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Julius Caesar

Roman Emperor

100-44 B.C.

A selection from

Narrated by Michael Prichard

Download mp3 file: The Gallic Wars

This file is 4.3 MB; running time is 18 minutes
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Having arrived at Uxellodunum, contrary to the general expectation, and perceiving that the town was surrounded by the works, and that the enemy had no possible means of retiring from the assault, and being likewise informed by the deserters that the townsmen had abundance of corn; he endeavoured to prevent their getting water. A river divided the valley below, which almost surrounded the steep craggy mountain on which Uxellodunum was built. The nature of the ground prevented his turning the current; for it ran so low down at the foot of the mountain, that no drains could be sunk deep enough to draw it off in any direction. But the descent to it was so difficult, that if we made opposition, the besieged could neither come to the river, nor retire up the precipice without hazard of their lives. Caesar, perceiving the difficulty, disposed archers and slingers, and in some places, opposite to the easiest descents, placed engines, and attempted to hinder the townsmen from getting water at the river, which obliged them afterwards to go all to one place to procure water.

Close under the walls of the town, a copious spring gushed out on that part, which for the space of nearly three hundred feet, was not surrounded by the river. Whilst every other person wished that the besieged could be debarred from this spring, Caesar alone saw that it could be effected, though not without great danger. Opposite to it he began to advance the vineae towards the mountain, and to throw up a mound, with great labour and continual skirmishing. For the townsmen ran down from the high ground, and fought without any risk, and wounded several of our men, yet they obstinately pushed on and were not deterred from moving forward the vineae, and from surmounting by their assiduity the difficulties of situation. At the same time they work mines, and move the crates and vineae to the source of the fountain. This was the only work which they could do without danger or suspicion. A mound sixty feet high was raised; on it was erected a turret of ten stories, not with the intention that it should be on a level with the wall (for that could not be effected by any works), but to rise above the top of the spring. When our engines began to play from it upon the paths that led to the fountain, and the townsmen could not go for water without danger, not only the cattle designed for food and the working cattle, but a great number of men also died of thirst.

Alarmed at this calamity, the townsmen fill barrels with tallow, pitch, and dried wood; these they set on fire, and roll down on our works. At the same time, they fight most furiously, to deter the Romans, by the engagement and danger, from extinguishing the flames. Instantly a great blaze arose in the works. For whatever they threw down the precipice, striking against the vine and agger, communicated the fire to whatever was in the way. Our soldiers on the other hand, though they were engaged in a perilous sort of encounter, and labouring under the disadvantages of position, yet supported all with very great presence of mind. For the action happened in an elevated situation, and in sight of our army; and a great shout was raised on both sides; therefore every man faced the weapons of the enemy and the flames in as conspicuous a manner as he could, that his valour might be the better known and attested.

Caesar, observing that several of his men were wounded, ordered the cohorts to ascend the mountain on all sides, and, under pretence of assailing the walls, to raise a shout: at which the besieged being frightened, and not knowing what was going on in other places, call off their armed troops from attacking our works, and dispose them on the walls. Thus our men, without hazarding a battle, gained time partly to extinguish the works which had caught fire, and partly to cut off the communication. As the townsmen still continued to make an obstinate resistance, and even, after losing the greatest part of their forces by drought, persevered in their resolution: At last the veins of the spring were cut across by our mines, and turned from their course. By this their constant spring was suddenly dried up, which reduced them to such despair that they imagined that it was not done by the art of man, but the will of the gods; forced, therefore, by necessity, they at length submitted.

Caesar, being convinced that his lenity was known to all men, and being under no fears of being thought to act severely from a natural cruelty, and perceiving that there would be no end to his troubles if several states should attempt to rebel in like manner and in different places, resolved to deter others by inflicting an exemplary punishment on these. Accordingly he cut off the hands of those who had borne arms against him. Their lives he spared, that the punishment of their rebellion might be the more conspicuous.

Caesar, whilst in winter quarters in the country of the Belgae, made it his only business to keep the states in amity with him, and to give none either hopes of, or pretext for, a revolt. For nothing was further from his wishes than to be under the necessity of engaging in another war at his departure; lest, when he was drawing his army out of the country, any war should be left unfinished, which the Gauls would cheerfully undertake, when there was no immediate danger. Therefore, by treating the states with respect, making rich presents to the leading men, imposing no new burdens, and making the terms of their subjection lighter, he easily kept Gaul (already exhausted by so many unsuccessful battles) in obedience.

When the winter quarters were broken up, he himself, contrary to his usual practice, proceeded to Italy, by the longest possible stages, in order to visit the free towns and colonies, that he might recommend to them the petition of Marcus Antonius, his treasurer, for the priesthood. For he exerted his interest both cheerfully in favour of a man strongly attached to him, whom he had sent home before him to attend the election, and zealously to oppose the faction and power of a few men, who, by rejecting Marcus Antonius, wished to undermine Caesar's influence when going out of office. Though Caesar heard on the road, before he reached Italy, that he was created augur, yet he thought himself in honour bound to visit the free town and colonies, to return them thanks for rendering such service to Antonius by their presence in such great numbers ‘at the election’, and at the same time to recommend to them himself, and his honour in his suit for the consulate the ensuing year. For his adversaries arrogantly boasted that Lucius Lentulus and Caius Marcellus had been appointed consuls, who would strip Caesar of all honour and dignity: and that the consulate had been injuriously taken from Sergius Galba, though he had been much superior in votes and interest, because he was united to Caesar, both by friendship, and by serving as lieutenant under him.

Caesar, on his arrival, was received by the principal towns and colonies with incredible respect and affection; for this was the first time he came since the war against united Gaul. Nothing was omitted which could be thought of for the ornament of the gates, roads, and every place through which Caesar was to pass. All the people with their children went out to meet him. Sacrifices were offered up in every quarter. The market places and temples were laid out with entertainments, as if anticipating the joy of a most splendid triumph. So great was the magnificence of the richer and zeal of the poorer ranks of the people.

When Caesar had gone through all the states of Cisalpine Gaul, he returned with the greatest haste to the army at Nemetocenna; and having ordered all his legions to march from winter quarters to the territories of the Treviri, he went thither and reviewed them. He made Titus Labienus governor of Cisalpine Gaul, that he might be the more inclined to support him in his suit for the consulate. He himself made such journeys, as he thought would conduce to the health of his men by change of air; and though he was frequently told that Labienus was solicited by his enemies, and was assured that a scheme was in agitation by the contrivance of a few, that the senate should interpose their authority to deprive him of a part of his army; yet he neither gave credit to any story concerning Labienus, nor could be prevailed upon to do anything in opposition to the authority of the senate; for he thought that his cause would be easily gained by the free voice of the senators. For Caius Curio, one of the tribunes of the people, having undertaken to defend Caesar's cause and dignity, had often proposed to the senate, "that if the dread of Caesar's arms rendered any apprehensive, as Pompey's authority and arms were no less formidable to the forum, both should resign their command, and disband their armies. That then the city would be free, and enjoy its due rights." And he not only proposed this, but of himself called upon the senate to divide on the question. But the consuls and Pompey's friends interposed to prevent it; and regulating matters as they desired, they broke up the meeting.

This testimony of the unanimous voice of the senate was very great, and consistent with their former conduct; for the preceding year, when Marcellus attacked Caesar's dignity, he proposed to the senate, contrary to the law of Pompey and Crassus, to dispose of Caesar's province, before the expiration of his command, and when the votes were called for, and Marcellus, who endeavoured to advance his own dignity, by raising envy against Caesar, wanted a division, the full senate went over to the opposite side. The spirit of Caesar's foes was not broken by this, but it taught them, that they ought to strengthen their interest by enlarging their connections, so as to force the senate to comply with whatever they resolved on.

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