year, the 1er August, the elites of the Three Gauls gather there to celebrate their loyalty to the emperor around the altar dedicated to Rome and Augustus. The Assembly of Gauls (or concilium) is driven by a priesthood elected, the first having been logically an Eduen, Caius Julius Vercondaridubnus. Under Tiberius, the construction of an amphitheater allows the organization of games, which accompany the meetings of the assembly.

The objective of the creation of this Council of Gauls is indeed the integration of the indigenous elites, their Romanization. The institution is above the provincial governor (based in Lyon), reports only to the emperor (to whom it can submit requests), and its members are of equestrian rank. It is a compulsory gathering place for the Gallo-Roman elites, supposed to represent the sixty peoples of Hairy Gaul. The Assembly therefore played a real political role, and emperors attended, such as Claudius or even Caligula, for whom an eloquence contest was organized in 39.

The ergetism of the Gallo-Roman elites

Another marker of the Romanization of the Gallo-Roman elites is their practice of ergetism, that is to say the benefits offered to cities (and indirectly to the emperor) often in the form of monuments.

One of the famous examples in Gaul is the amphitheater in Lyon, mentioned above. Its construction was launched in 19 by the priesthood santon, Caius Julius Rufus. This great local figure also offers an arch to his city of Saintes where, on an inscription, he does not hesitate to compare himself to Germanicus.

Other examples exist, such as a portico offered by the Bituriges to the thermal baths of Néris, a theater in Eu, or another in Jublains.

Changes and integration of the Gallo-Roman elites

The integration of Gallic notables is a necessity for the Empire. The imperial elites, by having good relations with the natives, can better exercise their functions in the province. The local elites, they can hope for a social rise.

However, the relationships are not always obvious, especially in Gaul, and the relationships turn out to be asymmetrical. This partly explains the relative integration of the Gallo-Roman elites within the imperial elites, with the added difference between Narbonne and Hairy Gaul.

Other factors exist: we have mentioned the military and land origin of Iulii. The latter seem in difficulty following the revolt of Vindex in 69, which causes repression in their ranks. They are losing influence within the Gallo-Roman elite, which has a tendency to diversify, for example integrating notable traders, a phenomenon tending to increase under the Antonines. However, these conclusions must be qualified, as the sources are so scarce.

This heterogeneity of the Gallo-Roman elites, combined with a more relative urbanization than elsewhere (and the elites are in the cities), means that in the long term Gaul is less represented within the imperial elites (equestrian order, and more senatorial) in relation, for example, to provinces such as Spain or North Africa.


- A. Ferdière, The Gauls (2nd century BC - 5th century AD), A. Colin, 2005.

- C. Delaplace, J. France, History of the Gauls (6th century J-C - 6th century Colin, 1997.

- C. Goudineau, Gaze on Gaul, Wandering, 1998.

- F. Chausson (dir), Roman West, Wandering, 2010.

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