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Roman Conquest of Gaul

B.C. 58-52

Rome — versus — Gauls of Transalpine Gaul (Modern France)


Introduction : 



 Vercingetorix before Caesar

Caesars's Campaign in Gaul lasted from 58 to 52 B.C., and resulted in the complete subjugation of the Gallic tribes in the entire region of modern France. By comparison, the Roman Conquest of Hispania, which was populated with similar indigenous tribes, took over one hundred years to accomplish. There were several important differences however. First, By 58 B.C. the Gallic tribes in Hispania and others who lived near Roman territories were engaged in considerable trade with Rome, and had seen some of the benefits of their more advanced civilization. The idea of submitting to Roman rule, while not desirable, was not considered by many Gauls to be a bane to be avoided at all cost. During his wars, Caesar had Gallic allies, many Gauls served in his legions, and most of his campaigns in the region began when one tribe invited him to help them conquer an enemy.

Secondly, the Germanic tribes on the other side of the Rhine, who were considerably less civilized than the Gauls, were beginning to push into Gallic territory, and were considered by the eastern Gauls to be a greater threat than Rome. Much of Caesar's early fighting was in those regions of Gaul most threatened by the Germans, and his victories there did much to convince many of the Gallic tribes to submit to him without battle. By 54 B.C. almost all of Gaul had submitted to Caesar, either by force or by treaty, and it was only the rebellion that broke out the following year, led by Vercingetorix, that caused the wars to drag on for another two years.

Most of Caesar's greatest battles in Gaul were fought in the first two years of the war, where he engaged on behalf of tribes threatened by German expansion, and during the last two years of the war, when he put down the rebellion of Vercingetorix. During the interim years, 55-54, he had enough time on his hands to raise a navy and lead an expedition to Britain. During these years he also wrote much of his great treatise on the Gallic Wars, Commentarii de Bello Gallico, a work famous not only for its history of the war itself, but also for its insights into Gallic and Roman civilization and character.


Campaigns in Eastern Gaul : 58-57 B.C.


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 German Women Captured by Caesar's Forces

The Gallic Wars began when Caesar was called by friendly Gallic tribes in the region of the Rhone river to prevent a planned migration of the Helvetti. The Helvetti were a Gallic tribe settled in modern Switzerland that was planning a mass migration to the West. There were several reasons for this, but one important one was that their territory bordered on the German regions, and they sought land farther away from the aggressive tribes of barbarians. Their Gallic neighbors, and Rome, preferred to have them remain were they were as a buffer against German expansion, so after negotiations failed, and the Helvetti were already en route, the Romans attacked and forced the survivors back to their abandoned territory. Caesar quickly followed up this victory by siding with a Gallic tribe against a German King, Ariovistus, who was already settled west of the Rhine. At the battle of Vosges (a.k.a. Muhlhausen), the Romans drive the Germans back, much to the delight of the surrounding Gallic tribes. Having worked his way up the Rhine Valley, the next few battles were against the Belgae and Nervii, or tribes of the Northern Rhine. Caesar speaks very favorable of the extreme bravery and resilience of these tribes in opposing him, although in the end they were all routed with great loss. The resulting victories not only gave Caesar control of all of Belgae, but they induced a great number of other Gallic tribes to submit to him without further combat. Although defeated, the Belgae were not yet pacified, as became clear a few years later.



Battle / Outcome
Description
Battle of Admagetobriga
Sequani defeat Haedui
Fought B.C. 61 between the Sequani under Ariovistus, and the Haedui under Eporedorix. The Haedui were defeated, with the loss of the flower of their chivalry, and were compelled to give hostages and pay tribute to Ariovistus.
Battle of Arar
Romans defeat Gauls
Fought B.C. 58 between the Romans under Caesar and the Helvetti, who were crossing the Arar river, against the orders of Rome. The rear-guard was left alone on the near side of the river and attacked by the Romans, with great loss.
Battle of Bibracte
Romans defeat Gauls
Fought B.C. 58, between the Romans under Caesar and a largely superior force of Helvetii. The battle was a momentous one, for a defeat to Caesar meant destruction. He therefore sent away all his officers' horses, giving them to understand that they must stand their ground to the last. In the event, the Helvetii were totally routed, and compelled to submit to the domination of Rome.
Battle of Vosges
Romans defeat Germans
Fought B.C. 58, between the Romans, 36,000 strong, under Julius Caesar, and the Sequani, under Ariovistus. The Romans occupied two camps, one of which was held successfully by two legions against a determined attack of the Gauls. The attack having been repulsed, Caesar united his forces, and led them against the Sequani, whom he totally routed with enormous loss.
Battle of Sabis River
Romans defeat Gauls
Fought B.C. 57 between the Romans, 50,000 strong, under Caesar, and a large force of Gauls, drawn from the Nervii, Viromandui, Atrebates and other tribes. The Gauls attacked as the Romans were pitching their camp on the banks of the Sambre, but, although surprised, the legionaries stood their ground, and utterly routed their assailants. The Nervii, in particular, were practically annihilated.
Battle of Axona
Romans defeat Gauls
Fought 57 B.C., between 50,000 Romans, under Caesar, and the Suevi, 300,000 strong, under Galba. The Suevi attacked the Roman entrenched camp, but were repulsed with very heavy loss and their army dispersed.



Commander
Short Biography
Julius Caesar Conquered Gaul, prevailed in civil war. Mastermind of Roman empire. Killed by senators.
Ariovistus King of the Germans in Gaul. Defeated by Caesar at the Battle of Vosges.
Galba of Suessiones King of the Belgae. Led the Belgae against Caesar at the battle of Axona (Pontevert)

Story LinksBook Links
Conquest of Gaul  in  Julius Caesar  by  Jacob Abbott
Caesar  in  Roman Life in the Days of Cicero  by  A. J. Church
Caesar  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie  Kaufman
Caesar Praises His Tenth Legion  in  Story of Rome  by  Mary  Macgregor
Caesar Wins a Great Victory over the Nervii  in  Story of Rome  by  Mary  Macgregor
Ariovistus, the First Great German  in  History of Germany  by  H. E.  Marshall
Julius Caesar  in  On the Shores of the Great Sea  by  M. B.  Synge




Campaigns in Northern Gaul and Britain : 56-54


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 Caesar Landing in Britain.

The Romans now controlled the Rhine Valley, and were prepared to conquer Northern Gaul. The Veneti were a sea-faring tribe in the northwest that opposed submitting to Caesar, and were able to use their ships to navigate the surrounding oceans and rivers. After some provocation, Caesar set about to defeat them by destroying their fleet, and thus was fought the first naval battle in the Atlantic. The Veneti were dealt with harshly due to their stubborn resistance. Then next major engagement was another foray against Germans who had crossed into Gallic territories. This time, at Treveri an large tribe of Germans was driven back across the Rhine and massacred, neither women or children being spared. During this period there were no further rebellions in Gaul, and Caesar was free to investigate the Island that lay off the coast of Gaul, known as Britain. Two expeditions to Britain were launched, first in 55 B.C. and then on a larger scale in 54. There were a few skirmishes and hostages were taken, but before he could follow up in the invasion, he need to turn his attentions to a rebellion in the south.



Battle / Outcome
Description
Battle of Action off Brittany
Romans defeat Gauls
This, the first sea fight in the Atlantic, was fought B.C. 56, between the Roman fleet under Brutus, and the fleet of the Veneti, consisting of 220 galleys. The Romans were victorious, and the surrender of the Veneti and the whole of Brittany quickly followed.
Battle of Treveri
Romans defeat Germans
Fought B.C. 55, between the Romans, 50,000 strong, under Julius Caesar, and 300,000 Asipetes, a German tribe, who had made a raid into Gall. The Germans were routed with enormous loss; indeed, the action was less a battle than a massacre, and very few succeeded in recrossing the Rhine.
Battle of Britain
Romans defeat Britons
The Romans under Caesar landed in July B.C. 55 off the coast of Briton with 10,000 men, expecting an easy victory. They were met with a significant, but disorganized resistance, and made a difficult landing under fire. After taking hostages, they withdrew, due largely to bad weather.
Battle of Britain
Romans defeat Britons
The Romans under Caesar landed in August B.C. 54 off Britain with 800 ships, 2000 Cavalry, and five legions. The Briton tribes were now united under Cassivellaunus. Instead of opposing the landing the Britons retreated inland, but Caesar pursued, engaging the united Britons at Thames, and then laying siege to the fortress of Cassivellaunus. After winning all engagements, the Romans took hostages and withdrew.



Commander
Short Biography
Cassivellaunus King of the united Britons. Opposed Caesar's second landing in Britain.
Decimius Junius Brutus Led the naval battle against the Veneti. Trusted friend of Caesar and object of his final words: 'et tu Brute' (Not Marcus Brutus, the conspirator!!)

Story LinksBook Links
First Coming of Julius Caesar  in  Stories from English History: I  by  A. J. Church
Second Coming of Julius Caesar  in  Stories from English History: I  by  A. J. Church
Coming of the Romans  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E.  Marshall
Romans Come Again  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E.  Marshall


Story LinksBook Links
Caesar's Conquests  in  Story of the Romans  by  H. A.  Guerber


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Rebellion of Vercingetorix : 53-52 B.C.


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 Vercingetorix threw his arms at the feet of his conquerors.

In late 54 B.C., a legion encamped for the winter near the Rhine river was attacked by Ambiorix, the chief of the Eburones. The revolt at Adnatuca came as a complete surprise, and almost the entire army of 9,000 was wiped out. In was not until the following spring, that Caesar, with 10 legions was prepared to march into the rebellious territory and put down the offending tribes. By summertime he had pacified the whole region, but more trouble was brewing, this time in the south. Led by Vercingetorix, a chief of the Arverni tribe, a large number of disgruntled Celtic tribes in central Gaul were rebelling from Roman rule. Caesar immediately marched on and besieged their headquarters at Avaricum. The town fell, and the Romans massacred the entire population. The Gauls were not defeated yet however. They had had considerable success attacking the supply lines of the Romans and cutting off their food supplies. More Gallic nations joined in the rebellion, including several that Romans had considered trusty allies. The United Gauls formally elected Vercingetorix king, and continued to assert their independence from Rome, often by killing Roman citizens and traders in Gallic towns. Although not strong enough to meet the Romans in the open field, they continued their harassing tactics, and fortified the town of Gergovia. Again, the Romans besieged town, but this time they failed to make headway. Caesar was forced to retreat.

Caesar now fixed on a strategy of concentrating all of his forces, and recalled some of his legions spread out throughout Gaul. One legion, under Labienus was en route to a meeting with Caesar when they were attacked in the rear, but they quickly recovered and inflicted a severe defeat upon the Gauls. Finally, Caesar's united forces besieged Vercingetorix in Alesia. The town was one of over 80,000 and strongly fortified. This time Caesar built a wall all the way around the city and proceeded to starve the Gauls into submission. The tactic worked. Shortly after Vercingetorix saw an army of Gauls coming to relieve the town cut to pieces by the Romans, he surrendered the town to Caesar. With the loss of their leader, the rebellion subsided, and the Gauls submitted to Roman authority.



Battle / Outcome
Description
Battle of Adnatuca
Gauls defeat Romans
Fought B.C. 53, when a Roman force of 9,000 men under Titurius Sabinus was attacked in its camps by the Eburones under Ambiorix. The assault failed, but an offer by Ambiorix of a safe passage to the nearest Roman station was accepted. On the march the Romans were treacherously attacked by the Eburones and cut to pieces, Sabinius being among the slain.
Siege of Avaricum
Romans defeat Gauls
This place was made the headquarters of the revolted Gauls under Vercingetorix, B.C. 53, and was besieged by Caesar, with 50,000 Romans. The place was strongly defended, but supplies ran short, and Vercingetorix attempted to withdraw his troops. In this he was unsuccessful, and the Romans, delivering a vigorous assault, took possession of the town, and massacred the garrison and inhabitants.
Battle of Gergovia
Gauls defeat Romans
Fought B.C. 52, between the Romans under Julius Caesar, and the Gauls under Vercingetorix. Caesar was besieging the town, but was compelled to retreat. Before retiring, however, he delivered an assault which was repulsed by the Gauls, the Romans leaving over 700 legionaries, and 46 centurions dead on the field.
Battle of Agedincum
Romans defeat Gauls
Fought B.C. 52, between the Romans under Labienus, and the Celts under Camalogenus. Labienus was endeavoring to effect a junction with Caesar, which the Celts were opposing, and Labienus, crossing the Marne in face of their army, inflicted upon them a severe defeat, in which Camalogenus fell.
Siege of Alesia
Romans defeat Gauls
Siege was laid to the town by the Romans under Caesar, B.C. 52, and it was defended by the Gauls, numbering 80,000 infantry and 15,000 cavalry under Vercingetorix, the Romans being about 50,000 strong. An attempt was made by the Belgi, with an army of 260,000 warriors, to relieve the town, but they were met and routed by Labienus with terrific slaughter. This disaster so discouraged the garrison that the town immediately surrendered, Vercingetorix being sent a prisoner to Rome, where five years later he was beheaded as a rebellious subject of Rome.



Commander
Short Biography
Julius Caesar Conquered Gaul, prevailed in civil war. Mastermind of Roman empire. Killed by senators.
Antony With Octavius, led empire after Caesar's death. Liaison with Cleopatra caused downfall.
Titus Labienus One of Caesar's chief generals in the Gallic Wars. Deserted to Pompey in the civil wars.
Vercingetorix Leader of a Gallic revolt against the Romans. Surrendered after being defeated at Alesia.
Ambiorix Prince of the Eburones tribe in Belgae the rebelled against Rome in 53 B.C.

Story LinksBook Links
Conquests of Caesar  in  Helmet and Spear  by  A. J. Church
Patriot of Vercingetorix  in  Story of France  by  Mary  Macgregor
Caesar Invades Britain  in  Story of Rome  by  Mary  Macgregor




Image Links
Caesar Landing in Britain  in Greatest Nations: Rome Vercingetorix before Caesar  in Greatest Nations: Rome German Women Captured by Caesar's Forces  in Greatest Nations: Rome
Vercingetorix threw his arms at the feet of his conquerors  in Story of France