The Battle for Gaul, by Julius Caesar
I actually read this seven years ago, and recommended this edition, with translation by Anne and Peter Wiseman (the latter lectured J.K. Rowling in classics and is rumoured to have been a model for Dumbledore) and lots more maps and photographs of archaeological remains. Reading the introduction, I was startled by the Wisemans’ description of the Gauls as “primitive” and the Britons and Germans as even more so. The book was published in 1980 which seems rather late in the day for such strong colonialist language. Caesar himself is much clearer about the strengths of his opponents – the Helvetii had a Greek-language census, the Veneti have excellent seafaring skills (though the Romans of course still win) and Ambiorix and Vercingetorix come close to beating him. Granted, of course, this is propaganda to make the writer look good by defeating sophisticated foes, but the editors frame the narrative more strongly in terms of civilised Romans vs barbarians than Caesar does. Certainly he seems to have killed a lot more non-combatants, or at least bragged about doing so, which is hardly a mark of civilisation.
Anyway, it’s a straightforward military narrative written by a key figure, and refreshingly clear even two millennia later. Worth the reread.
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