Caesars De Bello Gallico, which documents seven years of his famous conquest of Gaul, now modern France, is a new, essential text for the Advanced Placement exam. Caesar in Gaul and Rome: War in Words, written by University of Texas at Austin classicist and ancient historian Andrew Riggsby, has been an ideal source for me as a teacher to draw upon in an effort to complicate and contextualize Caesars deceptively upfront and simply written commentarii. In seven excellent chapters and a learned introduction, Riggsby addresses a wide variety of themes and questions that concern De Bello Gallico: Caesars use of space, his conception of the Other, his attitude toward and reconceptualization of virtus, formal questions about genre, audience, and voice, Roman theories about just war and Caesars own justification for the war in Gaul, and whether De Bello Gallico constitutes propaganda. He intends to treat De Bello Gallico as a historical event unto itself and not necessarily as a historical account of the war in Gaul from 58-52 BCE (while the war ended in 50, Caesar concludes his narrative after the battle of Alesia in 52), which scholars can use to reconstruct what really happened. All this high-flying theoretical jargon may seem irrelevant, yet it serves an essential methodological purpose throughout the rest of the book, especially since Riggsby tries to show how Caesar makes certain assertions (about Gauls and Germans, about virtus, about just war, etc.) without actually making those points explicitly. In accordance with the widely-held modern scholarly position that the century or so before the Roman conquest saw a move in Gaul from political organization based largely on tribes or chiefdoms to more state-like arrangements, Caesar, from the outset, insists on differentiating the Gauls geographically and culturally (All Gaul is divided into three parts, 1.1.1), quite unlike other authors for whom the people and places of Gaul lack distinct identities; they are interchangeable and, in fact, interchanged. The Germans, on the other hand, stand in stark contrast to the Gauls (despite substantial archaeological and linguistic evidence that suggests the two groups were nearly indistinct), so much so that they constitute an other Other in De Bello Gallico. Unlike the Gauls, Caesars Germans are conventional northern nomads who neatly resemble the archetypal barbarians of the Greco-Roman historiographical tradition. So what explains this unique tripartite ethnographical division (Romans, Gauls, and Germans), which Riggsby claims is a striking exception to the general practice of ancient ethnography? This modification of virtus as it is traditionally conceived in Roman literature serves Caesars purposes well in De Bello Gallico. Because the Gauls were good imitators, Riggsby explains, and because the crucial war-making skills one of which is the learned skill of virtus are imitable, they became the long-term prize. Insofar as virtus requires obedience and discipline, the virtus of troops in De Bello Gallico depends on their preparation by the commander, on his ability to impose his will on them, and in many cases on his presence, real or virtual, Riggsby writes. As is often the case with De Bello Gallico, a subtle literary move from Caesar the author makes Caesar the general look even better than the narrative superficially suggests. The final point of emphasis to which I wish to call attention pertains to just war theory and Caesars own justification of his conquest of Gaul. To establish how Romans theorized about war and empire, Riggsby turns to Cicero, who in various texts outlines what one may call a just war theory. Second, Caesar cleverly references the habituation of the Gauls (and the Germans, to a certain extent) as a justifiable reason to conquer them. The Romans must train the barbarian peoples to respect boundaries of both kinds, Riggsby explains, channeling Caesars implicit stance in De Bello Gallico. For Cicero, however, because a so-called just cause is not a motivational requirement, not dependent on any internal ethical component, it made sense to fight a just war for the sake of empire, so long as justification happened to exist independently. Riggsbys conjecture about the difference between traditional Stoic and Ciceronian attitudes toward just war is, I think, downright brilliant, and accentuates the external meta-ethical perspective that helps clarify Roman imperialism.
He makes an excellent case that Caesar redefined the relationship between the common legionaries and the commander, and then extended this relationship to include all of the people of the Roman empire to the leader of the empire.