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The Gallic Invasion

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The Gallic invasion is one of the most devastating events for the Roman Republic, as well as other peoples of the Italian peninsula.

The first clashes between the Gauls and the Romans date back to the sixth century BC. e., when the Insubri, Biturigi, Aedui, Arverni, and other Gallic tribes led by Belovez invaded northern Italy and Western Etruria. Their other army, under the command of Eledon, took possession of the area from Como to Bergamo. Since then, northern Italy has been called Cisalpine Gaul. The third Gallic invasion, led by Sigovez, spread from the land of the Sequani to Illyricum and Pannonia. In 391 BC, the Gauls laid siege to the city of Clusium, west of Perusia and Lake Trasimene. The besieged turned to Rome for help, which was the reason for the first Gaulish campaign against Rome.

Expansion of Celtic tribes in the 6th-3rd centuries BC

The devastation of a large part of Italy by the Celts (Gauls) and the destruction of Rome were such major events that could not fail to find a lively response in ancient historiography, both contemporary and later. But these historical facts, reflected in the works of many generations of Greek and Roman writers, were distorted. A huge role in these distortions was played by the patriotic legend, through which Roman historians of a later time, when Rome had already become a world power, tried to soften the bitterness of the terrible defeat of 390. It is therefore not easy to understand the mass of very different, often contradictory news. There is still no single point of view in science on many significant details, and it is unlikely that such a point of view will ever be reached.

According to the prevailing ancient tradition, which is also accepted by modern science, the Gauls forced the Alpine passes at the end of the fifth century and in successive waves invaded Northern Italy, occupied by the Ligurians and Etruscans. In fierce battles, they partly exterminated the local population, partly pushed them into the mountainous regions of the Alps and Apennines, and partly mixed with them. Along the Adriatic coast, the Gaulish tribe of the Senones even penetrated into Northern Umbria. Only the Veneti region north of the lower Po escaped the Gallic invasion.

In the late 90-ies of the 4th century BC, one of the Gallic tribes numbering several tens of thousands of people under the leadership of Brennus appeared in Central Etruria and laid siege to the city of Clusium. What kind of tribe it was, it is impossible to establish, since sources on this subject differ. The Clusians turned to Rome for help. There are skeptical voices in modern science claiming that this is a fiction and that Rome was not interested in the affairs of the Middle East at that time Etruria. However, when we consider the success of the Romans in their wars with the southern Etruscans, Clusius ' appeal to his powerful neighbor seems plausible.

The Roman government sent an embassy of three representatives of the noble Fabian family to the Gauls with instructions to settle the matter peacefully. But the ambassadors failed in their task: they violated their neutrality, intervened on the side of the Clusians, and one of them even killed a Gallic leader. The Gauls broke off the negotiations and appealed to Rome to hand over the perpetrators. The Roman government, yielding to the pressure of the nobles, not only refused, but the Fabii were even chosen by the military tribunes for the following year.

Then the enraged barbarians raised the siege of Clusium and marched rapidly on Rome. Armed with huge shields and long swords, and shouting wild howls that terrified their enemies, they crushed at one blow the Roman army that met them on July 18, 390, on the banks of the Allia, a small tributary of the Tiber that flowed into it on the left near Fidenus.

Terracotta figurine with Celtic warriors running away. Civitalba (Marche), Italy. 3rd century BC

The date and location of the Battle of Allia itself have not been determined exactly. The Roman version of the tradition (Livy) dates it to 390, the Greek version (Polybius, Diodorus) - 387. As for the day, there is no hesitation, since July 18 (dies Alliensis) was a day of national mourning in Rome. Regarding the position of the Alley, there are also two options. According to Livy (V, 37), the Allia flowed into the Tiber on the left side, while Diodorus (XIV, 114) says that the Romans fought the Gauls by crossing the Tiber. Therefore, modern science also differs in determining the location of the Allia: some scientists consider it to be a left tributary of the Tiber, while others consider it to be a right tributary. General strategic considerations suggest that the Allia was a left tributary. The generally accepted year is 390, although perhaps the references to Polybius and Diodorus are more reliable.

The defeated Roman army fled to the surrounding area, some retreated to Rome. The city was in great turmoil. Most of the population, along with the most revered objects of worship, were evacuated to neighboring cities. Only a small part of the army, along with the younger members of the Senate, took refuge on the Capitol. The old senators did not want to leave their homes and stayed in their homes.

Most likely, Rome at this time was so poorly fortified that it was impossible to defend it. The Gauls appeared in the city the next day (according to other news — only three days later). The unarmed city was looted and burned, and the remaining inhabitants were slaughtered.

A patriotic Roman legend vividly describes how the senators who remained in the lower city met their deaths. The most distinguished of them, dressed in formal dress, sat on ivory chairs in the vestibules of their homes. At first the Gauls stared in amazement at the motionless figures, mistaking them for statues. One of the barbarians ventured to touch one of the old men's long beard. He hit him with a baton, which was the signal for a general beating.

When the Gauls had finished with the city, they set to work on the Capitol. The attempt to take the Kremlin by storm failed due to the sheer slopes of the hill. Then the enemy began a siege.

Tradition has preserved for us one story from the history of this siege, which became world-famous. One night, a group of Gauls climbed the steep slope of the Capitol. The barbarians were climbing so quietly that not only the guards, but even the dogs, could hear anything. Only the geese dedicated to the goddess Juno raised their cackles. The noise woke up the former consul Marcus Manlius, whose house was located on the Capitol. He rushed to the edge of the cliff and pushed the first Gaul who had already reached the top into the abyss. The awakened guards hurried to Manlius ' aid, and all the Gauls suffered the fate of their leading warrior. Mark Manlius became a folk hero and received the nickname Capitoline, which did not prevent him from later falling victim to the class struggle. This story is so peculiar that it could not have been made up entirely. Apparently, it is based on a genuine event.

The siege of the Capitol lasted 7 months. The besieged suffered from starvation, but the situation of the besiegers was not much better. Due to the lack of provisions and the summer heat, diseases began among them. In addition to this, the Gauls received news that the Veneti had invaded their territories. Therefore, when the Romans offered to start peace negotiations, the Gauls willingly agreed to them. They agreed that they would leave Rome after paying them 1 thousand pounds of gold. After receiving the ransom, the enemies actually left the Roman area and, in their retreat, were attacked by the Roman army, which was re-formed outside Rome during the siege of the Capitol. This army was commanded by the hero of the Weian War M. Furius Camillus. The Gauls seem to have suffered some losses.

The patriotic feeling of the Romans could not reconcile itself to the shameful events of 390, and later a version of them was compiled that remains in history. When the gold was being weighed, the Roman representatives drew the Gauls ' attention to the fact that their scales were incorrect, and began to protest. Then Brennus the Gaulish chief put his heavy sword in the balance and said: "Woe to the vanquished!"("Vae victis!"). At this dramatic moment, the Camillus and his army. The Gauls were completely defeated, and the gold was taken away.

The departure of the Gauls did not mean that all danger to Rome was over. Several times after that they invaded Latium and penetrated as far as southern Italy, but they did not succeed in capturing Rome a second time. Only in the late 30s of the 4th century BC did the Romans make peace with them.

One of the most painful pages of Roman history — the capture of Rome by the Gauls in 390 - is described by a sea of legends designed to somehow mitigate the shame of defeat. The legend of how the geese saved Rome became world famous. Livy (V, 47) narrates it as follows:

"In Rome, meanwhile, the Fortress and the Capitol were in terrible danger. The fact is that the Gauls either noticed human footprints where the messenger from Vei passed (before), or they themselves noticed that the temple of Carmenta begins a gentle ascent to the cliff. Under cover of night, they first sent an unarmed scout ahead to scout the road, and then they all climbed up. Where there was a steep slope, they passed their weapons from hand to hand; some put their shoulders up, others climbed on them, so that later they could pull out the first ones; if necessary, everyone pulled each other up and made their way to the top so quietly that they not only deceived the vigilance of the guards, but did not even wake the dogs, animals so sensitive to night sounds. But their approach was not hidden from the geese, which, despite the acute shortage of food, have not yet been eaten, because they were dedicated to Juno. This fact proved to be a saving grace. Marcus Manlius, the famous warrior who had been consul three years before, was awakened by their cackling and flapping wings. Seizing his weapons, and calling the others to arms at the same time, he rushed forward in the midst of the general confusion, and with a blow of his shield knocked down the Gaul, who was already standing on the top. As the Gaul rolled down, dragging those who followed him up with him, Manlius began to strike at the others — who had thrown down their weapons in fear and were clinging to the rocks with their hands. But other Romans had already come running, throwing arrows and stones, throwing their enemies off the rocks. In the midst of a general avalanche, the Gallic squad rolled to the precipice and fell down. At the end of the alarm, everyone tried to sleep for the rest of the night, although with the excitement in their minds, it was not easy — the past danger affected them. At dawn, the trumpet called the soldiers to a council at the tribunes: after all, it was necessary to repay what was deserved both for the feat and for the crime. First of all, Manlius received thanks for his courage — gifts were made to him from the military tribunes, and, by the unanimous decision of all the soldiers, each brought to him in the house that was in the Fortress, half a pound of spelt and a quart of wine. What a trifle to say! But in the conditions of famine, it became the greatest proof of love, because in order to honor a single person, everyone had to snatch from their own vital needs, denying themselves food" (trans. by S. A. Ivanov).

Related topics

Roman Republic, The Celts, The Etruscans, The reforms of Camille