Just before their military confrontation, Caesar responds to Ariovistus’s justification of his policy towards the Aedui.
This text is an excerpt from the first book of The Gallic War which narrates the military events of the year 58 BCE. The redaction of this work has been a debated issue. For the books 1 to 7, some scholars have defended the idea that Caesar wrote each book, year by year, during the winter after the campaigns. On the contrary, other scholars believe that they were written at once, perhaps at the end of the year 52 BCE, maybe from the annual reports of the Senate. This second option is the most currently accepted today (see Ferdière, Les Gaules, p. 69). The eighth book (for the years 51-50 BCE) is an exception as it has been written some years later, not by Caesar but by Hirtius. An intermediary opinion has also been suggested, according to which the work would have been published in three stages (for this intermediary position, see Riggsby, Caesar, p. 9). The text presented here is part of Caesar’s narrative of his confrontation with the German king Ariovistus who, since 61/60 BCE, was the cause of trouble in the north-eastern quarter of Gaul. Actually, his men occupied lands in the territory of the Sequani, but they also wronged the Aedui – who had a particular status as they were friends and brothers of the Roman people – by inflicting them serious defeats, by making hostages or by threatening them with new settlements of Germans (for a summary of the events, see Caesar, The Gallic War I.36). Some representatives of the Gallic tribes intimidated or wronged by Ariovistus’s actions came to Caesar to ask for his military support against the German leader (I.31). The fact that it was the Gauls themselves who asked Caesar to defend them by using force is part of the general strategy of Caesar to justify the legitimacy of his campaign against Ariovistus. Actually, as Michel Rambaud writes, from a legal point of view, the position of Ariovistus could be perceived as more legitimate than that of Caesar who was leading an aggressive military action to defend an ally in an independent territory. First, Ariovistus had not attacked the Transalpine Gaul. Second, he won decisive battles against the Aeduans and the Sequani in 61/60 BCE after which agreements were concluded, which gave him the right to settle his men beyond the Rhine. Third, after a period of quiet, Ariovistus was promoted friend of the Roman people by the Senate in 59 BCE (Rambaud, L’art de la déformation, p. 115). Thus, it was a necessity for Caesar to justify his campaign in Gaul against him. Among the elements he gives, we can quote the systematic refusals of Ariovistus to any possibility of negotiation with the Roman leader during the three embassies or meetings organized; and the fact that, from 58 BCE, some Germans, the Harudes, plundered anew the territory of the Aeduans, whereas others tried at the same time to cross the Rhine (Rambaud, L’art de la déformation, p. 116).
After the failure of the second attempt to negotiate, Caesar went to the region of Besançon to lead military operations against Ariovistus. After a short period of time during which Caesar’s soldiers renounced to attack the Germans – Caesar writes that it was because of some fear of the strength of the Germans, whereas Cassius Dio mentions that it would have been also because the soldiers considered that these operations were not justified (Cassius Dio, Roman History XXXVIII.35.2; Rambaud, L’art de la déformation, p. 127) –, Caesar convinced them to follow him. A meeting between Caesar and Ariovistus was organised (I.42-43). Caesar recalled first that in 59 BCE Ariovistus received from the Senate the title of friend of the Roman people and that his position of king was recognised. Second, Caesar highlighted the fact that the alliance with the Aedui was an old one and that Rome could not abandon one of its allies who was threatened (I.43). Ariovistus reacted to Caesar’s words and enumerated various reasons to justify his policy and the military operations he led towards the Aedui and their allies (see below). The text presented here is the reaction of Caesar to Ariovistus’s words. Following Michel Rambaud’s categorization of Caesar’s use of speech in his narrative, this second speech of Caesar, during the last meeting of the two leaders before their confrontation, has to be compared with Ariovistus’s previous speech with which it forms a kind of contrasting pair (Rambaud, L’art de la déformation, p. 127). We will thus study which points of Ariovistus’s argumentation Caesar decides to respond to, and how he presents Rome’s policy and relations with its allies.
Before analysing the arguments presented by Caesar to respond to Ariovistus, it is important to briefly recall which arguments the German leader previously gave to prove that his actions were legitimate, unlike those of Caesar (Caesar, The Gallic War I.44). In one of his previous speeches the German leader used some of the principles which were commonly used by the Romans to justify the fact that a war was just, to justify his actions (for this speech see Caesar, The Gallic War I.36). The arguments given by Ariovistus can be summed up as follows (this schematic account is largely inspired from Andrew Riggsby’s reconstruction; see Riggsby, Caesar, p. 185):
1/ It is the Gauls themselves who invited the Germans to enter Gaul (Caesar, The Gallic War I.44 § 2 and 6).
2/ His settlement in Gallic lands, the hostages and the tribute he received were legitimate benefits he acquired by right of conquest (I.44 § 2).
3/ Gauls attacked him first. He waged a defensive war (I.44 § 3 and 6).
4/ Roman friendship should be advantageous for him, but if Rome compelled him to give up the benefits he earned thanks to right of conquest, he would give this friendship up (I.44 § 5).
5/ The Germans arrived in Gaul first and they were thus free to conquer all the lands he wanted in Gaul. The Romans should limit themselves to the rule of the Transalpine Gaul (I.44 § 7-8).
6/ Romans and Aedui were not really friends, this friendship was a pretext for Caesar to wage aggressive war (I.44 § 9-10).
We can notice that Ariovistus’s response is far more developed than Caesar’s original speech (I.43) or than Caesar’s reaction presented in the text analysed here. The reader can also have the impression that Ariovistus’s various arguments are presented through a confuse order (Rambaud, L’art de la déformation, p. 129).
Considering our text which corresponds to Caesar’s reaction, we can see that it starts with a response to the last argument developed by Ariovistus (n° 6) which is part, with the argument n° 5, of the new arguments given by Ariovistus to discredit the actions of the Romans against him. To respond to the German who pretended that the friendship between the Romans and Aedui was not real, Caesar reassesses the importance of Rome’s duty to defend its allies, especially the Aedui who enjoyed the title of “brothers of the Roman people”: “His own practice, he said, and the practice of the Roman people did not suffer the abandonment of allies who had deserved so well (optime merentes socios)…” (§ 1). Then, in the same sentence, Caesar skips to another point about which he disagrees with Ariovistus (corresponding to the argument n° 5 of Ariovistus’s previous speech): “...nor did he admit that Gaul belonged to Ariovistus rather than to the Roman people” (§ 1). Through these words, Caesar thus criticizes Ariovistus’s statement according to which the Romans and the Germans would have the same rights over Gaul (on this idea see also Caesar, The Gallic War I.36). Caesar defends the idea according to which the Gaul, at the exception of the Transalpine Gaul which was a Roman province, remains a free and independent territory which could not be conquered by a foreigner. What he omits to say explicitly is that Rome had allies in Gaul, a situation which gave to the Roman authorities some rights to interfere in the affairs of these Gallic tribes.
Then, to counter Ariovistus’s argument according to which the Germans would have arrived in Gaul first (n° 5), Caesar quotes a historical example to prove the contrary: “The Arverni and the Ruteni had been subdued in a campaign by Quintus Fabius Maximus (…). If priority of time was to be the standard, then the sovereignty of the Roman people in Gaul had complete justification…” (§ 2-3). These sentences are interesting for various reasons. First, with the expression “If priority of time was to be the standard” (Quod si antiquissimum quodque tempus spectari oporteret), Caesar seems to implicitly challenge the value of the criterion used by Ariovistus to prove that he waged a just war against the peoples from the north-eastern area of Gaul. The equation between priority of time and priority of right over a territory was not a criterion which was relevant for the Romans to justify the legitimacy of a war. From a Roman point of view, the legitimacy of the war had to be justified, inter alia, by the fact that wrong had been done to Rome or to its allies, making reparation necessary, or by the fact that some people could represent such a threat that some kind of preventive war was necessary (these were the two main arguments mentioned by Caesar to justify to wage war against Ariovistus, see Caesar, The Gallic War I.33). These two motives would thus theoretically exclude an aggressive and expansionist policy, even if the defence of one’s ally or any preventive war could be used as a pretext to lead an aggressive policy (on the “just war” see Tarpin, “La guerre,” p. 227; Nicolet, Rome et la conquête, p. 890-891; Riggsby, Caesar, p. 158-161). Thus, Caesar makes an effort to fit in with Ariovistus’s arguments and tries to prove that, even from a chronological point of view, the imperium, that is the sovereignty of the Roman people over Gaul would be iustissimum, the most legitimate. To do so, he refers to the operations led in 121 BCE against the Arverni and the Ruteni, two peoples which were settled out of the area controlled by the Romans. That year, the consul Q. Fabius Maximus won a decisive battle against these tribes, but he was preceded in these military operations by Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (consul of the year 122 BCE), who in 122 BCE already led a campaign against the Allobroges and the Arverni and defeated the first. Caesar may have deliberately suppressed the name of Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus because he had some enmity with one of his grandsons (Ebel, Transalpine Gaul, p. 79). As Charles Ebel rightly writes, through the reminder of this victory over the Arverni and the Ruteni, Caesar is thus implicitly saying that “the Romans had acquired some claim to virtually all the Gaul”. Such a reading of the events is voluntarily excessive as the objective is to respond to Ariovistus’s provocative claim according to which he had vocation to control a major part of Gaul, limiting the Romans to the South.
Caesar not only highlights the fact that the Romans would have been the first to conquer and to control some important territories in Gaul, what would give them some kind of primacy over the Germans for what concerns rights over Gaul, but he also stresses the fact that Rome did not impose a harsh control over the territories of the Ruteni and the Arverni: “… the Roman people had pardoned them, and had not formed them into a province nor imposed a tribute” (§ 2). Such a sentence can be interpreted through two perspectives: the first one is ideological and is related to the way Roman power wanted to be represented as attached to “moral wars”; the second is more pragmatic and is related to the reality of the administrative practice after a deditio – which can be defined as the official act sanctioning the surrender to Rome of a community which had revolted. It is important to recall that, from a Roman legal perspective, the deditio sanctioned the submission by force of an adversary of Rome, and that it was technically considered as an unconditional surrender of the revolted community which, at least temporally, was deprived of any legal existence. However, the nature of the sanctions varied greatly according to the outcome of the confrontation and the attitude of the defeated community. The deditio had to be accepted by the defeated community but it also concerned the Romans, as the Roman general was bound to the community by the obligations of fides (for a general presentation of the notion of deditio, see Cadiou, Hibera, p. 70-75).
Concerning ideological issues, when Caesar stresses the capacity of the Roman people to forgive and to not oppress the defeated people by the loss of their freedom or by the payment of heavy tributes, he explicitly refers to the clemency of the Roman people, even in time of conflict. Such a reasoning is quite usual in Roman sources and it can be put in relation with speeches praising the Romans for their capacity to wage wars not only “fiercely, bravely, or even wisely,” but first of all “with restraint” (Riggsby, Caesar, p. 157). As Andrew Riggsby rightly recalls, the best text illustrating such an idea remains the passage of the Aeneid in which Anchises shows to Aeneas his descendants, the Romans, and foretells that: “… O Roman, to rule the nations with your sway – these shall be your arts – to crown Peace with Law, to spare the humbled, and to tame in war the proud!” (Virgil, Aeneid VI.851-853). Romans are defined as being a warrior people but the morality of their war actions is always presented as the most important element because it could justify their lust for conquests (Riggsby, Caesar, p. 157).
Moreover, by saying that the Arverni and the Ruteni had not been integrated into a province and that they were not compelled to pay a tribute, Caesar does not only make an ideological statement. He may also refer to some administrative decisions which followed the deditio of the Ruteni and the Arverni. As Charles Ebel recalls, for other peoples like the Allobroges or the Vocontii, their deditio meant their future integration into a Roman province; but for the Arverni and the Ruteni, the situation was different. As previously said, the nature of the sanctions imposed to dediticii could vary greatly. Even if by accepting the deditio, the community that surrendered also abandoned its legal existence, the Roman Senate could restore some part or the legal rights of those who surrendered. However, as Charles Ebel rightly recalls: “… even if all legal rights were restored, without restriction, the former dediticii acquired the informal obligations of clientship” (Ebel, Transalpine Gaul, p. 79). Thus, the Arverni may have been concerned by such a situation, namely even if a military settlement had been imposed upon them after their defeat against the Roman armies, the Roman Senate may have quickly reassessed their freedom. As Charles Ebel writes: “The declaration of freedom was a policy designed to exempt Rome from the legal responsibilities which fell to her by right of conquest while, at the same time, it asserted her right to interfere if it seemed necessary or desirable in the future” (Ebel, Transalpine Gaul, p. 80). In his speech, Caesar skilfully stresses the fact that the Roman Senate would have displayed some clemency for what concerns the settlement of the fate of the Arverni and Ruteni, but he does not mention at all the existence of obligations of clientship which may have concerned the former submitted people.
Caesar’s speech ends with another development on the clemency and generosity of the Romans, especially here of the Senate, towards the foreign communities who became dediticii: “… if the decision of the Senate was to be observed, Gaul should be free (liberam), for after conquest of the country the Senate had willed that it should continue to observe its own laws” (§ 3). By reminding that the Senate always ensured the libertas of the Gauls, Caesar may have been responding to the second argument of Ariovistus’s previous speech, when the German leader says that the right of conquest justifies his settlement in Gallic lands and the fact that the Gallic tribes had to deliver hostages and tributes to him. By presenting the Roman institutions as respectful of the independence of the peoples who were subjected to Rome’s yoke, Caesar may have tried to present Rome’s policy as the opposite of Ariovistus’s harsh application of the right of conquest. Nevertheless, we have seen that the opposition between servitude and freedom is a recurrent motif in the whole work, and that, in turn, Roman domination is also accused by enemies of Rome as being the equivalent of the harshest servitude (see for instance the speech of the Arvernian leader Critognatus, Caesar, The Gallic War VII.77). Leaving aside the rhetorical use of the couple servitudo/libertas in Caesar’s work (Lavan, Slaves to Rome, p. 80-81), the motif of the benevolence and of the clementia of the Roman authorities towards former revolted peoples may have been used by Caesar, not only to create a contrast with Ariovistus’s lust for lands, hostages or tributes, but also to implicitly present any attack against dediticii – which remained communities preserved and protected by Rome – and even more against Rome’s allies and friends, as the equivalent of an aggression against Rome itself (Riggsby, Caesar, p. 184).
In conclusion, this speech ends the rhetorical confrontation between Caesar and Ariovistus whose aim is to justify that Caesar had legitimate reasons to answer the provocations of the German leader. Nevertheless, as Michel Rambaud remarks, Caesar’s reasoning may seem contradictory. In 58 BCE, before waging war against Ariovistus, he had yet led some of his troops in Gaul to fight the Helvetii; however at that time Gallic territory was free, and its independence was guaranteed by the Senate. In addition, even if Caesar praises the importance of the respect of Rome’s obligations towards its Aeduan allies, he does not deal at all in his speech about the brand-new status of Ariovistus who was recognized by the Roman Senate “friend of the Roman people” in 59 BCE (a point however mentioned in the argument n° 4 of Ariovistus’s speech; Rambaud, L’art de la déformation, p. 130). In addition, in this final speech, Caesar does not answer to the arguments n° 1 and 3, probably because he had previously defended the idea that he and his allies were in the position of the aggressed or wrong, and thus were right to wage war against Ariovistus (see Caesar, The Gallic War I.36). As Andrew Riggsby rightly remarks, in his final speech, Caesar stays focused on Ariovistus’s points which “could be construed as matters of fact”. Caesar thus reassesses the validity of the alliance with the Aedui, which has been challenged by the German leader, and claims that Ariovistus’s pretention of having been the first to conquer territories in Gaul is misleading (Riggsby, Caesar, p. 187). In addition, by proving that Roman power displayed clementia toward the conquered peoples, Caesar is also implicitly presenting Ariovistus as a savage leader ready to apply in the harshest way his right of conquest. Thus, this final speech ends a series of speeches which can be seen as a good example of the reversible nature of the arguments which were commonly used to prove that one’s was waging a just war. Logically, it is the Roman leader who has the final word in this rhetorical confrontation.
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