gaul map

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Gaul before the Romans

Hypothetical reconstruction of a Gallic house, Bibracte, Museum of Celtic civilisation by Urban - Own work. || Map of Gaul in times of Caesar

Gaul (Latin Gallia, French Gaule) is the name given by the Romans to the territories where the Celtic Gauls (Latin Galli, French Gaulois) lived, including present France, Belgium, Luxemburg and parts of the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany on the west bank of the Rhine, and the Po Valley, in present Italy. 

The best description we know about the pre-Roman Gaul is in the first chapter of the Commentarii de Bello Gallico, of Caius Julius Caesar. It is clearly a Roman point of view of the Gallic realities:

All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in ours Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws. The river Garonne separates the Gauls from the Aquitani; the Marne and the Seine separate them from the Belgae. Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest, because they are farthest from the civilisation and refinement of [our] Province, and merchants least frequently resort to them and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind; and they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war; for which reason the Helvetii also surpass the rest of the Gauls in valour, as they contend with the Germans in almost daily battles, when they either repel them from their own territories, or themselves wage war on their frontiers. One part of these, which it has been said that the Gauls occupy, takes its beginning at the river Rhone: it is bounded by the river Garonne, the ocean, and the territories of the Belgae: it borders, too, on the side of the Sequani and the Helvetii, upon the river Rhine, and stretches towards the north. The Belgae rise from the extreme frontier of Gaul, extend to the lower part of the river Rhine; and look towards the north and the rising sun. Aquitania extends from the river Garonne to the Pyrenaean mountains and to that part of the ocean which is near Spain: it looks between the setting of the sun and the north star.

The ancient limits of Gaul were the Rhine River and the Alps on the east, the Mare Nostrum (Mediterranean Sea), the Po Valley and the Pyrenees on the south, and the Atlantic Ocean on the west and North. Before the Roman conquest by Julius Caesar (58-51 BC), the name “Gaul” corresponded to a cultural and military area founded on a common religion and federations of peoples who though that they had a common origin.

 This common origin probably dates back to 8th century, when migrants groups of the Bronze Age Urnfield culture spread slowly across the area of the future territory of Gaul. About 390 BC, the Gauls invaded and sacked Rome. In 222 BC, Cisalpine Gaul (the region between the Alps and the Po Valley) was conquered by the Romans.

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Lutetia, asteroid and ancient French tribe
image

The asteroid Lutetia lies almost directly in the plane of the ecliptic approximately 230 million miles from the sun, on average. It was discovered in 1852 by the German-French painter, astronomer and polymath Hermann Goldschmidt, who discovered it not long after purchasing a telescope he financed by selling paintings of Galileo produced on a recent trip to Florence. Although he originally believed that he had discovered a new planet, he soon confirmed that it was indeed an asteroid and named it after the Roman name for the city that eventually became Paris: Lutetia Parisiorum, named for the Gallic tribe the Parisii who first inhabited the island later known as Île de la Cité. In July of 2010 the French spacecraft the Rosetta passed approximately 1800 miles away from Lutetia and took several hundred high resolution photographs, mostly of the north pole of the asteroid. Lutetia is a medium sized asteroid, somewhat egg shaped, 100 kilometers in diameter and 120 kilometers in diameter along its longest axis, with a fairly eccentric orbit.

In March 2011 the International Astronomical Union agreed to a naming system for Lutetia’s features, allowing them to be named for regions, cities and rivers in Roman Gaul, as in the map above:
Baetica, Achaia, Etruria, Narbonensis, Noricum, Pannonia, and Raetia.
Like most students of Latin, one of the first ‘real’ texts I read was Caesar’s Gallic wars, ’Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres….’, and one of the first early maps I studied was pre-Roman Gaul. It’s all coming back to me! Expect to see more Latin than Greek words in the next couple of weeks!

Image of Lutetia courtesy ESA 2011 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD /INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA. Orbit of Lutetia courtesy NASA/JPL, used with permission. Map of Caesar’s Gaul in the public domain.