• sulla80

United Tribes of Gaul


Eventually this post will reach two denarii that were issued to commemorate Julius Caesar's victories in the Gallic Wars with Celtic tribes. Before getting there we will start with earlier battles with Celts that were fought during the time of Marius and Sulla. Along the way we discover that Marius, Roman republican consul, Emperor Claudius, Napoleon and American revolutionaries had a common cause.


The Battle of Vercellae

The painting that opens this post is "The Battle of Vercellae", AD 1725–29, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. (Pubic Domain image with thanks to the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art).


The Battle of Vercellae concluded the Cimbrian War (113–101 BC). The Celts (Cimbri and allies) penetrated the Alps in 101 BC and were having some success against Quintus Catulus, consul in 102 BC, but his co-consul Marius arrived and the united Roman forces prevailed against the Celts. Sulla fought under Quintus Catulus. Marius had earlier crushed the Teutones and Ambrones tribes at Aquae Sextiae (modern Aix-en-Provence, France).

"The Cimbrians, who had driven back and put to flight proconsul Quintus Catulus, who had wanted to block the passes in the Alps (near the river Adige he left a cohort that occupied a mountain castle; but by its own valor it broke away and followed the fleeing proconsul and his army), invaded Italy, but were defeated in battle by the united forces of this Catulus and Gaius Marius; it is said that 160,000 enemies were killed and 60,000 captured."
-Livy, Periochae, LXVIII.6 

Sulla was one of the generals supporting Catullus and Marius:

When, therefore, the appointed time had come, the Romans drew up their forces for battle. Catulus had twenty thousand three hundred soldiers, while those of Marius amounted to thirty-two thousand, which were divided between both wings and had Catulus between them in the centre, as Sulla, who fought in this battle, has stated.
-Plutarch, Life of Marius, 25.4 

The rivalry between Sulla and Marius at this time escalating toward civil war between Marius' jealousy and Sulla's ambitions.

"He [Sulla] not only subdued in war a large part of the Barbarians of the Alps, but when provisions ran low, he undertook the task of furnishing them, and made them so abundant that the soldiers of Catulus lived in plenty, and had some to spare for those of Marius. At this, as Sulla himself says,​ Marius was greatly distressed."
-Plutarch, Life of Sulla, 4.3 

The seeds of the Social War were also growing when Marius gave citizenship to Italian soldiers who had supported him in battle.

"we are told that when he had bestowed citizenship upon as many as a thousand men of Camerinum for conspicuous bravery in the war, the act was held to be illegal and was impeached by some; to whom he [Marius] replied that the clash of arms had prevented his hearing the voice of the law."

This cause would grow with Romans taking sides either to exclude Italians from Roman citizenship or to extend citizenship to Italians.


Where is Vercellae?

The location of Vercellae (modern Vercilli, Piedmont, Italy), shown on an image from Google Maps.


Celtic Coins from Gaul

The Roman denarius would have an influence on Celtic coins in Gaul. This Celtic "quinarius" is from near the time of Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars, minted before and during the Gallic War, taking inspiration from denarii of Sulla or his uncle, on both sides of the Gallic Wars, allied and against Julius Caesar.


In AD 1865, Napoleon would use the Gallic Wars to stir nationalistic passions with a statue of the Celtic leader who faced the Romans, Vercingetorix, and the words of Julius Caesar from his commentaries on the war: "a united Gaul forming a single nation animated by the same spirit can defy the universe".

"Nam quae ab reliquis Gallis civitates dissentirent, has sua diligentia adiuncturum atque unum consilium totius Galliae effecturum, cuius consensui ne orbis quidem terrarum possit obsistere; idque se prope iam effectum habere."
- Caesar, De Bello Gallico VII.29 

Caesar attributed these words to Vercingetorix.

Central Gaul, the Aedui or Lingones, Kaletedou series AR Quinarius. Circa 80-50 BC.

Obv: Head of 'Roma' left, wearing helmet

Rev: Horse galloping to left; KAΛ above, wheel below


Somewhere between the second and first century BC the Lingones modeled silver coins on a Roman denarius of P. Cornelius Sulla (151 BC) or Lucius Cornelius Sulla (89 BC). The Greek inscriptions evolved in three phases:

Type 1: legend SVLA KAΛΕΤΕΔΟV

Type 2: legend KAΛΕΤΕΔΟY

Type 3: legend abbreviated, sometimes as ΚΑΛ or as the remainder of a pseudo inscription in conjunction with a many-spoked wheel, a circle point decoration, a delta (upside down). [*]


The coin above is a later "Type 3" coin with ΚΑΛ pseudo-inscription from some time near Caesar's Gallic Wars (58-55 BC) that resulted in Rome expanding its territory into Gaul. This coin of Publius Sulla, uncle of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, one of the potential models for the Celtic coin.

P. Cornelius Sulla, AR denarius (3.89g, 17-18mm, 12h), Rome, circa 151 BC

Obv: Head of Roma to right, wearing winged helmet ornamented with griffin's head; X behind

Rev: Victory, naked to the hips, driving galloping biga to right, holding reins in left hand and whip in right; P•SVLA below, ROMA in exergue

Ref: Crawford 205/1

Notes: for more on this coin see Sulla's uncle or Grandfather


I am not sure what coin of Lucius Cornelius Sulla might be considered the model, perhaps this one (although to me this seems less likely).

L. Manlius Torquatus, 82 BC, Cr. 367/5 ,AR Denarius

Obv: Helmeted head of Roma right, L. MANLI before, PRO.Q behind

Rev: Sulla, being crowned by Victory, in quadriga right; L. SVLLA. IM[P] in exergue

Ref: Crawford 367/5


Here are three more of these silver "quinarii" - one Sequani and the other Aedui.

The Aedui were Roman allies and they appealed to Rome for help against German Ariovistas and the Sequani tribe. This gave Julius Caesar a reason to go to Gaul.


This is a coin of the Sequani.


Next a coin of the Allobroges who attacked the Aedui causing them to appeal to Rome.

Baul, Southern, Allobroges, 1stcentury BC, AR Quinarius, (17mm, 2.16 g).

Obv: BR, helmeted head of Roma right

Rev: Horseman galloping right, holding spear; OΛVΛT below


Caesar wrote Comentarii de Bello Gallico (his comments on the Gallic Wars) which is available online translated at Perseus.org.

Vercingétorix devant César, Lionel Royer, 1899. Image Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.


Caesar's Victories

And I will conclude for today with two Roman republican denarii that commemorate Caesar's Gallic victories.


These two denarii were issued when Caesar was dictator and commemorate his victories in Gaul.

L. Hostilius Saserna, 48 BC, Cr. 448/3, AR Denarius, Rome mint

Obv: A Gallic woman, with carnyx, warrior's trumpet, behind

Rev: Artemis facing front, holding a leaping deer by the antlers and, with the other hand, a spear.

Size: 3.8g, 17.3-19.3mm

Ref: Crawford 448/3


L. Hostilius Saserna, 48 BC, AR denarius, Rome

Obv: Female head to right, wearing oak wreath

Rev: L HOSTILIVS SASERNA, Victory advancing to right, holding winged caduceus in her right hand and trophy over her left shoulder

Ref: Babelon (Hostilia) 2b Crawford 448/1a


E pluribus unum

Near the end of the Gallic Wars, the Aedui turned against Caesar, but eventually (about a century later under the Roman Empire) they became the first tribe to provide senators for Rome during the reign of Claudius with Vitellius as consul in 4 AD.


This of course was not uncontroversial to have "barbarians' in the Senate, as Tacitus describes:

"In the consulship of Aulus Vitellius and Lucius Vipstanus [Gallus] the question of filling up the Senate was discussed, and the chief men of Gallia Comata, as it was called, who had long possessed the rights of allies and of Roman citizens, sought the privilege of obtaining public offices at Rome. There was much talk of every kind on the subject, and it was argued before the emperor with vehement opposition."
- Tacitus, Annals 11.21 

Emperor Claudius rejected their arguments and invoked his Italian ancestors and the diversity of countries and tribes that had become united as Romans.

And indeed I know, as facts, that the Julii came from Alba, the Coruncanii from Camerium, the Porcii from Tusculum, and not to inquire too minutely into the past, that new members have been brought into the Senate from Etruria and Lucania and the whole of Italy,that Italy itself was at last extended to the Alps, to the end that not only single persons but entire countries and tribes might be united under our name.
- Tacitus, Annals, 11.24 

"sed terrae, gentes in nomen nostrum coalescerent",

"but lands, tribes under our name will unite"


His speech bringing to mind the motto that we find today on US coins: E pluribus unum (one from many). This motto adopted formally by Congress on June 20, 1782, as part of the design by Charles Thomson for a the Great Seal of the United States.

Thompson's 1782 sketch of the Great Seal

References (in addition to others linked in line)


24 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All