Commentarii de Bello Gallico
First page of De bello Gallico, from a 1469 manuscript
|Author||Julius Caesar, Aulus Hirtius (VIII)|
|Subject||History, Ethnography, Military history|
|Followed by||Commentarii de Bello Civili|
Commentarii de Bello Gallico (English: Commentaries on the Gallic War), also simply Bellum Gallicum (English: Gallic War), is Julius Caesar's firsthand account of the Gallic Wars, written as a third-person narrative. In it Caesar describes the battles and intrigues that took place in the nine years he spent fighting the Germanic peoples and Celtic peoples in Gaul that opposed Roman conquest.
The "Gaul" that Caesar refers to is sometimes all of Gaul except for the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis (modern-day Provence), encompassing the rest of modern France, Belgium and some of Switzerland. On other occasions, he refers only to that territory inhabited by the Celtic peoples known to the Romans as Gauls, from the English Channel to Lugdunum (Lyon).
The work has been a mainstay in Latin instruction because of its simple, direct prose. It begins with the frequently quoted phrase "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres", meaning "Gaul is a whole divided into three parts". The full work is split into eight sections, Book 1 to Book 8, each varying in size from approximately 5,000 to 15,000 words. Book 8 was written by Aulus Hirtius, after Caesar's death.
The Latin title, literally Commentaries on the Gallic War, is often retained in English translations of the book, and the title is also translated to About the Gallic War, Of the Gallic War, On the Gallic War, The Conquest of Gaul, and The Gallic War.
The victories in Gaul won by Caesar had increased the alarm and hostility of his enemies at Rome, and his aristocratic enemies, the boni, were spreading rumors about his intentions once he returned from Gaul. The boni intended to prosecute Caesar for abuse of his authority upon his return, when he would lay down his imperium. Such prosecution would not only see Caesar stripped of his wealth and citizenship, but also negate all of the laws he enacted during his term as Consul and his dispositions as pro-consul of Gaul. To defend himself against these threats, Caesar knew he needed the support of the plebeians, particularly the Tribunes of the Plebs, on whom he chiefly relied for help in carrying out his agenda. The Commentaries were an effort by Caesar to directly communicate with the plebeians - thereby circumventing the usual channels of communication that passed through the Senate - to propagandize his activities as efforts to increase the glory and influence of Rome. By winning the support of the people, Caesar sought to make himself unassailable from the boni. The work is a paradigm of proper reporting and stylistic clarity.
It is often lauded for its polished, clear Latin. This book is traditionally the first authentic text assigned to students of Latin, as Xenophon's Anabasis is for students of Ancient Greek; they are both autobiographical tales of military adventure told in the third person. It contains many details and employs many stylistic devices to promote Caesar's political interests.
The books are valuable for the many geographical and historical claims that can be retrieved from the work. Notable chapters describe Gaulish custom (VI, 13), their religion (VI, 17), and a comparison between Gauls and Germanic peoples (VI, 24).
Since Caesar is one of the characters in the Astérix and Obélix albums, René Goscinny included gags for French schoolchildren who had the Commentarii as a textbook. One example is having Caesar talk about himself in the third person as in the book.
Some English editions state that Astérix's village of indomitable Gauls is the "fourth part" of Gaul, not yet having been conquered by Caesar.
Vorenus and Pullo
In Book 5, Chapter 44 the Commentarii de Bello Gallico notably mentions Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, two Roman centurions of the 11th Legion. The 2005 television series Rome gives a fictionalized account of Caesar's rise and fall, featuring Kevin McKidd as the character of Lucius Vorenus and Ray Stevenson as the character of Titus Pullo of the 13th Legion.
During World War I the French composer Vincent d'Indy wrote his Third Symphony, which bears the title De Bello Gallico. D'Indy was adapting Caesar's title to the situation of the current struggle in France against the German army, in which he had a son and nephew fighting, and which the music illustrates to some extent.
- As translated by H.J. Edwards in the Loeb Classical Library edition.
- Peck, Harry Thurston, ed. (1963) . "Caesar, Gaius Iulius". Harper's Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, Inc. p. 248.
- Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Cæsar's Commentaries". Encyclopedia Americana.
- Caesar. In Hans Herzfeld[de] (1960): Geschichte in Gestalten (History in figures), vol. 1: A-E. Das Fischer Lexikon[de] 37, Frankfurt 1963, p. 214. "Hauptquellen [betreffend Caesar]: Caesars eigene, wenn auch leicht tendenziöse Darstellungen des Gallischen und des Bürgerkrieges, die Musterbeispiele sachgemäßer Berichterstattung und stilistischer Klarheit sind" ("Main sources [regarding Caesar]: Caesar's own, even though slightly tendentious depictions of the Gallic and the Civil Wars, which are paradigms of pertinent information and stylistic clarity")
- cf. Albrecht, Michael v.: Geschichte der römischen Literatur Band 1 (History of Roman Literature, Volume 1). Munich 1994, 2nd ed., p. 332–334.
- Prior to its demobilization and subsequent remobilization by Augustus—see also Republican and Imperatorial legions. Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Gallico 5.44
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- At Perseus Project: Caesar's Gallic War—De Bello Gallico, English translation by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn (1869); Latin text edition.
- At Gutenberg Project:
- Caesar's Commentaries (THE WAR IN GAUL - THE CIVIL WAR), English translation by W. A. MACDEVITT, introduction by THOMAS DE QUINCEY (1915) (incomplete)
- De Bello Gallico (Books I–IV), Latin text edition.
- "The Gallic Wars By Julius Caesar" (menu page linking 8 books), translated by W.A. McDevitte and W.S. Bohn (1869), Classics.MIT.edu, 2009.
- "C. IVLI CAESARIS COMMENTARIORVM DE BELLO" (Latin only), TheLatinLibrary.com, 2008.
- "Dickinson College Commentaries" Selections in Latin with notes, audio, and resources for the study of Caesar.
- Commentaries on the Gallic War public domain audiobook at LibriVox