GALLIC WARS

The Gallic Wars were a series of military campaigns in which Julius Caesar completed the Roman conquest of the large region known as Gaul. Caesar wrote about his campaigns in a famous series of books called the Gallic War. This work is still of great interest to students of Latin and of military history.

Gaul included what is now northern Italy, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, and Belgium, as well as parts of the Netherlands and western Germany. The inhabitants of Gaul were Celts, a tribe who had migrated from central Europe into western Europe and Britain. In the late 300s B.C., the Gauls had swept over the Alps into northern Italy, displacing the Etruscans. Gaul was roughly divided into two regions, Cisalpine Gaul—south of the Alps mountains—and Transalpine Gaul—north of the Alps.

By the late 100s B.C., the Romans had colonized or conquered southern Gaul. In 58 B.C., claiming that the northern Gauls had asked him to settle conflicts among themselves and to defend them from the German invaders, Caesar moved his armies into the area of Gaul that was not part of Roman territory. Within three years, Caesar had completed Rome’s conquest of Gaul by defeating its northern and western peoples. Believing his job finished, he invaded Britain twice.

In 52 B.C., however, the people of central Gaul, led by a nobleman named Vercingetorix, rebelled against Caesar and Roman rule. After a series of battles, Caesar crushed the revolt by besieging* and starving the rebels. He captured Vercingetorix and began a period of Roman control of all of Gaul that extended 400 years.

The books of the Gallic War, Caesar’s own account of the events, were sent back to Rome after each campaign to remind the Senate and the people about their absent general. Even some of his enemies admired his writing skill. Caesar emphasized his swift victories in the field and his mercy toward defeated opponents. Since it is the only detailed account of ancient battles written by a commander in the field, the Gallic War is of great interest to military historians.

* besiege to surround a place with armed troops in order to cut off all supplies and force a surrender

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