Maysun In C


Book Talk - The Commentaries of Gaius Julius Caesar - De Bello Gallico

This is Publius Licinius Crassus after the Battle of Vosges. Pastel. A4

I just finished reading Book I of The Commentaries of Gaius Julius Caesar Volume I De bello gallico (Gallic Wars). It begins famously with the line 'All Gaul is divided into three parts..." and includes the opinion that "Of all these (that is, the Gauls), the Belgae are the bravest", something you might already know if you've read the Asterix and Obelix comics - it's what sent Chief Vitalstatistix off the bend in 'Asterix and the Belgians'.

Anyway, Julius Caesar is a wonderful, engaging writer - he is observant and his descriptions, of war, people, places and so on, are interesting with a capital I. The Commentaries were meant to record and publicize his activities, and, of course, further his political ambitions; they worked very well in that regard and still do actually. I was rooting for him all the way - if there was a time machine, I'd go back and save him from the Ides of March tragedy - BUT I did experience a strong sympathy for Ariovistus too. Oh, to come convene as an equal and then get dosed with overweening Roman superiority!

Ariovistus was a German chieftain who had crossed the Rhine into Gaul at the head of his tribe, the Suebi, and an assorted other tribes; they came as mercenaries hired by the Arveni and the Sequani to fight against their enemies the Aedui. The Germans defeated the Aedui, took Aeduan hostages and extracted tribute from the tribe, and ended up settling on lands they seized from the Aedui and later from the Sequani. Ariovistus invited more of his kinsfolk to come settle on these newly accquired lands. An altruistic start to empire building from his view point. A true case of give a camel an inch, according to his erstwhile allies.

The Aedui and the Sequani complained to Julius Caesar - in a nice explanatory way - the terrors Ariovistus was inflicting on them was the reason they hadn't been able to assist Caesar adequately in his campaign against the troublesome Helvetii. Caesar pondered over the matter and decided that the rising power of the Suebi wasn't likely to bode well for the Roman people. So he met with Ariovistus and told him to ease up on "the Aedui and the other friends of the Roman people".

To this Ariovistus replied, that "the right of war was, that they who had conquered should govern those whom they had conquered, in what manner they pleased; that in that way the Roman people were wont to govern the nations which they had conquered, not according to the dictation of any other, but according to their own discretion. If he for his part did not dictate to the Roman people as to the manner in which they were to exercise their right, he ought not to be obstructed by the Roman people in his right; that the Aedui, inasmuch as they had tried the fortune of war and had engaged in arms and been conquered, had become tributaries to him; that Caesar was doing a great injustice, in that by his arrival he was making his revenues less valuable to him; that he should not restore their hostages to the Aedui, but should not make war wrongfully either upon them or their allies, if they abided by that which had been agreed on, and paid their tribute annually: if they did not continue to do that, the Roman people's name of 'brothers' would avail them naught. As to Caesar's threatening him, that he would not overlook the wrongs of the Aedui, [he said] that no one had ever entered into a contest with him [Ariovistus] without utter ruin to himself. That Caesar might enter the lists when he chose; he would feel what the invincible Germans, well-trained [as they were] beyond all others to arms, who for fourteen years had not been beneath a roof, could achieve by their valor."

This is where I cheered for Ariovistus.

The final battle went against him though. The chap in my illustration, Publius Licinius Crassus, a young lieutenant, led a cavalry charge on his own initiative at a crucial moment in the battle, and the Germans lost heart. They fled towards the Rhine and a good many, including Ariovistus' two wives and two children, were hacked down by the pursuing Roman army. Two Roman envoys that Ariovistus had imprisoned earlier were rescued unharmed, much to Caesar's delight. Ariovistus himself escaped across the river with a portion of the Suebi army, and they were then attacked by other German tribes that had previously assisted them; this was to curry favor with the victorious Romans, of course, and avoid retribution from them. The Suebi fled to the Black Forest to lick their wounds. Caesar doesn't mention what happened to Ariovistus, though he most certainly must have lost his leadership position for having fled the battlefield.

Written by Sonal Panse
The Smartist Sonal Panse
The Stoic
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