Much of Julius Caesar‘s popularity among the Roman citizenry was down to his keen political acumen, diplomatic skill and — perhaps most of all — his oft-ascribed military genius. After all, Ancient Rome was a culture that loved to celebrate its military victories and foreign conquests, whether they actually benefited the average Roman or not.
Here are 11 facts relating to Julius Caesar’s military and diplomatic achievements.
1. Rome was already expanding into Gaul by the time Caesar went north
Parts of northern Italy were Gallic. Caesar was governor of first Cisalpine Gaul, or Gaul on “our” side of the Alps, and soon after of Transalpine Gaul, the Roman’s Gallic territory just over the Alps. Trade and political links made allies of some of Gaul’s tribes.
2. The Gauls had threatened Rome in the past
In 109 BC, Caesar’s powerful uncle Gaius Marius had won lasting fame and the title ‘Third Founder of Rome’ by stopping a tribal invasion of Italy.
3. Inter-tribal conflicts could mean trouble
A powerful tribal leader, Ariovistus of the Germanic Suebi tribe, won battles with rival tribes in 63 BC and could become the ruler of all of Gaul. If other tribes were displaced, they might head south again.
4. Caesar’s first battles were with the Helvetii
Germanic tribes were pushing them out of their home territory and their path to new lands in the West lay across Roman territory. Caesar was able to stop them at the Rhone and move more troops north. He finally defeated them in the Battle of Bibracte in 50 BC, returning them to their homeland.
5. Other Gallic tribes demanded protection from Rome
Ariovistus’ Suebi tribe were still moving into Gaul and at a conference other Gallic leaders warned that without protection they would have to move – threatening Italy. Caesar issued warnings to Ariovistus, a previous Roman ally.
6. Caesar showed his military genius in his battles with Ariovistus
A long preamble of negotiations finally led to pitched battle with the Suebi near Vesontio (now Besançon). Caesar’s largely untested legions, led by political appointments, proved strong enough and a 120,000-strong Suebi army was wiped out. Ariovistus returned to Germany for good.
7. Next to challenge Rome were the Belgae, occupants of modern Belgium
They attacked Roman allies. The most warlike of the Belgian tribes, the Nervii, nearly defeated Caesar’s armies. Caesar later wrote that ‘the Belgae are the bravest of the Gauls.
8. In 56 BC Caesar went west to conquer Armorica, as Brittany was then called
The Veneti people were a maritime force and dragged the Romans into a long naval struggle before they were defeated.
9. Caesar still had time to look elsewhere
In 55 BC he crossed the Rhine into Germany and made his first expedition to Britannia. His enemies complained that Caesar was more interested in building personal power and territory than his mission to conquer Gaul.
10. Vercingetorix was the Gauls’ greatest leader
Regular rebellions became particularly troublesome when the Arverni chieftain united the Gallic tribes and turned to guerrilla tactics.
11. The Siege of Alesia in 52 BC was Caesar’s final victory in Gaul
Caesar built two lines of forts around the Gallic stronghold and defeated two larger armies. The wars were all but ended when Vercingetorix rode out to throw his arms at Caesar’s feet. Vercingetorix was taken to Rome and later strangled.