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Caesar's Footprints: A Cultural Excursion to Ancient France - Journeys Through Roman Gaul

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Julius Caesar's conquests in Gaul in the 50s BC were bloody, but the cultural revolution they brought in their wake forever transformed the ancient Celtic culture of that country. After Caesar, the Gauls exchanged their tribal quarrels for Roman values and acquired the paraphernalia of civilized urban life. The Romans also left behind a legacy of language, literature, law, Julius Caesar's conquests in Gaul in the 50s BC were bloody, but the cultural revolution they brought in their wake forever transformed the ancient Celtic culture of that country. After Caesar, the Gauls exchanged their tribal quarrels for Roman values and acquired the paraphernalia of civilized urban life. The Romans also left behind a legacy of language, literature, law, government, religion, architecture, and industry. Each chapter of Caesar's Footprints is dedicated to a specific journey of exploration through Roman Gaul. From the amphitheatres of Arles and Nîmes to the battlefield of Châlons (where Flavius Aetius defeated Attila the Hun) Bijan Omani—an exciting and authoritative new voice in Roman history—explores archaeological sites, artifacts, and landscapes to reveal how the imprint of Roman culture shaped Celtic France—and thereby helped to create modern Europe.


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Julius Caesar's conquests in Gaul in the 50s BC were bloody, but the cultural revolution they brought in their wake forever transformed the ancient Celtic culture of that country. After Caesar, the Gauls exchanged their tribal quarrels for Roman values and acquired the paraphernalia of civilized urban life. The Romans also left behind a legacy of language, literature, law, Julius Caesar's conquests in Gaul in the 50s BC were bloody, but the cultural revolution they brought in their wake forever transformed the ancient Celtic culture of that country. After Caesar, the Gauls exchanged their tribal quarrels for Roman values and acquired the paraphernalia of civilized urban life. The Romans also left behind a legacy of language, literature, law, government, religion, architecture, and industry. Each chapter of Caesar's Footprints is dedicated to a specific journey of exploration through Roman Gaul. From the amphitheatres of Arles and Nîmes to the battlefield of Châlons (where Flavius Aetius defeated Attila the Hun) Bijan Omani—an exciting and authoritative new voice in Roman history—explores archaeological sites, artifacts, and landscapes to reveal how the imprint of Roman culture shaped Celtic France—and thereby helped to create modern Europe.

30 review for Caesar's Footprints: A Cultural Excursion to Ancient France - Journeys Through Roman Gaul

  1. 4 out of 5

    WarpDrive

    This is a delightfully evocative and atmospheric book, well-written and carefully researched, delivering a very pleasurable reading experience and providing a very good compromise between academic depth and accessibility. This is a brilliant example of how popular history books should be written. The author provides a nuanced, balanced and informative treatment of the conquest of Gaul and the subsequent political, economic and social evolution of the Gallic society, including its progressive but This is a delightfully evocative and atmospheric book, well-written and carefully researched, delivering a very pleasurable reading experience and providing a very good compromise between academic depth and accessibility. This is a brilliant example of how popular history books should be written. The author provides a nuanced, balanced and informative treatment of the conquest of Gaul and the subsequent political, economic and social evolution of the Gallic society, including its progressive but deep integration into the larger cultural milieu represented by the Graeco-Roman tradition, starting from the Caesar's military conquest, throughout the centuries up to the ultimate end of the Western Roman Empire. Cultural, political, societal, religious and ideological aspects are all treated by the author with skill and a very engaging style. I could not fault the information presented in the book, with the exception of just a few very minor typos (the only glaring one: when the author claims that Ancus Marcius was the second King in Rome). I also appreciated that the book, contrarily to what done in many similar books, is focused not just on the typical events, cultural environment and characters of the High Classical Period (first century BC and AD in particular), but he also explores some of the authors of the Late Classical Period, especially the likes of Ausonius. If only for this, the author deserves great praise. The author's competence, his skillful and multi-faceted narrative, and his passion for the subject are genuine and highly contagious: reading this book rekindled my passion for Ancient History. This highly accessible book, while not always necessarily providing much academic depth in the treatment of the subject, is nevertheless very well written and informative, and highly recommended to all readers with a passion for Ancient Roman history, in particular the ones who, like me, have been privileged to visit in the past some of the most important vestiges of the Roman presence that still enrich a few areas of the beautiful country that is France. A fully deserved 5 star rating. I actually find it a bit surprising that this book and his author have not received a better response from the public, as I genuinely think that this book is a real little hidden gem.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    As the subtitle says, this is a cultural history, about people, places, and events, and not an archaeological study. Bijan Omani has written an interesting and well researched book which would be useful for anyone wishing to expand their knowledge of Roman history. The first half is mostly about about Caesar’s Gallic Wars, which, like so much of history, came about as a result of an unlikely series of events. Caesar was elected consul in 59 BC, and upon completing his year in office was given com As the subtitle says, this is a cultural history, about people, places, and events, and not an archaeological study. Bijan Omani has written an interesting and well researched book which would be useful for anyone wishing to expand their knowledge of Roman history. The first half is mostly about about Caesar’s Gallic Wars, which, like so much of history, came about as a result of an unlikely series of events. Caesar was elected consul in 59 BC, and upon completing his year in office was given command of the provinces of Illyricum on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea, and Cisalpine Gaul. At about that time the governor of Transalpine Gaul died suddenly and the Senate, almost as an afterthought, gave that to him as well. In his Gallic Wars he says that he initially planned an expedition to Illyricum to deal with tribes which had been raiding the province. However, when he learned that the Helvetii, a Celtic tribe living near Geneva, planned to pass through a part of Roman territory on their way further west to a new homeland, he saw an opportunity for wealth and military glory. For the next six years he would lead his legions back and forth across Gaul, and into Britain twice, conquering territory, suppressing rebellions, and imposing Roman rule. More than three centuries before, in 390 BC, the Gauls had invaded Italy and besieged Rome, a traumatic event that the Romans could never forget. From it came a well known Latin phrase. The Gauls had agreed to leave the city if the Romans gave them 1000 pounds of gold. When the time for the payment came the Romans discovered that the Gauls were cheating, using heavier than standard weights. In response to their angry complaints Brennus, the king of the Gauls, threw his sword on top of the weights, making them even heavier, and shouted, “Vae victus!” (Woe to the Vanquished!). By the time of Julius Caesar Rome was the most powerful empire in the world, stretching from Syria to Spain, and circling the Mediterranean. Even so, the Gauls remained a fearsome specter of invasion, humiliation, and defeat, and whoever could put an end to their threat would have Rome at his feet. “The centuries of friction with the Gauls...were to some extent responsible for the ever more military character that Rome took on as it developed. They were also at the root of an abiding neurosis that was to play out to the end of the Roman empire: a fundamental terror of what lay beyond the northern frontier.” (p. 30) Caesar was one of history’s great men, with remarkable qualities of leadership and political acumen, but his overweening ambition would stop at nothing and would in the end extinguish the faltering Roman republic. In Gaul that meant the destruction of an ancient culture and slaughter and enslavement on a vast scale. The Gauls were tribal and warlike; they lived on raids and plunder and collected the heads of their fallen enemies, but it was their land and their culture. Like many conquerors before or since, the Romans imposed their empire and bought it with blood, plunder, and slavery.Caesar’s conquest of Gaul was not undertaken for any noble purpose. He did not have in mind any ideals of spreading civilization or extending the benefits of Roman rule to outsiders. It was a pragmatic and political act, designed to win him military glory, freedom from debt and access to manpower; it was an escape route from the dangers of prosecution before the courts, and a move towards the attainment of absolute power. (p. 326)The second half of the book looks at Roman Gaul from the conquest to the end of Roman power in the 400s. With the astute use of money, land, and citizenship the Romans were able to co-opt the local Gaulish nobility, and within two generations the provinces were thoroughly Romanized, becoming a valuable source of trade and soldiers for the empire, as well as an important buffer against the barbarian tribes farther north and east. The book includes visits to a number of sites in France and describes the fortifications, inscriptions, statuary, and building ruins. Omrani does a good job explaining the peoples’ lives, at least those wealthy and powerful enough to have left monuments and records. At one point though, he discusses the life of Ausonius, a Gaul who rose from a humble tutor to the heights of power, being named consul in 379. He was also an author, poet, and prolific letter writer, as well as a convert to Christianity, which may have helped his writings survive. He is interesting, and his life sheds some light on his times, but the profile of him runs for fifteen pages and feels like it was written for a Classics journal and then pasted into this book. The book ends with the passing of the Roman empire and the beginnings of the medieval age. Omrani clearly explains the changes in the centers of power, as bishops took over from the receding Roman rule and exercised temporal power by negotiating with the new barbarian overlords. For the peasants, of course, one set of rulers was as good as another, and their lives hardly changed at all, but even for those accustomed to holding the reins of power it was more of a gradual transition than a sudden collapse of order and civilization. The book is interesting and worth reading. At times, however, the author’s prose runs away with him, especially when he strains to find the right adjectives to describe a landscape, as in “The coast lies low and flat behind a grey sea, the peaks of the skittering waves teased into silver points by the reluctant light of a pewter sky.” (p. 124) Well, alright then. If he ever gives up teaching Latin he might have a career writing bodice-rippers. There is also an odd occurrence in the text. It only happens once, but it made me wonder if anyone proofreads manuscripts anymore. On page 74 the word “relatichaptonship” appears, probably a copy-paste or search-and-replace error. How did it get past the editors? Minor miscues aside, I enjoyed the book, and learned a lot about this aspect of Roman history. It illuminates the lives and times of the Romans and Gauls, and helps the reader gain a better understanding of how Rome acquired and ruled its empire.

  3. 5 out of 5

    John Isles

    The story of Roman Gaul is here related along with accounts of the author's visits to some of the sites. The volume is not detailed enough to be useful as a guidebook, but provides good background reading for a visit, despite a few spelling errors ('peninsular' twice used for 'peninsula', 'gauntlet' for 'gantlet', 'hermetic' for hermitic'), misprints, and even some surprising factual errors: - Aix-en-Provence was known to the Romans as Aquae Sextiae, not Aquae Sextius. - The ruts in the Via Domi The story of Roman Gaul is here related along with accounts of the author's visits to some of the sites. The volume is not detailed enough to be useful as a guidebook, but provides good background reading for a visit, despite a few spelling errors ('peninsular' twice used for 'peninsula', 'gauntlet' for 'gantlet', 'hermetic' for hermitic'), misprints, and even some surprising factual errors: - Aix-en-Provence was known to the Romans as Aquae Sextiae, not Aquae Sextius. - The ruts in the Via Domitia outside Ambrussum are caused by the wheels of carts, not chariots. - The administrator Licinius added two months to the tribute year, not four. - The photo of the Roman theatre at Orange on p. 184 is of the scaena, not the exterior wall. - The inscription PATERNIF presumably stands for "Paterni factum" ("work of Paternus"), not "Paternus fecit". - The tombstone illustrated on p. 238 says it was dedicated by Quartina, not Vallona as stated in the caption.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mark Allen

    Roman culture was well established around the Mediterranean before Caesar set his sites on further conquest. This book describes how Caesar conquered Gaul with cruelty, military skill and a little diplomacy. Bijan Omrani is a historian and classicist with several books to his name and a fine learning pedigree. Such a clever chap is obviously going to produce a well researched and scholarly work and at the outset I found myself wondering about 2 points - would it be dry or readable; would I find Roman culture was well established around the Mediterranean before Caesar set his sites on further conquest. This book describes how Caesar conquered Gaul with cruelty, military skill and a little diplomacy. Bijan Omrani is a historian and classicist with several books to his name and a fine learning pedigree. Such a clever chap is obviously going to produce a well researched and scholarly work and at the outset I found myself wondering about 2 points - would it be dry or readable; would I find myself engaged in the history of a place I have never been (I'm thinking of the southern parts of France, not the North which I have visited many times) where I find it easier to identify with British history? The answer to both questions was positive. It IS readable and not overly wordy, but does not patronise with everyman language. This is a reference work that can be read from cover to cover as I did. Roman history does impact on britain too, of course. We have our own Roman ruins and a chapter of the book is given to the Roman conquest of Britain. Of course the biggest reason we Brits should understand about the Roman conquering of Gaul is that it led to a change in our own history and the history of Europe as a whole. It moved Roman influence away from the Mediterranean and towards Northern Europe - a legacy which remains with the latin based language of French and the eventual passage of Christianity into the region. Caesar's rising through the political system is like a mini-series or soap opera. His ambition and actions are scary and parallels can be drawn with every age though history including the present. Someone with ambition can get to a powerful position and abuse that power most cruelly, however scary that sounds. Early in his career Caesar is captured by pirates and held to ransom. When he reasons the sum being asked he is incensed and insists that the sum is higher. He also promises to return and crucify his captors - which is exactly what happened when the ransom was paid and he was released. Money wasn't as important as power to Caesar. The average annual salary of a soldier was 900 sesterces; Caesar's debts ran to 31 million sesterces. From the conquest the book moves everyday life in Gaul and how Roman culture was assimilated into Gaulish life. Many high born Gauls were keen to adopt the Roman way as it was more luxurious than the harsh tribal ways they were used to. It is much easier to retain an empire when the natives are shown a better way of life and can receive protection from raiders of other Northern tribes. Throughout the book the author intersperses the narrative with snapshots of the sites in modern times. He gives us a first person, present tense stroll through ancient sites and modern towns. These moments are the highlight of the book for me, to not just read about history but to also understand it is still all around us. Omrani's enthusiastic research is infectious. Further interest is gained in the description of life under the Romans and how Gaulish religion was absorbed into Roman. Gaulish gods were worshiped alongside the Roman gods as equals and rituals retained. this continued into the Christianity era as the Roman Empire started to adopt the new faith. Pagan rituals were retained in the guise of Christianity and the timing of certain festivals could be fluid so that the old and new worlds could merge - much as happened in Britain. Caesar used bloodshed to conquer Gaul but later leaders showed the benefits of membership of the Roman Empire by increasing trade, protecting Gaul from other invaders and building large towns and civic buildings. High born Gaulish leaders embraced this and Roman and Gaulish influence came together in the beginnings of modern France. An interesting read. I wasn't hooked by any means and what I have learned has filled a small gap that I may or may not return to, but I'm grateful I had the chance to enjoy it thanks to the Goodreads giveaway.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jack Hrkach

    This is not an uninteresting book - written by an academic the language is not filled with jargon, easy enough for the general reader IF that reader has a genuine interest in Roman history and the history of Gaul. The author begins by what brought him to write this book: a Latin class that he was teaching to very uninterested students. I doubt that handing this volume to those students would suddenly make them perk up and listen. It seems well researched, but it can become very dry and a bit tedi This is not an uninteresting book - written by an academic the language is not filled with jargon, easy enough for the general reader IF that reader has a genuine interest in Roman history and the history of Gaul. The author begins by what brought him to write this book: a Latin class that he was teaching to very uninterested students. I doubt that handing this volume to those students would suddenly make them perk up and listen. It seems well researched, but it can become very dry and a bit tedious. The author visits many of the places that Caesar conquered and that subsequently became villages and cities, describes these places lovingly (if in a sometimes florid style). While he looks to many areas of modern France, and some in Germany as well, his major focus seems on Transalpine Gaul - the future Provence at its center. It may well be seen as one type of intro to the area ahead of a traveler's first visit. For me it was fine in places, mediocre in several others. I finished it, but there was a time when I thought I'd jut put it down and not bother to read it though. If you think that I may be you, forgive that allusion, you might think twice. Others of you will find it a very god read indeed.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Pete daPixie

    Some weeks back I searched my local library for a copy of Caesar's 'The Gallic War'. I drew a blank. Later I discovered Bijan Omrani's book, which I thought could be a decent alternative. In fact 'Caesar's Footprints: Journeys to Roman Gaul' (2017) disclosed more of the aftermath than the immediate details of Julius Caesar's campaigns between 58 and 50 BC. Having said that, Omrani is a historian and classicist with a very accessible writing style, he provides a very detailed and informed narrative Some weeks back I searched my local library for a copy of Caesar's 'The Gallic War'. I drew a blank. Later I discovered Bijan Omrani's book, which I thought could be a decent alternative. In fact 'Caesar's Footprints: Journeys to Roman Gaul' (2017) disclosed more of the aftermath than the immediate details of Julius Caesar's campaigns between 58 and 50 BC. Having said that, Omrani is a historian and classicist with a very accessible writing style, he provides a very detailed and informed narrative of the Gallo-Roman experience after Caesar's initial brutal subjugation of the Celtic tribes. As I read through this book I kept hearing the phrase, "what have the Romans ever done for us?" Well, in Gaul it seems that the Romans brought stability and peace, an increased standard of living, the benefits of international trade, new cities, amphitheatres, aquaducts, learning and togas. It appears that Vercingetorix would have been better off learning latin.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kiwi Carlisle

    I enjoyed this chatty, colloquial book about the impact of the Romans on ancient France, the modern French landscape, and French culture. Often, it felt more as if I was reading a travelogue than a history book, but the history was there in plenty. I think I’ve absorbed more about Roman Gaul from Omrani’s book than from a lifetime of desultory reading in the same territory. He quotes liberally and poignantly from appropriate classical authors throughout the book. The Gauls he shows us are a comp I enjoyed this chatty, colloquial book about the impact of the Romans on ancient France, the modern French landscape, and French culture. Often, it felt more as if I was reading a travelogue than a history book, but the history was there in plenty. I think I’ve absorbed more about Roman Gaul from Omrani’s book than from a lifetime of desultory reading in the same territory. He quotes liberally and poignantly from appropriate classical authors throughout the book. The Gauls he shows us are a complicated bunch of people, and they thoroughly won my sympathies. My only quibble with his writing style is his occasional tendency towards a bit of superstitious awe—a pricking of the thumbs, simultaneously fearing the pagan dead and being haunted by their Christian surroundings. As a device, it’s effective once, but annoying when repeated.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Pat

    I've traveled a little in France and read a lot about the Roman Empire, but not a book focusing on Gaul, and I feel I got a lot of good information from this book. I especially enjoyed the author's pictures illustrating topics. The reason this is a 3 star and not a 4 star review is because of the amount of misspelled and misplaced words encountered throughout the book. I would have put it mostly to relying on Spell Check if not for things like know spelled with two consecutive n's on page 310. The I've traveled a little in France and read a lot about the Roman Empire, but not a book focusing on Gaul, and I feel I got a lot of good information from this book. I especially enjoyed the author's pictures illustrating topics. The reason this is a 3 star and not a 4 star review is because of the amount of misspelled and misplaced words encountered throughout the book. I would have put it mostly to relying on Spell Check if not for things like know spelled with two consecutive n's on page 310. The biggest problem was on page 70 "his father-in-law Marius." The Marius being discussed in this section I believe is Gaius Marius, his uncle through marriage. Where are the proof readers?

  9. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    It's a thoughtful look at the impact of the Roman Empire on Gaul (modern day France), and its lasting legacy. The first half of the book, concentrating on the history of Julius Caesar's conquest, makes for some compelling reading. However, the rest of the book takes a more lackadaisically-paced look at various imperial legacies throughout France...and frankly some of the places are less interesting than others (especially the country side, which did nothing for this city boy). An interesting new It's a thoughtful look at the impact of the Roman Empire on Gaul (modern day France), and its lasting legacy. The first half of the book, concentrating on the history of Julius Caesar's conquest, makes for some compelling reading. However, the rest of the book takes a more lackadaisically-paced look at various imperial legacies throughout France...and frankly some of the places are less interesting than others (especially the country side, which did nothing for this city boy). An interesting new take on the Roman empire, but hit or miss based on one's personal tastes.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Monical

    Interesting review of Julius Caesar's campaigns in Gaul, history of Gaul before and after the Romans, including people, culture, and art. The author is a Latin teacher, and was inspired to write the book after struggling to interest generations of Latin students in Caesar's Campaigns. All Gaul is divided into three parts, after all! The book is a bit dry and gets a bit too long. The photos are abysmal, which is a real shame given the detailed descriptions in the text. Altogether not a bad read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    J.S. Dunn

    3.0 Unfortunately, another nonfiction from an academic that seems to do little more than compile lecture notes to market as a book. This work has a dearth of original thought or conclusions. A look through the bibliography/notes following the chapters shows that much of the source material is dated. Very disappointing for the reader primarily interested in learning more about Roman-era Celts. The author relied on popular volumes of Barry Cunliffe, which are excellent but lack depth and are lament 3.0 Unfortunately, another nonfiction from an academic that seems to do little more than compile lecture notes to market as a book. This work has a dearth of original thought or conclusions. A look through the bibliography/notes following the chapters shows that much of the source material is dated. Very disappointing for the reader primarily interested in learning more about Roman-era Celts. The author relied on popular volumes of Barry Cunliffe, which are excellent but lack depth and are lamentably outdated in archaeology of the past decade or two ( --- since 1992 and 1997) .

  12. 5 out of 5

    Robert Enzenauer

    This book was a gift from one of my professional mentors. This is a wonderfully written history that reads like fiction. The author starts at the ancient port of Marseilles, and reports on the near-total destruction of Gallic culture after Caesar's forced violent assimilation into all that was Roman. Almost thirty pages of bibliographical Notes and Bibliography attest to the rigorous research by the author

  13. 4 out of 5

    Colin

    A somewhat odd book that retraces Julius Caesar's conquest of Gaul and landings in Britain, and then looks at the Romanization of Gaul and the eventual fall of Roman Gaul in the dissolution of the Roman Empire - odd because of the narrow focus on Gaul (and to a lesser extent, Britain), but an easily readable and enjoyable book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Terje Fokstuen

    A fascinating, and informative look at Caesar's conquest of Gaul, and its aftermath. How did Gaul become Roman? How Roman did it become. Author Bijan Omrani visits the aftermath of Roman Gaul and explains what this says about the time and the culture. Highly recommended.

  15. 4 out of 5

    David

    The last paragraph was actually one of the longest sentences I have ever encountered. If is was possible to rate 3 1/2 stars I would.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michael Boerm

    Not nearly as good as I’d expected it to be.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    Not bad, kind of history/kind of everyday life in Roman Gaul.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sam Slater

  19. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Barnett

  20. 4 out of 5

    Craig Coldren

  21. 4 out of 5

    Simon McCrum

  22. 4 out of 5

    PDBF

  23. 4 out of 5

    Colin Buchanan

  24. 5 out of 5

    Katrina

  25. 4 out of 5

    Liisa

  26. 5 out of 5

    Susan Heskin

  27. 4 out of 5

    Hassan Ragy

  28. 5 out of 5

    Paul Brandel

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ben

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chiemi

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