The Gallic Wars, Book VIII

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51-50 BC: Revolts of the Bituriges, Carnutes & Bellovaci and the Capture of Uxellodunum

The final book was written by Aulus Hirtius, a friend of Caesar.

Even though the whole of Gaul had been conquered and the Gallic tribes realised they could not defeat the Romans using their combined forces in one place, they thought, however, that if a number of tribes made simultaneous attacks in different places, they had a chance of success, and this is what they planned to do.

A map of Gaul in the 1st c. BC, showing the relative positions of the Helvetii and the Sequani. (c) US Military Academy, Dept. of History.

When informants told Caesar of this, at the end of December, he left Mark Anthony in charge of his headquarters at Bibracte, set out with cavalry and, having joined the thirteenth and eleventh legions, entered the territory of the Bituriges, who were taken by surprise. Many were taken prisoner and those who escaped, since they were not given refuge by other tribes, who were too busy defending themselves and accepting peace terms, soon capitulated. Caesar rewarded all of his soldiers for a successful campaign in the bitter cold of winter and they returned to winter quarters.

Soon afterwards, envoys came to Caesar from the Bituriges complaining that the Carnutes tribe had attacked them. Caesar therefore set out with the fourteenth and sixth legions to punish the Carnutes, who fled at his coming into the woods. Caesar set up camp in Cenabum, the Carnutes’ capital, and sent forces out against them. Without shelter in the extreme cold of winter, the Carnutes soon dispersed amongst neighbouring tribes. Caesar left the two legions under the command of C. Trebonius in Cenabum and turned his attention to the Bellovaci whom, he was informed, were mobilising under the command of Correus and Commius and planning an attack on the Suessiones, loyal allies to Rome. Calling again on the help of the eleventh along with the seventh, eighth and ninth legions not already used during the winter, and later the thirteenth, he marched against the Bellovaci.

Having learned from tribesmen left behind as spies that the Bellovaci along with men from other tribes had left their homes and moved to high ground defended by a marsh and a wood in order to assess the size of his army and hence their next move, Caesar duped the Bellovaci into thinking he had one fewer legion than he actually had and set up a camp with strong defences opposite them when they did not immediately attack. For a few days only minor skirmishes took place with the Bellovaci staying in their stronghold and only leaving to attack Romans foraging for food. The Bellovaci had one particular success against the Remi cavalry called up by Caesar and their leader, Vertiscus, was killed whilst the German cavalry summoned by Caesar killed a number of Gauls and the rest were terrified by this setback. Finally, afraid of being blockaded like Vercingetorix had been at Alesia, the Gauls prepared to send away by night the weakest and drew up their forces to allow them to escape with the baggage. Caesar, meanwhile, led his troops to a hill on the other side of the Gauls’ camp and began to build another camp. The Bellovaci escaped by burning a line of torches to create a curtain of fire which hid them as they fled to a position ten miles away whilst the cavalry Caesar sent in pursuit, afraid of the fire and suspicious of a trap, were unsuccessful.

Campaign map of 51 BC. (c) Cristinao64

Roman foraging parties continued to suffer heavy losses until Caesar laid a trap which brought about the end of this particular uprising: Correus with six thousand infantry and one thousand cavalry planned to ambush the Romans with the lure of an abundance of corn and hay. Having sent the foraging party ahead with the usual cavalry reinforced by light infantry to defend them, Caesar followed with a strong legionary force. The Roman forces fought bravely and won the battle before Caesar arrived, killing many of the Gauls including Correus. When news of this defeat reached the Gallic camp, Commius fled to the German tribes and the rest surrendered, begging for mercy and blaming Correus for the uprising. Caesar thought they had suffered enough loss and so merely demanded hostages, and the other tribes who had also rebelled did the same, except for Commius. T. Labienus sent Volusenus to arrange an interview with him and execute him but Commius escaped with a head injury.

Organised resistance from the Gauls had been broken but many were moving away from their towns and land to avoid living under Roman rule. Caesar therefore sent out his commanders with legions to various parts of the country where there were individual uprisings, killing or capturing large numbers of the Gauls and plundering and burning their homes. He plundered the lands of the Eburii, Labienus did the same to the Treveri, whilst C. Caninius Rebilus went to Lemonum in Pictones’ territory where Duratius was under siege from Dumnacus, leader of the Andes. When Fabius had subdued the west he came to the aid of Caninius and Dumnacus, outnumbered, withdrew. Fabius’ cavalry pursued and caught them before they crossed the Loire, killing many of the rearguard, taking booty and delaying the rest until Fabius arrived with his legions, at which point the Gauls turned in flight but were surrounded. More than twelve thousand were killed and their baggage train captured.

Fabius then marched to the territory of the Carnutes and any other tribe who had joined Dumnacus and they quickly surrendered and gave hostages. Dumnacus was driven into exile. Caninius with two legions then marched against Drappes, a Senonian, and Lucterius, a Cadurcan, who were marching towards the Province with around two thousand fugitives, raiding any Roman convoys they met. When Drappes and Lucterius realised Caninius was close behind them, they took refuge in Uxellodunum in Cadurci territory, a town protected on all sides by precipitous rocks. Caninius pitched three camps on high ground and began to build fortifications around the town for a siege.

Ciaran Hinds as Caesar in HBO’s Rome.

Afraid of lack of food, as had happened at Alesia, Drappes and Lucturius left two thousand men in the town and left with the rest at night. They soon obtained a large quantity of grain and made occasional night attacks on Caninius’ fortifications which he temporarily stopped building. They made camp about ten miles away from the town and prepared to take the grain into the town little by little under the command of Lucerius but they were heard and then seen by Roman sentries and having been attacked were unable either to enter the town or make their way back to camp but were forced to flee. Caninius sent cavalry and German infantry ahead to Drappes’ camp which was on a river bank and they swooped down on it from high ground, catching the Gauls unaware. Caninius followed with one of his legions, having left the other to guard the three camps, and joined in the attack, killing or capturing all the Gauls including Drappes. Caninius, joined by Fabius, continued the siege works around Uxellodunum.

Meanwhile Caesar, having left fifteen legions in the territory of the Bellovaci, visited the tribes in western Gaul to assess and reassure them. He executed Gutuater, who was mainly responsible for the Carnutes’ uprising, and then joined Caninius at Uxellodunum to put a swift end to the siege. He cut off the town’s water supply by building a sixty feet high terrace with a high tower on top of this at the point where a spring of water flowed into the river near the town. From here Roman artillery attacked any townspeople or animals who approached. The townspeople retaliated by rolling burning barrels of pitch towards these Romans who sustained heavy casualties but, when Caesar sent cohorts to climb the ramparts, the townspeople returned within their walls and soon surrendered when the spring dried up completely after the Romans diverted it by building mines underneath.

Caesar, although considered to be merciful to his enemies, decided to make examples of the defenders of Uxellodunum in order to deter further rebellions: all who had carried weapons against the Romans had their hands cut off; Drappes had starved himself to death and Lucterius was betrayed and handed over to Caesar by an Arvernian, Epasnactus, whilst Labienus inflicted severe casualties on the Treveri, capturing their leaders and an Aeduan chief, Surus.

Gaul fully conquered. (c) Cristiano64

Thus, after several years of campaigning, Caesar had conquered almost the whole of Gaul. He spent the latter part of the summer completing the subjugation of Aquitania begun by P. Crassus, distributed the legions in their winter quarters in areas which had previously rebelled and, having finished his business in the Province, spent the winter at Nemetocenna in the territory of the Belgae. The final attack on the Romans that year came from Commius in Atrebates’ territory. He was pursued by Volusenus who had previously inflicted a serious wound on Commius. Commius in turn seriously wounded Volusenus in the thigh but the Romans had the upper hand in the fighting, killing or taking prisoners most of Commius’ men. Commius himself escaped but, whilst not surrendering, offered to live wherever the Romans told him to without causing further trouble, and this request was accepted. As Caesar was in his final year of command in Gaul he ensured the loyalty of the Gallic tribes without further uprisings by imposing no further burdens on them, and the Gauls were happy to live in peace as they were exhausted by their many defeats in war.

At the end of winter, Caesar proceeded to Italy intending to thank the towns and colonies who had supported his close friend, Mark Anthony, in his candidacy for the priesthood (he was elected augur) and to counter a small faction of influential men trying to undermine his own influence. Caesar was received very affectionately. When he returned to his army at Nemetocenna, he summoned all the legions from their winter quarters to Treveri territory and placed Labienus in command of Cisalpine Gaul in anticipation of his candidacy for the consulship. Following a senatorial decree that Caesar and Pompey should each contribute one legion to the Parthian campaign, Caesar lost two legions as Pompey contributed the first legion which he had previously sent to Caesar and Caesar handed over the fifteenth, sending the thirteenth to replace it in Italy. He then redistributed his legions to winter quarters in Gaul, placing most amongst the Aedui and the Belgae, the strongest and most dangerous tribes, and then proceeded to Italy where he learned that the two legions he had sent for the Parthian campaign had been kept in Italy under Pompey’s command. Civil war was looming.

Book VII Overview