Celts and the Classical World

By David Rankin | Go to book overview

12

Ausonius and the Civilisation of Later Roman Gaul

The Gaulish variant of Roman civilisation produced literature of distinction in the fourth and fifth centuries AD. In the fourth century AD especially, a period of peace in Gaul, except for the areas which confronted the territories of the barbarians, enabled literature and literary studies to flourish. Though this interval of civilisation was ended in the fifth century AD by invasions such as had dislocated Roman ways of living in other countries of the West in third century AD, this temporary time of flowering had an individual Gaulish flavour.

Decimus Magnus Ausonius was born in Burdigala (Bordeaux) around 310 AD. When he had completed his legal studies in Burdigala, he took to the profession of grammarian and teacher of rhetoric and worked in this successfully for many years. As his reputation grew, he was in due course invited by the Emperor Valentinian to become the tutor of his son Gratian. From this point his career advanced with rapidity: he was made a comes (count) and a quaestor under Valentinian. Gratian appointed him praefectus of Latium, of Libya, and of Gaul, with the crowning honour of consulship in 379 AD. After Gratian’s death, he remained in the capital during the usurpation of Maximus. Nobody seems to have regarded him as a threat. Theodosius wrote to him kindly in his retirement, which suggests that he remained in good standing with the government. Ausonius spent his last years in retirement in Gaul, and he may have written many of his surviving works in this time of peaceful retreat (Fisher 1981 34 ff). He died around the year 390 AD.

In Ausonius’ lifetime the period of Gaulish national revival and quasi-imperial status was a vivid memory. This period of Celtic independence, brief though it was, released the vitality of a

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