By Periklis Deligiannis
During the period from 122 to 52 BC, the last years of the Gallic independence, the Arverni and Aedui tribes were competing for the hegemony in Gaul. In 71 BC, the Sequani tribe started a long war against the Aedui who were pressing them. The Sequani were in a disadvantageous position and started to look for allies in the Suebian Germans who lived on the east bank of the Rhine, after failing to cross the Oder River in the East. Ariovistus was the Suebian warlord, who crossed the Rhine with thousands of warriors and managed to defeat the Aedui in 61 BC. The Germans unleashed numerous raids against many Gallic tribes until several of them became their vassals. The Sequani had made a big mistake by inviting the dangerous Germanics in the Celtic/Gallic territory.
Diviciacus, one of the political leaders and leading Druid of the Aedui, committed an equally big mistake when he asked the Romans for help against the Germans. He traveled to the “City of the She-wolf” and was presented to the Senate in order to expose his request. The proposal of the Aeduian leader in the Senate for an alliance against Ariovistus, met the objections of the new great political personality of Rome (the greatest in her long history according to the view of many scholars), Gaius Julius Caesar. Caesar refused Diviciacus’ request due to his political rivalry with Cicero who probably supported the Gallic leader in the Senate. Diviciacus returned to Gaul with vague promises for help. Caesar, in order to reduce Cicero and his Galatian friend, asked the Senate to conclude an alliance with Ariovistus. The Senate recognized the German king as “Friend of the Romans”, a move that emboldened him. Ariovistus became more aggressive in Gaul and created a real kingdom in the conquered Galatian regions.
Dumnorix, Diviciacus’ younger brother, did not agree with the pro-Roman policy of his brother. Instead he aimed in the union of all the Gallic tribes, and believed in their ability to repel all invaders in Gaul, both the Romans and the Germans. For this reason he conducted an alliance with the Helvetii (Celts who lived in modern Switzerland) and with Casticus, the son of the leader of the Sequani, who had disagreed with the pro-German policy of his father. Indeed, in order to strengthen the Celtic alliance, Dumnorix married Orgetorix’s daughter (the leader of the Helvetii).
The opportunity that Caesar was waiting for the beginning of his invasion in Gaul, came in early 58 BC, when the leaders of the Helvetii decided to evacuate their country because of the continuous pressure of the Germanic tribes of the North. At the same time, the Celtic as well tribes Boii and Taurisci fled to the land of the Helvetii who were preparing to leave, gathering food and supplies for their wagons. The Celtic refugees joined the Helvetii and their allies: the Tigurini (Celts also) and the Tulingi or Tilangii (a tribe who was neither Germanic nor Celtic, but probably Pre-Indo-European native of Central Europe). Thereby the Five nations gathered 370,000 people under Helvetian leadership, of whom 92,000 were warriors, according to Caesar’s narrative. This large migratory ‘wave’ aimed in a new home in the land of the Santones (Western Gaul near the Atlantic). The Helvetii asked for Dumnorix’s help and he persuaded his ally Casticus, already king of the Sequani, to allow the Five Nations to cross the Sequanian territory in order to reach their destination. They would follow the Jura Mountains and the coastline of Lake Geneva to reach the Sequanian territory. In the specified day, the allied Celts burned their villages, farms and fields in order not to fall into Germanic hands, and began their march.
A modern representation of Dumnorix, leader of the Aedui, in the National Museum of Celtic civilization, Bibracte, France.
The pro-Roman Diviciacus did not hesitate to inform his hitherto political rival, Caesar, on the movements of the Helvetii. Caesar was in Aquileia (northeastern Italy) when he was informed. The pretext for his military intervention in Gaul was the danger for the Roman province of Narbonesia (modern Mediterranean France) by the Helvetian migration, and Diviciacus’ official request (also a “Friend of Rome”) for help against it. Caesar departed immediately with six legions. When he arrived at the southern end of Lake Geneva, the Helvetii were just preparing to cross the nearby passage, in order to pass through the region of Narbonesia to the Sequanian territory. Caesar refused them the crossing, blocking the passage with his legions. The Helvetii decided to return back and follow the northwest passage to Gaul. The new route that they followed, served again Caesar’s plans because they had to cross the Aeduian territory. Diviciacus asked the Romans for the “protection” of his country from the newcomers.
Coin of the Sequani.
When Caesar was informed that the Helvetii had crossed the river Saône, he marched against them. When he met them, most of them had already crossed the river and only the Tigurini were preparing for the crossing. The Roman legions attacked the Tigurini and massacred them. Caesar avenged somehow the extermination of the Roman army of Longinus by the Tigurini about 50 years earlier (link). Then he crossed the river Saône and began tracking the Helvetii, who marched towards Bibracte, the capital of the Aedui. Caesar sent his cavalry, a substantial part of which consisted of Aedui allies, to pursue them. The leader of the Aedui horsemen was Dumnorix. His 4,000 horsemen were disoriented and easily intercepted by the barely 500 Helvetian horsemen. This fact aroused Caesar’s suspicions which were valid: the Aedui were divided into two factions, a pro-Roman under Diviciacus and an anti-Roman under his brother, Dumnorix. Liscus, the Vergobretus of the Aedui (annual elected leader of a Gallic tribe) in that year, probably following Diviciacus’ instructions, informed Caesar for Dumnorix’s “betrayal”.
The horsemen of Dumnorix had disoriented the Roman cavalry in order to save the Helvetii. Dumnorix constantly provided information to the Helvetian leaders on Roman movements, and he was delaying the alimentation of the Romans. Caesar writes in his work “De Bello Gallico” (in which he recounts with several exaggerations his conquest of Gaul) that Diviciacus begged him to spare the life of his brother, and for this reason he did not punish him. The truth is rather that the Roman general did not dare to harm Dumnorix because he feared that this would cause the dynamic reaction of the Aedui and other Galatian allies against him. The patriot Dumnorix seems to have been popular and influential to his Gallic compatriots. The only thing that Caesar did, was to watch closely the Aeduan warlord.
CONTINUE READING IN PART II