Gallic Invasions of Italy

B.C. 390-121
Rome — versus — Gauls of Northern Italy

First Invasion: the Senones, 390-283 B.C. Conquest of Cisalpine Gaual, 232-194 B.C. Third Invasion: the Averni, 495-455 B.C.

Most of Rome's neighbors were of Italian or Mediterranean descent, and were approximately as civilized as the Romans themselves. The Gauls (also known as Celts), who had settled in northern Italy were different. The had crossed over the passes of the Alps from the unknown lands of northern Europe and were ferocious, and relatively uncivilized warriors. Hostilities between the two nations began in about 400 BC and continued for several hundred years, during which time Gauls often joined forces with Rome's other enemies. Eventually Julius Caesar pacified the Gauls by conquering their home territories in Western Europe, and these wars, referred to as the Roman Conquest of Gaul, are treated elsewhere. The following are some of the major campaigns against Rome, between the fourth and first century B.C. in which the Gauls figured prominently.

First Invasion : the Senones : B.C. 390-283

The Romans first encounter with the Gauls was a terrible one. In about 400 B.C. the Senones, a tribe from western Europe, crossed the Alps and settled in Northern Italy. There they swiftly came into conflict with Etruscan tribes in the area, who petitioned Rome for help. The Roman ambassadors sent to treat with the Gauls got drawn into combat in violation of the laws of diplomacy. This so enraged the Gauls they marched immediately upon Rome. The Roman army, unprepared and disorganized, was routed at the Battle of Allia, and many of the citizens fled the undefended city. The Gauls burned most of the city but a garrison held the capitol until, according to Livy, the great Roman hero Camillus arrived with an army, and drove the Gauls out. (In another version of the story, the Roman's paid a ransom.) The Romans rebuilt their destroyed city, but the incident left a great impression on the Romans, and July 18, the Day of Allia, was for hundreds of years a solemn day of remembrance on which no official business could be transacted.

Samnite and Etruscan Wars

After this incident, the Gauls settled down in Northeast Italy, and were a constant source of threat and nuisance to the Roman republic. They frequently joined with enemies of Rome, during her wars of Italian unification, and were especially prominent in the Samnite Wars. In 283 B.C. they served as mercenaries in an Etruscan War, and at Arretium destroyed a Roman army with over 13,000 casualties. Revenge was soon taken. At the Battle of Lake Vadimon, the Romans defeated the Etruscans and their Gallic allies, and then marched into Gallic territory, destroyed all of the Gallic towns, killed the men and enslaved the women. This remainder of the Senones tribe, having no homes to return to, migrated north, probably into the Danube area.

DateBattle Summary
389 BC  
Battle of the Allia (First ) Gauls victory
Fought July 16, 389 B.C., between the Romans, 40,000 strong, under Quintus Sulpicius, and the Gauls, about equal in numbers, under Brennus. The Romans took post on the Allia to check the advance of the Gauls on Rome. Here they were attacked by Brennus, who routed the right wing, where the younger soldiers were posted, and then broke the Roman centre and left, putting them to flight with enormous loss.
389 BC  
Siege of Rome (Second ) Gauls victory
The first siege of Rome by the Gauls, under Brennus, took place B.C. 389. No attempt was made to defend the city, which was seized and burnt by the barbarians, the greater part of the population fleeing to Veii and other neighbouring cities. The Capitol, however, was held by the leading Patrician families, and it is said withstood a siege of six months, when Brennus accepted a heavy ransom and withdrew his army.
283 BC  
Battle of Arretium (Etruscan War ) Etruscans and Gauls victory
Fought B.C. 283, when the consular army of L. Caecilius Metellus, marching to the relief of Arretium, which the Etruscans were besieging, met with a disastrous defeat. Thirteen thousand, including Metellus, were slain, and the rest made prisoners.
283 BC  
Battle of Lake Vadimon (First ) Romans victory
Fought B.C. 283, between the Romans, under P. Cornelius Dolabella, and the Gauls and their Etruscan allies. Dolabella attacked the Etruscans as they were crossing the Tiber close to the lake, and destroyed the flower of their army. He then fell upon the Gauls, whom he also defeated with heavy loss, with the result that in the following year they made peace and withdrew from Italy.

Short Biography
Brennus Leader of the Gauls who sacked Rome in 390 B.C.
Camillus Great military leader; conquered Veii, saved Rome from Gauls, organized legions.
Marcus Manlius Defended the capitol from the Gauls.
Caecilius Metellus Led the Roman army against the Gauls and Etruscans at the disastrous Battle of Arretium.
Cornelius Dolabella Defeated a large Gallic army at Lake Vadimon.

Story Links
Book Links
Day of Allia  in  Helmet and Spear  by  Alfred J. Church
Rome and the Gauls  in  Stories From Livy  by  Alfred J. Church
Rome and the Gauls continued  in  Stories From Livy  by  Alfred J. Church
Great Disaster  in  Stories from Ancient Rome  by  Alfred J. Church
Second Founder of Rome  in  Tales of the Romans: The Children's Plutarch  by  F. J. Gould
Invasion of the Gauls  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Camillus  in  Famous Men of Rome  by  John H. Haaren & A. B. Poland
Camillus  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Battle of Allia  in  The Story of Rome  by  Mary Macgregor
Sacred Geese  in  The Story of Rome  by  Mary Macgregor
Gauls at Rome  in  Historical Tales: Roman  by  Charles Morris
Back to Rome Again  in  On the Shores of the Great Sea  by  M. B. Synge

Conquest of Cisalpine Gaul : B.C. 232-194

The Po valley in Northern Italy, where most of the Gallic tribes lived, was called Cisalpine Gaul, and it was the last region of Italy to come under Roman control. There was a constant inflow of Gauls coming over the mountains during the same time that the allies of Rome were expanding northward into the territory. It became clear by about 232 B.C., that it was imperative to Roman security to pacify the region. By 225 B.C., the incursions of the Romans into Gallic territory inspired the Gauls to raise an army and march on Rome. There were several battles fought, which included disasters on both sides, but in the end Rome and her allies subdued the Gauls and made Cisapline Gaul a Roman Province.

Punic and Macedonian Wars

Their relief however, was short lived. The Gauls were terrific fighters, but had lacked good generals, and in 218 BC Hannibal, one of the greatest generals of all time and Rome's most implacable enemy, crossed over the Alps from Spain. He joined forces with the Gauls, and for the next fifteen years, ravaged all of Italy and threatened Rome. The Gauls continued to fight Rome even after Hannibal was driven out of Italy, this time during the Roman-Macedonian War. The most significant battle during this period was Cremona, when the Romans defeated with heavy slaughter a Gallic army led by a Carthaginian General. Eventually, however, the Cisalphine Gaul was pacified enough so that Rome could freely move armies about in the region, as required for its subsequent campaigns in Macedonia, Greece, and Asia Minor, and many of the remaining tribes settled peacefully under Roman control.

DateBattle Summary
225 BC  
Battle of Clusium (Etruscan War ) Gauls victory
Fought B.C. 225, when the Gauls utterly routed a Roman army with a loss said to have amounted to 50,000 men.
225 BC  
Battle of Telamon (Conquest of Cisalpine Gaul ) Romans victory
Fought B.C. 225, when the Gauls led by Aneorestus, marched upon Rome, they found themselves caught between two Roman consular armies, and though fighting desperately, were cut to pieces.
222 BC  
Battle of Clastidium (Second ) Romans victory
Fought B.C. 222, between the Romans under Claudius Marcellus, and the Gauls under Viridomarus. Marcellus slew the commander of the Gauls in single combat, and the Romans won the victory.
198 BC  
Battle of Cremona (Second ) Romans victory
Fought B.C. 198, when the Romans defeated with heavy slaughter an invading army of Gauls under Hamilcar, a Carthaginian. Hamilcar was slain.
194 BC  
Battle of Mutina (Third ) Romans victory
Fought B.C. 194, near Modena. The Romans defeated the Gauls. This was the last encounter between the Romans and Gauls in Italian territory.

Short Biography
Claudius Marcellus Led the Romans to victory at the Battle of Clastidium.
Viridomarus Gallic military leader killed in one-on-one combat by Claudius Marcellus.
Aneorestus Gallic mercenary leader who led the Gauls at the Battle of Telemon.
Hannibal Carthaginian general, invaded and laid waste to Italy for sixteen years.

Story Links
Book Links
Romans Conquer the Gauls  in  The Story of Rome  by  Mary Macgregor

Third Gallic Invasion : the Averni  : B.C. 121

During the century after the Second Punic War, Rome was engaged in a series of wars in Hispania with the object of pacifying the Celt-Iberians or Hispanic Gauls. These wars were so extensive, they are deal with separately in the Roman Conquest of Hispania. The Rhone valley however, was home of several Gallic tribes, including the Arverni and Allobroges. When Roman armies attempted to move about in the area, they came into conflict with, and defeated the local tribes at the Battles of Isara and Vindalium. By this time Rome was secure as the dominant force in the region and was no longer threatened either by Gallic invasions, or by the danger of their enemies making harmful alliances with their Gallic neighbors.

DateBattle Summary
121 BC  
Battle of The Isara (Third ) Romans victory
Fought August 8, 121 B.C.. between the Arverni and Allobroges, under Betuitdus, and the Romans, under Q. Fabius Maximus. The Gauls were totally defeated, and a bridge breaking down under the press of the fugitives, they suffered enormous loss.
121 BC  
Battle of Vindalium (China ) Romans victory
Fought B.C. 121, between the Romans, under Q. Fabius Maximus, and the Arverni. The Arverni were completely defeated, and compelled to sue for peace.

Short Biography
Q. Fabius Maximus Defeated the Arverni at the battles of Isara and Vindalim.
Betuitdus Gallic leader of the Arverni.

Story Links
Book Links

Image Links

The Gauls and the Senators
 in Stories From Livy

The old man, wroth at the familiarity, smote the man with his ivory staff
 in Stories from Ancient Rome

Just in time to hurl down the foremost of the attacking party
 in Stories from Ancient Rome

Brennus and the gold
 in Stories from Ancient Rome

The Saving of the Capitol
 in  Augustus—His Life and Work

The Roman and the Gaul, Maccari
 in Famous Men of Rome

The geese of the Capitol, Motte
 in Famous Men of Rome

Woe to the Conquered
 in Famous Men of Rome

The Geese Save Rome
 in Greatest Nations - Germany

Seated in chairs of ivory, sat a number of strange, venerable old men.
 in The Story of Rome