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Title: Caesar's Gallic Genocide? A Case Study in Ancient Mass Violence
Contributor(s): Taylor, Tristan  (author)
Publication Date: 2012
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Abstract: A debate currently exists in the field of comparative genocide studies as to the relevance of ancient instances of mass violence to the study of the phenomenon of genocide. One side argues that genocide is a product of modernity (e.g., Levene 2005); while others argue that the phenomenon is best understood when examined over a long period of history (e.g., Kiernan 2007; Chalk & Jonassohn 1990). This paper contributes to this debate by examining whether Caesar's Bellum Gallicum describes any events that could be classified as 'genocide'. When do such events occur? How are such events justified? The Bellum Gallicum makes an interesting study: it is contemporaneous with the events it describes and is written by a participant who had a keen interest in his own public presentation. After defining 'genocide', the paper argues that, while Roman warfare was brutal (e.g., Harris 1979), there are few instances in the Bellum Gallicum that could be categorized as 'genocidal'. Three cases are examined in detail: the massacre of some Germans near the river Meuse following a raid (BG 4.14-15); the planned destruction of the Eburones for their supporting Ambriox (BG 6.34) and the massacre that followed the siege of Avaricum, partly motivated by the killing of Romans at Cenabum (BG 7.28). While the events at the Meuse and Avaricum involved indiscriminate killing, it is only the intended treatment of the Eburones that could be described as genocidal. In particular, Caesar states that he acts so that 'the stock and name of the tribe' (stirps ac nomen civitatis) might be destroyed (BG 6.34). The fact that Caesar openly states this intent suggests that he thought his actions here could be positively received. Notably, Caesar portrays all three instances of mass violence as being, in part, acts of retribution for wrongdoing towards Rome.
Publication Type: Conference Publication
Conference Name: Classical Association Annual Conference, Exeter, United Kingdom, 11th - 14th April, 2012
Source of Publication: 2012 Classical Association Annual Conference Handbook, p. 123-123
Publisher: The Classical Association
Place of Publication: online
Field of Research (FOR): 210306 Classical Greek and Roman History
HERDC Category Description: E3 Extract of Scholarly Conference Publication
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