What contributions did Julius Caesar make

Schauer: "The Gallic War" Propaganda by a cruel general

Markus Schauer in conversation with Florian Felix Weyh

Bronze statue of the Roman statesman Gaius Iulius Caesar, 100 - 44 BC In the Trajan's Forum in Rome (imago / UIG)

"Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres" - these words are at the beginning of the book "The Gallic War", with which the Roman politician and general Caesar portrayed himself as the conqueror of Gaul. The classical philologist Markus Schauer presented a brilliant analysis of the text.

"Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres" - in the past, almost every high school student knew these words. But what does it mean when the author Julius Caesar opens his seven-volume work in this way and not otherwise? "In ancient times it was customary not to name books after the book title, but rather according to the beginning of the book," says the Bamberg classical philologist Markus Schauer. "If Caesar did his work with Gallia began, he used a simple device to ensure that the Gaul he had conquered was always associated with his name. "

A propaganda trick, then, and that with the first word. If you add the student-friendly vocabulary of just 2600 Latin words (almost half of which are more common), "De bello Gallico" seems to have been written down for posterity. A posterity that no longer necessarily masters Latin, but can easily learn it with the help of the emperor's classic, detoxified style.

Political propaganda for contemporaries

Wrong, says the classical philologist, Caesars Commentarii about their own heroic deeds addressed to contemporaries, as a political-propagandistic position in the struggle for power in the state. The classical philologist shows how cleverly Caesar proceeded - linguistically and structurally - on the basis of his careful text analysis. It is obvious that the historical source value of Caesar's war reports is shrinking noticeably. First, only the victor reports, the vanquished have nothing to say. Neutral witnesses are also missing. Second, Caesar's language already reveals much of what he withholds. "Typical everyday words that soldiers experience are completely missing, e.g. mensa (table), vestis (clothes), medicus (doctor), incola (residents), gaudium (joy), dormire (sleep), edere (eat) , aegrotus (sick), fessus (tired). The representation of these situations and areas of life is left out. "

His frame of reference was the Roman nobility

Where no one sleeps, becomes tired or sick, does not eat anything and knows no joy, the tradition can hardly be complete and also not realistic. That was not the concern of the general, but as with all his political actions, "above all about the dignity (dignitas), fame (gloria) and power (potestas) of his person and his family (gens)." He lives in a world of the Roman upper class, which has become very alien to us today, which is why all democratic analogies are incorrectly applied to the Roman republic; it was not without reason that the epoch ended with Caesar. "His nobility was a strong driving force behind what he did," states Markus Schauer.

Markus Schauer: The Gallic War (C.H. Beck) Handed down for thousands of years and still used by conservative educational philists today, the image of an outstanding statesman and general exists, which is nevertheless suitable as a blueprint for autocrats of all stripes, including the worse variety. Because even his contemporaries knew about Caesar's unscrupulousness: "Better with Cato in prison than with Caesar in the Senate" was said in view of his unpredictability as an ally. And can a general be sympathetic, of whom his biographer Suetonius reports the following: "Caesar is said to have burst into tears when he saw a statue of Alexander the great in Spain, because at his age he had already subjugated the whole world, but he had not yet done anything I achieved something memorable. "

Outstanding general or mass murderer?

The memorable later consisted in a massacre of the two Germanic tribes Usipeter and Tencterer, "according to his own statements, about 400,000 people including women and children. This genocide in connection with the violation of the law of ambassadors was beyond what was customary in the war or even for Roman conditions Acceptable. "

The undisguised journalistic handling of such cruelties did not harm Caeser, neither among contemporaries nor among posterity. The rhetorical trick of telling only subjectively about one's heroic deeds, but doing so in the third person: "The political self-promoter Caesar hides behind a modest narrative, which, incidentally, is unique in this constellation in the ancient world Literature is. This reinforces the impression of an objective factual report. "

Of course, without precise knowledge of Roman conditions at that time, Caesar's motifs and tricks are difficult to understand, which is why Markus Schauer uses a good third of the book on prehistory. Even high school students who were educated in the old language are unlikely to be present at this era. Finally, the philologist sums up: "Before Caesar set out for Gaul, the most famous general in Rome was not he, but Pompey. That changed fundamentally with the Gallic War - to which his portrayal of this war did not make a small contribution. Because Caesar does not appear in his books as a politician , but as a general in appearance, and as such he staged himself so convincingly, even invented himself, that he is still today, alongside Alexander the Great and Napoleon, one of the outstanding generals in world history. "

Presumably wrongly. And in the competition for the title of greatest barbarian in the Gallic wars, Caesar is likely to occupy a prominent position.

Markus Schauer: The Gallic War - History and Deception in Caesar's Masterpiece
C.H. Beck Verlag 2016, 272 pages