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Book IV

This webpage reproduces part of
Gallic War

Julius Caesar

Loeb Classical Library

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Gallic War

p233 Book V (chapters 1‑25)

1 Lucius Domitius and Appius Claudius were still consuls1 when Caesar, on the eve of his departure from winter quarters to go to Italy, as it was his practice every year to do, ordered the lieutenant-generals in charge of the legions to have as many ships as possible built during the winter, and the old fleet repaired. He set forth the plan and pattern of the new ships. For speed of loading and for purposes of beaching he would build them somewhat lower than those which we are accustomed to use on our own sea2 — and the more so because he had learnt that by reason of the frequent turns of the tides the waves off Gaul were generally smaller. For the transport of cargo, and of the numerous draught-animals, he would have the ships somewhere broader than those we use on the other seas. All of them he ordered to be fitted for oars as well as sails, to which end their lowness of build helped much. The necessary tackle for the equipment of the ships he commanded to be brought out of Spain. When he had concluded the assizes3 of Hither Gaul he himself set out for Illyricum, for he learnt that the Pirustae were devastating by raids the portion of the Province nearest them. When he was come thither he made a levy of troops upon the states, and commanded p235 them to assemble at a certain point. Upon report of this the Pirustae sent deputies to him to declare that none of these raids had been the result of any public decision, and they affirmed that they were ready by every means to give satisfaction for the outrages. Accepting their statement, Caesar made requisition of hostages and commanded them to be brought in by a certain day; failing this, he affirmed that he would visit the state with war. The hostages were brought in by the day, as ordered; and Caesar appointed arbitrators as between state and state to assess the damages and determine the penalty.

2 When these matters were settled and the assizes concluded he returned to Hither Gaul, and thence set out for the army. When he was come thither he went round all the winter quarters, and learnt that by the exemplary energy of the soldiers, and in spite of the utmost lack of all necessaries, about six hundred ships of the type set forth above and twenty-eight men-of‑war had been built, and lacked but little to make them ready for launching in a few days. Caesar warmly commended the troops and the officers who had been in charge of the work; he gave his instructions, and commanded all the ships to assemble at the Itian port,4 from which, as he was informed, was the most convenient passage to Britain, a transit of about thirty miles from the Continent. He left such troops as he thought sufficient for the business; and himself, with four legions marching light and eight hundred horse, set out for the borsot Treveri, because this tribe came not to the councils nor obeyed his command, and, according to report, was stirring up the Germans beyond the Rhine.

p237 3 Their state is by far the most powerful in cavalry of all the Gauls, and possesses great forces of infantry; and, as above set forth, it touches the Rhine. Two men in the state were striving together for the chieftaincy, Indutiomarus and Cingetorix. The latter of these, directly he was informed of the coming of Caesar and his legions, came to him, affirming that he and all his followers would abide in loyalty and not forsake their friendship with Rome; moreover, he showed what was afoot among the Treveri. Indutiomarus, on the other hand, began to raise horse and foot, and to prepare for war, as soon as he had hidden away those whose age made them unfit for service, in the Forest of Ardennes, which is of great size, stretching right through the territory of the Treveri, from the river Rhine to the border of the Remi. But some of the chiefs of the Treveri, actuated by their friendship for Cingetorix, and at the same time alarmed at the coming of our army, came to Caesar and began to make requests of him as touching their own private interests, since it was not in their power, they said, to take measures in the interests of the state.5 Then Indutiomarus feared that he might be deserted by one and all, and sent deputies to Caesar. He urged that in his reluctance to leave his own folk and to come to Caesar his object was to keep the state the more easily to its allegiance, lest, if the whole of the nobility left them, the common people might go astray through ignorance. As a result, he said, the state was in his power, and, if Caesar allowed, he would come to his headquarters and commit the fortunes of himself and of the state to his protection.

p239 4 Caesar knew very well the purpose of these remarks, and the circumstance which was discouraging Indutiomarus from his deliberate design; nevertheless, that he might not be obliged to waste the summer among the Treveri, when everything was prepared for the campaign in Britain, he commanded Indutiomarus to come to him with two hundred hostages. When these were brought in, among them his son and all his relatives, whom Caesar had summoned by name, he comforted6 Indutiomarus and exhorted him to abide in loyalty. Nevertheless he assembled at his headquarters the chiefs of the Treveri, and won them over severally for Cingetorix. He was aware that Cingetorix deserved this of him, but he deemed it also of great importance that the authority of one whose signal goodwill towards himself he had fully proved should be as strong as possible among his own folk. This action Indutiomarus took grievously to heart, for he saw that his own influence among his people was being diminished; and though he had previously felt hostility towards us, his indignation now burst far more vehemently into flame.

5 When these matters had been settled Caesar proceeded with the legions to the Itian port. There he was informed that sixty ships, which had been built in the country of the Meldi, had been driven back by the weather so that they could not hold on their course, and had therefore returned to their starting-point. The rest he found ready for sailing and equipped in all respects. A body of cavalry from all Gaul, four thousand strong, assembled at the same spot, together with chiefs from every state. A very p241 few of the latter, whose loyalty towards himself he had proved, he had decided to leave in Gaul, taking the rest with him by way of hostages, because he feared a rising in Gaul during his own absence.

6 Among the others there was Dumnorix of the Aedui, of whom we have spoken before.7 Caesar had determined to keep Dumnorix in particular with him, because he knew him to be bent on revolution, bent on sovereignty, a man of great courage and of great weight among the Gauls. Moreover, in the council of the Aedui Dumnorix had said that Caesar meant to offer him the kingship of the state; and while the Aedui took the saying grievously to heart, they did not dare to send envoys to Caesar either to repudiate or deprecate his purpose. Caesar had learnt this fact from his own partisans. Dumnorix at first by every kind of entreaty pressed his petition to be left in Gaul, affirming now that he was unused to a voyage and feared the sea, now that he was hindered on religious grounds.8 Then, when he saw that leave was inexorably refused, and all hope of it taken away, he began to stir up the Gallic chieftains, drawing them aside severally and exhorting them to stay on the Continent. And he sought to frighten them by expressing apprehension that there was some reason for stripping Gaul of all her nobility: that it was Caesar's design to transport to Britain and there slaughter all whom he feared to put to death in the sight of Gaul. To the rest he pledged his word, and demanded of them an oath that they would execute by common consent whatever they judged to be for the advantage of Gaul. These plots were reported to Caesar by several persons.

p243 7 Upon this information Caesar was disposed to think, in view of the great importance he attached to the Aedui, that Dumnorix should be repressed and discouraged by all possible means, and at the same time, as his infatuation was obviously going too far, that precaution should be taken against his being able to do any damage to himself and the Roman state. And therefore, as he was delayed at that spot for some five-and‑twenty days, because a north-west wind (prevalent for a great part of every season in these localities) prevented his sailing, he endeavoured to keep Dumnorix to his allegiance, but none the less to learn all his designs. At length fair weather came, and he ordered foot and horse to embark. But when all were thus preoccupied, Dumnorix, along with certain troopers of the Aedui, was minded to leave camp and depart for home. Caesar knew not of this; but upon report thereof he countermanded the sailing and put off everything, and then despatched a large detachment of cavalry to follow him up, with orders to hale him back, and, if he offered force or refused to obey, to put him to death; for he supposed that a man who had disregarded the command before his face would do nothing right-minded behind his back. And indeed when Dumnorix was summoned to return he sought to resist and to defend himself by force, entreating the help of his followers and crying repeatedly that he was a free man and of a free state. The pursuers, as they were ordered, surrounded the man and despatched him; but the troopers of the Aedui all returned to Caesar.

8 When this was done Labienus was left on the Continent with three legions and two thousand horse, and with instructions to guard the ports, to ensure the cornº-supply, to keep himself informed of p245 events in Gaul, and to make plans as occasion and circumstance should require. The commander-in‑chief, with five legions and a contingent of horse equal to that left on the Continent, weighed anchor about sunset, and proceeded under a gentle south-west wind. But about midnight the wind failed, and he did not make the course: he was carried on too far by the tide, and at sunrise he sighted Britain left afar on the port side. Then once more he followed the turn of the tide, and strove by rowing to make that part of the island where (as he had learnt in the previous summer) was the best place of disembarkation. And herein was the spirit of the troops much to be commended, who, in the heavily built transports, by uninterrupted effort of rowing kept level with the men-of‑war. The whole fleet reached the shore of Britain about midday, but no enemy was to be seen there. They had, indeed, as Caesar learnt afterward from prisoners, assembled there in large companies; but, alarmed at the host of ships, of which, counting those of the previous year and the private vessels which individuals had built for their own convenience, over eight hundred had been seen at once, they had withdrawn from the shore and concealed themselves on the high ground.

9 The army was landed and a place suitable for the camp was chosen. When Caesar had learnt from prisoners where the enemy's forces had taken post, he left ten cohorts and three hundred horse by the seashore to guard the fleet; then, starting in the third watch, he pressed on to meet the enemy, having the less fear for the fleet because he was leaving it at anchor on a sandy, open shore; and he appointed Quintus Atrius to command the troops guarding the ships. He himself, advancing about p247twelve miles in the night, came in sight of the enemy's forces. They advanced their cavalry and chariots from the higher ground to a river,9 and sought to check our troops and to engage. Driven back by our horse, they concealed themselves in the woods: there they had got a position excellently fortified by nature as well as by handiwork, which, as it would seem, had been prepared before for a war among themselves; for all the entries had been barred by a great number of felled trees. The enemy came out of the woods to fight in small groups, and sought to prevent our troops from entering the fortifications. But the men of the Seventh Legion formed a "tortoise,"10 and threw up a ramp against the fortifications, and so took the position, driving the enemy out of the woods at the cost of a few men wounded. Caesar forbade them to pursue the fugitives very far, because he did not know the character of the country, and also because a great part of the day was spent, and he wished to leave time for the entrenchment of the camp.

10 In the morning of the next day he divided the foot and the horse in three detachments, and sent them as flying columns to pursue the fugitives. When these had advanced a good long march and the rearguards were just in sight, troopers came from Quintus Atrius to Caesar to report that a violent storm had arisen in the previous night, and that nearly all the ships had been damaged and cast up on shore, as the anchors and cables would not hold, and the seamen and steersmen could not face the force of the storm: and so the collision of ships had caused serious damage.

p249 11 Upon receipt of this intelligence Caesar commanded the legions and the cavalry to be recalled, and to keep off attacks on the line of march, while he himself returned to the fleet. With his own eyes he saw almost exactly what he had learnt from the messengers and despatches: some forty vessels indeed were lost, but it appeared that the rest could be repaired with great trouble. He therefore picked out artificers from the legions, and ordered others to be fetched from the Continent; and wrote to Labienus to construct as many ships as possible by the help of the legions he had with him. For himself he determined that, although the task involved much labour and effort, it was still the best plan to have all the ships beached and connected with the camp by a single entrenchment. Upon this business he spent about ten days, allowing no interruption even at night-time in the work of the troops. When the ships had been beached and the camp thoroughly well entrenched, he left the same forces as before to guard the ships: he himself then set out for the point whence he had returned. When he was come thither he found that still greater forces of the Britons had assembled there from every direction, and that by common consent they had entrusted the supreme command and conduct of the campaign to Cassivellaunus, whose territories are divided from the maritime states by the river called Thames, about eighty miles from the sea. Hitherto there had been continuous wars between this chief and the other states; but our arrival had moved the Britons to appoint him commander-in‑chief for the conduct of the whole campaign.

12 The inland part of Britain is inhabited by tribes declared in their own tradition to be indigenous to p251the island, the maritime part by tribes that migrated at an earlier time from Belgium to seek booty by invasion. Nearly all of these latter are called after the names of the states from which they sprang when they went to Britain; and after the invasion they abode there and began to till the fields. The population is innumerable; the farm-buildings are found very close together, being very like those of the Gauls; and there is great store of cattle. They use either bronze, or gold coins, or instead of coined money tallies of iron, of a certain standard of weight. In the midland districts of Britain tin is produced, in the maritime iron, but of that there is only a small supply; the bronze they use is imported. There is timber of every kind, as in Gaul, save beech and pine. They account it wrong to eat of hare, fowl, and goose; but these they keep for pastime or pleasure. The climate is more temperate than in Gaul, the cold seasons more moderate.

13 The natural shape of the island is triangular, and one side lies opposite to Gaul. Of this side one angle, which is in Kent (where almost all the ships from Gaul come in to land), faces the east, the lower angle faces south. This side stretches about five hundred miles. The second side bears towards Spain and the west, in which direction lies Ireland, smaller by one half, as it is thought, than Britain; the sea‑passage is of equal length to that from Gaul to Britain. Here in mid‑channel is an island called Man; in addition, several smaller islands are supposed to lie close to land, as touching which some have written that in midwinter night there lasts for thirty whole days. We could discover nothing about this by inquiries; but, by exact water measurements,11 p253we observed that the nights were shorter than on the Continent. The length of this side, according to the belief of the natives, is seven hundred miles. The third side bears northwards, and has no land confronting it; the angle, however, of that side faces on the way towards Germany. The side is supposed to be eight hundred miles long. Thus the whole island is two thousand miles in circumference.12

14 Of all the Britons the inhabitants of Kent, an entirely maritime district, are by far the most civilised, differing but little from the Gallic manner of life. Of the inlanders most do not sow corn, but live on milk and flesh and clothe themselves in skins. All the Britons, indeed, dye themselves with woad, which produces a blue colour, and makes their appearance in battle more terrible. They wear long hair, and shave every part of the body save the head and the upper lip. Groups of ten or twelve men have wives together in common, and particularly brothers along with brothers, and fathers with sons; but the children born of the unions are reckoned to belong to the particular house to which the maiden was first conducted.

15 The horsemen and charioteers of the enemy engaged in fierce conflict with our cavalry on the march, with the result, however, that our troops proved their superiority in all respects, and drove them into the woods and highlands; but, pursuing too eagerly after slaying several of the enemy, they lost some of their own number. After an interval, however, when our troops were off their guard and engaged in entrenching the camp, the enemy suddenly dashed out from the woods, and charging the detachments on outpost p255duty in advance of the camp, they fought fiercely. And though Caesar sent up two cohorts in support — and those the first cohorts of two legions — and two detachments had taken post with a very slight interval between them, the enemy most gallantly broke through in the middle (as our troops were disconcerted by the novel kind of fighting), and retired safely from the field. On that day a tribune, Quintus Laberius Durus, was killed. The enemy were driven back when more cohorts had been sent up.

16 The action took place in front of the camp and under the eyes of all; and it was clear that in all such fighting our infantry, by reason of their heavy armament, since they could neither pursue a retiring enemy nor venture far from the standards,13 were but poorly fitted for an enemy of this kind. It was clear, again, that our cavalry fought with great risk, because the enemy often retired of deliberate purpose, and, when they had separated our horse a little from the legions, leapt down from their chariots and fought on foot to our disadvantage. Their cavalry tactics, however, threatened us with exactly the same danger in retirement or pursuit.14 Add to this that the enemy never fought in close array, but in small parties with wide intervals; and had detachments posted at regular stations, so that one party covered another in turn, and fresh, unspent warriors took the place of the battle-weary.

17 Next day the enemy took post on the hills, at a distance from the camp, and began to show themselves in small parties and to assail our horsemen, p257though more feebly than on the day before. But at noon, when Caesar had sent three legions and all the cavalry with Gaius Trebonius, the lieutenant-general, to get forage, the enemy swooped suddenly from all directions upon the foraging parties, with such vigour that they did not stop short of the legions drawn up for battle. Our troops charged them fiercely and drove them back, and did not bring the pursuit to an end until the cavalry, relying on the support of the legions they saw behind them, drove the enemy headlong and slew a great number of them, giving them no chance to rally or stand fast, nor to leap down from their chariots. After this rout the succours which had assembled from all quarters took their departure; and never afterwards did the enemy engage us at their full strength.

18 Having obtained knowledge of their plans, Caesar led his army into the borders of Cassivellaunus as far as the river Thames, which can be crossed at one place only on foot, and that with difficulty. When he was come thither he remarked that on the other bank of the river a great force of the enemy was drawn up. The bank was fortified with a fringe of sharp projecting stakes, and stakes of the same kind fixed under water were concealed by the stream. When he had learnt these details from prisoners and deserters, Caesar sent the cavalry in advance and ordered the legions to follow up instantly. But the troops moved with such speed and such spirit, although they had only their heads above water, that the enemy could not withstand the assault of legions and cavalry, but abandoned the banks and betook themselves to flight.

p259 19 When Cassivellaunus, as above set forth, had relinquished all hope of a struggle, and disbanded the greater part of his force, with the remainder — about four thousand charioteers — he kept our marches under observation, and, withdrawing a little from the route, concealed himself in entangled positions among the woods. In whatever districts he had learnt that we intended to march he drove all cattle and human beings from the fields into the woods; then, whenever our cavalry dashed out over the fields to plunder and devastate more freely, he sent out charioteers from the woods by every road and path, engaging our cavalry to their great danger, and preventing them by the fear thus caused from ranging farther afield. The only course left to Caesar was to allow no party to remove very far from the main column of the legions, and to do as much harm to the enemy in laying waste the fields and in conflagrations as the marching powers of the legionaries could accomplish.

20 In the meantime the Trinobantes, the strongest state, perhaps, in those parts — the state from which young Mandubracius, in quest of the protection of Caesar, had come to him on the mainland of Gaul: his own father had held the kingship in the state, but had been slain by Cassivellaunus, when he himself had escaped death by flight — sent deputies to Caesar, promising to surrender to him and to do his commands, and beseeching him to protect Mandubracius from outrage at the hands of Cassivellaunus, and to send him to their state as ruler and sovereign lord. Caesar required of them forty hostages, and corn for the army, and sent Mandubracius to them. They speedily did his commands, and sent hostages to the number required, and corn.

p261 21 When the Trinobantes had been placed under protection and secured from all outrage at the hands of the troops, the Cenimagni, the Segontiaci, the Ancalites, the Bibroci, and the Cassi sent deputations and surrendered to Caesar. From them he learnt that the stronghold of Cassivellaunus was not far from thence, fenced by woods and marshes; and that he had assembled there a considerable quantity of men and cattle. Now the Britons call it a stronghold when they have fortified a thick-set woodland with rampart and trench, and thither it is their custom to collect, to avoid a hostile inroad. For this spot Caesar now started with the legions: he found it thoroughly fortified by nature and by handiwork, but none the less he made a vigorous assault from two sides. The enemy tarried for a space, but did not stand the assault of our troops, and broke away from another side of the stronghold. A great quantity of cattle was found there; and many of the enemy were caught in the act of fleeing and put to death.

22 While these events were proceeding thereabout, Cassivellaunus sent messages to Kent, a country by the sea, as above set forth,15 over whose four districts Cingetorix, Carvilius, Taximagulus, and Segovax ruled as kings, and commanded them to collect all their forces for a sudden attempt and assault upon the naval camp. But when they were come to the camp the Romans made a sortie and slew many of them, capturing also Lugotorix, a commander of noble station; and then withdrew the detachment without loss. Upon report of this engagement Cassivellaunus was constrained, by the numerous defeats he had suffered, by the devastation of his borders, and chiefly by his alarm at the revolt of the states, to send deputies p263to Caesar and treat for peace, by the help of Commius the Atrebatian. Caesar had determined to winter on the Continent, in view of sudden commotions in Gaul; and as he had little of the summer left, and was aware that it might easily be spun out to no purpose, he made requisition of hostages, and determined what tribute Britain should pay yearly to Rome. He straitly charged Cassivellaunus to do no hurt to Mandubracius or the Trinobantes.

23 As soon as the hostages were received he led the army back to the sea, and found the ships repaired. When they had been launched he decided, as he had a great number of prisoners, and some ships had perished in the storm, to convey the army back by two journeys. And eventually, of all that number of ships and in all those voyages, not a single ship carrying troops in this or the previous year was missing. But of the ships sent back empty to him from the Continent — both those which had disembarked troops on the first journey, and the second fleet which Labienus had caused to be built,16 to the number of sixty — very few made the rendezvous; almost all the rest were driven back. Caesar waited some time for these in vain; then, fearing he might be precluded from sailing by the season, as the equinox was nigh at hand, he packed the troops of necessity more closely together; a complete calm ensued, and he weighed anchor at the beginning of the second watch, and at dawn touched land and brought all the ships safely to port.

24 The ships were beached, and a council of the Gauls was held at Samarobriva (Amiens). Then, as the corn-crop had been scantier that year in Gaul on account of droughts, Caesar was forced to dispose p265the army in winter quarters in a different fashion from that of previous years, distributing the legions over a larger number of states. One of the legions he gave to Gaius Fabius, the lieutenant-general, to be led into the country of the Morini, a second to Quintus Cicero for the Nervii, a third to Lucius Roscius for the Esubii; a fourth, with Titus Labienus in command, he ordered to winter among the Remi on the border of the Treveri. There he stationed among the Belgae: in command of them he set Marcus Crassus, the quartermaster-general, and Lucius Munatius Plancus and Gaius Trebonius, lieutenant-generals. One legion, the most recently enrolled north of the Po, with five cohorts, he sent into the country of the Eburones, of which the chief part lies between the Meuse and the Rhine; the tribe was under the rule of Ambiorix and Catuvolcus. He ordered Quintus Titurius Sabinus and Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta, lieutenant-generals, to command those detachments. With the legions distributed after this fashion, he supposed that he could easiest remedy any shortage of corn-supply. And yet the winter quarters of all the legions, save that which he had assigned to Lucius Roscius to be led into the most quiet and peaceful district, were within a range of one hundred miles. He himself meanwhile determined to wait in Gaul until he should have information that the legions were at their stations and the cantonments entrenched.

25 There was among the Carnutes one Tasgetius, a man of the highest lineage, whose ancestors had held the kingship in their state. To him, in consideration for his character and his goodwill towards himself — for in all the campaigns he had profited by his remarkable energy — Caesar had restored the p267position of his ancestors. He had now reigned for two years and more, when his enemies, with the open approval of many persons in the state, put him to death. The matter was reported to Caesar, who, apprehending — as a considerable number of persons were concerned — that the state might revolt at the prompting of the regicides, ordered Lucius Plancus to move speedily with his legion from Belgium far into the country of the Carnutes and there to winter, and to seize and send to him the person by whose instrumentality he knew that Tasgetius had been put to death. Meanwhile he received information from all the lieutenant-generals and the quartermaster-general, to whom he had assigned the legions, that winter quarters had been reached and each station duly entrenched for the same.

The Editor's Notes:

1 54 B.C.

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2 The Mediterranean.

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3 See note on I.54.

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4 Probably Boulogne: cf. IV.22.

Thayer's Note: There is in fact a great deal of controversy as to exactly which port is concealed under this periphrase, and the question remains entirely unsettled. A good overview of it is onsite: an encyclopedia article and 6 papers espousing various points of view. See the orientation page, "Itius Portus".
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5 i.e. openly in the general assembly to urge coming to terms with Caesar.

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6 i.e. assured him that no harm should befall the hostages or himself.

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7 I.18‑20.

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8 Cf. I.50.

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9 The Great Stour.

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10 See Appendix A.

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11 i.e. measurements made with a water-clock, clepsydra.

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12 See Appendix on Britain.

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13 i.e. because they were armed for fighting only in close formation.

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14 The skilful co‑operation between the British chariot-fighters and cavalry placed the Roman cavalry at a disadvantage at every turn of the fight. For the tactics of the chariot-fighters see IV.33. Many editors bracket this sentence as spurious.

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15 Ch. 14 supra.

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16 See ch. 11.

Page updated: 9 Nov 13