Front Matter France Long Ago The Gauls In France The Priests of the Gauls Sailor Stories Conquests of the Gauls Two Great Battles Caesar in Gaul Gaul under the Romans First Christian Martyrs Patron Saint of France Franks Come to Gaul The First Kings Conquests of Clovis Clotaire and His Relatives Two Rival Queens Good King Dagobert The Saracens Checked End of the Merovingians Charlemagne's Wars Charlemagne's Manners Charlemagne, Emperor Feudalism Troublesome Sons The Strassburg Oath Normans Besiege Paris Last of the Carolingians The Year One Thousand Robert's Two Wives Wealth of the Clergy The First Crusade A Love Story The Second Crusade More Crusades The Battle of Bouvines Blanche of Castile The Sixth Crusade The Reign of Louis IX Effect of the Crusades The Battle of the Spurs End of Knights Templar The Hundred Years' War The Siege of Calais The Battle of Poitiers Seven Years of Misery The Brave du Guesclin Achievements of Charles V Charles VI Misrule in France The Disgraceful Treaty Joan to the Rescue Orleans and Rheims Joan's Martyrdom Charles's Successes The Crafty King Louis XI Louis XI's Reign Achievements of Louis XI Charles VIII The Second Italian War Death of Louis XII Francis I Rivalry of Kings Achievements of Francis I End of Francis's Reign Reign of Henry II A Young King and Queen Catherine's Regency The Forced Wedding Massacre of the Huguenots Death of Charles IX An Effeminate King he Battle of Coutras The Murder of the Guises Winning a Crown Conversion of Henry IV Henry IV's Second Marriage Death of Henry IV The Minority of Louis XIII Rule of the Favorites Richelieu and Louis XIII End of Louis XIII's Reign Beginning of a Great Reign Wars of the Fronde Death of Mazarin Versailles The Iron Mask Louis XIV's Campaigns Madame de Maintenon Later Wars of Louis XIV The Spanish Succession The Age of Louis XIV

Story of Old France - Helene Guerber

Gaul Under the Romans

During Caesar's last campaigns in Gaul, he captured so many prisoners that it is said every soldier in the Roman army had at least one Gallic slave to wait upon him; but in spite of crushing defeats the Gauls rose again and again, until Caesar punished the rebels by chopping off their right hands. This ended the Gallic wars.

In eight years—from 58 to 50 B.C.—Caesar made eight campaigns in Gaul, took eight hundred towns, conquered three hundred tribes, and defeated more than three hundred thousand warriors. About one third of the people were killed, and another third were reduced to slavery, so when the war was over only about one third of the Gauls were still left in their old homes.

It is because Caesar accomplished so very much in so short a time that he is considered the greatest general in Roman history. He afterwards showed himself a wise statesman by allowing the conquered Gauls to sit in the Roman senate, to fight in the Roman legions, and to enjoy all the rights of Roman citizenship, so that they soon made friends with their former enemies, the Romans; and in later times, Gauls even became Emperors of Rome.

Roman generosity toward these conquered foes thus bore good fruit. The Gauls in the southeastern part of the country—the first to submit quietly to the new rule,—quickly learned the Roman language and ways. Under the direction of their conquerors they cut down forests, drained marshes, built towns, and erected beautiful temples, aqueducts, baths, theaters, and houses, some of which still exist to call forth the admiration of travelers. When the Romans first came into Gaul, the greater part of the country was wild and densely wooded. They found the soil very rich and productive, and before long the greater part of France was turned into cultivated fields, olive groves, and vineyards. Commerce and industry increased rapidly.

The Romans fixed the capital of Gaul at Lyons. Not only was this city centrally located, but it also stood at the junction of two great rivers, the Rhone and the Saone, and was the starting point for four great Roman roads, which led to the Rhine, to the Channel, to the ocean, and to the Mediterranean Sea. As these roads were the only good ones in the country at that time, they were much used, and any traveler going from Rome, or from the south to any part of northern France, Germany, or Britain, was pretty sure to pass through Lyons on his way.

Roman aqueducts near Nimes


After Caesar died, his nephew Augustus became Emperor, and ruled over Italy and all the Roman provinces. Although in some ways less generous to the Gauls than Caesar, he treated them well, and visited Lyons, where he made a speech which is still preserved there on tablets of bronze.

He divided Gaul into four provinces, ruled by consuls, allowed the cities to govern themselves, established schools, and placed Roman legions along the Rhine to protect the country from the inroads of the northern barbarians. The Romans now had to defend Gaul, because most of the people left in that country were peaceful farmers and workmen.

Augustus and his successors forbade human sacrifices in Gaul, but for a time they allowed the Druids to go on practicing their religion, and gave the Gallic gods a place beside their own in the Roman Pantheon, or temple for all gods. Then they cleverly showed the Gauls that there was, after all, very little difference between the two modes of worship, for both adored a god of war, for instance, although he was called Mars in Rome and Hesus in Gaul. Thus, little by little, they brought about a change in religion, so that Druid worship was nearly over by the middle of the first century of the Christian era.

The Gauls were so clever that some of them not only learned all the Romans could teach them, but soon became greater scholars, better builders, and more skillful workmen than their teachers. They were quite comfortable at first under Roman rule, although some of the tax collectors proved dishonest, and asked more than was due. This was, however, against the wish of the Emperor Augustus, and when he discovered that one man had done so, he went to him and accused him of stealing. This man, knowing the Emperor loved money, escaped punishment by giving Augustus all the stolen goods, saying: "Behold the treasure I have gathered; I was afraid if the Gauls kept so much gold they would use it against thee; I now deliver it to thee." It is said that Augustus accepted this bribe, pretending to believe that the tax collector had stated the truth!

Unjust taxes caused several revolts among the Gauls during the first century of the Christian era. One of these started in Belgium, where the chiefs, finding themselves defeated, chose death in preference to slavery. Another revolt, a few years later, was led by a Gaul who, on asking a Druidess for advice, was forbidden to fight before the new moon. The Romans, having discovered this, attacked the rebels before the time appointed, and as the Gauls dared not disobey the orders of their prophetess, nearly all of them were slain.

Sabinus, one of their number, who had been elected king, seeing no other hope of escape, set fire to his own house and, plunging through the flames, took refuge in a stone vault or cellar, where the fire could not reach him. His own companions, as well as the Romans, thought he had perished, and only his wife and one faithful slave were aware of his being still alive.

To beguile his loneliness, his faithful wife forsook all and dwelt nine years with her husband in his dark retreat, where they brought up the two little sons sent to cheer them. Only twice in all those years did the poor woman leave the vault, and then it was only in hopes of discovering some safe means of escape for her husband. Meantime, the trusty slave daily brought them food, until a suspicious Roman watched him and discovered the secret.

The whole family was then dragged before the Emperor Vespasian, and the poor woman fell at his feet with both her sons, crying, "Behold! I nursed these children in the tomb, that we might be more to implore your forgiveness!" But the Emperor had resolved to make an example of Sabinus, and coldly sentenced him to death. The unhappy wife thereupon exclaimed, "Then put me to death also, for I have been happier with him in the darkness underground than you have ever been on your imperial throne!"

Her wish was granted: husband and wife died, as they had lived, together; but their children received a good education, and a famous Roman writer tells us that he met one of them in the temple of Delphi many years later.