Julius Caesar

Distribution of the Legions after the Return from Britain

Distribution of the Legions after the Return from Britain.--Conspiracy among the Gallic Chiefs.--Rising of the Eburones.--Destruction of Sabinus, and a Division of the Roman Army.--Danger of Quintus Cicero.--Relieved by Caesar in Person.--General Disturbance.--Labienus attacked at Lavacherie.--Defeats and kills Induciomarus.--Second Conquest of the Belgae.--Caesar again crosses the Rhine.--Quintus Cicero in Danger a Second Time.--Courage of a Roman Officer.--Punishment of the Revolted Chiefs.--Execution of Acco.

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The summer had passed off gloriously for the Roman arms. The expedition to Britain had produced all the effects which Caesar expected from it, and Gaul was outwardly calm. Below the smooth appearance the elements of disquiet were silently working, and the winter was about to produce the most serious disaster and the sharpest trials which Caesar had yet experienced. On his return from Britain he held a council at Amiens. The harvest had been bad, and it was found expedient, for their better provision, to disperse the troops over a broader area than usual. There were in all eight legions, with part of another to be disposed of, and they were distributed in the following order. Lucius Roscius was placed at Séex, in Normandy; Quintus Cicero at Charleroy, not far from the scene of the battle with the Nervii.

Distribution of the Legions after the Return from Britain

Cicero had chosen this position for himself as peculiarly advantageous; and his brother speaks of Caesar's acquiescence in the arrangement as a special mark of favor to himself. Labienus was at Lavacherie, on the Ourthe, about seventy miles to the south-east of Cicero; and Sabinus and Cotta were at Tongres, among the Aduatuci, not far from Liége, an equal distance from him to the north-east. Caius Fabius had a legion at St. Pol, between Calais and Arras; Trebonius one at Amiens; Marcus Crassus one at Montdidier; Munatius Plancus one across the Oise, near Compiègne. Roscius was far off, but in a comparatively quiet country. The other camps lay within a circle, two hundred miles in diameter, of which Bavay was the centre. Amiens was at one point on the circumference. Tongres, on the opposite side of it, to the north-east. Sabinus, being the most exposed, had, in addition to his legion, a few cohorts lately raised in Italy. Caesar, having no particular business to take him over the Alps, remained, with Trebonius attending to general business. His dispositions had been carefully watched by the Gauls. Caesar, they supposed, would go away as usual; they even believed that he had gone; and a conspiracy was formed in the north to destroy the legions in detail.

The instigator of the movement was Induciomarus, the leader of the patriot party among the Treveri, whose intrigues had taken Caesar to the Moselle before the first visit to Britain. At that time Induciomarus had been able to do nothing; but a fairer opportunity had arrived. The overthrow of the great German horde had affected powerfully the semi-Teutonic populations on the left bank of the Rhine. The Eburones, a large tribe of German race occupying the country between Liége and Cologne, had given in their submission; but their strength was still undiminished, and Induciomarus prevailed on their two chiefs, Ambiorix and Catavoleus, to attack Sabinus and Cotta. It was midwinter. The camp at Tongres was isolated. The nearest support was seventy miles distant. If one Roman camp was taken, Induciomarus calculated that the country would rise; the others could be separately surrounded, and Gaul would be free. The plot was well laid. An entrenched camp being difficult to storm, the confederates decided to begin by treachery. Ambiorix was personally known to many of the Roman officers. He sent to Sabiuus to say that he wished to communicate with him on a matter of the greatest consequence. An interview being granted, he stated that a general conspiracy had been formed through the whole of Gaul to surprise and destroy the legions. Each station was to be attacked on the same day, that they might be unable to support each other. He pretended himself to have remonstrated; but his tribe, he said, had been carried away by the general enthusiasm for liberty, and he could not keep them back. Vast bodies of Germans had crossed the Rhine to join in the war. In two days at the furthest they would arrive. He was under private obligations to Caesar, who had rescued his son and nephew in the fight with the Aduatuci, and out of gratitude he wished to save Sabinus from destruction, which was otherwise inevitable. He urged him to escape while there was still time, and to join either Labienus or Cicero, giving a solemn promise that he should not be molested on the road.

A council of officers was held on the receipt of this unwelcome information. It was thought unlikely that the Eburones would rise by themselves. It was probable enough, therefore, that the conspiracy was more extensive. Cotta, who was second in command, was of opinion that it would be rash and wrong to leave the camp without Caesar's orders. They had abundant provisions. They could hold their own lines against any force which the Germans could bring upon them, and help would not be long in reaching them. It would be preposterous to take so grave a step on the advice of an enemy. Sabinus unfortunately thought differently. He had been over-cautious in Brittany, though he had afterward redeemed his fault. Caesar, he persuaded himself, had left the country; each commander therefore must act on his own responsibility. The story told by Ambiorix was likely in itself. The Germans were known to be furious at the passage of the Rhine, the destruction of Ariovistus, and their other defeats. Gaul resented the loss of its independence. Ambiorix was acting like a true friend, and it would be madness to refuse his offer. Two days' march would bring them to their friends. If the alarm was false, they could return. If there was to be a general insurrection, the legions could not be too speedily brought together. If they waited, as Cotta advised, they would be surrounded, and in the end would be starved into surrender.

Cotta was not convinced, and the majority of officers supported him. The first duty of a Roman army, he said, was obedience to orders. Their business was to hold the post which had been committed to them, till they were otherwise directed. The officers were consulting in the midst of the camp, surrounded by the legionaries. "Have it as you wish," Sabinus exclaimed, in a tone which the men could hear; "I am not afraid of being killed. If things go amiss, the troops will understand where to lay the blame. If you allowed it, they might in forty-eight hours be at the next quarters, facing the chances of war with their comrades, instead of perishing here alone by sword or hunger."

Neither party would give way. The troops joined in the discussion. They were willing either to go or to stay, if their commanders would agree; but they said that it must be one thing or the other; disputes would be certain ruin. The discussion lasted till midnight. Sabinus was obstinate, Cotta at last withdrew his opposition, and the fatal resolution was formed to march at dawn. The remaining hours of the night were passed by the men in collecting such valuables as they wished to take with them. Everything seemed ingeniously done to increase the difficulty of remaining, and to add to the perils of the march by the exhaustion of the troops. The Meuse lay between them and Labienus, so they had selected to go to Cicero at Charleroy. Their course lay up the left bank of the little river Geer. Trusting to the promises of Ambiorix, they started in loose order, followed by a long train of carts and wagons. The Eburones lay, waiting for them, in a large valley, two miles from the camp. When most of the cohorts were entangled in the middle of the hollow, the enemy appeared suddenly, some in front, some on both sides of the valley, some behind threatening the baggage. Wise men, as Caesar says, anticipate possible difficulties, and decide beforehand what they will do if occasions arise. Sabinus had foreseen nothing and arranged nothing. Cotta, who had expected what might happen, was better prepared, and did the best that was possible. The men had scattered among the wagons, each to save or protect what he could. Cotta ordered them back, bade them leave the carts to their fate, and form together in a ring. He did right, Caesar thought; but the effect was unfortunate. The troops lost heart, and the enemy was encouraged, knowing that the baggage would only be abandoned when the position was desperate. The Eburones were under good command. They did not, as might have been expected, fly upon the plunder. They stood to their work, well aware that the carts would not escape them. They were not in great numbers. Caesar specially says that the Romans were as numerous as they. But everything else was against the Romans. Sabinus could give no directions. They were in a narrow meadow, with wooded hills on each side of them filled with enemies whom they could not reach. When they charged, the light-footed barbarians ran back; when they retired, they closed in upon them again, and not a dart, an arrow, or a stone missed its mark among the crowded cohorts. Bravely as the Romans fought, they were in a trap where their courage was useless to them. The battle lasted from dawn till the afternoon, and though they were falling fast, there was no flinching and no cowardice. Caesar, who inquired particularly into the minutest circumstances of the disaster, records by name the officers who distinguished themselves; he mentions one whose courage he had marked before, who was struck down with a lance through his thighs, and another who was killed in rescuing his son. The brave Cotta was hit in the mouth by a stone as he was cheering on his men. The end came at last. Sabinus, helpless and distracted, caught sight of Ambiorix in the confusion, and sent an interpreter to implore him to spare the remainder of the army. Ambiorix answered that Sabinus might come to him, if he pleased; he hoped he might persuade his tribe to be merciful; he promised that Sabinus himself should suffer no injury. Sabinus asked Cotta to accompany him. Cotta said he would never surrender to an armed enemy; and, wounded as he was, he stayed with the legion. Sabinus, followed by the rest of the surviving officers whom he ordered to attend him, proceeded to the spot where the chief was standing. They were commanded to lay down their arms. They obeyed, and were immediately killed; and with one wild yell the barbarians then rushed in a mass on the deserted cohorts. Cotta fell, and most of the others with him. The survivors, with the eagle of the legion, which they had still faithfully guarded, struggled back in the dusk to their deserted camp. The standard-bearer, surrounded by enemies, reached the fosse, flung the eagle over the rampart, and fell with the last effort. Those that were left fought on till night, and then, seeing that hope was gone, died like Romans on each other's swords--a signal illustration of the Roman greatness of mind, which had died out among the degenerate patricians, but was living in all its force in Caesar's legions. A few stragglers, who had been cut off during the battle from their comrades, escaped in the night through the woods, and carried the news to Labienus. Cicero, at Charleroy, was left in ignorance. The roads were beset, and no messenger could reach him.

Induciomarus understood his countrymen. The conspiracy with which he had frightened Sabinus had not as yet extended beyond a few northern chiefs, hut the success of Ambiorix produced the effect which he desired. As soon as it was known that two Roman generals had been cut off, the remnants of the Aduatuci and the Nervii were in arms for their own revenge. The smaller tribes along the Meuse and Sambre rose with them; and Cicero, taken by surprise, found himself surrounded before he had a thought of danger. The Gauls, knowing that their chances depended on the capture of the second camp before assistance could arrive, flung themselves so desperately on the entrenchments that the legionaries were barely able to repel the first assault. The assailants were driven back at last, and Cicero despatched messengers to Caesar to Amiens, to give him notice of the rising; but not a man was able to penetrate through the multitude of enemies which now swarmed in the woods. The troops worked gallantly, strengthening the weak points of their fortifications. In one night they raised a hundred and twenty towers on their walls. Again the Gauls tried a storm, and, though they failed a second time, they left the garrison no rest either by day or night. There was no leisure for sleep; not a hand could be spared from the lines to care for the sick or wounded. Cicero was in bad health, but he clung to his work till the men carried him by force to his tent and obliged him to lie down. The first surprise not having succeeded, the Nervian chiefs, who knew Cicero, desired a parley. They told the same story which Ambiorix had told, that the Germans had crossed the Rhine, and that all Gaul was in arms. They informed him of the destruction of Sabinus; they warned him that the same fate was hanging over himself, and that his only hope was in surrender. They did not wish, they said, to hurt either him or the Roman people; he and his troops would be free to go where they pleased, but they were determined to prevent the legions from quartering themselves permanently in their country.

There was but one Sabinus in the Roman army. Cicero answered, with a spirit worthy of his country, that Romans accepted no conditions from enemies in arms. The Gauls might, if they pleased, send a deputation to Caesar, and hear what he would say to them. For himself, he had no authority to listen to them. Force and treachery being alike unavailing, they resolved to starve Cicero out. They had watched the Roman strategy. They had seen and felt the value of the entrenchments. They made a bank and ditch all round the camp, and, though they had no tools but their swords with which to dig turf and cut trees, so many there were of them that the work was completed in three hours. 1 Having thus pinned the Romans in, they slung red-hot balls and flung darts carrying lighted straw over the ramparts of the camp on the thatched roofs of the soldiers' huts. The wind was high, the fire spread, and amidst the smoke and the blaze the Gauls again rushed on from all sides to the assault. Roman discipline was never more severely tried, and never showed its excellence more signally. The houses and stores of the soldiers were in flames behind them. The enemy were pressing on the walls in front, covered by a storm of javelins and stones and arrows, but not a man left his post to save his property or to extinguish the fire. They fought as they stood, striking down rank after rank of the Gauls, who still crowded on, trampling on the bodies of their companions, as the foremost lines fell dead into the ditch. Such as reached the wall never left it alive, for they were driven forward by the throng behind on the swords of the legionaries. Thousands of them had fallen, before, in desperation, they drew back at last.

But Cicero's situation was almost desperate too. The huts were destroyed. The majority of the men were wounded, and those able to bear arms were daily growing weaker in number. Caesar was 120 miles distant, and no word had reached him of the danger. Messengers were again sent off, but they were caught one after another, and were tortured to death in front of the ramparts, and the boldest men shrank from risking their lives on so hopeless an enterprise. At length a Nervian slave was found to make another adventure. He was a Gaul, and could easily disguise himself. A letter to Caesar was enclosed in the shaft of his javelin. He glided out of the camp in the dark, passed undetected among the enemies as one of themselves, and, escaping from their lines, made his way to Amiens.

Swiftness of movement was Caesar's distinguishing excellence. The legions were kept ready to march at an hour's notice. He sent an order to Crassus to join him instantly from Montdidier. He sent to Fabius at St. Pol to meet him at Arras. He wrote to Labienus, telling him the situation, and leaving him to his discretion to advance or to remain on his guard at Lavacherie, as might seem most prudent. Not caring to wait for the rest of his army, and leaving Crassus to take care of Amiens, he started himself, the morning after the information reached him, with Trebonius's legion to Cicero's relief. Fabius joined him, as he had been directed, at Arras. He had hoped for Labienus's presence also; but Labienus sent to say that he was surrounded by the Treveri, and dared not stir. Caesar approved his hesitation, and with but two legions, amounting in all to only 7,000 men, he hurried forward to the Nervian border. Learning that Cicero was still holding out, he wrote a letter to him in Greek, that it might be unintelligible if intercepted, to tell him that help was near. A Gaul carried the letter, and fastened it by a line to his javelin, which he flung over Cicero's rampart. The javelin stuck in the side of one of the towers and was unobserved for several days. The besiegers were better informed. They learnt that Caesar was at hand, that he had but a handful of men with him. By that time their own numbers had risen to 60,000, and, leaving Cicero to be dealt with at leisure, they moved off to envelop and destroy their great enemy. Caesar was well served by spies. He knew that Cicero was no longer in immediate danger, and there was thus no occasion for him to risk a battle at a disadvantage to relieve him. When he found the Gauls near him, he encamped, drawing his lines as narrowly as he could, that from the small show which he made they might imagine his troops to be even fewer than they were. He invited attack by an ostentation of timidity, and having tempted the Gauls to become the assailants, he flung open his gates, rushed out upon them with his whole force, and all but annihilated them. The patriot army was broken to pieces, and the unfortunate Nervii and Aduatuci never rallied from this second blow. Caesar could then go at his leisure to Cicero and his comrades, who had fought so nobly against such desperate odds. In every ten men he found that there was but one unwounded. He inquired with minute curiosity into every detail of the siege. In a general address he thanked Cicero and the whole legion. He thanked the officers man by man for their gallantry and fidelity. Now for the first time (and that he could have remained ignorant of it so long speaks for the passionate unanimity with which the Gauls had risen) he learnt from prisoners the fate of Sabinus. He did not underrate the greatness of the catastrophe. The soldiers in the army he treated always as friends and comrades in arms, and the loss of so many of them was as personally grievous to him as the effects of it might be politically mischievous. He made it the subject of a second speech to his own and to Cicero's troops, but he spoke to encourage and to console. A serious misfortune had happened, he said, through the fault of one of his generals, but it must be borne with equanimity, and had already been heroically expiated. The meeting with Cicero must have been an interesting one. He and the two Ciceros had been friends and companions in youth. It would have been well if Marcus Tullius could have remembered in the coming years the personal exertion with which Caesar had rescued a brother to whom he was so warmly attached.

Communications among the Gauls were feverishly rapid. While the Nervii were attacking Cicero, Induciomarus and the Treveri had surrounded Labienus at Lavacherie. Caesar had entered Cicero's camp at three o'clock in the afternoon. The news reached Induciomarus before midnight, and he had disappeared by the morning. Caesar returned to Amiens, but the whole country was now in a state of excitement. He had intended to go to Italy, but he abandoned all thoughts of departure. Rumors came of messengers hurrying to and fro, of meetings at night in lonely places, of confederacies among the patriots. Even Brittany was growing uneasy; a force had been collected to attack Roscius, though it had dispersed after the relief of Cicero. Caesar again summoned the chiefs to come to him, and between threats and encouragements succeeded in preventing a general rising. But the tribes on the upper Seine broke into disturbance. The Aedui and the Remi alone remained really loyal; and it was evident that only a leader was wanted to raise the whole of Gaul. Caesar himself admitted that nothing could be more natural. The more high-spirited of the Gauls were miserable to see that their countrymen had so lost conceit of themselves as to submit willingly to the Roman rule.

Induciomarus was busy all the winter soliciting help from the Germans, and promising money and lands. The Germans had had enough of fighting the Romans, and, as long as their own independence was not threatened, were disinclined to move; but Induciomarus, nothing daunted, gathered volunteers on all sides. His camp became a rallying point for disaffection. Envoys came privately to him from distant tribes. He, too, held his rival council, and a fresh attack on the camp of Labienus was to be the first step in a general war. Labienus, well informed of what was going on, watched him quietly from his entrenchments. When the Gauls approached, he affected fear, as Caesar had done, and he secretly formed a body of cavalry, of whose existence they had no suspicion. Induciomarus became careless. Day after day he rode round the entrenchments, insulting the Romans as cowards, and his men flinging their javelins over the walls. Labienus remained passive, till one evening, when, after one of these displays, the loose bands of the Gauls had scattered, he sent his horse out suddenly with orders to fight neither with small nor great, save with Induciomarus only, and promising a reward for his head. Fortune favored him. Induciomarus was overtaken and killed in a ford of the Ourthe, and for the moment the agitation was cooled down. But the impression which had been excited by the destruction of Sabinus was still telling through the country. Caesar expected fresh trouble in the coming summer, and spent the rest of the winter and spring in preparing for a new struggle. Future peace depended on convincing the Gauls of the inexhaustible resources of Italy; on showing them that any loss which might be inflicted could be immediately repaired, and that the army could and would be maintained in whatever strength might be necessary to coerce them. He raised two fresh legions in his own province. Pompey had formed a legion in the north of Italy, within Caesar's boundaries, for service in Spain. Caesar requested Pompey to lend him this legion for immediate purposes; and Pompey, who was still on good terms with Caesar, recognized the importance of the occasion, and consented without difficulty.

[B.C. 53.] Thus amply reinforced, Caesar, before the grass had begun to grow, took the field against the tribes which were openly disaffected. The first business was to punish the Belgians, who had attacked Cicero. He fell suddenly on the Nervii with four legions, seized their cattle, wasted their country, and carried off thousands of them to be sold into slavery. Returning to Amiens, he again called the chiefs about him, and, the Seine tribes refusing to put in an appearance, he transferred the council to Paris, and, advancing by rapid marches, he brought the Senones and Carnutes to pray for pardon. 2 He then turned on the Treveri and their allies, who, under Ambiorix, had destroyed Sabinus. Leaving Labienus with the additional legions to check the Treveri, he went himself into Flanders, where Ambiorix was hiding among the rivers and marshes. He threw bridges over the dikes, burnt the villages, and carried off an enormous spoil, of cattle and, alas! of men. To favor and enrich the tribes that submitted after a first defeat, to depopulate the determinately rebellious by seizing and selling as slaves those who had forfeited a right to his protection, was his uniform and, as the event proved, entirely successful policy. The persuasions of the Treveri had failed with the nearer German tribes; but some of the Suevi, who had never seen the Romans, were tempted to adventure over and try their fortunes; and the Treveri were waiting for them, to set on Labienus, in Caesar's absence. Labienus went in search of the Treveri, tempted them into an engagement by a feigned flight, killed many of them, and filled his camp with prisoners. Their German allies retreated again across the river, and the patriot chiefs, who had gone with Induciomarus, concealed themselves in the forests of Westphalia. Caesar thought it desirable to renew the admonition which he had given the Germans two years before, and again threw a bridge over the Rhine at the same place where he had made the first, but a little higher up the stream. Experience made the construction more easy. The bridge was begun and finished in a few days, but this time the labor was thrown away. The operation itself lost its impressiveness by repetition, and the barrenness of practical results was more evident than before. The Sueves, who had gone home, were far away in the interior. To lead the heavily armed legions in pursuit of wild light-footed marauders, who had not a town which could be burned, or a field of corn which could be cut for food, was to waste their strength to no purpose, and to prove still more plainly that in their own forests they were beyond the reach of vengeance. Caesar drew back again, after a brief visit to his allies the Ubii, cut two hundred feet of the bridge on the German side, and leaving the rest standing with a guard to defend it, he went in search of Ambiorix, who had as yet eluded him, in the Ardennes. Ambiorix had added treachery to insurrection, and as long as he was free and unpunished the massacred legion had not been fully avenged. Caesar was particularly anxious to catch him, and once had found the nest warm which Ambiorix had left but a few moments before.

In the pursuit he came again to Tongres, to the fatal camp which Sabinus had deserted and in which the last of the legionaries had killed each other, rather than degrade the Roman name by allowing themselves to be captured. The spot was fated, and narrowly escaped being the scene of a second catastrophe as frightful as the first. The entrenchments were standing as they were left, ready to be occupied. Caesar, finding himself encumbered by his heavy baggage in the pursuit of Ambiorix, decided to leave it there with Quintus Cicero and the 14th legion. He was going himself to scour Brabant and East Flanders as far as the Scheldt. In seven days he promised to return, and meanwhile he gave Cicero strict directions to keep the legion within the lines, and not to allow any of the men to stray. It happened that after Caesar recrossed the Rhine two thousand German horse had followed in bravado, and were then plundering between Tongres and the river. Hearing that there was a rich booty in the camp, that Caesar was away, and only a small party had been left to guard it, they decided to try to take the place by a sudden stroke. Cicero, seeing no sign of an enemy, had permitted his men to disperse in foraging parties. The Germans were on them before they could recover their entrenchments, and they had to form at a distance and defend themselves as they could. The gates of the camp were open, and the enemy were actually inside before the few maniples who were left there were able to collect and resist them. Fortunately Sextius Bacillus, the same officer who had so brilliantly distinguished himself in the battle with the Nervii, and had since been badly wounded, was lying sick in his tent, where he had been for five days, unable to touch food. Hearing the disturbance, Bacillus sprang out, snatched a sword, rallied such men as he could find, and checked the attack for a few minutes. Other officers rushed to his help, and the legionaries having their centurions with them recovered their steadiness. Sextius Bacillus was again severely hurt, and fainted, but he was carried off in safety. Some of the cohorts who were outside, and had been for a time cut off, made their way into the camp to join the defenders, and the Germans, who had come without any fixed purpose, merely for plunder, gave way and galloped off again. They left the Romans, however, still in the utmost consternation. The scene and the associations of it suggested the most gloomy anticipations. They thought that German cavalry could never be so far from the Rhine, unless their countrymen were invading in force behind them. Caesar, it was supposed, must have been surprised and destroyed, and they and every Roman in Gaul would soon share the same fate. Brave as they were, the Roman soldiers seem to have been curiously liable to panics of this kind. The faith with which they relied upon their general avenged itself through the completeness with which they were accustomed to depend upon him. He returned on the day which he had fixed, and not unnaturally was displeased at the disregard of his orders. He did not, or does not in his Commentaries, professedly blame Cicero. But the Ciceros perhaps resented the loss of confidence which one of them had brought upon himself. Quintus Cicero cooled in his zeal, and afterward amused the leisure of his winter quarters with composing worthless dramas.

Ambiorix had again escaped, and was never taken. The punishment fell on his tribe. The Eburones were completely rooted out. The turn of the Carnutes and Senones came next. The people themselves were spared; but their leader, a chief named Acco, who was found to have instigated the revolt, was arrested and executed. Again the whole of Gaul settled into seeming quiet; and Caesar went to Italy, where the political frenzy was now boiling over.

[1] Caesar says their trenches were fifteen miles long. This is, perhaps, a mistake of the transcriber. A Roman camp did not usually cover more than a few acres.

[2] People about Sens, Melun, and Chartres.

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