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In his Comentarii de bello Gallico, Ceasar writes this on first page:

The Belgae rises from the extreme frontier of Gaul, extend to the lower part of the river Rhine; and look toward the north and the rising sun. Aquitania extends from the river Garonne to the Pyrenaean mountains and to that part of the ocean which is near Spain: it looks between the setting of the sun, and the north star.

How to interpret rising setting/rising sun and North star, they don't make sense as East/West and North ?

What does 'look towards' mean ?

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    I'm not sure what doesn't make sense. The region between the north star and the rising sun is "Northeast", the region between the north star and the setting sun is "Northwest". Can you explain your confusion? – Mark C. Wallace Apr 11 at 16:38
  • Okay , i was thinking only in four directions – Kutsit Apr 11 at 16:48
  • Of course Caesar did not write this: some translator did. Maybe you should ask latin.stackexchange.com for help. – kimchi lover Apr 11 at 18:38
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It is, perhaps easier to understand when compared with a map:

Gaul in the time of Caesar


Now, Caesar's meaning should be a little more clear. When he says:

"The Belgae rises from the extreme frontier of Gaul, extend to the lower part of the river Rhine; and look toward the north and the rising sun"

We can see that the territory of the Belgae extends from the frontier of Gaul furthest from Rome to the River Rhine in the South, and has a third border running northeast ("to the north and the rising sun").

It may seem a little confusing because the territory of the Belgae was roughly triangular, and so had only three borders.


Similarly, the territory of Aquitania, which

"extends from the river Garonne to the Pyrenaean mountains and to that part of the ocean which is near Spain: it looks between the setting of the sun, and the north star."

is bordered by the River Garonne, the Pyrenees and the ocean, with the fourth (northern) border running north-west ("between the setting of the sun, and the north star").


More generally, East is where the Sun rises, West is where it sets, and the North Star is in the north. Points between those on the compass would be North-east ("between the north star and the rising sun"), and North-west ("between the setting of the sun, and the north star").


It's also worth noting that translation from Latin to English (or, more generally, between any two languages) involves the translator making choices and interpretations.

My Latin copy of De bello Gallico has the following (emphasis mine):

"Belgae ab extremis Galliae finibus oriuntur; pertinent ad inferiorem partem fluminis Rheni; spectant in septentrionem et orientem solem."

and

"Aquitania a Garumna flumine ad Pyrenaeos montes et ad eam partem Oceani, quae est ad Hispaniam, pertinet; spectat inter occasum solis et septentriones."

Now, I quite like the 'standard' translation you quoted (it has a nice, poetic, ring), but alternate translations are certainly possible. However, whatever precise translation is preferred, the meaning of the text appears clear, as I described above.

  • Thanks, for aquitane I am still confused, suppose i am in aquitane, to my west is Bay of Biscay, to south are Pyrenees, to North and east are Garonne river, what remains for North-west ? – Kutsit Apr 11 at 20:32
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    @ShlokVaibhav Caesar is describing the borders of Aquitaine. The northern border ran from north to west (i.e. in a northwesterly direction - see the map in the answer). Beyond that was Gaul (or 'Celtic Gaul' on the map), distinct from Gallia Narbonensis ('Prov Romana' on the map) which was beyond the Garonne to the east. – sempaiscuba Apr 11 at 20:42
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    Great answer, but I think it should read "ad eaM partem Oceani" and not "ad eaRN partem Oceani". Oh, and "fiumine" should be "flumine" in "a Garumna flumine". – Gregory Higley Apr 11 at 22:03
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    @GregoryHigley Thank you. I've corrected them. The first was due to autocorrect, but the second was entirely down to me (big fingers, small screen/keyboard!). – sempaiscuba Apr 11 at 22:13

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