My favourite C&C: Ancients frenemy, Mikkel, and I recently played through g1ul10’s excellently designed Gallic War campaign. It encompasses eight scenarios from expansion 2 and 3 and allows for a feeling of continuity (as opposed to the customary switching of sides) without sacrificing the balanced excitement of finding the ultimate victor. After a coin toss, Mikkel got to command the ferocious barbarians, while I attempted to fill the big sandals of Caesar and his fellow commanders. It was a great experience, which I have chronicled below.
In a sensational discovery, historians have recently discovered the first draft of Julius Caesar’s celebrated Commentarii de Bello Gallico. There are some notable differences between this early draft and the final text, lending credence to the long-held view that the book served a clear propaganda purpose. However, historians are perplexed by other passages that indicate even greater triumphs by the Roman legions than in the final version of the Bellum Gallicum. As such, this new discovery is sure to lead to much debate in the following years.
Below are excerpts from eight parts of this alleged draft text of Julius Caesar’s “Gallic War”
Commentarii de Bello Gallico
I. All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in ours Gauls, the third.
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XXIV. Caesar was leading his army toward Bibracte in order to provide his soldiers with much-needed supplies. He observed that the Helvitii were harassing the legions in the rear. Caesar found suitable terrain, formed up the army on higher ground and prepared for open battle.
The Roman army began the battle calmly and formed up in exemplary fashion. Their subsequent impetuousness, however, would prove to be a disastrous mistake. Caesar’s draft includes no illustration of the battle’s conclusion
XXV. The Helvetii did not behave as expected, keeping their distance and reforming patiently out of range of the Roman javelins. Caesar began to lose patience and adopted a more offensive stance. This drew the barbarian warriors closer and fierce hand-to-hand fighting ensued. In personal command, Caesar’s unit dispatched many enemies. But the legions, famed for their discipline, became over-confident. Having abandoned the favourable high ground, the Romans were now struck by the full force of the barbarian horde. Fortuna abandoned the brave legionnaires, and Caesar himself was seriously wounded in the desperate melee. With Caesar incapacitated, the less adventurous Roman officers blew for a general retreat. The Helvitii cheered in wild and barbaric fashion, slaughtering many of the legionnaires who were unable to withdraw.
XXVI. Once he had recovered from his injuries a few days later, Caesar sternly reprimanded his fellow officers for conducting such an inglorious retreat. He cursed the bad luck that had contributed to the catastrophe but also knew that the barbarians had tricked him, and he had given in to an almost primal hunt for glory. This was very much unlike his usual composure and discipline. This costly lesson would not be lost on the proconsul as his campaign continued.
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LI. Caesar was constantly on the lookout for an opportunity to avenge the humiliation his legions had suffered at Bibracte. As Ariovistus, the Suebi chief, sought to marshal a massive allied Germanic army with which to crush the Romans, Caesar seized the chance.
LII. At the plains of Alsatia, Caesar formed up his legions and provoked an open battle against the Germanic tribesmen. Seizing the initiative on the right flank, Caesar and his favoured Tenth Legion pushed forward, seeking to roll up the barbarian left wing. At the same time, the legions in the centre pinned the German middle. Fortuna truly favoured the bold this time, and the legionnaires cut down hundreds of barbaric warriors. In an act of desperation, Ariovistus kept sending more men from the centre to his left, seeking simultaneously to shore up the wing and to incapacitate Caesar – doubtlessly seeking to emulate the effect of Caesar’s fall at Bibracte. However, the Roman soldiers maintained perfect discipline and destroyed their opponents, with Caesar leading heroically from the front. In spite of the reinforcements from the centre, the Germanic left collapsed completely.
LIII. Thereupon, all the enemy turned their backs, nor did they cease to flee until they arrived at the river Rhine, about fifty miles from that place. Some, including Ariovistus managed to swim across, ensuring that the barbarian chieftain would live and hope to fight another day.
In a performance worthy of Alexander the Great himself, Caesar inspired his legionnaires to win an astounding victory on the Plain of Alsace.
Result (Plain of Alsace):
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XIX. Through clever deployment, a massed horde of Nervii and other Belgic tribes provoked a large confrontation at the River Sabis, assaulting the Roman position, which was caught off guard.
The Battle of the River Sabis was a closely fought affair. The barbarians proved to be more mobile throughout, however, and prevailed over their supposedly superior foes
XXI. Caesar hastened to and fro into whatever quarter fortune carried him to animate the troops. The barbarians attacked methodically across all sectors of the battlefield, but the most ferocious assault was directed at the Roman left, where a cavalry charge did serious harm to the Roman formation. Caesar devoted much attention to shoring up his left, which gave the barbarians time to form up a formidable line on the far bank of the river. Not without suffering serious losses, the warriors pushed back the Roman defenders. The hand-to-hand fighting was ferocious and lasted for hours. A Roman counter-attack on the left was unsuccessful, with brave Labienus falling in his desperate attempt to win the battle for Rome.
XXII. With heavy losses on both sides, the barbarians proved superior at withdrawing their weakened units and bringing fresh troops to the front line. The barbarian ranged attacks were also far deadlier than the Roman archers and pila-throwing legionnaires. Sensing a real threat of encirclement, Caesar called for a retreat, vowing to have his vengeance over the Nervii as soon as possible. After the battle, Caesar expressed deep dissatisfaction with the Tenth Legion, which had proven both slow and indecisive. It had suffered negligible losses, while their comrades had been colouring the river red with their blood. Had these most capable of legionnaires closed in with the barbarian horde, surely the battle would have turned out very differently indeed.
Result (River Sabis):
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XIX. A vital component of Caesar’s campaign against the Veneti was to deny them support from the neighbouring Sotiates tribes. Publius Crassus was given this important task, and the ambitious officer set off on a confident march through Aquitania. However, the brave Romans were ambushed while marching through Sotium.
The barbarian ambush was swift and decisive. The Romans suffered a stunning defeat.
XXI. The Gauls were incredibly quick in their fearsome charge on the Roman column, which was caught completely off guard. The barbaric warriors, through truly inspired leadership, picked out their targets carefully and made great use of their momentum. Many Roman units broke and fled, while others were cut down. Crassus attempted to bring his men back into the fight, but the barbarians again proved better prepared, striking first and shattering the front half of the Roman column. The legions had had no time to properly organize and were defeated before the battle had truly begun. Demoralized, they fled the field.
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XXIII. Caesar reached the shores of Britain as part of his campaign to pacify the coast with two legions. The barbarians mustered a large number of cavalry and charioteers and met the Romans just as the heavily-laden soldiers disembarked from their transport vessels.
XXIV. The battle started in calamitous fashion for the Romans. The Tenth Legion, eager to prove its worth after the debacle at the River Sabis, had deployed ahead of their comrades. However, the barbarian chieftain opened the confrontation with a ferocious charge of cavalry and chariots from both wings of the Briton formation. The soldiers of the Tenth killed many of the fearless attackers, but the sheer mass of the assault forced the elite unit to break cohesion. The barbarians then attacked the cohort that was led by Caesar himself. Again, the chariots and cavalry proved too much for the legionnaires to handle, who scattered and fled.
XXV. With two units broken, the Roman situation looked desperate. However, Caesar had witnessed how costly this assault had been for the barbarians and knew that they too were shaken. He ordered his men forward, and a number of barbarian units were encircled and destroyed. The Britons attempted one last attack, but it proved unsuccessful and the Roman soldiers hacked their way through the stragglers. The barbarians lost heart and fled from the shore. Caesar’s men could not pursue them very far, however, because the horse had not been able to maintain their course at sea and reach the island. This alone was wanting to the otherwise successful Roman invasion.
The Romans were hard-pressed after the ferocious opening charge by the Britons, but their superior fighting prowess nevertheless won the day. The invasion proved successful, if not decisive.
Result (Invasion of Britain):
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XIV. Caesar’s army encountered a Briton army composed entirely of cavalry and chariots, seeking to delay the Roman advance across the River Stour. The asymmetrical battle proved to be very closely fought indeed. Both sides suffered serious losses. The barbarians made good use of their chariots, charging in, and then pulling out when the Roman soldiers attempted to counter-attack. Most of the heavy fighting occurred on the Briton left, where both armies fought each other to exhaustion. With the outcome very much in the balance, the decisive blow came on the Roman left, where a full-strength unit of equites managed to destroy a weakened unit of barbarian cavalry. The Britons withdrew at full haste across the river, with the weary Romans close behind in disciplined pursuit.
Chaotic fighting across the battlefield, as the Romans were hit again and again by the mobile enemy units and their hit and run tactics. Through sheer strength of will, the Romans just about prevailed.
Result (River Stour):
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XVII. Caesar’s kept pursuing the Britons, who refused to fight the Romans in a pitched battle, opting instead for harassing tactics in order to wear down the invaders. One day, at noon, when Caesar had sent three legions, and all the cavalry with C. Trebonius, the lieutenant, for the purpose of foraging, the barbarians flew upon the foragers suddenly from all quarters.
XVIII. The barbarians drove forward with the initial momentum of their unexpected assault. However, Trebonius quickly rallied his men and took the initiative himself. For once, it was the Roman cavalry that was allowed to charge, trapping many chariots and killing scores of enemy charioteers and cavalrymen. But the system of cavalry engagement is wont to produce equal danger, and indeed the same, both to those who retreat and those who pursue. As such, the Roman equites also suffered serious losses, with the pendulum of the confrontation swinging back in the barbarians’ favour. The Roman right was pushed back by concentrated barbarian attacks. On the left, however, the Romans prevailed over their foes. In this lopsided fashion, the battle was even once more. Fortuna favoured Trebonius’ auxillaries on the right, who, hurled their javelins in lethal fashion and killed off a weakened chariot unit. This blow to the Briton morale proved to be fatal. They broke and ran, though through their clever attacks, they had been very close to defeating their more disciplined enemies.
The Roman foraging party survived the ambush and managed to mount an effective counter-attack. Both sides suffered serious losses, but in the end, the Romans were victorious.
Result (Foraging Party):
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XLVI. Caesar deemed it crucial that Vercingetorix, leader of the Averni, be defeated. Caesar preferred to do it in open battle, but the gallic chieftain would not be drawn out of his fortified position at Gergovia. The Romans prepared for a storm of the fortification, hoping that this assault would force Vercingetorix out on the field.
XLVII. Gergovia was situated on a steep hill, which made the Roman assault a daunting task indeed. Furthermore, the six-feet high wall that the Gauls had built in front of the hill made it difficult for the legionnaires to maneuver, slowing them down. A rain of missiles was fired from both armies, but to little effect. With the Romans finally in position for a line advance forward, the barbarians took the initiative by attacking from both flanks. The warriors and javeliners on the Gallic right closed in and pushed some of the Roman units back to the stone wall. On the Gallic left, meanwhile, the barbarian cavalry proved highly effective, severely weakening one unit of Roman light infantry, and destroying another.
The Roman advance is halted by terrain and by the opportunistic gallic cavalry
XLVII. With crises on both flanks, the Romans fought back desperately, but their counter-attacks proved ineffective. On the Roman right, the equites lost the cavalry battle against the enemy horsemen (though not before dispatching their barbarian commander). On the left, a combination of missile fire from the hills and ferocious warrior charges cost more Roman casualties. Caesar now abandoned his push in the section, and withdrew his legionnaires behind the stone wall. At the same time, he maneuvered in the centre and right, setting up his own contingent of loyal gallic warriors for a hasty charge up the slope. Caesar took personal command of this bold assault. The barbarian defenders struggled to hold their ground and many of them died as they tried to evade. Caesar pushed on, capturing one of the enemy forward camps before assaulting Gergovia’s fortified city walls. As earlier in his campaign, Caesar emulated Alexander by storming the enemy fortress, being one of the first soldiers over the wall. A unit of enemy archers was destroyed, but the assault had also taken its toll on Caesar’s warriors. Without support, they could not sustain their forward position, and so Caesar hurried back to his main force.
XLVIII. In the meantime, the barbarian assault on the Roman left had finally been stymied, with Fortuna declining to aid the Gauls any further. Vercingetorix still refused to take to the field, hoping instead to kill Caesar and to rout the Romans with the forces already deployed. This strategy failed. Caesar took command of his last remaining contingent of allied Gauls and once more stormed up the steep mount of Gergovia. He dispatched another weakened barbarian unit and then occupied the second enemy camp. It was now too late for Vercingetorix to arrive and save the day, since his force would not be able to liberate the occupied camp in time. The chieftain instead ordered his exhausted defenders on the hill to attempt one last desperate assault upon Caesar and his tired warriors. The melee was intense indeed, but Caesar inspired his men to hold their ground. With their camp destroyed and the left side of their formation in complete disarray, the barbarians turned and fled.
XLIX. Caesar immediately ordered a pursuit and Gergovia was stormed and captured. It was a glorious victory that put an end to the revolt orchestrated by Vercingetorix. Caesar praised the fighting spirit of his men and rested after a full day of hard fighting where his personal leadership at the front had once again proven decisive.
The Battle of Gergovia was one of the most hard-fought battles of Caesar’s Gallic campaign. Just as momentum and Fortuna seemed to abandon the Romans, Caesar twice took personal command and managed to win the day for the Romans.
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I. Caesar had proven victorious in the majority of his many hard-fought confrontations with the barbarians in Gaul and in Britain. Yet, the politicians in Rome had the nerve to label his campaign a failure. They cited the vast cost in treasure and Roman lives that Caesar had expended – in spite of his assurances that the war would be both swift and easy. Derisive cries of “Pyrrhus” were directed at the courageous proconsul with cowardly Senators claiming that – like the skilled general from Epirus – Caesar had won his battles but nevertheless lost the war. Dismayed by this critique, Caesar immediately began planning his next move…
After subtracting two banners from the difference above, the post-Gergovia difference in banners is +3, meaning that the campaign ended as a…
Minor Barbarian Victory
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I must thank Mikkel for all eight battles and congratulate him on a well-deserved victory. There is no doubt that I was afflicted by hubris at a number of occasions (not least in the Bibracte battle – my failure there still stings). The Romans are favourites in most battles for sure, but they must not be too over-confident. Seeing Mikkel employ clever tactics to maximize the particular advantages of the barbarians (such as the warriors (!) and the chariots) was interesting in its own right.
It was a lot of fun to play these very asymmetrical battles and to have each result have an impact on the final outcome. For instance, I think that it would have been far less fun to switch sides after my 7-0 victory at Plain of Alsace and just go for that one banner as the barbarians. In that sense, many of the unbalanced scenarios depicted above were far more enjoyable as part of a campaign than as the standard “switch-sides” CCA approach.