4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A Large Pinch of Salt,
This review is from: The Conquest of Gaul (Classics) (Paperback)
What strikes the reader in particular about Caesar's long report about his war in Gaul is the lack of any great detail with regard to Gaulish opposition. Two of the most powerful Celtic tribes, the Belgae and the Nervii, are described as very brave, and one is led to believe that things are heading for a major showdown between them and the Romans. Yet it all kind of fizzles out in an anticlimax. Caesar's campaign in Gaul is often represented as a walk-over, yet the fact that it took him nine years strongly suggests that the Celtic Gauls put up far greater resistance than Caesar would have us believe. Gaul was not a cluster of mud huts filled with primitive people, but a sophisticated culture with large cities, including ancient Paris and Lyon. Caesar was heavily in debt and Gaul was rich. Caesar's memoir raises far more questions than it answers. Sadly we only have Caesar's word, yet how far can that be trusted when he lied to the very Senate over the reasons for invading Gaul in the first place?
Gaul was a free land being illegally invaded by a ruthless opportunist carrying out Roman imperial expansion (or theft on a grand scale). Dumnorix, one of the most influential Gauls, declares loudly (before Caesar has him killed) that he is a free man and the subject of a free state. If Britain or America was faced today with such a warlike invasion its citizens are likely to declare the same kind of thing. Hitler is rightly viewed as a monster responsible for the deaths of millions, yet Caesar is hailed these days as a hero, even though he also was responsible for the deaths of millions, including women and children. This book remains an attempt at justifying his actions to a Senate with whom he was far from popular. Vercingetorix, king of the Gauls, and the worthy opponent who defeated Caesar several times before finally surrendering in a grand manner, according to Plutarch, on his sumptuously adorned horse. Caesar's version of the surrender plays this down in his book. Vercingetorix was kept captive for five years before being paraded as part of Caesar's triumph. Caesar then had him strangled in his cell, hardly a noble or heroic act, and a monumental insult to a Celtic warrior king, who would have expected the honourable death of decapitation, according to age old custom.
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Initial post: 18 Aug 2012 22:33:20 BDT
I'm afraid I deeply disagree with what you're saying in this review. Firstly, you need to look at Caesar's writings from the understanding that they are indeed biased in his favour. Afterall, the main purpose of writing the texts was to gain support amongst the senate and people of Rome, for the cival conflict that Caesar knew was on its way. Therefore you're derision of his writings on this note can hardly be accepted, as to the modern reader, the text is meant to be taken with a "pinch of salt". It is important to look past this and see what is actually highly detailed, clear and intelligent writing.
Secondly, you're analysis of Caesar as a authortarian tyrant is... completely correct. However, you cannot judge him or indeed the Roman's by modern standards. To a contemporary reader his actions would not have seemed at all "monstrous" as Roman society respected strength, domination and other traits that we might object to.
Thirdly, you're statement that Caesar is viewed as a "hero" these days is again false. He is respected for being a highly skilled General and potent politician. Afterall, he conquered all of Gaul in a mere six years, a feat that is made all the more impressive by the highly developed culture of the Gallic nations.
So overall, I think you are looking judging this text and Caesar from entirely the wrong perspective, and would encourage you to look again at his work with a fresh opinion. To those thinking of reading Caesar, I would recommend this edition for its precise and highly readable translation, as well as it brilliantly informative introduction, glossaries and maps.
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