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This webpage reproduces part of
Gallic War

Julius Caesar

Loeb Classical Library

The text is in the public domain.

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Gallic War

 p317  Book VI (chapters 1‑10)

1 For many reasons Caesar anticipated a more serious rising in Gaul; and he decided to raise a levy through the agency of Marcus Silanus, Gaius Antistius Reginus, and Titus Sextius, lieutenant-generals. At the same time he made request of Gnaeus Pompeius, now1 proconsul, that as he was remaining near Rome for the service of the state while retaining his military authority,2 he would order the recruits from Cisalpine Gaul sworn in by him as consul to join the colours and start for Caesar's headquarters. He conceived it to be of great importance, for the future as well as for the present, to create an impression in Gaul that the resources of Italy were extensive enough not only to repair in a short time any damage incurred in the war, but even to increase the establishment. Pompey made the concession to public service and private friendship, and as Caesar speedily completed the levy through his staff officers, before the winter was over three legions had been formed and brought to headquarters. Having thereby doubled the number of the cohorts lost with Quintus Titurius, he showed the Gauls, at once by his rapidity and by the strength of his reinforcements, what the system and resources of the Roman people could accomplish.

 p319  2 After Indutiomarus was slain, as we have set forth, the Treveri tendered the chief command to his kindred, who were continuing to tempt the neighbouring Germans and to promise money. As they could not prevail on their immediate neighbours they made trial of the more distant; and, having found some states to their mind, they took an oath to confirm their engagement, and hostages to secure the money;3 and they associated Ambiorix with themselves by a league and covenant. Caesar had report of this, and saw preparations for war on every hand: the Nervii, Aduatuci, and Menapii, and all the Germans on this side of the Rhine with them, were in arms; the Senones came not at his command, as they were conspiring with the Carnutes and adjacent states; the Germans were being tempted by frequent deputations of the Treveri. He felt, therefore, that he must plan an earlier campaign than usual.

3 Accordingly, before the winter was ended, he concentrated the four nearest legions; he made a sudden and rapid advance into the borders of the Nervii, and before they could assemble or escape he had captured a great number of cattle and human beings; and giving up such booty to the troops, and laying waste the fields, he compelled the natives to come in and surrender and to give him hostages. That business speedily despatched, he led the legions back into the cantonments. At the beginning of spring a convention of Gaul was proclaimed, according to his practice. The arrival of all except the Senones, Carnutes, and Treveri made him think this exception the beginning of an armed rebellion; and to give the impression that he counted all else of secondary importance, he removed the convention to Lutetia, a town of the  p321 Parisii. (These were next neighbours to the Senones, and in the previous generation had formed one state with them; but it was believed that they had held aloof from the present design.) This decision having been proclaimed from the tribunal,4 on the same day he set off with the legions against the Senones, and reached their territory by forced marches.

4 Upon report of his coming, Acco, who had been the leader in the plot aforesaid, commanded the population to assemble in their strongholds. They tried to do so; but before it could be brought to pass news came that the Romans were at hand. Of necessity they abandoned the project, and sent deputies to Caesar to entreat his clemency, approaching him through the Aedui, the protectors of their state from ancient times. Caesar willingly granted pardon and accepted their plea at the instance of the Aedui; for he held that summer was the time for the coming war, not for judicial inquiry. He requisitioned one hundred hostages, and delivered the same to the Aedui for custody. The Carnutes also sent deputies and hostages to his camp, employing the Remi, whose vassals they were, to entreat for them, and received the same replies. Caesar closed the convention, and made requisition of cavalry upon the states.

5 So this part of Gaul was brought to peace, and he applied himself with all his heart and soul to the war with the Treveri and Ambiorix. He commanded Cavarinus and the horsemen of the Senones to move with him, so as to prevent the occurrence of any commotion in the state as the result of his hot temper or of the enmity which he had earned. Then, having so arranged these matters, since he was convinced that Ambiorix would not fight a  p323 decisive action, he began to examine what other courses were left him. There were the Menapii, near the borders of the Eburones, defended by continuous marshes and forests; and they alone in Gaul had never sent deputies to Caesar to treat of peace. He knew that Ambiorix had a formal friendship with them; he had learnt also that through the Treveri they had made friends with the Germans. He considered that these supports should be withdrawn from Ambiorix before he provoked him to hostilities; otherwise, in despair of deliverance, he might hide among the Menapii, or be obliged to make common cause with the tribes beyond the Rhine. Adopting this plan, then, he despatched the baggage of the whole army to Labienus, in the territory of the Treveri, and commanded two legions to begin the march to him, while he himself with five legions in light order began to march against the Menapii. They had raised no force, but, relying only on the protection of the country, fled all into the forests and marshes, and gathered their stuff there also.

6 Caesar divided his forces with Gaius Fabius, lieutenant-general, and Marcus Crassus, quartermaster-general; and after causeways had been speedily constructed he approached in three divisions, setting fire to farm-buildings and hamlets, and seizing a large number of cattle and human beings. This action obliged the Menapii to send deputies to him to seek for peace. He accepted their hostages, and assured them that he would regard them as enemies if they received either Ambiorix or his deputies within their borders. When these matters had been securely settled Caesar left Commius, of the Atrebates, with cavalry  p325 in the country of the Menapii by way of guard, and he himself set off against the Treveri.

7 While Caesar was thus engaged, the Treveri collected a large force of infantry and cavalry, and prepared to attack Labienus and the one legion which had wintered within their borders. And by now they were no farther from him than a two days' march, when they learnt that two legions were come, as despatched by Caesar. So they pitched their camp at a distance of fifteen miles, and determined to await their German auxiliaries. Labienus learnt the design of the enemy, and in the hope that their recklessness would afford some chance of engaging them, he left a guard of five cohorts for the baggage, and set off against the enemy with twenty-five cohorts and a large detachment of cavalry. He entrenched a camp at an interval of one mile. Between Labienus and the enemy was a steep-banked river,5 difficult to cross. He had no intention of crossing this himself, nor did he suppose that the enemy would cross it. Their hope of auxiliaries was increasing daily. Labienus declared openly in a council of war that, as the Germans were said to be approaching, he would not risk his own and his army's fortunes, and that he would strike camp at dawn next day. This information was speedily carried to the enemy, for of a large number of Gallic horsemen natural feeling would compel some, as Gauls, to favour the Gallic cause. At nightfall Labienus summoned the military tribunes and the senior centurions, and propounded  p327 his plan; and, the more easily to give the enemy a suspicion that he was afraid, he ordered the camp to be struck with greater noise and disorder than was customary among Romans. By this means he made his departure like a rout. The camps were so close that this, too, was reported to the enemy by scouts before daybreak.

8 The rear of the column had scarcely moved clear of the entrenchment when the Gauls with mutual exhortations not to let slip from their grasp the booty for which they hoped — it would be tedious, they said, to wait for German assistance when the Romans were terror-stricken; and it was intolerable to their honour not to venture an attack with so large a force upon so puny a company, especially in the moment of its retreat and embarrassment — proceeded to cross the river without hesitation and to engage on unfavourable ground. Labienus had surmised that this would happen, and to entice them all to his side of the river he pretended to march as before, and calmly continued his advance. He sent the baggage a little forward and packed it on some rising ground. Then said he: "Soldiers, you have the catch you have sought; you hold the enemy on ground that hampers and handicaps them: display under our command the same valour that you have often displayed to the commander-in‑chief, and think that he is present and beholds this action with his own eyes." At the same moment he commanded the troops to wheel towards the enemy and deploy into line, and, detaching a few troops of cavalry to act as baggage-guard, he disposed the rest of the cavalry on the flanks. Speedily our troops raised a shout and hurled their pikes at the  p329 enemy. When these unexpectedly saw men whom they believed to be in retreat advancing against them in attack formation, they could not even sustain the assault, and at the first charge they were put to rout and sought the nearest woods. Labienus chased them with the cavalry, slew a great number, took a good many prisoners, and a few days later received the allegiance of the state. Nor was this surprising, for the Germans who were coming to its assistance returned home when they heard of the rout of the Treveri; and the kinsfolk of Indutiomarus, who had initiated the revolt, followed them out of the state. The prerogative of chieftaincy was delivered to Cingetorix, who, as we have shown, had remained loyal from the beginning.

9 After he had passed from the territory of the Menapii to that of the Treveri, Caesar decided for two reasons to cross the Rhine. One reason was that the German tribes had sent auxiliaries to the Treveri against them; the other, to prevent Ambiorix from having a chance of retreating to them. This decision made, he set about to build a bridge a little above the place where he had crossed before with his army. The plan of it was known and definite; and, thanks to the great zeal of the troops, the work was accomplished in a few days. He left a strong guard at the bridge-head in the territory of the Treveri, to prevent the outbreak of any sudden commotion on their part, and led the rest of his forces across with the cavalry. The Ubii had given hostages before and made their surrender, and now, to clear themselves, they sent deputies to him to inform him that no auxiliaries had been despatched from their state to the territory of the Treveri, and that they had not broken faith. They begged and  p331 prayed him to spare them, so that in a general hatred of the Germans the innocent might not be punished for the guilty: if he wished for more hostages, they promised to give them. Caesar heard their case, and ascertained that the auxiliaries had been despatched by the Suebi: he accepted the plea of the Ubii, and began to inquire about lines of advance into the country of the Suebi.

10 After a few days' interval he was informed by the Ubii that the Suebi were collecting all their forces into one place and proclaiming to the tribes under their dominion that they must send auxiliaries of foot and horse. Upon report of this, he made provision for the cornº-supply and selected a suitable spot for the camp. He commanded the Ubii to bring in their cattle and to collect all their stuff from the fields into the strongholds, hoping that lack of provisions might act upon untrained natives and oblige them to fight at a disadvantage. He instructed them to send a number of scouting parties into the country of the Suebi and to ascertain their movements. The Ubii carried out his commands, and reported after a few days' interval. The Suebi, they said, after more definite accounts of the Roman army came to them, had all withdrawn, with all the forces of their own folk and of their allies which they had collected, to the uttermost parts of their territory. There was, they added, a forest there of immense size, called Bacenis: it extended a long way into the country and interposed as a natural wall to keep the Cherusci from raids and outrages on the part of the Suebi, and the Suebi likewise from the Cherusci. At the edge of the forest the Suebi had determined to await the coming of the Romans.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 53 B.C.

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2 Pompeius, after his consulship in 55 B.C., had been appointed proconsul in Spain for five years, but had remained "near Rome" (which he could not enter, as being still cum imperio) to fulfil his duties as head of an extraordinary commission for the supply of corn.º

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3 i.e. subsidies.

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4 This was a mound or platform in the camp.

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5 Perhaps the Moselle, or its tributary the Alzette.

Page updated: 28 Oct 13