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Caesar's Conquest of Gaul

The conquest of Gaul is one of the best known episodes in Roman history. Julius Caesar, commander of the Roman forces, wrote a very detailed account of this. His Gallic Wars allows us to follow the progress of the Roman invasion year by year, until eventually the whole of France and Belgium had been transformed into a Roman province.

Julius Caesar was a rising star of the Roman political world when he was appointed governor of northern Italy and southern France in 59 BC. Not content to remain within the boundaries of his province, he quickly embarked on an ambitious campaign of conquest. First he aided the Gallic peoples from their struggles against their neighbours or foreign aggressors.

In his second year of his command, he decided to conquer the whole country.

Despite the popular image, the peoples of Gaul whom Caesar sought to subdue were far from disorganized barbarians. They had coins and kings, towns and trade, and sophisticated craftsmanship in bronze and gold. They put up a fierce struggle and on more than one occasion, came close to inflicting serious defeat on the Roman legions.

Six years of determined campaigning, including two celebrated forays to Britain, yielded results. By the winter of 53 BC, it seemed as though Gaul was at last conquered. But the greatest test of Roman arms was yet to come, for the following year the Gauls rose up in revolt, led by a young Gallic chieftain, Vercingetorix. The climax came at the siege of Alesia, where Vercingetorix was eventually forced into submission. Gaul was won, and after a further two years of consolidation, Caesar was ready to embark on the next stage of his career; the seizure of supreme power in Rome itself.