I encountered an interesting quote on the English Wikipedia page for Germania some time ago, which seems to have persisted, albeit without citation. I was hoping someone could find a reliable source (ideally the primary source, which is probably Caesar's Gallic Wars, or a translation thereof).

Caesar described the cultural differences between the Germanic tribesmen, the Romans, and the Gauls. He said that the Gauls, although warlike, could be civilized, but the Germanic tribesmen were far more savage and were a threat to Roman Gaul and so had to be conquered.

This is a fascinating quote in any case, and one that is relevant both to Julius Caesar as a man and on a macrohistorical level in some ways. So any proper citation or hints as to its origin would be much appreciated.

On the tenor of the quoted text, it would at least to seem to accord with my readings on Caesar (which is not insignificant), in that he found the Celts savage and primitive in most ways, but not beyond redemption. Clearly he found the German tribes rather more barbaric and felt the need to launch two swift punitive expeditions across the Rhine and into Greater Germania (which certainly had the desired effect of scaring the tribes and preventing further raids into Gallic territory). Indeed, this was the pretext for the Gallic Wars for a start, after a few Gallic tribes had sought Rome's assistance in driving off Germanic incursions from across the Rhine, as far as I remember. So yes, this quote would certainly appear to agree with Caesar's personal views and actions, as they have been recorded with history. But a more direct citation would be wonderful.

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    I don't remember him saying this "quote" in any of his books. Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 13:34
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    When looking at Caesar's statements (all of them), it is important to keep in mind that Caesar was a politician, not a historian. The war against the Gauls was his move to power; of course he would paint them as the more sensible target of Roman expansion. I do not mean what he said about Celts / Germanic tribes is necessarily wrong, but he had no intention to be in any way neutral in his assessments. He had an agenda, and anyone would be ill-adviced to forget that.
    – DevSolar
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 9:41

3 Answers 3


I would suggest reading Book 1 of The Gallic Wars (link has both English and Latin if you want to see the untranslated text), which is as much a political history of the conquest of Gaul as it is a military history. Julius Caesar starts the book with a description of the political landscape at the time:

All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in our Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws. The river Garonne separates the Gauls from the Aquitani; the Marne and the Seine separate them from the Belgae. Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest, because they are furthest from the civilization and refinement of [our] Province, and merchants least frequently resort to them, and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind; and they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war;

The last section is typical of the attitude of the Romans (and very similar to colonizing powers throughout history), as it portrays Rome itself as the source of civilization. Simply put, the closer to the influence of Roman culture, the more civilized the population. By further comparison to the comparative cultural merits of the Gauls and Germans, he notes in chapter 31 (my emphasis):

But a worse thing had befallen the victorious Sequani than the vanquished Aedui, for Ariovistus the king of the Germans, had settled in their territories, and had seized upon a third of their land, which was the best in the whole of Gaul, and was now ordering them to depart from another third part, because a few months previously 24,000 men of the Harudes had come to him, for whom room and settlements must be provided. The consequence would be, that in a few years they would all be driven from the territories of Gaul, and all the Germans would cross the Rhine; for neither must the land of Gaul be compared with the land of the Germans, nor must the habit of living of the latter be put on a level with that of the former.

Although it is hard to pick out specific passages, the threat posed by the Germans was that they were much more aggressive. The danger to Rome from the Germans was not only in the lack of the civilizing influence of the Rome, but in the perception that they could not be contained to Germania if they succeeded in overrunning Gaul. From chapter 33, again with my emphasis:

That, moreover, the Germans should by degrees become accustomed to cross the Rhine, and that a great body of them should come into Gaul, he saw [would be] dangerous to the Roman people, and judged, that wild and savage men would not be likely to restrain themselves, after they had possessed themselves of all Gaul, from going forth into the province and thence marching into Italy (as the Cimbri and Teutones had done before them), particularly as the Rhone [was the sole barrier that] separated the Sequani from our province. Against which events he thought he ought to provide as speedily as possible.

The Wikipedia page basically summarizes the entire book into two sentences. It's worth the read and short enough not to be much of a time commitment.

  • Yeah, I've effectively covered most of the Gallic Wars anyway through other books, though you make a good suggestion. In any case thank you for your answer. Caesar, and the Romans in general, actually make a fair and veracious comment when they say the tribes further from the Mediterranean are the most warlike and least civilised. As Pieter's answer above suggests, the Celts used to match or exceed the Germans in war, but were notably inferior by Caesar's own day. Since they had far more of the Roman influence, it's perhaps no surprise they softened and gave less attention to war...
    – Noldorin
    Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 21:07
  • Indeed, it's worth noting that one of the larger causes of Rome's eventual fall was the 'softening' of the Roman population itself. First to a point where true Romans (of the city of Rome) eschewed war (around 2nd to 1st century BC), then where all native Italians eschewed war (2nd century AD) and finally when virtually all Roman citizens in the Empire shunned it (except some Illyrians/Thracians), and basically left all fighting to be done by Germanic and other foederati. So it's a good point, for sure.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 21:10
  • And these excerpts do at least provide evidence that Caesar himself deplored and generally held in scorn the Germanic tribes, even while he respected the threat they posed militarily.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 21:14
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    I don't think he scorned Germans. He used their cavalry as auxiliary troops during the nearly the entire Gallic War. He didn't think of them as cultural equals, because they were not.
    – Oldcat
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 0:18
  • Sure, as Rome used barbarian troops through its history (especially in cavalry). I'm afraid I have to disagree though; it does seem like he actively scorned their culture... he considered them even more barbaric and threatening than the Celts, on account of what appeared to him like an unbridled warlike aggression. I believe there is a well-cited quote saying he wished to eradicate them completely (though perhaps I'm getting this muddled with Marcus Aurelius in his Marcomannic Wars).
    – Noldorin
    Commented Jul 8, 2014 at 15:47

Performing first a search for all occurrences of "German" and then of "civiliz" in The Gallic Wars suggests that the most relevant passage is from Chapter 24 from Book 6 (my emphasis):

Chapter 24

And there was formerly a time when the Gauls excelled the Germans in prowess, and waged war on them offensively, and, on account of the great number of their people and the insufficiency of their land, sent colonies over the Rhine. Accordingly, the Volcae Tectosages, seized on those parts of Germany which are the most fruitful [and lie] around the Hercynian forest, (which, I perceive, was known by report to Eratosthenes and some other Greeks, and which they call Orcynia), and settled there. Which nation to this time retains its position in those settlements, and has a very high character for justice and military merit; now also they continue in the same scarcity, indigence, hardihood, as the Germans, and use the same food and dress; but their proximity to the Province and knowledge of commodities from countries beyond the sea supplies to the Gauls many things tending to luxury as well as civilization. Accustomed by degrees to be overmatched and worsted in many engagements, they do not even compare themselves to the Germans in prowess.

As you can note from the passage, Caesar remarks that the Gauls settled near Provence (The Province) have become softer through that association and proximity, and are no longer capable of besting the Germans whom they formerly were able to defeat routinely. However I could find nothing near to any occurrence of either search string (in this translation) that suggests that Caesar desired to conquer, or recommended conquering, the Germanic tribes.

  • Interesting. Thanks for this Pieter. I believe there is another remark by Caesar (not sure whether it's in the Gallic Wars, though it was cited properly), that states he believed the Germans too large a threat to new Roman territories, and too warlike and barbaric to leave alone, hence he recommended effectively wiping them out.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 21:03

All nations/races "wax and wane", have their ebb and flow. The Celtic people were the dominant power in Europe for 1500 years before the emergence of the Roman empire and the huge population explosion out of Scandinavia.

We know that the Celts were politically and militarily dominant over the Germans for centuries prior because the names in the German language for "King, Law and Iron" are all originally Celtic words

Also, Germany unlike Gaul had no major cities but rather lived in huts in their vast forests, which made them much harder to attack and conquer. Gaul had major cities all over the 3 major Gallic provinces...Caesar merely had to focus his military attention there and thats what he did

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    Hi K.C.Murphy and welcome to History SE. Unfortunately, I don't think this really answers the OP's question. Commented May 10, 2019 at 5:55
  • I think what you say is basically true, although yes, it doesn't address the question head-on. :-)
    – Noldorin
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 15:29

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