For centuries Rome and its satellite colonies suffered from raids by Celtic and Germanic tribes from territories to the northwest of the Italian peninsula, a region they knew as ‘Gaul’ (Latin ‘Gallia’). From trading colonies at Massilia (Marseilles) and Narbo (Narbonne), the Romans established Gallia Narbonensis (aka Transalpine Gaul) as an official Roman province in 121 BCE, while Cisalpine Gaul, bounded in the north by the Alps and in the northwest by the River Rubicon, was also gradually Romanized, becoming a province by 81 BCE. In 59 BCE Roman consul and military leader Gaius Julius Caesar, seeking his fortune and determined to subdue all Gaul and to end the incursions from the north, amassed a legionary army in Narbo to engage the Helvetii (from present-day Switzerland), who also nursed expanding territorial ambitions. By a combination of artful negotiation, tactical maneuvering, exploitation of inter-tribal rivalries, military discipline and advanced technologies, Caesar, often with inferior troop numbers, achieved a rapid series of military victories at Arar and Bibracte (58 BCE) and Vesontio (57 BCE). The Gallic leader Vercingetorix, of the Arverni, mounted resistance to the Roman advance and in 52 BCE was victorious at the Battle of Gergovia, but later that year he was decisively defeated at the oppidum (fortified settlement) of Alesia, in what proved to be the last major battle of Caesar’s campaigns. By 50 BCE, the whole of Gaul, as far north as modern Belgium, was under Roman control. It would remain so for about 500 years.
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