Totadigi's Reviews > The Conquest of Gaul

The Conquest of Gaul by Gaius Julius Caesar
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Aug 18, 2010

Recommended to Totadigi by: Daughter
Recommended for: yes
Read 8 times. Last read July 30, 2010 to August 17, 2010.


This may be the eighth time I have read this book during my life it was sent to me falling apart stamped to be discarded rescued by my daughter who I no doubt talked to about it. More or less translated from the campaign journals of C. JULIUS CEASAR 58 through 51 B.C., it covers nine years of bloody Roman conquest in the land of ancient Gaul (modern day France), Germany and Britain. For Caesar the only path to power lay through the conquest, enslavement, and total domination that enlarged the empire and opened up fresh fields for merciless Roman enterprises. He was fearless, a brilliant military tactician, a luminous administrator and he led his army in the genocidal subjugation of one nation after another. Caesar would later return to Rome at the head of his army and declare himself supreme dictator. He was responsible for dissolving the republic and proclaiming the empire. The impact of which can be felt throughout the modern European influenced world of today.

The strength of the book is it affords the reader a candid view on a world that without the collaboration of other scholars would seem like fiction. Caesar’s words give an unvarnished look inside the mind of a pathological mass murderer. He is devoid of human compassion and cannot understand why the savages won’t submit or die. It is important to realize he is not an exception but rather embodies the moral foundation of the culture he represents. In that way Caesar opens a window on his mind as chilling as the one offered by American author Truman Capote in his 1966 book “In Cold Blood.” Inadvertently at times you can see beyond Caesar and glimpse the lives of his victims and the effects of conquest on their nations. If you focus you can see through to today the legacy of Roman conquest. It is a powerful chronicle if there is a weakness in the book it is its totally one sided perspective. Caesar just can’t understand why the savages just keep coming. He ruthlessly indiscriminately kills thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children; and transports more thousands upon thousands to Rome to be sold into slavery. He makes him one of the richest most powerful men of the empire and fuels his rise to supreme dictator.

Everything but the last part of the book is Caesar’s firsthand accounts of his conquest and expansion of the northern frontiers; the last part written by others under his command. Almost as an epilogue at the end there is a brief explanation of what transpired as he returned to Rome at the head of an occupying domestic army. This led to a civil war from which he emerged victorious, abolished the republic, and proclaimed himself the sole master of the empire. He would rule with an iron hand for another four years before being assassinated in the Roman Senate in 44 B.C. The Ancient Roman Empire cruelly changed the course of history setting in motion events that directly impact the way we live today.

Caesar’s book progresses chronologically focusing solely on his campaigns, in reality it is not a comprehensive lesson on waging war; nothing like “The Art of War” a Chinese military treatise written by Sun Tzu the 6th century BC. Sun Tzu, in comparison to Caesar was a true military genius who documented every aspect of warfare, compiling a definitive work on military strategies and tactics, still one of the basic texts of military leadership taught worldwide.

Caesar’s point of view is always that of conqueror and master this forms the basis for of all his opinions. He is void of moral and human compassion. It makes it impossible to be objective as demonstrated by his anger and vengeance direct at those who struggle to be free and make war against him. Because everything is either written by or from his perspective there is no counterpoint or balance to his views. Even when Caesar causes the murder of a local noble who dies exclaiming “I am a free man of a free people,” he is oblivious to the human desire to not be enslaved and exploited. It is a revealing look at the origins of world conquest.

This book delivers a stark and a realistic view of ancient warfare battlefield tactics the combatants often fought hand-to-hand eye-to-eye and fought to the death. Reading the same book more than once enables you to begin to think about the things that are not said by the author. For instance the scale of slaughter and human suffering can boggle the mind at first read eventually you will ask yourself what it must have been like to have been on the receiving end of all that violence and destruction. Now you have pierced Caesar’s bubble. There is also the chilling experience of having a one on one extended conversation with a person that you come to realize over time is a mass murderer. Eventually you may begin to understand Roman society was completely enveloped in a culture of murder and debauchery. Caesar was not an anomaly he was the shining example. It was the genesis of Fascism, Caesar the prototype for Hitler, the Roman Empire the model for Nazi Germany. Understanding this book strangely, can contribute to the argument that war should be made no more and provide deep insight into why we must beat our swords into plows.
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Eric Byrnes Well... technically his great nephew Gaius Octavius Thurinus (best known as Caesar Augustus) shoulders just as much of the blame for the creation of the Empire; were it not for him and the events at Actium the republic very well may have continued. Or yet another dreadful triumvirate.

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