“The Conquest of Gaul” by Julius Caesar


The people of Gaul were the inveterate enemies of Rome, having once before captured the City. The Roman historian Livy observed that the Gauls could not endure heat and physical exertion, and tire quickly in battles. They were impetuous, abounding in ingenuity, but lacking in fortitude, according to Caesar.

The Commentaries on the Gallic War (58 BC-51 BC) are an intriguing account of war through the eyes of a conqueror and dictator. Compared with “Anabasis”, written by the Greek general and historian Xenophon, the Commentaries demonstrate Caesar’s amazing military and political genius. “In Caesar there is genius, calculation, memory, letters, industry, thought, diligence”, as Cicero concedes in Philippics. Caesar writes about the war in a third person narrative, and describes, matter-of-factly, the hopes and fears that motivate his soldiers and enemies, the strengths and weaknesses of their characters, which gives the reader almost a sense of his transcendence and the inevitability of his triumphs. I suspect he wrote with a calculated purpose to impress upon his target readership, i.e., the Romans he was destined to rule.

The People of Gaul

Everywhere in Gaul there are only two classes of men who are of any account or consideration. The common people are treated almost as slaves, never venture to act on their own initiative, and are not consulted on any subject. Most of them, crushed by debt or heavy taxation or the oppression of more powerful persons, bind themselves to serve man of rank, who exercise over them all the rights that masters have over slaves.

The two privileged classes are the Druids and the knights. The former are engaged in things sacred, conduct the public and the private sacrifices, and interpret all matters of religion.

As a nation the Gauls are extremely superstitious…They believe that the only way of saving a man’s life is to propitiate the god’s wrath by rendering another life in its place. For the performance of human sacrifices, they employ Druids.

The other class is that of the knights. When their services are required in some war that has broken out –and before Caesar’s arrival in the country the Gallic states used to fight offensive or defensive wars almost every year– these all take the field, surrounded by their servants and retainers, of whom each knight has a greater or smaller number according to his birth and fortune. The possession of such a following is the only criterion of position and power that they recognize.



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