Commentāriī dē Bellō Gallicō (English: Commentaries on the Gallic
War), also Bellum Gallicum (English: Gallic War), is Julius Caesar's
firsthand account of the Gallic Wars, written as a third-person
narrative. In it Caesar describes the battles and intrigues that took
place in the nine years he spent fighting the
Germanic peoples and
Celtic peoples in
Gaul that opposed Roman conquest.
The "Gaul" that Caesar refers to is ambiguous, as the term had various
connotations in Roman writing and discourse during Caesar's time.
Gaul included all of the regions that Romans had not
conquered or administered or which were primarily inhabited by Celts;
except for the Roman province of
Gallia Narbonensis (modern-day
Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon), which had already been conquered
in Caesar's time, therefore encompassing the rest of modern France,
Belgium, Western Germany, and parts of Switzerland. As the Roman
Republic made inroads deeper into Celtic territory and conquered more
land, the definition of "Gaul" shifted. Concurrently, "Gaul" was also
used in common parlance as a synonym for "uncouth" or
"unsophisticated" as Romans saw
Celtic peoples as uncivilized compared
The work has been a mainstay in
Latin instruction because of its
simple, direct prose. It begins with the frequently quoted phrase
"Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres", meaning "
Gaul is a whole
divided into three parts". The full work is split into eight
sections, Book 1 to Book 8, varying in size from
approximately 5,000 to 15,000 words. Book 8 was written by Aulus
Hirtius, after Caesar's death.
3 Motifs and Peoples in the De Bello Gallico
3.1 Leaders of the Gallic Tribes
3.2 The Germanic Peoples
3.3 The Druids
3.4 Vorenus and Pullo
3.5 Hostages exchanges
4 Modern influence
4.1 Educational use
4.3 Vorenus and Pullo
4.4 Vincent d'Indy
5 See also
7 External links
Latin title, Commentaries on the Gallic War, is often retained in
English translations of the book, and the title is also translated to
About the Gallic War, Of the Gallic War, On the Gallic War, The
Conquest of Gaul, and The Gallic War.
The victories in
Gaul won by Caesar had increased the alarm and
hostility of his enemies at Rome, and his aristocratic enemies, the
boni, were spreading rumors about his intentions once he returned from
Gaul. The boni intended to prosecute Caesar for abuse of his authority
upon his return, when he would lay down his imperium. Such prosecution
would not only see Caesar stripped of his wealth and citizenship, but
also negate all of the laws he enacted during his term as Consul and
his dispositions as pro-consul of Gaul. To defend himself against
these threats, Caesar knew he needed the support of the plebeians,
particularly the Tribunes of the Plebs, on whom he chiefly relied for
help in carrying out his agenda. The Commentaries were an effort by
Caesar to directly communicate with the plebeians - thereby
circumventing the usual channels of communication that passed through
the Senate - to propagandize his activities as efforts to increase the
glory and influence of Rome. By winning the support of the people,
Caesar sought to make himself unassailable from the boni. The work
is a paradigm of proper reporting and stylistic clarity.
Motifs and Peoples in the De Bello Gallico
Leaders of the Gallic Tribes
Commentarii de Bello Gallico
Commentarii de Bello Gallico Caesar mentions several leaders of
the Gallic tribes. Among these, Diviciacus and
notable for their contributions to the Gauls during war.
Book 1 and Book 6 detail the importance of Diviciacus, a leader of the
Haedui (Aedui), which lies mainly in the friendly relationship between
Caesar and Diviciacus [Diviciaci] quod ex Gallis ei maximam fidem
[Caesar] habebat (I, 18). His brother,
Dumnorix had committed several
acts against the Romans because he wanted to become king quod eorum
adventu potentia eius deminuta et Diviciacus frater in antiquum locum
gratiae atque honoris sit restitutus and summam in spem per Helvetios
regni obtinendi venire (I, 41); thus Caesar was able to make his
alliance with Diviciacus even stronger by sparing
punishment while also forcing Diviciacus to control his own brother.
Diviciacus had, in tears, begged Caesar to spare the life of his
brother, and Caesar saw an opportunity to not only fix his major
problem with Dumnorix, but also to strengthen the relationship between
Rome and one of its small allies. Another major action taken by
Diviciacus was his imploring of Caesar to take action against the
Germans and their leader, Ariovistus. His fear of
Ariovistus and the
general outcry from the Gallic people led Caesar to launch a campaign
against the Germans, even though they had been considered friends of
Statue of Vercingetorix, erected in 1903 in Clermont-Ferrand, France
Vercingetorix, leader of the Arverni, united the Gallic tribes against
Caesar during the winter of 53-52 BC. This appears in Book VII,
chapters 1-13. Vercingetorix's father, Celtillus, was killed after
attempting to seize power amongst the Arverni; for that reason,
Vercingetorix was a social outcast and had much to gain from a
rebellion. When it was clear that Caesar had defeated the Gallic
Vercingetorix offered to sacrifice himself, and put himself
at the mercy of Caesar, in order to ensure that his kinsmen were
spared. After the defeat,
Vercingetorix was brought to Rome and
imprisoned for six years before being brought out to adorn Caesar’s
Gaul and then publicly executed. Today,
seen in the same light as others who opposed Roman conquest; he is now
considered a national hero in
France and a model patriot.
The Germanic Peoples
In De Bello Gallico 6.21-28,
Julius Caesar provides his audience with
a picture of Germanic lifestyle and culture. He depicts the Germans as
primitive hunter gatherers with diets mostly consisting of meat and
dairy products who only celebrate earthly gods such as the sun, fire,
and the moon (6.21-22). German women reportedly wear small cloaks of
deer hides and bathe in the river naked with their fellow men, yet
their culture celebrates men who abstain from sex for as long as
possible (6.21). Caesar concludes in chapters 25-28 by describing the
Germans living in the almost-mythological Hercynian forest full of ox
with horns in the middle of their foreheads, elks without joints or
ligatures, and uri who kill every man they come across.
However, the distinguishing characteristic of the Germans for Caesar,
as described in chapters 23 and 24, is their warring nature, which
they believe is a sign of true valour (hoc proprium virtutis
existimant, 6.23). The Germans have no neighbors, because they have
driven everyone out from their surrounding territory (civitatibus
maxima laus est quam latissime circum se vastatis finibus solitudines
habere, 6.23). Their greatest political power resides in the wartime
magistrates, who have power over life and death (vitae necisque
habeant potestatem, 6.23). While Caesar certainly respects the warring
instincts of the Germans, he wants his readers to see that their
cultures are simply too barbaric, especially when contrasted with the
high-class Gallic Druids described at the beginning of chapter six.
For example, Caesar writes that robberies committed outside of the
state are legalized in hopes of teaching young people discipline and
caution, an idea nearly offensive to the judicial practices of the
Romans (ea iuventutis exercendae ac desidiae minuendae causa fieri
praedicant, 6.23). Caesar’s generalizations, alongside the writings
of Tacitus, form the barbaric identity of the Germans for the ancient
world. The name “Germani” is even of Roman origins, showing how
the identity of the Germans is tilted by Roman perceptions and
Caesar’s account of the Druids and the "superstitions" of the Gallic
nations are documented in book six chapters 13, 14 and 16-18 in De
Bello Gallico. In chapter 13 he mentions the importance of Druids in
the culture and social structure of
Gaul at the time of his conquest.
Chapter 14 addresses the education of the Druids and the high social
standing that comes with their position. He first comments on the role
of sacrificial practices in their daily lives in chapter 16. Caesar
highlights the sacrificial practices of the Druids containing innocent
people and the large sacrificial ceremony where hundreds of people
were burnt alive at one time to protect the whole from famine, plague,
and war (DBG 6.16). Chapter 17 and 18 focuses on the divinities the
Gauls believed in and Dis, the god which they claim they were
descended from. This account of the Druids highlights Caesar’s
interest in the order and importance of the Druids in Gaul.
Caesar spent a great amount of time in
Gaul and is one of the best
preserved accounts of the Druids from an author who was in Gaul.
However, it is important to remember that although Caesar provides
what is seemingly a first-hand account, much of his knowledge of the
Druids is not from personal experience, but rather the hearsay of
others and is regarded as anachronistic. Caesar based some of his
account after that of Posidonius, who wrote a clear and well-known
account of the Druids in Gaul. Caesar provides his account of the
Druids as a means of sharing his knowledge and educating the Roman
people on the foreign conquests.
There is no doubt that the Druids offered sacrifices to their god.
However, scholars are still uncertain about what they would offer.
Caesar, along with other Roman authors, assert that the Druids would
offer human sacrifices on numerous occasions for relief from disease
and famine or for a successful war campaign. Caesar provides a
detailed account of the manner in which the supposed human sacrifices
occurred in chapter 16, claiming that “they have images of immense
size, the limbs of which are framed with twisted twigs and filled with
living persons. These being set on fire, those within are encompassed
by the flames” (DBG 6.16).
Caesar, however, also observes and mentions a civil Druid culture. In
chapter 13, he claims that they select a single leader who ruled until
his death, and a successor would be chosen by a vote or through
violence. Also, in chapter 13, the famed Roman also mentions that the
druids observed “the stars and their movements, the size of the
cosmos and the earth, the world of nature, and the powers of deities,"
signifying to the Roman people that the druids were also versed in
astrology, cosmology, and theology. Although Caesar is one of the few
primary sources on the druids, many believe that he had used his
influence to portray the druids to the Roman people as both barbaric,
as they perform human sacrifices, and civilized in order to depict the
Druids as a society worth assimilating to Rome (DBG 6.16).
Vorenus and Pullo
Lucius Vorenus and
Titus Pullo were two centurions in the garrison of
Quintus Tullius Cicero, brother of Marcus Tullius Cicero, and are
mentioned in Book 5.44 of De Bello Gallico. They were bitter rivals
who both sought to achieve the greatest honors “and every year used
to contend for promotion with the utmost animosity” [omnibusque
annis de locis summis simultatibus contendebant] (DBG 5.44). Their
garrison had come under siege during a rebellion by the tribes of the
Belgae led by Ambiorix. They showed their prowess during this siege by
jumping from the wall and directly into the enemy despite being
completely outnumbered. During the fighting, they both find themselves
in difficult positions and are forced to save each other, first
Vorenus saving Pullo and then Pullo saving Vorenus. Through great
bravery they are both able to make it back alive slaying many enemies
in the process. They return to the camp showered in praise and honors
by their fellow soldiers. The phrase, Sic fortuna in contentione et
certamine utrumque versavit, ut alter alteri inimicus auxilio
salutique esset, neque diiudicari posset, uter utri virtute
anteferendus videretur, is used to emphasize that though they started
out in competition, they both showed themselves to be worthy of the
highest praise and equal to each other in bravery (DBG 5.44).
Caesar uses this anecdote to illustrate the courage and bravery of his
soldiers. Since his forces had already been humiliated and defeated in
previous engagements, he needed to report a success story to Rome that
would lift the spirits of the people. Furthermore, the tale of unity
on the battlefield between two personal rivals is in direct opposition
to the disunity of Sabinus and Cotta, which resulted in the
destruction of an entire legion. He relates this particular account
to illustrate that despite the losses against
Ambiorix and his army
Rome is still able to trust in the valor of its soldiers. Thus, Caesar
turns a horrifying military blunder into a positive propaganda story.
In the first two books of De bello Gallico, there are seven examples
of hostage exchanges. First, the Helveti exchange hostages with the
Sequani as a promise that the
Sequani will let the Helveti pass and
that the Helveti will not cause mischief (1.9 and 1.19). The Helveti
also give Caesar hostages to ensure that the Helveti keep their
promises (1.14). Then the
Aedui gave hostages to the Sequani, during
the Sequani’s rise to power (1.31). In book two, the
exchanging hostages to create an alliance against Rome (2.1) and the
Remi offered Caesar hostages in their surrender (2.3, 2.5). Later in
the book Caesar receives 600 hostages from the
Aedui (2.15) and other
hostages from most of
Gaul (2.35). This practice of exchanging
hostages continues to be used throughout Caesar’s campaigns in
diplomacy and foreign policy.
Today the term hostage has a different connotation than it did for the
Ancient Romans, which is shown in the examples above. Where the Romans
did take prisoners of war, hostages could also be given or exchanged
in times of peace. The taking of hostages as collateral during
political arrangements was a common practice in ancient Rome. The
idea of the practice was that important people from each side were
given to ensure that both sides kept their word; a type of contract.
Two examples of this is when Caesar demands the children of chieftains
(2.5) and accepted the two sons of King Galba (2.13). However, as seen
by Caesar, sometimes it was only a one-way exchange, with Caesar
taking hostages but not giving any.
There is evidence though, particularly in Caesar’s De bello Gallico,
indicating that the practice wasn’t always effective. In other
words, cities often moved to revolt against Rome, even though hostages
were in Roman custody. Occasionally, hostages would be entrusted to a
neutral or mediating party during a revolt, such as the time one
hundred hostages surrendered by the Senones were placed in the custody
Aedui who helped negotiate between the revolters and
Caesar. Some sources say there isn’t much evidence that hostages
were even harmed, at least severely, in retribution of the broken
agreements.Actually, in many cases there isn’t much evidence
telling what happened to the hostages at all. It is commonly noted
that Caesar never mentions penalties being dealt to hostages.
Taking hostages did benefit Rome in one particular way, though: since
hostages were commonly the sons of political figures and would
typically be under Roman watch for a year or more, Romans had ample
time to introduce those hostages to the Roman customs in hopes that
when they were freed, they would go on to become influential political
leaders themselves and favor Rome in subsequent foreign relations.
C. Iulii Caesaris quae extant, 1678
It is often lauded for its polished, clear Latin. This book is
traditionally the first authentic text assigned to students of Latin,
as Xenophon's Anabasis is for students of Ancient Greek; they are both
autobiographical tales of military adventure told in the third person.
It contains many details and employs many stylistic devices to promote
Caesar's political interests.
The books are valuable for the many geographical and historical claims
that can be retrieved from the work. Notable chapters describe Gaulish
custom (VI, 13), their religion (VI, 17), and a comparison between
Germanic peoples (VI, 24).
Since Caesar is one of the characters in the Astérix and Obélix
René Goscinny included gags for French schoolchildren who had
the Commentarii as a textbook, even though
Latin was then disappearing
from French schools. One example is having Caesar talk about
himself in the third person as in the book.
Most English editions of Asterix begin with the prelude: "The year is
Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well not entirely! One
small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the
invaders." In the 36th book of the Asterix series, Asterix and the
Missing Scroll, a fictitious and supposedly censored chapter from
Caesar's Commentaries on the
Gallic War forms the basis for the story.
Vorenus and Pullo
In Book 5, Chapter 44 the
Commentarii de Bello Gallico
Commentarii de Bello Gallico notably
Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, two Roman centurions of the
11th Legion. The 2005 television series Rome gives a fictionalized
account of Caesar's rise and fall, featuring
Kevin McKidd as the
Lucius Vorenus and Ray Stevenson as the character of
Titus Pullo of the 13th Legion.
World War I
World War I the French composer
Vincent d'Indy wrote his Third
Symphony, which bears the title De Bello Gallico. D'Indy was adapting
Caesar's title to the situation of the current struggle in France
against the German army, in which he had a son and nephew fighting,
and which the music illustrates to some extent.
Commentarii de Bello Civili
De Bello Alexandrino
De Bello Africo
De Bello Hispaniensi
^ As translated by H.J. Edwards in the
Loeb Classical Library
Loeb Classical Library edition.
^ Peck, Harry Thurston, ed. (1963) . "Caesar, Gaius Iulius".
Harper's Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities. New York:
Cooper Square Publishers, Inc. p. 248.
^ Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Cæsar's Commentaries".
^ Caesar. In Hans Herzfeld[de] (1960): Geschichte in Gestalten
History in figures), vol. 1: A-E. Das Fischer Lexikon[de] 37,
Frankfurt 1963, p. 214. "Hauptquellen [betreffend Caesar]: Caesars
eigene, wenn auch leicht tendenziöse Darstellungen des Gallischen und
des Bürgerkrieges, die Musterbeispiele sachgemäßer
Berichterstattung und stilistischer Klarheit sind" ("Main sources
[regarding Caesar]: Caesar's own, even though slightly tendentious
depictions of the Gallic and the Civil Wars, which are paradigms of
pertinent information and stylistic clarity")
^ Polito, Robert (2012). "Caesar, the Germani, and Rome". Hyperboreus.
18 (1): 107-126.
^ Guzman, Armario; Javier, Francisco (2002). "El Barbaro: La Gran
Innovacion De Julio Cesar". Latomus. 61 (3): 577-588.
^ Wells, Peter (2011). "The Ancient Germans". In Bonfante, Larissa.
The Barbarians of Ancient Europe: Realities and Interactions.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 211-232.
^ a b c Webster, Jane (1999). "At the End of the World: Druidic and
Other Revitalization Movements in Post-Conquest
Gaul and Britain".
Britannia. 30: 1–20 – via JSTOR.
^ Brown, Robert (2004). "Virtus Consili Expers: An Interpretation of
the Centurions' Contest in Caesar, De Bello Gallico 5, 44". Hermes.
132: 292–308 – via JSTOR.
^ a b c Lee, A. D. (1991). "The Role of Hostages in Roman Diplomacy
with Sasanian Persia". Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte. 40:
366–374 – via JSTOR.
^ a b c Moscovich, M.J. (December 1979 – January 1980). "Obsidibus
Traditis: Hostages in Caesar's De Bello Gallico". The Classical
Journal. 75: 122–128.
^ cf. Albrecht, Michael v.: Geschichte der römischen Literatur Band 1
History of Roman Literature, Volume 1). Munich 1994, 2nd ed., p.
^ The Reception of Ancient Greece and Rome in Children’s Literature:
Heroes and Eagles. BRILL. 17 September 2015. pp. 301–.
^ Prior to its demobilization and subsequent remobilization by
Augustus—see also Republican and Imperatorial legions. Julius
Commentarii de Bello Gallico
Commentarii de Bello Gallico 5.44
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Commentarii de bello Gallico
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Commentaries on the Gallic War
At Perseus Project: Caesar's Gallic War—De Bello Gallico, English
translation by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn (1869);
At Gutenberg Project:
Caesar's Commentaries (THE WAR IN GAUL - THE CIVIL WAR), English
translation by W. A. MACDEVITT, introduction by THOMAS DE QUINCEY
De Bello Gallico (Books I–IV),
Latin text edition.
Gallic Wars By Julius Caesar" (menu page linking 8 books),
translated by W.A. McDevitte and W.S. Bohn (1869), Classics.MIT.edu,
"C. IVLI CAESARIS COMMENTARIORVM DE BELLO" (
"Dickinson College Commentaries" Selections in
Latin with notes,
audio, and resources for the study of Caesar.
Commentaries on the
Gallic War public domain audiobook at LibriVox
Wikisource: Commentaries on the
Gallic War translated by W. A.
McDevitte and W. S. Bohn; Books 1–8.
Wikisource: Commentāriī dē Bellō Gallicō (Latin); Liber I–VIII.