It cannot be overthrown without destroying you: the Gallic empire and Brexit

It’s over a year since I last posted here: I’ve been working on a longer project (well, a book) about my journey from studying Classics in academic libraries to experiencing European affairs in Brussels (via Oxford, Paris and Romania), and I’ve also been writing articles for the forthcoming Tacitus Encyclopedia. One of the topics assigned to me by the editor, possibly because she saw my postal address, was ‘Belgica’: the Roman province of Gallia Belgica, Belgian Gaul. Its initial inhabitants, the Belgae, were first mentioned by Julius Caesar, who famously called them the bravest of all the Gauls (not least because they lived furthest from the enervating influence of Roman civilisation and closest to the savage Germans). Under Augustus and subsequent emperors in the first century AD, the Gallic provinces were organised and reorganised, and the inhabitants got used to being subjects of Rome, despite a rebellion during Tiberius’ reign mentioned by Tacitus (and, probably, others that go unreported) – until the year 69.

It is at this point – in history, and in my 750-word encyclopedia article – that things get more complicated. After Nero’s death in 68, the throne was claimed by successive emperors with about as much longevity as the average Brexit Secretary: Galba, Otho, Vitellius and finally Vespasian, who did manage to stay in place and in fact establish a small dynasty. Tacitus describes what happened in his work the Histories. Vitellius was governor of the province of Lower Germany, and he marched south to meet his rival Otho in battle in northern Italy. On hand to take advantage of the chaos was Julius Civilis, a high-ranking member of the Batavians, a Germanic tribe, who had also served in the Roman army and (as his name suggests) become a Roman citizen. Initially in alliance with Vitellius, he then unleashed a major revolt against Rome.


Vetera, a legionary camp overrun by Civilis’ troops

Continue reading “It cannot be overthrown without destroying you: the Gallic empire and Brexit”