Caesar and his Legions
The Gallic Wars
Professor Charles Nelson
Throughout history, few names have been able to stand the test of time. Through political achievements and bloody military conquests Julius Caesar rose to power in one of the greatest empires the world has ever seen. Caesar’s Gallic campaign is to this day one of the most successful military campaigns in history, adding enormous wealth and power not only to Rome but to himself. His legions loved him, his enemies feared him, and Rome was never to be the same because of him. Julius Caesar is one of the greatest military commanders in history.
Julius Caesar ended his consulship of Rome in 58 BC, which by Roman law lasts only one year and is also shared with another consul. Shortly after, Caesar became the governor of Roman provinces in the northern territory of the Republic (Northern Italy.) His run for consulship left him in severe debt and the vast and wealthy territories of Gaul could easily help repay the debt along with massing extreme wealth. Gaul was inhabited by several tribes of people and the Romans had become weary that these tribes may begin to settle on Roman lands. These fears became realized when the Helvetian people began the move and thus gave Caesar a golden opportunity for glory and wealth as well as performing his duty as a provincial Governor. \
After several peace negotiations failed, Caesar went on the offensive with six Roman legions, a highly skilled and disciplined unit consisting of roughly 5,000 men. He led his legions, which totaled nearly 30,000 men and several more thousand auxiliary troops through the Alps. While en route they crossed territories of hostile tribes and fought skirmishes along the way until he reached the river Arar. There he surprised and massacred the Helvetii while attempting to cross the river. Most of the Helvetii escaped across the river and after the battle Caesar had a bridge built in a day and led in pursuit of the remaining Helvetii. Caesar set up base on a hill he found to his liking and awaited the Helvetii attack which came shortly after. After hours of fighting and being severely outnumbered (368,000 Helvetii by Caesar’s own account) the legions were victorious. The Battle of Bibracte was a crushing loss for the Helvetii with 240,000 killed or enslaved. Shortly afterward they surrendered and Caesar allowed them to return to their homeland under Roman protection.
While Caesar was in conflict with the Gallic people, a new threat was arising across the Rhine River where the Germanic tribes ruled. Caesar demanded that no German shall cross the Rhine into Gaul but this demand was refused by the leader of the Suebi people, Ariovistus. After peace talks broke down Ariovistus attacked one of Caesar’s camps. The next morning Caesar mounted a full scale attack on the Suebi and crushed nearly all of the 120,000 men. In 57 BC Caesar narrowly escaped disaster at Battle of the Sabis in modern day Belgium. In a surprise attack while his forces were making camp, the Belgae people suddenly attacked Caesar’s men and pushed his legions to the breaking point. Caesar himself had to take up arms and with the help of his famous Tenth Legion, the Romans held until reinforcements arrived. “Caesar had no shield with him - and went forward to the front line, where he called out to all the centurions by name and shouted encouragement to the rest of the men, whom he ordered to advance and to open out their ranks so that they could use their swords more effectively.” [Macdevitt, W.A. (1915).Commentaries on the Gallic War] By now Caesar had eight legions, although two legions were newly formed and unseasoned. The Belgae totaled in at roughly 300,000 men, far outnumbering Caesar. The two armies met at the Aisne River but no battle took place, only minor skirmishes. The Belgae decided to disperse and regroup when they saw where Caesar would take his legions. This proved to be a fatal mistake...
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