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M. Porcius Cato

The Gallic Wars

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This sort of militant postmodern cynicism and deconstruction regarding the ethics of the Roman Empire and its primary players is not welcomed with open arms on this forum. Certainly debate is encouraged, but we've seen people before itching to lecture us Romanophiles on the litany of alleged evils of our cultural forebears. They tend not to last long. No one, after all, came to this site to listen to sermons.

 

I strongly echo the suggestion, Cato, that you direct your deconstruction of Roman morality to the Ethics forum, where that sort of thing is allowed a certain indulgence. Otherwise, the administration and the majority of members really do not care to long entertain that particular venue of debate.

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If another person starts applying terms like genocide (a word devised in 1944 before the Nuremberg trials) to describe Roman conquests, I'm going to have to start talking about man's discovery of fire and flint knapping in terms of his theorems and hypotheses.

 

LMAO.

Edited by DanM

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This sort of militant postmodern cynicism and deconstruction regarding the ethics of the Roman Empire and its primary players is not welcomed with open arms on this forum. Certainly debate is encouraged, but we've seen people before itching to lecture us Romanophiles on the litany of alleged evils of our cultural forebears. They tend not to last long. No one, after all, came to this site to listen to sermons.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! I'm not arguing that the Gallic Wars were genocidal--I did use that term for rhetorical effect, and I was happy to admit that it's unfair, anachronistic, and the like. Just to be clear, I'm completely and totally opposed to all things postmodern, including cynicism and moral relativism. I'm NOT itching to lecture anyone on the the alleged evils of the Romans--I love the Romans! As much as I'm not a fan of Caesar, I'd rather be his stooge than Vercingetorix's!

 

I strongly echo the suggestion, Cato, that you direct your deconstruction of Roman morality to the Ethics forum, where that sort of thing is allowed a certain indulgence. Otherwise, the administration and the majority of members really do not care to long entertain that particular venue of debate.

 

I'm not interested in discussing here whether the Romans viewed the Gallic Wars as moral so it would be dumb to move the discussion elsewhere. I'm interested in whether Caesar's actions in Gaul were LEGAL ACCORDING TO ROMAN LAW and whether the wars were GOOD FOR ROME--i.e., did Rome get more out of Caesar's escapades than she put it in to them?

 

The first question is critical because Caesar faced prosecution for his conduct in Gaul, and if Caesar's actions in Gaul were illegal but justified by overarching foreign policy goals, it places his refusal to put down his arms and face the courts in a totally new light (which is how this whole thread got started). This issue is clearly related to the second qustion about Roman foreign policy: What were the long-term effects of wars like the ones in Gaul? Did they yield what they were supposed to yield, or was Rome generating more problems than she was solving? Did Rome need to expand her borders to the Rhine, or were Alps a pretty good place to stop, or someplace in between? And so on.

 

There is absolutely no reason to cry Foucault, so if you think the Gallic Wars were legal and smart foreign policy, make your case. I'm sure people are as uninterested in a sermon about postmodernism as they are a sermon about the alleged evils of Rome.

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There is indeed usually a point when great empires expand beyond the point of practical ability for control, however the logic of the quoted statement is flawed. Without conquest there would've been no great nations to fall.

 

Nations can achieve greatness without military conquest.

 

Indeed they can, but how many have and - relevant to our area of interest - how many enlightened Roman leaders could have maintained an enlightened policy of trade-over-war ? While the theory of annual elections and term limits has a certain attraction the constant turnover makes consistent policy difficult. We'd need a much more mature and intelligent society than our own, let alone the Roman, to make it stick.

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Nations can achieve greatness without military conquest.

Indeed they can, but how many have and - relevant to our area of interest - how many enlightened Roman leaders could have maintained an enlightened policy of trade-over-war ? While the theory of annual elections and term limits has a certain attraction the constant turnover makes consistent policy difficult. We'd need a much more mature and intelligent society than our own, let alone the Roman, to make it stick.

 

What an excellent question--it drives straight to the heart of the matter!

 

First, an enlightened policy of trade-over-war is almost exactly what the Pax Romana was, the period during which Rome reached her greatest heights. Generally, I would say that the best emperors were the ones who practiced the policy of keeping peace in the provinces through just administration, non-aggression, AND swift-almost-ruthless retaliation against anyone who attacked Rome or her allies. Moreover, this policy was advocated by many senators during the republic.

 

One advocate, a correspondent of Cicero, eloquently stated the policy I'm endorsing here: "it is a much more splendid thing than a triumph to have the senate decide that a province was held and preserved rather by the mercy and incorruptibility of the commander than by the strength of a military force or the favor of the gods." The correspondent was M. Porcius Cato, who I believe would have been the kind of enlightened leader you're seeking. :romansoldier:

 

Second, you're also absolutely correct that matters of foreign policy cannot be solely dictated by the vicissitudes of annual elections, which is why it is crucial for an established and conservative body such as the senate to vote on all proconsular appointments. In this way, the rudder of the provinces is guided (indirectly) by a steady hand. As a further check, governors must stand down regularly to account for their actions in the provinces so that governors who abuse their power lose it while those who serve with mercy and incorruptibility are given the congratulations they are due. In the letter I quoted, Cato was (somewhat obliquely) praising Cicero for his wise administration of Cilicia. In this thread, I'm advocating the contrapositive, viz. that Caesar should have tried for his crimes against Rome's Gallic allies.

Edited by M. Porcius Cato

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While important, this also makes the assumption that Rome's northern neighbors were indeed peaceful. While Caesar was clearly an aggressor, and nobody in their right mind should ever doubt that fact, the Gauls and Germanics had a long history of enmity with Rome. Yes, some tribes were allies and some were not, a condition absolutely manipulated by Caesar to his benefit but to call all the tribes peaceful is not a fair reflection of the entire state of affairs. I will not argue that Caesar did not 'stir up trouble', thats undeniable, I only contend that all was not quite so rosy between Gaul and Rome.

 

Maybe we can revive this discussion under the Gallic Wars thread. I'd be interested in whether you thought Caesar's actions in Gaul were legal or illegal.

 

Continuing this here as suggested...

 

The legality of the war is difficult to determine simply because it was conducted in several stages. Was Caesar's intervention against the Helvetii (the obvious first step) legal? According to Roman tradition of coming to the aid of allies in need it most certainly was. Following up this action was the defense of various tribes against Suebi incursions... still legal by any standard of the time. Where we enter that grey area is Caesar's continuing campaign after this fact and the opposition to his growing power. Had he removed his forces to the south after defeating the Suebi (as he himself moved to Cisalpine Gaul for the winter following the victory) there would be little question. However, this move (leaving his legions in Gallic territory) was a clear provocation against regional Gallic sensibilities. Was it still legal? Claims could still be made for the necessity of Roman intervention, but its also quite clear of Caesar's intentions as of this point... the complete conquest of Gaul... still though there was a lack of definition on these points in the actual law.

 

Clearly as Caesar advances beyond the protection of Gallic allies he was entering a realm of legal question. We can easily identify optimate opposition and later demands for prosecution. However, so long as he received enough support in the Senate and the assemblies (receiving unprecedented proconsular terms as governor), and the laws were interpreted in his favor did he ever truly cross the point of illegality (the vetos of the tribunes to prevent his early recall, etc.)? By the time his support had waned enough (following the deaths of Crassus and Caesar's daughter Julia) for the prosecution calls to have 'legal merit' by virtue of majority support within the Senate (though I believe Caesar maintained enough support until he crossed the Rubicon making 'majority' an indecisive question), the Gallic Wars were in effect over. Indeed Cato seemed more focused on Caesar's campaigns across the Rhine and previous campaigns in Hispania than in the actual war within Gallic territory. Semantics? Absolutely, but still legality is undefined.

 

Does the fact that the war was over before legal grounds for prosecution were established matter, or the fact that we will never know if Caesar would've been able to somehow avoid ultimate prosecution had he actually returned to Rome as requested? Obviously this is another semantical argument, but if law (or in this case the interpretation or support of a law) changes after the fact, anything prior to it is generally irrelevant (except in such cases where the law clearly identifies retroactive intentions). I do not recall any law ever being passed naming the Gallic War as an illegal event posthumously, and since he was already dead and mob anger at a dangerous point, attacking Caesar's legacy after the fact (in law) was largely avoided. Indeed even laws passed that were aimed directly at Caesar while he still lived were clearly done to set him up for prosecution after his imperium expired - an anti-bribery election law made retrospective to 70 BC, a law enforcing a five-year gap between magistracies in Rome and following provincial appointments, a law prohibiting candidature in absentia, etc. - and had little to do with the war itself but were reflective of other legal measures. Interestingly, Pompey who was supported by the 'optimates' by this point, did not bother to obey his own laws (having his own command in Hispania extended for 5 years).

 

Obviously the events leading up to and including the crossing of the Rubicon makes the idea of Caesar's prosecution null and void and regardless of the legality of the Gallic War his march on Rome was without question illegal... regardless of his situation, intentions, or motivations. For this he definately deserved to face prosecution, but obviously by that point the issue was moot. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on one's position, Caesar robbed us of the chance to answer this question when he did march on Rome while changing the face of the western world in the process.

 

I do wonder how events may have transpired had Caesar actually faced the court system. Sometimes we base the breaking of law simply on the arguments themselves without allowing the court to determine if any such laws had in fact been broken. Perhaps he would've bribed his way out of it, perhaps not. Perhaps public sentiment would've turned the courts in his favor. Perhaps showing the ultimate Roman dignitas by returning unfearful of his enemies would've swung enough moderates in his favor to deflect any charges. Perhaps he couldn't return because he knew that he really had indeed broken the law. Perhaps he feared corruption and pre-arranged court outcomes regardless of trial and so on and so on.

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The legality of the war is difficult to determine simply because it was conducted in several stages. Was Caesar's intervention against the Helvetii (the obvious first step) legal? According to Roman tradition of coming to the aid of allies in need it most certainly was. Following up this action was the defense of various tribes against Suebi incursions... still legal by any standard of the time.

No controversy here. As a city-state surrended by friends, Rome's very survival demanded her loyalty to her allies. But if Caesar were obligated to defend Rome's allies, he was also obligated to defend the Aedui against the incursions of Ariovistus, but instead he initially lobbied to have Rome recognize Ariovistus as a Friend of the Roman People. Only when Ariovistus insulted Caesar, did Caesar attack him and subsequently occupy Aedui lands. I'm not even arguing that these were illegal--just not good foreign policy.

 

Where we enter that grey area is Caesar's continuing campaign after this fact and the opposition to his growing power. Had he removed his forces to the south after defeating the Suebi (as he himself moved to Cisalpine Gaul for the winter following the victory) there would be little question. However, this move (leaving his legions in Gallic territory) was a clear provocation against regional Gallic sensibilities. Was it still legal? Claims could still be made for the necessity of Roman intervention, but its also quite clear of Caesar's intentions as of this point... the complete conquest of Gaul... still though there was a lack of definition on these points in the actual law.

 

After occupying Aeduian lands, I don't think his legal authority allowed him to take control. This was really the casus belli: if Rome can't stop an ambitious plutocrat from conquering her friends, what chance do her unallied neighbors have? Again, the law was designed to prevent this kind of foreign policy disaster.

 

 

Clearly as Caesar advances beyond the protection of Gallic allies he was entering a realm of legal question. We can easily identify optimate opposition and later demands for prosecution. However, so long as he received enough support in the Senate and the assemblies (receiving unprecedented proconsular terms as governor), and the laws were interpreted in his favor did he ever truly cross the point of illegality (the vetos of the tribunes to prevent his early recall, etc.)?

 

The job of the senate was not to try Caesar in absentia, and the absence of criminal evidence is not evidence of criminal absence. Just because Caesar wasn't yet charged doesn't mean he didn't commit a crime. Also, there were events in Rome for which some Senators were thankful--for example, Cicero was ebullient that Caesar had worked to get him his house back, so he proposed a thanksgiving for Caesar. That kind of quid pro quo is hardly evidence that Caesar was acting legally.

 

By the time his support had waned enough (following the deaths of Crassus and Caesar's daughter Julia) for the prosecution calls to have 'legal merit' by virtue of majority support within the Senate (though I believe Caesar maintained enough support until he crossed the Rubicon making 'majority' an indecisive question), the Gallic Wars were in effect over. Indeed Cato seemed more focused on Caesar's campaigns across the Rhine and previous campaigns in Hispania than in the actual war within Gallic territory. Semantics? Absolutely, but still legality is undefined.

 

Well, the semantic issue concerns the title of this thread more than the legal issue at stake. Caesar's conduct in Hispania was also illegal (again betraying an ally of Rome, as I recall), and the only reason Caesar hadn't been tried on that charge is that he held a series of offices since that time that gave him immunity from prosecution. After Hispania, Caesar was perpetually running from the law and his debtors. Gaul offered him a shelter from both, but even in Gaul (or, to be a stickler, just across from Gaul but technically inside Germania) Caesar went beyond his command. I'm not even sure his conquest of Britain (such as it was) was legal.

 

Does the fact that the war was over before legal grounds for prosecution were established matter, or the fact that we will never know if Caesar would've been able to somehow avoid ultimate prosecution had he actually returned to Rome as requested? Obviously this is another semantical argument, but if law (or in this case the interpretation or support of a law) changes after the fact, anything prior to it is generally irrelevant (except in such cases where the law clearly identifies retroactive intentions).

 

Ex post facto laws were apparently enforced in Rome (that's how Clodius took Cicero's house). But I don't even think we're dealing with an ex post facto law here. The law gave Caesar a proconsulship, and the proconsuls were only permitted to conduct within a defined sphere (again, the case against Verres is the relevant case law). A proconsul was not a dictator of a foreign land who might also enjoy the use of Roman troops at his leisure. That's not just illegal, it's rotten foreign policy. (MacArthur comes to mind here.)

 

Indeed even laws passed that were aimed directly at Caesar while he still lived were clearly done to set him up for prosecution after his imperium expired - an anti-bribery election law made retrospective to 70 BC, a law enforcing a five-year gap between magistracies in Rome and following provincial appointments, a law prohibiting candidature in absentia, etc. - and had little to do with the war itself but were reflective of other legal measures.

 

Perhaps these ex post facto laws are offensive to our modern sense of justice, but there are two important points to be made. First, the senate did not pass these laws on their own (they didn't have that power in the first place, and there was a strong Caesarian faction in the senate). Second, the expiration of Caesar's command in Gaul was not extraordinary, and by failing to step down, he clearly was guilty of breaking the law establishing terms of governorial tenure.

 

I do wonder how events may have transpired had Caesar actually faced the court system. Sometimes we base the breaking of law simply on the arguments themselves without allowing the court to determine if any such laws had in fact been broken. Perhaps he would've bribed his way out of it, perhaps not. Perhaps public sentiment would've turned the courts in his favor. Perhaps showing the ultimate Roman dignitas by returning unfearful of his enemies would've swung enough moderates in his favor to deflect any charges. Perhaps he couldn't return because he knew that he really had indeed broken the law. Perhaps he feared corruption and pre-arranged court outcomes regardless of trial and so on and so on.

 

It would make for an interesting novel, but I agree we can't predict the outcome of the case. We can, however, clearly see that at least *from* Gaul, Caesar broke the laws defining his office--once, when crossing the Rhine, and again, when crossing the Rubicon.

 

Nations can achieve greatness without military conquest.

Really! Name one.

The Dutch Republic.
Didn't they colonize areas in Africa and Indonesia?

That was after they were already great.

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Nations can achieve greatness without military conquest.

 

 

Really! Name one.

 

 

 

Australia :D

In our first war, we got our backsides absolutely kicked-but we proved to the world that we were as brave, as skilled and provided as good soldiers as any other nation.

 

Sorry sorry, way off topic and way too late, please excuse me :)

Edited by Tobias

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Offtopic:Oh that's right, the Ottomans beat you guys up at Gallipoli. Weren't you guys always paired up with the Canadians though? :D Just kidding. Well at least today, you guys are in the War on Terror with us (and thankfully in Iraq).

 

Ontopic: I don't there's been any nation that has becomed great without resorting to forceful options. On the road to greatness, there is always opposition. So how do you reach it, you eventually have to "combat" it. Even in concept, the use of force is inevitable.

Edited by FLavius Valerius Constantinus

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Stay focused folks, we're waiting for Cato to tell us which country has achieved greatness without millitary action of somekind.

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Oh that's right, the Ottomans beat you guys up at Gallipoli. Weren't you guys always paired up with the Canadians though? Just kidding. Well at least today, you guys are in the War on Terror with us (and thankfully in Iraq).

 

It's hard P Clodius to stay to the thread, with posts like the one above, but for you I will resist temptation and wait.

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