AP Latin: DBG VII Analysis

  • Analysis:

    This is the longest book in the Gallic Wars and it describes the great revolt of most of the Gallic tribes. Tribes which Caesar has fought earlier, and many with whom he has been at peace, combine and try their luck against the mighty Roman general. It is here that we are able to see how delicate is the balance of political control in Gaul and how great is the responsibility of the governor responsible for peace. In other books, the rebellions are generally restricted to a single area at a time, but here the revolt is general, including even the usually reliable Aedui.

    The revolt begins when the Gauls hear of the political turmoil in Rome. They obviously think that Caesar will be unable to leave Rome to return to the army and that the army will be ineffectual without him. Thus they want to ready their forces in secret and so do not exchange hostages, which would reveal that coalition was being accomplished. Instead a solemn oath is taken.

    We can be fairly sure that many of the Gallic leaders involved are interested in personal power rather than political freedom for their people. This seems to be the case with Vercingetorix, and it certainly will be the case later with the Aeduans. Thus one of the most difficult problems facing Caesar is the ease with which one ambitious or dissatisfied local politician can incite an otherwise peaceful state to rebellion. In Vercingetorix' case, the chiefs of the tribe are opposed to his plans, hut he manages to organize his own army, dispose of the chiefs, and revolt against Rome.

    It should be noted, however, that not all the tribes revolt freely. Some of the tribes that join the rebellion do not even wish to be included in the fracas, but are forced into it by circumstances. The Bituriges, for example, would have remained on Caesar's side had not the Adenans failed to help them.

    It is little wonder that Caesar is accorded heroic stature, especially after one considers the deeds recorded in this book. Clearing a roadway through six feet of snow in the Cevennes mountains is a massive feat when one considers that it had to be done by manual labor. And by doing what the enemy had considered impossible, Caesar strikes fear into the enemy. He quickly gets his army together and, though matters are still dangerous, he is able to move with striking effect. He takes Cenabum by being ready for anything. His men are waiting; when the men of the town sneak out, the Romans are able to flood inside. All of Caesar's skills — being prepared, moving quickly, and taking advantage — are more important in this book than anywhere else; this widespread Gallic rebellion is his greatest challenge.

    The portrait of Vercingetorix is far from that of a villain; he is a professional and recognizes the danger in letting Avaricum stand. And Caesar quite deliberately presents him in this way because if Vercingetorix is shown to be a superior leader; then Caesar's success against him is even more impressive.

    The break in the narrative seems necessary and not simply a whim of the writer: Caesar must stop the war to settle the childish dispute among the Aedui. The law is clear and there is no justification for Cotus' attempt to have the office. The diversion, besides providing relief from the battle scenes, also prepares us for the jealousy within the tribe and figures in the betrayal later. The Aedui, as we see when Caesar visits them, are easily confused and led astray, and we are prepared for their irrational attacks on the Romans.

    Convictolitavis is bribed, but there is the implication that he is largely influenced by a desire for greater power, for even though he is in office because of Roman authority, he says he would prefer that Rome had to come to the Aedui for assistance rather than vice versa. He is easily swayed and so is his partner Litaviccus; both of them are ready to believe any rumor. When Eporedorix reports the events to Caesar, the general realizes that it is not necessary to fight the Aedui. Instead, he simply had Eporedorix and Viridomarus ride out with the troops and let themselves be seen by the Gauls, who immediately return to the Roman side at the sight of the two men.

    One of the appealing elements in the Gallic Wars is inclusion of the many Roman tactical errors. When Caesar's troops, for instance, capture a strategic hill of the Gauls, they ruin success by being too enthusiastic and charging against orders. They are so confused, in fact, that after they find themselves in trouble, they are unable to recognize the friendly Aeduan forces that come to help them. Note, too, that later when Caesar chastises them, he makes sure that he also spends much time encouraging them; he knows that a group of soldiers who are beaten, and then told by their leader that it was because of their own foolishness, is not a group that will be an effective fighting force. Thus, after his lecture, he compliments them equally on their bravery and lets them fight a few minor battles to regain their confidence.

    Caesar suspects that Eporedorix and Viridomarus will betray him, but he does not want to seem distrustful because he cannot be sure. He merely points out, before letting them ride away, all that he has done for them and their people. He seems, at times, to be almost unduly humane. This quality is also observe when he gives the German horsemen the mounts his men have been using; he wants the Germans to have the best horses available. The Romans are not cavalrymen and the Gauls still with Caesar are no good at cavalry fighting, thus this thoughtfulness is rewarded later when the cavalry is responsible for the breakdown of the enemy forces at Alesia.

    The battle at Alesia is perhaps the most involved of all battles described in the Gallic Wars. Caesar's assault position is inside a double ring of fortifications. One side faces the town, the other protects the Roman rear. He is between two enemy forces and knows that his role can shift from attacker to defender if things do not go well, so he must be especially crafty and thus, to make sure an enemy attack cannot reach his lines too quickly, he takes the added precaution of planting traps outside his trench.

    This is one of the rare occasions in which one of Caesar's own camps has a deficiency in its construction. The hillside, at the end the enemy attacks, is open because Caesar would have had to enclose the entire hill to complete his entrenchments. This could have been done, but another problem would have presented itself: he would have had to station troops on the other side of the hill to protect that part of the entrenchment, thinning both the ranks facing the city, and those facing the enemy force. As it turns out, the weakness is to his advantage, for the enemy commits itself to attack, and Labienus is able to send the cavalry around behind the enemy force and is successful in disrupting it.

    Caesar is most deserving of the twenty-day thanksgiving proclaimed by the senate.