Why Julius Caesar Constructed a Bridge Over The Rhine And Destroyed it 18 Days Later

Why Julius Caesar Built a Bridge Over The Rhine And Destroyed it 18 Days Later


Within the early summer time of 55 BC Julius Caesar had already begun his conquest of Gaul three years earlier. At the moment the jap border of the brand new provinces was positioned on the Rhine. The Germanic tribes on the jap aspect of the river launched incursions to the west below the safety offered by this pure border.

However on the opposite aspect of the river there have been additionally tribes allied with Rome, just like the Ubians. They provided Caesar ships for the legions to cross the river and assault the Germanic tribes.

The Ubians, too, who from all of the nations past the Rhine, had despatched ambassadors to Caesar and shaped an alliance and given hostages, earnestly begged “to convey them assist, as a result of they have been gravely oppressed by the Suebi; or, if different issues prevented him, let him not less than transport his military up the Rhine ‘; that this is able to be sufficient for his or her current assist and their hope for the long run; (…) They promised numerous ships to move the military.

Julius Caesar, Feedback on the Gallic Struggle IV.16

Caesar’s Rhine Bridge, by John Soane (1814)

Nonetheless, Caesar rejected the supply and determined to construct a bridge as a substitute. In doing so, he would exhibit not solely his help for the Ubian allies, but in addition Rome’s potential to hold the struggle each time it wished throughout the border. Additionally, as he wrote, that he thought of ships unsafe, this was extra constant together with his personal dignity and that of the Roman individuals.

Caesar, for the explanations I’ve talked about, had resolved to cross the Rhine; however to not cross it in ships that he didn’t take into account sufficiently secure, nor did he take into account constant together with his personal dignity or that of the Roman individuals. Subsequently, though he had the best problem in forming a bridge, because of the breadth, pace and depth of the river, he felt that he ought to attempt it himself, or that his military shouldn’t be led in another method.

Julius Caesar, Feedback on the Gallic Struggle IV.17

The development was carried out between present-day Andernach and Neuwied, downstream from Koblenz, an space the place the depth of the river could be as much as 9 meters. Watchtowers have been erected on each banks to guard the entrances, and piles and limitations have been positioned upriver as a measure of safety towards assaults and particles carried by the present.

Caesar’s 40,000 troopers constructed the bridge in simply 10 days on double wood piles that have been pushed into the riverbed, dropping an enormous and heavy stone on them as a mace. The development system ensured that the higher the move, the more durable the bridge was held collectively.

Caesar’s Rhine Bridge

Illustration of Caesar’s Rhine Bridge from “Historical past of Rome, and of the Roman individuals, from its origin to the invasion of the barbarians” (1883)

Two foot-and-a-half thick logs pointed on the backside, and so long as the river was deep, have been locked along with two toes of separation; these have been inserted and fitted with units into the river, and have been pushed with mallets, not perpendicularly like posts, however inclined and stretched out in the direction of the river present. Then additional down, at a distance of forty toes, he would set in entrance of the primary two others locked in the identical method and struck towards the pressure and present of the river. Each, as well as, have been saved firmly separated by beams two toes thick (the house occupied by the junction of the piles), positioned at their ends between two brackets on either side, and consequently that these have been in numerous instructions and stuck on reverse sides to one another, so nice was the pressure of the work,

Julius Caesar, Feedback on the Gallic Struggle IV.17

It isn’t identified who was the engineer chargeable for this new bridge building method, which had by no means been used earlier than. Cicero suggests in a letter that his identify was Mumarra, though we can’t rule out the chance that it was Marcus Vitruvius Polio (the architect who was the creator of the well-known Ten Books of Structure ), who was assembly Caesar. It’s estimated that the size of this bridge may have been between 140 and 400 meters, and its width between 7 and 9 meters.

As soon as it was completed, Caesar crossed together with his troops to the opposite financial institution, the place the Ubians have been ready for him. Then he discovered that the tribes of the Sicambrians and the Suevi had withdrawn to the East, in anticipation of his arrival. Not with the ability to current a battle and after destroying some villages, Caesar determined to show round, cross once more the bridge and knock it down behind him. It had lasted 18 days.

Caesar’s Rhine Bridge

A scale mannequin of Caesar’s Rhine Bridge at The Museo Della Civilta Romana in Rome. Picture: MrJennings/Flickr

Two years later historical past repeated itself. Close to the place the place the primary bridge had been and about 2 kilometers to the north (presumably subsequent to the present Urmitz), Caesar constructed a second, though this time he didn’t elaborate on the small print.

Having selected these issues, he started to construct a bridge somewhat greater than the place the place he had earlier transported his military. As soon as the plan is understood and established, the work is carried out in a number of days because of the nice effort of the troopers. Having left a powerful guard on the bridge on the aspect of the Trier, in order that no commotion would happen between them, he led the remainder of the forces and the cavalry.

Julius Caesar, Feedback on the Gallic Struggle VI.9

As earlier than, the Suebi, seeing what was coming their method, retreated to the East once more, abandoning their villages and hiding within the forests. Caesar returned to Gaul and once more destroyed the bridge. Solely this time he solely knocked down the tip that touched the jap shore, erecting protection towers to guard the remainder of the bridge.

So as to not fully free the barbarians from the concern of their return, and so as to delay his warriors, having pushed again his military, he broke, over a distance of 200 toes, the far finish of the bridge, which related him to the Ubian shore, and on the finish of the bridge he erected four-story towers, and positioned a guard of twelve cohorts for the aim of defending the bridge, and bolstered the place with appreciable fortifications.

Julius Caesar, Commentary on the Gallic Struggle VI.29

Caesar’s Rhine Bridge

Reconstruction of a Roman pile driver, used to construct the Rhine bridge at Ehrenbreitstein Fortress in Koblenz, Germany. Picture: Holger Weinandt/Wikimedia Commons

Caesar’s technique produced the specified impact. It demonstrated the ability of Rome and her potential to cross the Rhine at will at any time. Thus Julius Caesar secured the borders of Gaul, and for a number of centuries the Germans kept away from crossing them.

It additionally allowed the Roman colonization of the Rhine Valley, the place everlasting bridges would later be in-built Castra Vetera (Xanten), Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (Colonia), Confluentes (Coblenz) and Moguntiacum (Mainz).

Archaeological excavations carried out within the late nineteenth century within the Andernach-Neuwied space discovered stays of pilings within the Rhine (their evaluation within the twentieth century confirmed that they’d been reduce down in the midst of the first century BC), which can belong to Caesar’s bridges, though the place of its location has by no means been in a position to be decided precisely.

Caesar’s Rhine Bridge

Attainable location of Caesar’s Rhine Bridge. Picture: Ekem/Wikimedia Commons

As for the Ubians, in 39 BC Marco Vipsanio Agrippa lastly transferred them to the west financial institution of the Rhine in cost their longstanding loyalty, as they’d been asking for a very long time, fearing reprisals from neighboring tribes. They remained loyal to Rome all through its historical past, ultimately mixing with the Franks who gave rise to new kingdoms in Gaul in the course of the Center Ages.

This text was initially printed in La Brújula Verde. It has been translated from Spanish and republished with permission.



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