Born in Rome, July 12, 102 B.C., of patrician rank, Gaius Julius Caesar furnishes an example of greatness as orator, man of letters, soldier and statesman unexcelled in history. Allying himself with the democratic party he was quaestor in Spain in 68, praetor in 62, and consul in 59 when he formed the first triumvirate. Appointed governor of Gaul, Caesar there developed his genius for war, but his success resulted in the Civil War. After Pharsalus, Caesar attained supreme power, but his activities were cut short by his assassination, March 15, 44 B.C. Of his literary works only his commentaries on the Gallic War and the Civil War have survived, both models of lucid writing.
When Caesar was setting out for Italy, he sent Servius Galba with the twelfth legion and part of the cavalry against the Nantuates, the Veragri and the Seduni, who extend from the territories of the Allobroges and the Lake of Geneva and the River Rhone to the top of the Alps. The reason for sending him was that he desired that the pass along the Alps, through which the Roman merchants had been accustomed to travel with great danger, should be opened.
Galba fought several successful battles, stormed some of their forts, and concluded a peace. He then determined to winter in a village of the Veragri, which is called Octodurus. But before the winter camp could be completed the tops of the mountains were seen to be crowded with armed men, and soon these rushed down from all parts and discharged stones and darts on the ramparts.
The fierce battle that followed lasted for more than six hours. During the fight more than a third part of the army of 30,000 men of the Seduni and the Veragri was slain, and the rest were put to flight, panic-stricken. Then Galba, unwilling to tempt fortune again, after having burnt all the buildings in that village, hastened to return into the province, urged chiefly by the want of corn and provision. As no enemy opposed his march, he brought his forces safely into the country of the Allobroges and there wintered.
These things being achieved, Caesar, who was visiting Illyricum to gain a knowledge of that country, had every reason to suppose that Gaul was reduced to a state of tranquillity. For the Belgae had been overcome, the Germans had been expelled and the Seduni and the Veragri among the Alps defeated. But a sudden war sprang up in Gaul.
The occasion of that war was this. P. Crassus, a young man, had taken up his winter quarters with the seventh legion among the Andes, who border on the Atlantic Ocean. As corn was scarce, he sent out officers among neighbouring states for the purpose of procuring supplies. The most considerable of these states was the Veneti, who have a very great number of ships with which they have been accustomed to sail into Britain, and thus they excel the rest of these states in nautical affairs. With them arose the beginning of the revolt.
The Veneti detained Silius and Velanius, who had been sent among them, for they thought they would recover by their means the hostages which they had given Crassus. The neighbouring people, the Essui and the Curiosolitae, led on by the influence of the Veneti (as the measures of the Gauls are sudden and hasty) detained other officers for the same motive. All the sea-coast being quickly brought over to the sentiments of these three states, they sent a common embassy to P. Crassus to say "If he wished to receive back his officers, let him send back to them their hostages."
Caesar, being informed of these things, since he was himself so far distant, ordered ships of war to be built on the River Loire; rowers to be raised from the province; sailors and pilots to be provided. These matters being quickly executed, he hastened to the army as soon as the season of the year admitted.
Caesar at once ordered his army, divided into several detachments, to attack the towns of the enemy in different districts. Many were stormed, yet much of the warfare was vain and much labour was lost, because the Veneti, having numerous ships specially adapted for such a purpose, their keels being flatter than those of our ships, could easily navigate the shallows and estuaries, and thus their flight hither and thither could not be prevented.
At length, in a naval fight, our fleet, being fully assembled, gained a victory so signal that, by that one battle, the war with the Veneti and the whole sea-coast was finished. Caesar thought that severe punishment should be inflicted, in order that for the future the rights of ambassadors should be respected by barbarians; he therefore put to death all their senate and sold the rest for slaves.
ABOUT the same time P. Crassus arrived in Aquitania, which, as was already said, is, both from its extent and its number of population, a third part of Gaul. Here, a few years before, L. Valerius Praeconius, the lieutenant, had been killed and his army routed, so that Crassus understood no ordinary care must be used. On his arrival being known, the Sotiates assembled great forces, and the battle that followed was long and vigorously contested. The Sotiates being routed, they retired to their principal stronghold, but it was stormed, and they submitted. Crassus then marched into the territories of the Vocates and the Tarusites who raised a great host of men to carry on the war, but suffered total defeat, after which the greater part of Aquitania of its own accord surrendered to the Romans, sending hostages of their own accord from different tribes. A few only--and those remote nations--relying on the time of year, neglected to do this.
The following winter, this being the year in which Gn. Pompeius and M. Crassus were consuls [this was the year 699 after the building of Rome, 55 before Christ; it was the fourth year of the Gallic War] the Germans, called the Usipetes and likewise the Tenchtheri, with a great number of men, crossed the Rhine not far from where that river falls into the sea. The motive was to escape from the Suevi, the largest and strongest nation in Germany, by whom they had been for several years harassed and hindered from agricultural pursuits.
The Suevi are said to possess a hundred cantons, from each of which they send forth for war a thousand armed men yearly, the others remaining at home and going forth in their turn in other years.
Caesar, hearing that various messages had been sent to them by the Gauls (whose fickle disposition he knew) asking them to come forward from the Rhine, and promising them all that they needed, set forward for the army earlier in the year than usual. When he had arrived in the region he discovered that those things which he had suspected would occur had taken place, and that; allured by the hopes held out to them, the Germans were then making excursions to greater distances, and had advanced to the territories of the Eburones and the Condrusi, who are under the protection of the Treviri. After summoning the chiefs of Gaul, Caesar thought proper to pretend ignorance of the things which he had discovered and, having conciliated and confirmed their minds and ordered some cavalry to be raised, resolved to make war against the Germans.
When he had advanced some distance, the Germans sent ambassadors, begging him not to advance further, as they had come hither reluctantly, having been expelled from their country. But Caesar, knowing that they wished for delay only to make further secret preparations, refused the overtures. Marshalling his army in three lines, and marching eight miles, he took them by surprise, and the Romans rushed their camp. Many of the enemy were slain, the rest being either scattered or drowned in attempting to escape by crossing the Meuse in the flight.
The conflict with the Germans being finished, Caesar thought it expedient to cross the Rhine. Since the Germans were so easily urged to go into Gaul, he desired they should have fears for their own territories. Therefore, notwithstanding the difficulty of constructing a bridge, owing to the breadth, rapidity and depth of the river, he devised and built one of timber and of great strength, piles being first driven in on which to erect it.
The army was led over into Germany, advanced some distance and burnt some abandoned villages of the hostile Sigambri. Then Caesar, having done enough to strike fear into the Germans and to serve both honour and interest, after a stay of eighteen days across the Rhine, returned into Gaul and cut down the bridge.
During the short part of the summer which remained he resolved to proceed into Britain, because succours had been constantly furnished to the Gauls from that country. Having collected about eighty transport ships, he set sail with two legions in fair weather, and the soldiers were attacked instantly on landing by the cavalry and charioteers of the barbarians. The enemy were vanquished, but could not be pursued, because the Roman horse had not been able to maintain their course at sea and to reach the island. This alone was wanting to Caesar's accustomed success.
During the winter Caesar ordered as many ships as possible to be constructed, and the old repaired. About six hundred transports and twenty ships of war were built and, after settling some disputes in Gaul among the chiefs, Caesar went to Port Itius with the legions. He took with him several of the leading chiefs of the Gauls, determining to retain them as hostages and to keep them with him during his next expedition to Britain, lest a commotion should arise in Gaul during his absence.
Caesar, having crossed to the shore of Britain and disembarked his army at a convenient spot, advanced about twelve miles and repelled all attacks of the cavalry and charioteers of the enemy. Then he led his forces into the territories of Cassivellaunus to the River Thames, which river can be forded in one place only. Here an engagement took place which resulted in the flight of the Britons. But Cassivellaunus had sent messengers to the four kings who reigned over Kent and the districts by the sea, Cingetorix, Carvilius, Taximaquilus and Segonax, commanding them to collect all their forces and assail the naval camp.
In the battle which ensued the Romans were victorious, and when Cassivellaunus heard of this disaster he sent ambassadors to Caesar to treat about a surrender. Caesar, since he had resolved to pass the winter on the continent, on account of sudden revolts in Gaul, demanded hostages and prescribed what tribute Britain should pay each year to the Roman people.
Caesar, expecting for many reasons greater commotion in Gaul, levied additional forces. He saw that war was being prepared on all sides, that the Nervii, Aduatuci and Menapii, with the addition of all the Germans on this side of the Rhine, were under arms; that the Senones did not assemble according to his command, and were concerting measures with the Carnutes and the neighbouring states; and that the Germans were importuned by the Treviri in frequent embassies. Therefore he thought that he ought to take prompt and effective measures for the war.
Accordingly, before the winter was ended, he marched with four legions unexpectedly into the territories of the Nervii, captured many men and much cattle, wasted their lands, and forced them to surrender and give hostages. He followed up his success by worsting the Senones, Carnutes and Menapii, while Labienus defeated the Treviri.
Gaul being tranquil, Caesar, as he had determined, set out for Italy to hold the provincial assizes. There he was informed of the decree of the senate that all the youth of Italy should take the military oath, and he determined to hold a levy throughout the entire province. The Gauls, animated by the opportunity afforded through his absence, and indignant that they were reduced beneath the dominion of Rome, began to organize their plans for war openly.
Many of the nations confederated and selected as their commander Vercingetorix, a young Avernian. On hearing what had happened, Caesar set out from Italy for Transalpine Gaul, and began the campaign by marching into the country of the Helvii, although it was the severest time of the year and the country was covered with deep snow.
THE armies met, and Vercingetorix sustained a series of losses at Vellaunodunum, Genabum and Noviodunum. The Gauls then threw a strong garrison into Avaricum, which Caesar besieged, and at length Caesar's soldiers took it by storm. All the Gauls, with few exceptions, joined in the revolt; and the united forces, under Vercingetorix, attacked the Roman army while it was marching into the country of the Sequani, but they suffered complete defeat. After struggling vainly to continue the war, Vercingetorix surrendered and the Gallic chieftains laid down their arms.
Caesar demanded a great number of hostages, sent his lieutenants with various legions to different stations in Gaul, and determined himself to winter at Bibracte. A supplication of twenty days was decreed at Rome by the senate on hearing of these successes.
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