The Terror from the North: The ‘Barbarian’ and Warfare in Cisalpine Gaul c.400 – 180 BC – LECTURE

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Date / time: 16 August, 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

The Royal Armouries Museum

The Terror from the North: The ‘Barbarian’ and Warfare in Cisalpine Gaul c.400 – 180 BC - LECTURE


In 390/387BCE, a marauding group of Gauls from northern Italy sacked Rome. For the next two centuries, these supposedly unsophisticated Cisalpine Gallic tribes presented one of the most significant military threats to Roman power in the Italian peninsula. Yet, very little is understood about how these Gallic armies operated, beyond the motif of being undisciplined barbarian hordes using only very basic tactics.

By examining elite weapon burials and Graeco-Roman battle narratives, this paper traces the evolution of warfare in Cisalpine Gaul between the fourth and early second centuries BC. The evidence presented reveals that the Gallic groups in northern Italy experienced profound socio-political developments during the third century, significantly increasing their military capabilities and resulting in them fighting as disciplined, tactically flexible forces. Furthermore, it details how age, status and wealth influenced the different troop types in Gallic armies, their command structure, and how their infantry and cavalry units were organised and fought according to the different battle phases. Ultimately this paper illustrates that Cisalpine Gallic armies were far more sophisticated than traditionally thought and fought in a manner comparable to their Roman opponents.

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Image from Didier Descouens (CC-BY-SA 4.0)