The Gallic Wars, Part 3: Swiss Miss

Hey all! I am sorry it has took me so long, these past few weeks have been quite turbulent and I have read and re-read this section of The Gallic Wars because I wanted to be able to simplify it as much as I could. Today we are going to start the journey of our hero, Julius Caesar. Though this is when we really start the story, if you are going to be reading these posts I suggest reading the last two posts as they set some guidelines, showing both the Roman and the Gallic sides. Now, lets get started!

Gaul is divided into three parts. These are the words Caesar begins The Gallic Wars with. In the south is the province of Aquitania. It is a land of lush forests, bustling settlements, and trade ports lining the coast. It is a developed and densely populated area. North of it is Celtica, the largest of the three segments. Celtica is arid and cold, with large forests of pine trees and a rocky Atlantic coast. Lastly, in the north is Belgica, with wild forests and misty hills, an untamed land. Each of these sections were inhabited by a people who reflected their land. The Aquitanians were the engineers, the merchants, and the politicians. They lived in large cities, bustling with merchants and traders, linked by interconnected roads. The Celts were the farmers, the hunters, and the foresters. They lived off the land and the sea. They lived in fishing and farming towns and villages stretching from the forests of East Gaul to the Atlantic coast. In the north lived the Belgicans, a secluded people. They kept to themselves and cared not about the outside world. They did not trade with others; they believed all luxuries were useless. It is important to understand that these three were not nations, but rather cultures. In reality, each of these segments had hundreds of tribes, towns and nations inhabiting them.

East of all these lived the Helvetii, a tribe living in the Swiss Alps. Their latest leader, Orgetorix, convinced his people to mass migrate. He said their current lifestyle in the mountains was meager, but if they migrated west into the great forests of Gaul they would prosper. (BTW this is absurd, Switzerland is like the most beautiful place in the world here have a picture of the Swiss alps.)

Anyways, he convinced them not only that Gaul was better than THAT but also that they could easily defeat all of the Gallic tribes as they were such amazing fighters. Somehow, everyone believed him and in one of the most astounding acts of Mass migration ever they literally burned down all of their homes, took what food they could, and just left. They were a MASSIVE horde. They decided to migrate west, and thus the journey began.

The Romans didn’t want them to migrate; they were migrating into the territory of there close allies, the Aedui, and that could cause some problems. So they fortified the are between the Loire and the Saione rivers. The Helvetii realized that even with their numbers this could cause problems, so they decided to go northwest instead and crossed the Saione. Upon hearing of this Caesar caught them in the act and killed many as they attempted to cross on rafts, but some still got across. Caesar wanted to pursue them to make sure they caused no more trouble, so he built a bridge across the river and followed them.

The Helvetii had spent all their resources (and quite a bit of their soldiers) crossing this river, and seeing Caesar do in what day what they could not do in three weeks was the final blow. Many wanted to desert, but they instead decided to opt for a diplomatic solution. They sent an envoy to Caesar, saying they would settle wherever he wished them too as long as he stopped attacking them. He said under no circumstances could he just let them go, as they have committed numerous crimes and Roman Law would not allow him to make such an exception. They then told him that though he won one cowardly victory at the river, they were great fighters and his hubris would come back to bite him. He then told them that though they had been spared so far, this would not always continue. He told them the gods often leave one in a position of safety or even power before taking it away from them, just to make it more painful when they fall. Oof. Guess that came back to bite him.

Anyways maybe Caesar saw this, or he was just in a good mood, because he basically just said “fine whatever just give us some hostages so we can make sure you don’t cause any more trouble before you have fully resettled. ” This was a quite generous offer, but the Helvetiian diplomat just said “we don’t give hostages, we take em.” And that was a historical moment because it was the first time in history someone had ever doomed their entire civilization with a one-liner.

That was officially the end of diplomacy between the two factions, so our story continues. Caesar broke camp the next morning and his legions marched north, pursuing the fleeing Helvetii. He sent a scouting force of 4,000 cavalry as a vanguard, but they got feisty and actually engaged with the Helvetii cavalry. Though the Helvetii cavalry numbered only 500 horsemen, they beat of the Romans who were 8 times their size. It’s obvious Caesar’s cavalry commander was not an intelligent person. Anyways, Caesar kept following and the Helvetii kept running. Meanwhile, Caesar continued to rely on food from neighboring Gallic tribes for his army’s supply. They were too far out of Roman territory and Roman roads to be supplied by the empire, but Rome’s Gallic allies (the Aedui) had agreed to supply them with food as long as they kept the Helvetii out of their territory. Because remember, the Helvetii weren’t even trying to migrate into Roman territory- they weren’t THAT stupid- they were migrating into Gaul, and Caesar was obligated to give military support to some of the tribes their in exchange for a tribute of money, and, in this case, food.

But the Aedui had stopped giving the Romans food. When Caesar asked them why, they gave numerous excuses. The grain was still being milled, or the livestock were not fully grown, or it was on it’s way, but as the day he distributed the soldiers rations approached, he held a council with the Aedui noblemen and higher-ups and questioned them as to why they were not supplying his forces. Their chief, Diviacus, eventually broke and told Caesar why they were not supplying his forces. Diviacusi’s brother, Dumnorix, had been denying them it in secret. You see, Dumnorix had always wanted to rule the Aedui, and when the Romans appointed his older brother, Diviacus, he got mad. He began to climb the ranks anyways, but always kept to the shadows. Everyone feared him but no one knew him. To make sure Rome suffered, he secretly stopped the grain from being delivered to their army. Caesar detained Dumnorix for further questioning, and then continued to follow the Helvetii.

Eventually they stopped, and after some confusion and scouting Caesar realized that they had feinted and left his forces behind. Eventually they caught up though, and his forces were eager to battle. He was not far from the capital of the Aedui, Bibracte, and so he decided to stop following the Helvetii so he could pick up some of the food that they were supplying him with, as Dumnorix was in prison so they had begun to supply his forces again. His soldiers got their chance to fight, though, because as soon as he turned his back on the Helvetii to leave for Bibracte, the Helvetii attacked his rearguard. Caesar’s line formed up in a defensive formation, and he ordered the horses (including his own) to be sent away, to imply there was no retreat. The Helvetii advanced in a tight formation, with their shields overlapping. The Romans took advantage of this, and threw their Pila (weighted javelins) into the overlapping areas, so they were forced to either drop their shields and expose themselves to the next wave of javelins or be bonded together so they could not move and the Roman’s could throw at their heads. Most chose the first option, and many were wounded or killed by the javelins alone. And then the Romans charged, full of stored-up zeal which had been accumulated from dreary marching the past month. They fought with excitement and fury, routing the Helvetii quickly.

Most of the surviving Helvetii fled, and asked to be spared by Caesar. He said he would, as long as they gave hostages. This time, they did. Yet still, some of the Helvetii thought Caesar would massacre them if they gave up arms and thus attempted to flee east across the Rhine, into Germany. But Caesar caught them, and ironically, killed them for running away because they thought he would kill them. He resettled the rest back in Switzerland, and everything went well and no more disturbances in Gaul ever happened again. At least not for a few months.

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