Plot: Caesar’s reports on his battles to subdue the Gaulish tribes, push back Germanic invaders and reconnoitre the southeast coast of Britain.
My version is the Penguin Black Classic translated by S. A. Handford and revised by Jane Gardiner (ISBN 9780140444339)
What could have been propaganda reads fairly honestly, even if written in the third person. Caesar’ success as a field General is largely based on his speedy decisions and quick marches to get into position before his enemies are aware, and yet in cases where his underlings make bad decisions, he writes it off as fortunes of war.
What is mindboggling is the sheer numbers of combatants involved. At one point, Caesar has the 53,000 survivors of a siege sold off as slaves to one bidder. On another occasion, the Gaulish supreme commander Vercingetorix raises 269,000 reinforcements from across all the Gaulish tribes. (Perhaps not too surprising as Caesar describes the Gaulish custom of torturing the last man to arrive at a muster)
My favourite story is the two rival centurions Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus, who had a history of acrimonious competition for promotion against each other. In battle with the Gauls, Pullo baits Vorenus into following him over the rampart into the heaviest part of the fighting with the enemy, which results in them each rescuing the other from overwhelming numbers and returning unhurt to their lines after killing many enemies (page 125)
Diversions and digressions:
Some siege terms which might come in handy later :
Fascines : bundles of sticks or brush used to fill in trenches, allow crossing of boggy ground, or make temporary barricades
Mantlets : light portable wicker shields large enough to cover 2-3 soldiers, light enough to be easily lifted and manoeuvred.
Redoubts : walled enclosures or earthworks surrounding a more permanent fort
Personal rating: Not as riveting throughout as I had hoped, but some impressive and historically valuable descriptions of battles and tactics. 5/10.
Also in that year: And for a few pages at least, the known world briefly turns it’s attention to a soggy island in north west Europe.
The read in between: Needful Things by Stephen King. A curio shop opens in the small town of Castle Rock, Maine, stocking various items, each of which is the very heart’s desire of someone in that town. And the price of these treasures is surprisingly affordable. But along with the ticketed price, the proprietor just wants each customer to play a small practical joke on a neighbour. What can be the harm in that? Like the villain, this one is a little long in the tooth but still compelling.
Next : The poetry of Catullus.