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Caesar in Gaul


Bust of Caesar. Antikensammlung, Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering. From 58 to 50, Julius Caesar was governor of Gaul, which he conquered. In these years, he created a fine army. The Greek author Plutarch of Chaeronea describes how this happened in chapter 17 of his Life of Julius Caesar.

The translation below was made by Robin Seager.

It was Caesar himself who inspired and cultivated this spirit, this passion for distinction among his men. He did it in the first place because he made it clear, by the ungrudging way in which he would distribute rewards and honors, that he was not amassing a great fortune from his wars in order to spend it on his personal pleasures or on any life of self-indulgence; instead he was keeping it, as it were, in trust, a fund open to all for the reward of valor, and his own share in all this wealth was no greater than what he bestowed on his soldiers who deserved it. And secondly, he showed that there was no danger which he was not willing to face, no form of hard work from which he excused himself.

So far as his fondness for taking risks went, his men, who knew his passion for distinction, were not surprised at it; but they were amazed at the way in which he would undergo hardships which were, it seemed, beyond his physical strength to endure. For he was a slightly built man, had a soft and white skin, suffered from headaches and was subject to epileptic fits. (His first epileptic attack took place, it is said, in Córdoba.) Yet so far from making his poor health an excuse for living an easy life, he used warfare as a tonic for his health. By long hard journeys, simple diet, sleeping night after night in the open, and rough living he fought off his illness and made his body strong enough to resist all attacks.

As a matter of fact, most of the sleep he got was in chariots or in litters: rest, for him, was something to be used for action; and in the daytime he would be carried round to the garrisons and cities and camps and have sitting with him one slave who was trained to write from dictation as he went along, and behind him a soldier standing with a sword.

He traveled very fast. For instance on his first journey from Rome, he reached the Rhône in seven days. He had been an expert rider from boyhood. He had trained himself to put his hands behind his back and then, keeping them tightly clasped, to put his horse to its full gallop. And in the Gallic campaigns he got himself into the habit of dictating letters on horseback, keeping two secretaries busy at once.

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