The Gauls at War

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The Gauls were a fierce but civilized nation with a good fighting history who stood in the way of the Roman expansion. Situated, eventually, in present-day France and Belgium were a thorn in the side of Julius Caesar. In an all-out war, it took the Romans eight years to subdue the Gallic people. The reason why the Gauls lost the battle was a lack of cohesion between the different tribes, although Vercingetorix tried to unite them into one army. They were very efficient fighters but could not stand together, and Caesar took advantage of this. The war lasted from 58 BC to 50 BC. Caesar was determined to win as this would give him the kudos and popularity to take over as sole leader of the Romans, as he shared the power with two other Roman leaders.

Gallic Tribes Movements

Initially, the five Gallic nations were based in what is now Switzerland, and due to the pressure from the Germanic tribes to the east and the north, they decided to move the tribes to the west. This route took them through Caesar’s allies lands of Aediu and the Roman province of Transalpine Gaul. Caesar crossed from Italy to Civalpine Gaul and took command of three legions and formed another two. The Helvetic were moving through and pillaging the lands of the Aediu, the Ambarri and the Allobroges who sent to Caesar a request for help.

Caesar engaged and beat the Helvetii at the river Arar (now the Soane) as they were crossing the river and their forces were divided. Some of the Helvetii escaped, and Caesar sent 4000 Roman and Aediu cavalry to track their enemy. The Romans headed for Bibracte and were pursued by the Helvetii army. Caesar made a stance on a hill and waited for the enemy forces. In the battle of Bibracte, which lasted a day, the Romans defeated the Celts. All captured Gallic men were released and sent home to re-establish their homelands, but those that fled were rounded up and executed. The vanquished Helvetii’s numbers had dropped from 370 000 to just over 100 000 who returned to their homes.

Fighting Styles

There were vastly different styles of warfare encountered when the Gauls faced the Romans. The Gauls were of gigantic stature and put the Romans at a psychological disadvantage but their undisciplined fighting style, man to man and hacking and slashing, seemed to have no cohesion or discipline. The Romans, being of shorter stature, were respectful of their enemy, but their style of tight formations eventually won the war.

Their swords were shorter and better suited to close combat, and their shields were their defence. As the soldiers closed up together, the Romans throwing spears were effective in thinning out the Gauls before the close-quarter fighting began. The Gauls used longer swords which they used to hack and slash, but the Romans used their shields in unison to beat back the enemy and their swords to stab between the guards, in the end, discipline won over from wild attacks.