Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of Old France - Helene Guerber




Caesar in Gaul

In 58 B.C., news came to Rome that the Helvetians—a people living in the country now called Switzerland—were about to leave their homes in a body, and cross Gaul to settle near the Atlantic Ocean. As these people were far from civilized, the Gauls dreaded their passage, and therefore implored the Romans to prevent their leaving home.

In answer to this appeal, Julius Cæsar went northward with a Roman army. He won a battle and forced the Helbetians to return to their old homes, to which they had set fire on leaving. He then asked for an interview with a German chief, Ariovis'tus, who had invaded Gaul and had camped with his warriors near the river Sane (son). The Barbarian haughtily answered: "If I need Cæsar, I would go to him; if Cæsar needs me, let him come to me."

This proud answer greatly displeased the messengers, who informed Ariovistus that he had better take care lest he rouse their anger; but he fearlessly replied: "No one has ever attacked me yet without repenting of it. We will measure our strength whenever Cæsar pleases, and he will then learn what it is to face warriors who have not slept under a roof for the past fourteen years."

This defiant message so frightened the Roman soldiers that the refused to go a step farther until Cæsar cried: "If all others forsake me, I will go on alone with the tenth legion; that one will not desert me!" Ashamed of their cowardice, the other soldier now obeyed, but they were so sure they were going to die that they all made their wills before they went into battle.

Cæsar pressed on with his army and beat Ariovistus. His first campaign in Gaul thus made the Romans masters of all the valley on the Rhone and San rivers.

In his second and third campaigns, Cæsar fought in what is now Belgium, and the western part of France, and nearly completed the conquest of Gaul. But the people were not yet ready to obey Rome tamely, so in later campaigns Cæsar had to put down several revolts of different tribes, and was even obliged to cross the Rhine to awe the Germans, who encouraged the Gauls in their efforts to drive the hated Romans out of their country.

Cæsar was not only a brave general but a well-educated man, and he wrote an account of his Gallic wars, which is the best history of what he did. In that book, part of which all the Latin pupils read in school, he cleverly described the people he met, who were the ancestors of three of the leading nations in Europe—the French, the Germans, and the British.

The most serious of all the revolts in Gauls was planned by the chief of a central tribe, named Vercinget'orix. He was tall, strong, and very brave, and had so great an influence over his people that hey swore never to see their wives and children again until they had passed twice through the ranks of their enemies.

But the Gauls were still barbarians, and unfortunately they did not obey this chief perfectly. When he commanded those near Cæsar's army to destroy all their stores, they coolly decided to save their principal fortified city (now Bourges), where they had large supplies. Cæsar took this town and thus secured plentiful supplies for his legions, which might otherwise have starved there in the winter season.

Vercingetorix
VERCINGETORIX LEAVES HIS CAMP TO SURRENDER TO CAESAR.


Cæsar then attacked and defeated several tribes separately before besieging Alesia, a place where Vercingetorix and the main part of his warriors had taken refuge. Alesia was perched on a high hill, and was well fortified. Not being able to reach it, Cæsar built earthworks all around it, so that none of the Gauls could pass in or out, and mounted guard so vigilantly that he baffled all the warriors who tried to break through his blockage to reach their besieged countrymen.

The Gauls held out until no food of any kind was left, and then the starved garrison, having suffered untold agonies, had to surrender (52 B.C.). Vercingetorix, hoping to secure better terms for his people, rode down alone into Cæsar's camp, in full battle array, galloped up to the spot where the general was seated, proudly flung his arms down at his feet, dismounting, sat down in the dust before him silently holding out his hands for the chains which he knew were awaiting him. Vercingetorix was bound and taken to Rome, where a few years later he appeared a captive in Cæsar's triumph. When that last humiliation was over, he was taken back to prison and beheaded by a slave, while his conqueror was making his thanksgiving offering in the Roman Capitol.

The attempt of Vercingetorix to free his country from the yoke of the Romans was so brave and so noble that he is considered a great hero and the first French champion of liberty. His statue has therefore been placed on the very spot where he once made his hopeless stand against the Roman legions under Cæsar, and his name is well known and dearly loved by all French children.



Contents

Front Matter

France Long Ago
The Gauls In France
The Priests of the Gauls
Sailor Stories
Conquests of the Gauls
Two Great Battles
Caesar in Gaul
Gaul under the Romans
First Christian Martyrs
Patron Saint of France
How the Franks Came to Gaul
The First Kings
Conquests of Clovis
Clotaire and His Relatives
Two Rival Queens
Good King Dagobert
The Saracens Checked
End of the Merovingians
Charlemagne's Wars
Charlemagne's Manners
Charlemagne, Emperor
Feudalism
Troublesome Sons
The Strassburg Oath
The Normans Besiege Paris
Last of the Carolingians
The Year One Thousand
Robert's Two Wives
The Wealth of the Clergy
The First Crusade
A Love Story
The Second Crusade
More Crusades
The Battle of Bouvines
Blanche of Castile
The Sixth Crusade
The Reign of Louis UX
Effect of the Crusades
The Battle of the Spurs
End of the Knights Templar
The Hundred Years' War
The Siege of Calais
The Battle of Poitiers
Seven Years of Misery
The Brave du Guesclin
Achievements of Charles V.
Charles VI.
Misrule in France
The Disgraceful Treaty
Joan to the Rescue
Orleans and Rheims
Joan's Captivity and Martyrdom
Charles's Successes
The Crafty King Louis XI.
Louis XI.'s Reign
Achievements of Louis XI.
Charles VIII.
The Second Italian War
Death of Louis XII.
Francis I.
Rivalry of Kings
Achievements of Francis I.
End of Francis I.'s Reign
The Reign of Henry II.
A Young King and Queen
Catherine's Regency
The Forced Wedding
Massacre of the Huguenots
Death of Charles IX.
An Effeminate King
The Battle of Courtras
The Murder of the Guises
Winning a Crown
Conversion of Henry IV.
Henry IV's Second Marriage
Death of Henry IV.
The Minority of Louis XIII.
Rule of the Favorites
Richelieu and Louis XIII.
End of Louis XIII's Reign
Beginning of a Great Reign
Wars of the Fronde
Death of Mazarin
Versailles
The Iron Mask
Louis XIV's Campaigns
Madame de Maintenon
Later Wars of Louis XIV
The Spanish Succession
The Age of Louis XIV.