The history of the Gallic War: commentary by Julius Caesar

Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit; the Aquitani another; those who in their own language are called Celts, in ours Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws. Among the Gauls the Helvetii surpass the rest in valour, as they constantly contend in battle with the Germans. When Messala and Piso were consuls, Orgetorix, the most distinguished of the Helvetii, formed a conspiracy among the nobility, persuading them that, since they excelled all in valour, it would be very easy to acquire the supremacy of the whole of Gaul. They made great preparations, but suddenly Orgetorix died,. and suspicion was not lacking that he committed suicide.

After his death, the Helvetii nevertheless attempted the exodus from their territories. When it was reported to Caesar that they were attempting to make their route through our province, he gathered as great a force as possible, and by forced marches arrived at Geneva.

The Helvetii now sent ambassadors to Caesar requesting permission to pass through the province, which he refused, inasmuch as he remembered that Lucius Cassius, the consul, had been slain, and his army routed and made to pass under the yoke by the Helvetii. Disappointed in their hope, the Helvetii attempted to force a passage across the Rhone, but, being resisted by the soldiers, desisted.

After the war with the Helvetii was concluded, ambassadors from almost all parts of Gaul assembled to congratulate Caesar, and to declare that his victory had happened no less to the benefit of the land of Gaul than of the Roman people, because the Helvetii had quitted their country with the design of subduing the whole of Gaul.

When the assembly was dismissed, the chiefs of the Aedui and of the Sequani waited upon Caesar to complain that Ariovistus, the king of the Germans, had settled in their territories, had seized a third of their land, which was the best in Gaul, and was now ordering them to depart from another third part.

To ambassadors sent by Caesar, demanding an appointment of some spot for a conference, Ariovistus gave an insolent reply, which was repeated on a second overture. Hearing that the king of the Germans was threatening to seize Vesontio, the capital of the Sequani, Caesar, by a forced march, arrived there and took possession of the city. Apprised of this event, Ariovistus changed his attitude, and sent messengers intimating that he agreed to meet Caesar, as they were now nearer to each other and could meet without danger.

The conference took place, but it led to no successful result, for Ariovistus demanded that the Romans should withdraw from Gaul; and his conduct became afterwards so hostile that it led to war. A battle took place about fifty miles from the Rhine. The Germans were routed and fled to the river, across which many escaped, the rest being slain in pursuit. Caesar, having concluded two very important wars in one campaign, conducted his army into winter quarters.

While Caesar was in winter quarters in Hither Gaul, frequent reports were brought to him that all the Belgae were entering into a confederacy against the Roman people, because they feared that, after all Celtic Gaul was subdued, our army would be led against them. Caesar, alarmed, levied two new legions in Hither Gaul, and proceeded to the territory of the Belgae. As he arrived there unexpectedly, and sooner than anyone anticipated, the Remi, who are the nearest of the Belgae to Celtic Gaul, sent messages of submission and gave Caesar full information about the other Belgae.

Caesar next learnt that the Nervii, a savage and very brave people, whose territories bordered those just conquered, had upbraided the rest of the Belgae who had surrendered themselves to the Roman people, and had declared that they themselves would neither send ambassadors nor accept any conditions of peace. He was informed concerning them that they allowed no access of any merchants, and that they suffered no wine and other things tending to luxury to be imported, because they thought that by their use the mind is enervated and the courage impaired.

After he had made three days' march into their territory, Caesar discovered that all the Nervii had stationed themselves on the other side of the River Sambre, not more than ten miles from his camp, and that they had persuaded the Atrebates and the Veromandui to join with them, and that the Aduatuci also were expected by them, and were on the march. The Roman army proceeded to encamp in front of the river, on a site sloping towards it. Here they were fiercely attacked by the Nervii, the assault being so sudden that Caesar had to do all things at one time. The standard as the sign to run to arms had to be displayed, the soldiers were to be called from the works on the rampart, the order of battle was to be formed, and a great part of these arrangements was prevented by the shortness of time and the sudden charge of the enemy.

Time was lacking even for putting on helmets and uncovering shields. In such an unfavourable state of affairs, various events of fortune followed. The soldiers of the ninth and tenth legions speedily drove back the Atrebates, who were breathless with running and fatigue. Many of them were slain. In like manner the Veromandui were routed by the eighth and eleventh legions; but as part of the camp was very exposed, the Nervii hastened in a very close body, under Boduagnatus, their leader, to rush against that quarter. Our horsemen and lightarmed infantry were routed by the first assault, and the enemy, rushing into our camp in great numbers, pressed hard on the legions. But Caesar, seizing a shield and encouraging the soldiers, many of whose centurions had been slain, ordered them to extend their companies that they might more freely use their swords.

So great a change was soon effected that, though the enemy displayed great courage, the battle was ended so disastrously for them that the Nervii were almost annihilated. Scarcely five hundred were left who could bear arms. Their old men sent ambassadors to Caesar by the consent of all who remained, surrendering themselves. The Aduatuci, who were coming to the help of the Nervii, returned home when they heard of this battle.

ALL Gaul being now subdued, so high an opinion of this war was spread among the barbarians that ambassadors were sent to Caesar by those nations that dwelt beyond the Rhine, to promise that they would give hostages and execute his commands. He ordered these embassies to return to him at the beginning of the following summer, because he was hastening into Italy and Illyricum. Having led his legions into winter quarters among the Carnutes, the Andes and the Turones, which states were close to those in which he had waged war, he set out for Italy, and a public thanks-giving of fifteen days was decreed for these achievements, an honour which before that time had been conferred on none.

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