Vercingetorix and Caesar after the Siege of Alesia
The Celts lost a crucial battle to the Romans in Telamon, Italy in 225 B.C. Even though the Celts effectively used guerilla tactics against the Romans and captured a Roman consul and waved his head on stake, their unruly hand-to-hand tactic were no match against the spears and disciplined ranks of the Romans.

In their accounts of the Celts the Romans described bloodstained Druid alters and mass human sacrifice. They were appalled by this even though they held sporting event in which 5,000 wild animals were killed and gladiators fought each other to the death. "Some of the tribes mae colossal wickerwork figures," Caesar wrote of the Gauls, "the limbs of which are filled with living men: these images are then set alight and the victims perish in the flames."

The Romans consolidated small Celtic and Teutonic kingdoms into an imperial province.The south of France was annexed by the Romans about 125 B.C. and today contains many theaters, amphitheaters, aqueducts, roads, arches, monument, mosaics and artifacts as reminders of its long Roman occupation. When Julius Caesar did his conquering it was primarily to claim northern France for Rome.

The Romans relied on native aristocrats to administer local governments. Many Gauls became citizens of Rome. Gallic silver, glass, pottery, food and wine were exported to Italy. At a factory near Milay in the massif Central, for example, slaves mass-produced pottery for the western half of the Roman Empire, including the entire Roman army.” [Source: Elaine Sciolino. New York Times, May 17, 2009]

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Caesar in Gaul (France)

Caesar's greatest military victory was the conquest of Gaul (France) in which 55,000 Romans battled 250,000 Celts in a campaign that lasted from 58 to 51 B.C. His account of the events — “Commentaries on the Gallic War” — is still regarded as a masterpiece. Modern historians have compared it to Churchill’s work.

In 58 B.C., after serving a year as consul, Caesar had himself named the governor of Gaul, where he distinguished himself as a superb organizer and a motivator of soldiers with whom he worked with, fought with and suffered with. He inspired such respect and affection from the men who served under him it was said they would do anything for him.

Beginning of Roman advance
into Gaul in 59 BC
To protect his army of 40,000 men from the Gauls Caesar erected a fortress with a circumference of 14 miles. The fort was protected by hidden pit with upward pointing sticks, logs spiked with iron hooks, walls fashioned from forked timbers and double ditches. During one attack Celts hurled themselves bravely and foolishly at the fortress and were routed after the Roman cavalry charged down from a hill at a strategic time.

During his years in Gaul Caesar inexorably expanded Roman territory by defeating one tribe after another. He crossed the Rhine in 55 B.C. to preempt a German invasion. In 52 B.C., he put down the last great Gallic-Celtic uprising. Vercingetorix, the leader of the Gallic-Celtic forces, surrendered himself at the feet of Caesar who sent him to Rome where the Gallic leader was imprisoned for six years and then paraded through the streets and strangled in the Forum.

The historian Ernst Badian told National Geographic, "Blood was the characteristic of Alexander's whole campaign. There us nothing comparable in ancient history except Caesar in Gaul."

Caesar Makes Rome Into an Empire

Caesar’s campaign in Gaul allowed Rome to claim France, the Netherlands and Belgium. In campaigns early in the Civil Wars period he claimed Portugal, Spain, and Greece. With Egypt under the control of Cleopatra, Caesar set his sights on the Middle East.

After annihilating the Parthians in Pontus and Zela in the Middle East in 47 B.C., Caesar sent home the immortal message, "”Veni, vidi, vici” ("I came, I saw, I conquered"). This victory allowed him to claim Syria, Israel, and western Turkey. Afterwards he returned home to Rome to fight another rival, Cato, who had gone to North Africa to raise an army to challenge Caesar. That didn’t happen. Instead, Caesar sent his army to Africa and crushed Cato.

In 46 B.C., the last of Pompey’s forces were defeated in Spain. With the civil wars over Caesar was the unchallenged leader of Rome. In the meantime Portugal, Spain, France, the Netherlands Belgium, Italy, Greece, Syria, Israel, western Turkey, and northern Libya were added to Rome under Caesar, making it a truly great empire.

Colonization of Gaul (France)

Gaul in 57 BC (Roman expansion in pink)

After the defeat by Caesar, Celtic culture declined on the European mainland. Their culture mixed with Roman culture. They worshipped their own deities under Roman names. The Romans considered the Gauls to be very superstitious. Frenchmen were created out of the union of Romans and Gauls.

Gaul was systematically romanized after the conquest by Caesar. Roads, aqueducts and cities with baths and theaters were built. The mixing of the Roman language of Latin and local Celtic tongues created the French tongue.

After the Romans defeated the Celts, the Celts had difficulty setting up a government and collecting enough taxes to support a disciplined army. Performing these kinds of tasks was against their nature. Corruption was rampant, land owned by small landowners was seized by the estates of the rich. Third century threats in Gaul resulted in the fortification of towns and villages. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

The Romans ruled what is now France for more than 500 years. They annexed Provence in 121 B.C. and subdued the Gauls during the Gallic Wars between 58 and 51 B.C. Gaul became part of the Roman empire when Julius Caesar defeated Vercingetorix in 52 B.C. The first assembly of Gauls was held in A.D. 12. The Romans founded numerous cities and towns that remain today, including Arles, Lyon, Autun, Frejus, Orange, Nimbe, Narbonne and Vienne.

Battles with German Tribes

Gaul in 51 BC
The land of fierce German tribes was held for only about 20 years under the reign of Augustus. German tribes frequently raided towns in Gaul near the border. The land, divided among several German tribes, was lost when three Roman legions were slaughtered at Teutoburg Forest in A.D. 9.

A Roman army under Quictilius Varus was sent in to quell the Germanic tribes but it marched right into a trap. The Battle of Arminius in the Teutoburg Forest brought the Roman expansion into Germany to a halt. Almost every member of a 50,000-member Roman army led by Varus was killed or enslaved. Varus committed suicide.

The defeat kept Rome from absorbing German territory. The Germans captured the Roman standards. Augustus was so upset he didn’t shave and let hair grow for months. He reportedly also banged his head against a wall, shouting, "Varus! Give me back my legions.”

The finality of this battle was called into question when evidence another battle between Romans and Germanic tribes was found in 2006 in a wooded region between Hanover and Kassel deep inside what is now Germany that took place 200 years after the Teutoburg Forest Battle. Some historians have speculated that battle might have occurred after a Roman raid deep inside German territory.

Conquest of Britain

Britain was conquered in A.D. 43 by four Roman legions under the crippled Emperor Claudius. In 51 the native leader Cartatcus was captured and taken to Rome. Late an insurrection led by Boudicca, queen of Iceni, was brutally put down.

Caesars invasions of Britain
Caesar invaded Britain twice. Julius Caeser invaded Britain in 55 B.C. partly in hope of "getting pearls." Describing the invasion he wrote: "The Romans were faced with grave difficulties. The size of the ships made it impossible to run them aground except in fairly deep waters and the soldiers, unfamiliar with the ground, with their hands full, and weighed down by the heavy burden of their arms, had at the same time to jump down from the ships, get a footing in the waves, and fight the enemy." [Source: Eyewitness to History, edited by John Carey, 1987, Avon Books]

“The enemy, who, standing on dry land or advancing only a short way into the water, fought with all their limbs unencumbered and on preferably familiar ground, boldly hurling javelins and galloping their horses, which were trained for this kind of work. These perils frightened our soldiers, who were quite unaccustomed to battles of this kind, with the result that they did not show the same alacrity and enthusiasm as they usually did in battles on dry land."

"Seeing this, Caesar ordered the warships — which were swifter and easier to handle than the transports, and likely to impress the natives more by their unfamiliar appearance — to be removed a short distance from the others, and then to be rowed hard ashore on the enemy's right flank, from which position slings, bows, and artillery could be used by men on deck to drive them back."

"The maneuver was highly successful. Scared by the strange shape of the warships, the motion of the oars, and the unfamiliar machines, the natives halted and then retreated a little. But as the Romans hesitated, chiefly on account of the depth of the water, the man who carried the eagle of the tenth legion, after praying to the gods that his actions might bring good luck to the legion, cried in a loud voice, 'Jump down comrades, unless you want to surrender our eagle to the enemy; I, at any rate, mean to do my duty to my country and general.'"

"With these word he leapt out of the ship and advanced towards the enemy with the eagle in his hands. At this the soldiers, exhorting each other not to submit to such a disgrace, jumped with one accord from the ship, and the men from the next ships, when they saw them, followed them and advanced against the enemy."

Colonization of Britain

Campaign in Britain
Many historians claim that the conquest of Britain was a big mistake. Britain had few resources other than lead and a little silver and gold. The Scots and Welsh proved to be fierce opponents and all efforts to conquer Caledonia (Scotland) ended in disappointment. Three legions were stationed in Britain, a tenth of Rome's entire army, which meant that could not be used to protect Rome.

The Romans occupied England for about 400 years. They planted vineyards, chestnut trees and cabbages. Describing the ancient Britons, Julius Caesar reported, "The husbands possess their wives to the number of 10 or 12 in common, and more especially brother with brothers." Caesar also reported that ancient Picts ran round in cold Scotland in the nude. In A.D. 200, the Roman historian Herodian described the Britons as "ferocious fighters [who] tattoo their bodies with myriad patterns and all sorts of animals." The Romans believed the Britons gained strength from these tattoos.

After Emperor Caldius invaded Britain in A.D. 43. Britain was made a province of the Roman Empire. It was ruled by Roman law and Roman towns and roads were set up. The Romans expanded their empire as far north as Hadrian's Wall near the present-day England-Scotland border. Northern Britain was inhabited by fierce Scots and Picts, Celtic groups the Romans were never able to subdue. Among the fantastic places described the Roman chronicler Pliny the Elder were the Hyperborea, islands near Scotland, where the sun only sets once a year, people chose the time of their death by leaping off a cliff and cliffs shaped like women came to life at night and lured ships to their doom among the rocks.

The Romans built baths with central heating, luxurious villas, atrium gardens, basilicas, theaters, forums, mosaic floors and walls, and fortress. Large Roman towns grew up around Bath, Colchester, Silchester, Viroconium, and Wroxeter. The largest cache of Roman coins (9,212 of them) was found in a farmer’s field near Glastonbury. Gods at Bath and other cities were had both Roman and Celtic names. Druid rituals and human sacrifice were described in Julius Caesar's “Gallic Wars“ and elaborated on by Pliny. A silver statutes of the Egyptian god Harpocrates was found in the Thames. It dates from the Roman times.

Boudicca, the British Warrior Queen

20120224-1234 Standard-Bearer_of_the_Tenth_Legion.jpg
Standard Bearer of
the Tenth Legion
Roman moneylenders forced British peasants into debt. A violent uprising led by the Iceni and Trinovnates broke out. In 60 A.D., Boudicca, a "Warrior Queen" from the Iceni tribe with brilliant red hair, challenged Roman rule after she was flogged, her husband was killed and her daughter raped.

After experiencing a vision in which she saw a theater that "echoed with shrieks," human copses floating in "a blood-red color in the sea" and "phantom the ruins," Boudicca lead her daughters and chariot-mounted tribesman against a Roman settlement in present-day Colchester, shouting, "We British are used to women commanders in war."

Boudicca's force was thoroughly annihilated by the disciplined Roman legions. A Roman force of 10,000 defeated the Britons, whose casualties were estimated by some at 100,000. According to the Roman historian Tacitus: "It was a glorious victory...According to one report almost 80,000 thousand Britons fell. Our own casualties were about 400 dead and a slightly larger number of wounded. Boudicca poisoned herself."

The last Roman legions left Britain around A.D. 410 and a few Romans remained until 442. When the Romans left they took with them their government, centralized authority and maintained infrastructure. With the Romans gone, Britain returned to a bunch of small kingdoms that fought among themselves. Roman buildings lasted for centuries after the Roman ir departure. In the Anglo-Saxon poem “Ruin” , an 8th century poet wrote: "Bright were its palaces, its many bathing halls, /Its wealth of tall pinnacles, its tumult of warriors,/ Many a mead-hall filled with festive life,/ Until mighty fate overturned all."

Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall is the most lasting and famous monument left behind by the Romans in Britain. Stretching from the North Sea to the Irish Sea and constructed to keep "Raiding Scots" out of England the 2000-year-old wall snakes through treeless valleys and over bluffs in a land as big as the sky. The 12 best preserved miles of the wall are located in Northumberland National Park where hills gently rise and fall like waves in a calm sea.

20120224-Hadrians_Wall Milecastle_39_on_.jpg
Hadrian's Wall
The 74 long mile wall begins near the east coast town of Newcastle and extends to Carlisle in the west. During Roman times it was 10 feet wide and built high enough so that a man standing on the shoulders of another man still couldn't reach the top. Signal stations were set up every mile and every five miles or so there was a castle. As a testimony of how much the Scots were feared 13,000 soldiers and 5,500 horsemen were positioned along the wall. To put these numbers in perspective William the Conqueror captured England with a force of only 7,000 men.

During Roman Times, a traditional fighting ditch stood on the north side of the wall. On the south side was a 10-foot-deep, 20-foot-wide ditch intended to keep smugglers and local inhabitants at bay. Causeways were built across these ditches at the forts. The largest fort enclosed nine acres and housed 1000 men. Each fort had a central headquarters, a chapel for storing sacred weapons, rows of slate-roofed barracks, storage granaries, cookhouses and latrines with running water large enough to accommodate 20 men at one time.

Hadrian’s wall was made from 25 million toaster-size stones. In the interior of the wall was poured mortar, and tons of rubble, dirt and gravel. The wall was built at a rate of five wall miles and one fort a year per legion. Although the wall wasn't finished until A.D. 122 most of the work was complete in three years.

Conquest of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East

The defeat of the Carthaginians gave Rome almost complete control of the Mediterranean. Romans conquered most of Asia Minor in 188 B.C., Syria and Palestine in 64 and 63 B.C. By the time Caesar became emperor, the Roman Empire had expanded about halfway across Asia Minor and Syria after a series of victories against former Greek colonies and small Middle Eastern kingdoms.

Caesar in the Middle East
Egypt was taken in 30 B.C. after the suicide of Antony and Cleopatra. Before then it was under the rule of the Greek Ptolemies. Egypt was the populated province of the Roman Empire and a melting pot of Greeks, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Syrian, Lybians, Nubians and others.

When Egypt fell completely under the control of Rome the entire Mediterranean was conquered and would remain part of the Roman empire for 500 years. Trajan extended the empire into Mesopotamia.

The two main enemies of the Romans in the Middle East were the Parthians, North Iranian tribesmen), who controlled eastern Hellenistic world 250 B.C.- A.D. 229, and their successors the Sassanians (229-651). Both fought with Romans from time to time.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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