Gallia Aquitania

"Aquitania" redirects here. For other uses, see Aquitania (disambiguation).
Provincia Gallia Aquitania
Province of the Roman Empire
27 BC–5th century
The province of Gallia Aquitania within the Roman Empire, c. 117 AD
Capital Mediolanum Santonum (later moved to Burdigala)
Historical era Antiquity
  Established after the Gallic Wars 27 BC
  Visigoth conquest 5th century
Today part of  France
The Roman empire in the time of Hadrian (ruled 117-38 AD), showing, in southwestern Gaul, the imperial province of Gallia Aquitania (Aquitaine, Fr.)

Gallia Aquitania (Latin pronunciation: [ˈɡalːia akʷiːˈtaːnia][1]), also known as Aquitaine or Aquitaine Gaul, was a province of the Roman Empire. It lies in present-day southwest France, where it gives its name to the modern region of Aquitaine. It was bordered by the provinces of Gallia Lugdunensis, Gallia Narbonensis, and Hispania Tarraconensis.[2]

Tribes of Aquitania

Fourteen Celtic tribes and twenty Aquitanian tribes occupied the northern parts of the Pyrenees and, from the country of the Cemmenus to the ocean, bounded by two rivers: the Garumna (Garonne) and the Liger (Loire). The major tribes are listed at the end of this section.[3][4] There were more than twenty tribes of Aquitani, but they were small and lacking in repute; the majority of the tribes lived along the ocean, while the others reached up into the interior and to the summits of the Cemmenus Mountains, as far as the Tectosages.

The name Gallia Comata was often used to designate the three provinces of Farther Gaul, viz. Gallia Lugdunensis, Gallia Belgica, and Aquitania, literally meaning ‘long-haired Gaul’, as opposed to Gallia Bracata ‘trousered Gaul’, a term derived from bracae (‘breeches’, the native costume of the northern ‘barbarians’) for Gallia Narbonensis.

Most of the Atlantic coast of the Aquitani was sandy and thin-soiled; it grew millet, but was unproductive with respect to other products. Along this coast was also the gulf held by the Tarbelli; in their land, gold mines were abundant. Large quantities of gold could be mined with a minimum of refinement. The interior and mountainous country in this region had better soil. The Petrocorii and the Bituriges Cubi had fine ironworks; the Cadurci had linen factories; the Ruteni and the Gabales had silver mines.

According to Strabo, the Aquitani were a wealthy people. Luerius, the King of the Arverni and the father of Bituitus who warred against Maximus Aemilianus and Dometius, is said to have been so exceptionally rich and extravagant that he once rode on a carriage through a plain, scattering gold and silver coins here and there.[3]

The Romans called the tribal groups pagi. These were organized into larger super-tribal groups that the Romans called civitates. These administrative groupings were later taken over by the Romans in their system of local control.

Aquitania was inhabited by the following tribes: Agesinales, Ambilatri, Anagnutes, Arverni, Ausci, Autobroges, Basabocates, Belendi, Bercorates, Bergerri, Bipedimui, Cadurci, Cambolectri, Camponi, Cocossati, Consoranni, Cubi, Elui|, Elusates, Gabales, Latusates, Lemovices, Mandubii, Monesi, Nitiobriges, Onobrisates, Osquidates, Osquidiales, Petrocorii, Petrogoti, Pictones, Ruteni, Ruthenes, Santoni, Sassumini, Sediboniates, Sennates, Sibyllates, Sottiates, Succasses, Tarbelli, Tolosanes, Uliarus, Vassei, Vellates, Vellavii, Venami, Veneti (Veneticæ), Vibisci, Vornates.

Gallia Aquitania and Rome

Gaul as a nation was not a natural unit (Caesar differentiated between proper gauls (Celtae), Belgae and Aquitani).[5] In order to protect the route to Spain, Rome helped Massalia (Marseille) against bordering tribes. Following this intervention, the Romans conquered what they called Provincia, or the ‘Province’ in 121 BC. Provincia extended from the Mediterranean to Lake Geneva, and was later known as Narbonensis with its capital at Narbo.[2] Some of the region falls into modern Provence, still recalling the Roman name.

The main struggle (58–50 BC) against the Romans came against Julius Caesar under Vercingetorix at Battle of Gergovia (a city of the Arverni) and at the Battle of Alesia (a city of the Mandubii). The Gaulish commander was captured at the siege of Alesia and the war ended. Caesar seized the remainder of Gaul, justifying his conquest by playing on Roman memories of savage attacks over the Alps by Celts and Germans. Italy was now to be defended from the Rhine.[3]

Caesar named Aquitania the triangle shaped territory between the Ocean, the Pyrenees and the Garonne river. He fought and almost completely subdued them in 56 BC after Publius Crassus's military exploits assisted by Celtic allies. New rebellions ensued anyway up to 27-28 BC, with Agrippa gaining a great victory over the Gauls of Aquitania in 38 BC. It was the smallest region of all three mentioned above, following that a land extension stretching to the Loire River was added by Augustus,[6] with the council of the gaulish aristocracy. This reorganization took place after the census conducted in 27 BC, based on Agrippa's observations of language, race and community according to some sources.[7] At this point, Aquitania along with Narbonensis, Lugdunensis and Belgica now made up Gallia[8] and became an imperial province. Aquitania lay under the command of a former Praetor, and hosted no legions.[9]

Sestertius of Hadrian found in the Garonne near Burdigala, from a shipwreck of 155/56 AD

More so than Caesar, Strabo insists that the primeval Aquitani differ from the other Gauls not just in language, institutions and laws ("lingua institutis legibusque discrepantes") but in body make-up too, deeming them more close to the Iberians.[10] The administrative boundaries set up by Augustus comprising both proper Celtic tribes and primeval Aquitani remained unaltered until Diocletian's new administrative reorganization (see below).

The Arverni often warred against the Romans with as many as two to four hundred thousand men. Two hundred thousand fought against Quintus Fabius Maximus Aemilianus and against Domitius Ahenobarbus (Domitian). The Arverni not only had extended their empire as far as Narbo and the boundaries of Massiliotis, but they were also masters of the tribes as far as the Pyrenees, and as far as the ocean and the Rhenus (Rhine).

Late Roman Empire and the Visigoths

For discussion on this time and after, also consult History of Aquitaine

Early Roman Gaul came to an end late in the 3rd century. External pressures exacerbated internal weaknesses, and neglect of the Rhine frontier resulted in barbarian invasions and civil war. For a while Gaul, including Spain and Britain, was governed by a separate line of emperors (beginning with Postumus). However, there had still been no move to gain independence. In an attempt to save the Empire, Diocletian reorganized the provinces in 293, with the establishment of the Diocesis Viennensis in the south of Gaul, comprising the former Gallia Aquitania and Gallia Narbonensis. At the same time, Aquitania was divided into Aquitania Prima, Aquitania Secunda and Aquitania Tertia or Novempopulania ("land of the nine peoples"), the latter tracing back to the boundaries set up by Caesar for the original Aquitania, who had kept some kind of separate sense of identity (Verus' mission to Rome aimed at demanding a separate province). After this restructuring, Gaul enjoyed stability and enhanced prestige.[2] This division was respected in the Early Middle Ages by the Visigoth newcomers, with a direct follow-up in the Duchy of Vasconia, eventually turned into Gascony.

From 395, the division of the empire between eastern and western rulers again caused the neglect of the Rhine frontier, reflected in the transfer of the Gallic prefect to Arelate (Arles). In 418, Emperor Flavius Honorius rewarded his Visigothic federates by giving them land in Aquitania on which to settle following the Germanic invasion and civil war. This was done probably under hospitalitas, the rules for billeting army soldiers.[11][12] These were kept in check, until the death of Aëtius and the growing debility of the western government created a power-vacuum. The 460s and 470s saw Visigothic encroachment on Roman territory to the east, and in 476, the last imperial possessions in the south were ceded to the Visigoths. The settlement hence formed the nucleus of the future Visigothic Kingdom that would eventually expand across the Pyrenees and onto the Iberian Peninsula.

See also


  1. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short (1879). "Aquitania". A Latin Dictionary. Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University.
  2. 1 2 3 John Frederick Drinkwater (1998). "Gaul (Transalpine)". The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. Ed. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth. Oxford University Press. Oxford Reference Online.
  3. 1 2 3 Strabo: The Geography, The Aquitani.
  4. The Fourth Book of the History of Nature, C. Pliny.
  5. Caesar, Commentaria de bello gallico, I 1
  6. Caro Baroja, Julio (1985). Los vascones y sus vecinos. San Sebastian: Editorial Txertoa. p. 129. ISBN 84-7148-136-7.
  7. Matthew Bunson (1994). Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. Facts on File, New York. p. 169.
  8. The Histories of Appian, The Civil Wars
  9., Provinces (Roman).
  10. Caro Baroja, Julio (1985). Los vascones y sus vecinos. San Sebastian: Editorial Txertoa. p. 127. ISBN 84-7148-136-7.
  11. P. Heather. (1996). The Goths, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford.
  12. H. Sivan. (1987). "On Foederati, Hospitalitas, and the Settlement of the Goths in AD 418", American Journal of Philology 108 (4), 759-772.
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