( ii )

Drusus Claudius’ Histories: ‘The Gallic Wars part 1’:

The Battle of Sabis


Caesar’s Counterattack

and ‘The Gallic Wars part 2’:

The Battle of Alesia

Battle of Sabis

Julius Caesar




Caesar’s Counterattack

Caesar’s Revenge

Caesar’s Strategy: Alesia

Battle of Sabis

Fought in 57 BC in Northern France between the legions of the Roman Republic and an association of the Belgic tribes, principally the ‘Nervii.’

Julius Caesar

Commanding the Roman forces was surprised and nearly defeated. According to Caesar’s own report it was a combination of determined defense, skilled generalship, and the timely arrival or reinforcements allowed the Romans to turn a strategic defeat into a tactical victory.

During the winter of 58-57 BC rumors came to Caesar’s ears that the Belgic tribes were forming a union because they feared possible Roman interference in their affairs.

Caesar continued his advance and tribes surrendered one by one. However four tribes: the Nervii, the Atrebates, the Aduatuci, and the Viromandui refused to submit to Caesar. The Ambiani told Caesar that the Nervii were the most hostile of the ‘Balgae’ to Roman rule. A fierce and brave tribe, they did not allow the import of luxury items as they believed these had a corrupting effect and probably feared all Roman influence.

Eight Roman legions took part in the battle. Estimates are at around 42,000 men. He learnt from prisoners that the Belgae were massing on the far side of the River Sabis, and the Nervii had persuaded the Atrebates and the Veromandui to support them. The Belgae had made their preparations and were now waiting for the Romans.

Caesar sent forward experienced scouts to choose the next campsite.

He learnt from prisoners taken later that sympathizers in the ragtag of surrendered Belgae and other Gauls traveling with the army had gone to the Nervii and reported the disposition of his column.

The Nervii, having traditionally always relied on infantry and not cavalry, had over the years developed a technique of building dense, impenetrable hedges of briars and thorns set between young trees as a defense against the raids of surrounding tribes.

At some point on his march to the Subris, Caesar reorganized the column and reverted back to his usual tactic of leading his forces with six legions in light marching order.

Behind them was the baggage column of the entire army, followed by the newly recruited legions XIII and XIV.

While Caesar’s force began to set up camp on the slope running down to the river, his cavalry, together with slingers and archers, was ordered to cross the river to reconnoiter. A skirmish developed between them and the few troops of Belgic cavalry that had been observed on the far side. Caesar describes the enemy cavalry as sallying repeatedly from the woods at the top of the hill and says his cavalry did not dare follow them in when they retreated.

Meanwhile the legions had started arriving at the camp site and began to build its fortifications. The Belgae, waiting for the baggage train to appear, gradually found themselves faced with not one legion, but six. Their plan of piecemeal destruction had to be abandoned, but they must have believed their numbers more than adequate to deal with their enemy.


As the Roman baggage train came into view the Belgic force suddenly rushed out of the trees and surprised their opponents, overwhelming the Roman cavalry.

They crossed the shallow river at full speed and charged up the hill against the legions setting up camp.

This gave them no time to get into battle formation, and it seemed to Caesar that the Nervii came on with incredible speed. Taken by surprise when they started pouring out of the trees and charging across the river and over running the legionaries, Caesar had rapidly given orders to sound the alarm.

The soldiers of legions X and IX on the left flank, having thrown their ‘pilae’ at their Atrebates opponents, charged. They threw the enemy back and drove them into the river, killing many.

The Romans crossed the river and found themselves on the disadvantageous or uneven ground, but although Atrebates regrouped and launched a counter-attack, the Romans put them to flight a second time.

The Nervii were attacking vigorously from lower ground and pressing at the front and both flanks. Caesar could see some men were shirking and trying to get to the rear; others were slowly ceasing effective resistance. There were no reserves. This was the crisis-point. He took the shield from a soldier at the rear and went to the first line. Calling his centurions by name he ordered them to have the soldiers advance and the ‘maniples’ open up and extend. As he tells it, his arrival brought hope and boosted the soldiers morale. Every man was now keen to do well in front of his general.


Caesar saw that Legion VII nearby was also hard-pressed. He ordered the tribunes to redeploy the two legions to gradually join and fight back to back. This further increased his men’s confidence.

The legions escorting the baggage had by now received a report of the action, had come on at double pace and the enemy could see them coming over the hill above the camp. Legion X, under Labienus, had overcome the Atrebates, crossed the river, and defeated the Belgic reserves.

Now they seized the Belgic camp on the wooded hill. From the higher ground, Labienus could see that Caesar’s right wing was in serious trouble.

He ordered his men back across the river to attack the Nervii from the rear. Soon Legions XIII and XIV joined the fight. Caesar does not detail their actions, but they probably cleared the camp and then went to the right to relieve pressure on Legions XII and VII.

This, coupled with the return of Legion X, transformed the situation.

Seeing the position begin to stabilize the cavalry and skirmishers began to take heart and keen to wipe out their earlier shame started then to fight in earnest. The entire Roman force was now fully committed.

At this point of the battle it is clear that Caesar’s opposition had little hope of survival. They were being pushed closer and closer into a dense pack that was being surrounded by Caesar’s men who were using projectile weapons to pick off their remaining forces.

Using ‘peltasts’ who are a light-infantryman equipped with slings and javelins and with the help of accompanying archers they unleash a barrage of missiles at the closely packed Nervii.

The Nervii warriors fought to their last, standing on the bodies of their slain comrades and throwing the Roman’s own spears back at them. Eventually the few remaining Nervii broke and the fled the field.

Caesar’s opinion of the Nervii is that they showed great fighting spirit in carrying an attack forward so vigorously on so difficult ground and in continuing to fight stubbornly when the tide of battle turned irretrievably against them. Caesar talks of a grimly inspiring image of the last of the Nervii who were atop a mound of corpses of their own warriors and shouting in defiance towards the Romans, fighting till their last breath.


The Aduatuci turned for home as soon as they heard about the defeat.

In 54 BC Ambiorix persuaded the Nervii to join the Eburones after the latter had destroyed a legion and five cohorts under Sabinus and Cotta during the ‘Ambiorix Revolt.’

During ‘Vercingetorix’s Revolt’ in 52 BC the Nervii were only asked to supply 5,000 men to the forces raised by a confederation of over 40 tribes.

Drusus Claudius’ Histories: ‘The Gallic Wars part 2’

Caesar’s Revenge

Ambiorix had killed an entire Roman legion and five cohorts. When the Roman senate heard what had happened Caesar swore to destroy all the Belgic tribes.

A Belgic attack on Cicero, who was then stationed with a legion in the territory of the Nervii, failed due to the timely appearance of Caesar. The Roman campaigns against the Belgae took a few years but, eventually, the tribes were slaughtered or driven out and their fields burned. The Eburones tribe disappeared from history after this genocidal event.

It is believed that Ambiorix and his men succeeded in escaping across the Rhine.

Caesar wrote about Ambiorix in his commentary about his battles against the Gauls, in ‘De Bello Gallica.’ He said the Belgae were the bravest of the three regions. Ambiorix remained a relatively obscure figure. In 1830 AD Belgium became an independent state and their government began searching through their historical archives for people who could serve as national heroes. Furthermore, in 1866 a statue of Ambiorix was erected in Tongeren, Belgium, which was a town referred to by Caesar as ‘Atuatuca Tongrorum.’

In the French comic ‘Asterix’ Obelix, Domatix, Vitalstatistix, and Asterix go to Belgium because they are angry with Caesar about his remark that the Belgians are the bravest of all the Gauls.

Caesar’s Counter-Attack

Tullius Cicero’s XII Legion is failing to hold. In 54 BC it is clear that Ambiorix had been planning an uprising ever since Caesar’s expedition to Britainnia. They had deceived Sabinus and Cotta, nearly leading to the destruction of the XIV Legion. Orders have been sent to all troops to march rapidly to Cicero’s camp…

Ambiorix had planned to wipe out Cicero’s forces, now that their luck had seemingly run out, before Caesar’s forces could arrive to aid them. When Caesar arrives he will send Labienus to draw the enemy’s attention. The rest of the Legions are ordered to charge with Caesar, and to try and quickly come to the aid of their trapped allies.

Apollo establishing Delphi.

The Temple of Janus.

Developed in the 8th Century BC the site was believed by the Greeks to be sacred to Gaea, or Mother Earth, and was guarded by Gaea’s serpent, or dragon, child. Killing this monster, Apollo establishes this site as the location of his oracle. The prestige of the Oracle at Delphi was at its height between the 6th and 4th Centuries BC.

Zeus had determined that the site was the center of “Grandmother Earth.”

The sanctuary of Delphi fell into Roman hands in 191 BC, and was stripped of its treasuries by General Sylla in 86 BC in order to finance his siege of Athens. Despite some building revivals by the Romans, the oracle at Delphi lost its influence over the next few centuries, and its spiritual fire was gradually extinguished as Apollo’s worship was replaced by a new religion imported from the East: Christianity.

The sanctuary of Athena Pronaia—meaning, “Athena who is before the Temple (of Apollo)”—had other various buildings nearby, most of which were intended for sports, such as the Gymnasium used for exercise and learning. When visitors approached Delphi, the first structure they saw was the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia (hence its name). This sanctuary contained the most characteristic monument at Delphi: the Tholos, a circular building with a conical roof supported by a ring of outer columns.

Visitors would then walk along the Sacred Way, a path to the sanctuary of Apollo that was lined with treasuries and votive monuments. Given that Delphi was a pan-Hellenic sanctuary, it was not controlled by any one Greek city-state and instead was a sanctuary for all Greeks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Comments (



%d bloggers like this: