Caesar’s conquest of Gaul was one of the longest and most hard fought wars fought by a single Roman leader under the Republic, and saw the Romans win the vast majority of the set piece battles, eventually conquering Gaul and turning it into a successful province. This book looks at three of those battles and the armies that fought them.
We start with a brief background to the war. This is followed by a look at the opposing sides, which demonstrate the key difference between them – the Romans were a professional army, while the Gauls had some professional soldiers (the permanent retinues of various leaders), but their larger armies were groupings of smaller contingents that weren’t trained to work together.
The three battles cover a wide range of Caesar’s opponents. We start with the battle of Bibracte, against the migrating Helvetti. Next comes the Sabis, against the Belgic tribes of the far north. We finish with Alesia, against the Gallic alliance led by Vercingetorix. There were all hard-fought battles, with a real chance of a Roman defeat, although none ended that way.
The impression one gets here is that there were two main reasons the Romans won these close-fought battles. First was Caesar’s own leadership and personal courage, which was important at key moments in each of these battles. Second, and probably more significant, was the professionalism and experience of his soldiers, who were able to react quickly to a new crisis, and who often knew what to do in a particular situation without waiting for orders. However the Gauls also emerge as courageous, capable warriors, able to fight on after initial setbacks, suggesting that the Roman view of them as having fragile morale was rather inaccurate.
The Opposing Sides
Bibracte – 28 June 58 BC
The Sabis – 13 August 57 BC
Alesia – August-October 52 BC
Author: David Campbell