Story of Rome - Mary Macgregor
The years which Cæsar spent in Gaul were so full of hard-fought battles and well-earned victories, that even his love of adventure and glory must surely have been satisfied.
Gaul at this time was divided into two parts, Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul.
Cisalpine Gaul was the name given to the Gallic settlements in northern Italy, and here Cæsar spent only a short time.
It was in Transalpine Gaul, or Gaul beyond the Alps, that Cæsar's great work lay, and the countries that we now call France and Switzerland were included in this part of Gaul.
When the Roman army reached Transalpine Gaul it found that two tribes, the Helvetians and the Ligurini, had burnt their villages and towns because the land around their dwellings was covered with marsh and forest.
They were now going to journey in search of a better country, even thinking that they might invade Italy and settle there.
The tribes were fierce and brave, but Cæsar determined to meet them and keep them from setting foot in Italy. So he sent his chief officer against the Ligurini and they were defeated. But the Helvetians succeeded in surprising Cæsar as he was marching, and fell upon him before he had time to arrange his men in a good position.
As the Romans prepared to repulse the Gauls, Cæsar's horse was brought to him, but he refused to mount, saying, 'When I have won the battle I will use my horse for the chase.' He then led the charge on foot.
The struggle was fierce, for the Helvetians were fighting for all that they counted most dear. But at length the Romans drove them from the field and pursued them to their wagons.
Here, not men alone, but women and children joined in the fight, and fiercely the battle raged once more. It was only after a desperate onslaught that the Gauls resolved to submit.
Many of the Helvetians had fallen in the battle, but Cæsar sent for those who had escaped, and bade them go back to the country from which they had come, and rebuild their towns and villages.
The conquered people had expected to be cut to pieces or to be made slaves for the rest of their lives, and they could scarcely believe what they heard.
Cæsar saw that they were bewildered, so again he told them to go and live peacefully in their old homes. And this he did because he did not wish the Germans, who were a powerful people, to seize the district the Helvetians had forsaken and make it theirs.
This victory over the Helvetians made the other Gallic tribes afraid of Cæsar. Yet perhaps, they thought, as he was so brave and strong, he would be willing to protect them from Ariovistus, king of the Germans, who was their most terrible foe. So some of the tribes sent messengers to Cæsar to beg for his protection.
This Cæsar promised to give them, but when he had conquered Ariovistus, he determined that he would next subdue the tribes that had just appealed to him and make their land a province of Rome.
Some of the Roman officers were very angry when they heard that Cæsar meant to march against the German king. They were young nobles who had been brought up in luxury and had joined the army, dreaming of the riches that they would gain, and the victories which would make their names famous. Of the long terrible marches that would be necessary, of the hardships of the camp, they had not thought, and so now they grumbled.
And what was worse, they not only grumbled themselves, but they tried to make the soldiers dissatisfied. The example of their brave commander should have shamed these cowards.
Cæsar was not strong, yet he was always to be found where the danger seemed the greatest. Nor was he ever heard to say that because his health was poor he must have more comfort than his men enjoyed.
Indeed when his soldiers marched, he marched at their side, if they ate coarse food, he made the same his daily fare, and often he would share their rough camp bed. He was much more than the commander of his men, he was their friend. It was he who taught them too to care for the wounded and the sick.
Once a fierce storm drove him to seek shelter in the cottage of a poor man. When he saw that there was only one room, he ordered it to be given to an officer who was ill, while he and the troops slept in a shed.
For deeds like this, the soldiers worshipped their brave general, and were ready to follow where he chose to lead.
But the pleasure-loving officers grumbled. Cæsar had no need of such men in his army, and he determined to teach them a lesson.
So, first assembling the army, he sent for the discontented nobles, and when they came, he bade them, before all the soldiers, to go back to Rome, if they were afraid of difficult marches and battles with barbarians.
'As for me,' he added, 'I will take only the Tenth Legion with me, and with it I will conquer the barbarians, for I do not expect to find them more terrible than the Cimbri whom Marius conquered, nor am I a general inferior to him.'
The Tenth Legion was proud indeed as it listened to these words. It never forgot how Cæsar had boasted of its courage and had trusted its devotion. Some of the members of the Legion were sent to thank him for the words he had spoken. And from that day, as you will easily understand, it fought with unfaltering zeal and such fierce determination that the enemy could seldom withstand its fury.
After the foolish young officers had listened to Cæsar's rebuke they were ashamed, and begged him to allow them to march with him against Ariovistus, that they might redeem their honour in the eyes of the army.
As for the other legions they had not waited for orders from their officers, but had already begun to prepare for the march. For the soldiers had never wished to desert Cæsar, and now after listening to his praise of the Tenth Legion, they were more than ever anxious to win his approval. So it was a united army that set out on the long and perilous march to the camp of Ariovistus.