Hey all! First post in a while. I am continuing the Gallic Wars series. As a quick recap, in the last post Caesar pushed the invading German tribes out of Gaul. Now he looks north to the Benelux as rebellion springs up once more.
Before I get into the actual events of the chapter, I need to clarify something. I have said this in other posts, but it is important to fully understand the context of this war. Where we are right now, Rome DID NOT rule Gaul. In fact, they had basically no territory in what is now modern-day France. The Romans had realized long ago that the most effective way to benefit from an area was not to conquer it, but rather to bring it under your “sphere of influence.” Though they did have a sizable empire, instead of marching through every Gaulish city and forcing them under Roman rule, the Romans made allies in Gaul. These allies often paid them tribute in return for security or even influence among other tribes. It was beneficial to be a friend of Rome. In addition, the Romans made sure that some tribes didn’t like them; this factionalism forced no individual tribe to become too powerful while keeping their expectations up and making them think that they could fit that niche if they supported the Romans enough.
But, as it happens, something would upset this delicate balance every once in a while. In the last post, the German tribes invaded Gaul. While in the short term this did cause panic, the Romans came in and “saved the day,” securing the trust of many Gaulish tribes. So it helped them in the long term. In today’s post, there is an internal rebellion. Let’s take a closer look.
The Roman province of Belgica is, as you may have guessed, based around modern-day Belgium.
The Belgae, (inhabitants of Belgica,) were known both by the Romans and by the other Gauls as tough, even brutish warriors with no amenities or culture. This is probably because they were descended from Germanic tribes who had invaded the region long ago and expelled the Gallic inhabitants. (No, not the same ones from the last post. The Germans just really like invading France.) It was said that the Nervii (one of the many Belgic tribes, known for their brutality and ferocity in combat) not only did not PRODUCE luxury goods, but they also didn’t trade for them! They thought wine made the spirit weak. So there’s your context.
Anyways, onto the events of our story! Caesar was informed by his Gallic allies that conspirators were planning a rebellion in Belgica. He immediately raised two legions in Italy and marched them north along with the rest of his legions. When they were coming close to Belgica, Caesar received two Belgican diplomats who informed him that they were of the Remi tribe, and they opposed this rebellion. The scouts informed Caesar that many tribes had been mobilizing troops. Nearby the town of Bibrax was being assaulted by Belgic rebels. Here Caesar pressed his advantage. The other Gauls saw the rebellious tribes as fighting them, not fighting Rome. So the Romans sent in their mercenaries to help them, furthering their reputation as liberators and dividing the Gauls even more. They helped the city hold out from the assault overnight, so the Belgic rebels moved on. They fought multiple offensive battles against the Romans, but the Romans held at a river, confining their conquest to Belgica.
Caesar now pressed his advantage and went onto the offensive, pushing deep into Belgica. They took multiple city-states before reaching the land of the Nervii, a powerful tribe. They had a reputation EVEN among the other Belgic tribes as fierce, untamed warriors. They had contempt for the others for surrendering and claimed they would never do so themselves. After marching close to their territory, Caesar learned from local villagers that they were encamped not 10 miles from his position, waiting in ambush. Caesar marched toward their position. He sent cavalry skirmishes out but was reluctant to attack en masse.
The Nervii had no cavalry; this meant that they had devised ways of stopping enemy cavalry, with thorned bushes that they grew thick around encampments. Eventually, they attacked Caesars force as they began setting up camp. They hit them unprepared and pushed them back at first, but Caesar rallied his weakest legions an eventually pushed them off, going so far as to take a shield off one of his own soldiers and go to the frontline.
Finally, the Romans came to the city of the Atuatuci, a people who settled in Belgica but were originally from Germania. They laughed at the romans as they constructed siege engines, asking how such little men could mount the tower on the wall. Caesar has a little footnote here, talking about how the Gauls make fun of the romans for their “short stature.” But as the siege towers and battering ram advanced, the Belgae realized they had no hope of defense, and sent an envoy out to Caesar, asking to surrender. He “graciously permitted” them too, if they surrendered and threw down their arms before his battering ram reached the gates. They asked to keep their weapons, as they had made enemies in the other Belgic tribes, and would surely be harassed if unprotected. Caesar probably saw that they were going to attempt an armed rebellion, so he took their weapons but told them they were under “the protection of Rome” as a tribe that had submitted to his authority without a fight.
The tribe did not actually hand over all of their weapons, keeping about a third. In the middle of the night, they sallied out onto his fortifications at the weakest spot and attacked his units. Eventually his lines formed up and he attacked the city. He wasn’t happy about the betrayal, so he sold all 53,000 of them into slavery. Fun, I know. Lastly, Caesar ends by informing the reader that there was a public thanksgiving of 15 days, which was “a greater honor than had previously been granted to anyone.” He’s clearly really impressed about this, it’s really funny.
Anyways, look out for another post in the next few days, I’m on thanksgiving break! Sleep in, eat well, and most importantly: praise the greatest of the Triumvirate, Julius Caesar.
Tribute: An often monetary gift given to a superior, sometimes once, sometimes on a regular basis.
Legion(s): A Roman army, composed of about 6,000 soldiers.
Mobilize: To recruit an army.
Sally: No, not the name. To “sally forth” is basically a fancy way of saying “to attack.”
4 thoughts on “The Gallic Wars, Part 4: Unlawful Waffles”
I’m always super suspicious of Caesar’s numbers. 53,000 is about the population of London in 1500. It seems an awful lot for a society that must have been almost entirely rural.
Ya. As I was writing this I decided not to add a footnote because I thought no one would exaggerate their own misdeeds, but then I remembered that he thought that selling people into slavery was cool, so…
Fun to read! It’s interesting that the Romans employed a “Sphere of influence” approach. I guess the Greeks did it too, and more recently the British, Russians and US have too. China’s Belt and Road initiative is clearly the same thing, enforced not with legions but with contracts under international law.
It’s clearly the most affective approach… but I think the Chinese are actually buying ports up to..