Why did Caesar conquer France in 8 years but the English failed after 112 years?

Jul 2019
13
San Diego, CA
Admittedly Caesar, for my money, is the greatest soldier of all time. I don't know if it's true or not but in Stacy Schiff's book, Cleopatra, she quotes Caesar as claiming to have fought in 300 battles and won all of them, whereas Napoleon was something like 54 wins and 6 loses. Even if Caesar is exaggerating we at least know that he didn't die on the battlefield. Alexander was also good but certainly did not win 300 battles. In any case, I'm not here to argue who is the greatest soldier of all time but why did the front lines (to the extent that there were front lines in the Hundred Years War) move so little. If you look at this video,


one thing that really leaps out at you is how slow the territory changes hands. Years will go by without either side losing or winning much. One idea I had was that maybe France was less populated during Caesar's time. But I'm not even sure that that is true. The Great Plague even occurred during the Hundred Years War itself. I'm not an expert but I'm just guessing is that there was a real lack of military genius on both sides, Henry V being an exception, whereas during Ceasar's time you had the greatest military genius of all time conducting the war.
 
Jul 2019
13
San Diego, CA
I should also add that since I mentioned Henry V, the battle of Agincourt was fought in 1415 but he did not actually enter Paris until 1520, that's 5 years. Caesar would have conquered the same amount of territory in a year or less.
 

fascinating

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
2,459
There is really no comparison between Gaul, with it's multitude of tribal areas, of Julius Caesar's time, and France over 1000 years later. We do not have population figures but I think I read somewhere that medieval France had a population of some 20 million (if my memory is right), whereas in Gaul the population was surely less, there being few cities.

Whatever the population levels, the Gauls were able to muster considerable forces: at the decisive battle of Alesia, all the sources show that there were about 80,000 Gauls beseiged, plus there were over 200,000 Gauls in the relief force. Yet the Romans, with perhaps only 70,000 troops, were able to prevail, and this was clearly because theirs was a professional army that was well-equipped (with armour, for example), well-trained and extremely well disciplined. (That, really, is the basic explanation of how they were able to build a hughe empire). There was also the genius of their commander. Presumably Caesar had ready access to sufficient funds to keep a huge army supplied for year after year.
 
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Oct 2015
999
Virginia
There was no "France" nor even "Gaul" in the first century BC.
There were numerous tribes (three different linguistic groups) and shifting coalitions of tribes, constantly at war with each other, and most with internal factional struggles going on between powerful nobles. None of the tribes or factions were adverse to calling in other tribes or even foreigners (Germans or Romans) to participate in their power plays. Even the threat of Germanic peoples pushing across the Rhine (Cimbri and Teutones, later Suebi et al) or Roman power in the south kept them from pursuing their personal or tribal ambitions.
Caesar always had Celtic or German allies (the Aedui, Remi et al) only the charismatic Vercingetorix could devise a sort of unity among the tribes, and that shattered after a single defeat. It was Rome that eventually gave the "Gauls" their first sense of unity.

By the 14th century France was becoming a "Nation" with a king, nobility and elite that was aware of it's developing traditions and 300 years of history, which was reinforced by the "national" struggle with England. Even English alliance with Burgundy, control of Aquitaine and separatism in Brittany couldn't crack the incipient "nationalism".
 
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stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,729
Las Vegas, NV USA
Henry V of England defeated the French and was made heir to the French throne by the Treaty of Troyes (1420), He died soon after and his incompetent son essentially lost France with the help of his French wife. During this time England was further weakened by civil war between the houses of Lancaster and York.

By this time English was replacing French at all levels including the English Court and the two countries were becoming distinct political entities. Nevertheless I believe the official title of English monarchs included "King of France" to the end of the Stuart Dynasty" and maybe later.
 
Feb 2017
526
Latin America
The English did conquer France with Henry V, they just failed in keeping it. Moreover, the Angevins held much if not most of France. Here's a map of the Angevin Empire:
1577167018124.png


They ruled this area until Philip Augustus finally expelled them. The Angevins were of course not exactly English. They're descendants of Vikings who conquered northern France, but they still did acquire this territory when the Normans had become kings of England and did acquire these territories by invading from England, so they still partially count.

As for your question, Caesar conquered Gaul because Gaul was being invaded by Ariovistus, a Germanic Suevi, at the same time, and marauding Cimbrians and Teutons had also devastated much of southern Gaul, allowing the Romans to pour in from Italy without much resistance. Caesar invaded Gaul using precisely the excuse that Ariovistus was invading and the Aedui, a Celtic people allied with the Romans, requested their aid. Yet another reason, aside from Germanic rampages, is that Caesar straight up committed genocide. He killed about 1 million Gauls and enslaved a million more. Gaul never recuperated until many centuries later from Caesar's devastation of it. And yet another reason is that England was an island that had to invade France crossing the sea. The French since Philip Augustus developed a standing navy or something close to it, and even after the Battle of Crecy where the English gained permanent territories in France, they still had to transport their troops by water and still did not control the whole French coast. It was therefore very difficult to keep control of France. The Romans didn't have this problem. We have to add that France was far more populated than the whole of Britain, which scarcely numbered more than 5 million if that during the whole of the Middle Ages while the French by the Hundred Years War were almost triple that number. Gaul, meanwhile, was about as populated as Italy, being in the 5-6 million range while Italy was in the 6-7 million range, and that's not the entire empire of the Roman Republic, which at that point was approximating the 15 million range.
 
Feb 2017
526
Latin America
There is really no comparison between Gaul, with it's multitude of tribal areas, of Julius Caesar's time, and France over 1000 years later.
Being decentralised can actually hinder conquest, because there's no centralised authority over the whole territory that can be deposed and quickly replaced. As much as I hate Jared Diamond, his argument about the centralised nature of Inca governance aiding the Spanish conquest does have a strong kernel of truth.

Of course, it's also true that a bigger state conquering a smaller state is almost a given, and Caesar did pick up the Gallic statelets one by one, when the Romans were not just Italy but the bigger Republican empire.


We do not have population figures but I think I read somewhere that medieval France had a population of some 20 million (if my memory is right), whereas in Gaul the population was surely less, there being few cities.
The difference between "oppidum" and "civitas" is overstated. Oppidum were regularly just as big as a Roman civitas, so they can be considered cities by ancient standards. Granted, you could be comparing oppida with medieval burgs in France, in which case I would agree.


Whatever the population levels, the Gauls were able to muster considerable forces: at the decisive battle of Alesia, all the sources show that there were about 80,000 Gauls beseiged, plus there were over 200,000 Gauls in the relief force. Yet the Romans, with perhaps only 70,000 troops, were able to prevail, and this was clearly because theirs was a professional army that was well-equipped (with armour, for example), well-trained and extremely well disciplined. (That, really, is the basic explanation of how they were able to build a hughe empire). There was also the genius of their commander. Presumably Caesar had ready access to sufficient funds to keep a huge army supplied for year after year.
Although the 200,000 is not implausible, I think that the Romans were exaggerating in this case. I think that the Gauls at this point, after Caesar's rampages and being relegated to just few free areas, could muster at most just half this number. 200,000 is more than the Carthaginians ever mobilised, for example. It's also far more than any Celtic army when the Celts were at their peak of their power between the 5th and 3rd centuries. Also, let's not overstate the level of Roman discipline. They did destroy the Cimbrians and Teutones with lower numbers, but the Cimbrians and Teutones had also been previously defeated by a Celtic army, which is what directed them towards Italy and Iberia in the first place, and the Celts did force Caesar to retreat at the Battle of Gergovia. Caesar also was forced to retreat from Britain with only small success. The Battle of the Vosges against Ariovistus was also extremely hard fought. The Gauls were defeated more because Ariovistus invaded them and rampaged through their lands, leaving them vulnerable, than because of Roman discipline.
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,675
Nevertheless I believe the official title of English monarchs included "King of France" to the end of the Stuart Dynasty" and maybe later.
Until 1800 the title included King of France.

1758 British shilling with symbols for France and Ireland.

2729-original (1).jpg

The French Revolution overthrew and abolished the monarchy on 21 September 1792 and replaced it with the French Republic. During the peace negotiations at the Conference of Lille, lasting from July to November 1797, the French delegates demanded that the King of Great Britain must abandon the title of King of France as a condition of peace.[citation needed]

In 1800, the Act of Union joined the Kingdom of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland to a new United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. George III chose this opportunity to drop his claim to the now defunct French throne, whereupon the fleurs de lis, part of the coat of arms of all claimant Kings of France since the time of Edward III, was also removed from the British royal arms. Britain recognised the French Republic by the Treaty of Amiens of 1802.

The change was not acknowledged by Jacobite claimant Cardinal Henry Benedict Stuart. He continued to formally style himself King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland until his death on 13 July 1807.
 
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Jul 2019
13
San Diego, CA
There is really no comparison between Gaul, with it's multitude of tribal areas, of Julius Caesar's time, and France over 1000 years later. We do not have population figures but I think I read somewhere that medieval France had a population of some 20 million (if my memory is right), whereas in Gaul the population was surely less, there being few cities.m n
I'm not sure that population matters. Hitler conquered France in 6 weeks in 1940 at a time when it had probably 30 million people.


the Romans, with perhaps only 70,000 troops, were able to prevail, and this was clearly because theirs was a professional army that was well-equipped (with armour, for example), well-trained and extremely well disciplined.
Thanks, I forgot about that. The Romans were certainly well-trained.
 
Jul 2019
13
San Diego, CA
There was no "France" nor even "Gaul" in the first century BC.
There were numerous tribes (three different linguistic groups) and shifting coalitions of tribes, constantly at war with each other, and most with internal factional struggles going on between powerful nobles.
Good point. The Gauls were much more divided than the French.