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Appian's History of Rome: The Gallic Wars


Legionary standard (of XXX Ulpia Traiana reenactment group). Photo Jona Lendering.
Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) is the author of a Roman History and one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians. Although only his books on the Roman Civil Wars survive in their entirety, large parts of other books have also come down to us. His account of the wars against the Gauls, which we know from Byzantine excerpts, is known from an excerpt (below) and a couple of fragments.

Because the text has to be reconstructed from several medieval manuscripts, not all editions of Appian's History of the Gallic Wars are numbered in the same way; here, the separate units are counted strictly chronologically. The translation was made by Horace White; additions in green by Jona Lendering.


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A mounted Etruscan warrior fights against a Gaul. Tombstone from Bologna. Museo Civico, Bologna (Italy).
Mounted Etruscan warrior fighting against a Gaul (**)

Excerpt from Appian's Gallic Wars

[Epit.1] [390-389 Varronian Chronology] At an early period the Gauls waged war against the Romans, took Rome itself, except the Capitol, and burned it. [The Roman dictator Marcus Furius] Camillus, however, overcame and expelled them.

[367 VC] At a later period, when they had made a second invasion, he overcame them again and enjoyed a triumph in consequence, being then in his eightieth year.

[361 VC] A third army of Gauls which invaded Italy was destroyed by the Romans under [dictator] Titus Quintius [Poenus].

[358 VC] Afterwards the Boii, the most savage of the Gallic tribes, attacked the Romans. Caius Sulpicius [Peticus], the dictator, marched against them, and is said to have used the following stratagem. He commanded those who were in the front line to discharge their javelins, and immediately crouch low; then the second, third, and fourth lines to discharge theirs, each crouching in turn so that they should not be struck by the spears thrown from the rear; then when the last line had hurled their javelins, all were to rush forward suddenly with a shout and join battle at close quarters. The hurling of so many missiles, followed by an immediate charge, would throw the enemy into confusion. The spears of the Gauls were not like javelins, but what the Romans called pila, four-sided, part wood and part iron, and not hard except at the pointed end. In this way the army of the Boii was completely destroyed by the Romans.

[Epit.2] [350 VC] Another Gallic force was defeated by [Marcus] Popillius [Laenas], and after this [349] [Lucius Furius] Camillus, son of the former Camillus, defeated the same tribe. [282 BCE] Afterwards [Quintus] Aemilius Papus won some trophies from the Gauls.


Bust of Julius Caesar. Musei Vaticani, Roma (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering.
Julius Caesar
(Musei Vaticani, Rome)

[105 BCE] Shortly before the consulships of Marius a most numerous and warlike horde of Celtic tribes [the Cimbri and Teutones], most formidable in bodily strength, made incursions into both Italy and Gaul, and defeated some of the Roman consuls, and cut their armies in pieces. Marius was sent against them and he destroyed them all.

[58-49 BCE] The latest and greatest war of the Romans against the Gauls was that waged under the command of [Gaius Julius] Caesar, for, in the ten years that he held command there, he fought with more than 4,000,000 barbarians, taken all together. Of these 1,000,000 were captured and as many more slain in battle. He reduced to subjection 400 tribes and more than 800 towns, which had either revolted from their allegiance or were conquered for the first time.

([120 BCE] Even before Marius, [Gaius] Fabius Maximus Aemilianus [Allobrogicus] with a very small army killed 120,000 of them in one battle, losing only fifteen of his own men; and he did this although suffering from a recent wound, urging and encouraging his troops and showing them how to fight barbarians, now borne on a litter and now hobbling on foot leaning on the arms of others.)

[Epit.3] [58 BCE] Caesar began his war against them by gaining a victory over some 200,000 of the Helvetii and Tigurini. [107 BCE] The latter at an earlier period had captured a Roman army commanded by [Lucius Calpurnius] Piso and [Lucius] Cassius and sent them under the yoke, as is related in the writings of Paulus Claudius. [58 BCE] The Tigurini were now overcome by [Titus] Labienus, Caesar's lieutenant, and the others by Caesar himself, together with the Tricorii, who were aiding them.

He also overcame the Germans under Ariovistus, a people who excelled all others, even the largest men, in size; savage, the bravest of the brave, despising death because they believe they shall live hereafter, bearing heat and cold with equal patience, living on herbs in time of scarcity, and their horses browsing on trees. It seems that they were without patient endurance in their battles, and did not fight in a scientific way or in any regular order, but with a sort of high spirit simply made an onset like wild beasts, for which reason they were overcome by Roman science and endurance. For, although the Germans made a tremendous rush and pushed the legions back a short distance, the Romans kept their ranks unbroken, and outmaneuvered them, and eventually slew 800000 of them.

[Epit.4] [57 BCE] Afterwards Caesar fell upon the Belgae as they were crossing a river, and killed so many of them that he crossed the stream on a bridge of their bodies. The Nervii defeated him by falling suddenly upon his army as it was getting itself into camp after a march. They made a very great slaughter, killing all of his tribunes and centurions. Caesar himself took refuge on a hill with his bodyguard, and there he was surrounded by the enemy. The latter, being assailed in the rear by the tenth legion, were destroyed, although they were 60,000 in number. The Nervii were the descendants of the Cimbri and Teutones. Caesar conquered the Allobroges also.

[55 BCE] He slaughtered 400,000 of the Usipetes and Tencteri, armed and unarmed together. The Sugambri with 500 horse put to flight 5000 of Caesar's horse, falling upon them unexpectedly. They subsequently paid the penalty for this in a defeat.

Caesar was also the first of the Romans to cross the Rhine. He also passed over to Britain, an island larger than a very large continent, and still unknown to the men of Rome. He crossed by taking advantage of the movement of the tide. As it rose the fleet was impelled by the waves, slowly at first, then more rapidly, until finally Caesar was carried with great swiftness to Britain.






Appian   :   Roman History   :   Gallic wars, part 2




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