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Julius Caesar & the Gallic Wars

Instructor: Jason McCollom

Jason has a PhD.

In the Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar conquered Gaul for Rome while simultaneously building up his military power to eventually become dictator. Learn about the wars and their repercussions, and test yourself.

The First Triumvirate

Popular Roman leaders Julius Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey agreed on a short-term alliance in the 60s BCE. They jockeyed for position against the aristocratic Senate and proclaimed themselves the people's champions in contrast to the Roman elites. Though these three charismatic military leaders had personal ambitions of their own, they formed their alliance -- called the First Triumvirate -- to bide their time until their next move. Everyone knew these three were much too power hungry to get along for long and that it was only a matter of time until they turned against each other. Rome waited with bated breath.

Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey used their military might and intimidated the Senate to pass legislation through the popular assembly. Such laws were self-serving. Caesar, for instance, was named governor of the Cisalpine and Narbonese provinces (regions in present-day northern Italy and southern France). He was also given military command over the territories. And that's when the Gallic Wars began.

Julius Caesar
caesar, julius

The Gallic Wars

In 58 BCE, Caesar headed for Gaul, a region roughly encompassing present-day France and Belgium and parts of the Netherlands. Rome didn't control the entirety of the territory, so Caesar and his army went to work conquering the remainder of Gaul. These wars of conquest are known as the Gallic Wars.

Caesar and the Roman campaigns in the Gallic Wars
gallic wars map

Caesar's central aim for conducting the Gallic Wars was to build up the loyalty and strength of his army, so he could soon return to Rome and use it defeat his enemies and consolidate his power. Besides these personal motives, Caesar was also savvy enough to appeal to Romans' fear of barbarian attacks. The Germanic tribes of Gaul, for instance, had attacked Roman holdings in previous decades.

Caesar's army faced few challenges at first. With superior numbers and military might they were able to pacify the dozens of relatively small and disunited Germanic tribes. But there was one close call: Vercingetorix. Vercingetorix headed the Arverni Gallic tribe, and he was able to briefly cooperate with other groups in 52 BCE to challenge Caesar's rule. The Arvernis and others harassed the Romans' supply lines and drew Caesar into clashes in along unfavorable terrain. It looked as though Caesar might have met his match.

Vercingetorix
Vercingetorix

Unfortunately for Vercingetorix, Caesar's army went on a massive offensive and cornered the Germanic tribesmen at the fortress of Alesia (in east-central France). For weeks Caesar's men laid siege to the trapped soldiers. Vercingetorix was soon taken prisoner, and when a triumphal Caesar returned to Rome in 50 BCE, the tribal leader was exhibited in chains throughout the city.

Back in Rome, Caesar could boast of conquering and organizing the new Roman territory of Gaul. He also utilized the wealth and experience gained in the Gallic Wars and the unmatched loyalty of his troops to put in motion his plan to rule Rome as a dictator.

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