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omoplata

Where did Caesar Learn How to Fight?

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I find it amazing that Caesar decimated the Gauls despite a big numeric disadvantage, when one considers that he was not a soldier from an early age on.

 

So, he runs for office and serves in various political / administrative roles (admittedly in senior positions) and then suddenly bursts on the scene as one of the most successful commanders the world has ever seen... Where on earth does this skill come from?

 

 

in addition, I have a minor question please:

do I understand it correctly that armies were not allowed to enter the city of Rome? If so, was that a rule put in place after Sulla tried to capture Rome with his armies? And how did the victory parade happen? Was it just the commanders that paraded through the city, but not the soldiers?

 

Thanks to all in advance

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Puzzling to this ignorant observer as well. I wonder if we have any independant confirmation of his repeated claims of fighting against overwhelming odds.

 

He does seem to be a self-invented ambitious genius, and this came to his detriment in his innovative approaches ignoring/disrespecting traditions, which angered some. But unlike a Napoleon for example, he had a slow start... witness his bemoaning being an unknown at the same age when Alexander had slaughtered far and wide.

 

I find the recent proposal by one of Italy's top cops intriguing, that Caesar intentionally exposed himself to the daggers of Brutus (sent his guards away when he was warned of the plot), based on his ambition to be remembered heroically rather than for a humiliating fatal illness he had supposedly picked up. Probably not at all accepted by the mainstream tho.

Edited by caesar novus

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I find it amazing that Caesar decimated the Gauls despite a big numeric disadvantage, when one considers that he was not a soldier from an early age on.

 

Aside from Hercules (who was apparently battling serpents from the crib), none of Rome's most successful commanders were soldiers "from an early age on". Rather, they typically worked up from a low level command (as a military tribune) to gain successively greater experience and responsibility. Like modern officers, who start as second lieutenants not as privates, Romans gained expertise in leadership through a set of experiences that were not those of an ordinary soldier.

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Cato,

 

if it is not too much trouble, could you very briefly explain/list (in very broad terms)

 

1- the military roles held by a typical general starting from his first one ("typical" open to interpretation obviously)

 

2- the military positions held by Caesar

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I agree with Cato that most Roman aristocrats were not soldiers 'from a very early age', simply because soldiering was meant to be combined with a political career - the Republic had few 'career soldiers' amongst its leaders.

 

We do get some exceptions though, usually in exceptional times - I'd say that Scipio Africanus was one, since he started soldiering at age 17, had seen three major battles before he was 20 and held his first major command at age 25. Then there was Claudius Marcellus raised, we are told, to be a soldier so much to the detriment of his other education he was rumoured to be functionally illiterate. Pompey started young (as his Dad's ADC and was also commanding armies soon after he started shaving). But even Marcellus managed to squeeze in some minmal time in politics.

 

A final exception was Augustus' grandson, who was nominally in charge of a campaign in the east and was killed by an enemy javelin.

 

As to the military positions, the first formal office was usually military tribune, though some young men went with senior generals as 'companions' in order to get acquainted with details of warfare even before then. So by the time a Roman in the late Republic became a senator at age 30 he could well have a decade of military experience. Gaius Gracchus explicitly says he had even more.

 

Caesar ... hmmm I think his first military experience was at a siege of Miletos when he was quite young, then he took over the defence of Asia against Mithridates while in his 20s (simply because he was around, and no-one else was doing it). His first formal military command was in Spain where he earned a triumph, so he did not arrive in Gaul as a total novice.

 

As far as I know the only source we have for the overwhelming odds he repeatedly overcame in Gaul is, errr Caesar.

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As far as I know the only source we have for the overwhelming odds he repeatedly overcame in Gaul is, errr Caesar.

 

very informative post and great points in general.

but is the above really the case? I know his own "diary" was a major source of our knowledge about the campaign against the Gauls. but is Caesar's writings the only source of our knowledge of the war really?

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As far as I know the only source we have for the overwhelming odds he repeatedly overcame in Gaul is, errr Caesar.
I know his own "diary" was a major source of our knowledge about the campaign against the Gauls. but is Caesar's writings the only source of our knowledge of the war really?

 

Caesar's commentaries on his Gallic adventure were not for his own private use (as in a diary), but for political propaganda. It's useful to note in this context that Caesar refers to himself in the third person ("Caesar", "he") and not in the first person ("I"). Unless Caesar were quite mad, it's unlikely he'd use the third person for himself in his own diaries. (Though this is someone who claimed to be a descendent of Venus...)

 

We do have other sources for the war, but I don't think they're really dispositive of the numbers Caesar faced. Our other sources are archaeological -- so, we can go to Gergovia (say) and excavate for Roman war machinery, but it won't tell us how many Gallic women and children were clapped in chains and sent to Rome. For that kind of information, we rely on Caesar (who claims to have enslaved a million men, women and children).

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Our other sources are archaeological -- so, we can go to Gergovia (say) and excavate for Roman war machinery, but it won't tell us how many Gallic women and children were clapped in chains and sent to Rome. For that kind of information, we rely on Caesar (who claims to have enslaved a million men, women and children).

 

If I remember well there were some archaeological studies that highlight more continuity then destruction in Gaul and contradict Caesar's claims.

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first, to answer omoplata, it is to be remembered that early on Caesar had theoretically to do 10 years of service in the infantry or 6 in the cavalry before being able to get on the political carrier that we know of. It does not mean he had to serve continualy, only when he was conscripted. It seems he went to the army around 80 B.C. and fought as a lower officer in Asia, taking part in the siege of Mytil

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But we also know that Caesar was never really attacked on his numbers by his political adversaries, because so many letters came from the army to Rome that he could'nt really lie about it.

 

Presumably Caesar would have been called to account for any peculiarities in his account after he returned to Rome. But on his return to Rome, he found his opponents elsewhere, no?

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But we also know that Caesar was never really attacked on his numbers by his political adversaries, because so many letters came from the army to Rome that he could'nt really lie about it.

 

Presumably Caesar would have been called to account for any peculiarities in his account after he returned to Rome. But on his return to Rome, he found his opponents elsewhere, no?

It would have surfaced much earlier, for exemple when there was an attempt to recall him from his proconsulship (55 or 54 I think). Also I've found the numbers of Valleius Paterculus and Plutarch : the first speaks in his roman history II,47 of at least 400 000 dead and much more enslaved, the second tells us in his biography of Caesar (16) that he took some 800 "cities" by force and killed at least one million, with a least as many enslaved, fighting 3 millions gauls of some 300 tribes.

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But we also know that Caesar was never really attacked on his numbers by his political adversaries, because so many letters came from the army to Rome that he could'nt really lie about it.

 

This is a point I, and I think others have made before. When more than one is involved in a lie then it becomes a conspiracy, and conspiracies always end up unraveling. The more people involved the quicker it unravels. Letters would indeed have flooded from Gaul and any 'inconsistencies' would have been utilized by Caesar's political opponents. Indeed, even the Catonic circle could not stop the senate from voting an unprecedented twenty days of thanksgiving for his campaigns. But lets step back here and take a look at the composition of Caesar's officer corp. Gruen provides perhaps the most in depth study of this time period, (thank you MPC for inspiring me to read this).

 

"The proconsul of Gaul, to be sure did not lack nobiles among his lieutenants, men of consular family who sought service abroad. They included the two sons of Crassus. One of them, P. Crassus, was prefect of Caesar's cavalry in 58 and continued to exercise important responsibilities in the succeeding two years...The other son M. Crassus, was Caesar's quaestor... C.Claudius Pulcher saw advantage in a post as a Caesarian legate...Q.Tullius Cicero, the orator's brother...Ser. Sulpicius Galba...In addition, four young nobiles, near the beginning of their public careers, are found as legati or praefecti in Gaul: M.Antonius, D. Junius Brutus Albinus, M. Junius Silanus, and C. Volacius Tullus..."

 

Though quite an impressive list Gruen goes on to say "In general, the contingent of nobiles under Caesar's charge is not conspicuous or imposing. Ten men of consular families fought in Gaul during Caesar's tenure."

 

Further.

 

"In rather larger numbers came representatives of new senatorial houses, families that first make an appearance at the beginning of the first century or were introduced into the ranks only after Sulla's expansion of the curia. Among the former may be reckoned legates, quaestors, and other junior officers like C. Antistius Reginus, C. Fabius, L. Minucius Basilius, L. Munatius Plancus, P. Sulpicius Rufus, Q. Titurius Sabinus, and G. Vibius Pansa..."

 

..and so on

 

This is likely just the tip of the iceberg. Can you imagine the volume of correspondence from Gaul? Or the scale of the 'conspiracy' if the numbers were systematically falsified? Didn't the Helvetian migration include a census written in greek?

 

On a side note/off topic in the same chapter Gruen states...

 

"The geographical origins of Caesar's legates and junior officers cannot in every case be documented. Occasionally, the literary and epigraphical sources give notice of an individuals home town. More often one is left to conjecture from the nomen or cognomen. But if the evidence is not always decisive for each individual, the cumulative effect is compelling: Caesar drew on most of Italy for his officer corps."

 

A prelude to Octavian's Tota Italia policy?

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I agree that it's unlikely that there was any conspiracy to fudge Caesar's numbers. But that doesn't make Caesar's numbers accurate. Inaccuracy could come from the mere fact that no one really bothered to do a head count of the killed Gaul. The fact that the numbers were all round ones like one million almost certainly means that the numbers were estimates and not real counts. And when we're estimating numbers, inaccuracy grows with the real number estimated. Thus, a difference between 1 and 10 Gaul would be noticed, but a difference of 999,990 and 1 million Gaul wouldn't be (though the numerical difference is identical). The fact is that we just have no idea how many people were exactly involved in these Gallic adventures, and the archaeology is just too limited to discern whether Caesar's estimates were even within an order of magnitude.

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