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Two pieces of evidence in relation to Caesar's Comentarii de Bello Gallico currently seem to suggest two different conclusions as to the authors veracity in reporting numbers.

One is from a comment posted on this forum:

Remember that Caesar's claims of building 25 miles of fortifications at Alesia (in barely 30 days) were regarded as hopeless exaggeration for nearly 2,000 years; until 25 miles of fortifications were discovered by archaelogists, just as described by Caesar.

The other is from German historian Raimund Schulz' book Feldherren, Krieger und Strategen: Krieg in der Antike von Achill bis Attila (see also here). Here is the relevant excerpt (translation by Google):

After a victorious battle against the Veneti - the first naval battle of the Romans in the Atlantic (footnote. W. Will, Caesar, Darmstadt, 2009, p 107) - he sailed in the year 54 with 600 load and 28 warships across the channel to a island called Britannia, from the contemporaries knew not much more than the early-modern Europe from Mexico or Peru before the conquest of Cortes and Pizarro. Even if the ship numbers are exaggerated - and 1944 has seen a larger fleet of the English Channel. It was the first amphibious expedition to the North Atlantic (footnote: W. Will, Caesar, Darmstadt, 2009, III the kind of ships of the fleet).

I assume that Wolfgang Will is citing further (primary) sources, but currently have now means of identifying those.

So here is my question: do we know the accuracy of quantitative evidence e.g. as to the size of battle groups or the circumference of protective walls as included by Caesar in his Comentarii de Bello Gallico? In particular, do we know the actual number of ships that he employed during the invasion of Britain in 54 BC from any independent sources? And is it plausible that Caesar would have helped his political causes substantially by inflating the size of opposing armies or (perhaps less likely) the size of his own fleet?

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Great question, would love to hear a good answer, but "It was the first amphibious expedition to the North Atlantic" is obviously false, Celts had invaded the island before. –  Jeroen K Mar 8 at 22:56
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@JeroenK thx. The original German version makes me think that "first amphibious expedition" may be meant as first such by the Romans. The qualification appears earlier in "first naval battle of the Romans in the Atlantic" and may be inherited. It also says "amphibische Großexpedition", i.e. amphibious large scale expedition, which Google turned into "amphibious expedition". (Google translate is neat but also has its limitations. On the other hand it is unbiased with regard to the content matter, which is good.) –  Drux Mar 9 at 5:45

2 Answers 2

I, like many historians, consider Caesar's histories to be accurate and objective. In fact, Caesar is, like Thucydides, considered to be an author who set a new standard for historical accuracy for writers coming after him. The reasons I consider his accounts to be accurate:

  1. There are no cases I know of where some fact in his histories has been shown to be false by other reliable evidence.

  2. There are many instances where his facts have been corroborated by other evidence.

  3. His claims, as far as I have read, are self-consistent.

  4. There are, to my knowledge, no significant complaints among Roman writers about the accuracy of his writings.

  5. Since Caesar became imperator everything that he wrote was heavily scrutinized by critics of different types in Greece and Italy. These writers would have access to competing accounts of Caesar's compaigns and it is very possible that had Caesar falsified information it would have come out, yet it is hard to find any instance of this happening.

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Did Caesar's contemporaries laud Caesar as much as we laud him today? I am curious as to whether Caesar was really 'all that'. –  Evil Washing Machine Aug 22 at 11:03

I agree that most quantitative measures in the commentaries are right on the money. The exception would probably be the size of enemy armies and the casualties inflicted, as there is a more or less universal inflating of these numbers in all historical works, ancient and modern.

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or at least as accurate as Caesar could make them based on his own knowledge of the situations described. Why claim he had more troops than he did for example, it'd just devalue his victory... –  jwenting Jun 15 at 18:53
    
I think oldcat was referring to Caesar possibly claiming he had less troops, or the enemy had more troops, etc. –  Evil Washing Machine Aug 22 at 11:04
    
The number of legions he had and their sizes would be pretty well known to his audience, who would have their own sources in the army. –  Oldcat Aug 22 at 17:05

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