Chapter 1.52

Caesar singulīs legiōnibus singulōs lēgātōs et quaestōrem praefēcit, utī eōs testēs suae quisque virtūtis habēret; ipse ā dextrō cornū, quod eam partem minimē firmam hostium esse animadverterat, proelium commīsit. Ita nostrī ācriter in hostēs signō datō impetum fēcērunt, itaque hostēs repentē celeriterque prōcurrērunt, ut spatium pīla in hostēs coiciendī nōn darētur. Reiectīs pīlīs comminus gladiīs pugnātum est. At Germānī celeriter ex cōnsuētūdine suā phalange factā impetūs gladiōrum excēpērunt. Repertī sunt complūrēs nostrī mīlitēs quī in phalangās īnsilīrent et scūta manibus revellerent et dēsuper vulnerārent. Cum hostium aciēs ā sinistrō cornū pulsa atque in fugam conversa esset, ā dextrō cornū vehementer multitūdine suōrum nostram aciem premēbant. Id cum animadvertisset P. Crassus adulēscēns, quī equitātuī praeerat, quod expedītior erat quam eī quī inter aciem versābantur, tertiam aciem labōrantibus nostrīs subsidiō mīsit.

A close and furious conflict ensues.

singulīs legiōnibus singulōs lēgātōs et quaestōrem praefēcit: “Caesar set one lieutenant in command of each legion, and [in one case] the quaestor” (Stock). Caesar had six legions. On this occasion, having only five lēgātī, he also appointed his quartermaster (quaestor) to that one of the six legions which was intended to be under his own special command (A-G). The quaestor, whose name is not mentioned, appears again on a level with the lēgātī in Book 4, Chapter 13. We may assume that he was M. Crassus (oldest son of M. Crassus the triumvir). It was an innovation of Caesar’s to make the lēgātus have special charge of a legion (Stock). Caesar felt so keenly the evil of the command being divided among six tribunes that he detailed one of his lēgātī nominally to assist the tribunes. After this time, we find the lēgātus as the regular commander of a legion, with the six tribunes under him (A-G).

quaestōrem: properly, a civil and finance officer, but available for command (Moberly). It was normally his business to manage the public accounts, take care of the supplies of provisions and money, to sell the booty acquired by conquest, etc. (Spencer).

eōs: = lēgātōs et quaestōrem (Anthon).

testēs: “as witnesses” (Kelsey).

suae quisque virtūtis: notice the order of words, which is regular (Hodges).

ā dextrō cornū: “from / on the right wing,” i.e., of his own army (Anthon), the enemy’s left which was occupied by the Harudes (Moberly). It was Caesar’s usual practice to open a battle with his right wing. He goes on to mention a special reason for doing so on this occasion (L-E).

eam partem: that would be the enemy’s left (A-G), opposite the Roman right (Kelsey).

minimē firmam: “weakest,” literally, “least strong” (Anthon).

proelium commīsit: i.e., gave the signal for battle, in general (M-T).

ita … ācriter … ut: “so fiercely that … ” (A-G). Ita (qualifying ācriter (Kelsey)) signals an upcoming result clause (AG 537).

signō datō: i.e., by trumpeters (Walker).

itaque … repente celeriterque: itaque = et ita (Harkness); ita qualifies repente and celeriter (M-T): “and so suddenly and rapidly” (Anthon).

spatium: when spatium is used by itself, it generally refers to time rather than to space. When it refers to space some word is often put with it to mark this, like intermissō spatiō (of time), and intermissō locī spatiō (of space) (Stock).

pīla … coniciendī: a gerund with a direct object (pīla) (A-G). Owing to the speed of the enemy’s advance, the Romans lost this advantage (spatium nōn darētur). This fact may in part account for the length of the battle (L-E). The gerund is seldom used with a direct object except in its genitive case (M-T); the gerundive construction (pīlōrum coniciendōrum) is no doubt avoided because it would give an offensive accumulation of syllables (H-T).

reiectīs pīlīs: “their javelins being flung aside”; the pīla were intended only for casting, and would be an encumbrance in a hand-to-hand encounter (Walker). Some MSS. have relictīs pīlīs, “their javelins being left behind.”

comminus: “at close quarters” (Kelsey); “hand to hand”; cf. ēminus, “from a distance” (M-T). This was the favorite method of fighting with the Roman soldier. The short sword (gladius) of the Romans was a better weapon for hand-to-hand fighting than the long sword of the Germans (L-E).

gladiīs: “swordsmen”; there is a tendency in military language to confound the man with his weapon (Stock).

ex cōnsuētūdine: “in accordance with their custom” (Kelsey).

phalange factā: “adopting the phalanx formation”, hence singular. Of course, as the Germans fought by tribes (generātim), there were as many phalanxes as there were tribes or nations (Spencer). FromCassius Dio we learn that these German phalanxes were composed of three or four hundred men each with their shields locked together all round them. Their dense formation rendered it impossible to shake them, while the plate-armor of shields made them impervious to blows (Stock). This defensive formation had been adopted also by the Helvetians (see Chapter 24) (Kelsey).

impetūs gladiōrum excēpērunt: the Germans apparently did not hurl their javelins, but relied upon their shields and swords; the German sword was longer than the Roman, and single-edged (Kelsey).

complūrēs nostrī: sc. mīlitēs: “very many of our soldiers” (Harkness); “many men on our side” (Kelsey); “soldiers of ours in many instances,” with complūrēs thus equivalent to an adverb like identidem (M-T).

quī in phalangās īnsilīrent … revellerent … vulnerārent: subjunctive in a relative clause of characteristic (AG 535): “who consented to leap upon the phalanxes … (etc.)” (Walpole). Phalangās is a Greek accusative plural (AG 44 b) (Stock); some MSS. have in phalangem (Stock). If the Romans had been able to begin the battle with the customary volley of javelins, this solid array of shields would have been broken up as in the battle with the Helvetii (see Chapter 25) (Walker). As it was, these soldiers sprang bodily upon the “shield-wall” (L-E), tore away the shields which the enemy held above their heads, and then stabbed downwards (dēsuper) (Anthon), striking at the heads of the men, which were bare (Stock); the usual practice of the Roman soldier was to push the enemy’s shield upward with his own, and thrust underneath (Hodges). The soldiers who did this kept moving about on the top of the shields which formed a kind of roof beneath them (Anthon). Kraner considers et dēsuper vulnerārent to be the addition of a reader who, confusing the phalanx order with that of the Roman testūdō, supposed that the soldiers leapt on the roof of shields, and tearing them up, struck at the men beneath. But the shields formed a wall, not a roof (M-T). Such a defensive arrangement would be suicidal as a mode of resisting an attack with swords, although it might answer as against javelins (Moberly).

cum: “though” (Walker); a cum concessive clause with subjunctive (AG 549).

ā sinistrō cornū: “on their left wing,” which was the weakest part of the German line (Walker).

ā dextrō cornū: alluding again to the German army (Anthon).

premēbant: notice the change of the verb’s number through the influence of the preceding words multitūdine suōrum (M-T).             

P. Crassus: son of Marcus Crassus, the triumvir with Caesar and Pompey (Harkness). His movement on the present occasion gained the day for the Romans (Anthon). He next appears in the Dē Bellō Gallicō at the head of an important expedition against the Aquitanians (A-G). He left Caesar in 55 B.C. and took an active part at Rome in securing the election of his father and Pompey to the consulship that year (Stock). Both he and his father lost their lives in the expedition against the Parthians. (Anthon).

adulēscēns: “the younger,” in the same way we say colloquially “young so-and-so” (Stock); like our term “junior” (A-G), properly a person that is growing up, a person from fifteen to thirty years of age (Spencer); used here to distinguish him from his father (A-G), or possibly from his elder brother, mentioned in Book 5 as Caesar’s legate and in Book 6 as quaestor (Hodges). Many of Caesar’s best officers were young men (L-E).

equitātuī: dative with praeerat (AG 370). Some MSS. read equitātū, an old form of dative (Anthon).

quod expedītior erat: “because he was more clear [of the enemy]” (Moberly); “because he was more disengaged” (Harkness); “because he was freer to act” (Walker) i.e., not entangled in the mêlée, and therefore better able to discern the need of reinforcing the left wing (M-T). Crassus and the cavalry were posted behind the Roman left wing, out of the way of the German cavalry, for whom they were no match. They were taking no part in the battle, but were waiting to pursue the enemy when the legions should win the victory (Walker).

iī quī … versābantur: i.e., the officers of the legions (Kelsey).

inter aciem: “in action” (Kelsey). Here aciēs means the actual fighting; immediately below it means a division of the army (M-T).

tertiam aciem: the line of reserves, kept for just such emergencies (A-G).

labōrantibus nostrīs subsidiō: “to the assistance of our hard-pressed men” (L-E). The double dative construction: subsidiō is dative of purpose (AG 382), nostrīs is dative of reference.

quaestor, -ōris m.: quaestor.

praeficiō, -ficere, -fēcī, -fectus : set over, put in command of.

quod : conj., that, in that, because, since; as to the fact that: the fact that.

fīrmus, -a, -um: strong, powerful; stable, firm, steady; trustworthy.

animadvertō, -vertere, -vertī, -versus : turn the thoughts toward, give attention to, notice, perceive; animadvertere in, take notice of, take measures against, punish; cf. animum advertere.

nostri -orum m. pl.: our men

ācriter : adv., sharply, keenly, fiercely; vigorously, courageously; sup, ācerrimē.

repente : adv., suddenly, unexpectedly.

prōcurrō, -currere, -cucurrī or -currī, -cursus : run forward, rush forward, charge.

pīlum, -ī, n.: javelin; mūrāle pīlum, wall-javelin, a heavy javelin to be hurled from fortifications.

coniciō, -icere, -iēcī, -iectus : throw together; throw, hurl; station, put; attribute; in fugam conicere, put to flight, rout; sē conicere, dash, rush.

comminus : adv., hand to hand, at close quarters.

Germānus, -ī, m. : a German; pl., the Germans; as adj., Germānus, -a, -um, German

phalanx, -angis, f.: phalanx, a compact body of troops in battle array.

complūrēs, -a or -ia : pl. adj., many, several.

īnsiliō, -silīre, -siluī : leap against, leap.

scūtum, -ī, n.: shield.

revellō, -vellere, -vellī, -vulsus : pull away, tear away, tear out.

dēsuper : adv., from above.

vulnerō, -āre, -āvī, -ātus : wound.

sinister, -tra, -trum: left, on the left; as subst., f. (sc. manus), left hand.

vehementer : adv., furiously, eagerly, vigorously; greatly, extremely, exceedingly.

Publius -iī m.: Publius (name) abbreviated "P."

Crassus, -ī, m.: Crassus, a Roman cognomen: (1) Marcus Licinius Crassus, the triumvir, consul in 55 b.c. See Introd., p. 11. (2) Marcus Licinius Crassus, son of (1). He was quaestor with Caesar. (3) Publius Licinius Crassus, a younger son of (1). He was one of Caesar's officers.

adulēscēns, -entis : adj., young; as subst., m. and f., young man, young woman; often with proper names, the younger, to distinguish from older persons of the same name.

equitātus, -ūs m.: cavalry, body of horsemen.

praesum, -esse, -fuī : be before, be set over, be in command of.

expedītus, -a, -um : unencumbered, lightly equipped, without luggage; free, unembarrassed, easy.

versor, -ārī, -ātus : move about; busy oneself, be engaged, be busy; live, dwell, exist; be.

subsidium, -ī n.: support, aid; protection; provision; troops in reserve, reserve; auxiliary troops.


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Christopher Francese, Caesar: Selections from the Gallic War. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2011, revised and enlarged 2018. ISBN: 978-1-947822-02-3.