CHAPTER IV. THE CONQUEST OF GAUL.
[Caesar aspires to be a soldier.] [His success and celebrity.]
In attaining to the consulship, Caesar had reached the highest point of elevation which it was possible to reach as a mere citizen of Rome. His ambition was, however, of course, not satisfied. The only way to acquire higher distinction and to rise to higher power was to enter upon a career of foreign conquest. Caesar therefore aspired now to be a soldier. He accordingly obtained the command of an army, and entered upon a course of military campaigns in the heart of Europe, which he continued for eight years. These eight years constitute one of the most important and strongly-marked periods of his life. He was triumphantly successful in his military career, and he made, accordingly, a vast accession to his celebrity and power, in his own day, by the results of his campaigns. He also wrote, himself, an account of his adventures during this period, in which the events are recorded in so lucid and in so eloquent a manner, that the narrations have continued to be read by every successive generation of scholars down to the present day, and they have had a great influence in extending and perpetuating his fame.
[Scenes of Caesar's exploits.] [Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul.]
The principal scenes of the exploits which Caesar performed during the period of this his first great military career, were the north of Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany, and England, a great tract of country, nearly all of which he overran and conquered. A large portion of this territory was called Gaul in those days; the part on the Italian side of the Alps being named Cisalpine Gaul, while that which lay beyond was designated as Transalpine. Transalpine Gaul was substantially what is now France. There was a part of Transalpine Gaul which had been already conquered and reduced to a Roman province. It was called The Province then, and has retained the name, with a slight change in orthography, to the present day. It is now known as Provence.
[Condition of Gaul in Caesar's day.] [Singular cavalry.]
The countries which Caesar went to invade were occupied by various nations and tribes, many of which were well organized and war-like, and some of them were considerably civilized and wealthy. They had extended tracts of cultivated land, the slopes of the hills and the mountain sides being formed into green pasturages, which were covered with flocks of goats, and sheep, and herds of cattle, while the smoother and more level tracts were adorned with smiling vineyards and broadly-extended fields of waving grain. They had cities, forts, ships, and armies. Their manners and customs would be considered somewhat rude by modern nations, and some of their usages of war were half barbarian. For example, in one of the nations which Caesar encountered, he found, as he says in his narrative, a corps of cavalry, as a constituent part of the army, in which, to every horse, there were two men, one the rider, and the other a sort of foot soldier and attendant. If the battle went against them, and the squadron were put to their speed in a retreat, these footmen would cling to the manes-of the horses, and then, half running, half flying, they would be borne along over the field, thus keeping always at the side of their comrades, and escaping with them to a place of safety.
But, although the Romans were inclined to consider these nations as only half civilized, still there would be great glory, as Caesar thought, in subduing them, and probably great treasure would be secured in the conquest, both by the plunder and confiscation of governmental property, and by the tribute which would be collected in taxes from the people of the countries subdued. Caesar accordingly placed himself at the head of an army of three Roman legions, which he contrived, by means of a great deal of political maneuvering and management, to have raised and placed under his command. One of these legions, which was called the tenth legion, was his favorite corps, on account of the bravery and hardihood which they often displayed. At the head of these legions, Caesar set out for Gaul. He was at this time not far from forty years of age.
Caesar had no difficulty in finding pretexts for making war upon any of these various nations that he might desire to subdue. They were, of course, frequently at war with each other, and there were at all times standing topics of controversy and unsettled disputes among them. Caesar had, therefore, only to draw near to the scene of contention, and then to take sides with one party or the other, it mattered little with which, for the affair almost always resulted, in the end, in his making himself master of both. The manner, however, in which this sort of operation was performed, can best be illustrated by an example, and we will take for the purpose the case of Ariovistus.
[Ariovistus.] [The Aeduans.]
Ariovistus was a German king. He had been nominally a sort of ally of the Romans. He had extended his conquests across the Rhine into Gaul, and he held some nations there as his tributaries. Among these, the Aeduans were a prominent party, and, to simplify the account, we will take their name as the representative of all who were concerned. When Caesar came into the region of the Aeduans, he entered into some negotiations with them, in which they, as he alleges, asked his assistance to enable them to throw off the dominion of their German enemy. It is probable, in fact, that there was some proposition of this kind from them, for Caesar had abundant means of inducing them to make it, if he was disposed, and the receiving of such a communication furnished the most obvious and plausible pretext to authorize and justify his interposition.