Also Reading: Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic Wars

Julius Caesar, born 100 BC, murdered on the Ides of March 44 BC, left us his Commentaries, on his seven campaigns against the Gauls. Since self has been getting most of her book recommendations from the wsj (at least, while she isn’t traveling), she’s been reading a lot of books about wars and colonization. The book that’s her main current read, Andréa Reséndez’s Conquering the Pacific, is absolutely fascinating. She’s also reading Bewilderment, her second Richard Powers novel (more on that later), and just today she began reading the Oxford World Classics version of Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War. The translation is by Carolyn Hammond, who has written the very comprehensive Introduction.

It’s been a long time since self studied Roman history, but here are a few things she’s gleaned from the Introduction so far:

  • Caesar’s great rival was Pompey. As a very young man (in his mid-20s), Pompey raised an army to defend the legate Sulla, and was sent to Africa to defeat Sulla’s enemies there. He returned to Rome in triumph at the age of 26, and was rewarded with the surname ‘the Great.’ (No wonder Caesar hated him)
  • “Succeeding in Roman politics was an expensive business . . . but a foreign war offered opportunities for enriching self” which Caesar learned just from watching Pompey’s example.
  • “The largest unit of the Roman army was the legion, with a nominal strength of 6,000 soldiers.” Each legion was made up of cohorts: “ten cohorts per legion, each containing 600 men.”
  • “Legionaries typically served twenty years or sixteen campaigns before discharge . . . All the soldiers in a legion . . . carried the same equipment: defensive body armour made of leather and metal . . . a shield made of wood covered with leather and metal. The usual offensive weapons carried were the sword and javelin.”
  • The legions were supplemented by “auxiliary forces . . . supplied by subject territories. They were often stationed on the wings in battle, though if the Roman commander had doubts about their loyalty he would sometimes place them in the centre to stop them running away.”
  • There were also “about 300 cavalry” accompanying each legion. “They were mainly used for skirmishing, scouting, and pursuing routed enemies, but the mobility afforded by their being mounted made it easy for them to run away in times of danger, and they were thus treated as unreliable.”

Fascinating stuff!

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