Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Vox Pop

Now we've seen the Gauls were more sophisticated than Caesar ever admitted to his adoring public - we have to wonder why he painted them as simple uneducatededs. After all, doesn't it make his victory even greater if he defeated a far more capable enemy than he writes about? The answer is not that simple. Firstly, this was a man with an estimated IQ of 181, so I'm not going to pretend I can get inside a head like that - all I can do is make some best guesses and hope they're not too far off the mark.

Firstly we have to consider the geopolitical situation in 58BC when the invasion of Gaul began. By this time Rome's previous threats, the Greek city states, Carthage and the Pontic Kingdom had all been warred into oblivion and their lands folded into the Roman Republic. The Gauls, and to a lesser extent, the Germans, were the only peoples left on the Roman frontier with the proven capacity to invade the Italian peninsular and threaten Rome. Destroying their ability to do this was the primary reason Caesar received so much unspoken support from the Senate.

The same logic had been used in the destruction of Carthage a century before - and so was the underlying belief that subjugating Gaul and destroying the Punic Empire (Carthage) was morally acceptable as both peoples were barbarians. In fact, with the possible exception of the Greeks, the Romans' greatest enemies were always labelled barbarians. Carthage is the best example of this 'labelling' or desensitisation of the Roman public. Despite inventing concrete, building the world's first 'high rise' apartment blocks, circumnavigating Africa and developing some of the most advanced water storage systems ever seen, Roman literature paints the Carthaginians as blood thirsty heathens who sacrificed their own children to Beelzebub (a name still seen as evil to this day). This process was repeated a century later when the Gauls were the new threat to Rome - suddenly the Druids were murdering their own countrymen to read their entrails...seeing a pattern here?

So it became important to the Roman sense of right that subjugating the barbarians could bring civilisation to these lessor peoples and make them new and upstanding citizens. But this only works if the Roman public are convinced these are, indeed, barbarians. If Caesar had written he'd fought an equally advanced and capable enemy, it is very likely he would have alienated his public supporters...after all, it would have been immoral to subjugate a civilised Gaul, parts of which had had long standing treaties with Rome prior to the Caesar's arrival there...treaties he chose to ignore. So in the end, we can see the book we still base most of our contemporary knowledge of Gaul on - Julius Caesar's The Conquest of Gaul - is all about painting Caesar in the best possible light...not the Gauls. Proof again that only the victorious get to write our history. Remember that next time you're reading a former power broker's autobiography.

For more Roman History in Gaul - check out 'Vagabond' - live on Amazon and on YouTube