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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
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Gallic War

Book VII (chapters 8‑14)

 p391  8 By these measures of security Lucterius was checked and set back, for he deemed it dangerous to penetrate the line of garrisons; and so Caesar was free to proceed into the district of the Helvii. Now the range of the Cevennes, which parts the Arverni from the Helvii, in this the severest season of the year was likely to hinder the march with great depth of snow; however, he cleared away snow six feet deep and, having thus opened up the roads by a supreme effort of the troops, reached the borders of the Arverni. They were caught off their guard, for they thought themselves fortified by the Cevennes as by a wall, and not even a solitary traveller​1 had ever found the paths open at that season of the year; and Caesar commanded the cavalry to extend on as broad a front and strike as much terror into the enemy as possible. Rumour and reports hereof were speedily brought to Vercingetorix, and all the Arverni gathered about him panic-stricken, beseeching him to have regard to their fortunes and not suffer them to be pillaged by the enemy, especially now that, as he saw, the whole war had been turned against them. He was prevailed upon by their prayers to move his camp from the country of the Bituriges towards that of the Arverni.

9 Caesar, however, having anticipated that this would be the natural course of things for Vercingetorix, halted for two days in this locality; then he left the army on the pretext of assembling the supplementary levy and the cavalry. He put young Brutus in command of the force here, instructing him to let his cavalry range the district in every direction on as broad a front as possible, and saying that he would endeavour to be away from the camp no longer than three days.  p393 Having set these matters in order, he reached Vienna​2 by forced marches before his own army expected him.​3 There he found the cavalry which he had sent on thither many days beforehand fit for action, and without a break in his march by day or night he pressed on through the country of the Aedui into that of the Lingones, where two legions were wintering — so speedily as to forestall even the possibility of any design of the Aedui on his own safety. Upon arrival at the station he sent word to the rest of the legions and concentrated them all in one place, or ever report of his coming could reach the Arverni. When he was informed of this, Vercingetorix led his army back again to the country of the Bituriges, and starting thence determined to assault Gorgobina, a stronghold of the Boii, whom, after their defeat in the battle against the Helvetii, Caesar had established there as dependents of the Aedui.

10 This action of Vercingetorix caused Caesar great difficulty in forming his plan of campaign. If he were to keep the legions in one place for the rest of the winter, he was afraid that the reduction of the tributaries of the Aedui would be followed by a revolt of all Gaul, on the ground that Caesar was found to be no safeguard to his friends. If he were to bring the legions out of cantonments too soon, he was afraid that difficulties of transport would cause trouble with the cornº-supply. However, it seemed preferable to endure any and every difficulty rather than to put up with so dire a disgrace​4 and thus to alienate the sympathies of all his own adherents. Therefore he urged the Aedui to see to the transport of supplies, and sent men forward to the Boii to apprise them of his own coming and urge them  p395 to remain loyal and courageously to withstand the attack of the enemy. Then, leaving two legions at Agedincum with the baggage-train of the whole army, he set off for the Boii.

11 On the next day he came to Vellaunodunum, a stronghold of the Senones; and in order to leave no enemy in his rear, and so to expedite the corn-supply, he determined to assault the place, and in two days invested it. On the third day deputies were sent out of the town to treat for surrender, and Caesar ordered arms to be collected, pack-animals furnished, and six hundred hostages given. He left Gaius Trebonius, lieutenant-general, to carry out these orders. He himself, in order to end his march as soon as possible, started for Cenabum, a town of the Carnutes. The news of the siege of Vellaunodunum had been brought to them, and thinking that the business would be long drawn out, they were at this moment beginning to raise a garrison to be sent to Cenabum for the protection thereof. Caesar reached it in two days. He pitched his camp before the town, and as the hour of the day forbade further action he deferred the assault until the morrow. He commanded the troops to make ready the appliances required for the operation; and as the bridge over the river Loire was contiguous to the town of Cenabum, he ordered two legions to bivouac under arms, as he feared the inhabitants might escape from the town by night. A little before midnight the men of Cenabum moved out in silence from the town and began to cross the river. This was reported to Caesar by the scouts; and setting the gates on fire, he sent in the legions which he had ordered to be ready for action, and took possession of the town. Exceeding few of the enemy's total strength  p397 were lacking to make the capture complete, inasmuch as the narrowness of the bridge and the roads had prevented the escape of the general population. He plundered and burnt the town, bestowed the booty on the troops, crossed the Loire with the army, and reached the borders of the Bituriges.

12 As soon as he heard of Caesar's approach Vercingetorix abandoned the siege and started to meet him. Caesar, for his part, had determined to assault Noviodunum, a stronghold of the Bituriges stationed on his route. And as deputies came out to him from the place to entreat pardon for their faults and pity for their lives, he ordered arms to be collected, horses to be furnished, hostages to be given, with intent to complete the remainder of the business as speedily as he had accomplished the greater part thereof. Part of the hostages had already been handed over, and the other demands were in process of fulfilment, as some centurions and a few soldiers had been sent in to collect arms and animals, when the enemy's horsemen were sighted at a distance, the vanguard of the column of Vercingetorix. The moment the townsfolk caught sight of them and conceived a hope of assistance, they raised a shout and began to take up their arms, to shut the gates, and to man the wall. When the centurions in the town perceived by the demonstration on the part of the Gauls that some new design was afoot, they drew their swords, seized the gates, and withdrew all their parties in safety.

13 Caesar ordered the cavalry to be brought out of camp, and engaged the cavalry of the enemy. When his own troops began to be distressed he sent in support some four hundred German horse, whom he had made a practice of keeping with him from the  p399 first. The Gauls could not resist their charge, and were put to flight, retiring to the main body with a loss of many men. At their discomfiture the townsfolk were once more panic-stricken, and seizing the persons by whose efforts they supposed the populace had been roused, they brought them to Caesar and surrendered themselves to him. When this business had been despatched, Caesar moved off to the town of Avaricum,​5 the largest and best fortified in the territory of the Bituriges, and situated in a most fertile district. He felt confident that by the recovery of that town he would bring the state of the Bituriges again into his power.

14 Having experienced three continuous reverses — at Vellaunodunum, Cenabum, and Noviodunum — Vercingetorix summoned his followers to a convention. He pointed out that the campaign must be conducted in far different fashion from hitherto. By every possible means they must endeavour to prevent the Romans from obtaining forage and supplies. The task was easy, because the Gauls had an abundance of horsemen and were assisted by the season of the year. The forage could not be cut; the enemy must of necessity scatter to seek it from the homesteads; and all these detachments could be picked off​6 daily by the horsemen. Moreover, for the sake of the common weal, the interests of private property must be disregarded; hamlets and homesteads must be burnt in every direction for such a distance from the route as the enemy seemed likely to penetrate in quest of forage. The Gauls had a supply of such necessaries, because they were assisted by the resources  p401 of the tribes in whose territory the campaign was being carried on. The Romans would not endure scarcity, or else would advance farther from their camp at great risk; and it made no difference whether the Gauls killed them or stripped them of their baggage, the loss of which rendered the campaign impossible. Moreover, any towns which were not secure from all danger by fortification or natural position ought to be burnt, in order that they might not afford the Gauls a refuge for the avoidance of service, nor offer the Romans a chance to carry off plunder and store of supplies. If these measures seemed grievous or cruel, they ought to take into account that it was far more grievous that their children and their wives should be dragged off into slavery, that they themselves should be slaughtered — the inevitable fate of the conquered.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Much less a body of troops.

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2 Vienne.

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3 Or, "to the surprise of the army." The march to Vienne may have been expected, but not so soon, or it may have been quite unexpected.

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4 i.e. as proving unable to safeguard his friends.

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5 Bourges.

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6 Or, reading deleri, "destroyed." deligi is difficult; perhaps it means "marked down" for destruction by cavalry raids.

Page updated: 28 Oct 13