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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor

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CÆSAR WINS A GREAT VICTORY OVER THE NERVII

[367] ARIOVISTUS was a great warrior and he was not afraid of the Roman army, but he was startled by the speed with which it reached his camp. He had thought that the marshlands through which it must go, and the forests through which it must penetrate, would have delayed it long on its way.

But if Ariovistus was unafraid, it was easy to see that his soldiers were not over glad to see the Roman army. If they might have attacked the enemy at once, they would have felt less gloomy. But there were soothsayers in the camp, and these went from tent to tent, bidding the soldiers wait until the new moon appeared before they fought.

Cæsar may have known what the soothsayers had said, but in any case, he saw that the Germans were not ready to fight, so he determined to attack their camp.

When the Romans began to advance, the Germans were roused to Fury. They forgot the words of the soothsayers, or, if they remembered, they paid no heed to them, for they dashed furiously upon the enemy and tried to break its ranks.

Again and again they hurled themselves upon the foe, but Cæsar's legions stood firm, and at length they, in their turn, attacked the Germans with irresistible force. The Germans could not stand the onslaught; they broke their ranks and fled.

If they could but reach the river Rhine and cross it they would be safe, but the river was about thirty-five miles away.

[368] Still that was the direction in which they fled, followed and cut down not only by the Romans but by the Gauls, whose enemies they had always been.

Ariovistus himself was almost captured, but he at length succeeded in crossing the river with a few troops, and was then soon beyond the reach of the Roman legions. This was Cæsar's second great victory in Gaul.

The Nervii, with whom he fought his next battle, were perhaps the most terrible foes he encountered during the many years he spent among the barbarians.

So determined were the Nervii to fight, that they did not even wait to see if the Romans meant to attack them, but assembled in great numbers on the left bank of the river Sambre, a tributary of the Meuse.

The home of this fierce tribe was in the thick forests of their country, and here they had hidden their wives, their children, and their property, when they set out to seek for the Romans.

Cæsar soon reached the right bank of the Sambre, opposite the enemy, and ordered his men to encamp on a hill which sloped toward the river.

The Romans had put up their tents and were preparing to fortify the camp, when suddenly a party of the Nervii, that had been in ambush, dashed upon them. Almost at once they were followed by overwhelming numbers, who had crossed the river and now swarmed up the hill and passed into the camp.

Amid the wild confusion Cæsar was calm and undismayed. He ordered the bugle to be sounded to recall those who had gone in search of wood, then speedily gathering his men together he gave the signal to advance.

Bravely the Tenth Legion fought that day. Once, when it was posted on the hill, it saw that its beloved general was in danger, and swift as an arrow it sped to his side.

When it seemed as though the battle must indeed be lost, Cæsar snatched a buckler from one of his men and [369] himself led them on to victory. For seeing their general before them the soldiers fought with new and grim determination.

They could not indeed force the Nervii to flee, for the barbarians scorned to turn their back to an enemy, but they could cut them down as they stood at bay. Out of 60,000, only 500, it is said, were left alive after the terrible slaughter on the banks of the Sambre.

Belgium and the whole of the north-west of France was now in the hands of the Romans, for one of Cæsar's officers had conquered Normandy and Brittany.

Rome was jubilant with delight when she heard of Cæsar's great victory over the Nervii. The Senate resolved to celebrate it with unusual festivities. For fifteen days the city was ordered to give itself up to rejoicing, and the people, who adored Cæsar, were able to show their pleasure in his success. Feasts and games followed each other day after day, while bounteous sacrifices were offered to the gods.

Winter had now come and Cæsar resolved to go to Lucca, a town near to the river Po. Here he was near enough to Rome to find out all that had been going on in the city during his absence.

Many Romans too went to Lucca to visit the victorious general, and at one time he entertained 200 senators.

Among the visitors in 56 B.C. came Pompey and Crassus, to renew the Triumvirate.

It was agreed that Pompey and Crassus should be Consuls the following year, while Cæsar should hold Gaul as his province for five years longer, from 53 B.C. to 48 B.C.

Toward the end of that time he was to stand for the consulship and be permitted to do so, without, in the usual way, first entering the city.


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