Ancient Rome Caesar's Gallic Campaigns Research Paper

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Gallic Campaigns

Caesar's Gallic Campaigns

Caesar's Gallic Campaigns

Julius Caesar was an ambitious and ruthless man. He did not begin by attempting to conquer the world, as had Alexander the Great[footnoteRef:1], but he did have the political ambition to at least rule the Roman state as emperor. He had been a consul for several years and upon the end of his term, he was without anything to do. So, through influence he was able to secure the governorships of Cisalpine Gaul, Illycrium and Transalpine Gaul[footnoteRef:2]. With these governorships he hoped to secure enough glory for himself that he could return to Rome in triumph and be welcomed as the emperor[footnoteRef:3]. With these ambitions, and the supposed uprising of the Helvetii, the scene was set for Julius to campaign in Gaul and return to Rome as the conquering hero. Following is a year-by-year account of the Caesar's campaigns from 58 BC to their end in 50 BC, his impressions of the people, with special attention paid to his battles with his most famous foes. [1: Ulrich Wilcken. Alexander the Great. New York W.W. Norton & Co. ] [2: Strabo.Geographia.] [3: Tacitus. Germania]

58 BC

As an adjunct to his campaigns, Caesar kept a detailed account of his battles against the Gallic, German and Briton tribes. He called the tome Commentarii de Bello Gallico, or Commentaries on the Gallic War, and it is regarded as one of the finest historic examples of the type[footnoteRef:4]. However, it is also said that Caesar wrote the book as a self-serving, political treatise that was meant to assist him in bid for further office in Rome[footnoteRef:5]. The account begins by discussing the borders of the three main sections of the territory and the main tribes that live in each[footnoteRef:6]. [4: Athena Review. "Caesar's Campaigns in Gaul (58-50 BC)." Athena Review, 1:4 (2007).] [5: Andrew M. Rigsby. Caesar in Gaul and Rome: War in Words. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.] [6: Commentarii de Bellum Gallico. Trans W.A. MacDevitt. New York: Everyman's Library, 1915. 1:1]

Two major campaigns took place in the year 58 BC. After Caesar learned that the Helvetii were leaving their traditional homeland and moving closer to the Atlantic seaboard. The route that they had chosen was to cross into the land of the Sequani. The Sequani did not originally want the Helvetii to cross, but after a short period they agreed to allow the Helvetii cross their land. The next issue was that to reach the coast the Helvetii had to go across Roman land[footnoteRef:7]. [7: Athena Review. "Caesar's Campaigns in Gaul (58-50 BC)." Athena Review, 1:4 (2007).]

They crossed the land of the Aedui and Ambarri looting and pillaging as they went. The people were Roman allies and had been for many years, so Caesar determined that it was in his best interest to pursue them. He led a large contingent against the Helvetii as they were crossing the Saone river[footnoteRef:8]. The Helvetii armies were split into four quadrants that must cross the river independently. Caesar allowed the first three divisions to cross without harassment, but as the fourth was waiting to cross Caesar's forces attacked them. He soundly defeated this smaller band[footnoteRef:9], and then set about building a bridge so he could pursue the rest. This tactic of Caesar's was just one of the reasons he is still acclaimed as one of the great generals on world history. He continuously used his smaller force (he rarely had more than 70,000 men at his disposal[footnoteRef:10]) with better field vision and planning than did his enemies[footnoteRef:11]. [8: Commentarii de Bellum Gallico. Trans W.A. MacDevitt. New York: Everyman's Library, 1915. 1:12] [9: Athena Review. "Caesar's Campaigns in Gaul (58-50 BC)." Athena Review, 1:4 (2007).] [10: D'Ooge, Benjamin Leonard & Frederick Carlos Eastman. Caesar in Gaul. New York: Columbia University Press, 1918] [11: Athena Review. "Caesar's Campaigns in Gaul (58-50 BC)." Athena Review, 1:4 (2007).]

It had taken the Helvetii forces 20 days to build a bridge and cross the Saone; it took Caesar just one day to commission the bridge and have it built[footnoteRef:12]. The forces of the Helvetii, as was the case throughout the campaign, had underestimated both the speed and determination of Caesar's legions. After crossing the Saone, he engaged the main force of the Helvetii and defeated them after negotiations and other tactics by the Helvetii nobles failed. After their loss, the Helvetii were ordered by Caesar to return to their original lands. It was his intention that they remain there as a buffer between the German tribes and the northern reaches of the Roman Empire[footnoteRef:13]. [12: Ibid.] [13: Athena Review. "Caesar's Campaigns in Gaul (58-50 BC)." Athena Review, 1:4 (2007).]

The second campaign that Caesar undertook in the initial year of the Gallic wars was against Germans under Ariovistus. The Suebi, of whom Ariovistus was king, needed more lands and they had petitioned the Sequani, their allies in a recent conflict, for lands on the southern side of the RhIne. Caesar worried about this incursion so close to Roman lands and decided that the Germans under Ariovistus needed to be contained and made to retreat back to their own side of the Rhine[footnoteRef:14]. [14: Commentarii de Bellum Gallico. Trans W.A. MacDevitt. New York: Everyman's Library, 1915. 1:41.]

Caesar confronted Ariovistus, but he could not bring about a battle because the Roman senate had declared Ariovistus a "king and friend of the Roman people"[footnoteRef:15], so he was under the protection of the Roman government. He had to wait until Ariovistus made a move. The German finally attacked Vestonio which was the largest city of the Sequani. Caesar sent a small group to build an encampment near Ariovistus position. He was trying to get the German to attack, so that he would have justification for his further actions. Ariovistus obliged, and attacked the small Roman position and was turned away after a hard fought battle. The nest day Caesar took the six legions that he had assembled (60,000 men) and ranged them against the 120,000 troops of Ariovistus. The result was a smashing victory for Caesar[footnoteRef:16]. As with most ancient armies, the campaigns for that year ended with this victory and the coming of the winter, but Caesar continued to pursue his quest the next year against the Gauls. [15: Commentarii de Bellum Gallico. Trans W.A. MacDevitt. New York: Everyman's Library, 1915. 1:38.] [16: Athena Review. "Caesar's Campaigns in Gaul (58-50 BC)." Athena Review, 1:4 (2007).]

57 BC

The Belgae were, as Caesar wrote, "a third part of Gaul"[footnoteRef:17]. They were also considered the most warlike of the Gallic tribes. They lived between the Seine and the Rhine rivers, and they had raised an army of between 250,000 and 300,000 men to combat Caesar[footnoteRef:18]. This army was arrayed against them on one side of the Seine, so Caesar led his armies to encamp along the side of that river and break the supply lines of the large Belgae army. Since an army of 300,000 would need a large amount of supplies and smaller ones would not, the different Belgae tribes decided to go their separate ways. When this happened Caesar began to fight the tribes in smaller groups and was able to defeat them in this manner[footnoteRef:19]. [17: Commentarii de Bellum Gallico. Trans W.A. MacDevitt. New York: Everyman's Library, 1915. 2:1.] [18: Commentarii de Bellum Gallico. Trans W.A. MacDevitt. New York: Everyman's Library, 1915. 2:4.] [19: Athena Review. "Caesar's Campaigns in Gaul (58-50 BC)." Athena Review, 1:4 (2007).]

The last of the tribes to oppose Caesar was the most warlike of the Belgae[footnoteRef:20], the Nervii. The Romans were just setting up camp when they found that the Nervii were in their midst. The Roman legions were in confusion and it looked like they would suffer a rout at the hands of the Nervii. But Caesar, seeing what was occurring, exposed himself personally to the onslaught of the Nervii. This caused his troops to regroup, and regain their discipline, and they utterly destroyed the Nervii. Of approximately 60,000 soldiers who had started the fight, only 500 were left after the slaughter[footnoteRef:21]. [20: Commentarii de Bellum Gallico. Trans W.A. MacDevitt. New York: Everyman's Library, 1915.2:3.] [21: Number of troops left.]

This ended the second year of his campaign against the Gauls, and his retirement into winter quarters at "the village of Veragri"[footnoteRef:22]. Caesar kept specific notes about what he thought of the Gallic, German and Briton peoples that he came into contact with, and it seems that he was most often surprised by their civility. The Gauls were a very advanced society that had borrowed much of their culture from the Greeks[footnoteRef:23], as had the Romans. The Germans were a more warlike people, but they had a defined hierarchy which was to be maintained for over a thousand years. The Germans had two ruling classes, the Druids (priests and teachers) and the knights. All people who did not fall into one of these ruling classes were vassels and they lived to serve the other…[continue]

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