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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

Book VI (chapters 11‑20)

p333 11 Since I have arrived at this point, it would seem to be not inappropriate to set forth the customs of Gaul and of Germany, and the difference between these nations. In Gaul, not only in every state and every canton and district, but almost in each several household, there are parties; and the leaders of the parties are men who in the judgment of their fellows are deemed to have the highest authority, men to whose decision and judgment the supreme issue of all cases and counsels may be referred. And this seems to have been an ordinance from ancient days, to the end that no man of the people should lack assistance against a more powerful neighbour; for each man refuses to allow his own folk to be oppressed and defrauded, since otherwise he has no authority among them. The same principle holds in regard to Gaul as a whole taken together; for the whole body of states is divided into two parties.

12 When Caesar arrived in Gaul the leaders of one party were the Aedui, of the other the Sequani. The latter, being by themselves inferior in strength — since the highest authority from ancient times rested with the Aedui, and their dependencies were extensive — had made Ariovistus and the Germans their friends, and with great sacrifices and promises had brought them to their side. Then, by several successful engagements and the slaughter of all the Aeduan nobility, they had so far established their predominance as to transfer a great part of the dependents from the Aedui to themselves, receiving from them as hostages the children of their chief men, compelling them as a state to swear that they would entertain no design against the Sequani, occupying a part of the neighbouring territory which they had seized by force, and securing the chieftaincy p335 of all Gaul. This was the necessity which had compelled Diviciacus to set forth on a journey to the Senate at Rome for the purpose of seeking aid; but he had returned without achieving the object. By the arrival of Caesar a change of affairs was brought about. Their hosts were restored to the Aedui, their old dependencies restored, and new ones secured through Caesar's efforts (as those who had joined in friendly relations with them found that they enjoyed a better condition and a fairer rule), and their influence and position were increased in all other respects: in result whereof the Sequani had lost the chieftaincy. To their place the Remi had succeeded; and as it was perceived that they had equal influence with Caesar, the tribes which, by reason of ancient animosities, could in no wise join the Aedui were delivering themselves as dependents to the Remi. These tribes the Remi carefully protected, and by this means they sought to maintain their new and suddenly acquired authority. The state of things then at the time in question was that the Aedui were regarded as by far the chief state, while the Remi held the second place in importance.

13 Throughout Gaul there are two classes of persons of definite account and dignity. As for the common folk, they are treated almost as slaves, venturing naught of themselves, never taken into counsel. The more part of them, oppressed as they are either by debt, or by the heavy weight of tribute, or by the wrongdoing of the more powerful men, commit themselves in slavery to the nobles, who have, in fact, the same rights over them as masters over slaves. Of the two classes above mentioned one consists of Druids, the other of knights. The former are concerned with divine worship, the due performance of p337 sacrifices, public and private, and the interpretation of ritual questions: a great number of young men gather about them for the sake of instruction and hold them in great honour. In fact, it is they who decide in almost all disputes, public and private; and if any crime has been committed, or murder done, or there is any disposes about succession or boundaries, they also decide it, determining rewards and penalties: if any person or people does not abide by their decision, they ban such from sacrifice, which is their heaviest penalty. Those that are so banned are reckoned as impious and criminal; all men move out of their path and shun their approach and conversation, for fear they may get some harm from their contact, and no justice is done if they seek it, no distinction falls to their share. Of all these Druids one is chief, who has the highest authority among them. At his death, either any other that is preëminent in position succeeds, or, if there be several of equal standing, they strive for the primacy by the vote of the Druids, or sometimes even with armed force. These Druids, at a certain time of the year, meet within the borders of the Carnutes, whose territory is reckoned as the centre of all Gaul, and sit in conclave in a consecrated spot. Thither assemble from every side all that have disputes, and they obey the decisions and judgments of the Druids. It is believed that their rule of life was discovered in Britain and transferred thence to Gaul; and to‑day those who would study the subject more accurately journey, as a rule, to Britain to learn it.

14 The Druids usually hold aloof from war, and do not pay war‑taxes with the rest; they are excused from military service and exempt from all liabilities. Tempted by these great rewards, many young men p339assemble of their own motion to receive their training; many are sent by parents and relatives. Report says that in the schools of the Druids they learn by heart a great number of verses, and therefore some persons remain twenty years under training. And they do not think it proper to commit these utterances to writing, although in almost all other matters, and in their public and private accounts, they make use of Greek letters. I believe that they have adopted the practice for two reasons — that they do not wish the rule to become common property, nor those who learn the rule to rely on writing and so neglect the cultivation of the memory; and, in fact, it does usually happen that the assistance of writing tends to relax the diligence of the student and the action of the memory. The cardinal doctrine which they seek to teach is that souls do not die, but after death pass from one to another; and this belief, as the fear of death is thereby cast aside, they hold to be the greatest incentive to valour. Besides this, they have many discussions as touching the stars and their movement, the size of the universe and of the earth, the order of nature, the strength and the powers of the immortal gods, and hand down their lore to the young men.

15 The other class are the knights. These, when there is occasion, upon the incidence of a war — and before Caesar's coming this would happen well-nigh every year, in the sense that they would either be making wanton attacks themselves or repelling such — are all engaged therein; and according to the importance of each of them in birth and resources, so is the number of liegemen1 and p341 dependents that he has about him. This is the one form of influence and power known to them.

16 The whole nation of the Gauls is greatly devoted to ritual observances, and for that reason those who are smitten with the more grievous maladies and who are engaged in the perils of battle either sacrifice human victims or vow to do so, employing the Druids as ministers for such sacrifices. They believe, in effect, that, unless for a man's life a man's life be paid, the majesty of the immortal gods may not be appeased; and in public, as in private, life they observe an ordinance of sacrifices of the same kind. Others use figures of immense size, whose limbs, woven out of twigs, they fill with living men and set on fire, and the men perish in a sheet of flame. They believe that the execution of those who have been caught in the act of theft or robbery or some crime is more pleasing to the immortal gods; but when the supply of such fails they resort to the execution even of the innocent.

17 Among the gods, they most worship Mercury. There are numerous images of him; they declare him the inventor of all arts, the guide for every road and journey, and they deem him to have the greatest influence for all money-making and traffic. After him they set Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva. Of these deities they have almost the same idea as all other nations: Apollo drives away diseases, Minerva supplies the first principles of arts and crafts, Jupiter holds the empire of heaven, Mars controls wars. To p343Mars, when they have determined on a decisive battle, they dedicate as a rule whatever spoil they may take. After a victory they sacrifice such living things as they have taken, and all the other effects they gather into one place. In many states heaps of such objects are to be seen piled up in hallowed spots, and it has and often happened that a man, in defiance of religious scruple, has dared to conceal such spoils in his house or to remove them from their place, and the most grievous punishment, with torture, is ordained for such an offence.

18 The Gauls affirm that they are all descended from a common Father, Dis, and say that this is the tradition of the Druids. For that reason they determine all periods of time by the number, not of days, but of nights,2 and in their observance of birthdays and the beginnings of months and years day follows night. In the other ordinances of life the main difference between them and the rest of mankind is that they do not allow their own sons to approach them openly until they have grown to an age when they can bear the burden of military service, and they count it a disgrace for a son who is still in his boy to take his place publicly in the presence of his father.3

19 The men, after making due reckoning, take from their own goods a sum of money equal to the dowry they have received from their wives and place it with the dowry. Of each such sum account is kept between them not profits saved; whichever of the two survives receives the portion of both together with the profits of past years. Men have p345the power of life and death over their wives, as over their children; and when the father of a house, who is of distinguished birth, has died, his relatives assemble, and if there be anything suspicious about his death they make inquisition of his wives as they would of slaves, and if discovery is made they put them to death with fire and all manner of excruciating tortures. Their funerals, considering the civilization of Gaul, are magnificent and expensive. They cast into the fire everything, even living creatures, which they believe to have been dear to the departed during life, and but a short time before the present age, only a generation since, slaves and dependents known to have been beloved by their lords used to be burnt with them at the conclusion of the funeral formalities.

20 Those states which are supposed to conduct their public administration to greater advantage have it prescribed by law that anyone who has learnt anything of public concern from his neighbours by rumour or report must bring the information to a magistrate and not impart it to anyone else; for it is recognised that oftentimes hasty and inexperienced men are terrified by false rumours, and so are driven to crime or to decide supreme issues. Magistrates conceal what they choose, and make known what they think proper for the public. Speech on state questions, except by means of an assembly, is not allowed.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 This is probably a Celtic word. The service of the ambacti (cf. VII.40) seems to have been similar to that of the soldurii among the Aquitani (III.22); both stand in a somewhat higher relation to their lords than the clientes.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Because Dis is the god of the dark underworld; and cf. our "se'nnight," "fortnight."

[decorative delimiter]

3 When the father appeared in publico, i.e. as a warrior, he was disgraced (probably a survival of taboo) if a son, not yet a warrior also, appeared in his presence.

Page updated: 28 Oct 13