Hey all! Sorry this one took so long; it took a while to research and write. If you need a refresher on our last Gallic Wars post, Caesar put down a Helvetic rebellion in Switzerland. If you want something more thorough, here’s a link so you can read it.
But he now has new problems on his hands. After he had defeated the Helvetii, Caesar allowed the gallic tribes to have a pan-gallic assembly as to what to do next. Caesar quickly realized that though there were many tribes, most of the power was held by the Arverni and the Aedui. These two factions fought each other brutally (usually diplomatically, but sometimes militarily.) They both realized that if they eliminated or at least diminished the political power of the other, they could be effective masters of Gaul. Soon enough, the Arverni got desperate.
They needed foreign aid, but they couldn’t ask the Romans. As we saw in the last post, the Romans would not help anyone Gallic faction. It was one of the concepts that made the Romans so powerful. Divida et Imperia. They kept all other foreign nations at bay by pitting them against each other. This way, while they squabbled amongst themselves the Romans could stay masters of the land while giving each gallic tribe the illusion that they were in power. They kept this up for quite the time, but eventually the Arverni got tired of this tug of war and decided to get serious.
The Arverni hired German mercenaries to cross the Rhine river west into France and kick the Aedui out. If you need a map of where they crossed, you can look on my first Gallic Wars post. Anyways, the Germans got pretty comfortable in Gaul as they thought it was quit a lot nicer than Germania, so they decided to take a permanent vacation. They then started inviting their pals from over the Rhine to live in France, and soon enough there were over 120,000 of them. It’s like when you invite your friend to a party and they bring their friend and their friend brings THEIR friends and soon enough you have some pretty questionable people at the party. Anyways, the Arverni’s plan worked better than they ever could have imagined.
The Aedui were crushed and soon enough the German mercenaries had really gotten out of hand. They had become warlords of Gaul, even ruling over their “contractors” the Arverni. The Arverni’s ally, the Sequani, took the brunt of this even more than their target the Aedui You see, the Sequani lived in an extremely fertile area of eastern France. The Germans had taken 1/3 of their land, and soon enough they would take more and more as more of their buddies migrated west. The Aedui, in desperation, came to Caesar asking him to kick these Germanic mercenaries out of power. Realizing the threat they posed, Caesar immediately accepted this task.
The German commanders name was Ariovistus; he was exceptionally cruel. He had immediately taken hostage the children of all of the Gallic noblemen when he arrived in Gaul and tortured them if they didn’t comply with his will. The Aeduans hoped that Caesar’s prestige after his recent victory over the Swiss in the last post and in general the fear of Rome’s power would give Ariovistus goosebumps, and he would leave for Germania on his own accord. But this is not the case. Ariovistus thinks himself Caesars equal, and holds his ground, refusing to cross the Rhine. This would prove to be a fatal mistake.
Now, one might ask how this all fits into Caesar’s story. Remember how the Romans kept others in check by pitting them against each other? This came from a sense of control which they had over the Gauls and other tribes and nations surrounding the republic. Though this allowed them to force other nations under them, it also meant they were often forced to protect said nations in turn. One such protectorate was the nation of the Aedui, a “civilized” tribe who had smartly decided to ally with the romans while they were still growing in influence. The Roman’s considered them kin, and so when Ariovistus invaded them and settled in their land, Caesar saw this as an affront to Rome. But this wasn’t all.
His initial solution was simple- diplomacy. He would meet with Ariovistus, and Caesar, being the influential figure he was, might cause Ariovistus to back down. If not, the sheer diplomatic force that came with the blessing of Rome might cause him to submit. When his envoy reached Ariovistus, requesting to meet between their two military positions, he sent back a message to Caesar telling him that if he wanted diplomacy with Caesar, he would come to Caesar. Thus, if Caesar wanted to speak with Ariovistus, he must come to the Suebi camp. This might seem unimportant, but in the ancient world, small details like who would go to who’s camp meant everything in diplomacy. It revealed who was really making the decisions. Ariovistus was trying to belittle Caesar by bringing him to his camp. Ariovistus wondered why Caesar was getting in his business. After all, what business was it of Caesar’s if he invaded Gaul? It was a foreign affair.
Caesar was many things, but he was not a fool. He knew that if they gave the Germanic tribes free reign through Gaul, they would undoubtably surge through and quickly envelop it. But this would not be the end of affairs. You see, the tribe Ariovistus lead- the Suebi- were, in a sense, nomadic. Though they would initially be halted once they overtook France, they would soon set their eyes on the fertile land of northern Italy and declare war on Rome. By then, they might be too powerful to stop, and it is possible they could defeat the Romans. No, Caesar would stop them before they could get too powerful. But how?
For now, he continued making diplomacy with Ariovistus; he would see how things played out. The tension grew as Ariovistus made it clear that he would not back out of Gaul; in his words, “we do not govern the roman provinces, and so they must not govern ours.” He thought of the Romans as a third party, and one that had no business in his affairs. This message reached Caesar along with two others. Pleas from the Aedui, the aforementioned allies of the Romans, and from the Treveri, a civilization living near the Rhine River. They both reported large encampments of the Suebi and the Harudes, two German tribes who had begun to follow Ariovistus into Gaul. Caesar realized he could wait no longer; every second more and more Germans came into Gaul, flocking to Ariovistus’ army, and Caesar had to stop them before they could grow too powerful. He would set an example; he would scare the tribes out of Gaul. He immediately began the march on Ariovistus and his army.
Ariovistus was at this moment marching on the city of Besancon, a siege defender’s dream. It was almost entirely encircled by a wide river protecting it, and the only opening was guarded by a tall hill. He hastened to this town, because he realized that if he was to fight Ariovistus, he would need a defendable position. When he arrived there, his soldiers began speaking to the locals, and soon found out the imposing nature of the Germanic warriors. They lost their moral quickly, many wondering why they had ever come this far north. Some even tried to sneak out of camp! Seeing this, Ceasar decided to hold a conference with his officers to boost their morale and get them back in line. He reprimanded them for their cowardice and then explained why they need not be afraid. After all, the Helvetii, the Swiss tribe described in the last post, had beaten German tribes on numerous occasions and just months ago he had defeated them! The Germans were scary, but they weren’t tough enough to beat him.
He told his officers that the reasons the Gauls were so scared of Ariovistus and his soldiers was because they had been beaten; but it was because of Ariovistus’ cunning plan, not the bravery of his soldiers. And Caesar was more cunning than he, so this would be no problem. Finally, to prove to his men he was no coward, he told them he would leave their fortification with or without his soldiers; he would see who would follow him. Leaving his fortified position was a risky venture, but it helped his soldiers’ morale. They were understandably pretty tired of waiting for him to come to them, so they would bring the war to him.
Ariovistus, seeing Caesar march toward him, decided to now accept Caesar’s previous offer of diplomacy. They both rode into a meeting point between their camps with only a cavalry bodyguard, meeting on a natural mound equidistant from their camps. Their bodyguards stayed back, lest an unprovoked fight ensue. Caesar told Ariovistus that he was a friend of the Roman people, and, if he gave back the hostages taken from the Aedui and stopped the flow of Germans into Gaul, he could even stay there. Ariovistus responded by saying he was invited to Gaul by the Arverni; he did not invade. In addition, he only seeked the title “friend of the Roman people” out of convenience; he was no friend of theirs. He said that as he would not question the Roman’s pursuit in their lands, they should not question his. Finally, he told Caesar that there were many in the senate who would be overjoyed to hear Caesar dead; they would pay Ariovistus to depose of him. But he was kind enough to even offer Caesar riches and services as a commander if he would only leave him alone.
Caesar repeated the fact that the Aedui, the tribe Ariovistus was intent on attacking, were an ally of Rome and it would be undiplomatic to forsake them now. By this time, the German riders where growing restless and began throwing rocks and javelins at Caesar and his riders. This put an end to diplomacy; Caesar moved back to his camp. The next day, Ariovistus sent another Message to Caesar, telling him his riders were out of control, but he could meet again, and this time they wouldn’t be. Caesar feared for his life if he met with Ariovistus again, so he sent two friends of his to talk with Ariovistus. When Ariovistus saw them enter camp, he thought they were spies and chained them up before they could say another word. Taking this as an act of war, he moved his army up a mountain to a defendable position and cut diplomacy with Caesar. He then cut off the supply line supplying Caesar with grain and corn for his army, forcing Caesar’s hand.
Caesar realized he would have to fight Ariovistus, so he moved his army forward and set up a military camp, attempting to provoke Ariovistus’ army into an attack. But Ariovistus would only skirmish, not engage in a head-on battle. Caesar’s cavalry had captured prisoners, and, when questioned as to Ariovistus’ hesitancy, they reluctantly told the Germans that the soothsayers employed in his camp had told Ariovistus he would not defeat the Romans before the full moon that month. Since the full Moon was a while away, and Ceasar’s army was suffering from hunger because his supply line was cut, he decided he needed a quick victory.
He advanced further on Ariovistus and formed three lines of battle. The Germans attacked as the Roman lines charged, giving the Roman’s no time to through their characteristic Pilum. Instead, they drew their short swords and fought the Germans head on. The Germans formed an improvised phalanx and pushed the Romans back. But soon, the Roman infantry began slicing from above the Germans, nullifying their shieldwall. Soon enough the German lines broke, running away from the battlefield. They lost the battle, fleeing back to Germany with many killed by the Roman cavalry. Caesar, with two successful campaigns now under his belt, set up winter quarters in one of the Gallic territories.
That’s all for now; till next time!
Pilum – A weighted javelin meant to either kill the enemy or hit their shield, weighing it down and forcing it to be dropped, leaving the enemy vulnerable to attacks. In addition, the weight forced the shaft of the spear to break on impact so that they could not be thrown back. Quite ingenious for a javelin.
Phalanx – A fighting formation in which a group of soldiers with shields and spears moves together in a rigid defensive formation with spears out and shields locked. While being extremely effective against a frontal assault,
One thought on “The Gallic Wars, Part 3: World War 0”
Very exciting! Things are going well for Caesar against the Germans, but of course we know how this ends, eventually. I’m a bit surprised that incursions by the Germanic tribes started this early.
I wonder if being a nomadic tribe gives a long run advantage in warfare. Also, I wonder if having conquered, a nomadic tribe must either settle down and become place-bound (thereby holding onto their gains but becoming vulnerable to other nomadic tribes), or remain nomadic, rootless raiders and pillagers. It sounds like Ariovistus would have preferred to settle down.