Gallic Wars

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Gallic Wars

Gallic Wars (găl´Ĭk), campaigns in Gaul led by Julius Caesar in his two terms as proconsul of Cisalpine Gaul, Transalpine Gaul, and Illyricum (58 BC–51 BC). Caesar's first campaign was to prevent the Helvetii (who lived N of the Lake of Geneva) from crossing the Roman territory Provincia (Provence) on their way to a new home in SW Gaul. Inspired by Orgetorix, they had started from the Alps northwestward with Caesar in pursuit, but he split their forces as they crossed the Saône, and pursued them to Bibracte, where he defeated them. In the same year the Aedui asked Caesar's help against the German Ariovistus, whom Caesar routed. In 57 BC, Caesar pacified Belgica (roughly Belgium). In the winter of the same year an anti-Roman confederacy was formed, and in 56 BC Caesar attacked its leaders, the Veneti, who maintained a fleet in what is now the Gulf of Morbihan, Brittany. He defeated them after building ships of his own. In 55 BC, Caesar went to the Low Countries to repel a group of invading Germans and, as a punitive measure, in turn invaded German territory, crossing the Rhine on a bridge he built near Cologne. He then went to Britain on a brief exploring expedition. In 54 BC he invaded Britain and defeated the Britons and their leader Cassivellaunus. The following winter the Roman legions were quartered separately because of the scarcity of food, and some Belgian tribes led by Ambiorix raised a revolt. One legion was utterly defeated and another, under Quintus Cicero, was in dire straits when Caesar arrived and routed the rebels. In 53 BC, Caesar put down another Belgian revolt and entered Germany again. But the real test came when, in the dead of winter, Caesar, in Italy, learned that all central Gaul had raised a revolt, organized by Vercingetorix. With incredible speed and brilliant tactics, Caesar crossed the Alps and suppressed the Gauls. After 51 BC, Caesar moved around Gaul putting down the last signs of disorder. Caesar's Gallic Wars were the theater in which he displayed his abilities, and his organization of the new territory was the seed of modern France. When Caesar became proconsul, he received a wide strip along the Mediterranean beyond the Alps; when he gave up his command, his territory included everything from the Rhine to the Pyrenees, from the Alps to the Atlantic. The prime source of the Gallic Wars is Caesar's own commentaries, De bello Gallico.

See also T. R. Holmes, Caesar's Conquest of Gaul (2d ed. 1911).

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