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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces part of
Gallic War

Julius Caesar

Loeb Classical Library

The text is in the public domain.

This text has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Gallic War

 p455  Book VII (chapters 53‑62)

53 After delivering this harangue, and at the end thereof encouraging the troops not to be cast down on this account, nor to attribute to the courage of the enemy a result caused by unfavourable ground, though he was still minded, as he had been before,  p457 to march off, he led the legions out of camp and formed line-of‑battle on suitable ground. When Vercingetorix, notwithstanding, refused to come down to level ground, a cavalry skirmish ensued, favourable to the Romans, after which Caesar led the army back to camp. After a repetition of the same action on the morrow he thought enough had been done to reduce the bravado of the Gauls and to establish the spirit of the troops, and he moved camp accordingly into the territory of the Aedui. Even then the enemy did not pursue; and on the third day he reached the river Allier, rebuilt the bridge, and brought the army across to the other side.

54 There he was greeted by Viridomarus and Eporedorix, the Aeduans, from whom he learnt that Litaviccus with all his horse was gone to rouse the Aedui, and that they themselves must be before him in order to keep the state loyal. Caesar already had abundant evidence to prove the treachery of the Aedui, and he believed that the departure of these two served but to hasten a revolt of the state; however, he determined not to detain them, lest he might seem to be inflicting an injury or affording some suspicion of fear. As they departed he set forth briefly his own services to the Aedui: their position, their humiliations at the time when he had received them — crowded into towns, deprived of fields, all their resources plundered, a tribute imposed, hostages wrung from them with the utmost insolence — the success and the distinction to which he had brought them, with the result that they had not only returned to their ancient position, but, to all appearance, had surpassed the dignity and influence of all previous ages. With these monitions he dismissed them from his presence.

 p459  55 Noviodunum was a town of the Aedui situated in an advantageous position by the banks of the Loire. Here Caesar had concentrated all the hostages of Gaul, the corn,º the state chest, and great part of his own and the army's baggage; hither he had sent a great number of horses purchased for this war in Italy and Spain. When Eporedorix and Viridomarus were come to the town they learnt how it was with the state. Litaviccus had been received by the Aedui at Bibracte, the town of supreme influence among them; the magistrate, Convictolitavis, and a great part of the senate had gone to join him; deputies had been despatched officially to Vercingetorix to secure peace and friendship. So signal an advantage ought not, the two men thought, be forgone. So they put to the sword the troops on guard at Noviodunum and the traders who had gathered there, and divided the money and the horses between them; they caused the hostages of the states to be conducted to the magistrate at Bibracte. As they judged that they could not hold the town they set it on fire, that it might be of no service to the Romans; all the corn that they could handle at once they removed in boats, the rest they spoilt with fire and river-water. They began themselves to collect forces from the neighbouring districts, to post garrisons and piquets on the banks of the Loire, and to display horsemen everywhere in order to strike terror, in the hope that they might be able to cut the Romans off from their corn-supply, or to reduce them by scarcity and drive them out into the Province. In this hope they were much assisted by the fact that the Loire was so swollen after the snows that it appeared to be altogether unfordable.

 p461  56 On learning this Caesar decided that he must make speed, if the completion of the bridges was to be adventured, in order to fight a decisive battle before larger forces had been collected at the river. As for changing his plan and turning his march into the Province, even apprehension did not seem to necessitate it: there was the shame and disgrace of the thing, as well as the barrier of the Cevennes and the difficulty of the roads, to prevent it, and more especially there was his pressing anxiety for Labienus and the legions which he had sent with him on a separate mission. Therefore he executed very long marches by day and night, and came, altogether unexpected, to the Loire; found by means of the cavalry a ford to suit the need of the case, where the troops could just keep arms and shoulders clear of the water, to hold up their weapons; posted the cavalry at intervals to break the force of the stream, and brought the army safe across, as the enemy were put to confusion by the first sight of him. In the country he found corn and store of cattle, and as soon as these requirements of the army had been duly supplied he decided to march into the country of the Senones.

57 While this was happening with Caesar, Labienus had left the draft of recruits newly arrived from Italy at Agedincum to guard the baggage, and with four legions started for Lutetia (Paris), a town of the Parisii, situated on an island in the river Seine. When the enemy had news of his coming a large force assembled from the neighbouring states. The chief command was entrusted to Camulogenus the Aulercan, who, though old and well-nigh worn out, was nevertheless singled out for the distinction because of his exceptional knowledge of warfare.1  p463 He, noticing a continuous marsh which flowed into the Seine and greatly increased the difficulties of the whole locality, halted there and decided to prevent our troops from crossing.

58 Labienus at first tried to move up mantlets, fill in the marsh with hurdles and earth, and build a roadway. When he found that task too difficult he silently marched out of camp in the third watch, and reached Metiosedum by the same route by which he had come. This is a town of the Senones, situated, as was said just now of Lutetia, on an island in the Seine. Seizing some fifty vessels and fastening them speedily together, he hurried his troops on board, and by the suddenness of the operation struck such terror into the townsfolk, of whom a great proportion had been called out for the war, that he gained possession of the town without a struggle. Repairing the bridge, he led the army across, and began to march down stream towards Lutetia. The enemy were told of it by refugees from Metiosedum. They ordered Lutetia to be set on fire and the bridges belonging to the town to be cut down, and advancing from the marsh to the banks of the Seine, they halted opposite Lutetia over against the camp of Labienus.

59 By this time it came to be known that Caesar had withdrawn from Gergovia, and rumours began to be brought in touching the revolt of the Aedui and the successful rising in Gaul; and in conversation2 the Gauls affirmed that Caesar's march and passage of the Loire had been blocked, and that scarcity of corn had compelled him to make for the Province  p465 with speed. The Bellovaci were disloyal in themselves before the revolt of the Aedui, and when they heard thereof they began to collect companies and openly to prepare for war. With the case so completely altered, Labienus perceived that he must adopt a course quite different from his previous design, and he began now to consider the means, not of further acquisition or of provoking the enemy to fight, but of bringing the army safely back to Agedincum. For the Bellovaci, the state which has the greatest reputation for courage in Gaul, were pressing upon him from one side,3 while the ground on the other was held by Camulogenus with an army regularly equipped and organized; and further, the legions were cut off from their baggage and its guard with a mighty river between. Confronted suddenly with these supreme difficulties, he saw that he must have recourse to personal courage.

60 Towards evening he called together a council of war. Urging them to carry out his commands with care and energy, he assigned each of the vessels which he had brought down from Metiosedum to a Roman knight, and ordered them at the end of the first watch to proceed silently four miles down stream and there to await him. He left as garrison for the camp the five cohorts which he regarded as least steady for action; he commanded the remaining five of the same legion to start up stream at midnight with all the baggage, with great uproar. He got together small boats also, and despatched these in the same direction with great noise of oars in the rowing. A short time afterwards he himself marched out silently with three legions, and made for the spot where he had ordered the vessels to put in.

 p467  61 Upon his arrival there the enemy's scouts, posted all along the river, were caught unawares by our men and overcome, owing to a great storm which had suddenly got up. The legions and the cavalry were speedily sent across under the direction of the Roman knights in charge of the business. At almost the same moment, just before daylight, it was reported to the enemy that in the Roman camp there was unusual uproar, that a large column was moving up stream, that the sound of oars was audible in the same quarter, and that a little way down stream troops were being carried across in boats. When they heard this they supposed that the legions were crossing at three places and that all were preparing for flight in the disorder caused by the revolt of the Aedui; so they, too, distributed their force in three divisions. A guard was left opposite the camp; a small company was sent towards Metiosedum, to advance as far as the vessels should have proceeded; the rest of the force they led against Labienus.

62 By daybreak our own troops had all been carried across, and the enemy's line began to be seen. Labienus urged the troops to remember well their own courage in the past and the brilliant success of their battles, and to think that Caesar himself, under whose leadership they had often overcome the enemy, was present to see them; then he gave the signal for action. At the first encounter on the right wing, where the Seventh Legion was posted, the enemy were driven back and put to rout; on the left, which was held by the Twelfth Legion, although the first ranks of the enemy had fallen pierced by the missiles, the remainder nevertheless resisted most stoutly, and not a man gave an inkling of flight. The leader of the enemy, Camulogenus, was present  p469 in person to urge on his men. The ultimate victory, however, was still uncertain; but when the tribunes of the Seventh Legion were told what was afoot on the left wing, they brought out their legion in rear of the enemy and attacked. Not even then did any man yield his ground, but all were surrounded and slain. Camulogenus met with the same fate. As for the detachment which had been left on guard over against the camp of Labienus, when they heard that the fight had begun they marched to the support of their comrades, and occupied a hill. But they could not withstand the attack of our victorious troops; and thus, as they became intermingled with their fugitive comrades, all who did not win the shelter of woods or heights were slain by the cavalry. Having finished this business, Labienus returned to Agedincum, where the baggage of the whole army had been left. Marching thence with all his force, he reached Caesar on the third day.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 See note on ch. 24, supra.

Thayer's Note: Sic. The (linked) lone note to ch. 24, however, is not relevant; I've been unable so far to determine what other note might be meant.
[decorative delimiter]

2 i.e. probably between Gallic cavalry, serving with the Romans, and their own countrymen.

[decorative delimiter]

3 i.e. on his rear from the north.

Page updated: 28 Oct 13