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Gallic Wars

58–50 BC, Rome vs. Gallic tribes / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The Gallic Wars[lower-alpha 1] were waged between 58 and 50 BC by the Roman general Julius Caesar against the peoples of Gaul (present-day France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland). Gallic, Germanic, and Brittonic tribes fought to defend their homelands against an aggressive Roman campaign. The Wars culminated in the decisive Battle of Alesia in 52 BC, in which a complete Roman victory resulted in the expansion of the Roman Republic over the whole of Gaul. Though the Gallic military was as strong as the Romans, the Gallic tribes' internal divisions eased victory for Caesar. Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix's attempt to unite the Gauls under a single banner came too late. Caesar portrayed the invasion as being a preemptive and defensive action, but historians agree that he fought the wars primarily to boost his political career and to pay off his debts. Still, Gaul was of significant military importance to the Romans. Native tribes in the region, both Gallic and Germanic, had attacked Rome several times. Conquering Gaul allowed Rome to secure the natural border of the river Rhine.

Quick facts: Gallic Wars, Date, Location, Result, Territor...
Gallic Wars
Vercingetorix, on horseback, surrenders his sword to the seated Caesar, who is surrounded by his retinue
Vercingetorix Throws Down His Arms at the Feet of Julius Caesar, 1899, by Lionel Noel Royer
Date58–50 BC
Result Roman victory
  • Gaul annexed by Roman Republic
  • Local client kings and tributaries set up in Britain
Vexilloid_of_the_Roman_Empire.svg Roman Republic
Commanders and leaders

Modern estimates:

  • 58 BC: 6 legions (understrength, 24–30,000 troops, including cavalry auxiliaries)[1]
  • 57 BC: 8 legions (32–40,000 troops)
  • 55 BC: 2 legions (~10,000 troops) in Britain, the rest left on the continent
  • 54 BC: 5 legions (~25,000 troops) & 2,000 auxiliaries in Britain
  • 53 BC: 10 legions (40–50,000 troops)
  • 52 BC: 11 legions & 10,000+ auxiliaries,[2][3] 60–75,000 troops total by the siege of Alesia

Modern estimates:

  • 58 BC: 20,000–50,000, of which 8,000 or more were civilians
  • 52 BC: 180,000 Gallic combatants at Alesia
Casualties and losses
40,000+(Credible estimate)
  • 30,000+ killed
  • 10,000+ wounded

All contemporary numbers are considered not credible by Henige[8]

The wars began with conflict over the migration of the Helvetii in 58 BC, which drew in neighboring tribes and the Germanic Suebi. By 57 BC, Caesar had resolved to conquer all of Gaul. He led campaigns in the east, where the Nervii almost defeated him. In 56 BC, Caesar defeated the Veneti in a naval battle and took most of northwest Gaul. In 55 BC, Caesar sought to boost his public image. He undertook first-of-their-kind expeditions across the Rhine and the English Channel. Rome hailed Caesar as a hero upon his return from Britain, though he had achieved little beyond landing because his army had been too small. The next year, he returned with a proper army and conquered much of Britain. Tribes rose up on the continent, and the Romans suffered a humiliating defeat. 53 BC saw a brutal pacification campaign. This failed, and Vercingetorix led a revolt in 52 BC. Gallic forces won a notable victory at the Battle of Gergovia, but the Romans' indomitable siege works at the Battle of Alesia crushed the Gallic coalition.

In 51 and 50 BC, there was limited resistance, and Caesar's troops mainly engaged in mop-up operations. Gaul was conquered, although it would not become a Roman province until 27 BC, and resistance would continue until as late as 70 AD. There is no precise end date to the war, but the imminent Roman Civil War led to the withdrawal of Caesar's troops in 50 BC. Caesar's wild successes in the war had made him wealthy and provided a legendary reputation. The Gallic Wars were a key factor in Caesar's ability to win the Civil War and make himself dictator, which culminated in the end of the Roman Republic and the establishment of the Roman Empire.

Julius Caesar described the Gallic Wars in his book Commentarii de Bello Gallico. It is the primary source for the conflict, but modern historians consider it prone to exaggeration. Caesar makes impossible claims about the number of Gauls killed (over a million), while claiming almost zero Roman casualties. Modern historians believe that Gallic forces were smaller than the Romans claimed, and that the Romans suffered more casualties than Caesar claims. Untold numbers of Gauls were killed, enslaved, or mutilated, including large numbers of civilians.