Thursday, May 20, 2010


A review of Kate Gilliver’s Caesar’s Gallic Wars: 58-50 B.C. (2002)
Part of Essential Histories Series# 43

(Rating 5 of 5)

Back in the time of Caesar, it was Gaul, a name given and used by none who lived there. Kate Gilliver in her ninety-two-page work details the conquest of the area known as Gaul to the Romans, by the most famous Roman of them all, Gaius Julius Caesar. The tribes of Gaul were the oldest and most hated enemies of the Romans. It was a Gallic tribe that sacked Rome in the year 390 B.C. causing hatred that would last for generations. Not even Hannibal of Carthage had been able to sack Rome; he only got close to it. Rome would always fear the image of Gallic invasions coming from the North. In the centuries that followed Rome and Gallic tribes would clash repeatedly, but this time was different. This time a Roman general, Julius Caesar was going to take the fight directly to the heart of Gaul itself.

“The Roman siege works at Alesia were extraordinary in the size and complexity. After digging a deep ditch on the plain to prevent cavalry attacks on the working parties, the Romans built a rampart with palisade and towers at regular intervals, and a double ditch, one filled with water diverted from the rivers where possible; seven camps and 23 redoubts were added at strategic points. This line covered circuit of 11 miles. Caesar was not happy even with this formidable system of defenses, and lines of bobby traps were extended for several yards in front of the trenches. These comprised rows of sharpened stakes, then covered pits with sharpened stakes planted in them, and finally rows of wooden stakes with barbed iron spikes stuck into them. Once this circuit was complete Caesar had another identical line built outside, 14 miles in circumference, to protect the besiegers from the relieving army. The whole system took about a month to construct. Archaeological investigations have indicated that the fortifications were not as complete as Caesar suggests. There may have been gaps in the lines, particularly where the terrain provided natural protection, but the systems held up to concerted attacks by both Gallic armies even when they were prepared with bridging materials to cross the outer defenses and ditches.” p.58-59

There is a lot of information packet into these ninety pages. Gilliver takes a strong look into these historical events that occurred over 2000 years ago. There are maps, detail analysis of battles, chapters devoted to both the military and civilians in this time period.

“Centurions were the highest echelon of professional soldiers in the legion and their senior officers and commanders were politicians whose military expertise and skill could very considerably. The 60 or so centurions in each legion were appointed by the army commander—the provincial governor. While some may have been appointed because of their social status, the majority gained promotion through experience, leadership, and conspicuous courage. This must have encouraged ambitious private soldiers to prove their worth on the battlefield and gain promotion to centurion.” p.66

I really enjoyed and highly recommend this book; it is useful guide into the world of the first century B.C. I would also recommend to anyone interested in reading Julius Caesar’s own Commentaries, to pick up this book first since it is a lot more clear, impartial and precise. Having this book to use as a reference while going though Caesar’s work will help any reader, especially a novice of the time period, increase their understanding of this very important historic event to Western Civilization; Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul.

{Video from the History Channel's Battles B.C.}

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