Characters and Events of Roman History/The Development of Gaul
In estimating distant historical events, one is often the victim of an error of perspective; that is, one is disposed to consider as the outcome of a pre-established plan of human wisdom what is the final result, quite unforeseen, of causes that acted beyond the foresight of contemporaries. At the distance of centuries, turning back to consider the past, we can easily find out that the efforts of one or two generations have produced certain effects on the actual condition of the world; and then we conclude that those generations meant to reach that result. On the contrary, men almost always face the future proposing to themselves impossible ends; notwithstanding which, their efforts, accumulating, destroying, interweaving, bring into being consequences that no one had foreseen or planned, the novelty or importance of which often only future generations realise. Columbus, who, fixed in the idea of reaching India by sailing west, finds America on his way and does not recognise it at once but is persuaded that he has landed in India, symbolises the lot of man in history.
Of this phenomenon, which is to me a fundamental law of history, there is a classic example in the story of Rome: the conquest of Gaul. Without doubt, one of the greatest works of Rome was the conquest and Romanisation of Gaul: indeed that conquest and Romanisation of Gaul is the beginning of European civilisation; for before the Græco-Latin civilisation reached the Rhine over the ways opened by the Roman sword, the continent of Europe had centres of civilisation on the coast or in its projecting extremities, like Italy, Bætica, Narbonensis; but the interior was still entirely in the power of a turbulent and restless barbarism, like the African continent to-day. Moreover, what Rome created in Asia and Africa was almost entirely destroyed by ages following; on the contrary, Rome yet lives in France, to which it gave its language, its spirit, and the traditions of its thought. Exactly for this reason it is particularly important to explain how such an outcome was brought about, and by what historic forces. From the propensity to consider every great historical event as wholly a masterpiece of human genius, many historians have attributed also this accomplishment to a prodigious, well-nigh divine wisdom on the part of the Romans, and Julius Cæsar is regarded as a demigod who had fixed his gaze upon the far, far distant future. However, it is not difficult, studying the ancient documents with critical spirit, to persuade oneself that even if Cæsar was a man of genius, he was not a god; that from beginning to end, the real story of the conquest of Gaul is very different from the commonly accepted version.
I hope to demonstrate that Cæsar threw himself into the midst of Gallic affairs, impelled by slight incidents of internal politics, not only without giving any thought whatever to the future destiny of Gaul, but without even knowing well the conditions existing there. Gaul was then for all Romans a barbarous region, poor, gloomy, full of swamps and forests in which there would be much fighting and little booty: no one was thinking then of having Roman territory cross the Alps; everyone was infatuated by the story of Alexander the Great, dreaming only of conquering like him all the rich and civilised Orient; everyone, even Cæsar. Only a sequence of political accidents pushed him in spite of himself into Gaul.
In 62 B.C., Pompey had returned from the Orient, where he had finished the conquest of Pontus, begun by Lucullus, and annexed Syria. On his return, the conservative party, irritated against him because he had gone over to the opposite side, and having been given something to think of by the prestige that the policy of expansion was winning for the popular party, had succeeded by many intrigues in keeping the Senate from ratifying what he had done in the East. This internal struggle closed the Orient for several years to the adventurous initiatives of the political imperialists; for as long as the administration of Pompey remained unapproved, it was impossible to think of undertaking new enterprises or conquests in Asia and Africa; and therefore, of necessity, Roman politics, burning for conquest and adventure, had to turn to another part of Europe.
The letters of Cicero prove to us that Cæsar was not the first to think that Rome, having its hands tied for the moment in the East, ought to interfere in the affairs of Gaul. The man who first had the idea of a Gallic policy was Quintus Metellus Celerus, husband of the famous Clodia, and consul the year before Cæsar. Taking advantage of certain disturbances arisen in Gaul from the constant wars between the differing parts, Metellus had persuaded the Senate to authorise him to make war on the Helvetians. At the beginning of the year 59, that is, the year in which Cæsar was consul, Metellus was already preparing to depart for the war in Gaul, when suddenly he died; and then Cæsar, profiting by the interest in Rome for Gallic affairs, had the mission previously entrusted to Metellus given to himself and took up both Metellus's office and his plan. Here you see at the beginning of this story the first accident,--the death of Metellus. An historian curious of nice and unanswerable questions might ask himself what would have been the history of the world if Metellus had not died. Certainly Rome would have been occupied with Gallic concerns a year sooner and by a different man; Cæsar would probably have had to seek elsewhere a brilliant proconsulship and things Gallic would have for ever escaped his energy.
However it be, charged with the affairs of Gaul accidentally and unexpectedly, Cæsar went there without well knowing the condition of it, and, in fact, as I think I proved in a long appendix published in the French and English editions of my work, he began his Gallic policy with a serious mistake; that is, attacking the Helvetians. A superior mind, Cæsar was not long in finding his bearings in the midst of the tremendous confusion he found in Gaul; but for this, there is no need to think that he carried out in the Gallic policy vast schemes, long meditated: he worked, instead, as the uncertain changes of Roman politics imposed. I believe that there is but one way to understand and reasonably explain the policy pursued by Cæsar in Gaul, his sudden moves, his zigzags, his audacities, his mistakes; that is, to study it from Rome, to keep always in mind the internal changes, the party struggle, in which he was involved at Rome. In short, Gaul was for Cæsar only a means to operate on the internal politics of Rome, of which he made use from day to day, as the immediate interest of the passing hour seemed to require.
I cite a single example, but the most significant. Cæsar declared Gaul a Roman province and annexed it to the Empire toward the end of 57 B.C.; that is, at the end of his second year as proconsul, unexpectedly, with no warning act to intimate such vigorous intent,--a surprise; and why? Look to Rome and you will understand. In 57 B.C., the democratic party, demoralised by discords, upset by the popular agitation to recall Cicero from unjust exile, discredited by scandals, especially the Egyptian scandals, seemed on the point of going to pieces. Cæsar understood that there was but one way to stop this ruin: to stun public opinion and all Italy with some highly audacious surprise. The surprise was the annexation of Gaul. Declaring Gaul a Roman province after the victory over the Belgæ, he convinced Rome that he had in two years overcome all Gallic adversaries. And so, the conquest of Gaul--this event that was to open a new era, this event, the effects of which still endure--was, at the beginning in the mind that conceived and executed it, nothing but a bold political expedient in behalf of a party, to solve a situation compromised by manifold errors.
But you will ask me: how from so tiny a seed could ever grow so mighty a tree, covering with its branches so much of the earth? You know that at the close of the proconsulship in Gaul, there breaks out a great civil war; this lasts, with brief interruptions and pauses, until the battle of Actium. Only toward 30 B.C., is the tempest lulled, and during this time Gaul seems almost to disappear; the ancient writers hardly mention it, except from time to time for a moment to let us know that some unimportant revolt broke out, now here, now there, in the vast territory; that this or that general was sent to repress it.
The civil wars ended, the government of Rome turns its attention to the provinces anew, but for another reason. Saint Jerome tells us that in 25 B.C., Augustus increased the tribute from the Gauls: we find no difficulty in getting at the reason of this fact. The thing most urgent after the re-establishment of peace was the re-arrangement of finance; that signified then, as always, an increase of imposts: but more could not be extorted from the Oriental provinces, already exhausted by so many wars and plunderings; therefore the idea to draw greater revenues from the European provinces of recent conquest, particularly from Gaul, which until then had paid so little. So you see a-forging one link after another in the chain: Cæsar for a political interest conquers Gaul; thirty years afterward Augustus goes there to seek new revenues for his balance-sheet; thence-forward there are always immediate needs that urge Roman politics into Gallic affairs: and so it is that little by little Roman politics become permanently involved, by a kind of concatenation, not by deliberate plan.
We can easily follow the process. Augustus had left in Gaul to exact the new tribute, a former slave of Cæsar's, afterward liberated,--a Gaul or German whom Cæsar had captured as a child in one of his expeditions and later freed, because of his consummate administrative ability. It appears, however, that, for the Gauls at least, this ability was even too great. In a curious chapter Dion tells us that Licinius, this freedman, uniting the avarice of a barbarian to the pretences of a Roman, beat down everyone that seemed greater than he; oppressed all those who seemed to have more power; extorted enormous sums from all, were they to fill out the dues of his office, or to enrich himself and his family. His rascality was so stupendous that since the Gauls paid certain taxes every month, he increased to fourteen the number of the months, declaring that December, the last, was only the tenth; consequently it was necessary to count two more, one called Undecember and another, Duodecember.
I would not guarantee this story true, since, when there is introduced into a nation a new and more burdensome system of taxes, there are always set in circulation tales of this kind about the rapacity of the persons charged with collecting them: but true or false, the tale shows that the Gauls were much irritated by the new tribute; indeed this irritation increased so much that in the winter from the year 15 till the year 14 B.C., Augustus, having to remain in Gaul on account of certain serious complications, arisen in Germany, was obliged to give his attention to it during his stay. The prominent men of Gaul presented vigorous complaints to him against Licinius and his administration. Then there occurred an episode that, recounted three centuries later with a certain naïveté by Dion Cassius, has been overlooked by the historians, but which seems to me to be of prime interest in the history of the Latin world. Dion writes:
Augustus, not able to avoid blaming Licinius for the many denunciations and revelations of the Gallic chiefs, sought in other things to excuse him; he pretended not to know certain facts, made believe not to accept others, being ashamed to have placed such a procurator in Gaul. Licinius, however, extricated himself from the danger by a decidedly original expedient. When he realised that Augustus was displeased and that he was running great risk of being punished, he conducted that Prince to his house, and showing him his numerous treasuries full of gold and silver, enormous piles of objects made of precious metals, said:--"My lord, only for your good and that of the Romans have I amassed all these riches. I feared that the natives, fortified by such wealth, might revolt, if I left them to them: therefore I have placed them in safe-keeping for you and I give them to you." So, by his pretext that he had thus broken the power of the barbarians for the sake of Augustus, Licinius saved himself from danger.
This incident has without doubt the smack of legend. Ought we therefore to conclude that it is wholly invented? No, because in history the distortions of the truth are much more numerous than are inventions. This page of Dion is important. It preserves for us, presented in a dramatic scene between Augustus and Licinius, the record of a very serious dispute carried on between the notable men of Gaul and Licinius, in the presence of Augustus. The Gauls complain of paying too many imposts: Licinius replies that Gaul is very rich; that it grows rich quickly and therefore it ought to pay as much as is demanded of it, and more. Not only did the freedman show rooms full of gold and silver to his lord; he showed him the great economic progress of Gaul, its marvellous future, the immense wealth concealed in its soil and in the genius of its inhabitants. In other words, this chapter of Dion makes us conclude that Rome--that is, the small oligarchy that was directing its politics--realised that the Gaul conquered by Cæsar, the Gaul that had always been considered as a country cold and sterile, was instead a magnificent province, naturally rich, from which they might get enormous treasure. This discovery was made in the winter of 15-14 B.C.; that is, forty-three years after Cæsar had added the province to the Empire; forty-three years after they had possessed without knowing what they possessed, like some grand seigneur who unwittingly holds among the common things of his patrimony some priceless object, the value of which only an accident on a sudden reveals.
This chapter of Dion allows us also to affirm that he who first realised the value of Gaul and opened the eyes of Augustus, was no great personage of the Roman aristocracy whose names are written in such lofty characters on the pages of history, whose images are yet found in marble and bronze among the museums of Europe; no one of those who ruled the Empire and therefore according to reason and justice had the responsibility of governing it well: it was, instead, an obscure freedman, whose ability the masters of the Empire scorned to exploit except as to-day a peasant uses the forces of his ox, hardly deigning to look at him and yet deeming all his labour but the owner's natural right.
So stands the story. The Gallic freedman observed, and understood, and was forgotten; posterity, instead, has had to wonder over the profound wisdom of the Roman aristocrat, who understood nothing. Moreover, if in 14 B.C. Licinius had to make an effort to persuade the surprised and diffident Augustus that Gaul was a province of great future, it is clear that Gaul must already have begun to grow rich by itself without the Roman government's having done anything to promote its progress.
From what hidden sources sprang forth this new wealth of Gaul? All the documents that we possess authorise us to respond that Gaul--to begin from the time of Augustus--was able to grow rich quickly, because the events following the Roman conquest turned and disposed the general conditions of the Empire in its favour. Gaul then, as France now, was endowed with several requisites essential to its becoming a nation of great economic development: a land very fertile; a population dense for the times, intelligent, wide-awake, active; a climate that, even though it seemed to Greeks and Romans cold and foggy, was better suited to intense activity than the warm and sunny climate of the South; and finally,--a supreme advantage in ancient civilisation,--it was everywhere intersected, as by a network of canals, by navigable rivers. In ancient times transport by land was very expensive; water was the natural and economic vehicle of commerce: therefore civilisation was able to enter with commerce into the interior of continents only by way of the rivers, which, as one might say, were to a certain extent the railroads of the ancient world.
To these advantageous conditions, which, being physical, existed before the Roman conquest, the conquest added some others: it broke down the political barrier that previously cut off these convenient means of penetration, the rivers; it suppressed the wars between the Gallic tribes, the privileges, the tyrannies, the tolls, the monopolies; it saved the enormous resources that were previously wasted in these constant drains; it put again the hoe, the spade, the tools of the artisan, into hands that had before been wielding the sword; and finally, it consolidated (and this was perhaps the most important effect) the jurisdiction of property. When Cæsar invaded Gaul, the great landowners still cultivated cereals and textile plants but little; they put the greater part of their fortune into cattle, exactly because in that regime of continual war and revolution lands easily kept changing proprietors. Furthermore, the more frequent contact with Rome acquainted the Gauls with Roman agriculture and its abler methods, with Latin life and its studied order.
By the combination of all these causes, population and production increased rapidly. The gain in population was so considerable that the ancients themselves noticed it. Strabo (Bk. 4, ch. i, §2) observes that the Gallic women are fecund mothers and excellent nurses. With the population, wealth increased on all sides, in agriculture as in industry and in trade.
The new and more stable jurisdiction of the landed proprietary generated another most important effect; it promoted rapidly the cultivation of cereals and textile plants, of wheat and flax. "All Gaul produces much wheat," says Strabo, and we read his notice without surprise, because we know that France is, even to-day, the region of Europe most fertile in cereals. There is no reason to suppose that it must have been barren of them twenty centuries ago. Other documentary evidence, particularly inscriptions, confirms Strabo, informing us that, especially in the second century, Rome bought the customary grain to feed the metropolis not only in Egypt, but also in Gaul. In short, Gaul seems to have been the sole region of Europe fertile enough to be able to export grain, to have been for Rome a kind of Canada or Middle West of the time, set not beyond oceans but beyond the Alps.
The cultivation of flax, to the ancient world what cotton is to-day, progressed rapidly in Gaul along with that of wheat, so that Gaul was early able to rival Egypt also in this respect. That Gaul and Egypt should have so much in common at the same time, was something so interesting and seemed so strange that Pliny himself wrote:
Flax is sowed only in sandy places and after a single
ploughing. Perhaps Egypt may be pardoned for sowing it,
because with it she buys the merchandise of India and Arabia.
But, look you!--even Gaul is famous for this plant. What
matters it, if huge mountains shut away the sea; if on the
ocean side it has for confines what is called emptiness?
Notwithstanding that, Gaul cultivates flax like Egypt: the
Cadurci, the Caleti, the Ruteni, the Biturigi, the Morini, who
are considered tribes of the ends of the earth ... but what am
I saying? All Gaul makes sails,--till the enemies beyond the
Rhine imitate them, and the linen is more beautiful to the
eyes than are their women.
These descriptions show Gaul to be one of the new countries, like the Argentine Republic or the United States, in which the land has still almost its natural pristine fecundity and brings forth a marvellous abundance of plants that clothe and nourish man. We know that in Gaul under the Empire there were immense fortunes in land in face of which the fortunes of wealthy Italian proprietors shrink like the fortunes of Europe when compared with the great ranch fortunes of the Argentine Republic or the United States. Twenty years ago they began to excavate in France the ruins of the great Gallo-Roman villas: these are constructed on the plan of the Italian villa, decorated in the same way, but are much larger, more sumptuous, more sightly; one feels in them the pride of a new people which has adopted the Latin civilisation, but has infused into that, derived from the wealth of their land, a spirit of grandeur and of luxury that poorer and older Latins did not know, exactly as to-day the Americans infuse a spirit of greater magnitude and boldness into so many things that they take from timid, old Europe. Perhaps there was also in this Gallic luxury, as in the American, a bit of ostentation, intended to humiliate the masters remaining poorer and more modest.
But Gaul was a nation not only rich in fertilest agriculture; side by side with that, progressed its industry. This, according to my notion, is one of the vital points in ancient history. Under the Roman domination, Gaul was not restricted to the better cultivation of its productive soil; but alone among the peoples of the Occident, became, as we might now say, an industrial nation, that manufactured not only by and for itself, but like Asia Minor, Egypt, Syria, sold also to other peoples of the Empire and outside of its own boundaries; in a word, exported. The more frequent contact with the Orient better acquainted the Gauls with the beautiful objects made by the artisans of Laodicea, of Tyre, of Sidon; and the clever genius of the Celt, always apt in industry, drew from them incentive to create a Gallic industry, partly imitative, partly original, and to seek a large clientèle for these industries in Italy, in Spain, beyond the Rhine, among the Germans, in the Danube provinces. This is proved by a number of important passages in Pliny, confirmed by inscriptions and archæological discoveries.
Pliny has already told us that the Gauls manufactured many linen sails; we know also that they made not only rough sails, but also fine linen for clothing, which had a wide market. There have been found in the Orient numerous fragments of an inscription containing the famous edict of Diocletian on maximum sale prices allowed, an inscription of value to us for its nomenclature of ancient fabrics. In this nomenclature is mentioned the birrus of Laodicea, an imitation of the birrus of the Nervii, which was a very fine linen cloth, worn by ladies of fashion. Laodicea was one of the most ancient centres of Oriental textile fabrics; the Nervii were one of the most remote of the Gallic peoples, living--the coincidence is noteworthy--about where Flanders is now. If at Laodicea they made at the end of the third century an imitation of Nervian linen, that means that the Nervii had succeeded in manufacturing and finding market for cloth so desirable as to rouse the Laodiceans, competing for trade, to imitate it. What proof more persuasive that during the early centuries of the Empire the Gauls greatly improved their industries and widened their markets?
They had mastered weaving, but they did not stop there; they invented new methods of dyeing, using vegetable dyes instead of the customary animal colours of the Orient. Pliny says:
The Gaul imitates with herbs all colours, including Tyrian
purple; they do not seek the mollusk on the sea bottom; they
run no risk of being devoured by sea monsters; they do not
exploit the anchorless deep to multiply the attractions of
the courtesan, or to increase the powers of the seducer of
another's wife. They gather the herbs like cereals, standing
on the dry ground; although the colour that they derive does
not bear washing. Luxury could thus be gratified with greater
show at the cost of fewer dangers.
It is clear, then, according to Pliny, at one time, it was believed that the competition of Gallic dyers might have ruined the Oriental, and would have done so, had the tenacity of their vegetable colouring equalled its beauty. In another passage Pliny tells us that these Gallic stuffs were used especially by the slaves and the populace.
The wool industry made no less progress in Gaul than weaving and dyeing. From numerous passages in Juvenal and Martial it appears that the woollen clothing worn by the populace of Rome in the second century was woven in Gaul, particularly in the districts to-day known as Arras, Langres, Saintonge. Pliny attributes to the Gauls the invention of a wool, that, soaked in acid, became incombustible, and was used to make mattresses.
Glass-making was another art carried from the East across the Mediterranean into Gaul. Still another industry, metallurgy, after weaving, contributed greatly to enrich Gaul. Undoubtedly even before the Roman conquest, Gaul worked gold mines; it seems, however, that silver mines remained untouched until about the time of Augustus. At any rate, the discovery of some deposits of gold and silver then gave a spur to several flourishing industries; jewelry-making, and--an original Gallic industry of much importance--silver-plating and tinning. Here is another extract from Pliny, from which you will see that in those times they already made in France "Christofle" silver-plate:
They cover [writes Pliny] the copper with tin in such a way
that it is difficult to distinguish it from silver. It is a
Gallic invention. Later they began to do the same thing with
silver, silver-plating especially the ornaments of horses and
carriages. The merit of the invention belongs to the Biturigi,
and the industry was developed in the city of Alesia. After
the same fashion there has been spread everywhere a foolish
profusion of objects not only silver-, but gold-plated. All
that is called cultus, elegance!
We might almost say that Gallic industry did to the old industries of the ancient world what German wares have done compared with older and more aristocratic products of France, of England, popularising objects of luxury for the many and the merely well-to-do.
Finally, if any one hesitated to trust fully these very important passages in Pliny, he would be quite convinced by reading the great work of Dechelette. This author, studying with Carthusian patience and the ablest critical acumen the Gallic ceramics to be found scattered among the museums, has demonstrated most commendably that in the first century of the Empire many manufactories of ceramics were opened and flourished in Gaul, especially in the valley of the Allier, and that they sold their vases in Spain, in the Danube regions, to the Germans, and in Italy.
Dechelette has proved that many ceramics found among the ruins of Pompeii, now admired in the museums of Pompeii and Naples, were made in Gaul,--discoveries most noteworthy, which, in connection with the extracts from Pliny, disclose in essence that real Roman Gaul whose sumptuous relics but half tell the tale of its wealth.
This tremendous development of Gaul was without doubt an effect of the Roman conquest; but an effect that neither Cæsar, nor any other man of his times had foreseen or willed, but which Augustus was first to recognise in the winter of 15-14 B.C., and to which, astute man that he was, he gave heed as he ought; that is, not as due his own merit, but as an unexpected piece of good fortune. I have already said that one of the greatest cares of Augustus, as soon as the civil wars were finished, was to reorganise the finances of the Empire; that to find new entries for the treasury, he had turned his attention in 27 B.C. to the province conquered by his father, regarding it merely from the common point of view, as poor and of little worth like the other European territories. Then, at a stroke, he realised that that territory so lightly valued, was producing grain like Egypt, linen like Egypt; that the arts of civilisation for which Egypt was so rich and famous were beginning to prosper there! Augustus was not the man to let slip so tremendous a piece of good luck. Until then he had hesitated, like one who seeks his way; in that winter from 15-14 B.C., he found finally the grand climax of his career, to make Gaul the Egypt of the West, the province of the greatest revenues in Europe. From that time on to the end of his life, he did not move from Europe; he lived between Italy and Gaul. Like him, Tiberius, Drusus, all the men of his family, devoted all their efforts to Gaul, to consolidating Roman dominion there, to advancing its progress, to increasing the revenues, to making it actually the Occidental Egypt. From Velleius we learn that under Tiberius Gaul rendered to the Empire as much as did Egypt, and that Gaul and Egypt were considered alike the two richest imperial provinces.
As a political interest had at first impelled Cæsar to annex Gaul, an immediate financial interest urged Augustus to continue the work, to take care of the new province. Then the historic law that I have already enunciated to you, the law by which the efforts of men result far differently from that which they had intended, was verified anew by Augustus also, and in a new form. He had created his Gallic policy to augment the revenues of the Empire; the consequences of this fiscal policy, necessity-inspired, were greater than he and his friends ever dreamed. The winter of 15-14 B.C. is a notable date in the story of Latin civilisation, for then the destiny of the Empire was irrevocably settled; the Roman Empire will be made up of two parts, the Oriental and the Occidental, each part sufficiently strong to withstand being overcome by the other; it will be neither an Asiatic, nor a Celtic-Latin, but a mixed Empire: between both parts, Italy will rule for two centuries more, and Rome, an immense city, at once Oriental and Latin, will keep the metropolitan crown won from the enfeebled East, and dominate the immature barbarian West.
Speaking of Cleopatra, I have shown you how great was the Oriental peril that threatened in the last century of the Republic to wipe out Rome. What miraculous force saved it? Gaul. Suppose that the army of Cæsar had been exterminated at Alesia; suppose that Rome, discouraged, had abandoned its Gallic enterprise as it had done with Persia, after the disaster of Crassus and the failure of Antony; or suppose that Gaul had been a poor province, sterile and unpopulous, like many a Danube district; Rome could not have held out long as the seat of imperial government, just as to-day the capital of the Russian Empire could not maintain itself at Vladivostok or Harbin. It would have been necessary to move the metropolis to a richer and more populous region. That Gaul grew rich and was Romanised, changed the state of things. When Rome possessed beyond the Alps in Europe a province as large and as full of resources as Egypt; when there was the same interest in defending it as in defending Egypt, Italy was well placed to govern both. The Egypt of the Occident counterbalanced the Egypt of the Orient, and Rome, half way between, was the natural and necessary metropolis of the wide-spread Empire. Gaul alone, revived, so to speak, the Empire in the West and prevented the European provinces--even Italy itself--from becoming dead limbs safely amputable from the Oriental body. Gaul upheld Italy and Rome in Europe for three centuries longer; Gaul stopped it on the way to the Asiatic conquests run through by Alexander. Had it not been for Gaul, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt would have formed the real Empire of Rome, and Italy would have been lost in it: without Gaul, the Orientalised Empire would have tried to conquer Persia and probably succeeded in doing so, abandoning the poor and unproductive lands of the untamed Occident. In short, Gaul created in the Roman Empire that duality between East and West which gives shape to all the history of our civilisation; it kept the artificial form of the Empire, circular about an island sea; it inspired the Empire with that double self-contradictory spirit, Latin and Oriental, at once its strength and its weakness.
Next time I will show you the continuation of this struggle of two minds, in a characteristic episode, the story of the Emperor Nero. Now, before closing, let me set before you briefly some general considerations drawn from the history of Roman Gaul which are applicable to universal history.
From what I have told you, it follows that the fortunes of peoples and states depend in part on what might be called the historic situation of every age, the situation that is created by the general state of the world in every successive epoch and which no people or state can mould at its own pleasure. Without doubt, a nation will never conquer a noteworthy greatness if the men that compose it fail of a certain culture, a certain energy, a social morale sufficiently vigorous; but though these qualities are necessary, they are not equally productive in all periods, but serve more or less, in different periods, according as general circumstances are disposed about a people. Gaul was fertile, and its people possessed before the conquest the qualities that they displayed later: and yet, as long as Gaul remained apart from the Empire, without continuous and numerous communications with the vast Mediterranean world; as long as it was split into so many petty rival states, occupied in serious wars against the Germanic tribes, its fertility remained hidden in the earth, and the ability of its inhabitants dissipated itself in devastating wars, instead of spending itself in fruitful effort. All that changed, and without any one's foresight or intent, when the Roman policy, urged by the internal forces that stirred the Republic, had destroyed that old order of things.
The ancients understood that peoples, like individual men, can regulate their destiny only in part; that about us, above us, are forces complex and obscure, which we can hardly comprehend, which invest us, seize us, impel us whither we had not thought to go, now to shipwreck on the rocks of misadventure, now to the discovery of islands of happiness, or to find, like Columbus, an America on the way to India. The Greeks called this power; the Latins, Fortuna, and deified it; erected temples and made sacrifices to it; dedicated to it a cult, of which Augustus was a devotee, and which contained more secret wisdom of life than all the superb theories on human destiny conceived by European genius in the delirium of this quarter-hour of measureless might in which we are living. No, man is not the voluntary artificer of his whole destiny; fortune and misfortune, triumph and catastrophe, are never entirely proportioned to personal merit or blame; every generation finds the world organised in a certain order of interests, forces, traditions, relations, and as it enjoys the good that preceding generations have accomplished, so in part it expiates the errors they have committed; as it draws advantage from beneficent forces acting outside of it and independent of its merit, so it suffers from the sinister forces that it finds--even though blameless itself--acting through the great mass of the world, among men and their works. From this relation to the unseen follows a rule of wisdom that modern men, full of unbounded pride, and persuaded that they are the beginning and end of the universe, too often forget: we must indeed press on with all our powers to the accomplishment of a great task, for although our destiny is never entirely made by our own hands, there is no destiny on the earth for the lazy; but, since a part of what we are depends not on ourselves, but upon what the ancients called Fortune, we dare never be too much elated over success, nor abased by failure. The wheel of destiny turns by a mysterious law, alike for families and for peoples: those in high position may fall; those in low, may rise.
Certainly Cæsar never suspected when he was fighting the Gauls, that the great-grandsons of the vanquished would live in villas modelled on the Roman, but more sumptuous; that the great Gallic nobles would have the satisfaction of parading before the people that conquered them a latinity more impressive and magnificent; and that some day the Gaul put by him to fire and sword would get the better, in empire, in wealth, in culture, of even Italy.