Naked Gauls

March 16 2007

Berserkers, i.e. warriors who went into battle without defensive armour, were an institution of the North European Barbarism which was not confined to the Scandinavian Barbarism of the Viking Age. There were Celtic Berserkers in Transalpine Gaul in the third century B.C. The Transalpine Celtic mercenaries (Gaesatae) which the Cisalpine Celts enlisted when they made their supreme effort to break the power of Rome, fought naked at the Battle of Telamon in 225 B.C. (See Polybius, Bk. II, chs. 22, 28, and 30.)

Rome’s victory at Telamon, on the coast of Tuscany, broke the Celtic Gallic power in northern Italy, ie Gallia Cisalpina. The Gauls were already old enemies: they had sacked Rome in 390 BC.

Gallia Transalpina, or French Gaul, became a Roman province in 121 BC and was renamed Gallia Narbonensis (Provence, Languedoc). Caesar’s conquests further north followed in the middle of the following century.

I had intended to leave this post at that. Then I thought: “When was the Greek Dying Gaul sculpted?” It turns out: practically in the same year as Telamon, at the other end of the future Graeco-Roman world.

The Dying Gaul was commissioned between 230 and 220 BC by Attalos I of the Hellenistic Greek kingdom of Pergamon (a successor of the kingdom of Alexander’s general Lysimachus in Asia Minor) to mark a victory over the Galatians. It is believed to have been originally cast in bronze.

What we have is a Roman marble copy, thought to have been rediscovered early in the seventeenth century during excavations for the foundations of the Villa Ludovisi in Rome, and recorded in the Ludovisi collections. Napoleon requisitioned it by the terms of the Treaty of Campo Formio during his invasion of Italy and took it in triumph to Paris. It was returned to Rome in 1815 and is now in the Musei Capitolini.

The Galatians – Gauls with Greek blood – moved into central Anatolia, which became known as Galatia, from Thrace in the third century BC. Another Gaulish branch harrassed Macedonia and mainland Greece. Galatia became a client state of Rome (64 BC) and then a Roman province (25 BC).

The Gaul, with his working-class Gallic haircut and moustache, naked except for his torque, is shown as a worthy adversary of the Greeks. You can see his consciousness fading. To have brought such pathos into a sculpture of an enemy must have been something new.

First image from Wikipedia. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.


gaul-2.jpg gaul-3.jpg

A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934 (footnote)

7 Responses to “Naked Gauls”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Thanks. But the DG is nude and done soon after a real Greek victory and he is done not as a barbarian, but as a man. Does that make a difference? The late 19th c sculptors must have loved this piece.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Or maybe it is as a barbarian, with some ecumenical sentiment thrown in.

  3. Adrian Murdoch Says:

    The extent to which Celtic warriors generally fought naked has been questioned. From both a weather and practical point of view it seems unlikely. There is certainly an element of propaganda to this, driven by classical writers – it made the Romans more civilised to make their opponents seem more barbaric. The conventional Latin words used to describe them is “nudus” which does indeed mean naked, but also means unencumbered. Light weight armour would be described by Roman soldiers as nudus, and at the same time makes military sense given the woodland/skirmish nature of Celtic warfare.

  4. davidderrick Says:

    Judith Weingarten writes, referring to the great Elagabalian controversy (search on the blog for Elagabalus):

    “[The Gaul] was also in my mind when I explored possible eastern moustaches, but there seemed no way to connect any dots.”

    But do we need to make a connection?

  5. judith weingarten Says:

    David, I have noted your comment (which is also on my blog) and shall put the eastern moustaches photographs on my blog, with such thoughts as I may have, as soon as I get back from a short visit to New York.

    Right now, I’m trying to finish my last Julia post before flying off.

    As an archaeologist, I’m afraid, I’m obliged to connect the dots, or drop the subject. We shall see.


  6. […] Gallicus Tumultus May 10, 2008 Mowgli’s finger Naked Gauls […]

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