Before we get started on the actual events of Julius Caesar’s campaign in Gaul, I need to explain something. I know in my series I do a lot of pre-posts like this where I clear up the situation, but this is important as it will influence your understanding of the sides in this war. And for that, we are going to have to understand the concept of a “barbarian.”
If you are to fully understand my upcoming posts on Julius Caesar’s war with the Gauls, you will have to understand something very important: The idea of a “barbarian” is just Roman propaganda mounted to make it seem like their enemies, and in general, non-romans, are inhuman. Now, I know what your thinking: “But Macabee, what are you talking about? The idea of a shirtless muscleman swinging a massive double bladed axe above his head while speaking with an Austrian accent as thick as his spray tan is so realistic! How could it be propaganda?” (Little movie reference there) Well, it was. The Roman Idea of a “barbarian” was completely manufactured.
The Romans painted the Gauls and Germanic tribes as one-sided. You were either a good barbarian, and you helped the Romans, or you were a bad barbarian, and you fought the Romans. There was no hint of complexity in the intentions or motivations of the Gauls, they were one minded brutes. You see, this idea was W R O N G. The Gauls had an intricate political and societal order, one that compromised hundreds of different factions. They were not just some unwashed horde of hooligans.
It made it seem as if they abided by no logic and had no moral code. That they were animalistic savages who should be treated as such, and thus it’s okay to denounce them. But it extended past that. You see, “barbarian” is an EXTREME generalization. There were hundreds of different cultures, nations, and society’s that this word encompassed- modern day France had so many “barbarian” city’s that are still here modern day that I could name 5 right of the top of my head! And I will.
Burdigala – Bordeaux
Tolosa – Toulouse
Massilia – Marseille
Cenabum – Orleans
Augusta Trevorum – Trier
This propaganda was targeted at the Roman public, but the Roman’s were more effective than they ever could have imagined. Medieval European authors took up this idea somewhat, but didn’t focus on it too much, as at the time they kind of thought of the Roman’s themselves as savages as throughout most of the Roman Empire, they were polytheistic. And not liking Christians back then, let alone persecuting them, was not cool. But when the enlightenment age came around people started caring slightly less about religion and slightly more about philosophy and when people like Voltaire started righting, they re-invigorated the idea, and painted the “barbarians” in a more extreme picture than even the Romans. They thought of them as literal monsters who had destroyed Rome. They painted romanticised artwork of the Romans and depicted the Gauls and Germanians as literal devils. Though we do not think of them this way, the idea of the “barbarian” is still used today.
So keep in mind as you read this, the idea of “barbarians” is wrong; the Gauls Caesar is fighting have their own complex motives and ambitions. This is a very important factor, and will play an important role in the story of The Gallic Wars.