What kind of world would we live in today without Julius Caesar and the “boundless home” he created in West and North Europe for Greco-Roman conquest, migration and influence?
Similarly, what kind of world would we live in today without Columbus, Cortez and Pizarro? Without the settlements of Europeans in North and South America (plus Australia, New Zealand etc.)?
Military & Cultural Conquest
What both examples have in common is military and cultural conquest.
The former regards the expansion of the Greco-Roman civilization towards West and North Europe.
The latter the expansion of the European civilization in South and North America (etc.).
Both historical events resulted in massive human cost among the conquered and in the tragic extinction of numerous cultures.
With regard to Caesar, since this is a blog about Rome, the Roman general is a controversial figure without a doubt.
A butcher who regarded Gaul only “as the parade ground” on which to gain experience for the approaching civil war, an imperialist albeit with a great design in mind, a genius moved by ‘historical necessity’ (if such a thing exists) … one could write books on it (which in fact have been written.)
North & West Passage
Seen from today there is little doubt that the conquest of Gaul carried out by Julius Caesar from 58 BC to 50 BC (a vast, fertile, richly populated area, Gaul, corresponding to modern France, Belgium, the German lands west of the Rhine, South Holland and much of Switzerland) created a remarkable extension of the historical horizon of the Mediterranean.
Through that ‘passage’ opened up by Caesar a very large number of folks (Celtic, Germanic, from the North sea and later Baltic sea) will gradually embrace the Greco-Roman civilization up to form one body albeit with different souls, a passage or channel whose durable effect goes beyond the shifting of focal point from the Mediterranean to North Europe and elsewhere.
“The work of Caesar”
The German historian Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903), the leader of Caesar’s estimators, thus argues in his monumental History of Rome, (V,7. The Subjugation of the West) which earned him the Nobel Prize in 1902:
[Mommsen refers to the Germanic leader of the Suevi, Ariovistus, who had entered Gaul by crossing the Rhine and had subdued many Gallic tribes in 60 BC. Caesar himself justified his conquest as preemptive action to protect Rome]
“Had it so happened, our civilization [eg Germanic, Northern, MoR] would have hardly stood in any more intimate relation to the Romano-Greek than to the Indian and Assyrian culture.”
“That there is a bridge connecting the past glory of Hellas and Rome with the prouder fabric of modern history; that Western Europe is Romanic, and Germanic Europe classic; that the names of Themistocles and Scipio have to us a very different sound from those of Ashoka and Shalmanaser; that Homer and Sophocles are not merely, like the Vedas and Kalidasa, attractive to the literary botanist, but bloom for us in our own garden—all this is the work of Caesar.”
Now, no historian is impartial, he reflecting his time, place and personal choices.
Mommsen was a 19th century German liberal, imbued with classical learning, who hated the Prussian Junkers (conservative landed nobility and backbone of the German army) and was sympathetic to Caesar’s fight against the senatorial oligarchy—which may have influenced his judgement on the Roman general.
In the next posts we will investigate a bit on Caesar’s actions, motives & consequences by listening to some of his admirers and detractors.
A Feeling Of Loss
Among the latter, Goethe spoke of repugnance for the triumphs of Caesar; Camille Jullian, the main French historian of Gaul and leader of those who lament the despoliation of Gallic culture, argued that the Gauls, before being crushed, were about to unite into something superior to the scattered tribes in competition with one another.
“Certain(e)s d’entre nous (et je fais parti du lot) reprochent à l’Italie son passé belliqueux, et ce que leurs ancêtres Romains ont fait aux nôtres (Celtes et Germains).
Les Romains ont détruit notre culture (celtique et germanique) et civilisation, et l’on remplacé par la leur (greco-latine).
C’est un drame d’avoir une apparence physique celtique et germanique, mais d’avoir une langue et une culture incompatible avec nos origines septentrionales.”
[“Some of us (I being among this number) blame Italy’s warlike past and what their Roman ancestors did to ours (Celts and Germans).
The Romans destroyed our culture (Celtic and Germanic) and civilization, and replaced it with theirs (Greek and Latin).
It is a tragedy to have a Celtic and Germanic physical appearance but to possess a language and a culture incompatible with our Northern origins.”]
Conquest Of Gaul. Debate On Julius Caesar’s Conduct, Motives, Achievements (2)
“Caesar was like the wind. Can we condemn the wind? And yet what scourge can it bring forth!” (3)
The ‘Black Book’ Of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Campaign (4)