Julius Caesar's Art of War: A Graphic Portfolio
of Battlefields and Tactics in the Commentarii de Bello
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
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
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.
* * *
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
some future time. I advise reading Caesar's Gallic War Commentaries
in step with the progression of images in my electronic portfolio.
would like to express special thanks to Professor Holoka for his
guidance and encouragement during this multi-year project.
The following are among works I
have found especially useful:
du Pontet, ed., C. Iuli Caesaris libri VII de Bello Gallico (Oxford:
Clarendon Pr, 1900).
Edwards, trans. Caesar: The Gallic War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard U Pr, 1917).
Fuller, Julius Caesar: Man, Solider and Tyrant (New Brunswick, NJ:
Rutgers U Pr, 1965).
Gilliver, Caesar's Gallic Wars: 58–50 B.C. (Oxford: Osprey
Hadas, trans., Julius Caesar: The Gallic War and Other Writings (NY: Modern Library, 1957).
Hammond, trans., Julius Caesar: The Gallic War (Oxford: Oxford U Pr, 1996).
Holmes, Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Pr,
Christian Meier, Caesar: A Biography, trans. David McLintock (NY: Basic Books, 1982).