De bello Gallico

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Book edition from 1783

As Commentarii de bello Gallico or De Bello Gallico a report is Roman commander Julius Caesar on the Gallic Wars (58 to 51/50 v. Chr.), Respectively. The name Commentarii is indirectly documented from several ancient reports. Accordingly, Caesar had called his work Commentarii rerum gestarum Galliae or Commentarii Gallici belli . The work is the main source of Caesar's campaigns, but is characterized by the author's strong self-interest and therefore problematic from a historical point of view. In literary terms, the work is also of great importance. It developed a wide impact and is still part of the main canon of Latin literature today .

Caesar's Commentarii consist of eight books. The eighth book was not written by himself, but by his friend, senior officer and personal secretary Aulus Hirtius . Hirtius wanted to close the gap between the Gallic War and the civil war , which Caesar described in his work De bello civili .

The question of the details of the publication of the Commentarii by Caesar cannot be answered clearly. There are three opinions on this: Caesar wrote or dictated the events of the individual war years year after year in the rest phases, mainly in winter camp, or the Commentarii were written coherently after the end of the war, or a kind of compromise from these two theories that the separately written books were after the end of the war in 50/51 BC Have been edited and published together.

The Commentaries - despite its generic name - not the official activity and financial reports to the Senate; however, Caesar certainly used them alongside private records.

Style and display intent

The style is clear and consistent in thinking. In the choice of words one can already speak of purism , since Caesar strictly avoids variations for their own sake and instead formulates them briefly and precisely.

This rigor and consistency in the use of language is derived from Caesar's stylistic convictions, which he expounded in his lost work De analogia . From this, the philosopher Favorinus quotes the instruction to a student: "tamquam scopulum sic fugias inauditum atque insolens verbum!" can Cicero his friend Atticus in Scripture Brutus recite.

The books about the Gallic War are structured according to the annalistic principle, so one book was dedicated to each year of the war. Caesar did not describe his actions in the first but in the third person (Er-form) in order to give the impression of objectivity and modesty. The main aim of his notes was to explain the necessity of his campaign to the Roman officials and thus to justify his war.

However, Caesar's “factual report” is colored quite subjective in some places and should therefore be viewed critically. Caesar is not actually a historian, but a reporter who used the literary genre of commentarii for political purposes.


Gaul at the time of Caesar (58 BC)

The report begins with a brief ethnographic and geographical description of Gaul. The opening sentence is still known to many Latin students today:

"Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam, qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur."

“Gaul in its entirety is divided into three parts. One is inhabited by the Belgians, another by the Aquitans and the third by those who call themselves Celts but are called Gauls in our language. "

After this brief introduction, the description of the Gallic War begins with the campaign against the Helvetii .

First book: War against the Helvetii and the Germanic Ariovistus (58 BC)

First book: War against the Helvetii ( Battle of Bibracte ) and against the Teutons ( Battle of Alsace ), 58 BC. Chr.

At the beginning of the book, Caesar describes in an overview "all of Gaul" (its geography and population), but then comes to speak of a single people, the Helvetii , in more detail . The area of ​​this people is located in the extreme southeast of Gaul and borders on Germania and the Roman province. A Helvetian nobleman, Orgetorix , strives for sole rule over Gaul. In order to achieve this, he plans to move the entire people of the Helvetii out of their area. He secretly concludes a pact with the Sequaner Casticus and the Haeduer Dumnorix to gain power together. This plan is betrayed, however, and Orgetorix is ​​killed on the run from a lawsuit. The Helvetii still stick to the plan of emigration, but Caesar uses clever tactics to prevent them from taking the easy and pleasant route through the Roman province. Instead, they are forced to move north. In doing so, they plunder through the Sequaner and Haeduer area. These call for help from Caesar, who then destroys a quarter of the Helvetii while crossing the Arar River . A little later, after a three-day battle at Bibracte , the Helvetii capitulate. Caesar sends them back to their original territory so that they can again act as a buffer between the Teutons and the Roman province.

A little later the defeated Haedu and Sequani asked Caesar for help against the Germans who were pushing into Gaul . Their king Ariovistus suppressed the Gallic tribes. Caesar recognizes the danger posed by the Teutons for the Roman Empire and decides to intervene. Through ambassadors he called on Ariovistus to refrain from crossing the Rhine, colonizing Gaul and suppressing the Gauls. Ariovistus does not go into that, so a military conflict is inevitable. In Vesontio , Caesar first gathers his troops to wait for reinforcements and to take care of the grain supply. Meanwhile, the rumor of invincible Teutons spreads among the Roman soldiers, so that there are not a few who want to refuse service when a train against them. Caesar invalidates all arguments and motivates them in a fiery speech. Caesar destroys the Teutons in the battle of Alsace . The survivors, including Ariovistus, flee back across the Rhine.

Second book: war against the Belgians (57 BC)

Second book: War against the Belger, 57 BC Chr.

The report by a conspiracy of Belger penetrates to Caesar. This puts together legions and reaches the Belger territories so quickly that the Remer tribe submits immediately. From them he learns about the strength and fighting power of the insurgent troops and also that the tribes of the Belgians descend from Germanic peoples who once came across the Rhine. Caesar crosses the Axona River and camps not far from Bibrax , the capital of the Remer. This is besieged by the Belgians, the case is imminent. Only Caesar's intervention will save them. The Belgians finally withdraw to their own areas. Many Belgians are killed on their flight.

Caesar then moves into the area of ​​the Suessionen and begins the siege of Noviodunum . The city surrendered quickly, as did the Bellovacians in Bratuspantium and the Ambian tribe . The wild and brave Nervier , Atrebaten and Viromanduer, however, withdraw into the forests and offer bitter resistance there. They even manage to encircle Caesar's legions. The defeat seems unstoppable. The Treveri tribe , fighting alongside Rome, is already fleeing. Caesar eventually beats himself in the forefront, but only the intervention of the rearguard turns the fight in Caesar's favor. The Nervians are almost completely destroyed; Caesar lets the survivors return to their territory.

The Aduatukians , descendants of the Cimbri and Teutons , surrender their city and their weapons to Caesar , but retain some of them to attack the Romans the following night. This last attempt fails. Caesar has the city plundered. In the meantime he has received news that Publius Licinius Crassus has subjugated the remaining Belgian tribes on the coast with a legion. Belgae is defeated, Caesar travels back to Italy.

Third book: War against the Venetians in the northwest and the Aquitans in the south (57–56 BC)

Third book: War against Alpine and Sea Peoples, 57/56 BC Chr.

To open a trade route from Italy through the Alps, Caesar sends his 12th Legion under Servius Galba to the area of ​​the Nantuaten , Veragrer and Seduner . In the village of Octodurum they are preparing for winter. The Gallic tribes, unwilling to submit, attack from the mountain heights. The situation becomes extremely threatening and Galba decides to break out. In the resulting confusion he succeeds in defeating the Gallic rebels.

While Caesar is in Illyria , another conflict with Gallic tribes breaks out. The seafaring people of the Venetians take Roman officers hostage. Caesar is preparing for a military conflict and has warships built on the Liger. He refuses to exchange the hostages. The Venetians won several allies, also from Britain, and fortified their cities. In order to prevent coalitions with other Gallic tribes, Caesar distributed his troops over large areas of Gaul, including the Rhine, in order to prevent possible Germanic crossings, and immediately went to Veneto with foot troops.

However, conquering the Venetian cities proves to be difficult, because they are well protected on headlands by the sea. So Caesar is waiting for his fleet. In the end, he won the naval battle that ensued, not because he had the better ships, but because his soldiers had succeeded in destroying the Venetians' rigging with sickles attached to poles, rendering their ships incapable of maneuvering. Your cities then surrender. Caesar punished them severely, had the Venetian leadership executed and sold their people as slaves.

At the same time, Quintus Titurius Sabinus manages with a ruse to challenge the Veneller and other renegade tribes under the leadership of Viridorix to attack and defeat them by a sudden failure. There is also a fight in Aquitaine . The Sotiater tribe opposes P. Crassus there. Crassus defeated them and conquered Aquitaine. Almost all of Gaul is now defeated. Only the Morin and Menapier tribes are still under arms against Rome. Withdrawn in the woods and swamps, they await Caesar and begin the fight as soon as he lets his legions rest. Caesar can push the opponent back, but cannot finally beat him in the deep forests. So he had the Morin and Menapier villages destroyed and retired to winter camp.

Fourth book: War against Teutons, first crossing of the Rhine, first expedition to Britain (55 BC)

The bravest Germanic tribe, the Suebi , drove out other Germanic tribes, the Usipeters and Tenkerer , across the Rhine into Roman-occupied Gaul. Caesar refuses to give the two tribes settlement land. A battle ensues in which the Teutons and their wives and children are crushed. To demonstrate his power to the Suebi, Caesar builds a bridge over the Rhine within 10 days and enters Germania. However, there was no direct encounter with Germanic tribes. Caesar finds their villages abandoned and burns them down. Finally, he moves in with the Ubi friends who are friends and promises them protection from the Suebi. After 18 days in Germania, he withdrew to Gaul and had the bridge demolished.

Even before winter approaches, Caesar would like to leave for Britain to underline his presence there too. As soon as he arrives, the people of Britain confront him with chariots. The situation seems completely hopeless, and Caesar's skilful move to position the more manoeuvrable battleships up front does not turn the situation around. Only a single courageous eagle- bearer can remind the rest of the soldiers of their duty and their sense of honor through his role model (he jumps with his standard, the legionary eagle, from the ship into the deep water and attacks the Britons) so that everyone follows him. Here the will of the Romans to win proves stronger than any tactic, so that Caesar wins despite all adversities.

On his return to Gaul, however, before he can release his troops into winter quarters, he has to beat 6,000 Moriners again , who rebel against him.

Fifth book: war against Britain, revolt of the Gauls (54 BC)

Fifth book: Second expedition to Britain, defeat of Titurius and Cotta against the Eburones, 54 BC. Chr.

In winter, Caesar had over 600 ships built. Before he left for Britain for the second time, however, he went to the Treverern to exhort them to loyalty to the Alliance. The Haeduer Dumnorix, who opposes Rome, has Caesar killed. Caesar gathered his troops in Itius and went to Britain. He leaves Titus Labienus with three legions. Once ashore, the assembled Britons are already waiting for him. There were first battles and, due to the British use of their chariots , the Romans suffered high losses. Nevertheless Caesar's troops fight successfully, the coalition of opponents dissolves, the Trinovants surrender. Only Cassivellaunus , commander-in-chief of the allied Britons, initially offered resistance from the woods. But eventually this one too is broken. Caesar takes hostages as security and drives back to Gaul.

This time he distributed his legions to the individual tribes for the winter camp, because he fears new unrest. Caesar learns that the Gauls have agreed to attack all winter camps at the same time. The legates Titurius and Cotta , quartered in the Eburones area , agree to withdraw, but are ambushed by Ambiorix and are defeated. The legates are killed. The camp of Cicero is also besieged . He can only withstand the onslaught with difficulty. When Labienus, too, is violently harassed by the Treverians, Caesar Cicero rushes to help. With a clever move - he succeeds in luring the Gauls to unfavorable terrain - he wins the game. When this news reaches the Gallic tribes, they flee. Labienus succeeds in killing Indutiomarus , the leader of the Treveri.

In the fifth book, Caesar gives a more detailed account of the geography and population of Britain. He suspects a geographical extent of 2000 miles, also mentions Hiberna (Ireland) and the island of Mona .

Sixth book: Uprising of the Gauls, second crossing of the Rhine, Gauls and Germanic excursion (53 BC)

Sixth book: uprisings of the Treveri, second crossing of the Rhine, Landtag in Durocortorum, 53 BC Chr.

The Gauls' unrest continues. Treverer , Nervier , Atuatuker , Menapier and Germanic tribes on the left bank of the Rhine are planning further uprisings. Caesar reinforced his troops in Gaul and subjects Nervii, Senonen , Carnutes and Menapii. The Treverians are waiting for support from Germania to raid Labienus' camp . This fakes an attempt to escape and can lure the Treverer to a hasty attack. Labienus wins and puts the Gauls to flight. As a loyal ally of Rome, Cingetorix was given rulership over the Treveri.

To make it more difficult for the Eburonen Ambiorix to flee and to punish tribes on the right bank of the Rhine who were involved in the uprising, Caesar crossed the Rhine for the second time . From his friends from Ubi, he learns about troop movements of the Suebi. Caesar has been warned.

At this point the so-called Gauls or Germanic excursion follows. Caesar reports on the manners and customs of the Gauls and distinguishes them from the Teutons. He speaks of the Gaulish population ( druids and knights), religion ("Your greatest god is Mercurius"), family law, burials and their political organization ("Talking about state affairs is only allowed through the means of the general assembly."). The Germans are different. They did not have priests like the Gauls, agriculture was not popular with them, but they loved hunting, war and hardening. A Germanic tribe is in high regard if it can drive out all its neighbors. The Gauls used to be braver and more combative than the Teutons. However, the proximity to the civilized Roman Empire brought them prosperity and they finally came to terms with having been defeated by the Teutons. The excursus ends with a description of the Hercynian forest east of the Rhine and its animals (elk, aurochs, deer), but this passage is of questionable authenticity.

The persecution of Ambiorix continues. Caesar sends L. Minucius Basilus ahead through the Ardennes forest . There Ambiorix barely escapes on horseback. Caesar then sends messengers to other Gallic tribes and tells them to plunder the Eburones . This also lures the Germanic Sugambrians over the Rhine, who attack the Eburones, but then try in vain to defeat the Romans in Atuatuca, and finally disappear again over the Rhine.

Caesar fails to capture Ambiorix, so he has no choice but to destroy the land and villages of the Eburones. In Durocortorum , a city of the Remer , Caesar holds the Gallic state parliament. Acco, instigator of the uprising, is executed. Caesar leaves for Italy.

Seventh Book: The Revolt of Vercingetorix (52 BC)

Gallic tribes, led by the Arverners Vercingetorix, form a coalition against Caesar. This moves into the area of ​​the Bituriger and wins them over for an uprising. Caesar rushes over from Italy and forces them to withdraw. Vercingetorix then besieged Gorgobina, a city of the Boier . Caesar draws his troops and conquers Vellaunodunum, Cenabum and Noviodunum Biturigum . The Gauls then burned down all the Bituriger cities, only Avaricum was spared, but was soon taken by Caesar. He exhorts the allied Haedu to loyalty to the alliance.

While he was moving Titus Labienus with four legions to the Senones and Parisians , Caesar set out for Gergovia in the Arverni region and the home of Vercingetorix. The Haedu, however, soon rise against Caesar. While the battle for Gergovia is raging, the Haedu are advancing towards the Roman troops. The Romans lose nearly seven hundred men that day but are unable to take the city. Caesar moves on to the city of Noviodunum, which was destroyed by the Haeduern, while Labienus moves against the city of Lutetia . There it comes to a victorious battle for Labienus. The Gauls flee. After three days his troops unite with those of Caesar.

Meanwhile, Vercingetorix holds Gallic Diet in Bibracte . Almost all Gallic tribes take part and confirm Vercingetorix as general. A battle ensues in the course of which the Gallic horsemen on the Armançon River are destroyed. Vercingetorix withdraws with his foot troops to the fortress of Alesia . There it comes to the fight again, which Caesar wins thanks to Germanic auxiliary troops. He succeeds in enclosing the Gauls and building a sophisticated system of fortifications around the city. The trapped Gauls are now urgently waiting for Gaulish auxiliary troops to approach, because their food supplies are almost exhausted. The Gauls discuss the possibility of surrender. In the fiery speech of the Arverners Critognatus, he speaks out against surrender and convinces the rest. Cavalry battles open the next fighting, but no decision is made by the evening. Even in the coming days, Vercingetorix fails to bring about a victory by failures. The decision is in the making. Caesar finally wins. Vercingetorix falls into his hands.

Caesar then goes straight to the Haeduern, subdues them again, takes many hostages and sends his troops to winter camp. He himself remains in Bibracte. A 20-day thanksgiving festival is celebrated in Rome.

Eighth book: The years 51 BC BC and 50 BC BC (from Aulus Hirtius )

  • Preface by Hirtius
  • 1–48 Caesar's war acts in the eighth year of his governorship
  • 49–55 The preparation for civil war
    • Preliminary remark by Hirtius
    • 49–51 Caesar's mild trial against the subjugated Gaul; journey to Italy
    • 52–53 return to Gaul on the other side; Caesar places Labienus over this side of Gaul; Beginnings of the Civil War
    • 54–55 Caesar comes by a senate resolution for two legions, which are handed over to Pompey

The eighth book breaks off in the middle of a sentence.

Lore history

The tradition of De bello Gallico turns out to be confusing and not yet fully explored due to numerous text witnesses. In any case, since its first publication during Caesar's lifetime, it has been a text with considerable circulation. There are 33 medieval manuscripts in the Vatican Library alone , 25 in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris), over a dozen in Florence and more in other, mainly Roman, libraries.

For the bilingual French-Latin edition (1926, Collection des Universités de France ), Léopold Albert Constans evaluated around 40 manuscripts. The oldest is from the 9th century. The later copies from the 14th and 15th centuries differ in part from the older manuscripts.


As we know from some utterances, Caesar's readers expected his commentarii to be in the tradition of diary-like notes, e. Sometimes as a memory aid and material for future historians, based on the model of the hypomnemata of the Greeks. But while reading, they recognized the already literary character of Caesar's writings. This is how Cicero judges in his History of Oratory in Rome with the title Brutus : “ I also read several commentarii (meaning: Caesars) that he wrote about his deeds. They are quite acceptable […]. Because they are not adorned, straightforward and pleasing, stripped of all rhetorical pomp as if from a robe. But while he wanted others to have material to use in their historiography, he may be doing fools who want to curl curls with curling irons; He discouraged sensible people from writing. Because nothing is more pleasant in a historical work than clean and clear brevity. "

Aulus Hirtius expressed himself similarly when he continued Caesar's work on the Gallic War with his eighth book. In the apology for this risk, which he sent in advance pro forma , one reads: “It is common knowledge that nothing has been worked out so painstakingly by others that it is not surpassed by the thoroughness of these comments. He published them so that the historians should not lack knowledge of such important events - and in the general judgment they find so much applause that it looks like he anticipated the historians the opportunity to present them, and not given them. "

Caesar's above-mentioned strict and regular use of the language made his Commentarii a stylistic model for learning Latin in schools. In the first centuries of modern times, Caesar's writing was part of the literary canon of the training of statesmen and officers. Today the work is standard literature in Latin lessons. One fruit of reading the work in school lessons is the Comoedia nova neque individuellepida et lectu actuque iucunda atque utilis published by Nicodemus Frischlin in 1589, entitled Helvetiogermani . The material and the literary source of this school comedy are the events of the first book by De bello Gallico , namely the emigration of the Helvetii and the war with the Germanic prince Ariovistus , expanded by some comical incidents with the corresponding personnel. Whenever possible, the text is Caesar's portrayal, transposed into dramatic measure, which the pupils must have already known; The long, indirect speeches in the original are also reproduced in direct speech with some degree of accuracy.

Caesar's Commentarii inspired many writers and artists, especially since the Renaissance. Prominent works are for example:

  • Petrus Ramus , book on Caesar's warfare (1559);
  • William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (around 1599);
  • Bertolt Brecht, The Business of Mr. Julius Caesar (1957);
  • the Asterix comics and films by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo (since 1961), particularly the volume The Papyrus of Caesar (2015);
  • the American television series Rome takes up the fictional life stories of Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus, both of which are briefly mentioned in the work ( De bello Gallico 5,44).


Text-critical edition
  • Wolfgang Hering (Ed.): C. Iulii Caesaris Commentarii rerum gestarum. Vol. 1: Bellum Gallicum. Leipzig 1987.
  • Otto Seel (Ed.): C. Iulii Caesaris Commentarii rerum gestarum. Vol. 1: Bellum Gallicum. Leipzig 1961.
  • Heinrich Meusel (Ed.): C. Iulii Caesaris Commentarii de bello Gallico. Explained by Friedrich Kraner and Wilhelm Dittenberger , 3 vols., 18th edition, Berlin 1960.
  • Alfred Klotz (Ed.): C. Iuli Caesaris commentarii. Vol. 1: Commentarii Belli Gallici. 4th ed., Ed. Stereotypa corr., Addenda et corrigenda coll. Et adiecit W. Trillitzsch , Leipzig 1957.
  • RLA Du Pontet (Ed.): C. Iuli Caesaris commentariorum libri VII de bello gallico cum A. Hirti supplemento. Oxford 1900.


Web links

Wikisource: Commentarii de bello Gallico  - Sources and full texts (Latin)


  1. See Schönberger, Tusculum edition, p. 664.
  2. In antiquity and in the Middle Ages, Caesar was apparently only read relatively little (but see Tacitus's comment : Germania 28.1), even though quite a lot of manuscripts were made in the Middle Ages. For general information on the history of reception, see von Albrecht, Geschichte der Roman Literatur , Vol. 1, pp. 341 f.
  3. ^ Brief overview in Schönberger, Tusculum edition, p. 664 f.
  4. Von Albrecht, History of Roman Literature , Vol. 1, pp. 334 ff.
  5. Aulus Gellius , Noctes Atticae 1,10,4.
  6. Brutus 251 ff.
  7. See, for example, Christian Meier , Caesar , fifth edition, Munich 2002, p. 309 ff. That is why Gaius Asinius Pollio criticized Caesar in his (now lost) histories even in antiquity .
  8. See also Schönberger, Tusculum edition, p. 668 f.
  9. Caesar, De bello Gallico 1,1,1. Translation from: Gaius Julius Caesar: The Gallic War . Translated and explained by Curt Woyte . Reclam, Stuttgart 1975, p. 5.
  10. ^ César: Guerre des Gaules , based on the translation by Léopold Albert Constans, foreword and comments by Paul-Marie Duval , Prof. at the Collège de France, Paris, 1981, Editions Gallimard, ISBN 2-07-037315-0
  11. Cicero, Brutus 262.
  12. De bello Gallico 8,1,4 f.