The Divisions of Gaul

An Antique Map of Gaul
duncan1890 / Getty Images

According to Julius Caesar, ​Gaul was divided into three parts. Borders changed and not all ancient writers on the topic of Gaul are consistent, but it is probably more accurate for us to say all Gaul was divided into five parts, and Caesar knew them.

Gaul was mostly north of the Italian Alps, the Pyrenees, and the Mediterranean Sea. To the east of Gaul lived Germanic tribes. To the west was what is now the English Channel (La Manche) and the Atlantic Ocean.

Julius Ceasar and the Gauls

When in the mid-first century B.C., Julius Caesar starts his book on the wars between Rome and the Gauls, he writes about these relatively unknown peoples:

"Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur."
All Gaul is divided into three parts, in one of which the Belgae live, in another, the Aquitaines, and in the third, the Celts (in their own language), [but] called the Galli [Gauls] in ours [Latin].

These three Gauls were in addition to the two Rome already knew very well.

Cisalpine Gaul

The Gauls on the Italian side of the Alps (Cisalpine Gaul) or Gallia Citerior 'Nearer Gaul' lay north of the Rubicon River. The name Cisalpine Gaul was in use until around the time of Caesar's assassination. It was also known as Gallia Togata because there were so many toga-clad Romans living there.

Part of the area of Cisalpine Gaul was known as Transpadine Gaul because it lay north of the Padus (Po) river. The area was also referred to simply as Gallia, but that was before extensive Roman contact with the Gauls north of the Alps.

According to the ancient historian, Livy (who hailed from Cisalpine Gaul), over-population-driven migration into the Italic peninsula came early on in Roman history, at the time Rome was ruled by its first Etruscan king, Tarquinius Priscus.

Led by Bellovesus, the Gallic tribe of Insubres defeated the Etruscans in the plains around the Po River and settled in the area of modern Milan.

There were other waves of martial Gauls—Cenomani, Libui, Salui, Boii, Lingones, and Senones.

Senones Defeats the Romans

In around 390 B.C., Senones—living in what was later called the ager Gallicus (Gallic field) strip along the Adriatic, led by Brennus—defeated the Romans at the banks of the Allia before capturing the city of Rome and besieging the Capitol. They were persuaded to leave with a hefty payment of gold. About a century later, Rome defeated the Gauls and their Italian allies, the Samnites, as well as Etruscans and Umbrians, on Gallic territory. In 283, the Romans defeated the Galli Senones and established their first Gallic colony (Sena). In 269, they set up another colony, Ariminum. It wasn't until 223 that the Romans crossed the Po to battle successfully against the Gallic Insubres. In 218, Rome established two new Gallic colonies: Placentia to the south of the Po, and Cremona. It was these disaffected Italian Gauls that Hannibal hoped would help with his efforts to defeat Rome.

Transalpine Gaul

The second area of Gaul was the area beyond the Alps. This was known as Transalpine Gaul or Gallia Ulterior 'Further Gaul' and Gallia Comata 'Long-haired Gaul'. Ulterior Gaul sometimes refers specifically to the Provincia 'the Province', which is the southern section and is sometimes called Gallia Braccata for the trousers worn by inhabitants. Later it was called Gallia Narbonensis. Transalpine Gaul lay along the northern side of the alps across the Mediterranean coastline to the Pyrenees. Transalpine Gaul features the major cities of Vienna (Isère), Lyon, Arles, Marseilles, and Narbonne. It was important for Roman interests in Hispania (Spain and Portugal) because it allowed land access to the Iberian peninsula.

The Many Gauls

When Caesar describes Gaul in his commentaries on the Gallic Wars, he starts by stating that all Gaul is divided into three parts. These three parts are beyond the area from which Provincia 'the Province' was created. Caesar lists Aquitaines, Belgians, and Celts. Caesar had gone into Gaul as proconsul of Cisalpine Gaul, but then acquired Transalpine Gaul, and then went further, into the three Gauls, ostensibly to help out the Aedui, an allied Gallic tribe, but by the Battle of Alesia at the end of the Gallic Wars (52 B.C.) he had conquered all of Gaul for Rome. Under Augustus, the area was known as Tres Galliae 'the Three Gauls.' These areas were developed into provinces of the Roman Empire, with slightly different names. Instead of the Celtae, the third was Lugdunensis—Lugdunum being the Latin name for Lyon. The other two areas kept the name Caesar had applied to them, Aquitani and Belgae, but with different borders.

Alpine Regions:

  1. Alpes Maritimae
  2. Regnum Cottii
  3. Alpes Graiae
  4. Vallis Poenina

Gaul Proper:

  1. Narbonensis
  2. Aquitania
  3. Lugdunensis
  4. Belgica
  5. Germania inferior
  6. Germania superior


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Gill, N.S. "The Divisions of Gaul." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). The Divisions of Gaul. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "The Divisions of Gaul." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).