War and Social Upheaval: Roman Gallic Wars (58-50 BC)


Figure 1.--Thanks to Jlius Caesar who was not only a brilliant military commander, but a master of Latin prose, the Galeic War is one of the best understood of all ancient wars. This painting illutrtes theclimax of the ear. Galeic chieff Vercingetorix on his magnificent white horse surrenders to Caesar at the end of the successful seige of Alesia (52 BC). The painter was Lionel-NoŽl Royer, 1899.

The Gallic Wars were the campaigns waged by Ceasar in Gaul (modern France and the Low Countries). The Gauls were Celts divided into tribes. This lack of unity enabled Ceasar with a realtively small Roman force to defeat the numerically superior, but less well organized Gauls. There was no consensus in Rome as to the need to conquer Gaul. It was Ceasar who persued this perhaps the most important of all Roman conquests. Caesar's first campaign was to prevent the Helvetii from entering southwest Gaul. Then the Aedui asked for his support in fending off the Germanic Ariovistus. Caesar then pacified the Belgica (57 BC). Then he attacked the Veneti (56 BC). Next Ceasar moved into the Low Countries and crossed the Rhine beginning Roman efforts to pacify the Germaniv Tribes (55 BC). Then he invaded Britain in an unsuccsessful campaign (54 BC). Then Ceasar faced a Gallic revolt. Ambiorix raised some Belgian tribes which Caesar dispersed. A more serious adversary was Vercingetorix who succeeded in uniting the tribes of central, eastern and northern Gaul in a general revolt. Ceasar campaign to defeat the revolt is one of the classic military campaigns in history. It is often said that that the victors right history. This is certain true with the Gallic Wars, both because Cesar conquered, but also he wrote a litteraey masterpiece to describe his conquests.

Rome

Roman civilization had an incalcualble impact on Western civilization. As such this is a topic we plan to develop in some detail, although we have not yet seriously addressed it. The impact of Rome on western civilization is incaluable. The Roman legacy in art and sculpture, architecture, literature, philosophy, political organization and law, and religious is extensive. Rome was the conduit through which many aspects of Greek culture were passed on to our modern age. Today the power of media has obscured the great legacy of Rome to that of gladitorial spectacle. Many scholars are convinced that perhaps with the exception of Jesus, the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero is the most important single voice in Western civiliztion. It was Cicero that was a key influence in British political thought and the American and French Revolutions and thus all modern democracies. It was an idealized Roman Republic that inspired the founding fathers. Roman legends like Cicinatus who volutarikly gave up power inspired thge founding fathers. Many of the key Revolutionary leaders had read Cicero's works like De Officius. Even Washington, who unlike many of the other founding fathers had not studied classuical history, acted out a scene in a play about Cato that he had seen to defuse a mutiny of the Continental Army. The American Republic is in large measure a Ciceronian Republic. The legacy of Rome can be found throughout the American Republic. A Senate was created to limit the passions of the majority. Executive authority is limited by checks and ballances. It was Cicero's heroic, but ultimately failed effort to save the Roman Republic that enspired political thinkers of the 18th century to device a system that could prevent despotism. This effort motivated many of the debates over the American Constitution.

Gauls

The Gauls were Celtic tribes in modern France and the Low Lands. The Gauls were Celts divided into tribes. The Celts had no written language and thus, unlike Rome, we know relatively little about them. Most contemprary accounts come from Greeks like Polybius or Romans. Ironically, Ceasar commentaries of the cinquest of the Gauls are some of the major written accounts with information about the Celts. After Ceasar's conquests, Gaul is rapidly Romanized and knowledge of their Celtic past is lost. Caesar provides into Celtic culture, politics, and religion of druidism. Ceasar played a major role in destroying Celtic culture, not only through his military campaigns but by the concerted persecution of the druidic sects who were the central force in Celtic culture. Theey played both aspiritual role and a repository of oral knowledge--legends and traditions.

Roman Civil War

The Gallic Civil Wars played a key role in the Roman Civil Wars. Caesar before his Gallic campaign was a popular figure in Rome. It was in Gaul, however, that he honed his military skills, made a fortune, and developed a unmakable bond with his legions. The money from bouty and the sale of captives as slaves helped to finance Ceasar's popularity in Rome. Caesar ate and slept with his men. He knew each of his cetorians, the backbone of the army, by name. He promoted inovative policies such as rewarding retiring soldiers with small farms. It was these legions, loyal to Caesar personally and not the Republic, that were to cross the Rubicon with him.

Julius Caesar (102?-44 BC)

Julius Caesar was born into a nobel Roman family. He married Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna. This was Caesars entry nto Roman politics. Cinna was a colleague of Marius, Caesar's uncle, and Caesar joined his party. With Sulla's triumph, Caesar was proscribed. Only with Sulla's death was Caesar safe. He emerged as a talented politican, championing the people against the Senate. He was elected pontifex maximus and instututed reforms. He divorced his second wife, Pompeia because of scandolous behavior with Clodius. He famously said, "Caesar's wife must be above suscpicion." He maried Calpurnia. He saw his first militay service in Spain. Caesar undoubtdd realized that in Rome, political success would ultimately require military backing. He returned to Rome (66BC). He formed the First Triumverate with Crassius and Pompey. He then managed to secure the Senate's approval for a campaign in Gaul. It is here that he earned his reputation as one of the great military commnders in history. Yet his success in Gaul is often overstated. The Gauls were formidable and outnumered the Romans. They were, however, not a united people and did not have disciplined rmies. Caesar was able to fight the tribes one at a time. He was not doubt a competent if brutal military commander. The victories in Gaul were in large measure the result of the highly professional, disciplined legions as much as his military genious. Part of the reason he is so highly regarded today is his literary gifts. He wrote extensively about his campaigns and genius in letters back to Rome to help build his political positin. He was the first great military commnder of history to do this. These letters were read an translated by multiple generations of school boys. His daughter Julia who married Pompy died (54 BC). From this point a rivalry grew as Pompey supported the senatorial party. The death of Crassius meant that the two were rivals for ultimate power in Rome. The Senate ordered him to disband his army. He defied them by crossing the Run=bicon (49 BC). Thiswas the beginning of a civil war. Caesar defeated Pompey's army at Pharsala (48 BC). Caesar was assisanated by M. Junius Brutas and other conspirators he had befriended. There motives was to presetve the Republic. Historians still debate his motives and goals.

Opposing Forces

The Gauls did not have a national army. Each tribe had a militia. Comined they outnumbered the Romans. They never fought as a united people. For centuries had fought each other. The Gauls were fierce and fearless, byt undesiplined. lack of unity among the Gauls enabled Caesar with a realtively small Roman force to defeat the numerically superior, but less well organized Gauls. The Roman Legions are one of the great military forces of all time. Rome begn with a citizen milita. By the 1st cebtury BC, however. the legions had become a highly professional military force.

Roman Policy

There was no consensus in Rome as to the need to conquer Gaul. It was Caesar who persued this, perhaps the most important of all Roman conquests.

Campaigns

Caesar commentaries provide a detailed if obviously one-sided description of Caesar's tactics and strategies. Caesar offers his rationale for his strategies as well as his evaluation of the enemy's potential. Caesar's commentaries provide a detailed description of movements, sieges, river crossings, and logistics.

Helvetii

Caesar's first campaign was to prevent the Helvetii from entering southwest Gaul.

Aeudi

Then the Aedui asked for his support in fending off the Germanic Ariovistus.

Belgica (57 BC)

Caesar then pacified the Belgica (57 BC).

Veneti (56 BC)

Then he attacked the Veneti (56 BC).

Germanic Tribes (55 BC)

Next Caesar moved into the Low Countries and crossed the Rhine beginning Roman efforts to pacify the Germanic Tribes (55 BC). The construction of a bridge over the Rhine is on of the great feats of military engeneering. The Germans were astounded. The message was of course that the Rhine was not a secure barrier. The Legions could cross it at will.

Britania (55-54 BC)

Caesar then invaded Britain in an unsuccsessful campaign (54 BC). Caesar in his commentaries described his expeditions in Britain. Julius Caesar while campaining in Gaul launched two expeditions accross the Channel (55 and 54 BC). Ceasar decided against a major military expedition. It is not enirely sure why. His focus at the time was on Gaul. Presumably he concluded the conquest would not justify the expense, especially when the situation in Gaul itself was not yet settled. Caeser did, however, report on these explots to his adoring public back in Rome. The subsequent Roman invasion came a century later. Roman attempted to bring Britain within the Empire through diplomatic initiatives. By the time Rome initiated the conquest of Britain, Gaul had been firmly Romanized. Rome's new emperor, Claudius (43 AD), athorized The invasion. It was Claudius' first foreign expedition. Successful military expeditions were important in establishing a prestigious reputation. Claudius assigned Aulus Plautius to carry out the invasion. The Britons were a Celtic people, related to the tribes of Gaul which Ceasar had conquered. The British proved to be a substantial military challenge, taking several decades to accomplish. Eventually Roman armies subjugated the British Celts and the era of Roman Britain began.

Gallic revolts

Then Caesar faced a Gallic revolt. Ambiorix raised some Belgian tribes which Caesar dispersed. A more serious adversary was Vercingetorix who succeeded in uniting the tribes of central, eastern and northern Gaul in a general revolt. Caesar campaign to defeat the revolt is one of the classic military campaigns in history. And the most detailed account in Caesar's commentaries is his descriptionnof the climatic campaign against Vercingetorix, the Gaullic chief who managed to rally the tribes in a united effort to defeat the Romans. Caesar admired Vercingetorix, considering him a valliant opponent. Vercingetorix surrendered himself to Caesar at Alesia (50 BC) in an attempt to save his people who were as a result of the seige starving.

Historical Accounts

It is often said that that the victors right history. This is certain true with the Gallic Wars, both because Caesar conquered, but also he wrote a litteraey masterpiece to describe his conquests. Caeasar's commentaries were written in the third person. There are no known details about how Ceasar wrote his commentaries. Scholars believe that Caesar dictated the text to subordinates. To what extent they made have edited his dictation is unknown. We do know that he wrote the commentaries during and not after the campaigns. Ceasar of course was not a historian, but a politican. His coomentries thus must be viewed as a political document meant to further his political agenda. His commentaries were sent to Rome and distributed by his supporters to build support for Caesar's campaigns. Ceasar had enenies who were anxious to end his command and even force his return to Rome and possible trial. His success in Gaul and the brilliant description of those successes were thus potent political documents.

Roman Gaul









HBC







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Created: 2:43 AM 8/21/2004
Last updated: 9:34 AM 7/18/2016