December 29, 2006


Caesar: Diplomacy and power: How would four of the greatest war leaders in history have handled Iraq? (Adrian Goldsworthy, December 29, 2006, LA Times)

WHAT WOULD Julius Caesar do in Iraq? "He'd win" is the simplest answer. How he would do it is harder to say — after all, just how would a man like that behave in the modern world? We can never know, but his campaigns in Gaul give us a fair idea.

When Caesar led his legions into Gaul — basically present-day France and Belgium — in 58 BC, many of the tribes there greeted him as a liberator. Six years later, almost all of them rebelled against him in a war fought with appalling savagery. Through skill and luck, Caesar won. He then spent the better part of two years in painstaking diplomacy. As one of his own officers put it: "Caesar had one main aim, keeping the tribes friendly and giving them neither the opportunity nor cause for war." It worked, and Gaul remained at peace when he left in 49 BC.

From the start, Caesar backed his campaigns with concerted and highly personal diplomacy. He met the tribal leaders as a council at least once a year and visited them individually more often. The great rebellion in 52 BC was all the more surprising because it was led by chieftains who had done very well out of their alliance with Caesar. They had decided that they would do even better if the Romans were expelled. Allies, and especially those in an occupied country, may not necessarily have the same long-term ambitions.

Of course, Gaul in the 1st century BC was a very different place from Iraq today.

It's revealing both that Rome couldn't maintain its empire and that Caesar was assassinated by his fellow Romans who considered themselves free and not subject to conquest by him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 29, 2006 12:00 AM

OJ, 500 years is a long time for an empire to last. Saying they "couldn't maintain" it is a little silly.

Posted by: Brandon at December 29, 2006 11:58 AM

Caesar spent most of his adult life trying to subjugate tribes that wouldn't submit--they couldn't maintain it even while it existed.

Posted by: oj at December 29, 2006 12:14 PM

Wasn't it Augustus Caesar who decreed that, following Varus' disaster at the hands of the German tribes, the boundaries of the Empire were fixed and that no more triumphs would be given for conquest which stopped the expansion? (Which also had the side effect of giving potential rivals less opportunites to raise the large armies needed to challenge the Imperator.) That the Empire kept those boundaries for most of the next five centuries (and the Eastern half for several more centures), sure sounds like "maintain" to me.

Perhaps you need to stop using Humpty Dumpty's Dictionary in these posting comments, and use words like "maintain" the way the rest of us do.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at December 29, 2006 12:23 PM

The Soviets barely expended any effort keeping their empire, right up until they lost it too. Rome always had to have legions in the field just to maintain the pretext that it controlled the people within its "borders." The "victories" they stopped celebrating were in name only.

Posted by: oj at December 29, 2006 12:39 PM

The Soviets didn't have to, we did it for them.

Posted by: erp at December 29, 2006 2:38 PM

Wrong. All wrong.

Wrong, of course, about the empire not enduring: that has been dealt with by the above comments.

Dead, dead wrong about how the empire endured. Rome established civilization. Underneath the eagles, whole cultures of, as it were, "praying Indians" sprang up, which cultures developed into the modern world. Sure, there were Boxers in those times, defying the World Government just out of insane race hatred, but they are the ones who have amounted to nothing. Yes, the system wound down at long last. It was, however, a very good, and a very long, run, and in very many ways Rome is with us still.

This history has very little to tell us about the here and now. In the first place, the system which now underlies the world government, what is sometime called democratic capitalism, is self-consciously adaptive. Change, growth and adaptation are what we do. As conditions change, we change to meet them. The Boxers do not do this: they are the ones who are pining for conditions in the, conditions from before we came.

Then, too, we keep the will and confidence to persist and endure. A people is only lost when it gives itself up as lost. All we need to do in order to assess which side has given up is to compare the orders of battle.

A comment is mistaken about the expansion of the Roman empire having ended with the reign of Augustus. Try Trajan:

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 29, 2006 3:16 PM

It's unsurprising that the furthest flung part of the Empire, Britain, ended up Reforming Rome.

Posted by: oj at December 29, 2006 4:21 PM

Surprising how Caesar is regarded as the pioneer in Conquest, As has been pointed out before, there
was first Cato (against the Carthaginians) Marius
against Jugurtha and the Cimbri, Sulla against Mithridates and the Social War, Pompey against the Pirates, and Spartacus (the ostensible subject
of R. Harris' recent screed than Caesar. The Iraq
expedition, si much more of the former, than the latter.

Posted by: narciso at December 29, 2006 4:47 PM