Rome versus the Belgae, Part III

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide! Siege of the Aduatuci

At the end of Julius Caesar’s second year in Gaul, 57 B.C., having just defeated the fiercest tribe of the Belgae, the Nervii, Caesar marched east to besiege the stronghold of the Aduatuci (modern: Wallonia, Belgium), which the Aduatuci had retreated to upon hearing news of the defeat of the Nervii whom they had been en route to assist.

The Aduatuci had collected all their arms and people at this defensively situated town of theirs set high upon a steep, rocky crag hill. The only point of entry up it was a flat slope about two hundred feet wide. Upon these natural defenses, two high walls were doubly erected and massive stones were poised to be dropped on anyone venturing forth. Furthermore, surrounding the foothills of the town were fortified walls spanning over three miles in circumference with armed forts posted at intervals along it. From this highly defensive position of fortified high ground, the Aduatuci mocked the Romans with laughter and the occasional offensive sally.

On their arrival, the Romans built siegeworks – wooden, fortified towers in this case. To this, also, the Aduatuci laughed. Caesar began to take this laughter personally, it seems, as he reflected on the relative shortness of the Romans compared to these taller Belgaens. Well, short as they may be, they struck terror into the hearts of the Aduatuci once they began rolling their seigeworks towards the stronghold’s walls. Amazed to see the towers moving so quickly towards them – for they thought they were stationary towers built into the ground – the Aduatuci surrendered.

The variety of Roman siege works, circa 1st Century B.C.

As for the terms of their surrender, they pleaded with Caesar to allow them to keep their arms because leaving them so defenseless would allow other Belgae tribes to destroy them. Caesar granted them the mercy of surrender, sure, but did not forgive them of their weapons. Rather, he extended his mercy by not plundering their town and quartering his soldiers within it for the night because, he explained, they had smartly surrendered before his siegeworks touched their walls.

After accepting these terms the Aduatuci, sneakily, only turned over two thirds of their armaments.

With some of their weapons hidden away and Caesar’s forces withdrawn from the town, the Aduatuci quickly forged makeshift shields with bark and hide and moved out into the night to attack the Roman camp. To no great surprise, they were badly beaten. With only their wild pluck and desperation on their side, they were unable to overcome the Romans and were driven back into their town.

So, the Aduatuci saw no mercy in the end. Rather, their possessions were all sold off and the remaining 53,000 of them were enslaved.

So handily did Caesar campaign that year that all the coastal tribes of the Belgae, and even some German ones across the River Rhine, preemptively surrendered themselves subject to Rome. Thus, Belgae was introduced to Julius Caesar.

At the end of that year, 57 BC, Caesar stationed his camps for the winter throughout the regions of Gaul and Belgae that he had just won over. He then, himself, traveled to Illyrica (Modern: Dalmatian Coast) to see to his other gubernatorial duties as proconsul before returning to Rome where he was honored with a fifteen day holiday of public thanksgiving by the Senate and the People.

Triump of Julius Caesar, Roman Military Parade
Triump of Julius Caesar, Andrea Andreani, fl. 1584-1610 [Public domain]

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