2008.05.02

 

Antonio Salinas

Julius Caesar's Art of War: A Graphic Portfolio of Battlefields and Tactics in the Commentarii de Bello Gallico.


 
Galleries:  Book 1  |  Book 2  |  Book 3  |  Book 4  |  Book 5  |  Book 6  |  Book 7

 

Lieutenant Salinas in Afghanistan 2009 -- ed.

My first encounter with Caesar's story of the Gallic Wars occurred in January 2003, in Professor Ronald Delph's medieval history course during my second semester at Eastern Michigan University (E.M.U.) following my initial enlistment in the Marine Corps (1998-2002). New to college life, I enjoyed every moment in the classroom. It was a pleasant change from the Spartan routines of the Corps.

Early in the class, we covered the Celtic society in Gaul during and after Roman occupation. Though not overly excited about Druids and such, I was intrigued by the Celtic warrior society and its conflict with the Roman legions, particularly during the circumvallation siege of Alesia as described in Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico.

I had become a part of the Marine Reserves following the end of my enlistment in July 2002, and my once-a-month trip to Selfridge Air Base eased my transition to civilian life. I foresaw a quiet reserve career with monthly and summer vacations with other "weekend warriors." However, that fall and following winter, the clouds of war were gathering in the Middle East. The imminent conflict became quite real in the form of rosters for upcoming mobilization.

So it was that shortly after hearing the lecture on Alesia, I received orders to report to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, near San Diego. I was there by mid-February, preparing for deployment to Iraq. However, this was not to be: I spent the duration of conventional combat operations in California.

One weekend, I was out for a walk in the lovely town of Carlsbad, when I stopped at a used bookstore. Browsing the history section, I found a volume of Caesar's work entitled The Gallic War and Other Writings, translated by Moses Hadas. Instantly, I recalled the story of Alesia and purchased the old book.

I then spent many of my evenings and off-duty weekends in spring 2003 reading and re-reading the Gallic War. As a topographical intelligence analyst, I had a strong fascination with march-routes and battlefield operations. I began making small sketches in the margins of pages, attempting to draw the schematics of maneuvers. Anyone familiar with the Gallic War knows that the battles are often difficult to visualize. I wanted to see where and how the Romans had fought. At one point I made a drawing of western Europe and tried to trace the paths for the Romans and the Gauls in each campaign year. The result was a mess resembling a tangle of spaghetti more than rational military operations. 

In summer 2003, since "major combat operations" seemed to have ended, I was selected for follow-on training necessary for the position of Intelligence Chief. In June, I arrived at an intelligence school in Norfolk, Virginia, where I learned about battle tracking, NATO symbology, and enemy tactics, techniques, and procedures. Upon graduation from the school, I had developed a new skill set that enabled to me to conceptualize Caesar's campaigns in Gaul much more clearly.

After my discharge, I returned to E.M.U. in the fall of 2003 to finish my college career. I began to take classes in Latin and ancient history with Professor James Holoka, my sponsor and eventual adviser for the ongoing Gallic War project. While taking notes in Roman History, I used NATO symbology for the various forces involved in Rome's expansion operations. I still have the notebook that holds my makeshift drawing of Alesia, surrounded by Roman fortifications. The idea to track the Gallic Wars in a systematic way became more tangible.

I began working more formally on my project during spring and summer 2004. Drawing on my training as an intelligence analyst, I decided to use NATO symbology for depicting units on the maps. My first step was to select an overall background map suitable for displaying large operational movements. I then began the tedious process of sketching troop movements and battle plans. Since Caesar very often divided his forces while on campaign, situational awareness was key as I strove to plot the dispositions of legions. Identification of ancient sites by their modern names was especially problematic; here J.F.C. Fuller's Julius Caesar was an invaluable aid.

Sketching battles took anywhere from one to several hours, depending on the complexity of the engagement. My research in the secondary literature uncovered a few battle maps that rather crudely illustrated certain battlefields during actions against the Helvetii, at the Sambre River, at Gergovia, and of course at Alesia. They offered merely static displays with no effort to represent dynamic movement on the battlefields, leaving me to my own devices. My rendition of Alesia took no less than forty hours to sketch by pencil.

My procedure was to create maps for 10 to 20-page narrative blocks of the Gallic War and then transcribe them as Power Point slides. For the large operational maneuvers, this entailed pasting Gallic and Roman units into their relevant positions and then conveying their movements with arrows. This was significantly easier than the charting of the complex tactical maneuvers that Caesar often employed in battle.

Mapping in general provided its own array of difficulties. For example, I was unable to find a map that illustrated all the relevant rivers or coastlines, which therefore had to be drawn in by hand. Each battlefield was worked up with little or no reference to (inadequate) existing maps, with the exception of Alesia, for which I used previous maps to indicate the terrain surrounding the hilltop fortress.

This initial mapping, begun in May 2004, continued throughout the summer. I enrolled in Independent Study courses with Prof. Holoka in both fall 2004 and winter 2005 to continue my work and made a great deal of progress. I thought that I had finished the project in April 2005, nearly a year after producing my first sketches, but in 2006 I became aware of "Google Earth." This now widely used mapping program held enormous potential for my sort of mapping work. I initially used it while plotting the campaigns of Xenophon's Anabasis.

In May 2007, I began remapping the Gallic War utilizing Google Earth. This facilitated a very considerable upgrade of both my operational displays and detailed depictions of battlefields. It was particularly exhilarating to be able to zoom in on present-day venues of specific battlefields. I finished the project in August 2007, after some four years of thought and toil.

Following graduate school, I returned to military service, being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in April 2007. In September, I returned to active duty as an Infantry officer currently assigned to 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division; I will soon lead some of America's finest soldiers in combat operations. After a few years of participating in warfare at the tactical level, I plan on returning to my home branch of Military Intelligence.

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Users should be aware that I have provided maps and plans for Books 1-7 of the Commentarii de Bello Gallico. The appendix-like Book 8, authored not by Caesar but by the worthy Aulus Hirtius, may lure me back to the Gallic Wars at some future time. I advise reading Caesar's Gallic War Commentaries in step with the progression of images in my electronic portfolio. Finally, I would like to express special thanks to Professor Holoka for his guidance and encouragement during this multi-year project.

U.S. Army
asalinasmi@gmail.com

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The following are among works I have found especially useful:

R.L.A. du Pontet, ed., C. Iuli Caesaris libri VII de Bello Gallico (Oxford: Clarendon Pr, 1900).

H.J. Edwards, trans. Caesar: The Gallic War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard U Pr, 1917).

J.F.C. Fuller, Julius Caesar: Man, Solider and Tyrant (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers U Pr, 1965).

Kate Gilliver, Caesar's Gallic Wars: 58–50 B.C. (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002).

Moses Hadas, trans., Julius Caesar: The Gallic War and Other Writings (NY: Modern Library, 1957).

Carolyn Hammond, trans., Julius Caesar: The Gallic War (Oxford: Oxford U Pr, 1996).

T. Rice Holmes, Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Pr, 1911).

Christian Meier, Caesar: A Biography, trans. David McLintock (NY: Basic Books, 1982).