Belgae fortissimi sunt?

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Belgae fortissimi sunt?

Postby Tiberius Dionysius Draco on Sun Feb 02, 2003 12:16 am

Salvete Romani,

in "De Bello Gallico", Caesar says:

"Horum omnium fortissimi sunt Belgae"


How much I would like to believe this, there are a few questions that spring to mind when hearing this.

- Did he say this to make his victory all the more glorious?
- Did he say this to gain more support from the senate and to show them that he could defeat the most powerful enemies of Rome?
- Or did he mean it?

I eagerly await comments, opinions and questions

Valete bene,

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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Sun Feb 02, 2003 4:25 am

Salve Tiberi

Or did he write this to cover the fact that he had made a fundamental error of judgement in dividing his forces, and then was caught off guard due to his tactical incompetance?

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Postby Tiberius Dionysius Draco on Sun Feb 02, 2003 11:46 am

Salve Piscine,

I thought Caesar was a tactical genius, I remember reading in history class about Caesar being outnumbered (I think it was 1 to 3) against a horde of barbarians.

His idea was to make a wall with archers on top of it to shoot at the oncoming barbarians (they were Gauls). The barbarians rushed towards the wooden wall but Casear had ordered that underneath the grass, pit traps should be placed. For a few days long, the Gauls ran blindly into the trap Caesar had set for them.

Either he might have been extremley lucky or the Gauls were so drunk (they always drank to give themselves more courage in battle) that they ran into the trap even after half of them had died.

This was the battle of Allesia and was one of the last revolts of the Gauls against their Roman supressors.

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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Sun Feb 02, 2003 1:56 pm

Salve Tiberi

Caesar's genius, in politics and in military affairs, was that he was able to attract capable lieutenents. His account of the Gallic campaign was meant to bolster his political position back home. So he did not include his failures and defeats. Even still, some of what he did include shows that he was often lucky, but not the best of generals. It is his men that held the day for him often, and more than once, it is Labienus who managed to save Caesar's army. Labienus was older than Caesar and a more experienced general, and when he was away from the main body of the army, Caesar tended to get himself caught in traps.

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Postby Tiberius Dionysius Draco on Sun Feb 02, 2003 3:02 pm

Salve Piscine,

Caesar may have had capable lieutenents, but isn't that always the case with succesfull men and women? I shall explain it with an example:

A man has a great idea for a new type of chariot. He draws the plan of it and brings it to an engineer. The engineer selects what material is best to be used. After that, he makes the chariot. Then the smith helps him with the iron parts of it. After the chariot is finished, it can be painted and decorated.

What I want to say with this is that even though you might have a great idea, it can still fail becouse of incompetent worksmen. If the smith didn't really feel like working that day and quickly wanted to finish the chariot and forgot to make the iron strong enough. The chariot could fall apart in the middle of a race, leading maybe to the execution of the designer.

Succes depends on a lot of factors, and one of these is have competent subordinates to excecute your idea in a good way.

Maybe Caesar did only write about his victories, but he still had some great ideas, excecuted by very competent men.

Vale bene,

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Postby Marcus Pomponius Lupus on Sun Feb 02, 2003 6:01 pm

Salve Tiberi,

Look at it this way, suppose he is trying to make the Belgae look better, the only reason he would have is that they proved to be tougher than the other Gauls to conquer and that he wanted to cover up his near-defeat by making them look almost invincible. If the Belgae were just like the other tribes, then he simply wouldn't have had all that trouble in conquering them and he wouldn't have had the need to call them the fortissimi. So the very reason for him to maybe exagerate a little is proof that the Belgae were in fact harder to conquer.

When you read further in de Bello Gallico you'll also notice that there really aren't all that much battles, in book 2 alone Caesar "conquers" most of the enemy tribes by placing his men around a fortified town, start building some siege engines and before an actual fight started, the people of that town surrendered seeing that there wasn't any hope. After the Helvetii and the forces of Ariovistus are defeated, the only real threat left was posed by the Belgae who refused to accept Roman rulership in Gaul.

So even if the "horum omnium fortissimi sunt belgae" sentence wasn't in it, one would still have to conclude that the Belgae were pretty darn fortis ;-)

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Postby Curio Agelastus on Sun Feb 02, 2003 10:31 pm

Salvete,

You all make good points, but you do not get to the heart of the matter. Caesar completely failed to make a real impact on the isle of Britannia. He therefore praised the Belgians.

The reasons were two-fold. Firstly, military men, those who actually knew how to fight a battle, would, if given the choice, choose to campaign against the Belgians, for greater glory, thus ensuring no one eclipsed Caesar's expedition to Britannia.

The second reason was that the political men who were to be given military commands would choose, given the choice, knowing their military inexperience, not to go against the Belgae, but the people of Britannia. They would meet with disaster, thus ensuring that Caesars reputation remained intact.

Conclusion: The people of Britannia were quite obviously the strongest and most endurant of all the enemies of Roma. :-p
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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Mon Feb 03, 2003 4:16 am

Salvete

Mi Curio, I don't follow you at all. I agree that any military leader with experience would have preferred to go against the Belgae. Not because of the difference in foes, but due to the difficulty of moving and supplying a force cross channel.

From what Caesar wrote, he had six legions, plus two legions of raw recruits. He had been in Cisapline Gaul campaigning for his candidates, sending voters down to Rome to vote, meanwhile leaving Labienus to oversee military operations in Gaul over the winter. He posed that facing him was a force of 250, 000 Belgae. Add in his allies and Caesar still claims he was outnumbered at least two to one. Why then would you place your force across river, with a small rear guard to watch your one possible line of retreat? As things turned out the Belgae did attempt to cross the river further down stream and cut Caesar off. He acknowledged that if they had succeeded taking the bridge that his army would have been cut off from their sources of supply. But he was lucky.

Then he moved further into the enemy territory. Still facing a numerically superior force, if true, who's position was unknown. He advanced with his legions formed, the six veteran units in the front, then his baggage train, with two legions of raw recruits bringing up the rear to act as his reserve? Not smart. Not if that is what he did, and I would think it was somewhat different than as simply as he said. Caesar tries to make it appear as though he knew of the Belgian plan to ambush him, and that by placing his baggage train further back in his column that he was able to win the day. It probably was a surprise to the Belgae that they had managed to catch the bulk of Caesar's forces in a trap. The description he gives is that he was surprised, he was ambushed, the enemy got into his camp with his men unprepared, he had to "be everywhere at once", which really only shows that he had lost control of his command. What Caesar admits to is not the campiagn conducted by a military mastermind, or even a field commander who showed any tactical genius. He was lucky.

Then he decided to split his forces before venturing deeper into enemy territory. He was very lucky. But not militarily wise.

There was obviously more to it. Numerical advantage historically has never been decisive, it does not necessarily translate into superior force. Then as now, what matters is superior firepower. Caesar had that, certainly in a seige situation, and you see him rush forward his Numidian archers and Baeleric slingers in detachtments to drive off the Belgae. In a melee battle, in a sense, the Roman tactical deployment gave them superior "fire" power, by artificially increasing their frontage and battlefield mobility, enabling them to bring a superior portion of their force to bear against an enemy. Press a Roman formation onto itself, though, as Hannibal did at Cannae, and the Romans lost their tactical advantage.

What realy helped Caesar out, in Britannia and in Belgium, were the native tribes that sided with him. Caesar was a good politicial, and diplomat, and it paid off for him. But militarily, Caesar did not demonstrate much ability.

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Postby Curio Agelastus on Tue Feb 04, 2003 9:09 pm

Salve,

Actually mi Piscine, it was a spoof theory to prove that the people of Britannia were the most fearsome of Roma's foes. But then, a poker-face always was my speciality. ;-)

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