The Gallic War by Julius Caesar

October 11, 2010

Summary: Anyone who has studied Latin in high school or college probably had to commit these famous lines to memory: “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belage, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum linguam Celtae, nostra Galli appelantur.” Rendered in English, this usually translates to, “All Gaul is divided into three parts, in one of which live the Belgae, another the Aquitani, and the third those who are called Celts in their language, Gauls in ours.” (Yeah, that’s pretty rough, but whatever!) And so Caesar began his account of eight years or war and conquest in the region now known as France.

The Gallic Wars is a rare firsthand look at ancient warfare through the eyes of a great general. Caesar spends most of the book discussing various war strategies, and also describes the different tribes the Romans encounter along the way. In addition, he almost always has something to say about the grain supply, which was an important consideration in a strange land with harsh winters.

Of course, one purpose of writing such a book was to make himself look good, and Caesar certainly succeeds on that front. He comes off as exceedingly generous and compassionate in most instances, and when he does order brutal measures, he always finds a way to justify his actions.

Note: Book VIII of The Gallic Wars was written by someone else, and served as a transition between the happenings in Gaul and the subsequent Roman Civil War that occurred soon thereafter.

Liked:

  • The main reason I liked this book was because of its historical value. A firsthand account from Julius Caesar himself? That’s simply amazing, when you consider how long ago this stuff took place!
  • It was interesting to hear about Paris — yes, the Paris — spoken about back in Caesar’s time. I had no idea the city was that old!
  • Caesar’s narrative was very easy to read and understand, which is one of the reasons this text is usually the first one used to introduce high school students to authentic Latin prose.

Disliked:

  • It was kind of hard to distinguish between one battle and the next because the tribe names meant nothing to me. Furthermore, I got tired of flipping back and forth between the maps and the text, so I simply gave up on trying to figure out where the Roman army was in terms of a modern map.

Rating:

The Gallic War by Julius Caesar still has value for today’s reader, especially if that reader is a history buff or enjoys Latin. That being said, I think if you read this book on your own, without the guidance of a professor or some other expert, a lot of the significance will be lost — as it was for me. I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

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