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Overview on the Gallic Wars

Gallic Wars


Caesar took official command of his provinces of Illyricum, Cisalpine Gaul and Transalpine Gaul in 59 B.C.E. His original ambition was probably to pursue glory against the further reaches of Illyricum and Dacia, but events in his new provinces soon changed the plan.

In Gallia Narbonensis, the stretch of southern France connecting Spain to Italy, the Gallic people had largely been assimilated into Roman culture over the course of the previous century. Beyond this territory to the north was a vast land comprising modern France, called Gallia Comata (long-haired Gaul), where loose confederations of Celtic tribes maintained varying relationships with Rome. These Celtic tribes, while primitive compared to the standards of Rome, traded abundantly between themselves and the Roman frontiers. For the most part, a general peace had reigned between the tribes and Rome for the better part of the previous century, but external pressures from Germanic tribes then began to unsettle the relative calm. 

The Romans, however, had a long memory. Fear of Gallic invasions, which had led to the sacking of Rome in the early 4th century B.C.E., was ever present. Additional tribal migrations of the Germanic Cimbri and Teutons in the late 2nd century, though defeated by Caesars uncle Gaius Marius, merely confirmed these fears. If the Romans had legitimate fear over potential problems with the Gauls, then they were terrified of the wild, uncivilized Teutons. The Gauls too, according to Caesar, were apparently despised by the Teutons for their more refined (weak) culture, and also had reason for concern. While Caesar was Proconsul of Spain between 61 and 60 B.C.E., there was already considerable unrest on the Gallic frontier. The Teuton leader Ariovistus had invaded Gaul and raided the border regions, but Caesar quelled the situation at that point by arranging an alliance with the Germans. 

In the last century B.C.E., Gaul was a patchwork of various tribes, some of which maintained extensive trade relations with the Romans and occasionally even helped the Romans fight against a neighboring tribe. Inspired by the way the Bibracte oppidum had helped repel the Helvetii attack, Caesar tried to conquer prosperous Gaul, securing the trade routes. But he sometimes underestimated Gallic resistance and overestimated his own strategic abilities. 

Early in his Gallic governorship, Caesar still misread the situation and had 3 of his 4 legions stationed in Illyricum, but he would soon come to the realization that the real danger and opportunity was in Gaul. Understanding the emotional link that the Roman people had with the people of this region, Caesar began to alter his objectives. He was also likely quite aware of the great trade routes that the Rhodanus (Rhone), Rhenus (Rhine) and Sequanus (Saone) rivers provided. These rivers very well could have provided the most important exterior trade routes in the Roman world. 

Vast raw materials could be shipped in from the North and North West, while a booming market in Roman luxury items was beginning to go the other way. Gaul too, was a veritable gold mine in potential plunder. Caesar, though at times showing a moderate respect for Roman law, would need a viable excuse to advance north and avoid legal issues in Rome. Within a short time of his arrival, an excellent opportunity for military glory and to further strengthen his bond with the Roman people would present itself. 

For Caesar and the Roman traders, the center of Gaul was the most important part to bring under Roman influence. Because there, all trade routes merged and resisting forces could play a key role in attacking the Roman legions.


Date: 58 B.C.E.

Location: Mulhouse War / Vesontio / Plains of Alsace

Outcome: Roman victory

Principal Commanders: Roman: Gaius Julius Caesar, Gallic: Ariovistus 

Overview: Caesar defeated a large Gallic force after the Gauls attacked the Roman camp near Mulhouse. Fought in 58 B.C.E., between the Romans, 36,000 strong, under Julius Caesar, and the Sequani, under Ariovistus [a Suebi chief! See also Caesar defeats the Teutons - H]. The Romans occupied two camps, one of which was held successfully by two legions against a determined attack by the Gauls. Once the attack was repelled, Caesar united his forces, and led them against the Sequani, whom he totally routed with enormous losses. 


Date: 57 B.C.E.

Location: Sambre River War / Sabis River

Outcome: Roman victory over the Gauls

Principal Commanders: 

Overview:  The Nervi, Atrebates, and Viromandui tribes consolidated on the north side of the Sambre River. Caesar and eight legions were camped on the south side. The Gauls crossed the river and attacked the Romans after Caesar sent out cavalry to scout the enemy position. The surprise attack almost routed the Roman force but heroic fighting by legion X turned the battle into a Roman victory. 



Date: 52 B.C.E.

Location: Avaricum (Bourges), France

Outcome: Roman victory over the Bituriges

Principal Commanders: Roman: Gaius Julius Caesar , Gauls: Vercingetorix

Overview:  Caesar laid siege to the center of the Bituriges tribe, Avaricum, when the inhabitants, under the leadership of Vercingetorix, refused to abandon the town. After 27 days the Romans stormed the town and killed most of the people. 


Date: 52 B.C.E.

Location: Lutetia Parisiorum, France

Outcome: Roman victory over the Gauls

Principal Commanders: Roman: Gaius Julius Caesar , Gauls: Vercingetorix

Overview: After the siege of Avaricum, Caesar split his forces into two groups. (Caesar led six legions towards Gergovia.) Quintus Labienus led four legions towards Lutetia (Paris). Along his march a large force of Gauls positioned themselves between Labienus and Caesar's base at Agendicum. Labienus reversed his march and fought his way through, the Gauls inflicting heavy casualties. 

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