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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 and a couple of fragments (below).

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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Fragments from Appian's Gallic Wars

[From Constantine Porphyrogenitus, The Embassies: 1] [390 Varronian Chronology] In the 97th Olympiad, according to the Greek calendar, a considerable part of the Gauls who dwelt along the Rhine moved off in search of new land, that which they occupied being insufficient for their numbers. Having scaled the Alps they fell upon the territory of Clusium, a fertile part of Etruria. The Clusians had made a league with the Romans not long before, and now applied to them for aid. So the three Fabii were sent with the Clusians as ambassadors to the Gauls to order them to vacate the country that was in alliance with Rome, and to threaten them if they did not obey. The Gauls replied that they feared no mortal man in threat or war, that they were in need of land, and that they had not yet meddled with the affairs of the Romans. The Fabii urged the Clusians to make an attack upon the Gauls while they were heedlessly plundering the country. They took part in the expedition themselves and slew an immense number of the Gauls whom they caught foraging. Quintus Fabius, one of the Roman embassy, himself killed the chief of that band, stripped his body, and carried his arms back to Clusium.

[2] After the Fabii had slain this large number of Gauls, Brennus, their king, though he had refused to recognize the Roman embassy, for the purpose of intimidating the Romans selected as ambassadors to them certain Gauls who exceeded all the others in bodily size as much as the Gauls exceeded other peoples, and sent them to Rome to complain that the Fabii, while serving as ambassadors, had joined in war against him, contrary to the law of nations. He demanded that they should be given up to him for punishment unless the Romans wished to make the crime their own. The Romans acknowledged that the Fabii had done wrong, but having great respect for that distinguished family, they urged the Gauls to accept a pecuniary compensation from them. As the latter refused, they elected the Fabii military tribunes for that year, and then said to the Gallic ambassadors that they could not do anything to the Fabii now because they were now holding office, but told them to come again next year if they were still in a bad humor. Brennus and the Gauls under him considered this an insult and took it hard. Accordingly they sent around to the other Gauls asking them to make common cause of war with them. When a large number had collected in obedience to this summons they broke camp and marched against Rome.

[At this point, the Roman defeat at the Allia must have been mentioned, the capture of the city, and the beginning of the siege of the Capitol. Meanwhile, a Roman commander named Quintus Caedicius conducted military operations against the Gauls, using the nearby city of Veii as his base. After several successes, he demanded the recall of Rome's best commander, Marcus Furius Camillus, from exile. The Senate agreed.]

[From the Peiresc manuscript: 3] When Caedicius bore the decree of the Senate to Camillus, by which he was made consul [1], he exhorted him not to lay up against his country the injury it had done him. The latter, interrupting him, said: "I could not have prayed to the gods that the Romans might some time long for me if I had cherished any such feeling as that towards them. Now I pray the nobler prayer that I may render my country a service equal to the calamity that has befallen her."

[4] When the Gauls could find no means for scaling the Capitol they remained quietly in camp in order to reduce the defenders by famine. A certain priest named Dorso [2] went down from the Capitol to make a certain yearly sacrifice in the temple of Vesta, and passed safely, with the sacred utensils, through the ranks of the enemy, who were either awed by his courage or had respect for his piety and his venerable appearance. Thus he who had incurred danger for the sake of his holy office was saved by it. That this event occurred as related, the Roman writer Cassius tells us.

[5] Meanwhile, the Gauls filled themselves to repletion with wine and other luxuries, being intemperate by nature, and inhabiting a country which yielded only cereals, and was unfruitful and destitute of other productions. Thus their large bodies became delicate, distended with fatness, and heavy by reason of excessive eating and drinking, and quite incapable of running or hardship; and when any exertion was required of them they speedily became exhausted by perspiration and shortness of breath.

[In the end, Camillus overcame the Gauls - according to the Roman sources, of course.]

[From the Suda dictionary: 6] Camillus showed the Gauls naked to the Romans and said: "These are the creatures who assail you with such terrible shouts in battle, and clash their arms and shake their long swords and toss their hair. Behold their weakness of soul, their slothfulness and flabbiness of body, and gird yourselves to your work."

[The following fragments deal with later Gallic invasions.]

[From the Suda dictionary: 7] [360 VC] The people beheld the battle [near the Colline gate] from the walls, and constantly sent fresh troops to take the place of the tired ones. But the tired Gauls having to engage with fresh opponents took to disorderly flight.

[From the Suda dictionary: 8] [349 VC] The Gaul, furious and exhausted with loss of blood, pursued [Marcus] Valerius [Maximus Corvus], hastening in order to grapple with him. As Valerius was all the time dodging just in front of him, the Gaul fell headlong. The Romans felicitated themselves on this second single combat with the Gauls.

[From Constantine Porphyrogenitus, The Embassies: 9] [283 VC] The Senones, although they had a treaty with the Romans, nevertheless furnished mercenaries against them, wherefore the Senate sent an embassy to them to remonstrate against this infraction of the treaty. Britomaris, the Gaul, being incensed against them on account of his father, who had been killed by the Romans while fighting on the side of the Etruscans in this very war, slew the ambassadors while they held the caduceus [3] in their hands, and wore the garments of their office. He then cut their bodies in small pieces and scattered them in the fields.

The consul [Publius] Cornelius [Dolabella], learning of this abominable deed while he was on the march, moved with great speed against the towns of the Senones by way of the Sabine country and Picenum, and ravaged them all with fire and sword. He reduced the women and children to slavery, killed all the adult males without exception, devastated the country in every possible way, and made it uninhabitable for anybody else. He carried off Britomaris alone as a prisoner for torture.

A little later the Senones (who were serving as mercenaries), having no longer any homes to return to, fell boldly upon the consul [Gnaeus] Domitius [Calvinus], and being defeated by him killed themselves in despair. Such punishment was meted out to the Senones for their crime against the ambassadors. 

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Gallic wars, part 3

Note 1:
In fact dictator.

Note 2:
According to Livy, Caius Fabius Dorsuo.

Note 3:
The herald's staff. Appian describes the same incident in his History of the Samnite Wars, 13.

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