The Aedui, the first Gallo-Romans

The Aedui, the first Gallo-Romans

The evocation of "our ancestors the Gauls" is sure to spark controversy these days, and the teaching of their history (and through them, of ours) is often caricatured. However, today we know that the Gauls were plural, both in their structures and in their relations with Rome, but also among themselves, and that this plurality is perhaps also one of the riches of our "roots" (even if this very term is also discussed). The Eduens were one of these peoples, unique in many ways, and particularly in their relationship with Rome; we are therefore going to get to know them, more specifically through their successive capitals, interesting markers of their development and their relationship to Rome.

The Aedui, Celtic "brothers" of Rome

We know that the Gauls are part of the Celtic people who originated from central and eastern Europe, and who settled in the future Gaul around the 6th century BC. Little is known about them until the 2nd century BC, when the "oppida civilization "(Singular oppidum): the Aedui are a good example, and then settle in what Caesar in" The Gallic Wars "calls cities, to become above all an economic and commercial power. If the oppida are fortified places, they are first of all large economic and cultural centers, well served by suitable means of communication, and always placed near deposits of raw materials. For example, the oppida of Bibracte (135 ha) or Alésia (97 ha) show the importance of these places, far from the image of disorganized barbarians that we are used to having about the Gauls.

The story between the Aedui and Rome begins around 120 BC, when the Romans defeated Arverne Bituit, and thus put an end to the Arverne domination over the peoples of future Gaul. Those are the Eduens who benefit the most, and who very quickly approach Rome through commercial and military agreements. If we do not know all the details of this alliance, we know from Latin authors (like Tacitus) that it is very strong; in fact, the Aedui are called "populi Romani consanguineic fratres", a title which only the Trojans (that is to say the people of Aeneas, founder of Rome) previously enjoyed! The relations between the Aedui and Rome are therefore very strong, particularly at the economic level, and it is in the interest of the Republic to have allies who benefit from such a strategic position. It is therefore not surprising that, when the Aedui called Rome for help in 58 BC in the face of the Swiss threat, a certain Julius Caesar came to help them ...

Bibracte and the Gallic Wars

Caesar is then governor of Cisalpine Gaul, and takes advantage of this help given to the Aedui to settle: the conquest does not say its name, but it has begun! On the Aedui side, we are divided about the attitude to adopt: César meets the three main leaders based in Bibracte the capital. Liscos is the supreme Aedui magistrate, and opposes Dumnorix, whom he accuses of wanting to betray Rome; this one is an important noble, rich and having a personal cavalry, he also dreams of an “Aedui nation” more independent of Rome ... Finally, Divitiac is the brother of Dumnorix: he is “the most respected of the Aedui” , member of the college of the druids, and it was he who had personally gone to Rome to ask the Senate for help during the sequanes and arvern threats (in vain). He does it again by addressing Caesar directly so that this time he repels the Ariovist Germans; It is a success, but the Aedui become even more dependent on Caesar's legions, to whom they owe support and supplies. Discontent roars, and Dumnorix takes advantage by refusing to accompany Caesar to Brittany in 54 BC! This time the proconsul is less patient, and the Gallic chieftain is caught and executed ... Legend has it that he cries out for his freedom and that of his city before being killed. At the same time, Divitiac "disappears"!

The revolt rumbles throughout Gaul because of the lasting Roman presence: it is the hour of the uprising with Vercingetorix the Arverne! But the Aedui find themselves stuck between "Gallic solidarity", quite relative for peoples who have never stopped waging war against each other, and its interests, which are logically oriented towards Rome. They therefore decide not to get involved, while making sure not to help the Romans ... Caesar does not hear it that way and puts pressure on the Aedui by playing on their divisions: he supports Convictolitavis which installs Litaviccos at the head of the Aeduean army in charge of supporting the legions. But on the road to Gergovia, Litaviccos turned against the Romans, looted the supply convoy and fled! Caesar manages to catch up with his troops, and the Gallic leader joins Gergovia alone ... But driven back from Gergovia, Caesar still has to face an educated rebellion when he intended to take refuge in Bibracte! It is led by Eporédorix. At this moment, the Aedui finally chose their camp: that of the Gauls. An assembly is called in Bibracte, and Vercingétorix is ​​elected leader of the Gauls, near the stone of Wivre.

Little is known about Aeduan participation following the Gallic Wars. Caesar does not attack Bibracte, yet the center of the rebellion, and ultimately defeats Vercingetorix in Alésia. But the future dictator now knows the versatility of the Aedui, and decides to settle in Bibracte itself, with his troops; It was there that he wrote his "Commentaries" during the winter of 52 BC ...

From Bibracte to Autun: the Romanization of the Aedui

As we have seen, Bibracte was an oppidum, "capital" of the Aedui and a great economic and cultural center. The importance of its fortifications is noted by the reconstruction of the "murus gallicus" of the Porte du Rebout, and excavations have shown that the city was organized by neighborhoods, covering an area of ​​135 ha. Metalworking also seemed to be a specialty of Bibracte, as evidenced by the presence of many blacksmiths and bronzers' workshops, but also of mines in the surroundings of the oppidum. The enigma of Bibracte, this is the famous basin: it is made of materials of Mediterranean origin, and we do not know its function. It was built on the geometrical principle of Pythagoras, and it is not known whether it had any religious use, whether it referred to the city center, etc.

Regardless, and despite Bibracte's importance to the Aedui, she begins to lose her influence at the end of the Republic, and seems to be deserted little by little. This is not due to the Roman repression, because Caesar quickly forgave and needs Aedui support ... It is perhaps the period of peace which follows the civil wars which pushes Rome to move the capital of Aedui to 'a strategic point but still relatively difficult to access, to an easier place in the plain: it is the creation ofAugustodunum (Autun), which is located around 16-13 BC.

Unlike Bibracte, Autun is a true “Roman city”, in its construction and its institutions. It too quickly became a very important economic and cultural center, the Aedui having rediscovered their privileged status near Rome. Thus, the city serves as a showcase and a starting point for the Romanization of the immense region of which it is the capital. However, the history of Autun thereafter is not always easy: Tiberius (14-37 AD) deprives him of some of his advantages and provokes a quickly crushed revolt; Claude (41-54) on the other hand, proposed to the Roman Senate to welcome the Gauls into its midst, and the Aedui were the first among them ... During the troubles following the death of Nero (in 68), the Aedui took the party of Galba, then that of Vitellius. And there, for almost two centuries, Autun and the Aedui disappeared from the sources!

They are logically found during the events leading up to the creation of theGallic empire : Rome is in the midst of a crisis, assaulted by barbarians (Autun is plundered by the Alamans in 259), and a certain Postumus takes advantage of the weakening of Emperor Gallienus to proclaim himself emperor and reign over Gaul! He was eventually killed by his troops when he refused to plunder Mainz in 268, and Victorinus succeeded him. The Aedui, still attached to Rome, took advantage of the chaos in Gaul to ask for help from the new emperor, Claudius II; but he refuses or cannot come (he fights the Goths), and Autun finds himself alone facing the wrath of Victorinus! The latter besieged her for seven months in 269, then pillaged and almost shaved her.

The end of the Gallic Empire in 271 finally marks the rapprochement between the Aedui and Rome: in the eulogy written by Eumenes in 298, we see that Rome helped Autun to rebuild itself, in particular with Constance Chlorine, considered "the friend of the Gauls". Constantine, his son, went there in 311 and also agreed to help the Aedui capital. During the 4th century, Autun seems to regain some of its former glory, but does not really manage to move forward. In addition, Constantine loses interest in the Gauls and prefers to look to the East (founding of Constantinople in 330). The end of Antiquity is obscure for the city and the Aedui; We just know that Autun was once again on the road to barbarian invasions at the end of the 4th century ...

It did not regain a certain importance until the Middle Ages, when it became a place of pilgrimage under Cluniac influence, after all the same still being mistreated by the Arabs (in 725) and the Normans (in 888). But this is another story...

Non-exhaustive bibliography

- A. Ferdière, The Gauls (Gauls and Germanies provinces, Alpine provinces): 2nd century. BC-Vth century. ap. J.C., Paris, 2005.

- C. Goudineau, Caesar and Gaul, Paris, 1990.

- Autun, Augustodonum. Capital of the Aedui, Autun, 1985.

- A. Rebourg, Ancient autun, Paris, 2002.

- Bibracte, Gallic city, Archaeological Guides of France, 1987.


Video: Debunking Common Myths and Clichés about the Gauls