Gallic Wars

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Gallic Wars
Image:Caesar campaigns gaul.gif
Map of the Gallic Wars
Date 5951 BC
Location Gaul, Germania and Britannia
Result Complete Roman victory
Roman Republic Several Gallic tribes
Julius Caesar
Titus Labienus
Mark Antony
Quintus Cicero
Vercingetorix, Ambiorix, Commius, among other
Gallic Wars
Arar - Bibracte - Vosges - AxonaSabisGergoviaAlesia
This article is about the military campaign. For Julius Caesar's writings, see Commentarii de Bello Gallico.

The Gallic Wars were a series of military campaigns by several invading Roman legions under the command of Julius Caesar into Gaul, and the subsequent uprisings of the Gallic tribes. The Romans would also raid Britannia and Germania, but these expeditions never developed into full-scale invasions. The Gallic Wars culminated in the decisive Battle of Alesia in 52 BC, in which a complete Roman victory resulted in the expansion of the Roman Republic over the whole of Gaul.

Although Caesar portrayed this invasion as being a defensive pre-emptive action, most historians agree that the wars were fought primarily to boost Caesar's political career and to pay off his massive debts. Still, one can not lightly discard the military importance of Gaul for the Romans themselves, who had been attacked several times by barbaric tribes coming from the North, crossing the Alps, and invading Italy. Conquering Gaul and securing the natural border of the river Rhine, the Romans could easily oppose invading Germanic tribes.

This military campaign is painstakingly described by Julius Caesar himself in his book Commentarii de Bello Gallico, which still is the most important historical source. This book is also a masterwork of political propaganda, as Caesar was keenly interested in manipulating his readers in Rome. Nevertheless, his detailed account is still of major importance for the modern scholar.


[edit] Political background

In 58 BC, Julius Caesar ended his consulship in Rome, and was heavily indebted. However, being a member of the First Triumvirate — the political alliance composed of himself, Marcus Licinius Crassus, and Pompey — he had secured for himself the governorship of two provinces, Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum. As Metellus Celer, governor of Transalpine Gaul, died unexpectedly, this province was also awarded to Caesar. Caesar's governorships were extended to an outstanding five year period.

Under his direct command Caesar had initially four veteran legions: Legio VII, Legio VIII, Legio IX Hispana, and Legio X. Caesar knew personally most (perhaps even all) of these legions, as he had been governor of Hispania Ulterior in 61 BC and had campaigned successfully with them against the Lusitanians. Caesar also had the legal authority to levy additional legions and auxiliary units as he saw fit.

His ambition was clearly to conquer and to plunder some territories but it is likely that Gaul was not his initial target. It is very likely that he was planning a campaign into the Balkans aganst the kingdom of Dacia<ref>That the Balkans were Caesar's original target is argued by several scholars. Amongst them: Penguin Classics The conquest of Gaul: "Introduction" chapter 3 "The course of the war". Also Adrian Goldsworthy in his book In the Name of Rome Chapter 8 "Caesar in Gaul" at the very end of subchapter "Early life and career up to 58 BC" shares that view. He also provides a source: Meier (1995) pp 204-223. It is certainly suggested by the provinces Caesar initially wanted for himself: Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum and supported by the initial placement of the legions. Three legions were in Aquileia, and only a single one was in Transalpine Gaul.</ref>.

The Gallic/Celtic tribes on the other hand were quite civilized, wealthy, and totally divided. Many of them had traded with Roman merchants, and had been already influenced by Roman culture. Some of them had even changed their political systems from tribal monarchies into Rome-inspired republics.

The Romans respected and feared the Gallic and the Germanic tribes. In 109 BC, only fifty years before, Italy had been invaded, and saved only after several bloody and costly battles by Gaius Marius. Very recently the Germanic Suebi tribe had migrated into Gaul with their leader Ariovistus. It seemed that the tribes were beginning to move again.

[edit] Campaign against the Helvetii - beginning of the war

Image:Gaul, 1st century BC.gif
A map of Gaul in the 1st century BC, showing the relative position of the Helvetii and the Sequani

By 61 BC, the Helvetii began to plan and to organize a mass migration, instigated by Orgetorix. On the whole, the Helvetii were rather dissatisfied with the extent of their territory, hemmed by the Germanic tribes, the Celtic Sequani, and by the Romans in Gallia Narbonensis. As a diplomat Orgetorix negotiated with the Sequani and the Aeduians. Orgetorix also made personal contacts and an alliance with Casticus and Dumnorix. He would even marry his daughter to the latter. Caesar accused all three men of having royal ambitions. For three whole years the Helvetii planned and prepared themselves. Emissaries were sent out to various Gallic tribes seeking safe passages and alliances.

In 58 BC Orgetorix's ambition was revealed to his tribesmen, and he was put to trial. He escaped, but only to die later. Nevertheless, this whole affair did not discourage the Helvetii from their efforts. They were a warhardy tribe due to their constant fighting with Germanic tribes and also were very numerous. As they departed, which Caesar dated to the 28th of March, they burned all their towns and their villages, and were joined by neighbouring tribes: the Rauraci, the Tulingi, the Latovici, and the Boii. There were two available routes for them: the first one was the difficult and dangerous Pas de l'Ecluse, located between the Jura mountains and the Rhône River. The second one, which was much easier, would lead them to the town of Geneva, where the Lake Geneva flows into the Rhône River. There a bridge allowed passage over the river. These lands belonged to the Allobroges, a tribe which had been subdued by Rome, and as such these lands belonged to Transalpine Gaul, a Roman province.

Meanwhile, Caesar was in Rome, and only a single legion was in the endangered province. As he was informed of these developments, he immediately hurried to Geneva, and besides ordering a levy of several auxiliary units, ordered the destruction of the bridge. The Helvetii sent an embassy under the leadership of Nammeius and Verucloetius, to negotiate a peaceful passage, promising to do no harm. Caesar, gaining valuable time, stalled the negotiations as his troops fortified their positions behind the river through a sixteen feet high rampart and a parallel running trench.

As the embassy returned, Caesar officially refused their request and warned them that any forceful attempt to cross the river would be opposed. Several attempts were quickly beaten off. The Helvetii turned back and entered negotiations with the Sequani to let them pass in a peaceful manner. Leaving his single legion under the command of his second-in-command Titus Labienus, Caesar quickly hurried to Cisalpine Gaul. Upon arrival, he took command of the three legions which were in Aquileia and also enrolled two new legions, the Legio XI and the Legio XII. At the head of these five legions, he went the quickest way through the Alps, crossing territories of several hostile tribes and fighting several skirmishes en route.

Meanwhile, the Helvetii had already crossed the territories of the Sequani, and were busy pillaging the lands of the Aedui, Ambarri, and Allobroges. These tribes were unable to oppose them, and as Roman allies asked for Caesar's help. Caesar obliged them and surprised the Helvetii as they were crossing the river Arar (modern Saône River). Three quarters of the Helvetii had already crossed, but one quarter, the Tigurine (a Helvetian clan), was still on the east bank. Three legions, under Caesar's command, surprised and defeated the Tigurine in the Battle of the Arar, inflicting great losses. The remaining Tigurini fled to neighbouring woods.

After the battle, the Romans built a bridge over the Saône to pursue the remaining Helvetii. The Helvetii sent an embassy led by Divico, but the negotiations failed. For a fortnight, the Romans maintained their pursuit until they ran into supply troubles. Apparently Dumnorix was doing everything in his power to delay the supplies. Accordingly, the Romans stopped their pursuit and headed for the Aeduian town of Bibracte. The tables were turned, and the Helvetii began to pursue the Romans, harassing their rear guard. Caesar chose a nearby hill to offer battle and the Roman legions stood to face their enemies.

In the ensuing Battle of Bibracte the legions smashed their opponents, and the defeated Helevtii offered their surrender which Caesar accepted. However, 6,000 men of the Helvetian clan of the Verbigeni fled to avoid capture. Upon Caesar's orders, other Gallic tribes captured and returned these fugitives, who were executed. Those who had surrendered were ordered back to their homeland to rebuild it, and the necessary supplies were organized to feed them, as they were far too useful as a buffer between the Romans and the Germanic tribes to let them migrate elsewhere. In the captured Helvetian camp a census written in Greek was found and studied: of a grand total of 368,000 Helvetii, of which 92,000 were able-bodied men, only 110,000 survivors were left to return home.

[edit] The war against the Germanic Suebi

Following this campaign, several Gallic aristocrats of almost every tribe arrived and congratulated Caesar for his victory. They called a Pan-Gallic meeting to discuss certains matters and invited Caesar to it.

In this meeting the deputies complained that because of the struggle between the Aedui and the Arverni a large number of Germanic mercenaries had been hired by the latter. These mercenaries who were led by Ariovistus, had betrayed their employers and had taken the children of several Gallic aristocrats as hostages. They had won several battles, been heavily reinforced and the whole situation was getting out of control. Caesar intervened in the conflict and soundly defeated Ariovistus at the Battle of Vosges, driving the remaining Germanic forces back across the Rhine.

In 57 BC he once again intervened in an intra-Gallic conflict, marching against the Belgae, who inhabited the area roughly bounded by modern-day Belgium and had recently attacked a tribe allied with Rome. His army suffered a surprise attack while it was making camp near the river Sambre and came close to being defeated, but was saved by its greater discipline and Caesar's own personal intervention in the fighting. The Belgae suffered heavy losses and eventually surrendered when faced with the destruction of their towns.

[edit] Punitive expeditions

Image:Map Gallia Tribes Towns.png
A map of Gaul showing all the tribes and cities mentioned in the Gallic Wars.
Further information: Caesar's invasions of Britain

The following year, 56 BC, Caesar turned his attention to the tribes of the Atlantic seaboard, notably the Veneti tribe in Armorica (modern Brittany), who had assembled a confederacy of anti-Roman tribes. The Veneti were a seafaring people and had built a sailing fleet in the Gulf of Morbihan, requiring the Romans to build galleys and undertake an unconventional land and sea campaign. Again, Caesar successfully defeated the Gauls, destroying their tribes.

Caesar took his forces across the Rhine in 55 BC in a punitive expedition against the Germans, though the Suebi, against whom the expedition was mounted, were never engaged in battle. He then crossed the English Channel with two legions to mount a similar expedition against the Britons. The British adventure nearly ended in disaster when bad weather wrecked much of his fleet and the unfamiliar sight of massed chariots caused confusion among his forces. Caesar did manage to secure a promise of hostages, though only two of them were actually sent. He withdrew but returned the following year with a much larger force that successfully defeated the powerful Catuvellauni and forced them to pay tribute to Rome. The expeditions had little lasting effect, but were great propaganda victories for Caesar, keeping him in the public eye at home.

The campaigns of 55 BC and early 56 BC have caused controversy for many centuries. They were controversial even at the time among Caesar's contemporaries, and especially among his political opponents, who decried them as a costly exercise in personal aggrandizement. In modern times, commentators have been sharply divided between critics of Caesar's nakedly imperialist agenda and defenders of the benefits that the expansion of Roman power subsequently wrought in Gaul.

[edit] Consolidation and rebellions

Discontent among the subjugated Gauls prompted a major uprising in the winter of 5453 BC, when the Eburones of north-eastern Gaul rose in rebellion under their leader Ambiorix. Fifteen Roman cohorts were wiped out at Atuatuca Tungrorum (modern Tongeren in Belgium) and a garrison commanded by Quintus Tullius Cicero narrowly survived after being relieved by Caesar in the nick of time. The rest of 53 BC was occupied with a punitive campaign against the Eburones and their allies, who were said to have been all but exterminated by the Romans.

The uprising was, however, merely the prelude to a much bigger insurrection led by Vercingetorix, chief of the Arverni tribe of central Gaul, who successfully united the Gauls against the Romans. Recognizing the Romans' superiority in battle, he declined to give battle against them and instead fought a "scorched earth" campaign to deprive them of supplies. Caesar hurriedly returned from Italy to take charge of the campaign, pursuing the Gauls and capturing the town of Avaricum but suffering a costly defeat at Gergovia. He finally cornered and defeated Vercingetorix at Alesia (see Battle of Alesia). This effectively marked the end of the Gallic Wars, although mopping-up actions took place throughout 51 BC. A number of lesser rebellions took place subsequently, but Roman control of Gaul was never again seriously challenged.

[edit] Strategic Analysis

The Roman success in the Gallic Wars was due to a combination of clever politics, effective campaigning and greater military capability than their Gallic opponents. Caesar pursued a policy of "divide and conquer" to pick off his enemies, siding with individual tribes in disputes with their local rivals. He systematically gathered intelligence on the Gallic tribes to identify their characteristics, weaknesses, and divisions, thereby being able to dispose of them in turn.

Many of Caesar's troops were themselves Gallic, so the conflict was not simply a war between Romans and Gauls. Indeed, his army was an extremely cosmopolitan entity. Its core consisted of six (later ten) legions of heavy infantry, supported by the equivalent of two more in later campaigns. He relied on foreign allies for his cavalry and light infantry, recruiting from the Numidians, Cretan, Spanish, Germanics and Gauls. Caesar made very effective use of these forces, exploiting individual units' pride to spur them to greater efforts.

Caesar's Gallic opponents were considerably less capable militarily than the Romans. They could field large armies but suffered from a lack of flexibility and discipline. Gallic warriors were ferocious opponents and were much admired for this by the Romans (see the Dying Gaul), but they lacked discipline in the field. Their tactics were effectively confined to charging their opponents en masse, and their lack of cohesion made them incapable of any sophistication in battle. They also lacked any logistical support and were unable to stay in the field for as long as the Romans.

[edit] The Gallic Wars in literature and culture

The primary historical source for the Gallic Wars is Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico in Latin, which is one of the best surviving examples of unadorned Latin prose. It has consequently been a subject of intense study for Latinists, and was traditionally used as a standard teaching text in modern Latin education until fairly recent times.

The Gallic Wars have become a popular setting in modern historical fiction, especially that of France and Italy. Claude Cueni wrote a semi-historical novel "The Caesar's Druid" about a fictional Celtic druid, servant of Caesar and recorder of Caesar's campaigns. In addition, the comic Astérix is set shortly after the Gallic Wars.

[edit] See also

[edit] References and sources


de:Gallischer Krieg es:Guerra de las Galias fa:جنگ‌های گالی fr:Guerre des Gaules ko:갈리아 전쟁 la:Bellum Gallicum nl:Gallische oorlog ja:ガリア戦争 no:Gallerkrigene pt:Guerras da Gália ru:Галльская война fi:Gallian sota sv:Galliska kriget

Gallic Wars

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