Chapter 1.8

Intereā eā legiōne quam sēcum habēbat mīlitibusque quī ex prōvinciā convēnerant ā lacū Lemannō, quī in flūmen Rhōdānum influit, ad montem Iūram, quī fīnēs Sēquānōrum ab Helvētiīs dīvidit, mīlia passuum decem novem mūrum in altitūdinem pedum sēdecim fossamque perdūcit. Eō opere perfectō, praesidia dispōnit, castella commūnit, quō facilius, sī sē invītō transīre cōnārentur, prohibēre possit. Ubi ea diēs quam constituerat cum lēgātīs vēnit et lēgātī ad eum revertērunt, negat sē mōre et exemplō populī Rōmānī posse iter ūllī per prōvinciam dare et, sī vim facere cōnentur, prohibitūrum ostendit. Helvētiī eā spē dēiectī, nāvibus iunctīs rātibusque complūribus factīs aliī vadīs Rhodānī, quā minima altitūdō flūminis erat, nōn numquam interdiū, saepius noctū, sī perrumpere possent cōnātī, operis mūnitiōne et mīlitum concursū et tēlīs repulsī, hōc cōnātū dēstitērunt.

Caesar fortifies the left bank of the Rhone; the Helvetii make futile attempts to force a passage (Holmes).

intereā: “meanwhile,” while the more distant troops levied on the Province were gathering at the Rhone, and the Helvetians were waiting for Caesar’s answer (Kelsey).

eā legiōne: “with that legion”; ablative of means (AG 409). The ablative of means is often used instead of the ablative of agent with ā/ab in speaking of bodies of troops (M-T), being a kind of warlike implement (Moberly). The legion referred to is the tenth (Finch), afterwards Caesar’s favorite legion (L-E).

mīlitibus: i.e., the new levies, ablative of means (AG 409), like eā legiōne above; the soldiers are regarded as instruments in the hands of the general (Hodges).

quī in flūmen Rhōdānum influit: The Rhone flows into the lake at one end and out at the other (Hodges). Caesar imagined that the lake flowed into the Rhone. He had in view the point at which the river made its egress from the lake, and where a portion of the waters would flow into the river. Some editors have changed the text to quem in flūmen Rhodānus influit, “into which the river Rhone flows”; but this is unsatisfactory and artificial (H-T). While Caesar’s statement is not incorrect, modern geographers consider Lake Geneva as an enlargement of the Rhone, applying the name “Rhone” also to the principal feeder entering the lake at the upper end (Kelsey). So, strangely enough, in 7.57.4. Caesar talks of a “marsh which flowed into the Seine” (Walpole).

ā lacū … ad montem Iuram: These defenses extended along the southern side of the Rhone, from the Lake of Geneva (Lemannus) to Mount Jura, and commanded all the fords of the Rhone by which the Helvetii could enter the Roman province (Harkness). It will be remembered that there were only two ways by which the Helvetii could leave home; one by the fords of the Rhone into the Roman province, the other by the narrow pass between Mount Jura and the Rhone, and which led through the territories of the Sequani. Of these two, that which led into the province most required the attention of Caesar; and as he could not expect to keep off the vast numbers of the Helvetii by the small force which he had with him, he drew a wall along the lower bank of the Rhone, in a line with the fords, from the point where the Lake of Geneva emptied into that river, to the spot where the Rhone divides, as it were, the chain of Jura into two parts, and forms the pass already mentioned between the river and the mountain. This narrow passage, moreover, would only lead the Helvetii into the territory of the Sequani; whereas the other, by the fords of the Rhone, would have carried them at once into the Roman province (Anthon).

Helvētiīs: = Helvētiōrum fīnibus (Hodges).

decem novem: = ūndēvīgintī (Kelsey), contrary to the usual rule of compound numbers under twenty (M-T).

mīlia decem novem: “nineteen miles in length,” literally “nineteen thousand paces,” = 17 ½ English miles following the winding of the stream, the distance from the lake to Pas de l’Ecluse (L-E, Walker). The Roman passus, or “pace,” was one yard (1.85375 ft.); and as 1000 of them went to the milliāre, or “mile,” the latter was equivalent to 1617 yards 2.75 feet (Anthon).

in altitūdinem pedum sēdecim: “sixteen feet high,” literally, “of sixteen feet into height,” (Walker). The height is regarded as a quality or characteristic (AG 345) of the wall. Caesar’s barricade was not continuous, but was built only where the nature of the ground rendered it necessary. For five-sixths of the entire distance the bank of the river is so steep that no defenses were needed. Where the slope was gentler, the bank was cut down perpendicularly, or nearly so, to the distance of sixteen feet from the top. The earth was thrown out to the side towards the river; this produced the effect of a trench (Hodges).

mūrum: this rampart, or earthwork, was on the south side of the river, leaving the passage undisputed along the northern bank. The banks of the Rhone in this part are generally rugged and steep, with sharp ravines; there are only five short reaches—a little over three miles in all— requiring defenses. The current is in general quite rapid. According to Caesar’s statement, the work was continuous (this is the meaning of perdūcit). This undoubtedly means that, after the five accessible points were strengthened by artificial defenses, the entire left bank of the Rhone, from Geneva to Pas-de-l’Ecluse (17 ½ English miles), formed a continuous barrier against the Helvetians. The construction of any one of the fortifications may be described as follows: Along the crest of the ridge facing the river the slope was cut so as to be vertical, or nearly so, and then a trench was hollowed. The earth dug out was partly thrown up to increase the height of the wall, and quite likely in part thrown down the hill. At all events, it seems probable that the measure of 16 feet is the distance from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the wall. Thus the work formed really little more than a trench with scarp higher than the counterscarp. Then the crest was fortified with a breastwork of palisades, behind which the soldiers were protected while hurling their missiles at the enemy. This entire series of works, with the force at Caesar’s command, could not have occupied more than two or three days (A-G). That no traces of any stone fortifications are to be found makes it almost certain that Caesar only strengthened the weak points of the line by earthworks (M-T).

fossam: the “ditch” was simply the depression at the foot of the slope formed by throwing the earth away from the slope toward the river (L-E).

perdūcit: “he constructs” (Harkness), the main verb governing the direct objects mūrum and fossam (A-G). Perdūcit, literally “he leads [all the way] through” is not to be understood literally; evidently he threw up earthworks only in the places where the bank was not so steep as to form a natural fortification. Caesar was not writing a treatise for military engineers, but a popular narrative, and as such, he expressed himself loosely (Holmes).

eō opere perfectō: “when this work had been finished” (Kelsey); ablative absolute (AG 419).

dispōnit: “he stationed at intervals” (Kelsey).

castella: a diminutive (AG 243) of castrum (M-T), literally “little fortifications,” “redoubts,” probably of earth (Harkness), constructed at intervals along the line of earthworks and garrisoned by the praesidia (“detachments” of troops ) (Holmes). The fortifications were sufficiently numerous that the guards from one or another could quickly reach any point in the lines that might be threatened (A-G). Caesar did not have troops enough to man the fortifications at all points (L-E).

commūnit: equivalent to valdē mūnīre, “carefully fortifies” (Anthon). The force of com- is intensive, “he fortifies completely” (Hodges).

quō facilius … possit: “[in order] that (literally “by which”) more easily he might be able” (Hodges): quō is the usual construction for a purpose clause in which a comparative is used (AG 531); without the comparative it would be ut … possit (A-G).

sē invītō: literally, “he himself being unwilling” (Anthon); “without his consent” (Harkness); “against his will”; ablative absolute (AG 419): the reflexive pronoun is used because this is a part of what Caesar had in his mind (A-G).

sī cōnārentur, possit: When a subjunctive (possit) dependent on an historical present (commūnit) has another subjunctive dependent on it (cōnārentur), the former is often in a primary tense (AG 485) (M-T).

ubi … vēnit: notice the difference between this clause and those noted with cum and the subjunctive. This one expresses a real time and not circumstance like the others (AG 543) (A-G).

ea diēs: the Ides of April (Hodges), April 13 (Kelsey).                                                                                                      

quam constituerat: “which he had appointed.” The allusion is to the day before the Ides (Anthon).

revertērunt: in tenses from the present stem this verb is usually deponent, revertor, revertī, but not here (Hodges).

negat sē … posse dare: “says that he cannot grant”; literally, “he denies that he is able to give” (Harkness). Negō is regularly used instead of dīcō … nōn (Hodges). His direct words would be: Mōre et exemplō populī Rōmānī nōn possum iter ūlli per prōvinciam dare; sī vim facere cōnābiminī, prohibēbō (A-G).

mōre et exemplō: “according to the custom and precedents”: always constituting the rule of conduct with the conservative Romans (A-G); mōs denotes established usage, exemplum simply an example or precedent (Harkess), the behavior of the Romans on similar previous occasions. It was an unusual and unprecedented thing for the Roman people to grant anyone a passage through their province (Anthon).

iter: “right of way” (Kelsey), i.e., permission to go (Hodges).

ūllī: used here (in a rare instance) as a noun, “to anyone” (Kelsey), equivalent here to cuiquam. Both quisquam and ūllus are seldom used except in negative sentences, sentences implying a negative (Hodges), or with comparative adjectives (M-T).

sī … cōnentur: future condition in indirect discourse (AG 589) (A-G).

vim facere: “to use force,” literally “to make force” (Harkness); a remote supposition, “if they were to attempt the passage by force” (Moberly).

prohibitūrum: sc. esse, as the subject and eōs as the direct object (A-G); infinitive in indirect discourse dependent on the main verb ostendit (AG 577).

ostendit: “he shows them plainly,” i.e., he explicitly declares (Anthon).

Helvētiī … cōnātī: These attacks were doubtless made only by impatient isolated bands. The Helvetian commander would not have sanctioned such folly (Holmes).

eā spē dēiectī: “disappointed in this hope (or “expectation” (L-E)),” i.e., in the hope of being permitted peaceably to pass through the province (Harkness). Dēiectī, literally “cast down from this hope” (H-T); dē- in composition generally has the meaning “down” (A-G), with eā spē as an ablative of separation (AG 400).

nāvibus iunctīs rātibusque complūribus factīs: “some joined boats together,” attempting to make a floating pontoon bridge, “and made a number of rafts,” for poling across (Kelsey); ablative absolute expressing means (Hodges). Before nāvibus we must understand aliī (Anthon); the rafts were pieces of timber, or planks pinned together or fastened with cords, having the appearance of a floating platform; of course they could be used only in smooth water. The poets sometimes use rātis to signify a ship (Spencer).

aliī vadīs: We might have expected an aliī before nāvibus, i.e., some tried to cross by bridges of boats and by rafts, “others” by fording at the shallow places. But the omission indicates that only a few tried to ford the river, while the main body tried to cross in other ways. The word aliī is in partitive apposition with Helvetiī (Hodges).

quā minima altitūdō flūminis erat: “where the depth of the river was least” (Anthon).

nōn numquam: “sometimes” (A-G).

interdiū, noctū: adverbs, “by day” (Kelsey), “by night.” Diū is ablative of an old word dius = diēs (M-T).

sī perrumpere possent: dependent clauses containing an indirect question take the subjunctive (Spencer). This clause is practically an indirect question (AG 575) depending on cōnātī, “trying [to see] if (whether) they could break through (A-G); “having attempted to force a passage,” literally, “having tried whether (if) they were able to break through” (Harkness).

cōnātī: perfect participle of cōnor, but best translated as “tried” (Kelsey).

operis mūnitiōne: “by the strength of the fortifications” (Kelsey), alluding to the wall (mūrum) which had been constructed between the lake and Jura, together with its ditch (fossam) and numerous fortifications (castella) (Anthon).

concursū: “by the rapid massing” at points attacked (Kelsey).                

tēlīs: “by (their) missiles” (Kelsey); ablative of means (AG 409).

repulsī: “forced back” (Kelsey).

cōnātū dēstitērunt: the subject is Helvētiī (Hodges). Cōnātū is ablative of separation (AG 400), “they gave up (literally ‘desisted from’) the attempt” (Kelsey).

intereā: adv., meanwhile, in the meantime.

lacus, -ūs, m.: lake.

Lemannus, -ī, m.: with lacus, Lake Geneva.

Rhodanus, -ī, m.: the Rhone, a large river of southeastern Gaul.

īnfluō, -fluere, -flūxī, -flūxus : flow in, empty into.

Iūra, -ae, m.: Jura, a range of mountains forming the boundary between the Helvetii and the Sequani.

Sēquanī, -ōrum m. : the Sequani, a tribe of eastern Gaul, west of the Jura Mountains

Helvētius, -a, -um: Helvetian;as subst., m., a Helvetian; pl., the Helvetii, a rich and powerful tribe, whose country was nearly the same as modern Switzerland.

passus, -ūs m.: step, pace; double step (five Roman feet); mīlle passūs, mile; duo mīlia passuum, two miles. See mīlle.

novem (viiii or ix); nōnus, -a, -um : indecl. adj., nine; ninth

altitūdō, -dinis f.: height, altitude; depth; thickness; in altitūdinem, in height (depth).

sēdecim (xvi) : indecl. adj., sixteen.

fossa, -ae f.: ditch, trench, moat.

perdūcō, -dūcere, -dūxī, -ductus : lead through, bring, conduct; win over, persuade; draw out, prolong, continue; extend, construct.

perficiō, -ficere, -fēcī, -fectus : make thoroughly, bring about, accomplish; finish, complete; arrange; construct.

dispōnō, -pōnere, -posuī, -positus : put in different places, station here and there; arrange, assign, post.

castellum, -ī n.: little fort, post, fortress, redoubt, stronghold; small camp.

commūniō, -īre, -īvī, -ītus : fortify on all sides, make secure; build.

quō : conj., that thereby, in order that, used in clauses of purpose with comparatives; in a clause which gives a reason only to deny it, quō often has the force of because, for the reason that.

facile : adv., easily, without difficulty; safely; unquestionably.

invītus, -a, -um: against one's will, under compulsion, unwilling; sometimes to be trans. as adv., unwillingly.

Rōmānus, -a, -um : Roman; as subst., m., a Roman; pl., Romans, the Romans.

dēiciō, -icere, -iēcī, -iectus : throw down, overthrow; throw, hurl; drive away, drive; destroy; sē dēicere, leap down; dēiectus, -a, -um, disappointed.

ratis, -is, f.: raft, float.

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

vadum, -ī n.: shallow place, shoal; ford.

nōnnumquam: sometimes

interdiū : adv., in the daytime, by day.

noctū : adv., by night, in the night.

perrumpō, -rumpere, -rūpī, -ruptus : break through, penetrate, force a passage.

mūnītiō, -ōnis f.: fortifying, building of defenses; fortifications, ramparts; material for fortifying; defensive strength.

concursus, -ūs m.: running together, thronging; encounter, collision; onset, attack; tumult.

repellō, repellere, reppulī, repulsus : drive back, repel, repulse; ab hāc spē repellī, be forced to abandon this hope.

cōnātus, -ūs m.: attempt.

dēsistō, -sistere, -stitī, -stitus : stand away, desist, give up, leave off, cease.

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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.