Commentaries Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In 59 b.c.e., after the Roman Empire had expanded north and west into the area now known as France and Germany, Julius Caesar, already famous as a general and administrator, was appointed to govern the Roman territories inhabited by the Gauls. Here a strong, active government was required, and from the start Caesar kept records of the events of his governorship. The record eventually came to be known as Caesar’s Commentaries and to be regarded as an important record for posterity. Indeed, scholars and general readers have wished that Caesar had left a more complete record than he did. To expect a detailed history in the Commentaries is, however, to misunderstand the writer’s purpose. His intention was not to write a definitive history of the period of the Gallic Wars but rather to put down in writing what he, the Roman general and administrator, considered most important.

No one can understand the Commentaries without having some concept of the flux of migration and its consequent pressures in Europe during the first century before Christ. The Gallic peoples were under pressure from the Germanic peoples across the Rhine River who coveted the rich lands of the Gauls and were, in their turn, under pressure from migrations still farther to the east. Rome faced a double threat from the Germanic tribes: They were pressing constantly southward (and would eventually invade and dismember the Roman Empire), and they threatened Rome indirectly by the unrest they created in Gaul. Being a man of action and a clear analyst of the situation confronting Rome, Caesar took war into the German territory.

In his Commentaries, he gives a chronological account of his activities in Gaul from the time of his succession to the governorship of Gallia Narbonensis in 59 b.c.e. to the end of the Gallic revolt led by Vercingetorix late in the same decade. During those years, Caesar and his Roman legions confronted first one group of tribes, then another. Most of the sections of the book carry such headings as “Campaign Against Ariovistus,” “Expedition Against the Unelli,” “First Expedition into Germany,” and “Siege and Sack of Avaricum.” Only two sections, the first section of book 1 and the second section of book 6, are not about actual battle operations or preparations. The former is a description of Gaul and its inhabitants; the latter is an account of customs of the Gauls and Germans.

In his comments about the Gauls, Caesar stirs the imagination and stimulates curiosity by giving only enough information to make the reader wish more had been written. An account of the druids’ place in Gallic culture, for example, and of the religious rites at which the druids...

(The entire section is 1137 words.)

Commentaries Bibliography (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Further Reading

Adcock, Frank E. Caesar as a Man of Letters. Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1969. A brief biography that focuses exclusively on Caesar’s literary style. Valuable as a supplement to other historical works that deal primarily with Caesar’s military and political achievements.

Balsdon, John Percy Vyvian Dacre. Julius Caesar and Rome. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1971. A political biography by one of the twentieth century’s most influential Roman historians. Scholarly but accessible to the general reader, this work focuses more on Caesar’s triumphs than on his literary works, but it reveals much about the background and origin of the Commentaries.

Batstone, William W., and Cynthia Damon. Caesar’s Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Literary analysis of Caesar’s commentary on the civil war, discussing his selection of material for the work, literary techniques, characterization, and structure and placing the work within the context of Roman history. Includes maps, a time line of Caesar’s life and the events of the war, a glossary of technical terms, and a list of prominent Romans in Caesar’s time.

Gelzer, Matthias. Caesar: Politician and Statesman. Translated by Peter Needham. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003....

(The entire section is 412 words.)