Celts and Germans in the political propaganda of Caesar’s Gallic War

Stéphane Thibault >_

Caesar, a political propagandist, not a trained ethnographer, uses three terms to refer to tribal groupings, namely “ Celts ”, also called “ Gauls ” in Latin, “ Germans ”, and “ Belgae ”, and any discussion of ethnicity involves us in trying to understand these terms. Caesar in the very first chapter of his work defines the German specifically as those “ who dwell across the Rhine ”, that is, east of the river, and seems to be trying to suggest as a result that the Rhine is a natural boundary. He also emphasizes the difference between the Celts and Germans, and insists upon the terror which the Germans inspire, “ by the huge size of their bodies, by their incredible courage and skill in arms ”. He argues, as it suits his political purpose, that if the Germans who had already invaded Gaul before he himself got there had not been checked and driven back across the Rhine where he claims they belonged, they might have overrun all Gaul and threatened Italy, “ as previously the Cimbri and Teutoni had done ”. The Cimbri and Teutoni had been turned back by Marius less than half a century before, so that there were Romans who could still remember the terror that they had inspired. It was a potential parallel.

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Now if the cultural differences between Celts and Germans were as great as Caesar suggests, and if the Rhine indeed formed the ethnic frontier, we are entitled to expect corresponding differences in material culture to show up in the archaeological record, thus making the Rhine the archaeological frontier also. The fact is that they do not […]

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The Belgae are either the key to the situation, or a confusing anomaly. […]

Wells, Colin (1996 [1995]). « Celts and Germans in the Rhineland », dans Miranda J. Green (dir.), The Celtic World, ch. 31, Routledge, Londres et New York, p. 606-607.