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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.
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please let me know!

Gallic War

 p. vii  Introduction

Outline of Caesar's Life


Born on 12 July — the month subsequently called after him. Son of C. Julius Caesar and Aurelia.


Elected flamen dialis through his uncle, C. Marius.


Married (1) L. Cinna's daughter, Cornelia.


Won the "civic crown" of oak‑leaves for saving a Roman's life at the storming of Mitylene.


Prosecuted Cn. Dolabella for extortion.


Captured by pirates.
Elected tribunus militum.


Raised a company of volunteers at Rhodes, and held Caria against Mithradates.


Quaestor: sent to Spain to settle the finances of the country.


Married (2) Pompeia, Pompey's cousin.
Helped to carry Lex Gabinia, giving Pompey command against the Mediterranean pirates.


Supported Lex Manilia, giving Pompey command against Mithradates.


Aedile: gave public games with great splendour.

 p. viii  63

Elected Pontifex Maximus.
Spoke in the Senate in the debate on the fellow-conspirators of Catiline.


Praetor: suspended by the Senate for opposition but at once restored with an apology.


Governor, as Propraetor, of Further Spain: gained victories over the Lusitanians.


Formed with Pompey and Crassus "The First Triumvirate."


Consul (I) with Bibulus. Appointed governor as Proconsul, of Gallia Cisalpina, Gallia Narbonensis (Provincia), and Illyricum, for five years — i.e. 1 March 59 to 28 February 54 B.C.
Married (3) Calpurnia, daughter of L. Calpurnius Piso.
Caesar's daughter Julia married to Pompey.


Operations in Gaul, Germany, and Britain.


Conference of the Triumvirs at Luca: Caesar's command to be prolonged for five years — i.e. to the end of February 49 B.C.


Pompey and Crassus consuls.


Death of Julia.


Crassus killed in action against the Parthians at Carrhae.


Disputes at Rome about Caesar's command and second consul­ship.


Senate decreed that Caesar should disband his army: he crossed the Rubicon, which meant civil war.

 p. ix  49

Dictator (I) for eleven days.


Consul (II). Defeated Pompey at Pharsalus in Thessaly.
Dictator (II) till end of 46 B.C.


Murder of Pompey.
Settlement of Egypt: Caesar nearly killed at Alexandria.
Settlement of Asia Minor, after Caesar's victory at Zela ("Veni, vidi, vici") against Pharnaces.


Consul (III).
War in North Africa: Caesar victorious at Thapsus over Scipio and the Pompeian army.
Dictator (III) for ten years.
Reforms in administration, and in the calendar.


Sole Consul (IV). Dictator.
War in Spain: Caesar victorious at Munda over the sons of Pompey (Gnaeus and Sextus) and their army.
Caesar's triumphs. Further honours and offices: Imperator for life, Consul for the next ten years, Dictator and Praefectus Morum for life: Pater Patriae.


15 February (Lupercalia). Refused the crown.
15 March (Ides) assassinated.

This tabulated outline may serve to indicate how Caesar leapt into prominence in 60 B.C., and spent nine good years in the business of conquering Gaul;  p. x and how the five years (49‑44 B.C.) at the end were all that he had as a monarch. At forty, he had passed through the round of public offices, and was consul elect for 59 B.C.: he had shown himself a strong supporter of the people, in consistent opposition to the Senate: he had served his apprentice­ship at the bar, and, as governor of Further Spain, he had commanded troops with success. In the "First Triumvirate" he was the moving spirit, though still, to the Roman world, it might seem that Pompey was the greatest of the three. Pompey had done wonders in Asia; but for all his successes, military and diplomatic, accepted grudgingly by the Senate, regarded jealously by the popular party, he found himself practically powerless on his return to Rome. In a spirit of true citizen­ship, he had disbanded his army; and with his army he lost the chance of sovereignty. Doubtless, before the return of Pompey, Caesar had realised that for him too the only path to power lay through conquests that should enlarge the Empire and open up fresh fields for Roman enterprise. Pompey had gone eastward, Caesar sought his fortune in the west. His uncle Marius had checked the stream of barbarian invasion in Transalpine and Cisalpine Gaul: danger was threatening again beyond the Alps, and Caesar saw that his duty and his opportunity lay there. A tribune of his own party, Vatinius, proposed his appointment as governor for five years of Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum — the province adjoining  p. xi Cisalpine Gaul at the north-east corner of the Adriatic: the Senate added Transalpine Gaul. Besides his quaestor, Caesar was to have 10 legati to his staff: and four legions were assigned for his expeditionary force.

The order and connection of the campaigns in which Caesar conquered Gaul may be most easily understood by reading the summary of each book (pp. xix to xxii) with the maps of Gaul. After the defensive operations against the Helvetii and Ariovistus (Book I) in the south-east, Caesar assumed the offensive. First the Belgae (Book II) in the north, then the Veneti and the Aquitani (book III) in the west and south-west, were subdued: then, to prevent the intrusion of fresh support for the Gauls, the legions were sent across the Rhine and the Channel (Book IV). A second expedition to Britain (Book V) secured the north-west of Gaul against interference from oversea: but already there were ominous indications of troubles within — the massacre of two general officers with their troops; vehement attacks on the camps of two more. The operations of the next year (53 B.C.: Book VI) were concerned with the northern tribes, and it was necessary to cross the Rhine once more. Book VII is entirely taken up with the record of the great revolt of the Gauls under Vercingetorix, in which the central tribes, headed by the Arverni, and joined even by the Aedui, made a desperate but unsuccessful effort to rid themselves of Roman rule. At the beginning of  p. xii Book VIII we are told that "all Gaul was subdued": but it would be truer to say (as in chapter 24) that "the most warlike nations were subdued," for there were still some centres of resistance, and some leaders of influence, to be overcome. The last chapters of the book show that in the year 50 B.C. all was quiet in Gaul: but in Italy events were moving rapidly and irresistibly towards civil war, and in January 49 Caesar crossed the Rubicon.

Generals are not born, but made — by study and experience. We can scarcely doubt that Caesar had added to a general study of war a more detailed knowledge of recent campaigns such as those of Sertorius, Lucullus, and Pompey. He had seen some service before the Gallic War: but to him, as to Oliver Cromwell, the opportunity of large command came as it were by accident, after the fortieth year of age. The keynote of Caesar's general­ship, as the Commentaries themselves frequently state, and everywhere imply, was speed, swiftness (celeritas). He was swift to calculate and decide, swift to move — and by movement to keep the initiative, to surprise the enemy and divide his strength; swift, in the hour of battle, to seize the tactical opportunity, to remedy the tactical mistake; swift always in pursuit, knowing full well that he only who pursues till he can go no further secures the full fruit of victory. Such speed in war as Caesar's was no gift of fortune: it depended on certain conditions in himself and his army. He had  p. xiii an energy which was invincible and irresistible; he had that courage which ignores fear or danger,​1 but which refuses to be foolhardy. In his expeditions he combined boldness and caution; he fought his battles not only of design, but as opportunity offered.​2 Strong himself in body, mind and character, he was still so human that he won and kept the affection of his officers and the devoted admiration of his men. As generous in praise as he was gentle in rebuke, as careful of his troops as he was careless of himself, eager to lead but unwilling to drive, seeing clearly and pursuing patiently the one great end through all the labyrinth of war — that is the picture of Caesar which this book reveals. To the faults of the men, even to the mistakes of his officers, he could be lenient: but to the real sins of a soldier — cowardice, mutiny, desertion — he showed no mercy. The discipline of Caesar was truly based on mutual understanding and self-respect; and his army grew to love him as a man and a soldier, and to believe in him as a leader, just as the British troops swore by "Corporal John," and the French adored "Le Petit Caporal." Like Marlborough and Napoleon, Caesar knew what the moral of an army means — knew how to create it, and to sustain it. So trained, so led, troops will go anywhere and do anything: possunt quia posse videntur.

 p. xiv  But moral superiority alone does not ensure success in war; soldiers are human, and armies cannot live or fight without supplies, nor move without transport. It is the mark of a good general that he appreciates and anticipates the material needs; and it is abundantly clear that Caesar's celeritas in the field was rendered possible only by the most careful and constant attention to all details of administration. Sir Arthur Wellesley,º writing in 1803 of his own difficulties in command of a force in India, states the axiom for us; "The only mode by which we can inspire either our allies or our enemies with respect for our operations will be to shew them that the army can move with ease and celerity at all times and in all situations."​3 And the record of Caesar's legions in Gaul is no less remarkable for the works which they accomplished than for the battles which they won. With an amazing speed and versatility they built warships, transports, bridges, forts, siege-works; and the master-mind of Caesar made itself felt always and everywhere, choosing special officers to superintend operations, keenly interested himself in the work, however technical,​4 expecting and commanding success, no matter how difficult the conditions.

 p. xv  In wars of conquest, such as were Caesar's campaigns in Gaul, the statesman is needed no less than the soldier, if the conquered peoples are to be reconciled to their new allegiance. Caesar was equal to the double task; indeed, in him the statesman and the soldier worked as one. With a truly imperial sagacity he set the government of Gaul beyond the Alps on so fair and firm a footing as to disarm resentment and turn enemies into loyal and useful subjects. The land of Gaul had peace almost unbroken for many years; the men of Gaul found their way into the service, both civil and military, of the Roman Empire, of which Caesar was now to become the lord and master. The Triumvirate, renewed in 56 B.C., had ceased to be when Crassus was killed in 53: the bond between Pompey and Caesar was weakened by the death of Julia in 54. Two rivals now were left; and the sword must settle which of them should survive and reign.

The manner in which Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War were published is an open question. It is held by some scholars that the first seven books were composed in the winter of 52‑51 B.C., and published early in 51. Their publication at that season would undoubtedly have been of particular value, as an indication to the Roman people of Caesar's pre‑eminence in strategy and statesman­ship, and as a vindication to the Senate of his campaigns and conquests in defence of the Roman Empire. And there is a literary unity in these seven books  p. xvi which supports the theory of their simultaneous publication as volumes of a single work. But it does not necessarily follow that because they were published together they were composed at one time; and, in reading and translating them continuously, I have found myself unable to resist the impression that these books are in effect a popular edition, with introductions, notes, and digressions — in other words, a commentary — of the despatches (epistulae) sent by Caesar to the Senate at the end of each year of operations. There is no need to suppose, and to argue from differences of style in certain passages, that Caesar's Commentaries represent the actual words and reports and despatches received from general and staff officers: but he may well have used these as material for his own despatches, and incorporated passages from them verbatim in the Commentaries. The despatches to the Senate were extant when Suetonius wrote his life of Caesar;​5 and the biographer himself says that they were presented in the form of note-books, with pages duly numbered. The Commentaries — as the title implies — were regarded by Cicero​6 and Hirtius​7 as materials for the historian rather than as history proper.

By critics of his own and later days — Cicero, Asinius Pollio, Suetonius, Tacitus, Quintilian, Aulus Gellius — Caesar was considered a master of Latin speech. As an orator he was second to Cicero  p. xvii alone; and the literary style of the Commentaries, simple, straightforward, unadorned, found great favour with Cicero​8 himself. Even Asinius Pollio, characteristically finding fault with the inaccuracy of the Commentaries, which, as he thought, would have been revised by their author, has nothing to say against the style. The popular character of the work is seen in the occasional touches of rhetoric — excellent of their kind — and the rarity of technical details.

The text of the de Bello Gallico presents some difficulties, but it is in no sense, like the text of the de Bello Civili, a crux criticorum. The Manuscripts fall into two main groups, both of which are traceable to a common ancestor. In the first group (which contains only the Bellum Gallicum) the most important are A (at Amsterdam), of the ninth or tenth century, B and M (at Paris), of the ninth century and the eleventh century respectively, and R (at the Vatican), of the tenth century: in the second group (which contains all the Corpus Caesarianum), T (at Paris), of the eleventh century, and U (at the Vatican), of the twelfth century. Nipperdey, who may still be regarded as chief among the critical editors of Caesar, based the text of his edition (1847) on the first group of MSS.: but the second has found considerable support among more recent scholars, notably H. Meusel. The text printed with the present translation rests on the recensions of Nipperdey and  p. xviii R. du Pontet (Scriptorum Classicorum Bibliotheca Oxoniensis): but in a few passages use has been made of corrections suggested by or through Dr. Rice Holmes in his critical edition of 1914.

The translation was made independently for the most part, and compared with those of Golding (1565), W. A. M'Devitte and W. S. Bohn (1851), T. Rice Holmes (1908), and F. P. Long (1911). In rendering military terms — officers, details of troops, formations, movements, and the like — it seemed best as a rule to give the nearest English equivalent, and to refer the reader to Appendix A at the end of the book for a more detailed description of the Roman Army.

The Author's Notes:

1 cf. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, ii.2:

"Danger knows full well,

That Caesar is more dangerous than he."

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2 cf. Suetonius, Iulius, c. 58.

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3 Quoted in J. W. Fortescue's History of the British Army, vol. V p8.

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4 The chapter (IV.17) describing the first bridge over the Rhine is so technical in its terms that it may well have been written by an expert engineer — perhaps by Balbus himself, Caesar's praefectus fabrum.

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5 Suetonius, Iulius, c. 56.

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6 Brutus, c. 75.

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7 Preface to the VIIIth Book of the Gallic War.

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8 Brutus, c. 75.

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