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De Bello Gallico
De Bello Gallico (literally "On the Gallic Wars" in Latin) is an account written by Julius Caesar about his nine years of war in Gaul. English translations of the book often retain the Latin title; sometimes, various translations of the book's Latin title are used, including About the Gallic War, Of the Gallic War, On the Gallic War, The Conquest of Gaul, and The Gallic War.
In De Bello Gallico, Caesar vividly describes the battles and intrigues that took place in the nine years he spent fighting local armies that opposed Roman domination. The "Gaul" that Caesar refers to is sometimes all of Gaul except for the Provincia Narbonensis (modern day Provence), encompassing all of modern France, Belgium and some of Switzerland. On other occasions he refers only to that territory inhabited by the Celts (that Romans called Gauls), from the Channel to Lugdunum (Lyon).
The first book deals primarily with the Helvetian war in 58 BC. In it, Caesar describes Gaul and the campaign against the Helvetii, a conglomeration of peoples numbering in excess of 300,000, who decided to migrate by force of arms from the Alpine regions through the centre of Gaul to the west to alleviate population pressures. This would require the crossing either of Provence, or of areas held by tribes allied to Rome. When Caesar made it clear he would not allow this, the Helvetians formed an alliance of tribes to fight him. This drew the Romans out of Provence. Later books are about the campaigns against Veneti, Aquitani , Germans and Bretons; Caesar's invasions of Britain; the insurrection of Gaul (VII, 4) and the defeat of Vercingetorix at Alesia (VII, 89).
Campaigns typically started in late summer with the provisioning of grain and construction of fortresses, and ended late in the year when Caesar returned to Italy for the winter. He campaigned with a number of legions in his army, sometimes as many as eight. He faced a variety of tribal armies, often hasty alliances of them, some numbering – or at least claimed to number – over 100,000 strong. Many of the campaigns end with the Roman cavalry running down thousands of fleeing tribesmen, and often their women and children as well. In one instance he defeated a tribe and immediately sold all 53,000 survivors into slavery.
After the second year of campaigning many of the hostile tribes had been defeated and much of Gaul was under some degree of Roman control. By this point any threat to the province, or to Rome itself, was dubious at best. It has been noted that the book may also have been intended as an answer to Caesar's political opponents, who questioned the real need for this costly war, at the time one of the most expensive in Roman history. Many of the reasons provided clearly stretch the credibility of its readers. For instance, his reasons for invading Britain came down to noting that while fighting in north-west Gaul, local armies were often supported by mercenaries from Britain.
It is often lauded for its polished, clear Latin. This book has traditionally been the first authentic text assigned to students of Latin, as Xenophon's Anabasis was for students of Greek. It is therefore not always remembered with affection. On the other hand, a literary classic in an ancient language that can be read by high-school students is a rare thing. On re-reading it in later life, many people can perceive the clarity of syntax and beauty of style of which an early Latin teacher tried to convince them. The style is indeed simple and elegant, essential and not rhetorical, dry as a chronicle, yet rich in details.
Also, the books are valuable for the many geographical and historical facts (Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres...) that can be retrieved from the work, which was also one of the earliest to be written in third person. Notable chapters describe Gaulish costume (VI, 13), their religion (VI, 17), a comparison between Gauls and Germans (VI, 24) and other curious notes such as the lack of German interest in agriculture (VI, 22).
- English translation by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn (1869)
- De Bello Gallico, Latin, English, Italian, German
- The Gallic war
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