Gallic Wars By Julius Caesar Summary and Analysis Book VI

Summary

Caesar expects more uprisings in Gaul, so begins securing more troops. These extra soldiers not only will strengthen his units, but also will warn Gaul that Rome easily makes up its losses and is never permanently disabled by the loss of a legion in battle. In all, three new legions are formed, double the number of cohorts lost with Sabinus, and Caesar is proud of the resourceful Roman system.

Meanwhile, after Indutiomarus' death, the Treveri continue their attempts to persuade the Germans to join them. Those living nearby refuse, but a few tribes living farther off agree after they are promised money and a pact Caesar learns of this arrangement and suspects that the Nervii, Aduatuci, Menapii, and the Germans on the Gallic side of the Rhine are preparing for war. And when the Senones, conspirators with the Carnutes and other tribes, do not respond to Caesar's rally, he feels that once more he must start his campaign earlier in the year.

Before the end of winter he attacks the Nervii and captures many people and livestock. He gives his troops the booty, has them destroy the fields, then compels the Nervii to surrender and give him hostages. He then moves the legions back to winter quarters for a period of peace. Later, to his proclamation of a spring convention, all tribes come but the Senones, Carnutes, and Treveri — all three of whom he is sure are plotting a rebellion. Strategically, he moves the convention to Lutetia, a town of the Parisii, and under forced march moves his legions toward the Senones.

Acco, leader of the plot, tries to get the Senones assembled for an adequate defense against the Romans, but they move much too quickly. The Senones plead to Caesar through the Aedui and the Carnutes plead through the Remi; both ask for clemency and Caesar demands 100 hostages of each, then closes the convention and begins assembling cavalry. Now he is free to focus his attention on Ambiorix and the Treveri. Wisely, he orders Cavarinus and the Senonian cavalry to come with him so that they will not be able to plot revolt while he is away.

Caesar knows that Ambiorix will not engage in a major battle, so he turns instead to the Menapii, the only tribe in Gaul that hasn't sent deputies, a tribe that has ties with Ambiorix and arrangements with the Germans. The next move is accomplished quickly; Caesar sends the baggage to Labienus, who is with the Treveri, then takes five legions to attack the Menapii. The Menapii, uncoordinated, cannot assemble an army and flee into the wilderness. The Roman force then splits into three sections — Caesar, Gaius Fabius, and Marcus Crassus being the commanders. They burn buildings, capture cattle and people, and force the Menapii to surrender and submit hostages. Before leaving Caesar warns them that he will treat them as enemies if they should aid Ambiorix, then instructs Commius of the Atrebates to guard them. That done, he sets out for the Treveri.

The Treveri, however, have begun to march against Labienus and the legion with which he is wintering and, when they are about fifteen miles away, they discover the two legions Caesar has sent with the baggage. Cautious, they decide to wait for additional German troops. But Labienus discovers the enemy's proximity and sets out to confront them. He takes twenty-five cohorts and some cavalry, and leaves five cohorts with the equipment He first camps across a river from the enemy, but neither is willing to cross and attack, particularly the Treveri who are awaiting reinforcements, so Labienus announces that he is going to move away next day rather than risk an encounter with the expected Germans. This is a psychological maneuver; he knows quite well that some soldiers can be expected to desert to the Treveri camp and tell them of his decision.

That night, he has his soldiers make more noise than usual when they strike camp so that, in the spirit of his plan, the enemy will think that the Romans are leaving in a hurry. And, as the Romans move from their entrenchments, the Treveri attack, just as Labienus had hoped they would. He allows them to advance until they are in a defenseless position, then has his troops suddenly wheel and face the enemy. The Treveri are taken completely by surprise and the Roman cavalry completes the success of the rout. The Treveri make peace with Rome; the Germans hear of the rout and go home, relatives of Indutiomarus who had started the revolt leave, and so command of the state goes to Cingetorix — a man who had remained faithful to Rome.

Caesar now decides to cross the Rhine, for he wants to stop German troops from crossing the river and he also wants to take definite steps concerning Ambiorix. He builds a new bridge and, leaving a guard unit on the Treveri side, takes the army across to the land of the Ubii, who have kept their faith and are not involved in the rebellions against Rome. The Ubii inform him that the Suebi are assembling forces and urging the tribes under them to send troops and horses. They also inform Caesar that the Suebi have pulled back into an immense forest, Bacenis, where they await the Romans.

At this point, Caesar pauses in his narrative to explain that Gaul is divided into parties; homes, districts, and cantons follow this pattern and the leaders of individual units are the men who are believed to have the best judgment. This procedure is used for ritual protection, all the people supporting members of their party when there is danger.

When Caesar came to Gaul the leaders of the two national parties were the Aedui and the Sequani. Since the Sequani were the weaker of the two parties, they allied advantageously with Ariovistus and his Germans. The Aeduan nobility were slaughtered and the Sequani rose to power. Diviciacus left for Rome to bring help, but got none. Then, when Caesar came, matters changed: the Aeduan hostages were returned, their old powers were restored and they were awarded some new ones as reward for alignment with the Romans. The power of the Sequani was no more; their former authority now rested with the Remi, also friends of Caesar. Those tribes that for political reasons could not ally with the Aedui had allied themselves with the Remi; thus the Aedui became the most powerful state and the Remi, the second most powerful. Of the three classes of people in Gaul, there are two having authority: the Druids and the knights. The commoners have no authority and few rights.

The Druids concern themselves with all forms of worship and rites; and with settling disputes, judging crimes, and assigning penalties. Those people who refuse to accept their decisions are banned and given no legal protection. One Druid is chief among them and once a year they all meet in the land of the Carnutes, the center of Gaul, and all Gallic disputes are treated. This manner of rule originated in Britain and those wishing to study its history go to Britain. Druids neither battle nor pay taxes. Although their lot sounds easy, some students spend twenty years in training, memorizing their lore in order to strengthen their powers of memory and to keep their knowledge secret from the general population. Perhaps their most important doctrine concerns the soul passing into another body when the body dies. For this reason they are not afraid of dying.

The principal job of the knights is defense and offense. According to their status, they have numbers of men under them and the size of these subordinate groups measures their power. They practice sacrifices of all kinds, often human, in order to rid themselves of disease and protect themselves in battle. They prefer to sacrifice criminals in these rituals, but if there are none available, they use innocent men. The most important of their gods is Mercury, and after him Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva, each having a different function as they do in Rome, and after battle, sacrifices of living and non-living things taken in battle are offered to Mars. Anyone hiding or stealing these sacrificial objects is punished by torture. The Gauls believe that they are descended from Dis (the Roman god of the dark underworld) and therefore count time by nights rather than by days. Also, they do not permit sons to be near the father in his role of warrior until the sons have reached military age. It is definitely a man's system: men have absolute power over wives and children and when there is any suspicion concerning a man's death, the wives may be tortured and killed.

A funeral, among these people, is particularly spectacular. A great fire is built and everything for which the deceased cared, even animals, is thrown into it. Until a generation ago, Caesar says, they also burned slaves and dependents.

The Germans, unlike the people of Gaul, have no Druids nor any sacrifices. They accept only gods which they can see: the sun, the moon, and fire. In a similar vein, their secular concepts are also largely physical. Their lives center upon hunting, warfare, and nomadic wandering, and each year the people move elsewhere in order to avoid getting too rooted into the territorial grounds. As for their social codes, in wartime the officers have life and death powers over the people, and in peacetime the local leaders handle all disputes. Refusal to accept appointed leaders amounts to treason.

Returning to his battle narrative, Caesar reports that when the Suebi disappear into the forest, he decides not to pursue but that to delay the enemy's reinforcing themselves, he leaves twelve cohorts under command of Gains Volcatius Tullus on the Ubii side of the bridge. Then, when the crops begin to ripen, he arms and marches against Ambiorix.

He moves his army through the extensive Ardennes forest, then sends Lucius Minucius Basilus forward with the cavalry and cautions them to make no fires — the enemy must not suspect that Caesar's army is approaching.

Basilus moves quickly, catches many men in the fields, and by a stroke of luck comes upon Ambiorix and a small force. Ambiorix by good fortune escapes while his troops hold off the Romans. Then, either because he doesn't have time to assemble his troops or because he fears the main body of the Roman army is closer than it really is, Ambiorix tells his followers to take care of themselves for the present. They agree and go into hiding, but Catuvolcus, a leader of the Eburones, hangs himself.

The Segni and the Condrusi, who live between the Eburones and the Treveri, plead to Caesar that they had no part in this war and are not his enemies. His answer recognizes their innocence, but he demands that they send him any Eburones who take refuge in their territory. That done, he says, he will do them no harm. Caesar then divides his army in three parts and leaves the equipment at Aduatuca, a fort in the territory of the Eburones where Titurius and Aurunculeins had been the previous winter. As guard, he leaves the Fourteenth Legion, one of the most recently enrolled units, under Quintus Tullius Cicero's command. He also leaves Cicero 200 cavalry and decides to send Titus Labienus and Gains Trebonius off on missions. The remaining three legions he takes in pursuit of Ambiorix, promising the garrison that he will return in seven days, when they will need more food. He urges Labienus and Trebonius to return at the same time if they can manage to do so.

The enemy seems to be concentrated in no particular area, but is spread throughout the countryside in small groups, and because Caesar's troops cannot leave safely in small groups themselves, the legions are kept together to avoid ambush.

Because of this situation, Caesar informs neighboring states that they may join in plunder of the Eburones; he would rather these plunderers risk their lives in the woods than risk his own troops; then, too, if a great number come, they will make it easier for him to destroy the Eburones' properties. Naturally many do come.

Across the Rhine, the Germans hear that pillage is going on unhindered, so 2,000 Sugambri horsemen cross the Rhine on rafts 30 miles below Caesar's bridge and capture many prisoners and their cattle. Their greed grows, though, and when Caesar has gone off elsewhere, one of their prisoners tells them that the Romans have left a small garrison at Aduatuca, where all the stores of the Roman army are concentrated. The Germans cannot believe such good news; they hide their newly won booty and start for Aduatuca.

Cicero, meanwhile, follows Caesar's orders during his week of absence and permits no one to leave the camp. But when, on the seventh day, he is no longer sure that Caesar will return, and under pressure from his men, he releases five cohorts to gather grain. In addition, he gives passes to 300 men from other legions to go out as a single group; the decision could not have been more wrong. The Germans arrive, burst forth from the protecting woods toward the rear gate. The Romans are caught like sheep during their sleep. They are barely able to with-stand the first attack. The Germans, on the other hand, are quick to realize the advantage they have and immediately circle the camp, seeking another point of attack. Inside, the Romans cannot decide where to assemble. One says that already they are defeated, another says that the Germans have defeated Caesar and the main army, and all recall fearfully that this is the very spot where Cotta and Sabinus fell. Outside, the Germans hear the uproar and are convinced that no garrison force waits inside.

Publius Sextius Baculus, who had been sick and without food for five days, comes out of his tent and perceives the danger. He arms himself and fights in the gateway alongside the centurions of the cohort on duty. After being severely wounded, he faints and is dragged to safety. The other soldiers prove surprisingly strong and manage to hold the enemy off as each man moves to his assigned defense position in the entrenchments.

Out in the field, the food gatherers hear the battle noises and send the cavalry forward to investigate, but the unskilled and inexperienced soldiers are confused by the unexpected situation. Perhaps all would have been lost had it not been for the near miracle of Gains Trebonius arriving, breaking through the enemy, and safely reaching camp. When this is accomplished, the Germans decide not to storm the Roman camp and return across the Rhine with only the plunder they had earlier hidden.

The frightened Romans can scarcely believe Gains Volusenus when he tells them that Caesar is nearby and that the army is quite safe. Only Caesar 5 arrival finally quiets them.

Caesar's one complaint is that the men were sent out when they should have been kept inside to guard the equipment. He says that the mischance should not have been allowed to happen, that luck helped the enemy and the Romans. Ironically, the Germans had crossed the Rhine to take advantage of Ambiorix' difficulties and almost helped his cause.

Shortly thereafter Caesar moves out and lays waste to the towns and fields, but the Romans fail to find the wily Gaul, Ambiorix. He continues to elude Caesar's eager troops. Caesar brings the army to Durocortorum, in the territory of the Remi, calls a convention of the Gauls, and has an inquiry into the conspiracy of the Senones and Carnutes. Acco, the rebellious leader, is flogged to death. This accomplished, Caesar assigns the legions to their winter quarters. The general then departs for Italy.

Analysis

Caesar's reason for warring early in the year is twofold: first, an early winter victory would provide a major psychological boost for his troops and also inflict a weighty psychological blow on the enemy forces; second, the Nervii form the western edge of the area under rebellion and, after their conquest, it will be difficult for the others to create alliances because the faithful Remi are stationed between the Senones and the northern tribes. Caesar therefore calls a convention of the tribal leaders so that he can get an estimate of the extent of the rebellion. Then he moves against the Senones, hoping to isolate the Carnutes, who are farther south.

With the surrender of the Senones and the Carnutes the south is under control, and Caesar moves with more confidence against Ambiorix. Ambiorix, however, is not willing to fight yet and Caesar uses the time to rid himself of another enemy force, the Menapii. Thus he has very quickly secured much of the area surrounding the Treveri's territory, in fact all except the parts on the German side to the north and west. It is for this reason that Caesar moves west from the Menapii; this will sever the last connecting territories.

In this book, besides observing Caesar's guile, it is well to note Labienus, who demonstrates initiative and intelligence as he handles difficult positions; moving out, for example, with twenty-five cohorts and some cavalry, then maneuvering and tricking the Treveri into a corner reflects real cunning and results in a victory for the Roman forces.

The Suebi tribe, mentioned in this book, has troubled Rome previously. Their warfare in Germany, for instance, sent the Tencteri and Usipetes into Gaul. Caesar, therefore, is anxious to engage them in battle and especially anxious to face Ambiorix.

A large part of this book is taken up by description of customs and territories and, although this material is interesting we wonder how true some parts of it are. If the Gauls really believed, for instance, that the soul passes from body to body (transmigration of souls), why are they so quick to break and run when they are in danger? It is possible that Caesar includes the material concerning the Gauls so that the chapters on the customs of the Germans will impress us even more and we will realize that the Germans are indeed fierce warriors. Perhaps, however, he merely feels the need of giving additional information about his trip to Germany; since the Suebi have departed, he has little except these facts to report concerning that portion of his trip.

Caesar's real interest seems focused toward one goal: the defeat and death of Ambiorix. But while he is looking for him, the general is disobeyed. Cicero, remember, creates chaos. His reason is not that of an ambitious subordinate, however. Cicero merely loses faith in Caesar's promise and, particularly, he is worried that his general will not return in time to secure vital food and grain. Cicero's lack of faith seems tragic, however, as the Germans chance on the Roman camp when its soldiers are most widely dispersed. But such extreme circumstances often call forth the most noble in man, and perhaps one of the most important acts saving the Romans was the brave example of the weak and ailing Baculus.

Caesar, of course, is justifiably angry. The entire encounter would not have taken place had it not been for lack of faith. The general is also aware that all of his army's equipment was in jeopardy, not merely Cicero's command.

We might also note that very little happens in this year. The early battles are over quickly, then Caesar goes after the Suebi and does not meet them, looks for Ambiorix, and fails also to encounter him. The primary action is the defense of the Roman camp, a skirmish that should never have occurred had Caesar's orders been followed.

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