Caesar’s Final Campaigns in Gaul II

Other problems remained. A Senonian chief named Drappes had mustered a small army of 2,000 survivors from Fabius’s campaign and was moving on the province. He had already launched successful attacks on Roman supply convoys. He had been joined by Lucterius the Cadurcan, who had tried to launch a similar attack in 52 but had failed. Rebilus set out in pursuit with his two legions, which were more than sufficient to deal with the small enemy force. The arrival of Rebilus put an end to any hope of invading the province and the two Gallic chieftains halted in the territory of the Cadurci and seized control of the town of Uxellodunum in the modern Dordogne, its identification being uncertain.

Rebilus pursued them there but the capture of the town presented serious difficulties. It was perched on a sheer rock cliff with limited access. Storming it was impossible so that the only practical alternative was to starve it out. Rebilus, dividing his cohorts into three groups, constructed a camp for each of them and then as quickly as he could he began construction of a circumvallation linking the camps and enclosing the town. The sight of the construction of the siege wall stirred memories of Alesia and the other Gallic towns that the Romans had taken among the troops and townspeople. A plan was needed to maintain the town’s grain supply. Two thousand troops remained to defend the town while light-armed infantry was sent out under the command of Drapes and Lucterius to bring in grain while this was still possible. Within a few days a large amount of grain had been collected and the Gauls set up camp about ten miles from the town. Meanwhile, they launched night attacks on various forts that brought the construction of the siege wall to a halt, as Rebilus had too few soldiers to adequately man it and defend against the attacks.

Drappes and Lucterius planned to send small grain convoys to the town in order to avoid detection. They divided their responsibilities between them; Drappes stayed to guard the camp while Lucterius took charge of conveying the grain. Lucterius set out at night to avoid detection but the noise of the wagons alerted the Romans, who sent out scouts who returned and informed Rebilus of what the enemy was doing. Cohorts were dispatched from the nearest forts at dawn and attacked the convoy. The unexpected assault threw the Gauls in the convoy into a panic and they fled back to the guard posts that Lucterius had established along the route. The Romans made short work of these and few of the enemy survived. Lucterius managed to escape with a few men but did not return to camp. This was a stroke of luck for Rebilus, as the Gauls in the camp were unaware of the fate of Lucterius and the convoy. He sent his cavalry ahead along with German infantry who advanced at full speed and followed up with one of his legions. He left the other to guard his own camp and the newly-constructed fortifications. The Germans and the rest of the cavalry launched a vigorous attack on the enemy camp and then the appearance of the legionaries completed the rout. The camp was taken and all of the Gauls were either killed or captured. Drappes was among the prisoners. No longer facing external threats, Rebilus now turned his full attention to the siege of the town.

While this was happening Caesar was making a progress among the rebellious tribes. He left Antony with fifteen cohorts among the Bellovaci to watch Belgica. At this point he received letters from Rebilus informing him of the fate of Lucterius and Drappes and the progress of the siege. He also informed Caesar that although the force in the town was small it was putting up a determined resistance.

Caesar now decided to put an end to all opposition. It was not the importance of Uxellodunum that mattered but the fact that in holding out against him it could serve as a potent symbol of continued Gallic resistance. His failure at Gergovia in 52 had helped ignite the great rebellion and he was determined that there should be no repetition of it. He decided to act immediately. He ordered his legate Calenus to follow him with two legions and raced ahead with all of his cavalry to Uxellodunum.

When Caesar arrived he found the town enclosed by the Roman siege works. The problem that confronted him was how to avoid a protracted siege that would set back other projects, especially as his political position at Rome was becoming more precarious and resistance elsewhere in Gaul had not yet been suppressed. Since the town was well-supplied with grain Caesar turned his attention to cutting off its water supply. A river ran around the base of the hill on which the town sat and served as its water supply. The obvious course was to divert the stream but the nature of the ground made that option impossible. The river also presented difficulties for the besieged. The way down to it was steep and exposed to missile attack. Archers and slingers and artillery were posted covering the easiest approaches to the river. It now became too dangerous to use.

There was another source of water, a spring beneath the town walls that was made use of now that access to the river was cut off. It flowed out at a point where there was an area of about 300 feet that the river did not enclose. Caesar now moved to deprive the Gauls of that water supply as well. Soldiers brought up moveable shelters to protect themselves and began to build an earthwork, although they were subject to constant attack during the construction. The Gauls’ missiles often found their mark as they were thrown down from the town walls. The Romans also began digging mines towards the water channels that fed the spring and its source. Construction of the earthwork stopped when it had reached a height of 60 feet so that it now loomed over the spring. A tenstorey tower was mounted on it, as well as catapults to cover the spring. As it was now too dangerous for the townspeople to approach the spring they began to suffer from thirst.

Their only way to end their torment was to destroy the tower and ramp. They launched a fierce attack trying to set the tower on fire. They pressed the Romans hard and inflicted a number of casualties. To divert the attackers Caesar ordered his troops to climb the hill encircling the town and to pretend to mount a general attack on the walls. The ruse worked. The Gauls recalled their men to defend the walls and ended their attacks on the tower. The Roman mines had now reached the spring’s sources and its flow was diverted. Resistance was now hopeless and the town surrendered. This time Caesar’s clemency was hardly in evidence: he decided on judicious use of terror to deter those still holding out. He ordered that the hands of all those who had fought were to be cut off.

All that now remained in central and northern Gaul were mopping up operations. These were successfully carried out. Labienus won a cavalry engagement with the Treveri and their German allies. He captured the leaders of the revolt and all resistance ended.

Caesar then turned his attention to Aquitania in the south-west where he had never campaigned. His appearance had the desired effect; all of the tribes sent delegations and turned over hostages. All open resistance was now at an end. He turned south to the province and to Narbo its administrative centre. There he heard cases arising from the rebellion and distributed rewards to those who had supported Rome. Caesar once more claims that Gaul had now been pacified and this time he was correct. He sent his legions into winter quarters; four were posted to Belgica to watch for unrest, two were quartered among the Aedui, another two among the Turones who bordered the Carnutes, and the final two on the borders of the Arverni. After completing his business in the province Caesar moved north-east to join his legions in Belgica and wintered at Nemetocenna (modern Arras in the Pas de Calais). Although Gaul was finally at peace the Roman conquest was so recent and the area so large that further revolts remained a possibility. Caesar was especially concerned about this as the situation at Rome grew worse. He adopted a policy of reconciliation with the Gauls and made a special effort to win over the nobles and chiefs who controlled Gallic society with large cash payments.

At the end of winter 51/50 Caesar headed to Cisalpine Gaul to canvass for his quaestor Antony, who was standing for a priesthood. By the time he reached the province he heard that Antony had been elected at the end of September. This was good news as Cato and his enemies were intensifying their attacks. With the problem of Antony’s candidacy resolved Caesar spent his time making a circuit of the communities there to garner support for his own candidacy for the consulship of 49. In addition, Cisalpina was the most prolific recruiting area in Italy. If it came to civil war it was crucial for Caesar to have its support. He then returned to Nemetocenna and conducted a purification of his army, signalling the end of campaigning in Gaul.

The conquest of Gaul north of the old province and extending from the Atlantic to the Rhine was due solely to Caesar. His motivations were those of any other Roman noble in his position: wealth and military glory. The need for both was particularly pressing when Caesar arrived in Gaul in 58. He had obtained his command in Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum in the face of intense opposition and hatred. His finances were in terrible shape and his creditors barely allowed him out of Rome. Without adequate funds he could not compete politically; Cato and his friends would, if given the chance, politically isolate and destroy him. The triumvirate on whose support he relied was unstable. There was the intense jealousy between Pompey and Crassus that constantly threatened to tear it apart. Pompey, whom Caesar’s enemies found the most acceptable of the three and who eventually moved into the camp of Cato, remained a constant worry for Caesar. Pompey was the most intractable of all of Caesar’s problems. His conquests in the east and his other military successes had given him a status that even his political ineptitude did little to undermine. Caesar needed an arena in which to equal Pompey’s achievements and Gaul provided it.

The addition of Transalpine Gaul to Caesar’s province was merely an afterthought brought about by the fortuitous death of the man who was to have governed the province. It is likely that Caesar had hoped to launch a campaign in Illyricum but the events of 58 changed that. The movements of the Helvetii and the threat of Ariovistus drew Caesar north. In both instances it could be argued that he was protecting Roman interests. The Helvetii did pose a threat to the province and the Aedui as Roman allies had to be protected for the sake of Rome’s prestige if nothing else. The stationing of the legions in the north during the winter of 58/57 was a clear indication that Caesar had adopted a policy of conquest that probably even this early included all of continental Gaul. The area was large enough to allow for extensive campaigning and conquest. Just as importantly, it was agriculturally rich and would offer the prospect of immense amounts of booty. Imperial expansion was a virtue, as it had always been for the Roman ruling class, and here was a vast field in which to exercise it. Political and personal rewards that came with it exerted a magnetic attraction. This explains the two British expeditions of 55 and 54, which were hardly serious attempts to subjugate Britain but brought Caesar a twenty-day thanksgiving and increased his popularity at Rome. The bridge over the Rhine in 55 was a similar undertaking as well as his raids into Germany, which yielded little of practical value. The conquest of all of Gaul north and west of the old province was not a strategic necessity but the product of Caesar’s personality, his needs and desires.

Caesar’s success resulted from a combination of superior Roman equipment, technique and logistics, and Caesar’s individual qualities as a general. Perhaps the most important ingredient was his ability to win and then keep his men’s loyalties. A noticeable feature of Gallic War is the frequent praise for the common soldier and in particular of centurions, who are often mentioned by name and whose individual exploits receive extensive narration. Caesar maintained his bonds with them by a judicious use of favours and rewards. But it is clear both from his own work and that of other writers that his personal bravery and willingness to share the hardships of his men were crucial ingredients in maintaining their loyalty.

His speed of movement was astonishing and time and again he arrived earlier than his opponents thought possible. It was a virtue that could sometimes get him in to trouble, as it did during his first expedition to Britain and as it was later to do in 46 when he landed in Africa with an inadequate force during the civil war. In addition, Caesar had a marvellous ability to discern the enemy’s weaknesses and to devise tactics that capitalized on it. During the rebellion of 52 he deceived Vercingetorix, whom he misled by sending troops ahead who successfully convinced the Gallic commander that the Romans had moved up river and so was able to cross the Allier River without opposition.

At Uxellodunum he saw that the water supply was the key to taking the town and devised tactics that cut off access to it. He personally suffered only one serious defeat, at Gergovia. The first British expedition was a minor failure but his other reverses such as the fifteen cohorts lost with Cotta and Sabinus during the winter of 54 or Galba’s failure in the Alps in 57 were not primarily his fault. He possessed a military machine far more effective than any Gallic army he faced and he used it with great daring and skill.

The conquest of Gaul was more than the product of military force. Crucial to Caesar’s success was his ability to forge ties with the Gallic elite. He built up links to the leading men in each of the Gallic communities. In return for their support he conferred benefits upon them and solidified their position within their own tribes. Perhaps the most striking example was Diviciacus among the Aedui who not only supported Caesar but gave him valuable military intelligence. There were others as well such as the Nervian Vertico or the two leading men among the Remi, Iccius and Andecomborius. Caesar was not always successful in his choices. The most striking example is that of Commius, who Caesar made king of the Atrebates in 57 but who later joined the great rebellion in 52 and then, when it failed, fled to Britain. Other men he supported were either unpopular or murdered by their political enemies, such as Tasgetius of the Carnutes who had loyally supported Caesar who raised him to the kingship. His unpopularity among his fellow tribesmen, as well as political rivalry with other nobles, led to Tasgetius’s assassination. There are other cases as well. But one of the key ingredients of Caesar’s success was his ability to often pick the right Gallic notables and establish lasting ties with them that endured after Caesar left Gaul.

The cost of the campaigns in human life and in the devastation of large areas of Gaul was high. We have little information about Roman losses. There are only occasional references such as the 700 legionaries and forty-six centurions killed in the siege of Gergovia, or the fifteen cohorts or approximately 6,000 men lost with Cotta and Sabinus in 54. Eight years of campaigning, often under difficult conditions, must have taken their toll. The ancient sources do preserve figures for Gallic losses but they vary greatly and their value is uncertain. Plutarch claims that Caesar took 800 towns and conquered 300 tribes. He adds that Caesar faced 3,000,000 men in battle and killed 1,000,000 while taking the same number prisoner. Other sources give 400,000 and approximately 200,000. Probably the latter figures are nearer the truth, although in no case do we know how these writers arrived at their figures, which all refer to combatants. The higher figures may reflect at least in order of magnitude the total of civilian and military casualties including those sold into slavery. The only precise figure we have is for the 53,000 Atuatuci sold into slavery, but such sales are frequently mentioned in Gallic War and the numbers must have been substantial. The devastation certainly led to starvation, which was fatal for many, the Carnutes being an obvious example. It is likely that the total of civilian casualties greatly outnumbered those killed in the fighting.

Before January 49 when the civil war began and Caesar moved to confront his enemies in Italy, he had already begun the work of turning Gaul into a province. He set a relatively-low level of tribute for the new province, which probably reflected the loss and destruction that his years of campaigning had caused.8 Gaul was a relatively unimportant backwater in the four years that the civil war lasted. No major battles were fought there and there were no major actions, except for the siege of the city of Massilia (Marseille), which chose to side with Pompey and which Caesar besieged on his march to Spain in 49. After a courageous and ingenious defence it fell to Caesar’s legate Trebonius and was leniently treated. The major battles of the civil war took place in Spain, Africa and the East. What is striking is the lack of any large-scale resistance after Caesar’s departure.

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