Gauls and Germans: Scenes from the Triumphal Arch of Orange (late first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Daniel Mitchell, 'Gauls and Germans: Scenes from the Triumphal Arch of Orange (late first century BCE),' Last modified November 29, 2022, http://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=8888.

Information and descriptions: The Triumphal Arch of Orange (measuring 19.21 metres high x 19.57 long x 8.4 deep) is a triple-vaulted triumphal arch located on the Via Agrippa just before the northern entrance of Arausio (Orange). Orange was a Roman veteran colony situated between the major urban centres of Lugdunum (Lyon) and Arelate (Arles) in the province of Gallia Narbonensis (roughly the equivalent of what is now the French Riviera).

The structure was built sometime during the reign of Augustus (27 BCE-14 CE) and was later restored under his successor Tiberius between 26-27 CE. The original Augustan phase of the monument honours veterans of Augustus’ second legion, who likely settled the colony of Arausio (ca. 35 BCE). The later Tiberian phase of the monument honours the military accomplishments of Germanicus Caesar against the Germanic tribes of the Rhineland between 13-15 CE.

The first photo illustrates the full monument. The subsequent four photos capture the relief panels on the southern, eastern, and northern sides of the monument. The first close-up captures the top relief panel on the south-side of the monument, which depicts a battle between Roman cavalry and either Gauls or Germans. The second close-up captures the panel relief above the right-hand archway on the southern side of the monument, which depicts spoils obtained from defeated Gauls or Germans. The third close-up captures reliefs on the eastern side of the monument. These depict three sets of trophies celebrating Rome’s victories over the Gauls and/or Germans. The final photo captures the panel relief above the left archway on the north side of the monument, which again depicts spoils obtained from the defeated Gauls or Germans.

Comments (by Daniel Mitchell): The Gauls and Germans depicted on the arch of Orange are not clearly distinguishable from one another, since the majority of the “barbarian” figures are depicted in near identical Celtic fashion: nude, wearing a sword belt (baldric) around the waist, sometimes wearing a Montefortino helmet (i.e. a Gallic helmet design adopted by the Romans), and holding large Celtic-style shields. The Celtic-style attire worn by these “barbarian” figures on this monument are commensurate with Greco-Roman depictions of Celts between the late third and first centuries BCE (e.g. Dying Gauls, link). However, these figures on the arch include none of the visual features that would later come to define Germanic peoples on Roman coins and monuments between first and second centuries CE. An example of these later, Roman depictions of Germanic features is the so-called “Suebian knot”, a ubiquitous hairstyle worn by Germanic males and defined by a bun on the (right) side of the head.

Despite the lack of distinction between Gauls and Germans on the arch, these “barbarians” do nonetheless reflect some of what we know about Gauls and Germans from other relatively reliable sources. To terrify their enemies, for instance, common Celtic warriors frequently went into battle in the nude, carrying limited protection in the form of shields and/or helmets to ward off blows from projectiles and close-quarters weapons. Noble Celtic warriors would have worn chain-mail armour (an invention often credited to the Celts), which we can see depicted amongst the spoils on the south-side relief panel (see the third image). Furthermore, the reliefs depicting “spoils” on the north and south sides of the monument include the boar standard often carried by Gauls into battle. The reliefs depicting victory trophies on the eastern side of the monument also include the “carnyx”, a long Celtic war-horn designed to look like a ferocious animal.

The artisans chose to depict both the Romans and the Celtic or Germanic figures at the same scale. This is the case despite the fact that Roman ethnographic accounts such as that by Julius Caesar (e.g. Gallic War 2.30) generally characterize these peoples as larger and taller than Romans with Italian origins. Therefore, by making the Romans equal in height to the Gauls or Germans, the artisans may be suggesting that the Romans are at least a match in martial prowess to the northern “barbarians”. An alternative but unconfirmable explanation may be that the Roman soldiers depicted on the monument are imagined as auxiliary soldiers (especially mounted soldiers) drawn from Celtic and Germanic peoples allied to Rome.

Works consulted: H. Cleere, Southern France: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (Oxford: OUP, 2001).

Source of images: Photos by Marcel Musil (full monument; CC BY-NC 2.0), Christophe Menebouef (battle relief on southern side of monument; CC BY-SA 4.0), Carole Raddato (south side relief of spoils; CC BY-SA 2.0), and “Guacamoliest” (two images: east side reliefs of victory trophies; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; north side relief of spoils; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

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