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Bill Thayer

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Ch. 12
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Romans
on the Riviera and the Rhone

by W. H. Hall

originally published by Macmillan & Co., Ltd.,

The text is in the public domain.

This page 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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Ch. 14

 p132  Chapter XIII
The Provincia Romana in relation to Caesar's Gallic and Civil Wars

With the appearance of Julius Caesar in Gaul and the assumption of the reins of government in Provincia, the relations of the Allobroges to the Romans underwent a radical change. Realizing that the country of the Allobroges was the most convenient, if not the only possible, base for his operations in Gallia Comata — the 'omnis Gallia' of the De Bello Gallico — Caesar determined to secure their friendship at any price. As if by magic, from having been the most troublesome people in Transalpine Gaul, the Allobroges suddenly became the most loyal, and remained the most steadfast allies of the Romans throughout the whole period of Caesar's Gallic War.

Even when the constancy of the Aedui broke down, in spite of their sworn brotherhood with the Romans, at the critical moment following the repulse of the Romans from Gergovia, the Allobroges remained true. Had they also been induced to join in the national rising and yielded to the solicitation of Vercingetorix, it would in all probability have been all over with the fortunes of Caesar, and the course of Roman history would have been diverted into an entirely different channel.

By what specific measure Caesar succeeded in winning over the affections of the Allobroges, we are not, as far as I can discover, directly informed by any classical authority. But from a somewhat rare and much-esteemed  p133 local work,1 of which I made an analysis from a copy borrowed during my journey through the country, I have derived much useful information bearing on the subject.

It is stated by Pitot that Pomptinus, the predecessor of Julius Caesar in the governorship of Provincia after his final subjugation of the Allobroges, established at Viennaº a colony of Roman and Italian veterans. Although I failed to note his authority for this statement, it is practically certain, that under the rule of Pomptinus Vienna became for the first time the seat of Roman Government in Northern Provincia, which was bounded by the course of the Rhone as far as Geneva.

Already in the days of Hannibal, a century and a half earlier, the existence of a 'senate' of the Allobroges is mentioned by Livy where he states that the decision of the Carthaginian leader in favour of the elder disputant for the chieftainship was agreeable to 'the Senate' and chiefs of the nation.

That this 'Senate' was entirely suppressed during the rigorous regime of Pomptinus seems more than probable. To restore it partially, and remodel it on a safe basis, appears to have been a leading feature in Caesar's new scheme of government. But as out of 100 seats 24 only were assigned to Allobroges, it is difficult to understand how this arrangement can have been accepted even for a time by the native population. The theory that Caesar, like Napoleon, exercised a magnetic influence over the Gallic race, alone explains much that would be otherwise unintelligible in his dealings with the Gauls.

That Caesar took an active part in the formation of the Senate of the Allobroges is proved by the fact that he caused his native associates and particular friends — Raucillus and Egus, sons of Abducillus, for many years chief of the state — to be elected supernumerary members  p134 of that body, having previously endowed them with estates in land confiscated in Gaul (Gallia Comata).

That the temporary loyalty of the Allobroges is to be attributed solely to their devotion to the personality of Julius Caesar seems proved by the fact that no sooner did they hear of his assassination than they rose en masse and expelled the entire body of Roman and Italian colonists out of Vienna.

Instead of severely punishing the authors of this outrage, the Roman Senate, in the confusion following the murder of Caesar, contented itself with sending orders to Plancus, governor of Gallia Ulterior — to conduct the colonists expelled from Vienna to found a Roman Colony at Lugdunum.

Such was the origin of Roman Lyons, between which city and Vienna a lasting feud existed.

The importance of Vienna to Caesar in the prosecution of his Gallic Wars can hardly be exaggerated. In Caesar's day it was the last outpost of the comparative civilization of the Roman Province against the outer barbarism of Gallia Comata or Gaul beyond the Rhone. For Lyons (Lugdunum) in spite of its convenient position at the junction of the Saone and the Rhone, was as yet a place of no importance and quite ignored by Julius Caesar, although it was soon to become under Augustus the Roman capital of Gaul.

In order to render Vienna the impregnable frontier fortress which he required, Caesar employed on strengthening its fortifications the bulk of the prisoners taken in his earliest battles in Gaul. Between the years B.C. 58‑56, forty thousand labourers are said to have been engaged on this work.

Vienna now received its title of 'Colonia Julia Viennensis,' and became the first 'Caput' of the Roman roads leading over the Alps into Gallia Transalpina.

Planted on a series of picturesque heights and terraces commanding a great bend of the Rhone, Vienna is naturally a place of great strength, and  p135 presents a most striking appearance when viewed from the river. From the express trains, which pass by the P. L. M. station of Vienne-en‑Dauphiné (half an hour below Lyons) in a dark cutting or darker tunnel, you see nothing that is striking in the place, as you rush through. Vienne is however well worth stopping at and exploring, both for its Roman and mediaeval antiquities. For after it had lost much of its civil importance to the Romans by the transference of the seat of the government of the whole of Gaul to Lyons, Vienna soon acquired and has retained to this day a Metropolitan character in ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

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Temple of Augustus and Livia at Vienne-en‑Dauphiné.

When in the year B.C. 52, after six years' fighting with almost uninterrupted success, it seemed that the conquest of Gaul had been practically achieved, Vercingetorix succeeded in exciting his countrymen to a final effort to escape from the Roman yoke; he saw at a glance that his best chance was to strike at Provincia and endeavour to cut the Romans off from their base. Vienna naturally became the first object of his attack.

Vercingetorix, at the same time that he despatched an armed force against the Allobroges, endeavoured by means of secret negotiations to win them over by persuasion, trusting to find sufficient sparks of disaffection still alive amongst them to fan into a flame. He failed however to effect an entrance into their territory either by force or negotiation.

But although the Arverne chief failed in his operations against the capital of the Allobroges, he succeeded notwithstanding in cutting off Caesar's communications and supplies from the rest of Provincia and Italy.2

Finding himself thus isolated, Caesar showed his extraordinary resource by procuring from beyond the Rhine German cavalry and light infantry, of which he stood in desperate need to co-operate with his heavy legionaries. It is to be noted that the crowning victory over Vercingetorix at Alesia was largely attributable to the  p136 prowess of the German cavalry brought over at this crisis.3

Lying as it does quite outside the limits of this sketch, I am unfortunately debarred from attempting any detailed description of the operations around Alesia — the most interesting episode in Caesar's Gallic Wars.

It is, however, within my province to note that, although the back of the Gallic revolt was broken by the surrender of Vercingetorix, B.C. 52, the fighting was continued and Caesar's presence required in Gaul for about two years longer.

For in B.C. 51, the Roman Province incurred the serious danger of being overrun by a band of some 2000 adventurers and jail-birds, got together by Drappes and Lucterius. This disaster was however averted by the skilful operations of Caninius the legatus, whom Caesar detached for the purpose. The siege and capture of Uxellodunum, the chief oppidum of the Cadurci, by cutting off its water supply — operations conducted by Julius Caesar in person — put an end to the fighting in the South on the borders of the Roman Province. For the Aquitanians surrendered without striking a blow.

After spending a few days at Narbonne dispensing justice and despatching other business with his wonted expedition, Caesar hurried back to Belgium, spending his last winter in Gaul at Nemetocenna4 (Arras).

The outbreak of the Civil War B.C. 49 occurred most opportunely for the fortunes of Julius Caesar. For it not only furnished military employment for the Roman and Italian army, with which he had subdued Gaul, but also for the restless spirits amongst the Gauls themselves, who might otherwise have broken out into revolt behind his back.

The Legion of the Alaudae (larks), which was entirely  p137 composed of natives of Gaul, had been incorporated with the Roman army5 as early as B.C. 55, being equipped in the Roman fashion. It was especially favoured by Caesar, and having rendered him the greatest services, was admitted bodily to Roman citizenship a few years later. Caesar now proceeded to a special enlistment of picked men from all the different states of Gaul,6 whom he had drilled under his own superintendence to be in readiness to follow his Roman legions across the Pyrenees for the encounter with Pompey's lieutenants, Petreius and Afranius, in Spain, which he foresaw was imminent.

But the episode in the Civil War, which especially concerns the Roman Province, of which Domitius Ahenobarbus had been appointed governor by the Senate in succession to Caesar, is unquestionably the siege of Marseilles. If Marseilles had been merely an independent Greek city, its history and fate would be of comparative unimportance to the subject we have in hand. It is, however, necessary to bear in mind that besides being a city, Massilia was an independent Greek state, whose territory extended as far as Monaco eastward and the Pyrenees westward — a stretch of about 300 miles of coast. In addition to this it included all the country comprised between the Rhone and the Cevennes mountains. The occurrence of the name Gretia in the Section of the Table of Peutinger is a proof that its Greek character was preserved by the country between the Rhone and the Durance as late as the age of Theodosius.

That a part of this inland extension of territory was a recent acquisition, dating from Pompey's re-conquest of Provincia about 20 years earlier, we learn incidentally from the statement of their case made to Caesar by the Massiliot envoys in pleading their excuse for wishing  p138 to remain neutral in the Civil War. The envoys observed, that as they understood the situation, the Roman people was split up into two factions, the respective leaders of which were Cnaeus Pompeius and Caius Caesar, — both patrons of their commonwealth, to the former of whom they were indebted for the public concession of the territories of the Volcae Arecomici and Helvii, and to the latter for attributing to their state increased revenue from the vanquished "Salyes" or Salluvii.7 That having received equal benefits from both, their proper course seemed to be to show their good will to both by remaining neutral, and receiving neither of them within their city or harbour.

However, while the negotiations were pending between Caesar and the Massiliot envoys, Domitius Ahenobarbus,8 the newly appointed governor of the Provincia Narbonensis (as it may now be convenient to call it, to distinguish it from the rest of Gallia Transalpina) suddenly arrived at Marseilles, with a flotilla of seven swift cruisers from Cosa, a port on the Etrurian coast, and Igilium, an island lying off it.

Notwithstanding that he owed his life and liberty to the magnanimity of Caesar, into whose hands he had been lately delivered by his own troops at Corfinium, Domitius Ahenobarbus did not hesitate to put himself at the head of the sea and land forces which the Massiliots had got together to support the cause of Pompey.

That the leanings of the Massiliots should have been to the side of Pompey and the Senate in spite of their affectation of neutrality, was natural enough. For their Republic was the most conservative and stable known to antiquity, whereas Caesar was the incarnation of the Revolution. In him Sylla had truly remarked there were contained many Mariuses. The governing body  p139 of the Massiliots was a council of 600 life-senators, who delegated their powers to a Cabinet of 15, with an inner Cabinet of 3, of whom one was chosen president. It was the Cabinet of 15 who stated their case for neutrality to Caesar.

But the time for negotiation was now passed, and Caesar took his measures accordingly. His first step was to bring up three of his legions for the purpose of investing Marseilles by land; his second was to give orders for the construction of a dozen ships of war at Arles to co-operate with his land forces. Within 30 days from the date of its issue, this order was executed and the ships duly delivered. It would appear from this fact that the city of Arles, with its ship-building facilities, had been retained in Roman hands after Pompey's re-conquest of Provence, when it became a centre of Roman roads.

But the war in Spain requiring his immediate presence, Caesar was obliged to relinquish for the present the direction of the operations around Marseilles, and to hurry across the Pyrenees to join the main body of his army and Gallic auxiliaries awaiting him in the basin of the Iberus (Ebro).

The prosecution of the siege operations by land was in the meanwhile entrusted to Caius Trebonius, the legatus left behind by Caesar, while Decimus Brutus (or Decius as he is styled by Shakespeare), was to take the command of the fleet.

The Author's Notes:

1 "Recherches sur les Antiquités Dauphinoises, par J. J. A. Pitot." (Baratier, Grenoble, 1833.)

2 De Bello Gallico, VII.65.

3 De Bello Gallico, VII.80.

4 Ibid. VIII.46.

5 Suetonius, Julius, 24.

6 De Bello Civili, I.39. "Nominatim ex omnibus civitatibus nobilissimo et fortissimo quoque evocato."

7 De Bello Civili, I.35. "Victos Sallyas" is the emendation of the text proposed by Glandorpius.

8 Grandson of the first proconsul, maker of the Via Domitia.

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Page updated: 26 Aug 16