The Defeat of the Aduatuci

Here’s an excerpt from Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars, from a translation by Rex Warner:

“When our army reached their territory (the Aduatuci, descendants of the Cimbri and the Teutones, who had gone on a rampage in the Roman province in Gaul a generation earlier and had been defeated by Caesar’s uncle Marius) they at first made a number of sorties from the town and fought a number of minor engagements with our troops.

“Afterwards, when we had surrounded them with an earthwork twelve feet high and five miles in circumference, with redoubts at frequent intervals, they stayed inside their own fortifications.

“We brought up our mantlets (protective screens) and began to build a ramp, and soon the enemy could see us erecting a siege tower at a considerable distance from their lines. This sight at first caused them a good deal of amusement.

“They would stand on their walls and shout insults at us. What on earth, they asked, were we doing setting up such a huge machine so far away? As a rule, the Gauls look down on us for being so short of stature compared with their own larger selves; and so now they inquired how little creatures like us, with our weak hands and feeble physiques could possibly imagine we were going to lift up so massive a tower and place it on top of their wall.

“However, when they saw the tower actually moving and drawing near to the fortifications, they were completely unnerved. It was something which they had neither seen nor expected to see, and they sent a deputation to me to ask for peace.

“‘It seems to us,’ thy said, ‘that you Romans must have divine help in your warfare, since you can move up engines of such a size so quickly.’

The Aduatuci surrendered to Caesar, but said they would be massacred by their neighbors if they had to give up their arms. Caesar said they had to surrender their arms, but he would forbid their neighbors to do them any harm. They pretended to agree to this and dumped lots of their arms outside the walls, but they kept about a third of them and launched a surprise attack on the Romans in the middle of the night.

Did they catch them by surprise? Of course not. “I had already given the necessary instructions for for dealing with such an attack,” says Caesar (the Warner translation uses the first person).

“The alarm was quickly given by means of flares and detachments from the nearest redoubts came running up to the point of danger. The enemy fought fiercely, as was to be expected considering that they were brave men and fighting desperately for their lives.

“The ground was against them, and we were able to hurl down weapons from our rampart and towers, so that courage was the only thing that could give them any hope of survival. About four thousand of them were killed and the rest forced back into the town.

“Next day we met with no opposition. The gates were smashed open and the soldiers let in. I sold the whole population of the place by auction in one lot. The purchasers reported that the total number of persons sold came to fifty-three thousand.”

If it seems that the Romans are being unduly mean to the Gauls, remember the Gauls had sacked Rome just 350 years before.