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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 29‑44)

 p355  29 When Caesar had ascertained through scouts of the Ubii that the Suebi had retired into the forests, he decided to advance no farther, fearing scarcity of corn,º because, as above mentioned, all the Germans care naught for agriculture. At the same time, in order not to remove altogether from the natives the fear his return and to delay their reinforcements, after he had withdrawn his army he broke up to the extent of two hundred feet the farthest section of the bridge which touched the banks of the Ubii, and at the end of the bridge he set a tower of four stories, posting a garrison of twelve cohorts to protect the bridge and strengthening the station with considerable fortifications. He set young Gaius Volcatius Tullus in command of the station and garrison, and himself moved on, as soon as the corn-crops began to ripen, through the forest of Ardennes, which is the largest in all Gaul and stretches from the banks of the Rhine and the borders of the Treveri to the country of the Nervii, extending lengthwise for more than five hundred miles, and he sent forward Lucius Minucius Basilus, with all the cavalry, to see if he could gain any advantage by speed of march and chance of opportunity. He instructed him to prevent the making of fires in camp in order to give no intimation from afar of his coming, and said that he himself would follow forthwith.

30 Basilus did as he was commanded. He accomplished the march speedily, contrary, indeed, to the  p357 general expectation, and caught many persons in the fields off their guard. Their information led him to make for Ambiorix himself in the locality where he was reported to be with a few horsemen. In everything, and especially in warfare, great is the power of fortune. For just as it was by great good luck that he fell upon the chief himself actually off his guard and unprepared — in fact, his arrival was seen by everybody before any rumour or message thereof was brought — so likewise it was a great piece of fortune that, when all the military equipment he had about him had been captured, the carriages and horses seized, the chief himself should escape death. But this, too, came to pass because, the building being surrounded by forest, as the dwellings of the Gauls usually are — for to avoid the heat they generally seek the neighbourhood of woods and rivers — his companions and friends in so confined a place held off the attack of our cavalry for a short time. While they fought, one of his followers set him on a horse, and the woods covered his flight. Thus both in his exposure to danger and in his escape therefrom the influence of fortune was great.

31 It is doubtful whether it was of set purpose that Ambiorix did not assemble his forces, thinking that he ought not to fight a decisive action, or whether he had no chance of so doing because he was prevented by the sudden arrival of the cavalry, believing that the rest of the army was following close behind. But certain it is that he despatched messengers in different directions through the fields with the order that each man should take thought for himself. Part of them escaped into the forest of Ardennes, part into the long stretches of morass;​1 those who were nearest  p359 the Ocean hid themselves in the islands which the tides are accustomed to form; many left their own borders and entrusted themselves and all their stuff to utter strangers. Catuvolcus, king of half the Eburones, who had shared the project of Ambiorix, was old and worn, and, finding that he could not endure the effort of war or flight, cursed Ambiorix by all his gods for suggesting such a project, and hanged himself to a yew‑tree, of which there is great plenty in Gaul and Germany.

32 The Segni and Condrusi, who are of the nation and number of the Germans and have their abode betwixt the Eburones and the Treveri, sent envoys to Caesar to beg him not to count them among his enemies, nor to consider that there was common cause among all the Germans on the Roman side of the Rhine. They pleaded that they had had no idea of war, had sent no auxiliaries for Ambiorix. Caesar investigated the matter by examination of prisoners, and commanded that if any of the Eburones should have repaired to them in their flight they should be brought back to him; he said that if they did this he would not do violence to their territories. Then, dividing his forces into three parts, he concentrated the baggage of all the legions at Aduatuca. That is the name of a fort situated almost in the middle of the territory of the Eburones, where Titurius and Aurunculeius had stationed themselves to written; and Caesar approved of the position on general grounds, and particularly because the fortifications of the previous year remained intact, in order thereby to lighten the labour of the troops. To guard the baggage he left the Fourteenth Legion, one of the​2 three latest enrolled which he had brought  p361 over from Italy. He put Quintus Tullius Cicero in command of the legion and camp, and attached two hundred cavalry to his force.

33 Having divided the army, he ordered Titus Labienus to proceed with three legions towards the districts which touch the Menapii; Gaius Trebonius with an equal number of legions to devastate the region which adjoins the Aduatuci; and he determined to march himself with the remaining three to the river Scheldt, which flows into the Meuse,​3 and to the uttermost parts of the Ardennes, whither he heard Ambiorix had started with a few horsemen. As he departed he guaranteed that he would return, after an interval of seven days, on the day by which he knew that the corn-ration was due for the legion left in garrison. He urged Labienus and Trebonius, if they could do so without danger to the commonwealth, to return by the same day, in order that they might again take counsel together, examine the tactics of the enemy, and so be able to start the campaign afresh.

34 As above mentioned, there was nowhere any definite body of troops, any stronghold, any garrison to defend itself in arms; but the population was scattered in all directions. Each man had settled where a hidden valley or a wooded locality or an entangled morass offered some hope of defence or security. These localities were known to the dwellers round about, and thus the matter required great care, not for the protection of the army as a whole (for no danger could occur to united bodies from individuals scared and scattered), but for the preservation of single soldiers, although this latter consideration affected to some degree the safety of the  p363 army. For the passion for plunder was apt to draw many men too far afield, and at the same time the woods forbade the advance of any close-formed body along the hidden and uncertain tracks. If Caesar wished to finish off the business and to make away with a brood of malefactors, he must needs send several bands in different directions and move his troops at wide intervals; if he wished to keep the companies with the standards, as the established rule and custom of the Roman army required, the locality itself gave protection to the natives, and individuals among them lacked not the daring to lay secret ambush and surround scattered detachments. Considering these particular difficulties, all precaution that carefulness could take was taken; and Caesar preferred to forgo some chance of doing harm, although the spirit of every man was burning for vengeance, rather than to do harm with some damage to the troops. He sent messengers round to the neighbouring states and invited them all, in the hope of booty, to join him in pillaging the Eburones, so that he might hazard the lives of the Gauls among the woods rather than the soldiers of the legions, and at the same time, by surrounding it with a large host, destroy the stock and name of the tribe in requital for its horrid crime. A great number assembled speedily from every side.

35 These operations were being carried out in all parts of the Eburones' country, and the seventh day drew nigh, by which Caesar had determined to return to the baggage and the legion. Herein it has been possible to note how great is power of fortune in war, and how great the chances she brings in her train. The enemy were scared and  p365 scattered, as we have mentioned, and there was no body of troops that could suggest the slightest occasion for alarm. Across the Rhine the report reached the Germans that the Eburones were being pillaged; nay, more — that all were invited to come and plunder. Two thousand horsemen were collected by the Sugambri, who live nearest the Rhine, and, as we set forth above, had received the Tencteri and the Usipetes after their flight. On boats and rafts they crossed the Rhine thirty miles below the spot where the bridge had been built and a garrison left by Caesar; and, coming first to the borders of the Eburones, they caught many persons scattered in flight, and captured a great quantity of cattle, of which barbarians are very covetous. They were tempted by plunder to proceed further. No march, no woods check these children of war and brigandage. From prisoners they inquire in what district Caesar is; they find that he has gone on some distance, they learn that all his army is departed. And then one of their prisoners said: "Why do you pursue this miserable and slender booty, when you now have the chance of the utmost fortune? In three hours you may come to Aduatuca; in that spot the Roman army has concentrated all its stores; the garrison is so small that it cannot even man the wall, and no one dares to step outside the entrenchments." With this hope offered them, the Germans left in a secret place the plunder they had got and made for Aduatuca, using as a guide the very man by whose information they had learnt the news.

36 For all the previous days Cicero, in obedience to Caesar's instructions, had most carefully confined his troops to camp, allowing not even a single camp-follower to pass beyond the entrenchment. On the  p367 seventh day he did not feel sure that Caesar would keep his word as touching the number of days, as he heard that he had advanced further, and no report about his return was brought in. At the same time he was influenced by the remarks of those who called his patience almost a siege, since no leave to pass out of camp was given; and he did not anticipate any turn of fortune such as, with nine legions and a very large force of cavalry to confront a scattered and almost obliterated enemy, could cause disaster within the distance of three miles. He therefore sent five cohorts to get corn in the nearest fields, between which and the camp but a single hill interposed. Several men of the legions had been left behind sick, and those of them who had recovered during the intervening days, to the number of some three hundred, were sent together under a flag;​4 and, besides, a great host of camp-followers got leave to follow with a great number of pack-animals which had remained in the camp.

37 Just at this moment, as it chanced, the German horsemen came on the scene, and immediately, at the same speed as had brought them thither, essayed to burst into camp at the main gate. There was a screen of woods on that side, so that they were not seen before they drew near the camp, so much so that the traders encamped close under the rampart had no chance of retreating. Our troops, not expecting them, were thrown into confusion by the surprise, and the cohort on guard scarcely stood the first attack. The enemy poured round the other faces of the camp to see if they could find an entry. Our troops with difficulty defended the  p369 gates; all other chances of entrance were prevented by the nature of the place itself and by the entrenchment. There was confusion throughout the camp, and one sought from another the cause of the uproar; no one had a care to which point the companies​5 were to move or in what quarter each man was to assemble. One declared that the camp was already taken, another insisted that the barbarians were come victorious from the destruction of the army and the commander-in‑chief, and the majority pictured to themselves new superstitions because of the place and set before their eyes the disaster of Cotta and Titurius, who (as they remembered) fell in the same fort. Owing to the universal panic caused by such fears, the barbarians were confirmed in the belief that, as they had heard from the prisoner, there was no garrison inside. They strove to break through, exhorting one another not to let so good a chance slip from their hands.

38 With the garrison there had been left behind, sick, a certain Publius Sextius Baculus, who has been mentioned by us in previous battles.​6 He had now been five days without food, and, doubtful of his own and the general safety, he came forth from his tent unarmed. He saw that the enemy were threateningly close and that the issue was in the greatest danger; he took arms from the nearest men and stationed himself in the gate. He was followed by all the centurions of the cohort on guard, and together for a short space they bore the brunt of the battle. Sextius fainted after receiving severe wounds; with difficulty he was dragged from hand to hand into safety. In the respite thus given the rest took courage so far as to venture to their stations in  p371 the entrenchments and to afford a semblance of defence.

39 Meanwhile, having finished corn-gathering, our troops heard the shouting; the cavalry sped forward, and learnt the great danger of the moment. But here was no entrenchment to receive the scared soldiers; lately enlisted, and unskilled in the practice of war, they turned their faces with one accord to the tribunes and centurions, waiting to see what these would direct. No one was so brave as not to be confused by so unexpected a situation. The natives, on the other hand, catching sight of the standards at a distance, desisted from the assault; at first they supposed that the legions had returned, which, according to the information given by the prisoners, had gone farther afield; afterwards, despising the small numbers, they made a charge on every side.

40 The camp-followers dashed forward to the nearest rise. They were speedily hurled down from thence, and ran headlong into the company formations,​7 scaring the soldiers into greater alarm. Some of these proposed to form a wedge and break through speedily, as the camp was so near at hand, feeling confident that if some part were surrounded and slain, yet the remainder could be saved. Others proposed to take post on the ridge and all face the same risk together. This course was not approved by the veterans, who, as we have shown, marched out together under a flag. So they encouraged one another, and, led, by Gaius Trebonius, a Roman knight, who had been put in command of them, they broke through the midst of the enemy and came into camp all safe to a man. Close behind them in the same onrush came the camp-followers and the cavalry, who  p373 were saved by the valour of soldiers. But the party which had taken post on the ridge, still utterly untutored in the practice of war, had proved unable either to abide in the place they had approved and defend themselves on higher ground, or to imitate the vigour and the speed which they had seen to be of assistance to others; indeed, in the attempt to retire into camp they came down to unfavourable ground. Some of their centurions had been transferred, on account of valour, from the lower ranks of the other legion to the higher ranks of this;​8 and these, that they might not lose the renown for military prowess won in the past, fell, fighting most gallantly. Part of the soldiers, when the enemy had been thrust aside by the valour of the centurions, arrived, though they did not expect it, safe in camp; part were surrounded by the natives and perished.

41 The Germans despaired of storming the camp, for they could see that our men had now taken post in the entrenchments; they therefore retired across the Rhine with the booty which they had secreted in the woods. And even after their departure so great was the fear of the enemy that the same night, when Gaius Volusenus, who had been sent on with the cavalry, reached the camp, he could not make the troops believe that Caesar was close at hand with his army unhurt. Terror had so completely seized their minds that they were almost crazy, declaring that after the destruction of all the forces the cavalry had escaped the rout, and insisting that if the army had been safe the Germans would not have attacked the camp. This terror was removed by the arrival of Caesar.

 p375  42 When he returned, knowing well the accidents of war, he had but one complaint to make — that cohorts had been sent afield from outpost and garrison duty: he held that no room should have been left for even the slightest mischance, and that fortune had proved her power in the sudden arrival of the enemy — ay, and far more so, in that she had turned away the natives almost from the very rampart and gates of the camp. Of all these events the most remarkable seemed to be that the Germans, who had crossed the Rhine with the definite intention of devastating the territory of Ambiorix, by their descent on the Roman camp rendered Ambiorix the most acceptable service.

43 Caesar marched forth again to harass the enemy, and, collecting a great host from the neighbouring states, he sent them off in every direction. Every hamlet, every homestead that anyone could see was set on fire; captured cattle were driven from every spot; the corn-crops were not only being consumed by the vast host of pack-animals and human beings, but were laid flat in addition because of the rainy season, so that, even if any persons succeeded in hiding themselves for the moment, it seemed that they must perish for want of everything when the army was withdrawn. And with so large a force of cavalry scattered in every direction, it often came to pass​9 that prisoners when taken were gazing about for Ambiorix, whom they had just seen in flight, and even insisting that he had not quite gone out of sight. The hope of catching the fugitive now offered  p377 to them inspired immense exertion, and the thought that they would win the highest favour with Caesar made their zeal almost more than human. Yet always it seemed that they had failed by a little to win supreme success, while Ambiorix stole away from covert or glade and, hidden by night, made for other districts or territories, with no more escort of horsemen than four troopers, to whom alone he durst entrust his life.

44 When the districts had been devastated in such fashion, Caesar brought back the army with the loss of two cohorts to Durocortorum,​10 a city of the Remi; and, having summoned a convention of Gaul at that place, he determined to hold an inquisition touching the conspiracy of the Senones and Carnutes; and on Acco, the arch-conspirator, who had originated the plot, he pronounced a heavier sentence than usual, and executed punishment in our traditional fashion.​11 Some persons feared trial and fled, and these he outlawed. Then he stationed two legions in cantonments on the borders of the Treveri, two among the Lingones, and the remaining six at Agedincum, in the territory of the Senones; and, having provided a corn-supply for the army, set out for Italy, as he had determined, to hold the assizes.12

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Or possibly "adjacent morasses."

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2 See ch. 1 supra. The MSS. have his here for eis, which is scarcely intelligible.

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3 It no longer does so, if it ever did.

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4 i.e. they formed a single and separate detachment: cf. ch. 40.

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5 Signa (standards) means here the companies which were assembling; the second clause indicates that individual soldiers did not know where to fall in.

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6 II.25; III.5.

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7 The manipuli were formed up round their signa.

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8 See Appendix A.

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9 Or, "it often came so nearly to pass," i.e. the capture of Ambiorix.

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10 Reims.

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11 By flogging him to death (fustuarium).

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12 See note on I.54.

Page updated: 28 Oct 13