‘Regarding Caesar, there are lots of rumours whispered about him, none of them very good. According to one his cavalry have been wiped out - but that one is certainly a fiction in my view; another says that the Seventh legion has been badly mauled, and that Caesar himself is surrounded in the territory of the Bellovaci and is cut off from the rest of his army. However nothing is actually known so far, and even these unconfirmed stories are not circulating widely, but told as an open secret amongst a clique - you know who they are; Anyway, Domitius [Ahenobarbus] puts his hand over his mouth before he speaks.’ - Marcus Caelius Rufus writing to Cicero, c. 26 May 51 BC.1
Throughout his time in Gaul, Caesar took great pains to remind Rome of his existence and to celebrate his achievements. The Commentaries were a major part of this effort, but they were not his only literary output during these years. Early in 54 BC, while travelling north from Cisalpine Gaul to rejoin his army, he produced a two-volume work On Analogy (De Analogia). The title was Greek, but the book analysed Latin grammar and argued for accuracy and simplicity in speech and writing, in contrast to the fashion for using archaic forms of words and complicated expressions. It was dedicated to Cicero, and paid tribute to him as Rome’s greatest orator and ‘virtually the creator of eloquence’, but followed this by saying that it was also a good thing to consider everyday speech. No more than a few fragments of the book have survived, but to have written such a detailed and authoritative study at a time when his mind was occupied with the affairs of Gaul and preparations for his second British expedition was an indication of both Caesar’s intellect and his restless energy. In comparison with the Commentaries, it was aimed at a narrower audience, though one that included the many senators and equestrians obsessed with literature. Caesar the author was a figure whom many found less controversial than Caesar the popularis politician. The praise of Cicero was unforced and had much to do with his new, closer relationship with Caesar resulting from his return from exile. The orator sent drafts of his own works to Caesar and the two men discussed these in a way that cemented the political friendship between them.2
Literature was important to Rome’s elite, but other means were necessary to reach much of the wider population. There was a long tradition of distinguished men, and especially successful generals, building monuments in Rome as physical memorials to their achievements. In 55 BC during his second consulship Pompey commemorated his unprecedentedly great victories with a grander monument than anyone else had ever built, formally opening his great theatre complex. It was the first permanent stone theatre ever to be built in the city and Dio still considered it to be one of Rome’s most spectacular features almost three centuries later. Some ten thousand people were able sit on its stone seats - the sensible and well prepared took along cushions when they attended a performance. It stood on the Campus Martius, towering high above a row of temples dedicated by other victorious commanders over the centuries. No less than five shrines were actually built into the structure, the main one to Venus Victrix (Venus the victorious), and others to the deities personifying such virtues as Honour (Honos), Courage (Virtus), and Good Fortune (Felicitas). Attached to the semi-circular theatre was a portico, which itself covered an area of some 585 feet by 440 feet, and everything about the structures from design to materials testified to the vast expense of the whole project.
The same was true of the lavish festivities that marked the opening of the complex. There were musical performances and displays of gymnastics, as well as chariot racing and beast fights in the nearby Circus Flaminius. Five hundred lions were killed in five days, while at one point heavily armoured hunters were matched against about twenty elephants. The beasts made an effort to escape from the arena, frightening the crowd as they tried to smash through the iron railings, until they were driven back. Fear soon turned to sympathy, and the people began to feel sorry for the animals and angry against Pompey for ordering their slaughter. For all that the Romans craved violent displays in the circus, simply spending huge amounts of money on a show did not necessarily mean that the crowd would enjoy it and so feel gratitude to the man who had provided it. Privately, Cicero also felt that the sheer scale of Pompey’s theatre and portico were excessive. Other conservative senators muttered that it was a mistake to give the theatre - that most Greek of institutions - a permanent home in the city. In the past most of the audience for any performance had stood, and they feared that giving them seats would just encourage more citizens to waste their days as idle spectators.3
Caesar had his own plans to leave his mark on the city, and in 54 BC work began on a large extension to the north side of the Forum and on the Basilica Julia, which would border onto his new development. Not content with this, he followed Pompey’s example and looked towards the Campus Martius, where the saepta used for voting was to be replaced by a permanent marbledecorated structure. The scale was immense, with a colonnade a mile long running along the side. In another open sign of their new political relationship, Cicero helped Caesar’s agent Oppius in planning and arranging the projects. The enormous price - Cicero says that merely purchasing the land needed for the Forum extension cost 60 million sestertii, while Suetonius gives the figure as 100 million - of these grand structures was paid from the profits of conquest in Gaul. When completed these projects would provide a bigger and more spectacular Forum as a centre to the city, with more space for public business and private commerce, and create a far grander environment for voting in the Campus Martius. In the short term work on the buildings provided paid employment for many poorer citizens in the city, as well as profitable contracts to companies supplying materials.
The same was true of the gladiatorial games Caesar announced in honour of his daughter. This was the first time that such contests would be staged to mark the death of a woman, an extension of his earlier staging of public funerals for his aunt Julia and first wife Cornelia. Large numbers of gladiators were collected for the occasion, Caesar having arranged to save the lives of men defeated in earlier appearances in the arena. These had then been trained, not in a gladiatorial school as was usual, but in the households of senators and equestrians known to be skilled in armed combat. Suetonius tells us that Caesar wrote from Gaul to these men, asking them to take great care in the training. By 49 BC he owned at least 5,000 of these fighters, many of them in gladiatorial schools at Capua. A natural showman, Caesar was determined that the games would be something special. The same was true of the public feasts that formed the other main part of his daughter’s memorial. Some of the food was prepared in his own household by his own cooks, but much was bought from the expensive shops for which Rome was famous. Traders benefited and the crowd was indulged, hopefully adding to the number of citizens who thought well of Caesar. Although Julia’s memorial games and feasts would not actually be celebrated for several years, the preparations for them were very public and the events eagerly anticipated.4
For all Caesar’s efforts to remain in the public eye, there were times when it must have been difficult for anyone at Rome to pay much heed to what was going on away from the city In the closing years of the decade, it almost seemed as if the institutions of the Republic were irreparably broken. Electoral bribery was rampant. In the campaign for the consulship for 53 BC two of the candidates had joined together and offered 10 million sestertii for the vote of the centuria praerogativa, the century of the First Class chosen to open the voting in the Comitia Centuriata, while a further 3 million would go to the consuls of 54 BC who would preside over the elections. Caesar and Pompey were both indirectly involved in the scandal, and were none too pleased at its disclosure. However, it was not until the summer of 53 BC that elections were actually held, with the proconsul Pompey supervising them at the Senate’s request. The candidates for the following year were similarly corrupt, and the situation made worse by the violence between the gangs of Milo and Clodius, which culminated in the latter’s murder (see p.318). Senators’ attendants had been killed in political riots in recent memory and a number of leading men injured. It was far worse for a famous man, who was not only a former magistrate but currently a candidate for office, to die by violence. The cold-blooded nature of the killing added to the widespread shock at the crime. Clodius had been wounded in the initial clash and had then taken refuge in a tavern. Milo had deliberately sent men to drag his old enemy outside and finish him off.
The disturbances that followed, as Clodius’ family and supporters vented their grief in destruction, suggested that the Republic was relapsing into anarchy - almost in a literal sense, since the Greek word originally meant that disturbances had prevented the election of archons, the senior magistrates of Athens. The Senate met and passed its ultimate decree, calling upon Pompey to do what was necessary to protect the State. As a body it had no police force or troops to control such a situation. Pompey had the imperium of a proconsul and soldiers to command. There was some doubt over what title and power to offer him and once again talk of dictatorship. Others suggested recalling Caesar so that he could hold the consulship with Pompey until the crisis was over, and all ten tribunes of the plebs supported this proposal. Caesar wrote to thank them, but asked them to withdraw the bill since he was needed in Gaul. In the end Bibulus - the same Bibulus who had been Caesar’s colleague in 59 BC and had no love for either him or Pompey - proposed that Pompey be made sole consul for the year. Cato backed the motion and it was passed comfortably, since Pompey’s opponents realised that he offered the best chance of restoring order to the city. Yet they deliberately avoided the word dictator, and wished to make clear that he was not being invested with permanent supreme power of the sort Sulla had taken, but that this was simply a temporary measure to cope with the crisis.5
Pompey’s third consulship was anomalous in so many ways, not least that he had no colleague, violating the most fundamental principle of this magistracy He had also not been elected by the people but was simply appointed. Normally a consul had only his lictors to clear a path for him through the streets, but Pompey brought armed soldiers into the city to police its streets. When Milo was put on trial the court was surrounded by the consul’s troops, who prevented his followers from disturbing the proceedings. The court and its procedures were specially created by Pompey to deal with the recent electoral abuses and political violence. Juries were drawn from a pool of names selected by the consul. Milo’s guilt was clear and, although this was not always a decisive factor in Roman trials, in this case the mood of the court and the watching crowd was extremely hostile. Cicero had agreed to defend Milo, for he felt a bond with the man who had been the bitterest opponent of his own enemy, Clodius. However, his courage failed him when he stood up to speak and was exposed to the barracking and hatred of the crowd and he did not deliver his speech. Milo went into exile in Massilia in Transalpine Gaul. Rather tactlessly, Cicero subsequently sent him the manuscript of the speech that he had meant to deliver. His former client replied sarcastically that he was glad that it had not been delivered, since otherwise he would never have had the chance to sample the fine fish of Massilia. Clodius’ supporters were jubilant at the outcome, but several of his leading associates soon found themselves on trial and condemned in the following months. Pompey was taking his role seriously and made a real attempt to control the violence and bribery that had come to pervade public life. Unlike earlier uses of the senatus consultum ultimum, in 52 BC there were no summary executions and everything was done through the courts, although these were the special courts created for the occasion and operating under new regulations.6
Electoral bribery had become chronic, especially in the campaigns for the consulship. Pompey passed a new law imposing even harsher penalties for electoral malpractice. However, the sums involved were enormous and many candidates relied on being given a wealthy province after their year of office. Their creditors could then be paid from money squeezed from the unfortunate provincials and from bribes given by the companies of publicani, who wished no interference in their own exploitation of the people. The consequences were bad for the provinces, but most senators were more concerned with the impact on elections. To break this circle Pompey introduced a law imposing a five-year delay between the consulship and a man going out to his province, on the basis that creditors would be much less inclined to wait so long for repayment of debts. This inevitably created a shortage of provincial governors, and therefore it was necessary in the short term to make use of former magistrates who had chosen not to take a command after their year of office. Cicero was one of these, and in 51 BC found himself appointed proconsul of Cilicia, a task for which he had little enthusiasm. At the same time Bibulus was despatched to govern Syria. Pompey’s measures do seem to have substantially reduced the levels of bribery and corruption in the consular elections for 51, 50 and 49 BC. Cato stood for the office for 51 BC, proclaiming that he would do nothing at all to win the favour of the electorate. While he was widely admired, he was never particularly popular and such an approach was eccentric in the extreme, and certainly not traditional. It came as little surprise that he lost by a big margin. Pompey is unlikely to have been enthusiastic about Cato’s candidature, but he could not control the outcome and the elections in these three years showed the strength of the old established families. The victors were three patricians and three members of one of the most distinguished plebian lines. The brothers Marcus and Caius Claudius Marcellus won the consulship in 51 and 49 BC respectively, while their cousin Caius was consul in 50 BC. The latter was married to Caesar’s great niece Octavia - the same one he had recently offered to Pompey as a prospective wife. Whether or not he knew about this, Marcellus preferred to align himself with his cousins, who were deeply hostile to Caesar.7
Pompey’s third consulship was another important step in his highly successful, but utterly unorthodox, career. Once again he had been singled out by the Republic as the only man who could deal with a crisis, with even his personal enemies accepting the necessity of employing him. In the past it had been Lepidus, then Sertorius, the pirates, Mithridates and the grain supply, and now it was political violence in the city. As usual, he performed the task well, but he would not have been a Roman senator if he had not also taken the opportunity for gaining personal advantages. He made sure that he was granted an extension of five years to his command of the two Spanish provinces, ensuring that he would keep his imperium and his legions even after his year as consul was complete. Early in 52 BC Milo and two of the remaining three candidates for the consulship were condemned and sent into exile. The last man, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio Nasica, had one of the most distinguished family lines in Rome, as was indicated by his enormously long name. Born a patrician Scipio - the family that had produced the man who had beaten Hannibal in the Second Punic War and the one who destroyed Carthage in the Third War - he had subsequently been adopted into a branch of the Metelli, one of the most distinguished plebian families. Metellus Scipio thus combined great wealth with enormous family connections and hugely prestigious ancestors. His own abilities were extremely limited, but he did have a pretty daughter, Cornelia, who had been married to Crassus’ dashing son Publius and had been widowed since Carrhae. Pompey decided to marry for the fourth time and found that his approach was welcomed by Metellus Scipio. The charges faced by the latter were quietly dropped and the wedding took place. Like Julia, Pompey’s new bride was young enough to be his daughter, indeed almost his granddaughter, but the marriage again proved a happy and successful one. Cornelia was intelligent, sophisticated and charming, as well as physically attractive. Pompey had always revelled in adoration and willingly responded to a wife who gave every sign of being in love with him. He was fifty-four, but for a man who had been so successful at such a young age and was proud of his personal fitness and enjoyed having his good looks praised, coping with late middle age may not have been easy. It is tempting to suggest that taking two much younger wives helped him to feel rejuvenated. Politically the connection was also a very good one, allying the maverick general with some of the families at the very heart of the Republic’s elite. Cornelia’s father also profited, not only by escaping prosecution but also being named as Pompey’s consular colleague in August.8
Caesar may well have been disappointed at his former son-in-law’s decision to seek a marriage alliance elsewhere. With hindsight we know that just two and a half years later the two men would be fighting against each other, but there is little evidence at the time of any great breach opening up between the two surviving triumvirs. He had not wanted to return to become Pompey’s colleague, since apart from the rebellion he had not yet completed the settlement of his new conquests. Caesar was beginning to think of the future and had already made it clear that he hoped to go straight from his command in Gaul to a second consulship. He did not wish to spend an interval as a private citizen, when he would be liable to prosecution, most probably relating to his year as consul. Some of Pompey’s actions in 52 BC seemed to conflict with this aim. The delay imposed on consuls going out to their province indirectly threatened Caesar’s position. Until now, the provinces that would be allocated to new consuls had to be named before the elections, so that there would be plenty of warning - some eighteen months or so - if the current governor was going to be replaced. With the new system an ex-consul could, in theory, be instantly appointed to any province, including Caesar’s and especially Transalpine Gaul, which had been granted to him by the Senate and not through popular vote. This was unsettling, but it was reasonable to suppose that Pompey and Caesar’s other friends in Rome could prevent this from happening, in spite of the efforts of men like Domitius Ahenobarbus.
Of more concern was a law passed by Pompey that outlawed the practice of candidates standing for the consulship in absentia, that is without actually being present in the city. This meant that Caesar would have to lay down his imperium and therefore become subject to prosecution if he wanted to stand for a second term as consul. Earlier in the year he had persuaded the tribunes, who had wanted to recall him to become Pompey’s colleague, to bring in a bill specifically granting him the right to stand for election without being present. Caesar’s associates in the Senate were quick to remind Pompey that this earlier law seemed now to be contradicted by his own legislation. The inscribed bronze tablet bearing the text of the new law had already been deposited in the Republic’s records, but Pompey wrote an additional clause with his own hand and ordered that this be attached to the main law. Obviously such an addition was of questionable legal validity. The apparent slight to Caesar may well have been unintentional, or it may be that Pompey just wished to remind his ally that he could not be taken for granted. Both of them were allies for as long as it seemed beneficial. For the moment neither would gain from a split. The alliance may have been weaker by the end of 52 BC than it had been in earlier years, but it still held. When news arrived of the defeat of Vercingetorix, Caesar was voted another twenty- day public thanksgiving. Pompey was still willing to celebrate the deeds of his ally, but also took care to commemorate his own achievements, dedicating a temple to Victory (Victoria).9
THE END IN GAUL
‘The whole of Gaul was conquered . . .’ wrote Hirtius as he opened the narrative of the book that he added to complete Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War. Yet his own account soon makes it clear that this was not quite true. Many of the rebellious tribes capitulated after the surrender of Vercingetorix at Alesia, but a few remained recalcitrant. On 31 December 52 BC Caesar left Bibracte and took the Eleventh and Thirteenth legions out of winter quarters and led them on a punitive expedition against the Bituriges. The Romans attacked suddenly and the proconsul ordered his men not to set fire to farms and villages in the normal way, so there were no plumes of smoke to warn the tribe of their approach. Thousands of prisoners were taken as the Gauls were unable to mount any organised resistance. Their lands had been campaigned over by the rival armies in the previous summer, when they had willingly obeyed Vercingetorix’s order to burn their towns and food stores, and the Bituriges were in no position to fight and soon surrendered. They were encouraged by the generous terms Caesar had granted to other rebel tribes, and he was eager to extend his clemency to them. In these circumstances there were no slaves or plunder to distribute to the soldiers, so the proconsul gave them a bounty of 200 sestertii per man, and 2,000 to each centurion, to reward them for their good conduct on a winter campaign. Two and a half weeks later he took the Sixth and Fourteenth legions on a similar operation to punish the Carnutes. The Gauls fled from their homes and for a while Caesar billeted many of his men in the houses of the town of Cenabum, scene of the massacre in the previous year. Raiding parties of infantry and cavalry were sent out on a regular basis to maraud around the surrounding countryside. Living in hiding and exposed to the winter weather, the Carnutes soon ran short of food and suffered badly. Many of them fled to take refuge with other tribes.10
Leaving Trebonius in charge at Cenabum, he called out the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth legions from their winter quarters, ordered the Eleventh to join them and moved against the Bellovaci. This tribe had a high reputation for courage and had not sent many warriors to join the great army that had tried to relieve Alesia. Only a couple of thousand men went at the special request of Commius, who was well connected within the tribe. The rest preferred to fight the Romans on their own and in their own way. Early in 51 BC the Bellovaci massed a strong army, led by Correus with the assistance of Commius, who had refused to give himself up after Alesia. From prisoners Caesar learned that the enemy planned to attack him if he was accompanied by no more than three legions, but would otherwise observe and wait for a better opportunity. He tried to conceal his fourth legion behind the army’s baggage train, hoping to lure the Bellovaci into battle and win a quick victory The Gauls refused to be drawn and the two armies camped facing each other across a valley. Neither side was prepared to attack uphill against the enemy and place themselves at a disadvantage, but for added security Caesar had his legionaries fortify the position more strongly than was usual for a marching camp. There were frequent skirmishes - both sides were using German troops, for Commius had managed to persuade 500 of these to join the Bellovaci - and on one occasion the Gauls ambushed and cut up a foraging party of the Remi who were fighting as Roman allies. Caesar decided that his forces were inadequate for the task and summoned the Sixth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth legions to join him. The campaign was proving a lot tougher than he had anticipated, and as news of this reached Rome wild rumours circulated about serious defeats. When the enemy scouts reported their approach the Bellovaci decided to withdraw, successively disengaging under cover of a burning barrier of straw bales and dried wood that they had secretly prepared for the occasion. After this they relied on ambush rather than direct confrontation, keeping their main army some distance back. Over the next days they inflicted a number of small reverses on the Romans. Intelligence plays a huge role in such operations and Caesar sensed an opportunity when he learned from the interrogation of a prisoner that Correus, with 6,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry, was lying in wait for one of his foraging parties. Forewarned, the auxiliary cavalry were able to hold the ambushers off until the legions hurried up to support them. Most of the Gauls fled, but Correus himself refused either to escape or to surrender and was killed with javelins. Caesar took the legions on, moving against the main enemy camp that his scouts believed was some 8 miles away
Correus’ death and the arrival of fugitives from his defeat prompted the Bellovaci to send peace envoys to Caesar. These men attempted to place all the blame for the rebellion on the dead chieftain. The proconsul informed them that he doubted that one man had been entirely responsible but was anyway content to accept their surrender and not impose further punishments on them. The Bellovaci gave him hostages. Impressed by his leniency, a number of other tribes capitulated over the next weeks. There was some truth to what Caesar had said about the influence of a single chief, but he certainly realised the importance of charismatic leaders in keeping a rebellion going. Soon afterwards he led another punitive expedition against the Eburones, since their chieftain Ambiorix was still at large. Commius also escaped from the defeat of the Bellovaci and he and his retinue were hunted by the Romans. At one point Labienus feigned a willingness to negotiate with the Atrebatian king in the hope of murdering him but Commius escaped with just a wound. Later he was nearly caught by another Roman patrol and declared that he was willing to make peace, so long as he never had to come into the presence of another Roman. Caesar’s response to this is not reported, but in the end Commius fled across the sea to Britain, making himself king of one of the tribes on the south coast and founding a dynasty.11
There was one final major rebellion, this time amongst the tribes of the South West, and centring around the walled hill town of Uxellodunum in modern Dordogne. One of the two main leaders was Lucterius, the man who on Vercingetorix’s orders had raided Transalpine Gaul early in 52 BC. Much of the fighting was done by Caesar’s legates, but the proconsul himself arrived to complete the business, on his way accepting the surrender of the Carnutes after they handed over to him for punishment the main leader of the rebellion. According to Hirtius, Caesar was forced to execute the man because his soldiers were still outraged by the massacre at Cenabum. The rebels were surrounded in the town and using his legionaries’ engineering skill, he managed to cut off the Gauls’ water supply. When the defenders came out to surrender, Caesar decided to make an example of them ‘since his mildness was already well known’ as Hirtius puts it. Each of the warriors had his hands cut off and was then set free to live on as a warning to others. Some modern scholars are inclined to see Hirtius’ comment as more relevant to the Civil War than Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul, but this is to see things with a modern eye. Earlier in the book Hirtius has already given examples of Caesar not imposing harsh terms after rebellious tribes had surrendered, and noted that this encouraged others to give in. After military victory Caesar was keen to win a political peace by persuading leading men throughout Gaul of the advantages of loyalty to Rome. There was proof of the effectiveness of this policy soon afterwards when Lucterius, who had escaped capture at Uxellodunum, was handed over to the Romans by another Arvernian chieftain. Hirtius described Caesar’s activity in the winter of 51-50 BC: ‘Caesar had one main aim, keeping the tribes friendly, and giving them neither the opportunity nor cause for war. . . . And so, by dealing with the tribes honourably, by granting rich bounties to the chieftains, and by not imposing burdens, he made their state of subjection tolerable, and easily kept the peace in a Gaul weary after so many military defeats.’12 Although he may have misread the situation in the build-up to the great rebellion in 52 BC, Caesar seems now to have handled the diplomacy very well. The next summer passed peacefully At the beginning of 49 BC he would leave Gaul, eventually taking the greater part of his troops with him. However, there would be no great rebellion as soon as the Roman yoke slackened its grip. The Bellovaci would rise again in 46 BC and have to be suppressed, but otherwise Gaul remained peaceful for the next decade.13
Caesar spent nine years in Gaul, extending Roman rule to the Rhine in the east, the English Channel in the north and the Atlantic coast in the west. The area would remain part of Rome’s empire for the best part of five centuries. During most of that time it would have internal peace - broken by a few rebellions in the first generation or so after conquest, then only by occasional Roman civil wars and, especially in the later years, periodic barbarian raids - and enjoyed widespread prosperity. The aristocracy earned Roman citizenship and within a century of Caesar’s death the descendants of men who had fought against him would take their place in Rome’s Senate. As the population, or at least the wealthier classes, were granted the benefits of glass in their windows, running water, sewers, bath-houses and central heating, Gaulish culture was modified and influenced by Roman ideas and concepts to become what is today known as Gallo-Roman culture. Latin became commonly used, especially in the towns and cities and amongst the aristocracy. Literacy and the idea of written records spread. The druidic priesthood was suppressed and practices such as head-hunting and human sacrifice stopped, but many other aspects of Gaulish religion continued, even if gods and goddesses were sometimes given new Roman names. In time the old religions would be challenged by the spread of Christianity, at first as a secret cult, but from Constantine onwards as the official religion of the Roman Empire. The new faith was just one of many ideas and concepts that reached Gaul because it had become part of the wider Roman world in which it was much easier and safer for people to travel. Rome’s impact on Gaul and its peoples was profound and proved tenacious, far more so than in Britain where most traces of Roman culture vanished within a generation or two of its ceasing to be a province.
This was the history that Gaul would have as a result of Caesar’s campaigns. We cannot know what would have happened if these had not occurred - if, for instance, he had embarked upon a Balkan war instead. More than two thousand years have passed and the number of possibilities for what might have happened are truly vast. It is highly probable that the Romans would at some point have conquered Gaul, although perhaps not with the speed and intensity that Caesar brought to his campaigns. Given the relatively limited possibilities for Roman expansion in the middle of the first century BC, it is equally likely that this would have happened fairly soon. Roman rule brought to Gaul and other provinces many advantages. At a most basic level it is not unreasonable to say that more people were better off living under the Roman Empire than they were before it came or after it failed. The faults of Roman society - and there were many - were often shared by other cultures including the Gauls. Slavery is an obvious example. The violent entertainments of the arena, which came alongside literature, art and drama as part of Rome’s influence, were less usual. Caesar was not responsible for Roman imperialism or for Roman culture, although he was certainly an enthusiastic agent of the Republic’s expansion. His conquest of Gaul was not a fulfilment of a long-term aim or ambition, in any sense other than that he had long craved the chance to win glory. It was chance and opportunity that led to him focusing his attention on Gaul.
The benefits of Roman rule are arguable but the grim nature of Roman conquest is not. Plutarch claims that one million Gauls were killed during Caesar’s campaigns, and the same number were captured and, in most cases, sold as slaves. Pliny, adding in the casualties inflicted by Caesar’s legions on the enemy in the Civil War, says that his men killed 1,192,000 opponents in battle, although he did not feel that such an achievement added to his glory. Velleius Paterculus says that 400,000 enemies were killed in the Gallic campaigns and ‘still more captured’. It is hard to know the basis for any of these numbers. The figures given for enemy casualties in the Commentaries on the Gallic War do not add up to such a great total, while Caesar’s account of the Civil War often did not mention such things. It is questionable that numbers for losses amongst the Gaulish tribes were known with precision, although it may just have been possible to calculate from records the number of prisoners taken and sold into slavery. Probably these numbers are exaggerated, but still give some indication of the appalling human cost of Caesar’s victories. The impact of these campaigns on Gaul cannot have been anything but massive. Certain areas were devastated and would not recover for decades. In 50 BC Caesar set the annual revenue from his new Gallic province at 40 million sestertii - less than he had paid for the land needed for his forum project. This amount probably reflected the cost of eight years of intensive campaigning. We can only imagine the social dislocation caused by, for instance, Caesar’s execution of the entire ruling council of the Veneti. Caesar was entirely pragmatic - effectively amoral - in his use of clemency or massacre and atrocity. During the course of the conquest of Gaul his soldiers did some terrible things, sometimes by order, as when they massacred the Usipetes and Tencteri, and occasionally spontaneously, as when they slaughtered women and children at Avaricum. Other Roman armies under other commanders had done similar things in the past, and would continue to do so in the future. Indeed atrocities as bad, or even worse, were committed by virtually all armies of the ancient world. This is not to justify what Caesar did, merely to place it into context. Warfare in antiquity was generally an extremely cruel business.14
Caesar had worked for years for the opportunity of high command and when he was given it in 58 BC he seized the chance with both hands, exploiting every opportunity for conflict and conquest. In the campaigns that followed he proved himself to be a general of genius, ranking amongst the finest Rome had ever produced. His command style was typically Roman, controlling a battle from close behind the fighting line, ordering up reserves and encouraging the men while observing their conduct. His strategy was aggressive, seizing and maintaining the initiative, and never doubting his ultimate success regardless of the odds ranged against him. Again this was the Roman way of warfare, and much that might seem rash to a modern observer would not have been seen in this way by other senators. Of contemporary commanders only Pompey might match his achievements and skill, for although Lucullus had been a great tactician he lacked Caesar’s ability as a leader. Both men were similarly aggressive in their campaigns. None of this had come instantly - Caesar had faltered at times in his early campaigns, and it took prolonged service and continued success before his legions were won over by his charm, generosity and competence. There were mistakes and failures, notably the haphazard nature of the British expeditions, the loss of Cotta and Sabinus’ men and the defeat at Gergovia, but Caesar convinced his men that under his command they would always win through in the end. In eight years of intensive operations success after success reinforced the legionaries’ certainty By 50 BC he had created an army that was utterly devoted to him. Caesar had won huge glory and made himself fabulously rich, allowing him to spend freely in his efforts to win more support in Rome itself. It now remained to be seen whether this was enough to allow him to return to Rome and stand alongside Pompey as the Republic’s greatest citizens.15