Inroad Of The Helvetii Into Southern Gaul Defeat Of Longinus

Thus the Roman province and the new Roman army were left for the moment undisturbed by the Germans; but a new enemy arose in Gaul itself. The Helvetii, who had suffered much in the constant conflicts with their north-eastern neighbours, felt themselves stimulated by the example of the Cimbri to seek in their turn for more quiet and fertile settlements in western Gaul, and had perhaps, even when the Cimbrian hosts marched through their land, formed an alliance with them for that purpose. Now under the leadership of Divico the forces of the Tougeni (position unknown) and of the Tigorini (on the lake of Murten) crossed the Jura,(20) and reached the territory of the Nitiobroges (about Agen on the Garonne). The Roman army under the consul Lucius Cassius Longinus, which they here encountered, allowed itself to be decoyed by the Helvetii into an ambush, in which the general himself and his legate, the consular Lucius Piso, along with the greater portion of the soldiers met their death; Gaius Popillius, the interim commander-in-chief of the force which had escaped to the camp, was allowed to withdraw under the yoke on condition of surrendering half the property which the troops carried with them and furnishing hostages (647). So perilous was the state of things for the Romans, that one of the most important towns in their own province, Tolosa, rose against them and placed the Roman garrison in chains.

But, as the Cimbri continued to employ themselves elsewhere, and the Helvetii did not further molest for the moment the Roman province, the new Roman commander-in-chief, Quintus Servilius Caepio, had full time to recover possession of the town of Tolosa by treachery and to empty at leisure the immense treasures accumulated in the old and famous sanctuary of the Celtic Apollo. It was a desirable gain for the embarrassed exchequer, but unfortunately the gold and silver vessels on the way from Tolosa to Massilia were taken from the weak escort by a band of robbers, and totally disappeared: the consul himself and his staff were, it was alleged, the instigators of this onset (648). Meanwhile they confined themselves to the strictest defensive as regarded the chief enemy, and guarded the Roman province with three strong armies, till it should please the Cimbri to repeat their attack.

Defeat Of Arausio

They came in 649 under their king Boiorix, on this occasion seriously meditating an inroad into Italy. They were opposed on the right bank of the Rhone by the proconsul Caepio, on the left by the consul Gnaeus Mallius Maximus and by his legate, the consular Marcus Aurelius Scaurus, under him at the head of a detached corps. The first onset fell on the latter; he was totally defeated and brought in person as a prisoner to the enemy's head-quarters, where the Cimbrian king, indignant at the proud warning given to him by the captive Roman not to venture with his army into Italy, put him to death. Maximus thereupon ordered his colleague to bring his army over the Rhone: the latter complying with reluctance at length appeared at Arausio (Orange) on the left bank of the river, where the whole Roman force now stood confronting the Cimbrian army, and is alleged to have made such an impression by its considerable numbers that the Cimbri began to negotiate. But the two leaders lived in the most vehement discord. Maximus, an insignificant and incapable man, was as consul the legal superior of his prouder and better born, but not better qualified, proconsular colleague Caepio; but the latter refused to occupy a common camp and to devise operations in concert with him, and still, as formerly, maintained his independent command. In vain deputies from the Roman senate endeavoured to effect a reconciliation; a personal conference between the generals, on which the officers insisted, only widened the breach. When Caepio saw Maximus negotiating with the envoys of the Cimbri, he fancied that the latter wished to gain the sole credit of their subjugation, and threw himself with his portion of the army alone in all haste on the enemy. He was utterly annihilated, so that even his camp fell into the hands of the enemy (6 Oct. 649); and his destruction was followed by the no less complete defeat of the second Roman army. It is asserted that 80,000 Roman soldiers and half as many of the immense and helpless body of camp-followers perished, and that only ten men escaped: this much is certain, that only a few out of the two armies succeeded in escaping, for the Romans had fought with the river in their rear. It was a calamity which materially and morally far surpassed the day of Cannae. The defeats of Carbo, of Silanus, and of Longinus had passed without producing any permanent impression on the Italians. They were accustomed to open every war with disasters; the invincibleness of the Roman arms was so firmly established, that it seemed superfluous to attend to the pretty numerous exceptions. But the battle of Arausio, the alarming proximity of the victorious Cimbrian army to the undefended passes of the Alps, the insurrections breaking out afresh and with increased force both in the Roman territory beyond the Alps and among the Lusitanians, the defenceless condition of Italy, produced a sudden and fearful awakening from these dreams. Men recalled the never wholly forgotten Celtic inroads of the fourth century, the day on the Allia and the burning of Rome: with the double force at once of the oldest remembrance and of the freshest alarm the terror of the Gauls came upon Italy; through all the west people seemed to be aware that the Roman empire was beginning to totter. As after the battle of Cannae, the period of mourning was shortened by decree of the senate.(21) The new enlistments brought out the most painful scarcity of men. All Italians capable of bearing arms had to swear that they would not leave Italy; the captains of the vessels lying in the Italian ports were instructed not to take on board any man fit for service.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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