Talk:Battle of the Sabis

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as far as I remember from my schooldays, it is not known which river the sabis is today, but it is very unlikely it is the Sambre. The south borders of the Nervii territory were in what's currently France, south of the Belgian Sambre (Frankamand 21:27, 19 November 2005 (UTC))

I shall make a note about that. Munion 23:58, 22 January 2006 (UTC)

While I'm at it, I struck the comment about "with whom they were fighting valiantly." It seems out of place, not academically useful, and a strange bit of Viromandui boosterism. Munion 00:05, 23 January 2006 (UTC)

The dutch article on the Nervii mentions a source for the claim that the sabis is the river Selle. De identificatie van de Sabis met de Selle is al in de jaren veertig en vijftig gebeurd, door twee onderzoekers, P. Turquin en A. Arnould, op taalkundige gronden en op basis van de gegevens uit de tekst van Caesar, en is overtuigend en m.i. definitief. De identificatie met de Samber of zelfs met de Schelde heeft nog steeds aanhangers31. 31 P. Turquin, La bataille de la Selle (du Sabis) en l'an 57 avant J.-C., in Les études classiques 23 (1955), pp. 113-154; M.-A. Arnould, La bataille du Sabis (57 avant notre ère), in Revue Belge de philologie et d'histoire 20 (1941), pp. 29-106. --Frankamand 09:39, 19 June 2006 (UTC)

>>> Frankamand is right about the Selle.

The figures for the Nervii (and allies), given by Caesar, were very exagerated. According to him, the total number of soldiers for all Belgic tribes was some 280.000 men. In 1830 Belgium had 1,5 million inhabitants, but at that time the country was one of the most urbanized in Europe. The total Belgian population at the time of Caesar must not have exceeded 800.000. The Nervians represented some 25% at best = 200.000 inhabitants (including women and children). So, 20.000 or 10% of the total population on the battle field is the highest possible estimation. But it's unlikely that this figure was reached, as some soldiers had to guard their homeland too (against German raiders, sent by Caesar). Michael042 13:00, 7 March 2007 (UTC)


Battle against the Nervians and this article describe the same battle.

Battle Against the Nervians takes the stance that locale is the Selle River, though most translations and commentators put it at the Sambre River. Shouldn't both possible locations be mentioned?

And shouldn't the two articles be combined? I'm a relative newbie and don't know how to go about this.

"In reality, Caesar was saved by his legate Labienus."[edit]

I would like more support for this claim. Yes, I have read the full page, but I do not think that's enough justification for this claim. I mean Labenius legion was part of Caesar's army - we don't always write "Commander NN was saved by General YY" just because YY's forces were needed to win the day, do we? I'm marking this with a fact tag (is there a more appropriate one?). Feel free to expand the text and remove the tag. CapnZapp (talk) 09:33, 22 June 2008 (UTC)

Indeed, I'd even go as far and say that the mentioning of that sentence is POV. The previous sentence before the offending one explicitly mentions that Caesar stated in his after action report that the timely arrival of reinforcements was instrumental in the victory. I propose the sentence should be deleted. -- fdewaele, 23 June 2008, 16:15.

Inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the article[edit]

When I read this article, I could see it did not accord with what I remembered from my studies of De Bello Gallico years ago, so I looked deeper. I went back to the original Latin and compared it line by line with our article. I found many inaccuracies or inconsistences. See below.

Caesar used a spare and concise style whereas the article uses more imaginative language not justified by his text. While this would make an enjoyable account in a work of fiction, it is not encyclopaedic and it has led to inaccuracies (pace previous editors) creeping into the article. The current version skips back and forth, cherry-picking bits and pieces, adding details that Caesar never wrote and omitting significant parts of what he did write. Some incidents are mentioned twice. An extensive study of the revision history showed that a lot of this kind of detail was added between 19 Dec 2010 and 14 Feb 2011. Prior to that there was a well-written account by user NeddySeagoon.

My conclusion is that the article needs a rewrite to fix all this and I will do this shortly. I will try to preserve NeddySeagoon’s text where I can. I think that we cannot do better than to closely follow Caesar’s denoument of the battle. If we stick to what he wrote and nothing else, the article will get some much-needed clarity. Let Caesar tell his own story.


(The paragraph numbers referred to below, 1 - 24, are the paragraphs in the section headed Battle, numbered sequentially).

  1. The Nervii had a good plan – to attack one legion at the head of the column. This has been omitted.
  2. (Para 1) “... escorted by two newly-recruited legions. These were replacements for losses incurred during the war against the Helvetii and Suebii”. This is not strictly true. One would expect replacements to be sent direct to the legions that had suffered losses. The creation of two new formations would have had more to do with strategic concerns than the mere replacement of losses and in fact they were recruited to help block the projected migration of the Helvetii (De Bello Gallico 1.10).
  3. (Para 2) “…its shores crowded with fleeing natives”. Caesar makes no menton of this. He merely states that Belgae who had surrendered and other Gauls were travelling in company with the legions (2.17), “Cum ex dediticiis Belgis reliquisque Gallis complures Caesarem secuti una iter facerent...” Nevertheless, this fictitious idea is hammered home three more times in a short paragraph: “…was crowded with refugees heading for their strongholds…” then “…the mass of fugitives…” and finally “…pursuing the panicked natives…”. And what “strongholds” are they fleeing to? None are mentioned by Caesar.
  4. (Para 2) “…the cavalry clashed with a lesser force of Belgic horsemen, but this retreated into the woods at the approach of the peltasts and archers who had crossed the river to join in the attack”. By contrast, Caesar says the Belgae horsemen kept sallying from the wood to attack (2.19). “Peltast” is an anachronistic term referring to Greek soldiery of an earlier period.
  5. (Para 3) “Through the use of hired informants Caesar was able to locate Boduognatus at his encampment and claim the initiative”. Caesar learned the lie of the land from prisoners, not hired informers: “... inveniebat ex captivis ...” (2.16). This did not give Caesar the initiative. At this stage, all that was happening was that two armies were approaching each other and both sides were gathering intelligence.
  6. (Para 5) “The Aduatuci were also riding …” It is more likely they were marching. Caesar merely says that they were “expected” and so that is all we can say. The Latin: “expectari etiam ab iis Atuatucorum copias atque esse in itinere…” (2:16). Next we have: “The Aduatuci were ….unaware of Caesar’s rapid advance”. There is no evidence they were unaware.
  7. (Para 9 and others) “On Caesar's side of the river, six full-strength Roman legions…. Two youthful and inexperienced legions… its fortifications and fixed weapons (ballistas).” The article states the legions were “veteran” (5 times!), “youthful” or “inexperienced”. Caesar merely states two legions were “newly-recruited”. He says nothng about ballistae being set up. In any case, they wouldn’t have arrived yet as they were doubtless in the baggage train.
  8. (Para 7) “Just as the leading element of huge Roman baggage caravan came into view, harsh trumpets (carnyx) signalled the native attack...” There is no evidence that the baggage train was “huge”. It would have been big enough for the needs of eight legions, no more and no less. The only relevance of the baggage is that (a) its appearance was the agreed signal for the Belgae attack and (b) its rearrangement was crucial. There is no evidence for trumpets. While it is likely that trumpets were present among the Belgae on the battle field, Caesar does not mention them. Nor can we.
  9. (Para 7) “the Belgae surged down the embankment...” An embankment is a man-made reinforcement of earth or stone at the edge of a river. This is another invention. Caesar only ever refers to “ripae” (naturally occurring banks), not “moles” (embankments).
  10. (Para 11) “…XII and VII were overrun, with most of the officers falling by their standards. The survivors fled for higher ground to re-form, while the Gauls distracted themselves with ravaging Caesar's encampment, killing the wounded, capturing eagles and collecting trophies”. There is no mention of survivors running for higher ground. There is no mention of Eagles (aquilae) being captured, only standards (signa).
  11. (Para 12) “Caesar made his way to the center of the fray escorted by his personal retinue”. While Caesar almost certainly had a personal retinue, it isn’t mentioned in the source text.
  12. (Para 13) “…also attacking the throng of native fugitives that had massed on the far side of the Sabis.” Caesar makes no mention of fugitives.
  13. (Para 14) “On the right flank, the XI and VIII legions had combined their efforts in containing the Viromandui and pushed them back to the river bank. However, they were unable to drive them across the river or defeat them.” Caesar never says these legions had any trouble defeating the Viromandui. He says they were routed. This is what opens the gap for the Nervii incursion. The action occurred in the centre, not the right flank. This paragraph pretty much repeats/duplicates the text three paragraphs earlier, repeating the loss of most centurions, repeating the dubious claim about the Eagles. I think that an editor got confused here between right and centre. This time Appian is used to make the claim that the tribunes were all killed. “At this point, both legions [VII and XII] had lost almost all of their centurions and several standards had been captured …. according to Appian all of their tribunes were killed and their Eagles taken by the Nervii…” I have not located anything in Appian concerning Eagles. This is repeated again in paragraph 20 (see below).
  14. (Para 14) Then there is a pointless repetition using Appian. Caesar only mentions the tribunes of legion XII in 2.26 when he orders them to move towards legion VII. There is no mention of loss of two eagles (aquilae), only signa. The most likely losses were cohort and century standards, of which there would have been scores per legion.
  15. (Para 14) “Even the 'primus pilus' (the senior centurion) of one of the legions had fallen to Boduagnatus' personal retinue”. Caesar makes no mention of Boduagnatus in this part of the action, still less his personal retinue. Caesar does not indicate that the centurion died – he says the man was not able to stand because of wounds. “…in his primipilo P. Sextio Baculo, fortissimo viro, multis gravibusque vulneribus confecto, ut iam se sustinere non posset…” (2.25). In fact, Baculus survived and is mentioned in books 3 and 6.
  16. (Para 15) “It is reported that by shouting at them by name over the blaring horns of the Gauls and by demanding that they properly form up, Caesar avoided being taken by Boduognatus”. It’s those horns again. Caesar just “reports” that he called the centurions by name. Nothing more. There is no mention whatsoever of Bogduognatus (2.25).
  17. (Para 16) “… as he tells it, it was only his arrival with the XII and VII legions that saved the remainder of the day, if not the entire campaign.”. There is no such claim in De Bello Gallico. Caesar gives credit all round to his soldiers, to his subordinate officers, to Labienus (2.20, 2.22, 2.26). He only credits himself with steadying legion XII – a sixth of the engaged forces at that point (2.25). Even if legions VII and XII were destroyed the other four were still in fighting shape and two more legions were coming up. This was an alteration of NeddySeagoon’s correct text of May 2008:“As he [Caesar] tells it, it was only his arrival with the XII that boosted their morale”.
  18. (Para 16) “... and adopt a large square formation so they could better protect the wounded …” Caesar says nothing about protecting the wounded. In desperate circumstances the wounded may have had to fend for themselves. The “square formation” was more likely to have been an "orbis" (5.33).
  19. (Para 16) “He sent dispatches to the rear element pleading …as well to his favored officers … Labienus, Brutus, Cotta, Sabinus et al”. We do not know that Caesar “pleaded”. Only Labienus is mentioned by name in this particular action. Caesar may well have contacted Brutus, Cotta or Labienus, but he does not say so and we have no business confidently stating that he did.
  20. (Para 17) “After defeating the Atrebates and pursuing them across the river X legion assaulted the Belgic populace which was gathered there in great numbers and amid much carnage”. Hmm… In our article, we last left the “populace” (i.e. the non-combatants) safely ensconced in the marshes where it would be safe from the Roman army. Legion X went nowhere near them – it hit the Belgae reserves in the wood at the top of the hill and then returned over the river to the main battle.
  21. (Para 18) “With the retreating Viromandui escaped some of the Nervii laden with booty”. There is nothing in Caesar’s account to support it. Lower down in the article there is a statement that “not one of the Nervii were seen to desert” which jars with this with, but even this second statement is not really supported by Caesar. He says the Nervii kept stepping forward to die, which is a very different thing. (2.27). “…cum primi eorum cecidissent, proximi iacentibus insisterent atque ex eorum corporibus pugnarent, his deiectis et coacervatis cadaveribus qui superessent…”
  22. (Para 18) “The few remaining Gallic horsemen turned and galloped off toward the distant Aduatuci who were only then learning of the Roman encroachment on Boduognatus' encampment”. More invention. This is cobbled up from Caesar’s simple statement that the Aduatuci received a report of the outcome “…hac pugna nuntiata ex itinere domum reverterunt..” The report could just as easily have come from Aduatuci scouts.
  23. (Para 20) “Caesar admits to losing all of his standards and having most of his centurions killed or wounded” This is the third time this has been mentioned (see paras 11and 14) but this time the claim is exaggerated to “all” the standards. It is not true. It only happened in certain formations, notably the fourth cohort of legion XII. Incidentally, if Caesar had really lost all his standards, it would have meant a loss of nearly 500 across all eight legions (60 centuries per legion). Not very likely, is it?
  24. (Para20) “He himself was forced to take up a shield and personally rally his forces …” This is the second time our article has described this incident.
  25. (Para 21) “…slingers and archers were recruited for the specific purpose of confounding the Gallic proclivity …” In fact, auxiliaries of this kind were a standard part of the Roman army set-up and were not specially recruited just to handle the Gauls.
  26. (Para 23) The article baldly states “… the Nervii caught Roman javelins in flight and hurled them back …” which I think implies that the Nervii were doing this as a matter of course. I have great difficulty with this concept of catching and think it very unlikely. Here’s the Latin: “ pila intercepta remitterent...” (2:27).
  27. The five paragraphs starting at “The swiftness of Boduognatus' sudden massed attack …” have been pasted in their entirety to the article Gallic Wars by an editor working on that page. There is no point in duplicating them here.
  28. A fragment of an account of the battle by Appian (95AD to 165AD) survives. Writing maybe two hundred years after the event, his primary source must surely have been De Bello Gallico although it is possible that he could have consulted other written accounts, now lost. However, he does not contradict Caesar (except in stating all the tribunes and centurions were killed). There are five paragraphs on Appian under the heading Casualties which essentially just repeat what has already been written. The excessive amount of text devoted to Appian should therefore be severely pruned. I think that we must rely primarily on Caesar while recognising that Appian wrote something on the subject.

Freeman501 (talk) 13:37, 7 August 2012 (UTC)

A small correction to point 2 above. Influenced by the mention of “Helvetii” in the quote, I was thinking of the earlier recruitment of two legions, XI and XII, against the Helvetian migration (BG 1.10). The two legions meant here are legions XIII and XIV, raised against the Belgii (BG 2.1). The main thrust of the point stands.Freeman501 (talk) 01:03, 8 August 2012 (UTC)

One Source Template[edit]

I'm going to remove the One Source template from the article and add a mention to the article lede that the main primary source on the battle is Caesar's own book. While the template makes sense in theory, there simply aren't any other primary sources, so exhorting editors to add more sources doesn't really make sense. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to add other secondary sources, and if that was the intention of the template, then please feel free to add it back, but in general those secondary sources will likewise be based on Caesar's account and subject to the same limitations. — Preceding unsigned comment added by FangXianfu (talkcontribs) 00:44, 27 August 2019 (UTC)