Luminais’ The Fleeing Gaul depicts a Gallic man running from a German warrior in the far background.

Who were the Gauls?

The Gauls were one of the peoples Romans encountered in central and western Europe, along with the Germans.  To the Romans, these northern peoples were all uncivilized and warlike.  A Gallic invasion in the early history of Rome served as an important cultural touchstone for the Romans and justification for military aggression against them.  Nevertheless, the Gauls were, to the Romans, less uncivilized than the Germans, because they had more interaction (some friendly) and commerce with the Romans.  Archaeologists are uncertain whether the Roman categorization of these cultures had any basis in the self-identification of the people themselves because they did not leave texts that could provide their own perspective.  One of our best sources of information is Julius Caesar’s The Gallic Wars, which draws on his own experience in Gaul and interactions with real people, but Caesar wrote to justify a military invasion and had his own political motives, so his words must be regarded with caution.  After the conquest of Gaul, it became a province of the Roman Empire and the people living there adopted some Roman customs, blending them with their own traditions, which led to the Gallo-Roman society that Luminais centers in this painting.

Additional Bibliography:

Fitzpatrick, Andrew P., and Colin Haselgrove, eds. 2019. Julius Caesar’s Battle for Gaul: New Archaeological Perspectives. Oxford University Press.

Riggsby, Andrew M. 2006. Caesar in Gaul and Rome: War in Words. University of Texas Press.

Woolf, Greg, 2011. Tales of the Barbarians: Ethnography and Empire in the Roman West. Wiley Blackwell.