Gallic War Innovations
More than 2,000 years after he took his final breath, the name Julius Caesar is still recognized by most people. Forever immortalized for his destruction of the Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. He became the historical model of ambition paired with a keen strategic mind.
Born into nobility, a patrician ruling class family. His father died when he was sixteen making him the head of household and forcing him into taking care of the family. Caesar skillfully navigated his upward mobility through marriages, small scale battles, and chief priesthood positions. By the age of forty, Caesar politicked his way into a three-person power sharing agreement known as the First Triumvirate (Caesar J. a., 1976).
This power sharing agreement gave him the governorship of the north territories in Gaul. Caesar also in heavy debt and looking to further build his name moved his four legions throughout Gaul attempting to claim more land for Rome. Gaul, present day France, at the time consisted of numerous tribes with loose affiliations to one another. While Gaul was ripe for the picking in terms of territory, it would also provide a buffer between Rome and Germania. Previously the Germanic tribes had raided southern Rome, and this was still top of mind for many Roman citizens. Using defense as justification, Caesar’s legions went to war to conquer Gaul and create buffer between the German hoards.
Rome’s conquest of Gaul resembles the tribal warfare that the United States inflicted on Native Americans during the 19th century. The loose confederations were easily divided subjecting the Gauls to Roman rule, however tribal flare-ups occurred routinely constantly occupying he Army. Fascinating about the Gallic War though are the innovative strategies that Caesar applied in quelling the locals and presenting Rome as the dominant force.
The Germanic tribes were supremely territorial and fought constantly to keep a buffer between their homeland and other tribes. With the Roman Army pushing farther into the region, the German barbarians crossed into Gaul skirmishing with the Legions and then won a surprising victory against Roman Calvary. The Romans responded and the Germans retreated to their land on the other side of the Rhine river. Caesar in pursuit decided to build a bridge across the roughly 1,000-foot river that was up to 30 feet deep. Caesar could have pressed the Germans by ferrying his army across the Rhine by boat, but he wanted his enemy to know that his army could not be stopped and could do anything.
In an engineering marvel with forty-thousand troop at his disposal, they used local forests to build the entire bridge in ten-days. The German tribes in shock retreated deeper into their homeland and the Roman Army only accomplished a few raids on outposts. The Romans then crossed back into Gaul and burned the bridge after their return. While it wasn’t a decisive military victory, the building of a bridge over the Rhine on display for their enemy showed that there was nothing that would stand in the way of Caesar and his Legions.
By 52 B.C. the Gallic Tribes formed a confederation under the leadership of Vercingetorix, the Gallic King. Under this unified structure the Galls changed tactics to attack Roman supply lines. Attempting to starve the Legions out of Gaul. The raiding armies consisted of small bands. They moved fast never giving the Romans a chance to deliver a knockout blow. Vercingetorix during a period of recovery sheltered his army in the small city of Alesia. Caesar took advantage of this unique opportunity moving to pin down the Gallic Army.
The Romans encircled the town walling off the city with 25-miles of fortifications using local timber. Hoping to starve out the Gallic Army, the Romans fended of light raids from inside the city and continued to wait. However Gallic reinforcements from outside of the city came to the rescue planning to break up the Roman siege.
Caesar in turn built another encirclement of fortifications around the fortifications surrounding Alesia. Wanting to protect the Army from outside attack the Roman Army was now surrounded and cut off. His double fortifications kept attackers out. They also still held Alesia in as the two could not coordinate attacks to split Caesar’s forces. Eventually the outer armies dissipated returning to their homes, and the inner armies finally surrendered. With the surrender of Vercingetorix, the unified Gallic Army was pacified.
Caesar was a favorite study subject of Napoleon. He possibly modeled his life of aggression, ambition, and desire to rule completely after him. What made Caesar unique was his approach to everything were all calculated and methodical. While his maneuvering was quite innovative and daring, all his tactics were connected to an overarching bigger strategy. His grand strategy of ruling all of Rome.
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