Vercingetorix, Caesar's Worst Nightmare | Part 1: Veni, Vidi, Vici

July 04, 2022

Vercingetorix, Caesar's Worst Nightmare | Part 1: Veni, Vidi, Vici
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"I am a free man, of a free state"

When Julius Caesar became Governor of Gaul in 58BC he dreamt of fame, fortune and legacy.

Conquest had always been the path to glory for a Roman senator and with this position he hoped to make his name.

At first, he picked off the Gallic tribes one by one.

A bribe here, a massacre there, it seemed that soon all tribes would soon bow before the might of Rome.

But one King spurned all attempts at diplomacy. And soon, this tiny spark of rebellion would spread.

Under the banner of Vercingetorix, the tribes of Gaul would force Caesar and his legions out of their lands.

Or die trying.

This podcast tells the story of French hero 'Vercingetorix' against the backdrop of Caesar's invasion of Gaul.


Further Reading:

  • The Gallic Wars by Julius Caesar

  • The Ancient Celts Paperback - Barry Cunliffe

  • Plutarch - ‘The Life of Caesars’

  • Caesar, Life Of A Colossus - Adrian Goldsworthy

  • Roman Gaul : the three provinces, 58 BC-AD 260 by John Drinkwater



  • A big thanks to my generous Patrons!
    • Malcolm G
    • Tom G
    • Claudia K 
    • Roel A
  • All images are public domain unless stated otherwise.
  • Paid license for 'Anthology Of Heroes Podcast' utilised for numerous sounds/music
  • The Ice Giants by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

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[0:00:12]  It's a year 55 BC. And Gaius Julius Caesar was flying high. The senators of Rome quiver like jelly before him. No bill was passed without consulting him.


[0:00:14] No war was declared without his oversight.


[0:00:34]  And no treaty stamped without his approval. But something troubled him. His invasion of Gaul had gone swimmingly at first.


At the sharp side of a spear. The men, women, and children had embraced Roman rule. Troves of gold coins, weapons, and slaves made their way back to Rome to be set aside in preparation for Caesar's triumph.


[0:00:37] Taxes had been cranked up, and although.


[0:00:40]  Rebellion had broken out, any scraggly barbarian.


[0:00:41] Chief that managed to rouse up an


[0:00:45]  army was dealt with harshly. He had wiped entire tribes off the.


[0:00:49] Face of the earth, and if needed, he would do it again.


[0:00:53]  These uncivilized boorish people would be better off under Roman rule.


[0:00:55] They just didn't know it yet.


[0:01:29]  But as his legions pushed into the interior, battles became harder. Supplies got thinner, and entire tribes began to resist. His usual bribes of wine, gold, and fancy titles had got him nowhere. Suddenly, these people fought and died as one.


Had he not broken them already? Where did this newfound courage come from? Who had united these barbarians?

The same name came up again and again. Vercingetorix.


Julius Caesar was no novice. He had gone toe to toe with the best of them. But he had never met a man


[0:01:33] Like this. A man so much like him.


[0:01:59]  My name is Elliott Gates, and you're listening to the Anthology of Heroes podcast. The podcast sharing stories of heroism and defiance from across the ages. And this is the ever requested story of Caesar's worst nightmare.


[0:02:03] Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Anthology of Heroes.


[0:02:09]  I'm very excited to share this one with you. Vercingetorix is a very well known figure across France.


[0:02:11] Perhaps you heard his name mentioned in.


[0:02:13]  Those Asterix comics you read as a kid.


[0:02:15] Or maybe you've seen the famous painting.


[0:02:16]  Of him, the one of him sitting.


[0:02:18] Atop a pure white stallion with long.


[0:02:42]  Flowing hair, having just thrown down a sword at the feet of a very stern looking Julius Caesar. 

But who was Vercingetorix?

What was Gaul?

In this episode, we'll explore the life of this heroic figure of resistance, a man that stood fearless toe to toe with the greatest empire in the world at its height.

Just a little heads up for the sake of continuity, I'll also use modern place names to help orientate you.


[0:02:45] So instead of saying Transalpine Gaul.


[0:02:46]  Or say, Switzerland or something.


[0:02:48] And while we're on the topic of


[0:03:43]  Sources, there are very few for the life of Vercingetorix.

In fact, most of them come from Caesar himself. So instead of saying ‘according to Caesar’ 50 times throughout this episode, just keep that in mind. 

Also, I imagine more than a couple of you listen to Dan Carlin's masterpiece, hardcore History. Just a heads up, you'll hear a few anecdotes and stories that you've heard in that, too. This is once again due to the sources that are available.

Dan's episode Celtic holocaust covers all of the Gallic wars. While this episode is a deep dive into the life of virgin, getorix and the wars he took part in. Anyway, let's get started. Caesar's Worst Nightmare part one. Veni, Vidi, Vici.

Around the year 60 BC. Gaius Julius Caesar was a nobody. Or perhaps that's a bit harsh. He wasn't a nobody, but he wasn't anything too special. He was just another face in the crowd of Roman senators, all men dying


[0:03:44] to make a name for themselves and


[0:04:41]  Stand out in the ultra competitive, high stakes game of Roman politics.


But Caesar had something these other men didn't. All of them were ambitious, of course. That was a given.

 But Caesar's ambition was on another level. For him, it was almost a sense of destiny, I guess you could say.


 It was all he thought about. And everything he did, every governorship he attained, every battle he won, every rule that he broke, all of them were just stepping stones to get to the top of the pile quicker. 


Caesar's family, the Julia, were ancient Roman stock, blue bloods, as old as could be. But in recent decades, their influence on the political stage had waned, and Caesar was determined to change that.


As a young man, he was captured by pirates. Capturing wealthy nobles and selling them back to their family was an easy way to make a quick buck. And when Caesar heard they were planning to ransom them back, he was shocked. Not the prospect of being ransomed, but at the price these pirates were asking.


[0:04:50]  He told them the figure they were asking was obscenely low for someone of his stature! He said that they should ask two and a half times that amount. So they did.


 And while he waited for his family.


[0:04:52] To pull this money together, he kinda


[0:04:55]  relaxed with the pirates. He was so sure in his safety


[0:04:56] That he joked around with them and.


[0:05:57]  Told them casually, once you release me, I will find you, and I'll crucify you all.

And guess what?

He did.


Some Liam Neeson ‘Taken’ vibes right there. Right?


 Caesars early political life took him all around the ever expanding Roman world.

About 150 years back, the Roman republic had annihilated the only power that could rival them. This other superpower had acted as a counterweight to Roman expansion. And with them gone, Rome was now in a state of constant expansion. 


The empire grew and grew. It seemed like nothing could stop them. Sure, there were setbacks, talented local commanders, rebellious provincial governors. They all sprung up from time to time. But the city of Rome was like a gigantic heart.


Through the arteries of the Roman roads, an almost endless supply of manpower could be pumped through to the most obscure parts of the Empire recruits, even those that belong to recently conquered provinces, eagerly joined the legions. Though the pay was average, the opportunity for plunder was huge.


[0:06:12]  And so eventually, no matter what kind of genius general they came up against, this tide of legions would eventually break them. But someone had to command the legions, and that person also needed to be able to hold their own with the Senate. 


If you've ever played an RPG game.


[0:06:14] Where you get talent points to assign


[0:06:19]  To certain skills, so pretend you're creating your ideal general, right? 


[0:06:20] You get five talent points and you can assign them,


[0:07:18]  Either in military skills or linguistic skills. 


Some men of the Republic, like Marcus Cicero were orators. Public speakers. All five talent points in linguistics, they could rouse the Senate to action by their words alone. 

But ask them to lead an army, well, that's going to be a problem. 


Other men, like Scipio Africanus, were generals.A machine on the battlefield with a kind of foresight that seemed almost supernatural. Five talent points in military skill, but clumsy and inarticulate in the Senate. 


Julius Caesar had five talent points on both. He just hadn't realized it yet. 


He was moving up in the world. He spent obscene amounts of money on public games, feasts and lofty positions within the government. The name Julius Caesar was slowly becoming a household name, but slowly wasn't good enough. 


A story goes that one fine day during his tenure in Roman Spain, he was hanging out with his troops, quietly.


[0:07:20] Reading a book on the achievements of


[0:07:50]  Alexander the Great, his idol. All of a sudden, he bursts into tears. His man - agasp turned to him and asked what was the matter? 


And he told them, quote, do you not think it is a matter for sorrow that while Alexander at my age was already king of so many peoples, I have as yet achieved no brilliant success, end quote. 


Well, that brilliant success would be coming soon. In a few short years, people from across the Empire would shout ‘Ave Caesar’ From their balconies cheering.


[0:07:52] they would throw rose petals down upon him.


[0:08:54]  And he would smile back at them with all the false humility that he could. 


But it would come at a cost the utter despoilment, destruction, and some would say… genocide of another civilization, the Empire's northern neighbor, the people of Gaul. 


The land of Gaul matches roughly to modern France, extending into Switzerland and, I guess, a little of Austria. Unlike today, these areas were not united. 

There were a mishmash of little states with their own customs, rituals and traditions. But underpinning all of it was a shared Gallic or Celtic, we might say identity. It was a culture, and a vast one at that. From the western shores of Ireland to the boggy marshes of Eastern Europe, celtic culture blended into local customs. 


Most people within this landmass spoke a dialect of Gaulish, an extinct language that now lives on in the modern languages of Welsh, Britonic, Irish Gaelic, and Scotch Gaelic. 


Now, maybe you're already picturing a bunch of blonde, hairy cavemen dressed in rags


[0:08:57] And living in huts, but that's really not the case.


[0:09:14]  Garlic culture was very different to Roman culture for sure, but these people were no barbarians. 

Some of the artifacts we've still got today show exceptionally skilled metalworking. In the late 1800’s, a shield was pulled out of the River Thames in London, and wow, it's really an exceptional piece of art.


[0:09:17] Covered in swirling circular patterns, it's immediately


[0:09:35]  clear that these guys knew what they were doing.


Items like this shield have been found all across the old territory of Gaul, with little regional variations in the designs. Some rings dug up in central France weave little faces into the swirls, while a stunning silver cauldron found in Denmark.


[0:09:37] Appears to show a horned man sitting


[0:09:58]  Crosslegged in a field of animals.


Gods are a recurring theme in Gallic artifacts. Like the Romans, they had a ton of them. Different tribes worship different ones, and for at least a couple of them, worshiping wasn't quite enough. 


Some gods needed human sacrifice... If a tribe wished to carry favor with the god Esus , a victim would need to be hung.


[0:10:07] To get Teutates on your side, the sacrifice needed to be drowned. And to please Taranis, the god of Thunder, someone had to be burnt alive.


[0:10:23]  Each Gallic state ran their affairs in their own way. 


The tribes that lived on the fringes of the Roman world tended to be little republics imitating the Roman government, which they had regular contact with. Those further into the interior tended to be kingdoms, a much simpler form of.


[0:10:24] Government, where a strong man rose to


[0:10:32]  The top through being the toughest and most generous with war booty.


If you think of the Roman Empire as a kind of heat map, instead Of a bunch of squiggly lines on


[0:11:30]  A map, I think it's easier to understand. Rome, The city was blue.


 It was the heart of Roman society, with strong institutions, written legal codes, surplus food, and complex trade networks. This Romanization pulsated out for hundreds of kilometers where the heat map starts to go to green cities in northern Italy that are like Rome Junior. 


Perhaps they retain some of their own customs or languages, but their institutions are modeled on that of their mother city. 


Further out on the Peripheries, the green gives way to yellow small cities, villages or trading posts that maintain a cordial relationship with Rome. They lived in their own way, but would trade their local produce with the Empire. Rome had little influence, and the people kept the empire at arms distance.


 And then the red zones wild, untamed lands with foreign people who had virtually no contact with the Roman world. These were the places like the shadowy northern isle of Britannia, a land mass.


[0:11:36] Jutting out from the edge of the world. A fearsome place inhabited by giants and monsters, at least according to the whispers Of the Roman legionnaires.


[0:11:41]  Much like in Rome, prestige in Gaul Was found in battles, though on a much smaller scale. A king or chief would gather up all who would follow him, raid a Neighboring tribe, steal whatever wasn't nailed down.


[0:12:01]  And distribute the loot generously. The greater the loot, the more his popularity rose. The more man a chief could call into his war band, the more power he held. Not unlike the career trajectory of a Roman politician, if you think about it.


[0:12:11]  The more he did this, the more that would flock to him and the bigger his raiding party would become if he was successful enough.


[0:12:24] Gallic war bands actually sold themselves as mercenary companies around the Mediterranean, renowned for their ferocity, pale skin and towering physiques that could command top dollar for their services in foreign wars.


[0:12:26]  It was a culture that prized bravery And honor above all other aspects of human character. 


As opposed to the Roman army, which fought as a single unit, the Gauls fought as individuals.


[0:12:36] For proof of this, you only need To look at the swords much longer. And heavier than that of the Romans. It was designed to swing down with some force. You needed a bit of room to Wind it back and a lot of strength to bring it down.

[0:12:49]  From across the battlefield, these Gauls would.


[0:13:12] Jeer and tease their opponents, yelling out the deeds of their ancestors and what they would do with their opponent's wife after they killed him.


Some of them would be naked with their pale skin illuminated by spiraling blue tattoos. Scars and cuts were seen as battle trophies. And I had one account that said if wounds were deemed to be too insignificant, they would actually reopen them to make the sky more noticeable.


[0:13:14]  If a warrior managed to kill an Important person, maybe an upper Gallic chief or even a Roman centurion, then they would sometimes keep the head as a trophy, not just for a few days. They'd have it embalmed in cedar oil.


[0:13:29] So that their grandkids could pull out old Centurion Quintilius head and say, “hey, have a look at that Grandpa certainly showed him what's what!”


[0:13:36] If these guys sounded like scary people, they were. Even with all the training in the world, imagine being a Roman in the.Front line and having a tide of these angry, hulking men barreling toward you

[0:14:35] While warfare was a very important part of life in Gaul, it was by no means the only part. At the heart of the Gallic society were the druids.

Druids were both religious and political leaders in their community. Priests and judges rolled into wine, you might say. 

For example, a druid could be called in order to observe a divination ritual. The condemned prisoner would be stabbed to death, and the druid would watch carefully as the dying man convulsed and writhed on the ground. The druid would interpret the way the man's limbs twisted in his final moments and foretell a kind of prophecy based upon this. 


But there are also judges in criminal cases. What kind of punishments could they dish out? Well, in the most severe of cases, it's similar to what we'd call excommunication. I guess the druid would sever the link between the person and the gods. After this, the person would be considered unclean. They were unworthy of social interaction.


[0:14:37] And other than the community would avoid 


[0:14:54]  Them to ensure their misfortune didn't rub off on them. Druids held a lot of power, but it wasn't easy to become one. It was 20 years of study and all the theory you had to commit to memory. The people of Gaul did possess a written language. Tablets have been found with Gallic written in the Greek script.


[0:14:56] But to keep the power in the Hands of the elites, the druid deliberately wrote nothing down. Druids were held in high regard by Gallic chiefs too. And if they attended a feast, they were usually the guest of honor. It might surprise you to know just how ritualized a feast in Celtic times was.


 If you've ever watched Vikings, Barbarians, or really any of the series that show feasting in ancient times, it looks like mayhem, doesn't it? Everyone's absolutely wasted the entire time. There's a guy smashing a jug of wine over another guy's head, the matrons are getting pinched and groped by the toothless old man as they bring out ale. All the while, chickens and little kids are just darting between everyone's legs.


[0:15:47]  While all of this probably did occur, underpinning this chaos was a very strict social order that even in the most inebriated state, a guest understood. Around a circular table, the most influential guest would sit. It could be a druid, but it.


[0:15:57] Could also be the chief or the man of the highest birth. Next to him sat the host, the guy that was bankrolling the whole night. And it would move down the table with distinction, dropping further away.


[0:16:01]  The guest was when everyone was settled and well drunk.


[0:16:03] A freshly cooked beef was cooked up.


[0:16:06]  The meat was once again served according to status.


[0:16:08] The guest of honor was assigned the most tender piece of meat

[0:16:16] But if someone was unhappy with that, maybe they had their eye on that particular cut of meat. Well, they were well within their rights to stand up and tell the room. The challenger would then exit the building with the guest of honor and fight to the death.


[0:16:26] After which the victor, presumably still dripping In the warm blood of the man they had all just laughed and spoke with moments ago, would resume his meal.


[0:16:35]  In all honesty, practices this extreme were probably declining in popularity by this time. But think of that next time your mate steals your last McDonald's chip. 


Suicide pledging also took place, where a man may pledge his life against agreed upon some gold silver, a few flagging of wine, that kind of thing.


If you could find a man to agree to the sum, the doomed man would watch the gifts being distributed to his family and friends, and then he'd lie face up on his shield and somewhat would cut his throat. Finally, when the feasting was winding down and everyone was well and truly smashed.


[0:17:08]  Drunken warriors would propose to lead a Raid and ask, hey, next week, who's coming with me? And guests would roar an approval, sure, I'll go raiding with you. Why not?


Everything sounds like a good idea when you're 20 pints deep. Right?


Well, the next day, when the guest woke up face down on the floor with a splitting headache, they were still expected to follow through with that pledge.


[0:17:27] To take back a promise was a despicable act, no matter the state you were in when you agreed to it.


But Gallic culture was changing.


 Rome had always been there, lingering around the Swiss Alps. They sat on the edge of the Gallic world with an ear to the ground. They were quick to send in legions to support tribal chieftains they liked or oppose the ones they didn't. Their deliciously potent wine was well known throughout Gaul, and the high quality swords and armor were always in demand. But very soon, Rome would go from an ominous shade that lingered on the periphery to an eternal overlord. 


The people of Gaul are about to meet their new governor you guessed it Julius Caesar.


But first, a quick message from one of our friends of the show.


*Campfire Tales podcast trailer*


[0:19:37]  Caesar's appointment as the governor of Gaul was set in motion by his father in law, a general of high esteem in the Roman world.


 Caesar, his father in law, and one other man had effectively strong armed the Senate into granting Caesar this position. 


Remember, the Roman Empire was at this time a republic. State affairs were decided by two men who governed for a set period of time similar to how our western democracies work. But more and more men like Caesar had begun to realize if they had the army and they made a few under the table deals with someone who had the money with these two currencies, there was virtually Nothing stopping them doing what they wanted.


[0:20:43] The old codgers in the Senate could lecture them until the cows came home about rules, precedent and tradition. But once they left the Forum, the public cheered them!


What did the people of Rome care for how the empire was governed? This young man who wore his toga loose, this Julius Caesar, was one of them! He threw them parties and 

entertained them with animals and gladiators.


Panem et circenses - Bread and circuses.


That was what the public wanted and Caesar knew it. 


But being a man of the people did not come cheap. Caesar's public spectacles had sent him broke, worse than broke, really. He was in debt, deep in debt.

 He needed money and he needed it quickly. He mulled over heading to Dacia, a rich eastern province full of silver mines. But when a bedraggled druid came from Gaul begging for help on behalf of this tribe, caesar knew this was the best opportunity he was going to get.


The druid's name was Diviciacus of the Aedui tribe, a people who had been one of the first to declare loyalty for Rome out of all the tribes in Gaul.


[0:21:51] The Aedui hailed from a region of central France, probably around the modern city of Dijon. 


With a thick Gollish accent. Diviciacus begged the Senate to intervene and help them, a people that had been always one of Rome's staunchest allies.

 What had happened?

Well, the Aedui had suffered a nasty defeat at the hands of two rival tribes who had allied with the German king.

The involvement of a German entity on the stage of Gaul was a grave concern for Rome.


 More on this later. But the Germans were fearsome, even more so than the Ghouls. And the Senate harbored a growing concern that the Gallic tribes they've been building relationships with could be replaced by war mongering Germans who may raid into their empire. 


Caesar didn't need to be told twice. ‘The stability of Rome must be maintained,


I will march north and put flight to these hapless barbarians’.


 With his legions rearing to go, he headed north into Gaul for plunder errr I mean, to assist a Roman ally. 


Caesar arrived at the border with four veteran legions. Already at this early point in his career, Caesar was beginning to show the traits that helped inspire such devotion to him later on.


[0:21:58]  The man was a military genius and he took great care in the day to day hardships of his men. He had a freakishly good memory for Faces, and there are a couple of.

[0:23:10]  Accounts that mention him remembering the name of a rank and file foot soldier Years later.


The care of his soldiers extended to after they had left his service, too. Men knew that if they had served Caesar loyally, he would make sure they were provided with quality land to live out their retirement in. 


He was in their court, battling the greedy senators who cared nothing for the common soldier. At least that's the way Caesar would like it remembered. 

The trust that the men had for him gave him a wicked edge over his opponents. When battles seemed as if they were about to turn, the men would look to their general. If he was still there, they were too. Caesar's first challenge was a migration. 


The Helvetians were a Gallic tribe living around the area of Bern, Switzerland. The entire tribe wanted to move west, all 250,000 of them at least according to one source.


Thee Helvetians had suffered more and more from German raiders who lived on the edges of their territory. 


The German barbarians were fearsome and made the savage warriors of Gaul look like Disney characters in comparison. Remember that heat map we talked about earlier?Well the Germans would be black. As different as humanly possible from the Romans.


The people of Gaul rightfully feared attacks from them and in the case of this planned migration, it shows just how desperate the tribe had become to put distance between them.


A migration like this was not an easy thing. This one had been planned for about three years. Each person had grown enough supplies to last for about three months, and what they couldn't carry was left behind and burnt. For these guys, there was no going back.


There were two routes for them to get to their new, desired home.


The first and the most straightforward one was to march directly west, which meant going into and then back out of Roman territory, which meant putting them in direct contact with the new governor. 


The Roman Senate were already unhappy that this migration was occurring.


[0:23:53]  To begin with, they feared the German raiders would move into the old territory the Helvetians had left, and they'd have to deal with a much more aggressive group of people on their borders.


[0:24:36]  But for Caesar, the decision to block the migration was personal.


According to Caesar himself, about 50 years ago, these Helvetians had inflicted the ultimate insult on his motherland. 


After defeating a Roman army in battle and killing a Roman consul, the young Helvetian king Divico, had made the soldiers pass under the yoke.


Pretty much, the Helvetian army made a long corridor of spears, which the defeated Roman soldiers needed to walk under, being teased and mocked as they did so. This ordeal was meant to humiliate the enemy, as if saying, we've got so little fear of you, go on. We'll let you run back home to Rome.


[0:24:40]  Despite this event occurring before he was Even born, caesar felt the need to write the wrong, An insult to Rome was an insult to him.

[0:24:47] Not to mention he had lost an Ancestor in the battle that preceded this. With retribution on his mind, there was no way in hell Caesar was about to let these men set a single dirty barbarian foot on Roman soil. As they approached the Roman encampment, they found the legions doing the final touches On this massive fortification design purely to keep them out.

[0:25:14]  Roman legionnaires were more than foot soldiers. They were builders too, and pretty adept ones at that. So barring their path is this huge Wooden wall, complete with guard towers, dugouts, you name it.


[0:25:23]  But even so, Caesar was looking at this mass group of scary looking Helvetians, More of them are arriving by the day, and he's thinking, “I don't know  If this is going to hold…”


So he plays for time with the Helvetian king, telling him “hmmm maybe we could let you through. Just leave it with me”  before turning to his centurions and going “come on guys, hurry it up with the towers. I don't know how long I can keep this going!”


[0:25:46]  But finally it's finished, and the hungry, angry Helvetians can only gawp at Caesar's steely eyed legionnaires watching them from their brand new guard towers. 


Finally, Caesar comes back to them and says “no, sorry, decided we can't leak through”.


A bunch of hell Venetians try to run the gauntlet and storm the barricade. But nothing comes of it.


[0:26:32] The easy route was now out of the question. So they take the long route going north. and here's where things get a bit fishy. 


According to Caesar, once the group were a few days' march from the Roman frontier. They started plundering the lands of the Aedui. Remember our old druid friend from earlier? Yeah,his tribe.


So Caesar, with great reluctance, I'm sure, chases them down and attacks them. 


He catches them completely off guard. In fact, they were crossing a river at the time, which makes you think they probably can't have been doing all that much damage. 


With only around a quarter of the Halvetians left on the Roman side of the river, they never really stood much of a chance.


[0:26:39]  Caesar's legionnaires make quick work of them, and afterwards they're chieftain sits down with Caesar and tries to hammer out an Agreement they can both agree on.


He says, look, we can't go home. We burnt it to the ground, and It's probably full of Germans now, and You don't want us going where we're planning to. So how about you just tell us where to settle and we'll go there?


 If you don't, then there'll be a battle. We have the strongest fighters in And we're one of the most ancient tribes there is in Gaul.  So if you want to take it there, we can do that, too. 

[0:27:04] And Caesar kind of mulls it over And he agrees in principle.  He says, Okay, fine. Give me some important men from your government as hostages, sons from noble families and all that. 


And then the chief says something that just kills the deal, makes it impossible for the battle not to take place.


You can imagine this big ancient king, who probably dwarfs little Julius Caesar in size, covered in scars, sneering at this request for hostages, he leans in close to Caesar and tells them, quote, they, meaning the havocians were accustomed to receive, not to give hostages, a fact the Roman people could testify to, end quote.


And he meant it, because, according to Caesar, this grizzled old Gaul was Divico! The very same king whose army had killed Caesar's ancestors and shamed the Roman army, making them pass under the Yoke 49 long years ago.


Well, that was that. Burning with patriotism, both sides now knew that war was the only option. 


Divico might have talked a big game, but times have changed. The Rome of 50 years ago was not the Rome of today. Troop morale and discipline was not comparable with the Roman army that the old King had humiliated half a century ago.


 But the biggest change was the tactics used.


Caesar's uncle, a big player in the Roman world a few decades ago. He had made several changes to how the army was put together.


In fact, the changes came about because of just how badly the Romans were getting their ass handed to them by Gallic chieftains just like this one.


I won't go into too much detail here, but he effectively created Rome's first standing army. Training and weapons were standardized, and the men were drilled to fight as a unit. The Roman army was malleable, and this was just another evolution for them.

If they saw an enemy using a particular tactic or weapon in battle that was better than theirs, they'd copy it. There was no attachment to a particular style of fighting.


Whatever got the job done quickest with the least casualties, that's what they went with anyway. Thanks to his uncle's reform, caesar eventually defeated the Helvetian army, forcing them back to their homelands where the ancient tribe would be forced to rebuild their homes from the charred lumps of wood they'd left behind, constantly fending off German raids while doing their best to rebuild their shattered state.


The Helvicians, one of the most ancient and powerful tribes of Gaul, were eternally reduced to a buffer between the Roman overlords and the fearsome Germans they had tried to migrate from. 


Caesar's first campaign in Gaul had been a triumphant success. The Helvetians were eviscerated.


 I mean, really, this was a massive tribe, perhaps 100,000 people or so. Caesar puts a number much higher. As I said, and remember, it wasn't just the warriors migrating. It was women, children, old people, animals, literally their livelihood. 


And at the end of this failed migration, about a third made at home. 


One third! 


One third had been slaughtered during the battle, and the other third were now on their way to Rome to be sold off as slaves.

[0:30:15]  Caesar would have watched gleefully as cart after cart of bound and caged women, children, and men made their way south back into Italy.


Rome was a slave based economy at this time, and most of the people were destined for a hard life of backbreaking manual labor. Meanwhile, any gold, weapons, or religious artifacts would have no doubt been put aside for the triumph that awaited him When he returned.


[0:30:23]  Perhaps a great weight was lifted off his shoulders. Almost overnight, his debtors were off his back and he was well on his way to being back in the green.


[0:31:01]  By this point had he decided he would conquer all of Gaul? It's hard to know.


But the destruction of one of the region's oldest tribes was both a lesson and a warning to the rest. The territory of any tribe, their hillforts, their markets, farmland, sacred groves, all of it was vulnerable. 


If the Roman Empire wished to conquer them, they could. The options of all Gallic states now boiled down to two choices:

  • accept subjugation, like the Aedui had done; After all, Rome usually rewarded loyalty. Tribes that got in early usually got better deals.


  • Or step up and make Rome bleed for every inch of land.


[0:31:24]  All knew, a war with Rome was a war until the very end. 

Gloves off total war. 


To even stand a chance, they would have to be willing to sacrifice everything, not only their lives, but their family's lives, their culture, their religion, their language, their very way of life.


[0:31:26] That was what was on the line.


[0:31:43]  One of my all time favorite songs is written by a band called Eluveitie. It's a hard name to pronounce because it's from a dead language. ‘Eluveitie’ in the Helvetian dialect of Gaullish, means ‘I am Helvetian’.


Their song, ‘Thousandfold’ talks of Caesar's destruction of the Helvetian tribe


[0:31:53]It's a powerful song. And that snarl that you get in heavy metal vocals seems to fit so perfectly with the coarse bravery of Gallic culture.

[0:33:16] Before I read out the lyrics, I want you to envision an oxdrawn cart. Full to the brim with treasure swords, chalices, gold coins, that kind of thing.


And then behind it, there's another one, and then another one, and another one, and it goes on for kilometers.


Some carts are covered and barred, and in those ones are people, tall, blonde people headed for a life of servitude. 


Human and nonhuman war booty. All of it destined for the city of Rome.


And this wave, this was just the beginning…


The chorus goes like this 


All our gold


Bereave me


Truths ensign

Forever mine

Bereave me

End quote

The image of an entire nation's wealth coughed up and sent south for…. nothing. 


So one man can make himself famous and throw a few more parties. It seems almost perverted, doesn't it?


 Well, one man thought so. That fate might be fine for the Helvetians, but for him, if his people were going to go down, it would be with a bang instead of a whimper.


His real name is lost to history, but we know his nickname, and it already tells you the type of man he was.


His pseudonym meant something like king over warriors or Victor over 100 Battles.




[0:33:19]  And that is where I will leave you today.


[0:33:22] Caesar is about to have his work cut out for him. So make sure you tune in for the finale in two weeks.


[0:33:42]  Title this has been Anthology of Heroes podcast.


[0:33:42] Thanks for tuning in.