Jump to content
UNRV Ancient Roman Empire Forums
  • Time Travel Rome

Sign in to follow this  
M. Porcius Cato

The Gallic Wars

Recommended Posts

For their clear style, Julius Caesar's commentaries on the Gallic Wars are a modern staple of Latin literature, and today even the Latinless know that "All Gaul is divided into three parts."

 

But what about the other side of the story? According to Appian, Caesar subjugated 400 tribes, 800 towns, enslaved one million people, and killed at least as many. Was this war justified? Did it even help Rome? Or were the Gallic Wars--like the Commentaries--no more than stepping stones on the path to Caesar's dictatorship?

Edited by M. Porcius Cato

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the Celtic people caused it to happen by their ceaseless wars upon their neighbors. The Romans did not take it upon themselves to invade nations that had no history of provocation, at the least peaceful nations could expect status as an 'friend and ally.'

 

The Gallic wars were nothing more than a chance for Caesar to earn medals, but during them too the Gauls continued to be too prideful and paved the way for their own conquest by squabbling amongst each other and making unwise attacks against the Romans after they had made oaths to the contrary. If the Gauls could have just learned to control their tempers and sword arms then I think Caesar would have been hard pressed for rationale.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The first thing we need to make clear is whether we think it was justified in our eyes or in the eyes of the people of the day. According to our values and ethics today, of course it isn't justified. According to today's values Ceasar should have gone to sensitivity training and most likely some form of counseling to deal with his feelings of hostility. And Ceasar probably would have been removed from his command of the army for his anti-Gaulish sentiments. He should have been more respectful and tolerant of other cultures and learned to embrace all of the cultural differences that made the Europe of his time such a rich tapistry of human experience. And to publicly prove their contrition for such an insensitive episode in Roman history, the Roman Senate could have appointed someone along the lines of Alan Alda to teach the Roman legions that real men do cry and its OK to be in touch with your feelings. lol

 

In their day, I am sure moral justification wasn't really an issue. Rome was beginning to assert itself as a power that controlled outside provinces such as Sicily, Africa and so on. Although I cannot say exactly what the prevailing values of the day were, I am fairly certain a person of our day would have to clear his or her mind of a lot of contemporary conditioning before he or she could even begin to ask the question of whether or not it was justified in the minds of the people of Ceasar's day.

Edited by DanM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Only reason I could think of is because Rome,before the Gallic Wars, was repeatedly raided by Gallic and German tribes. Remember the Sacred Geese story, thats one example. Also, remember that many Gallic tribes joined Hannibal to fight Rome. In many respects, why not conquer those barbaros once and for all before they sack Rome again.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Only reason I could think of is because Rome,before the Gallic Wars, was repeatedly raided by Gallic and German tribes. Remember the Sacred Geese story, thats one example. Also, remember that many Gallic tribes joined Hannibal to fight Rome. In many respects, why not conquer those barbaros once and for all before they sack Rome again.

 

The Celts who were bothering Rome lived in northern Italy for the most part. So why would Ceasar attack the Celts in Belgium or Brittany if the motives were either punitive or self-defense?

 

I think it was naked opportunism. Rome was stronger and there was a great economic benefit for Rome and Ceasar. All it took was an effective leader with the right levels of talent and ambition to lead the way. My point is to say that naked opportunism and conquering a weaker neighbor when it was to your advantage were not necissarily immoral or unjustified in those days. At least not in the eyes of the people of the day.

 

Any talk about things along the line of values gets dicey if you do not first acknowlegdge the differences in values of the people your are talking about as compared to our own.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll echo the sentiment of DanM. Most people in the modern era find war hard to justify no matter the circumstances, but in the ancient context, the Romans had little need for justification beyond the oft cited 'cry for help from a Roman ally'. Considering that Caesar was twice voted a period of thanks from the Senate (even with Cicero as one of the supporters) its difficult to see that the war was not accepted, at least in its earlier stages. Its not until much later that political resistance to Caesar's growing power became the major issue. I'm sure several members of the Senate were concerned over brutality and tactics, I wouldn't suggest otherwise, but few people (especially the common man) were initially resistant to the campaign.

 

Other than Caesar's Gallic war, I can't think of any Roman war that was opposed from the very start. Everyone knew what Crassus was up to prior to his Parthian campaign, and while there was definate resistance to anything done by the so called triumvirate, there is little evidence of open opposition to his campaign. In fact several optimates were probably glad for him to be away from Rome.

 

I suppose the best case that I can think of would be the story of Cato the Elder and 'Carthago Delende Est'. If the tales of his rallying cry for the final destruction of Carthage can be believed it would lead us to believe that there was considerable resistance to the idea. However, since at least part of the story is perhaps the invention of a much later historian, I doubt the Romans were too terribly opposed to finishing off their Mediterranean rival.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think the Romans were always quite so cavalier about conquest as has been suggested. Recall that Roman religious law (the ius fetiale) forbade Romans from embarking on wars of aggression solely to gain new territory.

 

This religious law may not have had anything to do with concern for the victims of the war, as there were already plenty of reasons to fear the wrath of the gods for venal conquest. More practically, wars of aggression had enormous costs for Rome--alienating potential allies, rousing suspicion among current ones, reducing available man-power for defensive wars, creating inveterate enemies among the conquered territory, draining the treasury of capital needed for more worthwhile projects, and so forth. In evaluating whether the Gallic War (or any war) is good for Rome, Romans certainly raised these issues.

 

Much of Rome's early conquest (to 264 bce) occurred due to its alliances with friends in Italy. On behalf of an ally, Romans were willing to hit hard, and they felt fully justified in doing so. In some cases, particularly later in Roman history, the Roman willingness to defend her friends became a tool for provoking war with her (e.g., Hannibal in Spain), as well--of course--as a pretext for expansionism. But if Rome had NO compunction about committing wars of aggression, there would be no reason for the pretext; but they did, and so they created them.

 

So let's not debate whether the Romans thought they were bad for slaughtering innocent Gaulish tribes (that's improbable), but instead address the matter of whether the war was good for Rome over the long term. Was this the cost-free adventure that Caesar depicted it, or did Caesar lead Rome down the path of creating her own worst enemies, a path that ended with the Goths, Vandals, and Huns?

Edited by M. Porcius Cato

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
So let's not debate whether the Romans thought they were bad for slaughtering innocent Gaulish tribes (that's improbable), but instead address the matter of whether the war was good for Rome over the long term. Was this the cost-free adventure that Caesar depicted it, or did Caesar lead Rome down the path of creating her own worst enemies, a path that ended with the Goths, Vandals, and Huns?

 

Perhaps the Gallic War was another event in the chain which brought about Rome's ultimate demise. However, I would argue against suggesting that the Gallic War stand alone as a 'good' or 'bad' event in the chain of Roman history. I don't believe we can pick out a single event and label it as such without doing the same with every other event in the chain. If the Gallic War is bad, would not the conquest of Hispania and Africa be bad? Without those events, Caesar may not have existed let alone led an army into Gaul. In that case, would not these conquests actually be the events which led to ultimate enmity with various migrating Germanics. Or was it the campaigns of Sulla, Lucullus and Pompey against Mithridates which led to inevitable and debilitating conflict with Parthia eventually allowing the Arab conquests of the 'Byzantine' Empire? Perhaps if the Romans had simply not thrown off the yolk of Etruscan rule, then harmony would've ruled in Europe for the past 2 millenia.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

And yes, I can easily recognize historical mistakes and their ramifications before something is suggested otherwise. Singular incidents can be more easily identifiable such as Crassus' campaigns in Parthia, or the defeat of Varus. Both of which one can easily identify as a 'bad' event from the Roman perspective. People can argue that without Teutoburg, perhaps Drusus, Tiberius and Germanicus conquer all of Germania and the later course of history is altered.

 

However, something as large and consuming in historical context as the Gallic conquest is far more difficult to readily identify all of its ramifications and whether or not these ramifications are truly indicative of the conquest on its own merit, or whether a multitude of other mitigating factors can be applied.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
So let's not debate whether the Romans thought they were bad for slaughtering innocent Gaulish tribes (that's improbable), but instead address the matter of whether the war was good for Rome over the long term. Was this the cost-free adventure that Caesar depicted it, or did Caesar lead Rome down the path of creating her own worst enemies, a path that ended with the Goths, Vandals, and Huns?

 

I am astounded. It was a brilliant move for Rome. Conquest usually is, and if we seem to be of the opinion these days that conquest is usually more trouble than it is worth, then this sentiment only gains such wide currency because we in the modern world have forgotten how to do it properly.

 

Frankly, the question is as puzzling as being asked whether America would have been richer, had it not slaughtered the American Indians and gained all the territories beyond the Appalachians; or whether Islam would have spread better, had Umar and the various Ummayyads played nice with their neighbors instead of marching armies from Nahavand to Poitiers; or whether....

 

But anyway, let's return to the Gallic War. How did it precipitate the Germanic invasions? The Germans were war-like peoples who were bent on expansion. The Rhine is actually a very nice barrier to invasions and much more defensible than the earlier position of the Roman border, in which Narbonensis lies beyond the defensible Alps and the Spanish holdings have no solid land route connecting them to Rome. Considering that the Germans were already invading the Gauls from across the Rhine, and that they would continue to press severely upon the Rhine border over the next four centuries even despite its defensible qualities, how long would an unconsolidated Roman empire with a long border strung out across southern Gaul from the Alps to the Pyrenees have lasted whilst Ariovistus and his successors were playing footsy with it?

 

(Btw, I like Primus Pilus' reductio ad absurdum argument that Rome would have been best to remain under the dominance of the Tarquin kings.)

Edited by Peisistratus

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
And yes, I can easily recognize historical mistakes and their ramifications before something is suggested otherwise. Singular incidents can be more easily identifiable such as Crassus' campaigns in Parthia, or the defeat of Varus. ...

 

However, something as large and consuming in historical context as the Gallic conquest is far more difficult to readily identify all of its ramifications and whether or not these ramifications are truly indicative of the conquest on its own merit, or whether a multitude of other mitigating factors can be applied.

 

But that's precisely what makes the Gallic Wars interesting. With the benefit of hindsight, we can begin to work out the ramifications of the conquest to determine whether the conquest was worth the cost.

 

Some are reflexively pro-conquest (see post above); some are reflexively anti-conquest (probably most in the West today). Perhaps there is something to be learned by examining the historical record of conquest to determine whether its modern day advocates and opponents have something to learn about the matter.

 

For my part, I don't think the Gallic Wars were worth it (though I could be persuaded otherwise). I'll weigh in shortly on this point, but I wanted to give the pro- side a chance to air their views.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When trying to work out the costs of the Galic wars; we must consider that Caesar raided Gaulish settlements for food,brought back slaves and all the plunder of war.

 

All of these things were valuable in Rome and tradeable however to adress the issue of the Germanic invasions; in my oppinon the romans did not use the borders to there full advantage for example the goths were allowed to pass through the borders. Big mistake. The romans did not seem to understand that letting 100's of 1000's of people through the boders would not have a knock on effect.

 

By the way i don't know if this is just speculation but when the WRE fell and Rome was besieged, i've read that the barbarian general left 300 of his best soldiers to be given to the romans as slaves..................you probably know what happened next; they went and opened up the city walls and the army came flooding in. I'm unsure if this is true but if so the Romans obviously hadn't learnt a lesson from Troy.

 

Never accept gifts from your enemy.

 

Thanks

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Some are reflexively pro-conquest (see post above); some are reflexively anti-conquest (probably most in the West today). Perhaps there is something to be learned by examining the historical record of conquest to determine whether its modern day advocates and opponents have something to learn about the matter.

 

For my part, I don't think the Gallic Wars were worth it (though I could be persuaded otherwise). I'll weigh in shortly on this point, but I wanted to give the pro- side a chance to air their views.

 

I'm eager to see your reasoning and evaluate it. Although, it appears that we have different understandings of the word "reflexive." There is nothing "reflexive" about supporting conquest because it consolidates a long border and shifts the boundaries upon a much more defensible terrain. That is a response with a sound reasoning. As Vespasian points out, the Rhine upheld its part of the bargain to the very end: it was the granting of lands to the foederati on the near side of the Rhine and Danube that ultimately did in the defensive value of the border upon these two rivers, not an armed amphibious assault by either the Franks or the Goths.

 

Please do me justice in your replies. Explain how a consolidated border and the resources from Gaul and Britannia would not be useful to an Empire. Also propose how Rome might have made nice with the Germans, who had already destroyed several legions on a rampage through Narbonensis and Spain that was narrowly checked at Sextiae Aquae just as the Germans had turned their eye on Italia as their next plum.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I also agree with DanM,

 

You really cannot compair Spain or North Africa with Gaul. Scipio left Spain when he accomplished his goal of removing the Carthaginians and the whole penninsula wasn't 'pacified' until Augustus.

 

After the destruction of Carthage, Rome made no move to gobble up Mauritania until 200 years later when someone needed to put another feather in their cap. Let's not fool ourselves, as Rome moved into the 1st Century BC, war became less and less about rightousness and more about opportunism; both economic and political.

 

If the campains in Gaul had used the same rational that drove Rome during most of the Republican period Gaul might not have been fully 'pacified' until 200 AD. Caesar used excuse after excuse to keep marching and conquering. The goal for himself was political & economic and the benefit of the State was an economic windfall that wasn't entirely needed.

 

The question wasn't was it good for Rome in the end; it was: "was it justified?"

 

In the way it was waged, I say no.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You really cannot compair Spain or North Africa with Gaul. Scipio left Spain when he accomplished his goal of removing the Carthaginians and the whole penninsula wasn't 'pacified' until Augustus.

 

Just for the record, I wasn't comparing the legitimacy or warfare, only making a point that blaming one event alone on the ultimate fall of the empire (when it happened 500 years before the collapse of the west) is failing to take into account all the events that led up to it, and all those that may have occured as a result or in spite of its occurence. If that makes sense :rolleyes:

 

[edit]At any rate, though it may seem to some I am a supporter of Caesar, I am for the most part neutral on the matter. I just respond in such a manner when I feel that issues in the ancient world are being labelled in a context of modern morality. If that's not the case I apologize, its sometimes just a vibe that I pick up. B)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Map of the Roman Empire

×