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This webpage reproduces an article in the
English Historical Review
Vol. 27 (1912), pp127‑130

The text is in the public domain:
H. Stuart Jones died in 1939.

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!


Caesar's Conquest of Gaul. By T. Rice Holmes. (Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1911.)

The first edition of Mr. Holmes's work, which may be said to have become a classic of research, was exhausted in 1899; and its revision, as the author tells us, 'required the almost incessant labour of two years.' Those who know the intensity of effort which Mr. Holmes puts into his work will appreciate what this means; and, in fact, the book has not merely been materially increased in bulk, but very largely rewritten. Mr. Holmes  p128 has, it is true, found it possible to throw overboard some of the heavy ballast of the first edition: it is no longer necessary for him to demonstrate at length that the site of Bibracte is to be found at Mont Beuvray, nor to deal with the anthropological arguments of the late Mr. Isaac Taylor in favour of the identification of the Basque language with that of the Ligurians. But the space thus gained has proved all too small for the discussion of the topics of controversy about which so much ink has been spilt in the last decade. The three volumes of the Histoire de la Gaule of Camille Jullian (to whom Mr. Holmes pays a warm tribute in his preface) and the two volumes of Déchelette's Manuel d'archéologie préhistorique are among the more important works of French scholars which have to be reckoned with; and although the attack upon the credibility of Caesar's narrative has somewhat slackened, Ferrero (a host in himself) has plunged into the fray, only to meet his match, and more, in Mr. Holmes. We rejoice, therefore, to see this invaluable work brought up to date, and to hear Mr. Holmes's views on the latest vagaries of the specialists, to whom he is as merciless as ever: but we are sorry to be told that in its present form the book 'may be regarded as final': for it is very certain that in another ten years' time some scholar — whether (as we devoutly pray) Mr. Holmes or another — will be summoned to do battle with yet another swarm of sciolists. Moreover, though it may be true to say that of Caesar's conquest, which is the main subject of the book, we are unlikely ever to know much more than we do now, it is not so clear that the researches of ethnologists may not lead to more definite results than they have hitherto attained. Who can be sure, for example, that the Monumenta Linguae Ibericae will always remain a sealed book?

It is to the section on the ethnology of Gaul (pp257‑343) that the reader who is familiar with Mr. Holmes' work will naturally turn. 'The main interest of these studies,' he says, 'is the certaminis gaudium' (p337), and the joy of battle is dear to his heart: though he assures us that 'the warfare of the specialists is entertaining to the onlooker' (p292), he not infrequently steps into the arena and deals some shrewd blows. Yet we cannot but feel that his genius is critical rather than constructive, and that though the presumptuous dogmatist may fare ill at his hands, the upshot of his labours has not been to advance our knowledge greatly. There are even places where the labor limae which we associate with Mr. Holmes's work has been lacking. At the very beginning of the section on the Ligurians he tells us that 'in the time of Hesiod the islands of Hyères were called Λιγυστίδες', and supports the statement by a quotation from the Argonautica — of Apollonius Rhodius. On the next page 'Herodotus' is doubtless a mere misprint for 'Herodorus'; but if this author (whose son, Bryson the Sophist, was a contemporary of Plato) spoke of the Iberian territory as extending to the Rhone, the fact has a more important bearing on the date of the invasion of southern Gaul from the Spanish peninsula than Mr. Holmes seems to allow.

There is one remarkable omission in Mr. Holmes's review of the theories which have been broached with regard to the Ligurian race. He is evidently acquainted with Professor Ridgeway's tract, Who were the Romans? — indeed, he cites it in order to refute the doctrine that conquering  p129 peoples adopt the speech of those whom they subdue — but the startling theory which makes the aboriginal element in the population of Rome Ligurian, and Latin the language of this stock, is passed over in silence. We would gladly have sacrificed some of the pages in which it is shown that the attempt to explain the Iberian inscriptions by the Basque language has hitherto failed for a candid examination of an hypothesis which, if verified, may be considered of the highest ethnological value. Perhaps Mr. Holmes may yet give us such a criticism ἐν παρέργῳ. There is yet another ethnological hypothesis which readers of this Review might expect to find subjected to examination in this book, namely, that of Sir Henry Howorth on the 'Germans of Caesar'.

Many will probably turn at once to the pages in which the Portus Itius comes up for discussion. Readers of this Review will not need to be reminded how in 1899 Mr. Holmes was confident that the identity of the Itian harbour with Wissant would 'sooner or later be generally accepted as morally certain'; how, in 1907, he wrote, 'it is not possible to prove that the Portus Itius was at Wissant: it is possible to prove that it was not,' whilst in the following year he treated either view as possible.​1 Mr. Holmes now reprints from the Classical Review his 'last words on Portus Itius'. 'Last words' they are no longer; for in a final summary Mr. Holmes expresses the view that Caesar's words suggest that the port from which he sailed on his second expedition was not that which he had used in the previous year, adding that this impression is not removed by the words of B. G. V.2 omnes ad Itium portum convenire iubet, quo ex portu commodissimum in Britanniam traiectum esse cognoverat. He is thus in agreement with the view taken by the present writer in his notice of Ancient Britain and the Invasions of Julius Caesar; and by accepting it he has made himself free to allow the nautical considerations which determine his view their full weight. But he has learnt how unsafe it is to claim finality for his conclusions, and begins the final paragraph of his discussion with the words, 'my only aim has been to show that the case for Boulogne cannot be regarded as absolutely proved.' What he has shown is that the case for Wissant is the more probable.

One or two archaeological points remain to be noted. The famous bust in the British Museum, whether a portrait of Caesar or not, is not a work of Caesar's time: the plastic rendering of the iris and pupil shows this. There is, no doubt, a good deal to be said for the view that the bust is a portrait of Caesar the surface of which has been worked over in modern times; but at any rate it cannot be regarded as a contemporary presentation of the dictator in its original state. Probably the most faithful ancient portrait of Caesar is that in the Campo Santo at Pisa. On p583 Mr. Holmes quotes Sir R. Payne-Gallwey's work on the Projectile-throwing Engines of the Ancients. He should have noticed that of Colonel Schramm, whose models are to be seen in the museum of the Saalburg; and if he had compared Sir R. Payne-Gallwey's account of ancient artillery with that of Schramm in the Jahrbuch für lothringische Geschichte und Altertumskunde, he would probably have found something to say about the relation of the two. In discussing the defensive armour of the Roman soldier  p130 (p584) Mr. Holmes should have noticed that the coat of chain-mail (ἁλυσιδωτὸς θώραξ, i.e. lorica hamata) mentioned by Polybius is found on the well-known relief in the Louvre representing the Suovetaurilia, the date of which is almost certainly about 35 B.C.

H. Stuart Jones.

The Author's Note:

1 Ante, vol. XXIV, 1909, pp115 f., 604.

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