History (#4)
  • The French and the Gauls
 Already in the Roman days....

This page is part of a site devoted to studying Franco-American intercultural differences. It is interesting to observe that some of the stereotypes about the French were already used by the Romans about the Gauls as illustrated by the few following examples. However, these analogies must not be over-estimated : the Gallic roots of France are very distant and the famous sentence that children were supposed to learn in French schools (including in the colonies...) "Our ancestors the Gauls....." is largely an invention of 19th century Romanticism!

  • Ammianus Marcellinus (330-400 AD) writes : "The Gauls are generally tall, with white skin, blond hair and frightful and ferocious eyes. Their mood is quarrelsome and extremely arrogant. Any of them in a fight will resist several brawlers at a time with no other help than his wife's, an even more dangerous fighter. Whether calm or wrathful, the Gauls always sound threatening or irritable..." . More about arrogance.

  •  Strabo (58 BC-25 AD) Livre IV Chap.4 writes "The Gauls add to their natural frankness and ferocity a real thoughtlessness and bragging, as well as a passion for their appearance as they cover themselves with golden jewels, wear golden necklaces around their neck, golden bracelets around their arms and wrists and their chiefs are dressed in clothes with vivid colors and gold brocade. This frivolity is such that victory makes the Gauls insufferably arrogant when defeat leaves them in dismay. Along with their habits of frivolity they have however some customs which illustrate something ferocious and wild in their character that we also find, one must admit, in most of Northern nations...."

  • The traditional Roman view of the Gauls is that they are excessive in everything : their personal appearance, behavior, manner of making war, religion, which violates the traditional Roman virtues and offends Roman sensibilities. Diodorus Siculus (90 BC-30 BC) mentions their "levity of character", "their harsh Gallic speech", their being "exceedingly addicted to the use of wine" (Diodorus V-26-2-3).

  • Julius Caesar (101 BC-44 BC) wrote in The Gallic War : "Often the Gauls would make decisions on matters of utmost importance on grounds of hearsay or gossip only to feel inevitably remorseful for having given in to particularly uncertain rumors, most of the time invented to please them.".

  • Read what Charles de Gaulle said about the Gallic strengths and weaknesses of the French.

  • More to come....

  • A very popular comic strip : Asterix (the small one), Obelix (the big one) and their dog Idefix are the characters of a very popular cartoon "Asterix and Obelix" (there is even a theme park about them near Paris). Read more about them and read about comic strips in France.


  • A little bit of history : the Gauls were dangerous enemies of Rome for centuries. They had defeated the Romans and occupied Rome in 390 b.c. (remember Brennos : "Vae victis"). After the final victory by Julius Caesar in 52 b.c., they merged very well into the Roman world and there is almost nothing left of their own culture : a handful of words and certain character traits (see above). For five centuries, the Gallo-Roman Gaul adopted everything from Roma : the language, the institutions and the titles, the architectural rules, to name a few.

  • In fact, the Franks, a Germanic tribe which conquered Gaul from the 5th Century had much more influence on the formation of the country (as one can see from its name) than the Gauls, but the French like to be considered Gallic ! Read about Vercingetorix, one of the French national heroes.

DID YOU KNOW THAT ….? (What only Americans call) Bastille Day does NOT commemorate the storming of the Bastille! In fact, when it was established in 1880, many lawmakers considered it was not appropriate to celebrate a national day around a blood bath. Very astutely, it was decided that it would commemorate both July 14, 1789 (the storming), as a celebration of the end of absolutism AND July 14, 1790, a ceremony organized one year later, the Fête de la Fédération, and that the law would not mention what year the French commemorate. Why ? The Fête de la Fédération is one a the very few examples of national unity : France still had a king, but he would be powerless like in UK, which made both Royalists and Republicans happy, around Lafayette who was the hero of the day. Today, only Americans call it "Bastille Day" (the French say "Le Quatorze Juillet" i.e. "July 14").

To related pages : history 101 (#1), French cartoons, French-American history (#2), to French colonies (#3) and French revolutions(#5), questions about the French, French attitudes, etc...

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming events, testimonials, etc..) and on speeches by Harriet and/or by Philippe Rochefort

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