Gaul was an enormous territory that included what is now Belgium, France, Luxembourg, most of Switzerland, and northern Italy. Between 225 B.C. and 50 B.C., Rome conquered Gaul, which remained under Roman control for several centuries, until barbarian settlers began to establish independent kingdoms in the region in the A.D. fifth century.

The Romans recognized two parts of Gaul. Northern Italy was Cisalpine Gaul, meaning “Gaul this side of the Alps.” The rest was Transalpine Gaul, or “Gaul beyond the Alps.” These regions were inhabited by the Celts, a group of many different tribes who shared some common origins and beliefs. The Romans called all of these peoples Gauls.

Gauls began migrating into northern Italy in the 500s B.C. Eventually, they began to raid Roman territory. After a Gallic invasion in 225 B.C., Rome launched a military campaign against Cisalpine Gaul. By 191 B.C., the region was under Roman control. Over the next few centuries, Romans colonized Cisalpine Gaul, which became part of Roman Italy.

Next, to protect the land route to Roman ports along the Mediterranean coast, Rome invaded and conquered the region that is today southern France, making it a province*. Gaius Julius Caesar completed the Roman conquest of Gaul in the Gallic Wars. Under Roman rule, Gaul was a prosperous and productive part of the empire, noted for its pottery industries. Roman writers, including Strabo and Pliny the Elder, described its history, culture, and geography. Over time, the Romans lost their scorn for the Gauls as long-haired barbarians. To come from Gaul became respectable, and the region produced several significant writers.

During the A.D. 400s, Germans from the east and north began invading Gaul. Rome was unable to defend the territory. By A.D. 476, Rome had lost control of Transalpine Gaul, which was divided among various Germanic peoples. (See also Rome, History of.)

* province overseas area controlled by Rome

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