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Complete Works of D.H. Lawrence, Page 900

D. H. Lawrence

  When Julius Caesar came to Gaul, however, this unity of priestly and knightly order was dying out. Druids were losing their strong influence, becoming more worldly and shallow, the knights became greedy and conceited, the freemen became servile followers. Scorning the priests, the knights seized power and made themselves absolute kings. Some chiefs ruled over villages or little towns placed for safety on a hill, beside a river, or behind a marsh; other chiefs were masters of quite large towns, where were many low, wooden halls, dark, with heavy pillars of wood inside, and also streets of round wattle huts with their large, pointed, thatched roofs. In the larger towns lived merchants and weavers, as well as numerous slaves and hangers-on of the chiefs, soldiers, and peasant freemen. The Gaul was not like the German: he hated to be alone. His huts clustered close together. But he lived a dirty, irregular life, careless of everything except his own quarrels and those of his clan. For if he could not live alone, he could not live in company, since his life was consumed in brawls and jealousies.

  Each knight, if possible, had a little town to himself and his clan: for like the Tartars, the Celts lived in families or clans. At this town watchmen were always on the look-out, for every clan quarrelled with every other, and the chiefs were like strutting cocks crowing out challenges and flying in each other’s faces. Outside the town were the fields where the slaves and freemen worked in a halfhearted fashion, for they thought it more manly to crow challenge and fight and steal. Round the huts lay half- naked children, rolling in the dirt, and ragged, unkempt women peered out suspiciously. Pigs grunted around, a goat was tied to a pole. Inside the hall, not far off, a knight sat at table with dozens of his retainers, listening to his own praises sung to the sound of the harp by a degenerate bard, whilst all his company of clansmen shouted applause and flattery. Then they would come outside and do noisy military exercises.

  Notwithstanding their squalor and their quarrelsome, impoverished lives the Gauls were very fond of fine clothing, and of a bragging, swaggering appearance. It was they who invented gaudy tartans — and imitation silver. A chief often used up the substance of his clan in buying grand showy armour of silver and gold, fine horses, silver chariots. For some of the bigger chiefs were rich, they were masters of large clans, they received the tribute of innumerable people, and gathered wealth from their towns. It was the chief business of these lords to be proud and splendid. They provided for their knights, watched the honour of their clan, saw that none of the clansmen actually starved, that is, if food were to be had, and led the clan to battle with neighbours. In time of peace, however, it was the pride of these chieftains to dash along in a silver chariot drawn by fiery horses, and driven by a handsome charioteer, whilst the lord himself stood upright and motionless with his weapons, glittering in splendid armour, his plumes and his coloured cloak flying, thrilling the crowd like a god. Slaves ran beside him or behind him, ragged freemen hailed him as he passed. It was a glitter of arrogance and bravery, and a humbling of all people for their glorification in one man. Of course it was the people who chose this.

  The Druids meanwhile still occupied the groves. But these gaudy chiefs took hardly any notice of them, and the Druids took care not to offend the chiefs. The bards had become mere hangers-on in the halls of the knights, singing shameful flattery. The nation was broken up into innumerable quarrelsome clans, each seeking its own glorification; the mass of the people among themselves were squalid, spiteful, enslaved. In some large clans, however, the Druids maintained their power, and these clans were the hardest to beat.

  Britain was accounted the home of the Druids. There the luxury and folly of the knights was held in check, there the Druid still governed. No doubt Britain knew all about the doings of the Romans in Gaul; the Druids had prepared for the coming of Caesar. Merchants and priests sailed back and forth across the English Channel. But the two nations of Britain and Gaul no longer held together.

  Caesar was made proconsul of Gaul in 58 B.C., and he remained so until 49 B.C. At this time the Romans held sway over south-east Gaul, the Germans over the north. Caesar marched from Rome to Geneva in eight days to stop the advance of the Celtic Helvetians into Gaul. He broke the Rhone bridge, and held them back. Having subdued the Helvetians, he turned north. There the German chieftain Ariovistus was defeated, and the flow of Germans into Gaul was stopped. Next year Caesar marched against the Belgae. The tribe called the Remi, out of jealousy of the other tribes, opened the gates of their capital, Rheims, to the Romans, and so Caesar had a stronghold in the north. It was always so. By using one tribe of jealous Celts against another, the Roman won his victories. They could never have been won if the Gauls had but united.

  In 55 B.C. Caesar came to Britain, to sever the connection between the two countries, and smite a blow at the holy land of the Gauls, for Britain was the home of the Gallic faith. Next year he came again, received the pretended submission of Cassivelaunus, and returned with a few pearls and slaves. But he really did nothing in Britain: it was beyond him.

  This attack on their holy land roused all the defeated Gauls into revolt. There was at last a union among them — but too late. Summoned by the Druids, they met in lonely places at night, to form their plans. The Romans were afraid. In 53 B.C. Caesar gathered a great army of ten legions, and ravaged the lands of the north.

  Then came forward the last and greatest of the Gallic chieftains, Vercingetorix. He fought bravely, and won a splendid victory over Caesar. This was the only real defeat Caesar suffered. And shortly he had his revenge. Vercingetorix was beaten and the Gallic spirit broken in a battle near Dijon.

  Vercingetorix with his small force was encircled by the legions in the hills of Central France. Sorely besieged, he sent out the Gallic cavalry to rouse the land. The summons was answered. Gauls from all parts marched to the relief of the brave leader. But the relieving army was driven back, and Vercingetorix withdrew into his besieged town.

  He knew the case was now hopeless. Calling his starving, faithful bands together, he told them he would save them. Then he bade his attendants dress him in his most splendid armour and apparel. Meanwhile, in the opposite camp Caesar was sitting in high tribunal amongst his officers. Suddenly there was shouting, a commotion. A chieftain in splendid glittering armour, with plumes waving from his helmet, bracelets of gold on his arms, his horse shining with silver and coloured cloths, galloped into his presence. He leaped from his horse. It was seen he was a Gaul, for he wore the close tartan breeches no Roman would put on. The guards stood round him. He flung himself at Caesar’s feet, crying out that he yielded. It was Vercingetorix yielding himself up to save his beleaguered men.

  Caesar attacked him with bitter words, bade the lictors seize him. Vercingetorix was sent to Rome to be paraded in Caesar’s triumph; then he was kept for six years in prison, fretting his noble soul; then at last beheaded.

  By 51 B.C. all Gaul was at Caesar’s feet. At once the attitude of the conqueror changed. He really liked the dashing, swaggering Gauls. He enrolled a Gallic legion, the Alauda or Larks. He repressed the Druids, and forbade human sacrifices. He tried to make the people freer, lightening the tribute.

  And thus began the great change. The Gauls admired their conquerors immensely, they thought the Romans wonderful. So they began to imitate them. Quick and changeable by nature, the Gallic chiefs or knights, wherever they came into contact with the newcomers, quickly picked up some Latin speech, some Roman manners. Of this they were very proud. The Gallic soldiers and freemen imitated their chiefs.

  It is said that in Gaul Caesar fought against three million people: one million perished; one million were enslaved; one million remained free. So a million slaves had new masters. For the rest, most of the chieftains swore submission to Rome, and were left in possession of their houses, with what slaves or clansmen remained to them. Then life began again. The race quickly increased, for the Gauls were a fruitful people.

  The south-eastern part of the country, the old ‘ Province,’ was already Roman and civilis
ed. Many of the people wore Roman dress and spoke Latin. For many generations ships arriving in Massilia had brought goods and men from Tyre, Carthage, Athens, the greatest sea- cities of the old world. These had brought the arts of Greece and Syria to the south of Gaul, so that the fair cities there, Massilia, Narbonne, Toulouse, Aries, were already educated and cultured whilst the north of Gaul lay semi-barbaric, and Paris did not exist.

  It was not till the days of Augustus, however, that the ‘ Province’ took the lead in Gaul, for Caesar quarrelled with the Provincials. Augustus wanted to make the Gauls forget their old race, their old religion, and imagine themselves Roman. He removed the Druids, and tried to draw away the clans from their allegiance to the patriotic chiefs. Many chieftains were invited to Italy. Where there was an ancient Gallic town, sacred in the native eyes, Augustus caused the old influence to be broken by establishing a new city in the neighbourhood. So Lyons was founded on the Rhone a few miles away from the old Gallic town of Vienne, and soon people ceased to look to Vienne as their centre. The centrality was transferred to Lyons. When a new city was not established, the old town was given a new name, just as Jerusalem was changed to Aelia. Then the whole country was divided into four provinces, and the provinces arranged to cut across the old race distinctions. Thus the Belgae were not all together in one province. Some were in Belgica, some were in the province of Lyons.

  Augustus built the Roman capital of Gaul central between the four provinces. He wished to turn the country into a great Roman state, with a Roman capital. Architects and surveyors studied the land, and a little village on the Rhone was taken as the site. Innumerable slaves and workmen were set to work. In fifteen years’ time the splendid capital stood proudly where the village had been; the great city of Lyons had risen. Craftsmen, scholars, merchants, lawyers, patricians had been invited from Italy, throngs of Romans laughed in the broad streets. There was a great market-place, and a mint for making the Gallic money, a splendid central temple of Gaul, built just where the Sa6ne joins the Rhone, and dedicated to Augustus and Roma; besides this, shops, booksellers’ shops, schools of rhetoric and eloquence, villas, workrooms. From far around the Gauls came to the great market, or to the theatres or the schools; boats sailed up and down the Rhone; Gallic chieftains who were rich enough built themselves villas in the town; Gallic chariots drove through the streets noisily, their owners proud to be in this fine place.

  In the great temple stood the altar of Augustus, surrounded by sixty-four statues representing the Gallic counties or cantons. A second altar belonged to the goddess of Rome. Every year delegates came from each ‘ city ‘ or canton to Lyons. They solemnly celebrated the sacrifice in honour of the Emperor and the goddess, and afterwards they met as a kind of national council or parliament, to discuss the government of the country.

  Lyons was also the ccntre of the great road system. Coming from Italy, the Roman road led over the Alps straight into its market-place. From Switzerland or Helvetia came the road through Geneva to Lyons. And then out of the market-place led the foufr great Augustan roads of Gaul. The first ran north, through Metz, Treves, to Coblenz on the Rhine; the second went sheer north-west to Boulogne, and this was the road to Britain; the third went due west to the Bay of Biscay; the fourth ran south to Massilia (Marseilles) and Narbonne, on the Mediterranean.

  On these roads stood the new Roman cities of Gaul, and from city to city passed constant traffic: the legions marching to the Rhine or to Britain, followed by the baggage-wagons; Gallic nobles glittering along in their chariots; slaves or messengers trotting steadily; colonists marching or riding wearily out of Italy, making for a new home in Gaul; merchants with strings of pack-horses, workmen with packs, slaves with burdens, strangers from Germany, Britain, Africa, Asia, all met and exchanged greetings on these firm roads. The common language was the vulgar Latin, which everybody learned to speak more or less.

  Thus the land became completely Romanised. In place of their wooden halls the Gallic chiefs and the rich freemen built villas such as the Romans had erected for themselves in the countryside. The villas were beautiful open houses of stone or brick, one storey high, with terraces and sometimes a low square tower. High walls ran round the courtyard and gardens. At the back were stables and barracks for the slaves, as well as granaries, barns, cattle-sheds. All around stretched the cultivated lands, smiling and fruitful. This land was tilled by gangs of slaves, who went out in the morning with an overseer and worked till evening, then returned to their quarters, where they were locked up at night.

  But still the Gallic freemen lived in their own villages, worked their own land, or wove wool. They were still numerous, although the villas and richer houses seemed to cover a great deal of the country. The rich Gauls began to leave off the native ‘ breeks,’ and wore the Roman toga, speaking only Latin, or a provincial dialect of Latin. Many of the common people also used this provincial Latin. Districts were ruled by Roman governors, magistrates administered the Roman law. All seemed fair and Roman. But in the more remote districts the Gallic peasants still clung together in elans, and held fast to the memory of the Druids. Only the old Province, or Provence as we call it, became more Italian than Italy herself. There great Roman buildings arose; the land was cultivated in the Italian manner; the landscape, the very people looked Italian. Things Gallic were scorned and almost forgotten. Massilia proudly held her Greek schools, a true cosmopolitan city of the old world, a centre of Greek learning.

  All this splendid settlement and governing of Gaul cost money. Taxation was very heavy. Even from the first the peasant freemen and artisans groaned. Taxation was always the curse of Gaul. But as time went on, and the vicious emperors allowed the taxes to be farmed out, selling the privilege of collecting taxes to the highest bidder, then the exactions became impossible, and risings took place. Save for this the land knew many happy years; Gaul was one of the most smiling provinces of the empire till the end of the sccond ccnturv after Christ.

  Trouble was bound to come. As the Gauls were absorbed by Rome, the Germans were roused to opposition. In 214 the Allemanni, a group of German tribes, made themselves troublesome in the north-east. In 241 great hosts of Franks began to enter Gaul, passing through the whole length of the land to ravage Spain. Many Germans settled in the north as peasants. Gaul lay between Italy and Germany, between the hammer and the anvil. When Germany was weak, Rome came down on Gaul. As Rome weakened, the Germans smote the Gallic land, broke the nation to atoms.

  Meanwhile, as the barbarians stirred in the north, Christianity began to work in the south. Christians came from the east, from Greece, Antioch, Joppa, sailing to Massilia and up the Rhone to Lyons. In these days Greek was the universal language of the east. It was St. Paul’s language. Small communities of Greek-speaking Christians grew up in Gaul. The new gospel spread. And then in 244 the Church in Rome sent forth a Latin mission. This had great success. The Gauls were already accustomed, from Druid worship, to revere One Supreme God. They could not take the dozens of Roman deities seriously. Now came Christianity, which seemed much more natural to them. They embraced it readily, especially in the towns.

  Seven bishops came from Rome to Gaul. They would not touch at Massilia, for that great city adhered too firmly to the old culture. They landed at Narbo, and spread into Central Gaul, establishing the gospel there. In 251 Dionysius with eleven brethren settled at Lutetia (Paris), and founded the Church of Northern France. From this time Christianity spread swiftly. Before a hundred years were past all Gaul was Christian. Indeed Gaul, not Italy, led the way in the new religion.

  In the happy days of the empire, all citizens were free and equal, Romans and Gauls, rich and poor alike. They all were safe from oppression, they all had justice at the hands of the good magistrates. But as the empire at Rome grew rotten, freedom disappeared. Men were all scheming and contriving for money and power. In this scheming the poor were at the mercy of the more cunning upper classes, those with money to begin with. And thus taxes were imposed beyond reaso
n, poor freemen were taxed and fined and conscripted till they were driven to despair. No one was safe but the rich and cunning. The wretched freemen saw the slaves of the wealthy remain safe and sound, whilst they themselves were seized for horrible foreign wars, or starved to death when the tax-gatherers had taken all they owned. It was better to be the slave of a rich man, than to be free and at the mercy of every greedy bully, count or duke or official. For the rich men protected themselves and their possessions either by bribes or by armed force or by obtaining a share in the government. So in despair one after another of the freemen went and surrendered himself and his family into slavery, under some rich chieftain or Roman, some greedy, unscrupulous person of wealth. Then he could no longer be seized and sent off to war, or seized and tortured to pay taxes.

  This cruel business went on till more than three-quarters of the people in Gaul were mere slaves, three-quarters of the human life of the country mere property of weak, vain, foolish nobles. These nobles all kept bands of vicious soldiers, besides those kept by the vile government in Gaul. These soldiers devoured and destroyed substance. So the land was sinking to degradation. The splendid central power of Rome was gone; Gaul was far weaker than in old Gallic days, and yet richer, fatter, more supine, a prostrate land.