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The Gallic War

The Gallic War

2.6 16
by Julius Caesar

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The only chronicle by an ancient general of his own campaigns, this historical treasure is also a work of profound literary merit. Julius Caesar's fascinating account of his conquests offers a trove of priceless details about the cultures of Gaul, Germany, and Britain during the First century B.C.—and of the great man himself.
Despite his extensive background


The only chronicle by an ancient general of his own campaigns, this historical treasure is also a work of profound literary merit. Julius Caesar's fascinating account of his conquests offers a trove of priceless details about the cultures of Gaul, Germany, and Britain during the First century B.C.—and of the great man himself.
Despite his extensive background in politics, Caesar expresses himself without hiding behind rhetoric, in an uncluttered, factual style. Vigorous, direct, and eloquent, his accounts resemble memoirs or historical outlines rather than a formal histories. His notes on cultural matters, although secondary to his attention to military affairs, offer the era's most complete picture of the settings and personalities among Celtic and German tribes. This excellent translation offers several helpful features.

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The Gallic War

By Julius Caesar, H.J. Edwards

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-11493-4


[1] Gaul is a whole divided into three parts, one of which is inhabited by the Belgae, another by the Aquitani, and a third by a people called in their own tongue Celtae, in the Latin Galli. All these are different one from another in language, institutions, and laws. The Galli (Gauls) are separated from the Aquitani by the river Garonne, from the Belgae by the Marne and the Seine. Of all these peoples the Belgae are the most courageous, because they are farthest removed from the culture and the civilization of the Province, and least often visited by merchants introducing the commodities that make for effeminacy; and also because they are nearest to the Germans dwelling beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually at war. For this cause the Helvetii also excel the rest of the Gauls in valour, because they are struggling in almost daily fights with the Germans, either endeavouring to keep them out of Gallic territory or waging an aggressive warfare in German territory. The separate part of the country which, as has been said, is occupied by the Gauls, starts from the river Rhone, and is bounded by the river Garonne, the Ocean, and the territory of the Belgae; moreover, on the side of the Sequani and the Helvetii, it touches the river Rhine; and its general trend is northward. The Belgae, beginning from the edge of the Gallic territory, reach to the lower part of the river Rhine, bearing towards the north and east. Aquitania, starting from the Garonne, reaches to the Pyrenees and to that part of the Ocean which is by Spain: its bearing is between west and north.

[2] Among the Helvetii the noblest man by far and the most wealthy was Orgetorix. In the consulship of Marcus Messalla and Marcus Piso, his desire for the kingship led him to form a conspiracy of the nobility, and he persuaded the community to march out of their territory in full force, urging that as they excelled all in valour it was easy enough to secure the sovereignty of all Gaul. In this he persuaded them the more easily, because the Helvetii are closely confined by the nature of their territory. On one side there is the river Rhine, exceeding broad and deep, which separates the Helvetian territory from the Germans; on another the Jura range, exceeding high, lying between the Sequani and the Helvetii; on the third, the Lake of Geneva and the river Rhone, which separates the Roman Province from the Helvetii. In such circumstances their range of movement was less extensive, and their chances of waging war on their neighbours were less easy; and on this account they were greatly distressed, for they were men that longed for war. Nay, they could not but consider that the territory they occupied—to an extent of 240 miles long and 180 broad—was all too narrow for their population and for their renown of courage in war.

[3] Swayed by these considerations and stirred by the influence of Orgetorix, they determined to collect what they needed for taking the field, to buy up as large a number as they could of draught-cattle and carts, to sow as much corn as possible so as to have a sufficient supply thereof on the march, and to establish peace and amity with the nearest communities. For the accomplishment of these objects they considered that two years were sufficient, and pledged themselves by an ordinance to take the field in the third year. For the accomplishment of these objects Orgetorix was chosen, and he took upon himself an embassage to the communities. In the course of his travels he persuaded Casticus, of the Sequani, son of Catamantaloedes, who had held for many years the kingship of the Sequani, and had been called by the Senate "the friend of the Roman people," to seize in his own state the kingship which his father had held before him; and Dumnorix also, of the Aedui, brother of Diviciacus, at that time holding the chieftaincy of the state and a great favourite with the common people, he persuaded to a like endeavour, and gave him his own daughter in marriage. He convinced them that it was easy enough to accomplish such endeavours, because he himself (so he said) was about to secure the sovereignty of his own state. There was no doubt, he observed, that the Helvetii were the most powerful tribe in all Gaul, and he gave a pledge that he would win them their kingdoms with his own resources and his own army. Swayed by this speech, they gave a mutual pledge, confirming it by oath; and they hoped that when they had seized their kingship they would be able, through the efforts of three most powerful and most steadfast tribes, to master the whole of Gaul.

[4] The design was revealed to the Helvetii by informers. In accordance with their custom they compelled Orgetorix to take his trial in bonds. If he were condemned, the penalty of being burnt alive was the consequence. On the day appointed for his trial Orgetorix gathered from every quarter to the place of judgment all his retainers, to the number of some ten thousand men, and also assembled there all his clients and debtors, of whom he had a great number, and through their means escaped from taking his trial. The state, being incensed at this, essayed to secure its due rights by force of arms, and the magistrates were bringing together a number of men from the country parts, which Orgetorix died, not without suspicion, as the Helvetii think, of suicide.

[5] After his death the Helvetii essayed none the less to accomplish their determination to march forth from their borders. When at length they deemed that they were prepared for that purpose, they set fire to all their strongholds, in number about twelve; their villages, in number about four hundred, and the rest of their private buildings; they burnt up all their corn save that which they were to carry with them, to the intent that by removing all hope of return homeward they might prove the readier to undergo any perils; and they commanded every man to take for himself from home a three months' provision of victuals. They persuaded their neighbours, the Rauraci, the Tulingi, and the Latobrigi, to adopt the same plan, burn up their strongholds and villages, and march out with them; and they received as partners of their alliance the Boii, who had been dwellers beyond the Rhine, but had crossed over into Noricum and attacked Noreia.

[6] There were two routes, and no more, by which they could leave their homeland. One lay through the territory of the Sequani, betwixt the Jura range and the river Rhone, a narrow route and a difficult, where carts could scarce be drawn in single file; with an exceeding high mountain overhanging it, so that a very few men might easily check them. The other route, through the Roman Province, was far more easy and convenient, forasmuch as the Rhone flows between the borders of the Helvetii and the Allobroges (who had lately been brought to peace), and is in some places fordable. The last town of the Allobroges, the nearest to the borders of the Helvetii, is Geneva, from which a bridge stretches across to the Helvetii. These supposed that either they would persuade the Allobroges (deeming them not yet well disposed towards the Roman people), or would compel them perforce to suffer a passage through their borders. Having therefore provided all things for their departure, they named a day by which all should assemble upon the bank of the Rhone. The day was the 28th of March, in the consulship of Lucius Piso and Aulus Gabinius.

[7] When Caesar was informed that they were endeavouring to march through the Roman Province, he made speed to leave Rome, and hastening to Further Gaul by as rapid stages as possible, arrived near Geneva. From the whole Province he requisitioned the largest possible number of troops (there was in Further Gaul no more than a single legion), and ordered the bridge at Geneva to be broken down. When the Helvetii learned of his coming, they sent as deputies to him the noblest men of the state. Nammeius and Verucloetius held the chief place in the deputation, with instructions to say that their purpose was to march through the Province without any mischief, because they had no other route; and they asked that they might have leave so to do of his good will. Remembering that the consul Lucius Cassius had been slain, and his army routed and sent under the yoke, by the Helvetii, Caesar considered that no concession should be made; nor did he believe that men of unfriendly disposition, if granted an opportunity of marching through the Province, would refrain from outrage and mischief. However, to gain an interval for the assembly of the troops he had levied, he replied to the deputies that he would take a space of time for consideration: if they wished for anything, they were to return on the 13th of April.

[8] In the meanwhile he used the legion which he had with him, and the troops which had concentrated from the Province, to construct a continuous wall, sixteen feet high, and a trench, from the Lake of Geneva, which flows into the river Rhone, to the Jura range, which separates the territory of the Sequani from the Helvetii, a distance of nineteen miles. This work completed, he posted separate garrisons, in entrenched forts, in order that he might more easily be able to stop any attempt of the enemy to cross against his wish. When the day which he had appointed with the deputies arrived, and the deputies returned to him, he said that, following the custom and precedent of the Roman people, he could not grant anyone a passage through the Province; and he made it plain that he would stop any attempt to force the same. Disappointed of this hope, the Helvetii attempted, sometimes by day, more often by night, to break through, either by joining boats together and making a number of rafts, or by fording the Rhone where the depth of the stream was least. But they were checked by the line of the entrenchment and, as the troops concentrated rapidly, by missiles, and so abandoned the attempt.

[9] There remained one other line of route, through the borders of the Sequani, by which they could not march, on account of the narrow ways, without the consent of the Sequani. When they could not of their own motion persuade the Sequani, they sent deputies to Dumnorix the Aeduan, in order that they might attain their object through his inter-cession. Now Dumnorix had very great weight with the Sequani, for he was both popular and openhanded, and he was friendly to the Helvetii, because from that state he had taken the daughter of Orgetorix to wife; and, spurred by desire of the kingship, he was anxious for a revolution, and eager to have as many states as might be beholden to his own beneficence. Therefore he accepted the business, and prevailed on the Sequani to suffer the Helvetii to pass through their borders, and arranged that they should give hostages each to other—the Sequani, not to prevent the Helvetii from their march; the Helvetii, to pass through without mischief or outrage.

[10] The news was brought back to Caesar that the Helvetii were minded to march through the land of the Sequani and the Aedui into the borders of the Santones, which are not far removed from the borders of the Tolosates, a state in the Province. He perceived that this event would bring great danger upon the Province; for it would have a warlike tribe, unfriendly to the Roman people, as neighbours to a district which was at once unprotected and very rich in corn. For these reasons he set Titus Labienus, lieutenant-general, in command of the fortification which he had made, and himself hurried by forced marches into Italy. There he enrolled two legions, and brought out of winter quarters three that were wintering about Aquileia; and with these five legions made speed to march by the shortest route to Further Gaul, over the Alps. In that region the Ceutrones, the Graioceli, and the Caturiges, seizing points on the higher ground, essayed to stop the march of his army. They were repulsed in several actions; and on the seventh day he moved from Ocelum, the last station of Higher Gaul, into the borders of the Vocontii in Further Gaul. Thence he led his army into the borders of the Allobroges, and from thence into the country of the Segusiavi, the first tribe outside the Province, across the Rhone.

[11] By this time the Helvetii, having brought their own forces through the defiles and through the borders of the Sequani, had reached the borders of the Aedui, and were engaged in laying waste their lands. Unable to defend their persons and their property from the invaders, the Aedui sent deputies to Casesar to ask for aid. These pleaded that the Aedui had always deserved too well of the Roman people to merit the devastation of their lands, the removal of their children into slavery, and the capture of their towns, almost in sight of the Roman army. At the same time the Aedui Ambarri, close allies and kinsmen of the Aedui, informed Caesar that their lands had been laid waste, and that they could not easily safeguard their towns from the violence of the enemy. The Allobroges also, who had villages and settlements across the Rhone, fled to Caesar, affirming that they had nothing left to them save the bare ground. All these events drove Caesar to the decision that he must not wait till the Helvetii, having wasted all the substance of the Roman allies, should penetrate into the land of the Santoni.

[12] There is a river Arar (Saône), which flows through the borders of the Aedui and the Sequani into the Rhone: its sluggishness is beyond belief, for the eye cannot determine in which direction the stream flows. This river the Helvetii proceeded to cross by rafts and boats fastened together. When Caesar's scouts informed him that three-quarters of the Helvetian forces had actually crossed, and that about a quarter remained on the near side of the river Saône, he left camp in the third watch with three legions and came up to the division of the enemy which had not yet crossed. He attacked them unawares when they were heavily loaded, and put a great number of them to the sword; the remainder betook themselves to flight and hid in the nearest woods. The name of the canton was the Tigurine; for the whole state of Helvetia is divided into four cantons. In the recollection of the last generation this canton had marched out alone from its homeland, and had slain the consul Lucius Cassius and sent his army under the yoke. And so, whether by accident or by the purpose of the immortal gods, the section of the Helvetian state which had brought so signal a calamity upon the Roman people was the first to pay the penalty in full. Therein Caesar avenged private as well as national outrages; for in the same battle with Cassius the Tigurini had slain Lucius Piso the general, grandfather of Lucius Piso, Caesar's father-in-law.

[13] This action over, he caused a bridge to be made over the Saône and sent his army across thereby, in order to pursue the remainder of the Helvetian forces. Alarmed at his sudden approach—for they perceived that the business of crossing the river, which they themselves had accomplished with the greatest difficulty in twenty days, had been despatched by Caesar in a single one—the Helvetii sent deputies to him. The leader of the deputation was Divico, who had been commander of the Helvetii in the campaign against Cassius. He treated with Casesar as follows: If the Roman people would make peace with the Helvetii, they would go whither and abide where Caesar should determine and desire; if on the other hand he should continue to visit them with war, he was advised to remember the earliest disaster of the Roman people and the ancient valour of the Helvetii. He had attacked one canton unawares, when those who had crossed the river could not bear assistance to their fellows; but that event must not induce him to rate his own valour highly or to despise them. The Helvetii had learnt from their parents and ancestors to fight their battles with courage, not with cunning nor reliance upon stratagem. Caesar therefore must not allow the place of their conference to derive renown or perpetuate remembrance by a disaster to the Roman people and the destruction of an army.


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Gallic War 2.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have always wanted to re-read this in English. It was a captivating story when I had to read it in Latin Class in high school back in 19......!
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Bad Scan Like so many of the free books available for the Nook, this book is very poorly scanned. Pagination and printing is off. It is not worth the trouble, and I am deleting it. I guess you really do get what you pay for¿
Joel_M More than 1 year ago
Julius Caesar's self-promoting memoirs of his time as a Roman general in Gaul are a surprisingly interesting read. While it is a bit hard to keep track of the shifting alliances between the many Gallic tribes, Caesar describes Roman battlefield maneuvers, siege warfare, and diplomacy in a clear, readable manner. I felt that the subtext of the book was "I, Julius Caesar, am an awesome general and savvy diplomat. I always displays great reason and mercy but am not afraid to punish treachery." Nevertheless, it is a fascinating look at warfare in the ancient world.
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This e-text is illegible due to OCR errors. I expected better from Barnes and Noble, even for free.