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Book III

This webpage reproduces part of
Gallic War

Julius Caesar

Loeb Classical Library

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Gallic War

 p181  Book IV

1 In the following winter — the year in which Gnaeus Pompeius and Marcus Crassus were consuls​1 — the Usipetes from Germany, and likewise the Tencteri, crossed the Rhine with a large host of men, not far from the sea into which it flows. The reason for their crossing was that for several years they had been much harassed by the Suebi, who pressed on them by force of arms and prevented them from husbandry. The Suebi are by far the largest and the most warlike nation among the Germans. It is said that they have a hundred cantons, from each of which they draw one thousand armed men yearly for the purpose of war outside their borders. The remainder, who have stayed at home, support themselves and the absent warriors; and again, in turn, are under arms the following year, while the others remain at home. By this means neither husbandry nor the theory and practice of war is interrupted. They have no private or separate holding of land, nor are they allowed to abide longer than a year in one place for their habitation. They make not much use of cornº for food, but chiefly of milk and of cattle, and are much engaged in hunting; and this, owing to the nature of the food, the regular exercise, and the freedom of life — for from boyhood up they are not schooled in a sense of duty or discipline, and do nothing whatever  p183 against their wish — nurses their strength and makes men of immense bodily stature. Moreover, they have regularly trained themselves to wear nothing, even in the coldest localities, except skins, the scantiness of which leaves a great part of the body bare, and they bathe in the rivers.

2 They give access to traders rather to secure purchasers for what they have captured in war than to satisfy any craving for imports. And, in fact, the Germans do not import for their use draught-horses, in which the Gauls take the keenest delight, procuring them at great expense; but they take their home-bred animals, inferior and ill‑favoured, and by regular exercising they render them capable of the utmost exertion. In cavalry combats they often leap from their horses and fight on foot, having trained their horses to remain in the same spot, and retiring rapidly upon them at need; and their tradition regards nothing as more disgraceful or more indolent than the use of saddles. And so, however few in number, they dare approach any party, however large, of saddle-horsemen. They suffer no importation of wine whatever, believing that men are thereby rendered soft and womanish for the endurance of hardship.

3 As a nation, they count it the highest praise to have the land on their borders untenanted over as wide a tract as may be, for this signifies, they think, that a great number of states cannot withstand their force. Thus it is said that on one side for about six hundred miles from the territory of the Suebi the land is untenanted. On the other side the Ubii come nearest, a state which was once extensive and prosperous, according to German standards. Its inhabitants are somewhat more civilised than the other folk  p185 of the same race, because their borders touch the Rhine and traders visit them frequently, and, further, because the Ubii themselves by close neighbourhood have grown accustomed to Gallic fashions. Upon this people the Suebi had made frequent attempts in many wars, but had proved unable to drive them from their territory because the state was populous and powerful; however, they made the Ubii tributary to themselves, and greatly diminished their strength and importance.

4 The Usipetes and the Tencteri, mentioned above, were in the same case. For several years they withstood the force of the Suebi, but at last they were driven out of their lands, and after wandering for three years in many districts of Germany they reached the Rhine. The localities thereabout were inhabited by the Menapii, who possessed lands, buildings, and villages on both banks of the river; but, being alarmed by the approach of so great a host, they removed from the buildings which they had possessed beyond the river, and, setting garrisons at intervals on the near side of the Rhine, sought to prevent the Germans from crossing. The Germans tried every expedient, but when they found that they could neither force their way because of their lack of vessels nor cross privily because of the Menapian piquets, they pretended to retire to their own homes and districts. They proceeded for a three days' journey, and then returned; and their cavalry, having completed the whole of this distance in a single night, caught the Menapii uninformed and unawares, for, having learnt through their scouts of the departure of the Germans, they had moved back without fear over the Rhine into their own villages. So they were put to the sword and their vessels  p187 seized; then the Germans crossed the river before the section of the Menapii on the near side of the Rhine could learn of it, seized all their buildings, and for the remainder of the winter sustained themselves on the supplies of the Menapii.

5 Caesar was informed of these events; and fearing the fickleness of the Gauls, because they are capricious in forming designs and intent for the most part on change, he considered that no trust should be reposed in them. It is indeed a regular habit of the Gauls to compel travellers to halt, even against their will, and to ascertain what each of them may have heard or learnt upon every subject; and in the towns the common folk surround traders, compelling them to declare from what districts they come and what they have learnt there. Such stories and hearsay often induce them to form plans upon vital questions of which they must forthwith repent; for they are the slaves of uncertain rumours, and most men reply to them in fictions made to their taste.

6 Caesar was aware of this their habit, and, for fear that otherwise he might have to face a more serious campaign, set out for the army earlier than was his wont. When he reached headquarters he learnt that his suspicions had been realised; deputations had been sent by some states to the Germans, inviting them to leave the Rhine, and promising to furnish all things demanded of them. The hope thus inspired encouraged the Germans to range more widely, and they had already reached the borders of the Eburones and the Condrusi, dependents of the Treveri. Thereupon Caesar summoned the chiefs of Gaul from their homes; but, thinking it best to conceal the information in his possession, he comforted and encouraged them, and, having  p189 made re­quisition of cavalry, determined to make war on the Germans.

7 Having secured his corn-supply and selected his cavalry, he began to march into the localities in which the Germans were reported to be. When he was a few days' march away deputies arrived from them, whose address was to the following effect: The Germans did not take the first step in making war on the Roman people, nor yet, if provoked, did they refuse the conflict of arms, for it was the ancestral custom of the Germans to resist anyone who made war upon them, and not to beg off. They declared, however, that they had come against their will, being driven out of their homes: if the Romans would have their goodwill, they might find their friendship useful. Let the Romans either grant them lands, or suffer them to hold the lands their arms had acquired. They yielded to the Suebi alone, to whom even the immortal gods could not be equal; on earth at any rate there was no one else whom they could not conquer.

8 To this Caesar replied as seemed good; but the conclusion of his speech was as follows: He could have no friendship with them, if they remained in Gaul. On the one hand, it was not just that men who had not been able to defend their own territories should seize those of others; on the other hand, there was no land in Gaul which could be granted without injustice, especially to so numerous a host. However, they had permission, if they pleased, to settle in the territories of the Ubii, whose deputies were in his camp, complaining of the outrages of the Suebi and seeking his assistance: he would give orders to the Ubii to this effect.

 p191  9 The envoys said that they would report this to their people and, after deliberation upon the matter, return to Caesar in three days: they asked him not to move his camp nearer in the meanwhile. Caesar replied that he could not even grant that request. He knew, in fact, that they had sent a large detachment of cavalry some days before to the country of the Ambivariti across the Meuse, to get booty and corn: he supposed that they were waiting for this cavalry, and for that reason sought to interpose delay.

10 The Meuse flows from the range of the Vosges, in the territory of the Lingones, and, receiving from the Rhine a certain tributary called the Waal, forms the island of the Batavi; then, no more than eighty miles from the Ocean, it flows into the Rhine. The Rhine rises in the land of the Lepontii, who inhabit the Alps; in a long, swift course it runs through the territories of the Nantuates, Helvetii, Sequani, Mediomatrices, Triboci, and Treveri, and on its approach to the Ocean divides into several streams, forming many large islands (a great number of which are inhabited by fierce barbaric tribes, believed in some instances to live on fish and birds' eggs); then by many mouths it flows into the Ocean.

11 When Caesar was no more than twelve miles away from the enemy, the deputies returned to him as agreed: they met him on the march, and besought him earnestly not to advance further. When their request was not granted, they asked him to send forward to the cavalry in advance of his column and to prevent them from engaging, and to grant themselves an opportunity of sending deputies into the land of the Ubii. They put forward the hope that, if the chiefs and the senate of the Ubii pledged their  p193 faith on oath, they (the Germans) would accept the terms which Caesar offered; and they asked him to give them an interval of three days to settle these affairs. Caesar supposed that all these pleas had the same object as before, to secure by a three days' interval the return of their absent cavalry; however, he said that on that day he would advance no further than four miles, in order to get water. He instructed them to meet him there next day with as large a number as they could, in order that he might take cognisance of their demands. Meanwhile he sent instructions to the commanders who had gone forward with all the cavalry not to provoke the enemy to an engagement, and, if provoked themselves, to hold their ground until he himself with the army had come up nearer.

12 The enemy had no more than eight hundred cavalry, for the party which was gone across the Meuse to get corn was not yet returned. Our own men, five thousand strong, had nothing to fear, for the deputies of the Germans had left Caesar but a short while before, having asked for a truce that day. However, directly they saw our cavalry, the enemy charged, and speedily threw our men into confusion. When our men turned to resist, the enemy, according to their custom, dismounted, and, by stabbing our horses and bringing down many of our troopers to the ground, they put the rest to rout, and indeed drove them in such panic that they did not desist from flight until they were come in sight of our column. In that engagement were slain seventy-four of our cavalry, and among them the gallant Piso of Aquitania, the scion of a most distinguished line, whose grandfather had held the sovereignty in his own state, and had been saluted as Friend by the Roman  p195 Senate. Piso went to the assistance of his brother, who had been cut off by the enemy, and rescued him from danger, but was thrown himself, his horse having been wounded. He resisted most gallantly as long as he could; then he was surrounded, and fell after receiving many wounds. His brother, who had escaped from the fight, saw him fall from a distance; then spurred his horse, flung himself upon the enemy, and was slain.

13 After this engagement was over, Caesar felt that he ought no longer to receive deputies nor to accept conditions from tribes which had sought for peace by guile and treachery, and then had actually begun war. Further, he judged it the height of madness to wait till the enemy's forces should be increased and their cavalry returned. Knowing as he did the fickleness of the Gauls, he apprehended how much influence the enemy had already acquired over them by a single engagement; and he considered that no time to form plans should be given them. Thus determined, he communicated to the lieutenant-generals and the quartermaster-general his purpose not to lose a day in giving battle. Then, most fortunately, a certain thing occurred. The next morning, as treacherous and hypocritical as ever, a large company of Germans, which included all the principal and senior men, came to his quarters, with a double object — to clear themselves (so they alleged) for engaging in a battle the day before, contrary to the agreement and to their own request therein, and also by deceit to get what they could in respect of the truce. Caesar rejoiced that they were delivered into his hand, and ordered them to be detained; then in person he led all his troops out of camp, commanding the cavalry, which he judged to be  p197 shaken by the recent engagement, to follow in the rear.

14 Triple line of columns​2 was formed, and the eight-mile march was so speedily accomplished that Caesar reached the enemy's camp before the Germans could have any inkling of what was toward. They were struck with sudden panic by everything — by the rapidity of our approach, the absence of their own chiefs; and, as no time was given them to think, or to take up arms, they were too much taken aback to decide which was best — to lead their forces against the enemy, to defend the camp, or to seek safety by flight. When their alarm was betrayed by the uproar and bustle, our troops, stung by the treachery of the day before, burst into the camp. In the camp those who were able speedily to take up arms resisted the Romans for a while, and fought among the carts and baggage-wagons; the remainder, a crowd of women and children (for the Germans had left home and crossed the Rhine with all their belongings), began to flee in all directions, and Caesar despatched the cavalry in pursuit.

15 Hearing the noise in rear, and seeing their own folk slain, the Germans threw away their arms, abandoned their war‑standards, and burst out of the camp. When they reached the junction of the Meuse and the Rhine, they gave up hope of escaping further; a large number were already slain, and the rest hurled themselves into the river, there to perish, overcome by terror, by exhaustion, by the force of the stream. The Romans, with not a man lost and but few wounded, freed from the fear of a stupendous war — with an enemy whose numbers had been  p199 430,000 souls— returned to camp. Caesar gave to the Germans detained in camp permission to depart; but they, fearing punishments and tortures at the hand of the Gauls whose lands they had harassed, said that they would stay in his company, and he gave them liberty to do so.

16 The German campaign thus finished, Caesar decided for many reasons that he must cross the Rhine. The most cogent reason was that, as he saw the Germans so easily induced to enter Gaul, he wished to make them fearful in turn for their own fortunes, by showing them that a Roman army could and durst cross the Rhine. Moreover, that section of the cavalry of the Usipetes and Tencteri which, as I have mentioned before, had crossed the Meuse to get booty and corn, and had taken no part in the battle, had now, after the rout of their countrymen, withdrawn across the Rhine into the territory of the Sugambri, and joined them. To them Caesar sent envoys to demand the surrender of the men who had made war upon himself and Gaul. They replied that the Rhine marked the limit of the Roman empire: if he thought it unfair that the Germans should cross into Gaul against his will, why did he claim any imperial power across the Rhine?

The Ubii, on the other hand, the only tribe beyond the Rhine which had sent deputies to Caesar, made friendly terms, and given hostages, earnestly besought him to assist them, as they were grievously hard pressed by the Suebi; or, if the urgent concerns of state prevented that, only to transport his army across the Rhine: that would suffice for their present help and future hope. So great, they said, even among the farthest tribes of  p201 Germany was the renown and reputation of his army, after the defeat of Ariovistus and the success of this last action, that their own safety was secure in the prestige and the friendship of Rome. They promised a large supply of boats for the transport of his army.

17 For the reasons above mentioned Caesar had decided to cross the Rhine; but he deemed it scarcely safe, and ruled it unworthy of his own and the Romans' dignity, to cross in boats. And so, although he was confronted with the greatest difficulty in making a bridge, by reason of the breadth, the rapidity, and the depth of the river, he still thought that he must make that effort, or else not take his army across. He proceeded to construct a bridge on the following plan.​3 He caused pairs of balks eighteen inches thick, sharpened a little way from the base and measured to suit the depth of the river, to be coupled together at an interval of two feet. These he lowered into the river by means of rafts, and set fast, and drove home by rammers; not, like piles, straight up and down, but leaning forward at a uniform slope, so that they inclined in the direction of the stream. Opposite to these, again, were planted two balks coupled in the same fashion, at a distance of forty feet from base to base​4 of each pair, slanted against the force and onrush of the stream. These pairs of balks had two‑foot transoms let into them atop, filling the interval at which they were coupled, and were kept apart by a pair of braces on the outer side at each end. So, as they were held apart and contrariwise clamped together,  p203 the stability of the structure was so great and its character such that, the greater the force and thrust of the water, the tighter were the balks held in lock. These trestles​5 were interconnected by timber laid over at right angles, and floored with long poles and wattlework. And further, piles were driven in aslant on the side facing down stream, thrust out below like a buttress and close joined with the whole structure, so as to take the force of the stream; and others likewise at a little distance above the bridge, so that if trunks of trees, or vessels, were launched by the natives to break down the structure, these fenders might lessen the force of such shocks, and prevent them from damaging the bridge.

The Bridge over the Rhine (IV.17)

[image ALT: missingALT.]


The present breadth of the Rhine at Coblenz is about 400 yards; the depth thereabout varies from 5 to 25 feet. In the section given 16 feet is taken as an average depth. The width of roadway shown is 36 feet. The space (40 feet) between the pairs of balks (A, A) is reckoned along the water-line — i.e. the lowest visible part (cf. ab inferiore parte). If it were reckoned along the river‑bed, it would mean that the successive pairs of balks would incline inwards at different angles as the bridge approached mid‑stream from each bank: for it is not to be supposed that the width of the roadway varied. We are not told at what angle the balks inclined, nor at what height above the water-line the transoms were, nor how far each pier or trestle was from the next. It is highly probable that, in a military bridge of this kind, for the sake of rapidity in construction, a uniform profile was followed for the part of each pier or trestle visible above the water-line.

It is not clear what is meant by the fibulae mentioned by Caesar. Some authorities have thought that these are the diagonal ties (D, d), which are certainly required for the stability of the bridge, and which are probably implied by the phrase quibus disclusis atque in contrariam partem revinctis. The triangle formed by balk, transom, and tie resembles the shape, and performs the function, of a brooch (fibula). Other authorities hold that the fibulae were iron "dogs" (︻), driven in to clamp each transom to its two pairs of balks at the points of juncture.

A, a

Balks, tigna bina sesquipedalia.

B, B

Transom, trabs bipedalis.

C, C

Cross-bars, iuncturae, between A, a.

D, d

Ties, one on each side (utrimque) of the trestle, fastened at the ends (ab extrema parte).


Timbers laid on at right angles as road-bearers.


Poles (longurii).


Wattle-work (crates), as flooring.

H, h

Piles (sublicae) driven in aslant as buttresses, and closely connected with A, a, by a cross‑bar or otherwise, probably as near the water-line as possible.


Piles driven in as fenders (defensores) a little above the bridge.

18 The whole work was completed in ten days from that on which the collecting of timber began, and the army was taken across. Leaving a strong post at either end of the bridge, Caesar pressed on into the territory of Sugambri. Meanwhile from several states deputies came to him, to whose request for peace and friendship he replied in generous fashion, and ordered hostages to be brought to him. But from the moment when the bridge began to be constructed the Sugambri, at the instigation of the Tencteri and Usipetes among them, had been preparing for flight; and now they had evacuated their territory, carried off all their stuff, and hidden themselves in the remote part of the forests.

19 Caesar tarried for a few days in their territory, until he had burnt all the villages and buildings, and cut down the corn-crops. Then he withdrew into the territory of the Ubii; and, after a promise of his help to them, if they were hard pressed by the Suebi, he received the following information  p205 from them. The Suebi, when they had discovered by means of their scouts that a bridge was being built, held a convention according to their custom, and despatched messengers to all quarters, ordering the people to remove from their towns, to lodge their children and all their stuff in the woods, and to assemble in one place all men capable of bearing arms. The place chosen was about the middle of the districts occupied by the Suebi; here they were awaiting the approach of the Romans, having determined to fight the decisive battle on this spot. By the time when Caesar learnt this he had accomplished all the objects for which he had determined to lead his army across the Rhine — to strike terror into the Germans, to take vengeance on the Sugambri, to deliver the Ubii from a state of blockade. So, having spent in all eighteen days across the Rhine, and advanced far enough, as he thought, to satisfy both honour and expediency, he withdrew into Gaul and broke up the bridge.

20 Only a small part of the summer was left, and in these regions, as all Gaul has a northerly aspect, the winters are early; but for all this Caesar was intent upon starting for Britain. He understood that in almost all the Gallic campaigns succours had been furnished for our enemy from that quarter; and he supposed that, if the season left no time for actual campaigning, it would still be of great advantage to him merely to have entered the island, observed the character of the natives, and obtained some knowledge of the localities, the harbours, and the landing-places; for almost all these matters were unknown to the Gauls. In fact, nobody except traders journeys thither without good guard; and even traders know nothing except the sea‑coast and  p207 the districts opposite Gaul. Therefore, although he summoned to his quarters traders from all parts, he could discover neither the size of the island, nor the number or the strength of the tribes inhabiting it, nor their manner of warfare, nor the ordinances they observed, nor the harbours suitable for a number of large ships.

21 To gain such knowledge before he made the venture, Caesar thought Gaius Volusenus a proper person to send on in advance with a ship of war. His orders were to spy out everything and to return to him at once. He himself with all his forces started for the territory of the Morini, from which was the shortest passage across to Britain. He commanded the general concentration here of ships from the neighbouring districts, and of the fleet which he had built in the previous summer for the Venetian campaign. Meanwhile his purpose had become known and had been reported through traders to the Britons, and deputies came to him from several states in the island with promises to give hostages and to accept the empire of Rome. He heard them, and made them a generous promise, encouraging them to keep their word; then he sent them back home, and along with them he sent Commius, whom he himself, after subduing the Atrebates, had made king over them. Caesar approved his courage and discretion, and believed him loyal to himself; and his influence was reckoned to be of great account in those parts.​6 Him he commanded to visit what states he could, to exhort them to seek the protection of Rome, and to announce his own speedy advent thither. Volusenus observed all the country so far as was possible for an officer who did not dare to  p209 disembark and entrust himself to the rough natives, and on the fifth day returned to Caesar, and reported his observations in Britain.

22 While Caesar tarried where he was to fit out his ships, deputies came to him from a great part of the Morini to make excuse for their policy of the previous season, when in their barbarism and ignorance of our usage they had made war against Rome, and to promise that they would carry out his commands. Caesar thought this overture exceedingly opportune. He did not wish to leave an enemy in his rear, nor had he a chance of carrying out a campaign because of the lateness of the season; nor did he think the settlement of such trivialities should take precedence of Britain. He therefore ordered them to furnish a large number of hostages; and when they brought these he received them under his protection. When about eighty transports — enough, in his opinion, to carry two legions across — had been collected and concentrated, he distributed all the ships of war he had over between his quartermaster-general, lieutenant-generals, and commandants.​7 To the total stated eighteen transports should be added, which were detained eight miles off by the wind, and prevented from entering the port of concentration;​8 these he allotted to the cavalry. The rest of the army he handed over to Quintus Titurius Sabinus and Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta, lieutenant-generals, to be led against the Menapii and against those cantons of the Morini from which no deputies had come to him. He commanded Publius Sulpicius Rufus, lieutenant-general, with a garrison he considered sufficient, to hold the port.

 p211  23 These arrangements made, he caught a spell of fair weather for sailing, and weighed anchor about the third watch; he ordered the cavalry to proceed to the further harbour,​9 embark, and follow him. They took somewhat too long to despatch the business; he himself reached Britain about the fourth hour of the day, and there beheld the armed forces of the enemy displayed on all the cliffs.​10 Such was the nature of the ground, so steep the heights which banked the sea, that a missile could be hurled from the higher levels on to the shore. Thinking this place to be by no means suitable for disembarkation, he waited at anchor till the ninth hour for the rest of the flotilla to assemble there. Meanwhile he summoned together the lieutenant-generals and tribunes, to inform them what he had learnt from Volusenus, and what he wished to be done; and he warned them that, to meet the requirements of tactics and particularly of navigation — with its liability to movements as rapid as they were irregular — they must do everything in the nick of time at a hint from him. He then dismissed them; and catching at one and the same moment a favourable wind and tide, he gave the signal, and weighed anchor, and, moving on about seven miles from that spot, he grounded his ships where the shore was even and open.11

24 The natives, however, perceived the design of the Romans. So they sent forward their cavalry and charioteers — an arm which it is their regular custom to employ in fights — and, following up with the rest of their forces, they sought to prevent our troops from disembarking. Disembarkation was a matter  p213 of extreme difficulty, for the following reasons. The ships, on account of their size, could not be run ashore, except in deep water; the troops — though they did not know the ground, had not their hands free, and were loaded with the great and grievous weight of their arms — had nevertheless at one and the same time to leap down from the vessels, to stand firm in the waves, and to fight the enemy. The enemy, on the other hand, had all their limbs free, and knew the ground exceeding well; and either standing on dry land or advancing a little way into the water, they boldly hurled their missiles, or spurred on their horses, which were trained to it. Frightened by all this, and wholly inexperienced in this sort of fighting, our troops did not press on with the same fire and force as they were accustomed to show in land engagements.

25 When Caesar remarked this, he commanded the ships of war (which were less familiar in appearance to the natives, and could move more freely at need) to remove a little from the transports, to row at speed, and to bring up on the exposed flank of the enemy; and thence to drive and clear them off with slings, arrows, and artillery. This movement proved of great service to our troops; for the natives, frightened by the shape of the ships, the motion of the oars, and the unfamiliar type of the artillery, came to a halt, and retired, but only for a little space. And then, while our troops still hung back, chiefly on account of the depth of the sea, the eagle-bearer of the Tenth Legion, after a prayer to heaven to bless the legion by his act, cried: "Leap down, soldiers, unless you wish to betray your eagle to the enemy; it shall be told that I at any rate did my duty to my country and my general." When he had  p215 said this with a loud voice, he cast himself forth from the ship, and began to bear the eagle against the enemy. Then our troops exhorted one another not to allow so dire a disgrace, and leapt down from the ship with one accord. And when the troops on the nearest ships saw them, they likewise followed on, and drew near to the enemy.

26 The fighting was fierce on both sides. Our troops, however, because they could not keep rank, nor stand firm, nor follow their proper standards — for any man from any ship attached himself to whatever standard he chanced upon — were in considerable disorder. But the enemy knew all the shallows, and as soon as they had observed from the shore a party of soldiers disembarking one by one from a ship, they spurred on their horses and attacked them while they were in difficulties, many surrounding few, while others hurled missiles into a whole party from the exposed​12 flank. Caesar noticed this; and causing the boats of the warships, and likewise the scout-vessels, to be manned with soldiers, he sent them to support any parties whom he had observed to be in distress. The moment our men stood firm on dry land, they charged with all their comrades close behind, and put the enemy to rout; but they could not pursue very far, because the cavalry had not been able to hold on their course and make the island. This one thing was lacking to complete the wonted success of Caesar.

27 So the enemy were overcome in the fight; and as soon as they had recovered from the rout they at once sent deputies to Caesar to treat for peace, promising that they would give hostages and do what he commanded. Together with these deputies came  p217 Commius the Atrebatian, who, as shown above, had been sent forward by Caesar into Britain. When Commius disembarked and delivered Caesar's messages to the Britons, they had seized him and thrown him into chains; but now, after the fight, they sent him back. In their entreaty for peace they cast the blame of the misdeed upon the multitude, and sought pardon in consideration of their ignorance. Caesar complained that, though of their own motion they had sent deputies on to the Continent to seek peace from him, they had now begun war on him without cause; but he agreed to pardon their ignorance, and required hostages. Part of these they gave at once, part they said they would summon from the more distant parts and give in a few days. Meanwhile they ordered their own folk to get back to their fields; and the chiefs began to assemble from every quarter, and to deliver themselves and their states to Caesar.

28 Peace was thus established. Four days after the arrival in Britain the eighteen ships above mentioned, which had embarked the cavalry, weighed anchor, in a gentle breeze, from the upper​13 port. When they were nearing Britain, and in view of the camp, so fierce a storm suddenly arose that none of them could hold on its course; some were carried back to the selfsame port whence they had started, others were driven away, with great peril to themselves, to the lower, that is, to the more westerly, part of the island. None the less, they cast anchor; but when they began to fill with the waves they were obliged to stand out to sea in a night of foul weather, and made for the Continent.

 p219  29 That same night, as it chanced, the moon was full, the day of the month which usually makes the highest tides in the Ocean, a fact unknown to our men. Therefore the tide was found to have filled the warships, in which Caesar had caused his army to be conveyed across, and which he had drawn up on dry land; and at the same time the storm was buffeting the transports, which were made fast to anchors. Nor had our troops any chance of handling them or helping. Several ships went to pieces; and the others, by loss of cordage, anchors, and the rest of their tackle, were rendered useless for sailing. This, as was inevitable, caused great dismay throughout the army. For there were no other ships to carry them back; everything needful for the repair of ships was lacking; and, as it was generally understood that the army was to winter in Gaul, no corn had been provided in these parts against the winter.

30 When they became aware of this, the British chiefs who had assembled at Caesar's headquarters after the fight took counsel together. As they knew that the Romans lacked cavalry, ships, and corn, and perceived the scantiness of the army from the smallness of the camp (it was straitened even more by the fact that Caesar had brought the legions over without baggage), they thought that the best thing to do was to renew the war, cut off our corn and other supplies, and prolong the business into the winter; for they were confident that when the present force was overcome or cut off from return no one thereafter would cross over into Britain to make war upon them. Therefore they conspired together anew, and, departing a few at a time from the camp, they began secretly to draw in their followers from the fields.

 p221  31 Although Caesar had not yet learnt their designs, yet the misfortune of his ships and the fact that the chiefs had broken off the surrender of hostages led him to suspect that events would turn out as they did; and therefore he prepared means to meet any emergency. He collected corn daily from the fields into the camp, and he utilised the timber and bronze of the ships which had been most severely damaged to repair the rest, and ordered the necessary gear for that purpose to be brought from the Continent. The work was most zealously carried out by the troops; and thus, though twelve ships had been lost, he was able to render the rest tolerably seaworthy.

32 Meanwhile one legion, called the Seventh, had been sent as usual to collect corn; nor as yet had any suspicion of hostilities intervened, since part of the people remained in the fields, and part were actually frequent visitors to the camp. Then the outposts on duty before the gates of the camp reported to Caesar that a greater dust than usual was to be seen in that quarter to which the legion had marched. Caesar suspected the truth — that some fresh design had been started by the natives — and ordered the cohorts which were on outpost to proceed with him to the quarter in question, two of the others to relieve them on outpost, and the rest to arm and follow him immediately. When he had advanced some little way from the camp, he found that his troops were being hard pressed by the enemy and were holding their ground with difficulty: the legion was crowded together, while missiles were being hurled from all sides. The fact was that when the corn had been cut from the rest of the neighbourhood one part remained,  p223 and the enemy, supposing that our troops would come hither, had hidden by night in the woods; then, when the men were scattered and, having grounded arms, were engaged in cutting corn, they had suddenly attacked them. They had killed a few, throwing the rest into confusion before they could form up, and at the same time surrounding them with horsemen and chariots.

33 Their manner of fighting from chariots is as follows. First of all they drive in all directions and hurl missiles, and so by the mere terror that the teams inspire and by the noise of the wheels they generally throw ranks into confusion. When they have worked their way in between the troops of cavalry, they leap down from the chariots and fight on foot. Meanwhile the charioteers retire gradually from the combat, and dispose the chariots in such fashion that, if the warriors are hard pressed by the host of the enemy, they may have a ready means of retirement to their own side. Thus they show in action the mobile of cavalry and the stability of infantry; and by daily use and practice they become so accomplished that they are ready to gallop their teams down the steepest of slopes without loss of control, to check and turn them in a moment, to run along the pole, stand on the yoke, and then, quick as lightning, to dart back into the chariot.

34 When our troops were thrown into confusion in this fashion by the novel character of the fighting, Caesar brought assistance in the very nick of time; for his arrival caused the enemy to halt, and enabled our men to recover from their fear. This done, he deemed the moment unsuitable for provoking and engaging in a combat; he therefore stood to his own ground and, after a brief interval, led the legions  p225 back to camp. In the course of these events all our troops were busily occupied, and the natives who remained in the fields withdrew. Then for several days on end storms ensued, severe enough to keep our men in camp and to prevent the enemy from fighting. Meanwhile the natives despatched messengers in every direction, to tell of the scanty numbers of our troops and to show how great a chance was given of getting booty and of liberating themselves for ever by driving the Romans out of their camp. By this means they speedily collected a great host of footmen and horsemen, and came on towards the camp.

35 Caesar saw that the result would be the same as on the previous days — that the enemy, if repulsed, would use their speed to escape from danger; nevertheless, as he had got about thirty horsemen, whom Commius, the Atrebatian before mentioned, had brought over with him, he formed the legions in line before the camp. When battle was joined the enemy, unable to endure for long the attack of our troops, turned and fled. The Romans followed after, as far as their speed and strength enabled, and slew not a few of them; then, after setting on fire all buildings far and wide, they retired to camp.

36 On the same day deputies sent by the enemy came to Caesar to treat of peace. For them Caesar doubled the number of hostages previously commanded, and ordered them to be brought to the Continent, because the equinox was close at hand, and with a damaged flotilla he did not think it right to subject his crossing to the hazard of winter storms. He himself, taking advantage of a spell of fair weather, weighed anchor a little after midnight, and all the ships came safe to the Continent; but  p227 two of the transports were unable to make the same port as the rest, and were carried a little lower down the coast.

37 When about three hundred men had been landed from these vessels and were marching rapidly to camp, the Morini, who had been left by Caesar in a state of peace when he set out for Britain, were fired by the hope of booty, and surrounded the troops, at first with no very large number of their own folk, bidding them lay down their arms if they did not wish to be killed. The Romans formed square and defended themselves, and at the noise of shouting some six thousand men speedily came about them. Upon report of this Caesar sent the whole of the cavalry from the camp to assist his men. Meanwhile our troops withstood the enemy's assault, and fought with the greatest gallantry for more than four hours: they received but a few wounds, and slew a good many of the enemy. Howbeit, as soon as our cavalry came in sight, the enemy threw down their arms and fled, and a great number of them were slain.

38 The next day Caesar sent Titus Labienus, the lieutenant-general, with the legions which he had brought back from Britain, against the Morini, who had renewed hostilities. The enemy had no place of retreat, by reason of the dryness of the marshes, their refuge in the previous year; almost all of them, therefore, came and surrendered to Labienus. As for Quintus Titurius and Lucius Cotta, the lieutenant-generals who had led legions into the territory of the Menapii, they did not return to Caesar until they had laid waste all the fields of the natives, cut down the corn-crops, and burnt the buildings, because the Menapii had all hidden in  p229 their densest forests. Then Caesar established the winter quarters of all the legions in Belgic territory. Thither no more than two of the British states sent hostages; the remainder omitted to do so. And for these achievements, upon receipt of Caesar's despatches, the senate decreed a public thanksgiving of twenty days.

The Editor's Notes:

1 55 B.C.

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2 The army advanced, not in column of route (agmen), but in line of columns, ready to form up into line of battle (acies).

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3 See Plan. The bridge is believed to have been thrown across between Andernach and Coblenz.

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4 That is to say, the actual roadway of the bridge was narrower than forty feet by the inward slant of each pair of balks. Or ab inferiore parte may mean "on the side down stream."

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5 i.e. each set of balks and transoms.

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6 i.e. in Britain.

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7 See Appendix A.

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8 Probably Boulogne.

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9 Probably Ambleteuse.

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10 About Dover.

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11 Probably between Walmer and Deal.

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12 i.e. the right, or unshielded, side.

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13 i.e. the more northerly: see ch. 23, and note.

Page updated: 9 Nov 13