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Provincia Gallia Narbonensis
Province of the Roman Empire
123 BC–5th century
The province of Gallia Narbonensis within the Roman Empire, c. 117 AD
Capital Narbo Martius
Historical era Antiquity
 -  Established 123 BC
 -  Visigothic Kingdom 5th century
Today part of  France
 Piedmont, Italy
 Geneva, Switzerland

Gallia Narbonensis (English: Narbonensian Gaul, from the chief settlement of Narbonne) was a Roman province located in what is now Languedoc and Provence, in southern France. It was also known as Gallia Transalpina (Transalpine Gaul), which was originally a designation for that part of Gaul lying across the Alps from Cisalpine Italia and it contained a western region known as Septimania. It became a Roman province in the late 2nd century BC, constituting the first significant Roman territory outside of Italy. Its boundaries were roughly defined by the Mediterranean Sea to the south and the Cévennes and Alps to the north and west.


The province of Gallia Transalpina (Transalpine Gaul) was later renamed Gallia Narbonensis, after its newly established capital of Narbo Martius (Narbonne), a Roman colony founded on the coast in 118 BC. The Romans had called it Provincia Nostra ("our province") or simply Provincia ("the province"), being the first significant permanent conquest outside the Italian peninsula. The term has survived in the modern French name of the eastern part of the area, Provence, now a région of France.


By the mid-2nd century BC, Rome was trading heavily with the Greek colony of Massalia (modern Marseille) on the southern coast of Gaul. Massalia, founded by colonists from Phocaea, was by this point centuries old and quite prosperous. Rome entered into an alliance with Massalia, by which it agreed to protect the town from local Gauls, nearby Aquitani, sea-borne Carthaginians and other rivals, in exchange for a small strip of land that it wanted in order to build a road to Hispania, to assist in troop transport. The Massalians, for their part, cared more for their economic prosperity than they did for territorial integrity. In this strip of land, the Romans founded the town of Narbonne, which turned out to be a major trading competitor with Massalia. It was from this that the province of Transalpine Gaul was founded.

During this period, the Mediterranean settlements on the coast were threatened by the powerful Gallic tribes to the north, especially the tribes known as the Arverni and the Allobroges. In 123 BC, the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus (later additionally named Allobrogicus) campaigned in the area and defeated the Allobroges and the Arverni under king Bituitus. This defeat substantially weakened the Arverni and ensured the further security of Gallia Narbonensis.

Later history

Bordering directly on Italia, control of the province gave the Roman state several advantages, such as control of the land route between Italy and the Iberian peninsula; a buffer against attacks on Italy by tribes from Gaul; and control of the lucrative trade routes of the Rhône valley, over which commercial goods flowed between Gaul and the trading center of Massalia. It was from the capital of Narbonne that Julius Caesar began his Gallic Wars.

The area became a Roman province in 121 BCE, originally under the name of Gallia Transalpina (Transalpine Gaul). This name was chosen to distinguish it from Cisalpine Gaul, the part of Gaul on the near side of the Alps to Rome. In 40 BCE, during the Second Triumvirate, Lepidus was given responsibility for Narbonese Gaul (along with Hispania and Africa), while Mark Antony was given the balance of Gaul.[1]

Emperor Diocletian's administrative reorganization of the Empire in c. 314 CE merged Gallia Narbonensis with Gallia Aquitania into a new province called Dioecesis Viennensis (Diocese of Vienne) with the capital more to the north in Vienne. The new province's name was later changed to Dioecesis Septem Provinciarum (Diocese of the Seven Provinces), revealing that the word "province" had been demoted in Diocletian's reforms to mean smaller subdivisions than traditional usage.

Galla Narbonensis and surrounding areas were incorporated into the Visigothic Kingdom between 462 and 477 CE, permanently ending Roman political control. After the Gothic takeover, the Visigothic dominions were to be generally known as Septimania, while to the east of the lower Rhone the term Provence came into use.


Further reading

  • Badian, E. “Notes on Provincia Gallia in the Late Republic.” In Mélanges d'archéologie et d'histoire offerts à André Piganiol, vol. 2. Edited by Raymond Chevallier. Paris: S.E.V.P.E.N., 1966.
  • Dietler, Michael. Archaeologies of Colonialism: Consumption, Entanglement, and Violence in Ancient Mediterranean France. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.
  • Drinkwater, J.F. Roman Gaul: The Three Provinces, 58 B.C.–A.D. 260. Cornell University Press, 1983.
  • Ebel, Charles. Transalpine Gaul: The Emergence of a Roman Province. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1976. Limited preview online.
  • Ebel, Charles. “Southern Gaul in the Triumviral Period: A Critical Stage of Romanization.” American Journal of Philology 109 (1988) 572–590.
  • Fevrier, Paul-Albert. “The Origin and Growth of the Cities of Southern Gaul to the Third Century A.D.: An Assessment of the Most Recent Archaeological Discoveries.” Journal of Roman Studies 63 (1973) 1–28.
  • Rivet, A.L.F. Gallia Narbonensis: Southern France in Roman Times. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1988.
  • Woolf, Greg. Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Limited preview online.
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