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

Sign in to follow this  
M. Porcius Cato

Gallic War death toll

Recommended Posts

Caesar boasted of killing a million, and enslaving a million. Like most recorded boasts of antiquity, Caesar's is most probably an exaggeration

Probably an underestimate--in most wars, the greatest killer is not the sword or the gun but the disease and the famine. It's very likely that Caesar's campaign--which spread all the bacteria and viruses of urban Rome among rural farmers with no immunities to them and which disrupted the food and water supplies of iron-age farmers barely clinging to survival--killed far more by disease and famine than killed by battle or enslaved.

 

As for Caesar in Parthia, I personally believe that if Caesar had lived beyond 44 BC, his Parthian campaign would have ended in failure.

 

Maybe you're right. Why don't you start a separate thread on this?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Probably an underestimate--in most wars, the greatest killer is not the sword or the gun but the disease and the famine. It's very likely that Caesar's campaign--which spread all the bacteria and viruses of urban Rome among rural farmers with no immunities to them and which disrupted the food and water supplies of iron-age farmers barely clinging to survival--killed far more by disease and famine than killed by battle or enslaved.

 

What's this, conjecture from Cato?! Common sense perhaps?

 

What are your sources on this one MCP?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Probably an underestimate--in most wars, the greatest killer is not the sword or the gun but the disease and the famine. It's very likely that Caesar's campaign--which spread all the bacteria and viruses of urban Rome among rural farmers with no immunities to them and which disrupted the food and water supplies of iron-age farmers barely clinging to survival--killed far more by disease and famine than killed by battle or enslaved.

What are your sources on this one MCP?

 

Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Les Roberts' work on the effects of war in the Congo (see CNN for some popular coverage) is my source for the general claim that war kills far more by spreading disease/famine than by spreading bullets. From these better-established facts, we can evaluate less certain, prior historical claims regarding mortality figures. For example, in the European conquest of the New World, we have reports of enormously high fatality numbers corresponding with relatively small number conflicts. An easy way to reconcile these two sets of figures is to suppose that a large number of casaulties were caused by disease and famine, and we do have independent evidence for epidemics spread by Europeans in the New World (see Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel). Given the universal--war kills more than just those on the battlefield--we can deduce that more were killed by Caesar's troops than would have been found on the battlefield. How much more? Again, we can proceed from the known to the unknown. In the Roberts work, it was often an order of magnitude or more. Therefore, even if Caesar were overestimating the number he killed by a "mere" 50%, we can guess with a fair amount of certainty that Caesar's overestimate is still an underestimate.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
...

Probably an underestimate--in most wars, the greatest killer is not the sword or the gun but the disease and the famine. It's very likely that Caesar's campaign--which spread all the bacteria and viruses of urban Rome among rural farmers with no immunities to them and which disrupted the food and water supplies of iron-age farmers barely clinging to survival--killed far more by disease and famine than killed by battle or enslaved.

 

Doesn't that presuppose that the local populace hasn't been exposed to the bacteria and viruses? With what seems to have been at least a modereate intermingling, at least on the fringes of the Republic in southern Gaul it doesn't seem plausible that there would be a lack of immunity anywhere on the level of the New World. Not that outbreaks don't or wouldn't occur on a smaller local scale.

 

Of course plagues making their way from the East excepted, though I don't recall there being evidence of that at this particular time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

...

Probably an underestimate--in most wars, the greatest killer is not the sword or the gun but the disease and the famine. It's very likely that Caesar's campaign--which spread all the bacteria and viruses of urban Rome among rural farmers with no immunities to them and which disrupted the food and water supplies of iron-age farmers barely clinging to survival--killed far more by disease and famine than killed by battle or enslaved.

 

Doesn't that presuppose that the local populace hasn't been exposed to the bacteria and viruses? With what seems to have been at least a modereate intermingling, at least on the fringes of the Republic in southern Gaul it doesn't seem plausible that there would be a lack of immunity anywhere on the level of the New World. Not that outbreaks don't or wouldn't occur on a smaller local scale.

 

Of course plagues making their way from the East excepted, though I don't recall there being evidence of that at this particular time.

 

Yes. My understanding after seeing guns, germs and steel was that the populations in the new world were carried off by infections unknown on that continent. I don't doubt though that famine played a large part in the death rate in Gaul, particulary considering the scorched earth policy employed on both sides.

 

In terms of disease though, Romans had been trading in Gaul for years, and Roman wine had found it's way all over Gaul prior to invasion. Gallic tribes had had plenty of contact with other Mediterranean peoples also over the previous 200 years.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Probably an underestimate--in most wars, the greatest killer is not the sword or the gun but the disease and the famine. It's very likely that Caesar's campaign--which spread all the bacteria and viruses of urban Rome among rural farmers with no immunities to them and which disrupted the food and water supplies of iron-age farmers barely clinging to survival--killed far more by disease and famine than killed by battle or enslaved.

What are your sources on this one MCP?

 

Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Les Roberts' work on the effects of war in the Congo (see CNN for some popular coverage) is my source for the general claim that war kills far more by spreading disease/famine than by spreading bullets. From these better-established facts, we can evaluate less certain, prior historical claims regarding mortality figures. For example, in the European conquest of the New World, we have reports of enormously high fatality numbers corresponding with relatively small number conflicts. An easy way to reconcile these two sets of figures is to suppose that a large number of casaulties were caused by disease and famine, and we do have independent evidence for epidemics spread by Europeans in the New World (see Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel). Given the universal--war kills more than just those on the battlefield--we can deduce that more were killed by Caesar's troops than would have been found on the battlefield. How much more? Again, we can proceed from the known to the unknown. In the Roberts work, it was often an order of magnitude or more. Therefore, even if Caesar were overestimating the number he killed by a "mere" 50%, we can guess with a fair amount of certainty that Caesar's overestimate is still an underestimate.

 

 

I am not familiar with the results seen in that Congo example, but the state of immunity in the ancient world as opposed to the modern, even in the Congo, is a very different thing I think making a comparison difficult. Even people in the Congo have access to vaccinations, and also the current state of the world's infectious biomass is a different thing. As far as the New World example is concerned, as Virgil pointed out, intercontinental contact is a much different thing than a few hundred miles away.

 

In order to prove your point MCP you would have to give ancient examples of such a phenomenon (and given your track record for pointing out what you believe to be proper and expert historical analysis, I find your provided proof here a little surprising).

 

It would seem to be fair to look for epidemics in Hispania when the Romans fought in the area, or in Greece and Macedonia when Flaminimus fought Philip. Or in the East when Pompey or Caesar were marching around. I do not recall anything extraordinary in any of these cases to my knowledge. That's not to say that people did not get sick or had a tough time, but its not to say either that the lands were depopulated.

 

Gaul and the Italians had much contact in trade, so if sickness was to be spread you would have imagined it would have happened already by that route. Even when Caesar's legions were marching through Gaul, they tended to stick to their own camps rather than excessively intermingle. Surely if all the Gauls were busy getting sick, he would not have to fight any wars to begin with.

Edited by Favonius Cornelius

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In 1919 the Americans used to say:

"We fought in Europeduring the world war and all we brought back was the flu!"

That influenza epidemic (Spanish Flu?) killed more people than the actual war had done.

 

I agree with Cato that most wars create situations that kill more people than the actual fighting.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I am not familiar with the results seen in that Congo example, but the state of immunity in the ancient world as opposed to the modern, even in the Congo, is a very different thing I think making a comparison difficult.

 

You think they didn't have antibodies in the ancient world? Of course they did. Throw nearly a million people into one city with a shared water source and you're going to get a population of humans with antibodies that differ very much from those of small rural groups. That's just biology. Moreover, when those urban groups mingle even a little with the other groups, they'll be vectors for all sorts of diseases (in fact, diseases from all over the Mediterranean).

 

It would seem to be fair to look for epidemics in Hispania when the Romans fought in the area

Except that the Spanish had already had much contact with Carthaginians who were as cosmopolitan and urban as were the Romans. Further, you seem to imply that an absence of evidence is an actual evidence of absence. You do realize that that is an elementary logical fallacy, don't you?

 

or in Greece and Macedonia when Flaminimus fought Philip. Or in the East when Pompey or Caesar were marching around. I do not recall anything extraordinary in any of these cases to my knowledge. That's not to say that people did not get sick or had a tough time, but its not to say either that the lands were depopulated.

Again, all of these were urban areas where the high contact with other people (i.e., disease vectors) would have meant a much stronger immune system than in Britain, Northern Gaul, Germania, etc.

 

Gaul and the Italians had much contact in trade, so if sickness was to be spread you would have imagined it would have happened already by that route.

In southern Gaul, yes--absolutely. Among the Belgae? Not very likely.

 

Surely if all the Gauls were busy getting sick, he would not have to fight any wars to begin with.
That's true--which is why it would be absurd to maintain that all the Gauls were busy getting sick. Perhaps you can find where I claimed that all the Gauls were getting sick? Rather, I claimed that there are generally more incidental casualties than direct ones (and that's simply a rule of thumb), but even if 'only' 49% of Gallic dead were killed by germs, starvation, and the banditry unleashed by the breakdown of Gallic self-rule, it would still remain true that Caesar could have drastically UNDERestimated the number of deaths that he caused.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Doesn't that presuppose that the local populace hasn't been exposed to the bacteria and viruses? With what seems to have been at least a modereate intermingling, at least on the fringes of the Republic in southern Gaul it doesn't seem plausible that there would be a lack of immunity anywhere on the level of the New World. Not that outbreaks don't or wouldn't occur on a smaller local scale.

 

Oh, sure--there wouldn't be a lack of immunity at the same level as in the New World but the risks for disease transmission would be far greater than those presented by Columbus' small crew in the New World or by the Italian traders in Narbonensis. Epidemiology is all about probabilities. What is the probabiliy that 1000 traders from Italy will carry a novel strain of bacteria to Narbonensis? What is the probability that 100,000 soldiers will carry a novel strain to the Belgae? And, given that just one novel strain HAS been introduced, over how far of an area will that strain continue to have a high novelty? Statistically, it seems pretty unlikely that the Gauls didn't pick up a few Roman bugs.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's something we cannot be sure of, but your logic is compelling Cato. The probability point especially.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Conversely, wouldn't the Romans have picked up some Gallic bugs and have been decimated there from?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Conversely, wouldn't the Romans have picked up some Gallic bugs and have been decimated there from?

 

The risks wouldn't be symmetrical because the populations to which they had been exposed previously differed greatly. That is, if you were a Roman growing up in a city of close to 1,000,000, you would have a higher probability of encountering a novel bug than if you were a Gaul growing up in a village of only 100. If that bug didn't kill you as a Roman boy, it is because your antibodies beat them off, and with your life you would have been left with some immunity to the bug in the future. Thus, going to Gaul, you as a Roman would have been less susceptible to encountering a novel bug than your Gallic counterparts encountering 10,000 Romans like you. Hence, the risks were asymmetrical.

 

(BTW, glad this digression got its own thread.)

Edited by M. Porcius Cato

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Doesn't that presuppose that the local populace hasn't been exposed to the bacteria and viruses? With what seems to have been at least a modereate intermingling, at least on the fringes of the Republic in southern Gaul it doesn't seem plausible that there would be a lack of immunity anywhere on the level of the New World. Not that outbreaks don't or wouldn't occur on a smaller local scale.

 

Oh, sure--there wouldn't be a lack of immunity at the same level as in the New World but the risks for disease transmission would be far greater than those presented by Columbus' small crew in the New World or by the Italian traders in Narbonensis. Epidemiology is all about probabilities...

 

Interesting. I count epidemiologists among my closest friends and dated a couple as well. Never ask 'em about work though. Never.

 

Any clues in the sources that indicate it may have occured? Who knows, you may have a novel thesis in the field.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Any clues in the sources that indicate it may have occured? Who knows, you may have a novel thesis in the field.

 

Still looking for testimonia. I wrote to Rosenstein about my theory--we'll see what he says.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You think they didn't have antibodies in the ancient world? Of course they did. Throw nearly a million people into one city with a shared water source and you're going to get a population of humans with antibodies that differ very much from those of small rural groups. That's just biology. Moreover, when those urban groups mingle even a little with the other groups, they'll be vectors for all sorts of diseases (in fact, diseases from all over the Mediterranean).

 

The point I am getting at is people in the ancient world had far better immunity than today, because those who would have died for lack of modern medicine and methods would be gone, and the strong left. Our modern medicine in its various forms leads people to be weaker over all, and it gets worse for the western nations. That's why people have more allergies and asthma in the western world as opposed to third world nations, because we are too isolated from the impurities of the world and don't let our bodies become strong from the struggle against infections. The company I work for specifically develops pharmaceuticals for inflammatory symptoms, so I

Edited by Favonius Cornelius

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

×