Tag Archives: Viromandui

Excerpts from “The Roman Barbarian Wars, The Era of Roman Conquest”

Excerpts from “The Roman Barbarian Wars, The Era of Roman Conquest.”

Ludwig H. Dyck

Telamon, the Battle for Northern Italy;

“We can imagine how the Boii and Insubres ambassadors stood in the midst of the seated circle of the Gaesatae Kings, Concolitanus and Aneroestes, by whose sides sat their warrior champions and their druid advisors. With eloquent tongue, the ambassadors offered a large sum of gleaming gold, which was but a paltry amount compared to what could be looted from the rich and prosperous lands of the Romans. The Boii, Insubres and Gaesatae, proud allies, would honor the deeds of the Gauls who long ago crushed the legions at the River Allia and made themselves masters of Rome for seven months! The heroic tales roused the Gaesatae’s lust for war. “On no occasion has that district of Gaul sent out so large a force or one composed of men so distinguished or so warlike,” wrote Polybius (Polybius, The Histories, II. 27.)”

The Barbarians Before Rome (oil on canvas) by Luminais, Evariste Vital (1822-96); Musee des Beaux-Arts, Dunkirk, France; Giraudon; French

“Death March of the Legions,” The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest;

“Provisions of food were gathered, mainly millet, barley and livestock. Ordinarily meat was too precious to be eaten on a regular basis. Now, however, the warriors would need all the strength they could get. Those too old would stay behind, to look after the very young and the remaining farm animals. Aged grandparents bid emotional farewells to sons, grandsons and daughters-in-law, who they might never see again. They trusted in their gods to give them courage and good fortune. Priests took sacred emblems from their holy groves and carried them into battle. The Germanic warriors would fight side by side with their family members. Fathers, sons and brothers were comrades in arms, families were their squadrons and clans were their divisions. From thousands of tiny settlements, bands of warriors hungry for loot and vengeance gathered and followed in Arminius’ wake.”

Knackfuss low pix
‘The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest,’ H. Knackfuss (Courtesy of School Museum Zetel and of Museum and Park Kalkriese).

Caesar against the Belgae, “The Bravest of the Gauls;”

As soon as the Roman baggage train appeared over the hillside, the entire Belgae army broke out of the woods. The Nervii formed the left wing, the Atrebates the right and the Viromandui in the center. The barbarians poured down the hillside like a human avalanche, unstoppable in its fury. The Roman cavalry and light troops were completely overwhelmed and scattered, barely even impeding the enemy charge. So fast were the barbarians that Caesar wrote, “almost at the same moment they were seen at the woods, in the river, and then at close quarters!” (Caesar, The Conquest of Gaul, II. 19). The three-foot deep river proved scarcely more of an obstacle than the Roman cavalry. In no time the barbarians gained the river’s farther side to continue with seemingly unbroken momentum up to the entrenching Romans.

“The barbarian ambush would have sealed the doom of almost any other army caught in the same situation. But this was not just any army; it was the Roman legion in its prime, under the generalship of one of the great captains of history.”

Gaius Julius Caesar in battle by Mark Churms

Viriathus, Hero of Hispania;

“Galba came to the first group and asked them to lay down their arms in a gesture of good faith. The naïve Lusitanians did as they were told. Women with babes in their arms, old couples supporting each other and young warriors who clenched their fists, watched in helpless apprehension, as Roman soldiers with spades moved around them. The Romans dug as only Romans could until a vast trench surrounded the Lusitani. Swords slid out of scabbards as the legionaries moved in. Children cried, frantic women screamed and clung to their men who cursed in anger. Roman soldiers pushed their way through the panicked mob to single out the able bodied men and cut them down like sheep. The others were “saved” for the slave markets. The slaughter was repeated with the other two Lusitani groups. Of the plunder, the greedy Galba kept most of it for himself and only gave a little to his soldiers, even though he was already a man of great wealth.”

Copyright L. H. Dyck

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To Northern Gaul; Caesar makes war on the Belgae, the “Bravest of the Gauls”

Military Heritage Magazine August 2002

To Northern Gaul

Caesar makes war on the Belgae, the “Bravest of the Gauls”

By Ludwig Heinrich Dyck

Gallic cavalry, detail from silver cup (Military Heritage Magazine August 2002)
Gallic cavalry, detail from silver cup (Military Heritage Magazine August 2002)

57 BC

“The gray skies of winter still shrouded the town of Vesontio on the Dubis River. To the south when not obscured by mist and rain, rose the Jura Mountains, and beyond them the lofty peaks of the Alps and the nearest Roman Province, Gallia Cisalpina. It was early in the year 57 BC, and within Gaul were billeted the legions of Gaius Julius Caesar.”

Caesar had gained renown in Gaul, having defeated the Germanic invader Ariovistus from across the Rhine and before him the migrating Celtic Helvetii from what is today Switzerland…

“To many Gauls, Caesar appeared as an invincible savior…but not to the Belgae! The Belgae did not appreciate Caesar’s meddling in affairs south of their lands. They believed Rome would not stop until all of Gaul was hers. Councils were held and hostages exchanged. The kings and chiefs of the Belgae readied themselves for war.”

Caesar was delighted…

“His opportunistic mind had seen that Gaul, beset by external enemies and internal strife, was ripe for conquest.”

The ensuing campaign involved three major engagements, including two river crossings and a siege of a stronghold, the pivotal battle being fought against the Nervii on the banks of the River Sabis.

“Caesar seemed confident that his cavalry, slingers and archers sufficed as protection for his legions. The Roman host then tramped down the valley side and was soon busy cutting down timber and shoveling earth to erect the usual camp entrenchment. The presence of Belgae cavalry should have forewarned Caesar that the entire Nervii coalition might be nearby, just as the prisoners had told him. Despite such knowledge Caesar considered his cavalry sufficient cover for his toiling legionaries. After all, other than some cavalry units, the enemy seemed nowhere close by. He was wrong. From beneath the emerald foliage of the woods on the far bank, the eyes of some 30,000 Nervii, Atrebates, and Viromandui watched the oblivious Romans with glee.”

“As soon as the Roman baggage train appeared over the hillside, the entire Belgae army broke out of the woods. The Nervii formed the left wing, the Atrebates the right and the Viromandui the center. The barbarians poured down the hillside like a human avalanche. In no time the barbarians gained the river’s farther side to continue with seemingly unbroken momentum up to the entrenching Romans.”

“The barbarian ambush would have sealed the doom of almost any other army caught in the same situation. But this was not just any army; it was a force of Roman legions at their prime, under the generalship of one of the great captains of history.”

“To Northern Gaul,” originally appeared in Military Heritage Magazine, August 2002, and is the basis for a chapter in Ludwig H. Dyck’s “The Roman Barbarian Wars, the Era of Roman Conquest,” soon to be re-republished by Pen & Sword Books.

Military Heritage Magazine August 2002, featuring
Military Heritage Magazine August 2002, featuring “To Northern Gaul,” by L. H. Dyck.