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Old December 19th, 2012, 03:47 AM   #1

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Caesar's Gallic Wars


i thought it might be fun to do an essay in parts on Julies Caesars conquest of Gaul. while i will continue posting on it i would invite anyone to make a debate on any points or opinions as well as sharing any anecdotes of their own on this period. i'm sad to say i don't have a copy of Caesar's commentaries on the Gallic war so if anyone wishes to add a quote here or there i would greatly welcome it. my principal source on this will be Adrian Goldsworthy biography on Caesar. so without further ado i will begin...


“All Gaul is divided into three parts”

So begins the first line of Julius Caesar’s commentaries on the Gallic wars as he starts by describing the brake up of Gaul between the Belgae, the Aquitani and the Celts or Gaul’s as the romans call them. All these people in turn were sub-divided into different tribal groups who for all their similarities in language and culture were mutually hostile.

The story of Caesar’s conquest of Gaul begins in 58 BC when a people known as the Helvetii began a mass migration from their lands in present day Switzerland. This migration was two years in the making and according to Caesar numbered some 368,000 people, about a quarter of them men of fighting age. Caesar had recently been elected Proconsul and given provincial command of Transalpine Gaul. With this mass migration raising fears in the region Caesar left Rome for his command of the province. With him he had four legions- the Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth. Yet he had only one of these legions in Transalpine Gaul, the rest were camped near Aquileia in Illyricum. With the one Legion he had, Caesar rushed towards Lake Geneva where the Helvetii were moving to cross the Rhone. Since no orders had been sent for the other three legions is likely that Caesar was still anticipating a Balkan campaign yet on arriving in the area he saw the full scale of the problem.

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According to Caesar the Helvetii had laid waste to all their villages for the migration so as to discourage anyone from turning back, while he have been exaggerating in saying that every village was burnt and not a single tribesmen was left behind the migration was clearly a massive one. Arriving at the Rhone one of his first order was to have the bridge near Geneva torn down. He also levied as many troops as he could find, the tribes there providing him with contingents of cavalry. Soon after his arrival a delegation from the Helvetii arrived asking permission for their people to cross through the roman province promising not to plunder along the way. Caesar was unwilling to grant the request, telling the representatives that he would consider the matter and give them an answer on the Ides-the 13th-of April which was probably on one or two weeks’ time. During that time he set the legion to work building a line of defences running along the Roman bank of the Rhone from Lake Geneva to the edge of the Jura Mountains. It was the first of many engineering feats his army would accomplish. For 19 roman miles (1,618 yards) they raised an earth rampart some 16 feet high. This was strengthened along points where the river could be forded by forts garrisoned by troops.
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Old December 19th, 2012, 03:50 AM   #2

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When the Helvetii returned for Caesar’s decision he bluntly refused them saying that ‘according to the custom and precedent of the roman people, he could not permit anyone to journey through the province and that he would stop them if they tried to force their way through’. The new fortifications were there to demonstrate that he meant what he said. However it was difficult for such a collection of people to just change direction, especially with their homes burnt and the journey years in the planning. Small parties began to attempt to cross, these were probably probing attacks to test for weak points but most likely it represented the loose central authority and individuality that characterised most tribes. None of these attacks were full-fledged assaults and all were beaten off as Caesar’s men were able to concentrate and meet each group in turn. Eventually the Helvetii admitted defeat and began to look for a different route. Their leaders decided on a more difficult course through the Jura Mountains into the lands of the Sequani. This would not have been practical had these people offered resistance however one of the Helvetii leaders, Dummnorix the Aeduan, was able to convince them to allow passage. Even before they lumbered off in this new direction Caesar received reports of their plans.

It was at this point that Caesar resolved on a full campaign in Gaul, believing that the settlement of these people would put the province in great danger as they were hostile to nearby tribes which were allied with Rome. Leaving his senior Legate Labienus in charge of the defences on the Rhone with the one available legion Caesar travelled quickly to Aquileia and the rest of his army. To add to this two new legions were raised the Eleventh and the Twelfth. These new recruits most certainly came from Cisalpine Gaul and so were not actual roman citizens and therefor illegally ineligible for service. Soon Caesar was ready to lead all five legions back to Transalpine Gaul. It was decided to take the fastest route available through the Alps, despite being surrounded by roman territory this area was still unconquered and the many tribal groups made attacks along the way making for a harsh introduction for the new recruits. Yet the passage seems to have been completed without serious loss. Meeting up with the forces he had left behind he now had six legions at his disposal with a total of around 25,000-30,000 with a force of allied cavalry that would soon muster 4000, along with some light infantry. Added to this were the slaves who accompanied each legion to care for its baggage train. With the Helvetii already having passed into the lands of the Sequani and calls for assistance form Rome’s tribal allies against attack there was no time to waste in their pursuit as Caesar led his entire army into Gaul
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(to be continued)
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Old December 19th, 2012, 04:27 AM   #3

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Best Caesar ever. Great post too.
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Old December 19th, 2012, 05:29 AM   #4

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In that legion there were two very brave men, centurions, who were now approaching the first ranks, T. Pulfio, and Lucius Varenus(about my favourite) . These used to have continual disputes between them which of them should be preferred, and every year used to contend for promotion with the utmost animosity. When the fight was going on most vigorously before the fortifications, Pulfio, one of them, says, “Why do you hesitate, Varenus? or what [better] opportunity of signalising your valour do you seek? This very day shall decide our disputes.” When he had uttered these words, he proceeds beyond the fortifications, and rushes on that part of the enemy which appeared the thickest. Nor does Varenus remain within the rampart, but respecting the high opinion of all, follows close after.

Then, when an inconsiderable space intervened, Pulfio throws his javelin at the enemy, and pierces one of the multitude who was running up, and while the latter was wounded and slain, the enemy cover him with their shields, and all throw their weapons at the other and afford him no opportunity of retreating. The shield of Pulfio is pierced and a javelin is fastened in his belt. This circumstance turns aside his scabbard and obstructs his right hand when attempting to draw his sword: the enemy crowd around him when [thus] embarrassed. His rival runs up to him and succours him in this emergency. Immediately the whole host turn from Pulfio to him, supposing the other to be pierced through by the javelin. Varenus rushes on briskly with his sword and carries on the combat hand to hand, and having slain one man, for a short time drove back the rest: while he urges on too eagerly, slipping into a hollow, he fell. To him, in his turn, when surrounded, Pulfio brings relief; and both having slain a great number, retreat into the fortifications amidst the highest applause. Fortune so dealt with both in this rivalry and conflict, that the one competitor was a succour and a safeguard to the other, nor could it be determined which of the two appeared worthy of being preferred to the other
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Old December 19th, 2012, 05:34 AM   #5

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In honor of Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus, invincible friends and veterans:


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Old December 19th, 2012, 05:57 AM   #6

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Originally Posted by Lucius Vorenus View Post
In that legion there were two very brave men, centurions, who were now approaching the first ranks, T. Pulfio, and Lucius Varenus(about my favourite) . These used to have continual disputes between them which of them should be preferred, and every year used to contend for promotion with the utmost animosity. When the fight was going on most vigorously before the fortifications, Pulfio, one of them, says, “Why do you hesitate, Varenus? or what [better] opportunity of signalising your valour do you seek? This very day shall decide our disputes.” When he had uttered these words, he proceeds beyond the fortifications, and rushes on that part of the enemy which appeared the thickest. Nor does Varenus remain within the rampart, but respecting the high opinion of all, follows close after.

Then, when an inconsiderable space intervened, Pulfio throws his javelin at the enemy, and pierces one of the multitude who was running up, and while the latter was wounded and slain, the enemy cover him with their shields, and all throw their weapons at the other and afford him no opportunity of retreating. The shield of Pulfio is pierced and a javelin is fastened in his belt. This circumstance turns aside his scabbard and obstructs his right hand when attempting to draw his sword: the enemy crowd around him when [thus] embarrassed. His rival runs up to him and succours him in this emergency. Immediately the whole host turn from Pulfio to him, supposing the other to be pierced through by the javelin. Varenus rushes on briskly with his sword and carries on the combat hand to hand, and having slain one man, for a short time drove back the rest: while he urges on too eagerly, slipping into a hollow, he fell. To him, in his turn, when surrounded, Pulfio brings relief; and both having slain a great number, retreat into the fortifications amidst the highest applause. Fortune so dealt with both in this rivalry and conflict, that the one competitor was a succour and a safeguard to the other, nor could it be determined which of the two appeared worthy of being preferred to the other
awesome quote awesome!
and here's the scene brought to life, sorta, poor Pulfio is regulated to being a drunken common soldier, but still an awesome one at that
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Old December 19th, 2012, 06:35 AM   #7

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C. Julius Caesar, Gallic War, Book 1, chapter 1 - here you can find full texts of Cesar's gallic war. if you're interested in his other works: Alexandrian, African and Spanish wars, you can also find those at the same page.

Salve!
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Old December 19th, 2012, 08:01 AM   #8

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Cesar's BG is a great history book, as long as you are no pupil and have to translate it

But of course this history book is written by the one who made the campaign. The original purpose of the commentarii was to support his election campaign for a new office. Many of his former tribuni were in the following conflict on the opposite side, their father's political enemies of cesar. So Cesar couldn't lie in his commentarii, cos his opponents would have realized it. Nevertheless he distorted history and put himself into a brilliant light where ever it was possible.

The campaigns were just an expedient to get fame and especially money for his political career. His politics created a lot of enemies, so that an public office, which protected him was necessary. That's why he got gallia cisalpina and Illyria. he expected to be able to get campaigns and with Gallia narbonensis this chances grew.

So the helvetii were a gift for him. It is hard to say whether they were really a danger for the province. It is said, that they wanted to migrate to the far west, maybe. Before this event there were negotiations between Aedui, Sequani and the helvetii under orgetorix. It is not clear what the purpose of it was. cesar wrote, that Orgetorix, Dumnorix and Casticus wanted to re-install a kingdom. This happened during the consulate of Messala and Piso. Diplomacy solved this problem. And even in 58 the helvetii did not raid Roman territories, but asked for a march thru the roman territory. So there was probably no real danger, but that was what cesar wanted and needed.
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Old December 19th, 2012, 05:42 PM   #9

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Cesar's BG is a great history book, as long as you are no pupil and have to translate it

But of course this history book is written by the one who made the campaign. The original purpose of the commentarii was to support his election campaign for a new office. Many of his former tribuni were in the following conflict on the opposite side, their father's political enemies of cesar. So Cesar couldn't lie in his commentarii, cos his opponents would have realized it. Nevertheless he distorted history and put himself into a brilliant light where ever it was possible.
Caesar was always trying to build support and political allies however he could. the commentaries while being boastful to us would have greatly appealed to most romans, both the higher class for how Caesar argues to be fighting for the safety of rome and wining glory for her, and for the lower classes in describing the bravery and prowess of the common soldiers which most of them would have come from. even Cicero praised it for its simplicity and fast pace. it shouldn't be overlooked as well that history books at the this time were seen as being more important in how they told a tale rather then complete accuracy.

we certainly have reason to doubt much of the figures Caesar gives in the commentaries such as the massive number of 368,000 Helvetii on the move, he claims the figure came from captured records in greek script which the Helvetii had written themselves. it certainly is a high number suggesting a population density higher then would be expected yet we know so little of ancient levels of population that it is unwise to be too dogmatic, and if we reject Caesar's figure then we have nothing to replace it with. modern estimates of more 'plausible' numbers can never be anything more then conjectural. and even if he did exaggerate there can be no doubt anyway that a substantial amount of people were on the movie which would greatly upset the balance of power in the region.

Quote:
The campaigns were just an expedient to get fame and especially money for his political career. His politics created a lot of enemies, so that an public office, which protected him was necessary. That's why he got gallia cisalpina and Illyria. he expected to be able to get campaigns and with Gallia narbonensis this chances grew.

So the helvetii were a gift for him. It is hard to say whether they were really a danger for the province. It is said, that they wanted to migrate to the far west, maybe. Before this event there were negotiations between Aedui, Sequani and the helvetii under orgetorix. It is not clear what the purpose of it was. cesar wrote, that Orgetorix, Dumnorix and Casticus wanted to re-install a kingdom. This happened during the consulate of Messala and Piso. Diplomacy solved this problem. And even in 58 the helvetii did not raid Roman territories, but asked for a march thru the roman territory. So there was probably no real danger, but that was what cesar wanted and needed.
Caesar in describing his meeting with the Helvetii delegation at the Rhone takes the time to remind his readers of a battle some 50 years earlier in which one of the clans of the Helvetii had defeated a roman army. from the romans viewpoint it was an unprovoked attack and made worse when the roman prisoners were forced to undergo the humiliation of passing under a yoke of spears symbolizing the loss of their warrior status. this had been during 107 BC in the midst of disasters at the hands of the Cambridge and Teutons which raised great fears in rome at the time. Caesar here was trying to show his audience that he like Marius before him was there to protect them. all from a roman standpoint it felt entirely justified yet i don't doubt that Caesar was looking for major conquest anyway and was never a man to let an opportunity get away from him. he needed military glory of he was to continue his career and also match Pompey, the Balkans it is possible could have been his original objective yet with the movement of the Helvetii he had a better opportunity.
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Old December 19th, 2012, 10:54 PM   #10

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Originally Posted by irishcrusader95 View Post
Caesar was always trying to build support and political allies however he could. the commentaries while being boastful to us would have greatly appealed to most romans, both the higher class for how Caesar argues to be fighting for the safety of rome and wining glory for her, and for the lower classes in describing the bravery and prowess of the common soldiers which most of them would have come from. even Cicero praised it for its simplicity and fast pace. it shouldn't be overlooked as well that history books at the this time were seen as being more important in how they told a tale rather then complete accuracy.
Compared with other works, Cesar is probably quite accurate. But not as consequence of his character, but because he had send reports every year to the senate and a lot of his campaign was known in Rome. Nevertheless a great historic source.

Quote:
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we certainly have reason to doubt much of the figures Caesar gives in the commentaries such as the massive number of 368,000 Helvetii on the move, he claims the figure came from captured records in greek script which the Helvetii had written themselves. it certainly is a high number suggesting a population density higher then would be expected yet we know so little of ancient levels of population that it is unwise to be too dogmatic, and if we reject Caesar's figure then we have nothing to replace it with. modern estimates of more 'plausible' numbers can never be anything more then conjectural. and even if he did exaggerate there can be no doubt anyway that a substantial amount of people were on the movie which would greatly upset the balance of power in the region.
The question is how the figure of 368,000 originated. I don't think it is true, but it could be a misinterpretation of cesar or a later miscorrection. This is not known. But we have other figures, who have lower figures (157,000) and not all civitates which were mentioned first appear during the helvetian campaign again. the exact number will ever be unknown.

Quote:
Originally Posted by irishcrusader95 View Post
Caesar in describing his meeting with the Helvetii delegation at the Rhone takes the time to remind his readers of a battle some 50 years earlier in which one of the clans of the Helvetii had defeated a roman army. from the romans viewpoint it was an unprovoked attack and made worse when the roman prisoners were forced to undergo the humiliation of passing under a yoke of spears symbolizing the loss of their warrior status. this had been during 107 BC in the midst of disasters at the hands of the Cambridge and Teutons which raised great fears in rome at the time. Caesar here was trying to show his audience that he like Marius before him was there to protect them. all from a roman standpoint it felt entirely justified yet i don't doubt that Caesar was looking for major conquest anyway and was never a man to let an opportunity get away from him. he needed military glory of he was to continue his career and also match Pompey, the Balkans it is possible could have been his original objective yet with the movement of the Helvetii he had a better opportunity.
Yes, L. Cassius Longinus was beaten in 107 by the pagus of the Tigurinians. Cesar mentions, that the grand-father of his father-in-law was killed in that battle. So he made it personal. Interesting is, that the Helvetian Divico shall have participated in this battle. So he was over 70 or even 80.
To attack the helvetians cesar constructs a several resons. He mentions, that they permanently battled with the dangerous Germanics, then, that they had not enough space to live, so that it would remain an unsolved problem, the he mentioned the orgetorix-conspiracy and then, that the Helvetians raided Aedui, Ambarri and Allobroges. It is not know whether such raids are true or not. The good relations of Dumnorix with the helvetians should let us doubt it or at least makes it more probable, that undisciplined groups just did it.

BTW, Cambridge, what means Cambridge?
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