Julius Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic War

Julius Cæsar (100 BCE – 44 BCE), the famous Roman politician and soldier, rose to fame and power in his conquest of the Celts of western Europe. His book Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic War, often called The Conquest of Gaul), was a propaganda piece (written in 53 BCE) justifying his military and political actions during a nine year campaign in Gaul (and a short jaunt into Britain). Although he clearly had much first-hand contact with Celts, some scholars believe that he also drew upon Posidonius. He was not interested in Celtic ethnography per se, but rather on the political and social matters of the élite which were relevant for Roman imperial interests. As Rankin has observed, “Caesar was not a historian: he was a political war-lord in need of good public relations material to confuse both friends and enemies in Rome about the true nature of his activities in Gaul.”

The following is an adaptation of Caesar’s Gallic War, trans. W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn. 1st Edition. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1869.

§ 1.1. All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called “Celts,” in our language “Gauls,” the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws. The river Garonne separates the Gauls from the Aquitani; the Marne and the Seine separate them from the Belgae. Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest, because they are furthest from the civilization and refinement of [our] Province, and merchants least frequently resort to them, and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind; and they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war; for which reason the Helvetii also surpass the rest of the Gauls in valor, as they contend with the Germans in almost daily battles, when they either repel them from their own territories, or themselves wage war on their frontiers.

§ 1.2. Among the Helvetii, Orgetorix was by far the most distinguished and wealthy. He, when Marcus Messala and Marcus Piso were consuls [61 BCE], incited by lust of sovereignty, formed a conspiracy among the nobility, and persuaded the people to go forth from their territories with all their possessions, [saying] that it would be very easy, since they excelled all in valor, to acquire the supremacy of the whole of Gaul. To this he the more easily persuaded them, because the Helvetii, are confined on every side by the nature of their situation; on one side by the Rhine, a very broad and deep river, which separates the Helvetian territory from the Germans; on a second side by the Jura, a very high mountain, which is [situated] between the Sequani and the Helvetii; on a third by the Lake of Geneva, and by the river Rhone, which separates our Province from the Helvetii. From these circumstances it resulted, that they could range less widely, and could less easily make war upon their neighbors; for which reason men fond of war [as they were] were affected with great regret. They thought, that considering the extent of their population, and their renown for warfare and bravery, they had but narrow limits, although they extended in length 240, and in breadth 180 [Roman] miles.

§ 1.3. Induced by these factors, and influenced by the authority of Orgetorix, they determined to provide such things as were necessary for their expedition: to buy up as great a number as possible of beasts of burden and wagons; to make their sowings as large as possible, so that on their march plenty of grain might be in store; and to establish peace and friendship with the neighboring states. They reckoned that a term of two years would be sufficient for them to execute their designs; they fixed by decree their departure for the third year. Orgetorix was chosen to complete these arrangements. He took upon himself the office of messenger to the states: on this journey he persuades Casticus, the son of Catamantaledes (one of the Sequani, whose father had possessed the sovereignty among the people for many years, and had been styled “friend” by the senate of the Roman people), to seize upon the sovereignty in his own state, which his father had held before him, and he likewise persuades Dumnorix, an Aeduan, the brother of Divitiacus, who at that time possessed the chief authority in the state, and was exceedingly beloved by the people, to attempt the same, and gives him his daughter in marriage. He proves to them that to accomplish their attempts was a thing very easy to be done, because he himself would obtain the government of his own state; that there was no doubt that the Helvetii were the most powerful of the whole of Gaul; he assures them that he will, with his own forces and his own army, acquire the sovereignty for them. Incited by this speech, they give a pledge and oath to one another, and hope that, when they have seized the sovereignty, they will, by means of the three most powerful and valiant nations, be enabled to obtain possession of the whole of Gaul.

§ 1.7. When it was reported to Caesar that they were attempting to make their route through our Province he hastens to set out from the city, and, by as great marches as he can, proceeds to Transalpine Gaul, and arrives at Geneva. He orders the whole Province [to gather] as great a number of soldiers as possible, as there was in all only one legion in Transalpine Gaul: he orders the bridge at Geneva to be broken down. When the Helvetii are told of his arrival they send to him, as messengers, the most illustrious men of their state (in which Numeius and Verudoctius held the chief place), to say “that it was their intention to march through the Province without doing any harm, because they had” [according to them] “no other route: that they requested, they might be allowed to do so with his consent.” Caesar, inasmuch as he kept in remembrance that Lucius Cassius, the consul, had been slain, and his army routed and made to pass under the yoke by the Helvetii, did not think that [their request] ought to be granted: nor was he of opinion that men of hostile disposition, if an opportunity of marching through the Province were given them, would abstain from outrage and mischief. Yet, in order that a period might intervene, until the soldiers whom he had ordered [to be gathered] should assemble, he replied to the ambassadors, that he would take time to deliberate; if they wanted anything, they might return on the day before the ides [12th] of April.

§ 1.29. In the camp of the Helvetii, lists were found, drawn up in Greek characters, and were brought to Caesar, in which an estimate had been drawn up, name by name, of the number which had gone forth from their country of those who were able to bear arms; and likewise the boys, the old men, and the women, separately. Of all which items the total was: Of the Helvetii: 263,000; Of the Tulingi: 36,000; Of the Latobrigi; 14,000; Of the Rauraci: 23,000; Of the Boii: 32,000. The sum of all amounted to 368,000. Out of these, such as could bear arms, [amounted] to about 92,000. When the census of those who returned home was taken, as Caesar had commanded, the number was found to be 110,000.
§ 1.30. When the war with the Helvetii was concluded, representatives from almost all parts of Gaul, the chiefs of states, assembled to congratulate Caesar, [saying] that they were well aware, that, although he had taken vengeance on the Helvetii in war, for the old wrong done by them to the Roman people, yet that circumstance had happened no less to the benefit of the land of Gaul than of the Roman people, because the Helvetii, while their affairs were most flourishing, had quitted their country with the design of making war upon the whole of Gaul, and seizing the government of it, and selecting, out of a great abundance, that spot for an abode, which they should judge to be the most convenient and most productive of all Gaul, and hold the rest of the states as tributaries. They requested that they might be allowed to proclaim an assembly of the whole of Gaul for a particular day, and to do that with Caesar’s permission, [stating] that they had some things which, with the general consent, they wished to ask of him. This request having been granted, they appointed a day for the assembly, and ordained by an oath with each other, that no one should disclose [their deliberations] except those to whom this [office] should be assigned by the general assembly.

§ 1.44. Ariovistus [king of the Germans] briefly replied to the demands of Caesar; but expatiated largely on his own virtues, “that he had crossed the Rhine not of his own accord, but on being invited and sent for by the Gauls; that he had not left home and kindred without great expectations and great rewards; that he had settlements in Gaul, granted by the Gauls themselves; that the hostages had been given by their good-will; that he took by right of war the tribute which conquerors are accustomed to impose on the conquered; that he had not made war upon the Gauls, but the Gauls upon him; that all the states of Gaul came to attack him, and had encamped against him; that all their forces had been routed and beaten by him in a single battle; that if they chose to make a second trial, he was ready to encounter them again; but if they chose to enjoy peace, it was unfair to refuse the tribute, which of their own free-will they had paid up to that time. That the friendship of the Roman people ought to prove to him an ornament and a safeguard, not a detriment; and that he sought it with that expectation. But if through the Roman people the tribute was to be discontinued, and those who surrendered to be seduced from him, he would renounce the friendship of the Roman people no less heartily than he had sought it. As to his leading over a host of Germans into Gaul, that he was doing this with a view of securing himself, not of assaulting Gaul: that there was evidence of this, in that he did not come without being invited, and in that he did not make war, but merely warded it off. That he had come into Gaul before the Roman people. That never before this time did a Roman army go beyond the frontiers of the province of Gaul. What [said he] does [Caesar] desire? Why come into his [Ariovistus’] domains? That this was his province of Gaul, just as that is ours. As it ought not to be pardoned in him, if he were to make an attack upon our territories; so, likewise, that we were unjust, to obstruct him in his prerogative. As for Caesar’s saying that the Aedui had been styled “brethren” by the senate, he was not so uncivilized nor so ignorant of affairs, as not to know that the Aedui in the very last war with the Allobroges had neither rendered assistance to the Romans, nor received any from the Roman people in the struggles which the Aedui had been maintaining with him and with the Sequani. He must feel suspicious that Caesar, though feigning friendship as the reason for his keeping an army in Gaul, was keeping it with the view of crushing him. And that unless he depart and withdraw his army from these parts, he shall regard him not as a friend, but as a foe; and that, even if he should put him to death, he should do what would please many of the nobles and leading men of the Roman people; he had assurance of that from themselves through their messengers, and could purchase the favor and the friendship of them all by his [Caesar’s] death. But if he would depart and resign to him the free possession of Gaul, he would recompense him with a great reward, and would bring to a close whatever wars he wished to be carried on, without any trouble or risk to him.”

§ 2.1. While Caesar was in winter quarters in Cisalpine Gaul, as we have shown above, frequent reports were brought to him, and he was also informed by letters from Labienus, that all the Belgae, who we have said are a third part of Gaul, were entering into a confederacy against the Roman people, and giving hostages to one another; that the reasons of the confederacy were these: first, because they feared that, after all [Celtic] Gaul was subdued, our army would be led against them; secondly, because they were instigated by several of the Gauls; some of whom as [on the one hand] they had been unwilling that the Germans should remain any longer in Gaul, so [on the other] they were dissatisfied that the army of the Roman people should pass the winter in it, and settle there; and others of them, from a natural instability and fickleness of disposition, were anxious for a revolution; [the Belgae were instigated] by several, also, because the government in Gaul was generally seized upon by the more powerful persons and by those who had the means of hiring troops, and they could less easily carry out those objectives while under our control.

§ 2.3. As he arrived there unexpectedly and sooner than any one anticipated, the Remi, who are the nearest of the Belgae to [Celtic] Gaul, sent to him Iccius and Antebrogius, [two of] the principal persons of the state, as their messengers: to tell him that they surrendered themselves and all their possessions to the protection and disposal of the Roman people: and that they had neither combined with the rest of the Belgae, nor entered into any confederacy against the Roman people: and were prepared to give hostages, to obey his commands, to receive him into their towns, and to aid him with grain supplies and other things; that all the rest of the Belgae were in arms; and that the Germans, who dwell on this side of the Rhine, had joined themselves to them; and that so great was the infatuation of them all, that they could not restrain even the Suessiones, their own brethren and kinsmen, who enjoy the same rights, and the, same laws, and who have one government and one magistracy [in common] with themselves, from uniting with them.

§ 2.4. When Caesar inquired of them what states were in arms, how powerful they were, and what they could do, in war, he received the following information: that the greater part of the Belgae were descended from the Germans, and that having crossed the Rhine at an early period, they had settled there, on account of the fertility of the country, and had driven out the Gauls who inhabited those regions; and that they were the only people who, in the memory of our fathers, when all Gaul was overrun, had prevented the Teutones and the Cimbri from entering their territories; the effect of which was, that, from the recollection of those events, they assumed to themselves great authority and haughtiness in military matters. The Remi said, that they had known accurately everything respecting their number, because being united to them by neighborhood and by alliances, they had learned what number each state had in the general council of the Belgae promised for that war. That the Bellovaci were the most powerful among them in valor, influence, and the number of men; that these could muster 100,000 armed men, [and had] promised 60,000 picked men out of that number, and demanded for themselves the command of the whole war. That the Suessiones were their nearest neighbors and possessed a very extensive and fertile country; that among them, even in our own memory, Divitiacus, the most powerful man of all Gaul, had been king; who had held the government of a great part of these regions, as well as of Britain; that their king at present was Galba; that the direction of the whole war was conferred by the consent of all, upon him, on account of his integrity and prudence; that they had twelve towns; that they had promised 50,000 armed men; and that the Nervii, who are reckoned the most warlike among them, and are situated at a very great distance, [had promised] as many; the Atrebates 15,000; the Ambiani, 10,000; the Morini, 25,000; the Menapii, 9,000; the Caleti, 10,000; the Velocasses and the Veromandui as many; the Aduatuci 19,000; that the Condrusi, the Eburones, the Caeraesi, the Paemani, who are called by the common name of Germans [had promised], they thought, to the number of 40,000.

§ 2.6. There was a town of the Remi, by name Bibracte, eight miles distant from this camp. This the Belgae on their march began to attack with great vigor. [The assault] was with difficulty sustained for that day. The Gauls’ mode of besieging is the same as that of the Belgae: when after having drawn a large number of men around the whole of the fortifications, stones have begun to be cast against the wall on all sides, and the wall has been stripped of its defenders, [then], forming a testudo [“tortoise shell,” a defensive formation], they advance to the gates and undermine the wall: which was easily effected on this occasion; for while so large a number were casting stones and darts, no one was able to maintain his position upon the wall. When night had put an end to the assault, Iccius, who was then in command of the town, one of the Remi, a man of the highest rank and influence among his people, and one of those who had come to Caesar as messenger [to sue] for peace, sends messengers to him, [to report] that unless assistance were sent to him he could not hold out any longer.
§ 2.15. Caesar said that on account of his respect for Divitiacus and the Aeduans, he would receive them into his protection, and would spare them; but, because the state was of great influence among the Belgae, and pre-eminent in the number of its population, he demanded 600 hostages. When these were delivered, and all the arms in the town collected, he went from that place into the territories of the Ambiani, who, without delay, surrendered themselves and all their possessions. Upon their territories bordered the Nervii, concerning whose character and customs when Caesar inquired he received the following information: That there was no access for merchants to them; that they suffered no wine and other things tending to luxury to be imported; because, they thought that by their use the mind is enervated and the courage impaired: that they were a savage people and of great bravery: that they upbraided and condemned the rest of the Belgae who had surrendered themselves to the Roman people and thrown aside their national courage: that they openly declared they would neither send messengers, nor accept any condition of peace.

§ 3.8. The influence of this state is by far the most considerable of any of the countries on the whole sea coast, because the Veneti both have a very great number of ships, with which they have been accustomed to sail to Britain, and [thus] excel the rest in their knowledge and experience of nautical affairs; and as only a few ports lie scattered along that stormy and open sea, of which they are in possession, they hold as tributaries almost all those who are accustomed to traffic in that sea. With them arose the beginning [of the revolt] by their detaining Silius and Velanius; for they thought that they should recover by their means the hostages which they had given to Crassus. The neighboring people led on by their influence (as the measures of the Gauls are sudden and hasty), detain Trebius and Terrasidius for the same motive; and quickly sending messengers, by means of their leading men, they enter into a mutual compact to do nothing except by general consent, and abide the same issue of fortune; and they solicit the other states to choose rather to continue in that liberty which they had received from their ancestors, than endure slavery under the Romans. All the sea coast being quickly brought over to their sentiments, they send a common embassy to P. Crassus [to say] if he wished to receive back his officers, let him send back to them their hostages.

§ 3.9. […] Having come to this resolution, they fortify their towns, convey grain into them from the country parts, bring together as many ships as possible to Venetia, where it appeared Caesar would at first carry on the war. They unite to themselves as allies for that war, the Osismii, the Lexovii, the Nannetes, the Ambiliati, the Morini, the Diablintes, and the Menapii; and send for auxiliaries from Britain, which is situated over against those regions.
§ 3.10. There were these difficulties which we have mentioned above, in carrying on the war, but many things, nevertheless, urged Caesar to that war: the open insult offered to the state in the detention of the Roman knights, the rebellion raised after surrendering, the revolt after hostages were given, the confederacy of so many states, but principally, lest if, [the conduct of] this part was overlooked, the other nations should think that the same thing was permitted them. As a result, since he reflected that almost all the Gauls were fond of revolution, and easily and quickly excited to war; that all men likewise, by nature, love liberty and hate the condition of slavery, he thought he ought to divide and more widely distribute his army, before more states should join the confederation.

§ 3.13. For their ships were built and equipped after this manner. The keels were somewhat flatter than those of our ships, whereby they could more easily encounter the shallows and the ebbing of the tide: the prows were raised very high, and, in like manner the sterns were adapted to the force of the waves and storms [which they were formed to sustain]. The ships were built wholly of oak, and designed to endure any force and violence whatever; the benches which were made of planks a foot in breadth, were fastened by iron spikes of the thickness of a man’s thumb; the anchors were secured fast by iron chains instead of cables, and for sails they used skins and thin dressed leather. These [were used] either through their lack of canvas and their ignorance of its application, or for this reason, which is more probable, that they thought that such storms of the ocean, and such violent gales of wind could not be resisted by sails, nor ships of such great burden be conveniently enough managed by them. The encounter of our fleet with these ships was of such a nature that our fleet excelled in speed alone, and the plying of the oars; other things, considering the nature of the place [and] the violence of the storms, were more suitable and better adapted on their side; for neither could our ships injure theirs with their beaks (so great was their strength), nor on account of their height was a weapon easily cast up to them; and for the same reason they were less readily locked in by rocks. To this was added, that whenever a storm began to rage and they ran before the wind, they both could weather the storm more easily and heave to securely in the shallows, and when left by the tide feared nothing from rocks and shelves: the risk of all which things was much to be dreaded by our ships.

§ 4.2. […] Moreover, even as to working cattle, in which the Gauls take the greatest pleasure, and which they procure at a great price […]

§ 4.5. Caesar, when informed of these matters, fearing the fickle disposition of the Gauls, who are easily prompted to take up resolutions, and much addicted to change, considered that nothing was to be entrusted to them; for it is the custom of that people to compel travelers to stop, even against their inclination, and inquire what they may have heard, or may know, respecting any matter; and in towns the common people throng around merchants and force them to state from what countries they come, and what affairs they know of there. They often engage in resolutions concerning the most important matters, induced by these reports and stories alone; of which they must necessarily instantly repent, since they yield to mere unauthorized reports; and since most people give to their questions answers framed agreeably to their wishes.

§ 4.20. During the short part of summer which remained, Caesar, although in these countries, as all Gaul lies toward the north, the winters are early, nevertheless resolved to proceed into Britain, because he discovered that in almost all the wars with the Gauls assistance had been furnished to our enemy from that country; and even if the time of year should be insufficient for carrying on the war, yet he thought it would be of great service to him if he only entered the island, and saw into the character of the people, and got knowledge of their localities, harbors, and landing-places, all which were for the most part unknown to the Gauls. For neither does any one except merchants generally go over there, nor even to them was any portion of it known, except the sea-coast and those parts which are opposite to Gaul. Therefore, after having called up to him the merchants from all parts, he could learn neither what was the size of the island, nor what or how numerous were the nations which inhabited it, nor what system of war they followed, nor what customs they used, nor what harbors were convenient for a great number of large ships.

§ 4.21. He sends before him Caius Volusenus with a ship of war, to acquire a knowledge of these particulars before he in person should make a descent into the island, as he was convinced that this was a judicious measure. He commissioned him to thoroughly examine into all matters, and then return to him as soon as possible. He himself proceeds to the Morini with all his forces. He orders ships from all parts of the neighboring countries, and the fleet which the preceding summer he had built for the war with the Veneti, to assemble in this place. In the mean time, his purpose having been discovered, and reported to the Britons by merchants, messengers come to him from several states of the island, to promise that they will give hostages, and submit to the government of the Roman people. Having given them an audience, he after promising liberally, and exhorting them to continue in that purpose, sends them back to their own country, and [dispatches] with them Commius, whom, upon subduing the Atrebates, he had created king there, a man whose courage and conduct he esteemed, and who he thought would be faithful to him, and whose influence ranked highly in those countries. He orders him to visit as many states as he could, and persuade them to embrace the protection of the Roman people, and inform them that he would shortly come there. Volusenus, having viewed the localities as far as means could be afforded one who dared not leave his ship and trust himself to barbarians, returns to Caesar on the fifth day, and reports what he had there observed.
§ 4.24. [Arrival in Britain] But the barbarians, upon perceiving the design of the Romans, sent forward their cavalry and charioteers, a class of warriors of whom it is their practice to make great use in their battles, and following with the rest of their forces, endeavored to prevent our men landing. In this was the greatest difficulty, for the following reasons, namely, because our ships, on account of their great size, could be stationed only in deep water; and our soldiers, in places unknown to them, with their hands busy, burdened with a large and heavy weight of armor, had at the same time to leap from the ships, stand amid the waves, and encounter the enemy; whereas they, either on dry ground, or advancing a little way into the water, free in all their limbs in places thoroughly known to them, could confidently throw their weapons and spur on their horses, which were accustomed to this kind of service. Dismayed by these circumstances and altogether untrained in this mode of battle, our men did not all exert the same vigor and eagerness which they had been wont to exert in engagements on dry ground.

§ 4.27. The enemy being thus vanquished in battle, as soon as they recovered after their flight, instantly sent messengers to Caesar to negotiate about peace. They promised to give hostages and perform what he should command. Together with these messengers came Commius the Atrebatian, who, as I have above said, had been sent by Caesar into Britain. Him they had seized upon when leaving his ship, although in the character of messenger he bore the general’s commission to them, and thrown into chains: then after the battle was fought, they sent him back, and in suing for peace cast the blame of that act upon the common people, and entreated that it might be pardoned on account of their indiscretion. Caesar, complaining, that after they had sued for peace, and had voluntarily sent messengers into the continent for that purpose, they had made war without a reason, said that he would pardon their indiscretion, and imposed hostages, a part of whom they gave immediately; the rest they said they would give in a few days, since they were sent for from remote places. In the mean time they ordered their people to return to the country parts, and the chiefs assembled from all quarter, and proceeded to surrender themselves and their states to Caesar.

§ 4.33. Their mode of fighting with their chariots is this: firstly, they drive about in all directions and throw their weapons and generally break the ranks of the enemy with the very dread of their horses and the noise of their wheels; and when they have worked themselves in between the troops of horse, leap from their chariots and engage on foot. The charioteers in the mean time withdraw some little distance from the battle, and so place themselves with the chariots that, if their masters are overpowered by the number of the enemy, they may have a ready retreat to their own troops. Thus they display in battle the speed of horse, [together with] the firmness of infantry; and by daily practice and exercise attain to such expertness that they are accustomed, even on a declining and steep place, to check their horses at full speed, and manage and turn them in an instant and run along the pole, and stand on the yoke, and thence betake themselves with the greatest celerity to their chariots again.

§ 5.12. The interior portion of Britain is inhabited by those of whom they say that it is handed down by tradition that they were indigenous to the island itself: the maritime portion is inhabited by those who had crossed from the country of the Belgae for the purpose of plunder and making war; almost all of whom are called by the names of those states from which being sprung they went there, and having waged war, continued there and began to cultivate the lands. The number of the people is countless, and their buildings exceedingly numerous, for the most part very like those of the Gauls: the number of cattle is great. They use either brass or iron rings, determined at a certain weight, as their money. Tin is produced in the midland regions; in the maritime, iron; but the quantity of it is small: they employ brass, which is imported. There, as in Gaul, is timber of every description, except beech and fir. They do not regard it lawful to eat the hare, and the cock, and the goose; they, however, breed them for amusement and pleasure. The climate is more temperate than in Gaul, the colds being less severe.

§ 5.14. The most civilized of all these nations are those who inhabit Kent, which is entirely a maritime district, nor do they differ much from the Gallic customs. Most of the inland inhabitants do not cultivate grains, but live on milk and flesh, and are clad with skins. All the Britons, indeed, dye themselves with woad, which occasions a bluish color, and thereby have a more terrible appearance in fight. They wear their hair long, and have every part of their body shaved except their head and upper lip. Ten and even twelve have wives common to them, and particularly brothers among brothers, and parents among their children; but if there be any issue by these wives, they are reputed to be the children of those by whom respectively each was first espoused when a virgin.

§ 5.16. [… the Britons] generally retreated even designedly, and, when they had drawn off our men a short distance from the legions, leaped from their chariots and fought on foot in unequal [and to them advantageous] battle. But this system of cavalry engagement is likely to produce equal danger, and indeed the same, both to those who retreat and to those who pursue. To this was added, that they never fought in close order, but in small parties and at great distances, and had detachments placed [in different parts], and then the one relieved the other, and the vigorous and fresh succeeded the wearied.

§ 5.25. There was a man named Tasgetius from a very noble family in the nation of the Carnutes, whose ancestors had been king. Caesar had given to him the title of king held by his ancestors, in consideration of his prowess and attachment toward him, because Caesar had availed himself of Tasgetius’s valuable services in all of his wars. His personal enemies killed Tasgetius when in the third year of his reign, many even of his own nation openly encouraging [the deed] […]

§ 5.42. Disappointed in this hope, the Nervii surround the winter-quarters with a rampart eleven feet high, and a ditch thirteen feet in depth. These military works they had learned from our men in the intercourse of former years, and, having taken some of our army prisoners, were instructed by them: but, as they had no supply of iron tools which are requisite for this service, they were forced to cut the turf with their swords, and to empty out the earth with their hands and cloaks, from which circumstance, the vast number of the men could be inferred; for in less than three hours they completed a fortification of ten miles in circumference; and during the rest of the days they began to prepare and construct towers of the height of the ramparts, and grappling irons, and mantelets, which the same prisoners had taught them.

§ 5.43. On the seventh day of the attack, a very high wind having sprung up, they began to discharge by their slings hot balls made of burned or hardened clay, and heated javelins, upon the huts, which, after the Gallic custom, were thatched with straw. […]

§ 5.54. Caesar summoned to him the principal persons of each nation and kept a great part of the allegiance of Gaul. In one case he alarmed them, declaring that he knew what [conspiracy] was going on, and in another case he encouraged them. The Senones, however, an eminently powerful nation with great influence among the Gauls, attempted by a widespread plot to assassinate Cavarinus. Caesar had appointed Cavarinus as king among the Senones. His brother, Moritasgus, had been king in Gaul before Caesar’s arrival, as had his ancestors in the past. When Cavarinus discovered their plot (to assassinate him) he fled, and they pursued him to the boundaries of the nation, driving him from his kingdom and his home. […]

§ 5.56. […] he proclaims an armed council (this according to the custom of the Gauls in the commencement of war) at which, by a common law, all the youth were wont to assemble in arms, whoever of them comes last is killed in the sight of the whole assembly after being racked with every torture. […]

§ 6.11. Since we have come to the place, it does not appear to be foreign to our subject to lay before the reader an account of the manners of Gaul and Germany, and wherein these nations differ from each other. In Gaul there are factions not only in all the states, and in all the districts and their divisions, but almost in each family, and of these factions those are the leaders who are considered according to their judgment to possess the greatest influence, upon whose will and determination the management of all affairs and measures depends. And that seems to have been instituted in ancient times with this view, that no one of the common people should be in want of support against one more powerful; for, none [of those leaders] allows his party to be oppressed and defrauded, and if he do otherwise, he has no influence among his party. This same policy exists throughout the whole of Gaul; for all the states are divided into two factions.

§ 6.12. When Caesar arrived in Gaul, the Aedui were the leaders of one faction, the Sequani of the other. Since the latter were less powerful by themselves, inasmuch as the chief influence was from of old among the Aedui, and their dependencies were great, they had united to themselves the Germans and Ariovistus, and had brought them over to their party by great sacrifices and promises. And having fought several successful battles and slain all the nobility of the Aedui, they had so far surpassed them in power, that they brought over, from the Aedui to themselves, a large portion of their dependents and received from them the sons of their leading men as hostages, and compelled them to swear in their public character that they would enter into no design against them; and held a portion of the neighboring land, seized on by force, and possessed the sovereignty of the whole of Gaul. Divitiacus urged by this necessity, had proceeded to Rome to the senate, for the purpose of entreating assistance, and had returned without accomplishing his object. Caesar’s arrival brought about a new order: the hostages were returned to the Aedui, their old dependencies restored, and a new relationship established with Caesar (because those who had attached themselves to their alliance saw that they enjoyed a better state and a milder government), their other interests, their influence, their reputation were likewise increased, and in consequence, the Sequani lost the sovereignty. The Remi succeeded to their place, and, as it was perceived that they equaled the Aedui in favour with Caesar, those, who on account of their old animosities could by no means coalesce with the Aedui, consigned themselves in clientship to the Remi. The latter carefully protected them. Thus they (the Remi) possessed both a new and suddenly acquired influence. Affairs were then in that position that the Aedui were considered by far the leading people, and the Remi held the second post of honour.

§ 6.13. Throughout all Gaul there are two orders of those men who are of any rank and dignity: for most of the population is almost in the condition of slaves, and dares to undertake nothing of itself, and is has no legal redress. The majority, when they are pressed either by debt, or by the vast size of their taxes, or the oppression of the more powerful, give themselves up in vassalage to the nobles, who possess over them the same rights without exception as masters over their slaves. But of these two orders, one is that of the druids, the other that of the Knights [horse-mounted warriors].

The druids are engaged in things sacred, conduct the public and the private sacrifices, and interpret all matters of religion. To these a large number of the young men resort for the purpose of instruction, and they [the druids] are in great honor among them. For they determine respecting almost all controversies, public and private; and if any crime has been perpetrated, if murder has been committed, if there be any dispute about an inheritance, if any about boundaries, these same persons decide it; they decree rewards and punishments; if any one, either in a private or public capacity, has not submitted to their decision, they excommunicate him from the sacrifices. This among them is the most heavy punishment. Those who have been thus excommunicated are considered to be criminal and immoral: all shun them, and avoid their company and conversation, for fear that they will receive some evil from their contact; nor is justice administered to them when seeking it, nor is any dignity bestowed on them.

One man presides over all the druids, who possesses supreme authority among them. Upon his death, if any individual among the rest is pre-eminent in dignity, he succeeds; but, if there are many equal, the election is made by the votes of the druids; sometimes they even contend for the presidency with arms. These assemble at a fixed period of the year in a consecrated place in the territories of the Carnutes, which is reckoned the central region of the whole of Gaul. All who have disputes assemble here from everywhere, and submit to their decrees and determinations. The druidic order is supposed to have been created in Britain, and to have been brought over from it into Gaul; and now those who desire to gain a more accurate knowledge of that system generally proceed thither for the purpose of studying it.

§ 6.14. The druids do not go to war, nor pay tribute together with the rest; they have an exemption from military service and a dispensation in all matters. Induced by such great advantages, many embrace this profession of their own accord, and [many] are sent to it by their parents and relations. They are said there to learn by heart a great number of verses; accordingly some remain in the course of training twenty years. Nor do they regard it lawful to commit these to writing, though in almost all other matters, in their public and private transactions, they use Greek script. That practice they seem to me to have adopted for two reasons; because they neither desire their doctrines to be divulged among the mass of the people, nor those who learn, to devote themselves the less to the efforts of memory, relying on writing; since it generally occurs to most men, that, in their dependence on writing, they relax their diligence in learning thoroughly, and their employment of the memory. They wish to inculcate this as one of their leading tenets, that souls do not become extinct, but pass after death from one body to another, and they think that men by this tenet are in a great degree excited to valor, the fear of death being disregarded. They likewise discuss and impart to the youth many things respecting the stars and their motion, respecting the extent of the world and of our earth, respecting the nature of things, respecting the power and the majesty of the immortal gods.

§ 6.15. The other order is that of the Knights [horse-mounted warriors]. These, when there is occasion and any war occurs (which before Caesar’s arrival generally happened every year, as either they on their part were inflecting injuries or repelling those which others inflected on them), are all engaged in war. And those of them most distinguished by birth and resources, have the greatest number of vassals and dependents about them. This is the only sort of influence and power they recognize.

§ 6.16. All the Gauls are extremely devoted to superstitious rituals; and on that account they who are troubled with unusually severe diseases, and they who are engaged in battles and dangers, either sacrifice men as victims, or vow that they will sacrifice them, and employ the druids as the performers of those sacrifices; because they think that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of a man, the mind of the immortal gods can not be rendered propitious, and they have sacrifices of that kind ordained for national purposes. Others have figures of vast size, the limbs of which formed of osiers they fill with living men, which being set on fire, the men perish enveloped in the flames. They consider that the sacrifice of peoples guilty of theft, or in robbery, or any other offense, is more acceptable to the immortal gods; but when a supply of such people is wanting, they have the right to even sacrifice the innocent.

§ 6.17. They worship Mercury in particular, as their god and have many images of him, and regard him as the inventor of all arts. They consider him the guide of their journeys and marches, and believe him to have great influence over the acquisition of gain and mercantile transactions. Next to him they worship Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva; respecting these deities they have for the most part the same belief as other nations: that Apollo averts diseases, that Minerva imparts the invention of manufactures, that Jupiter possesses the sovereignty of the heavenly powers; that Mars presides over wars. To him, when they have determined to engage in battle, they commonly vow those things which they shall take in war. When they have conquered, they sacrifice whatever captured animals may have survived the conflict, and collect the other things into one place. In many states you may see piles of these things heaped up in their consecrated spots; nor does it often happen that any one, disregarding the sanctity of the case, dares either to secrete in his house things captured, or take away those deposited; and the most severe punishment, with torture, has been established for such a deed.

§ 6.18. All the Gauls assert that they are descended from the god Dis Pater [the Roman God of the Underworld], and say that this tradition has been handed down by the druids. For that reason they compute the divisions of every season, not by the number of days, but of nights; they keep birthdays and the beginnings of months and years in such an order that the day follows the night. Among the other usages of their life, they differ in this from almost all other nations, that they do not permit their children to approach them openly until they are grown up so as to be able to bear the service of war; and they regard it as indecorous for a son of boyish age to stand in public in the presence of his father.

§ 6.19. Whatever sums of money the husbands have received in the name of dowry from their wives, making an estimate of it, they add the same amount out of their own estates. An account is kept of all this money conjointly, and the profits are laid by: whichever of them shall have survived [the other], to that one the portion of both reverts together with the profits of the previous time. Husbands have power of life and death over their wives as well as over their children: and when the father of a family, born in a more than commonly distinguished rank, has died, his relations assemble, and, if the circumstances of his death are suspicious, hold an investigation upon the wives in the manner adopted toward slaves; and, if proof be obtained, put them to severe torture, and kill them. Their funerals, considering the state of civilization among the Gauls, are magnificent and costly; and they cast into the fire all things, including living creatures, which they suppose to have been dear to them when alive; and, a little before this period, slaves and dependents, who were ascertained to have been beloved by them, were, after the regular funeral rites were completed, burnt together with them.

§ 6.20. Those states which are considered to conduct their commonwealth more judiciously, have it ordained by their laws, that, if any person shall have heard by rumor and report from his neighbors any thing concerning the commonwealth, he shall convey it to the magistrate, and not impart it to any other; because it has been discovered that inconsiderate and inexperienced men were often alarmed by false reports, and driven to some rash act, or else took hasty measures in affairs of the highest importance. The magistrates conceal those things which require to be kept unknown; and they disclose to the people whatever they determine to be expedient. It is not lawful to speak of the commonwealth, except in council.

§ 6.21. The Germans differ much from these usages, for they have neither druids to preside over sacred offices, nor do they pay great regard to sacrifices. They rank in the number of the gods those alone whom they behold, and by whose instrumentality they are obviously benefited, namely, the sun, fire, and the moon; they have not heard of the other deities even by report. […]

§ 6.24. And there was formerly a time when the Gauls excelled the Germans in prowess, and waged war on them offensively, and, on account of the great number of their people and the insufficiency of their land, sent colonies over the Rhine. Accordingly, the Volcae Tectosages, seized on those parts of Germany which are the most fruitful [and lie] around the Hercynian Forest [Black Forest], (which, I perceive, was known by report to Eratosthenes and some other Greeks, and which they call Orcynia), and settled there. Which nation to this time retains its position in those settlements, and has a very high character for justice and military merit; now also they continue in the same scarcity, indigence, hardihood, as the Germans, and use the same food and dress; but their proximity to the Province and knowledge of commodities from countries beyond the sea supplies to the Gauls many things tending to luxury as well as civilization. Accustomed by degrees to be overmatched and worsted in many engagements, they do not even compare themselves to the Germans in prowess.

§ 7.1. […] The leading men of Gaul, having convened councils among themselves in the woods, and retired places, complain of the death of Acco: they point out that this fate may fall in turn on themselves: they bewail the unhappy fate of Gaul; and by every sort of promises and rewards, they earnestly solicit some to begin the war, and assert the freedom of Gaul at the hazard of their lives. They say that special care should be paid to this, that Caesar should be cut off from his army before their secret plans should be divulged. That this was easy, because neither would the legions, in the absence of their general, dare to leave their winter quarters, nor could the general reach his army without a guard; finally, that it was better to be slain in battle, than not to recover their ancient glory in war, and that freedom which they had received from their forefathers.

§ 7.2. While these things are in motion, the Carnutes declare that they will willingly go into danger to protect the greater good, and promise that they will be the first of all to begin the war. Since they cannot make immediate securities by giving and receiving hostages, because that would expose their plans, they require that a solemn oath be given that they should not be deserted by the rest of the Gauls after the war starts. This oath is given on their military symbols which are brought together, for this is the manner in which their most sacred obligations are bound.

§ 7.4. [the beginning of the insurrection under Vercingetorix] There in like manner, Vercingetorix the son of Celtillus the Arvernian, a young man of the highest power (whose father had held the supremacy of entire Gaul, and had been put to death by his fellow-citizens, for this reason, because he aimed at sovereign power), summoned together his dependents, and easily excited them. On his design being made known, they rush to arms: he is expelled from the town of Gergovia by his uncle Gobanitio and the rest of the nobles, who were of opinion, that such an enterprise ought not to be attempted: he did not however desist, but held in the country a levy of the needy and desperate. Having collected such a body of troops, he brings over to his sentiments such of his fellow-citizens as he has access to: he exhorts them to take up arms in behalf of the general freedom, and having assembled great forces he drives from the state his opponents, by whom he had been expelled a short time previously. He is pronounced king by his partisans; he sends messengers in every direction, he conjures them to adhere firmly to their promise. He quickly attaches to his interests the Senones, Parisii, Pictones, Cadurci, Turones, Aulerci, Lemovice, and all the others who border on the ocean; the supreme command is conferred on him by unanimous consent. On obtaining this authority, he demands hostages from all these states, he orders a fixed number of soldiers to be sent to him immediately; he determines what quantity of arms each state shall prepare at home, and before what time; he pays particular attention to the cavalry. To the utmost vigilance he adds the utmost rigor of authority; and by the severity of his punishments brings over the wavering: for on the commission of a greater crime he puts the perpetrators to death by fire and every sort of tortures; for a slighter cause, he sends home the offenders with their ears cut off, or one of their eyes put out, that they may be an example to the rest, and frighten others by the severity of their punishment.

§ 7.19. […] The Gauls, having broken down the bridges, posted themselves on this hill, in confidence of their position, and being drawn up in nations according to their respective states, held all the fords and passages of that marsh with trusty guards […]

§ 7.22. To the extraordinary valour of our soldiers, devices of every sort were opposed by the Gauls; since they are a nation of consummate ingenuity, and most skillful in imitating and making those things which are imparted by any one; for they turned aside the hooks with nooses, and when they had caught hold of them firmly, drew them on by means of engines, and undermined the mound the more skillfully on this account, because there are in their territories extensive iron mines, and consequently every description of mining operations is known and practiced by them. They had furnished, more over, the whole wall on every side with turrets, and had covered them with skins. Besides, in their frequent sallies by day and night, they attempted either to set fire to the mound, or attack our soldiers when engaged in the works; and, moreover, by splicing the upright timbers of their own towers, they equaled the height of ours, as fast as the mound had daily raised them, and countermined our mines, and impeded the working of them by stakes bent and sharpened at the ends, and boiling pitch and stones of very great weight, and prevented them from approaching the walls.

§ 7.23. But this is usually the form of all the Gaulish walls. Straight beams, connected lengthwise and two feet distant from each other at equal intervals, are placed together on the ground; these are mortised on the inside, and covered with plenty of earth. But the intervals which we have mentioned, are closed up in front by large stones. These being thus laid and cemented together, another row is added above, in such a manner, that the same interval may be observed, and that the beams may not touch one another, but equal spaces intervening, each row of beams is kept firmly in its place by a row of stones. In this manner the whole wall is consolidated, until the regular height of the wall be completed. This work, with respect to appearance and variety, is not unsightly, owing to the alternate rows of beams and stones, which preserve their order in right lines; and, besides, it possesses great advantages as regards utility and the defense of cities; for the stone protects it from fire, and the wood from the battering ram, since it [the wood] being mortised in the inside with rows of beams, generally forty feet each in length, can neither be broken through nor torn asunder.

§ 7.32. [about the politics of the Aedui] […] Whereas single magistrates had been usually appointed in ancient times and held the power of king for a single year, two persons now exercised this office, and each asserted that he was appointed according to their laws. One of them was Convictolitanis, a powerful and illustrious youth; the other was Cotus, born in a most ancient family, and personally a man of very great influence and extensive connections. His brother Valetiacus had held the same office (of king) during the last year. The whole nation was now up in arms about it” […]

§ 7.33. Although Caesar considered it ruinous to leave the war and the enemy, yet, being well aware what great evils generally arise from internal dissensions, lest a state so powerful and so closely connected with the Roman people, which he himself had always fostered and honored in every respect, should have recourse to violence and arms, and that the party which had less confidence in its own power should summon aid from Vercingetorix, he determined to anticipate this movement; and because, by the laws of the Aedui, it was not permitted those who held the supreme authority to leave their territory, he determined to go in person to the Aedui, lest he should appear to infringe upon their government and laws, and summoned all the senate, and those between whom the dispute was, to meet him at Decetia. When almost all the state had assembled there, and he was informed that one brother had been declared magistrate by the other, when only a few persons were privately summoned for the purpose, at a different time and place from what he ought, whereas the laws not only forbade two belonging to one family to be elected magistrates while each was alive, but even deterred them from being in the senate, he compelled Cotus to resign his office; he ordered Convictolitanis, who had been elected by the priests, according to the usage of the state, in the presence of the magistrates, to hold the supreme authority.

§ 8.14. […] the Gauls are always attended by a vast multitude of wagons, even when they have very light baggage […]