1 Kajigami

Orgetorix Helvetius Essays

Credit to Carolina Kenny, Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, Missouri State University

It was Jeremy Bentham who first coined the word international in a book published in 1789.[1] The term appeared for the first time aligned with the word jurisprudence. [2]International jurisprudence was put forward by Bentham to replace the term ius gentium or law of nations, what he deemed to be a misnomer: “The word international, it must be acknowledged, is a new one; though, it is hoped, sufficiently analogous and intelligible. It is calculated to express, in a more significant way, the branch of law which goes under the name of the law of nations: an appellation so uncharacteristic that, were it not for the force of custom, it would seem rather to refer to internal jurisprudence.”[3]

Bentham fathered the term international law which was eventually to replace the older phrase law of nations. Bentham explains in his text why he preferred to invent a new word. In discussing how jurisprudence may be classified, he suggests that it can be divided in terms of "the political quality of the persons whose conduct is the subject of the law" and he argues that "these (the persons) may ... be considered either as members of the same state, or as members of different states; in the first case, the law may be referred to the head of internal, in the second case, to that of international jurisprudence".[4] The older phrase law of nations, according to Bentham, refers to a certain discursive space only through the force of custom, or convention. However, he believed that a more appropriate designation should go beyond mere convention. According to Bentham, the phrase law of nations is a sign relying on the mediation of convention. Without the convention, "the force of custom," the phrase law of nations might be understood as one designating the domestic, municipal law of diverse nations. On the other hand, Bentham explains, that international is a term that stands in no need of the mediation of custom and convention.  To put it more simply, Bentham proposed to replace the concept of the law of nations with that of the law between nations.



Jeremy Bentham, jurist and political reformer, is the philosopher whose name is most closely associated with the foundation of the utilitarian tradition.[5] He was born in 1748 in London and was the son of an attorney, Jeremiah Bentham. He attended Queen’s College, Oxford and later the Court of King’s Bench, Westminster Hall as part of his preparation for a law career. He returned briefly to Oxford in 1763 to attend the lectures of William Blackstone, which were published in four celebrated volumes as Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–69). Bentham was not impressed by Blackstone and detected fallacies in Blackstone’s natural law reasoning.  In 1769, Bentham was called to the Bar, but his legal career was brief. That year he discovered the utility principle and related ideas in the writings of Hume, Helvétius and Beccaria and chose instead a career dedicated to analytic jurisprudence, law, social and political reform. He started his career as a legal theorist in 1776 when he published anonymously A Fragment on Government. This is an offshoot of a larger critique of Blackstone that was not published until the twentieth century, titled A Comment on the Commentaries.

Bentham’s career spanned almost seventy years, from the Seven Years’ War to the early 1830s, a period characterized by revolutions.[6]  In 1776, Bentham co-authored the official British government response to the American Declaration of Independence, anonymously, with his friend the lawyer John Lind.[7] It was during the American war that Bentham introduced utility as the fundamental principle of his political theory and, as David Armitage notes, it was also then that he first attempted to create a Universal Jurisprudence.[8] In addition, Fragment on Government was promoted by Bentham himself as the product of a global moment in British and human history because it was published just after James Cook’s return from his second voyage around the world in 1775.[9]

In the first page of Fragment on Government, Bentham notes that “ours is a busy age; in which knowledge is rapidly advancing towards perfection. In the natural world, in particular, everything teems with discovery and with improvement. The most distant and recondite regions of the earth traversed and explored ... are striking evidences, were all others wanting, of this pleasing truth”[10] It is in Fragment on Government that he first proposes his axiom: “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.”[11]

In An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Bentham introduces his basic postulates on utility and the utility principle.[12] Worth mentioning is the role the Genevan exile Étienne Dumont (1759–1829), would play in making Bentham’s name and philosophy known in continental Europe and elsewhere through the publication of a number of translations and redactions of his early writings.[13] The most important of these were the three volumes of Traités de législation civil et pénale in 1802, assembled from early manuscript drafts. The first two volumes on civil and penal law were later re-translated into English by the American utilitarian Richard Hildreth and published as The Theory of Legislation in 1840. They remained at the center of utilitarian studies in the English-speaking world through to the middle of the twentieth century.[14] Bentham's work was translated into Spanish and widely read throughout Spanish America; it was adopted as a basic text for study at University level in Buenos Aires and Santiago, for example.  Bentham's other works would enjoy similar admiration and his ideas were constantly cited and debated in the republics of Spanish America.[15]

In 1786–87, while visiting Russia, he wrote A Defence of Usury, his first text on economic affairs, in which he rejected Adam Smith’s defense of a legal maximum for interest rates. The book later received its widest audience in the United States, where it was reprinted on many occasions and frequently cited in the debates over the usury laws.[16] It was in Russia that Bentham developed the ideas that were published in Panopticon or The Inspection House. [17] Here, taking into account the inefficiency and inhumane conditions in Britain’s penal regime, Bentham advanced the idea of the panopticon penitentiary as a substitute penal system.

Principles of International Law

Bentham’s writings have presented unique challenges for scholars, because the dates of publication were often far removed from the time of writing.  Many essays were published posthumously, and some others have yet to appear in authoritative editions. Bentham’s work on international law represents only a small fraction of his voluminous written production. 

As noted above, Bentham first publicly treated the law of nations in his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation,[18] in which he coined the term International.  Later, in his Comment on the Commentaries,[19] which he preferred not to make the public but which informed his other works on the topic, he developed further his critique of the traditional notion of the law of nations.[20]

In the second half of the 1780s, Bentham drafted a series of proposals under the general headings of “Law Inter National 1786” and “Pacification and Emancipation.”[21]  These remained incomplete and in manuscript form until edited and published as four essays in 1843, under the title Principles of International Law, in the second volume of John Bowring's edition of Bentham's collected works.[22] The essays are therefore a bit sketchy and reflect the editor’s choice about what to include or omit. 

The four essays deal with international matters, but it is the first, Objects of International Law and the fourth essay, A Plan for an Universal and Perpetual Peace, which identifies most clearly Bentham's aims for international law.[23] According to M.W. Janis, “Bentham's basic technique in the essays was to apply his utilitarian methods to international law, much as he had applied utilitarianism to municipal law.”[24]

Objects of International Law begins with the following explanation: "If a citizen of the world had to prepare an universal international code, what would he propose to himself as his object? It would be the common and equal utility of all nations: this would be his inclination and his duty."[25] Bentham initially questions whether a particular legislator, being a citizen of one nation, could at the same time be trusted to develop laws for the whole world. He attempts to resolve the dilemma by arguing in favor of surrendering national self-interest: "But ought the sovereign of a state to sacrifice the interests of his subjects for the advantage of foreigners? Why not?-provided it be in a case, if there be such a one, in which it would have been praiseworthy in his subjects to make the sacrifice themselves."[26] His point of departure is the utilitarian principle of the “greatest happiness for the greatest number.” He explains it as follows:

[H]e [the legislator] would follow the same route which he would follow with regard to international laws. He would set himself to prevent positive international offences - to encourage the practice of positively useful actions.

He would regard as a positive crime every proceeding-every arrangement, by which the given nations should do more evil to foreign nations taken together, whose interests might be affected, than it should do good to itself.

In the same manner, he would regard as a negative offence every determination, by which the given nation should refuse to render positive services to a foreign nation, when the rendering of them would produce more good to the last-mentioned nation, than it would produce evil to itself.[27]

As David Armitage notes, “Bentham’s international legal writings applied the principle of utility not only to the relations between sovereigns assovereigns but also to the relations of sovereigns with the rest of humanity taken as an aggregate.”[28] Indeed, Bentham argues that the extension of the greatest happiness principle to include all nations is essential if the legislator’s duty to promote the welfare of his own people is not to be prosecuted at the expense of the well-being of all others. Bentham states that “expressed in the most general manner, the end that a disinterested legislator upon international law would propose to himself, would therefore be the greatest happiness of all nations taken together. The resulting international code would have as its ‘substantive’ laws the laws of peace, while the laws of war ‘would be the adjective laws of the same code.”[29]


 Bentham views war as "a species of procedure by which one nation endeavors to enforce its rights at the expense of another nation."[30] His work concludes with proposals to prevent war, namely the codification of unwritten laws which are considered as established by custom.[31] For Bentham, wars could be prevented by dealing more methodically with the various causes of a conflict, by elaborating new international rules where no such rules exist, and by making unwritten customs explicit. Moreover, Bentham saw internal and international law as equally suitable for reform along utilitarian lines, even as he firmly separated the two realms. As Armitage contends, “in that separation he was of course definitively distancing himself from the natural jurisprudential conflation of the law of nations with the law of nature which he so frequently denounced in all his legal and political writings.”[32]

Even if the ideas presented by Bentham seem at times incomplete, it is evident that Bentham believes firmly in the idea that better international laws could reduce the chances of war. Moreover, he expects that better laws will be written. In Janis’s view, “it may be that in his own mind Bentham was better able to reconcile his skepticism about the old law of nations with his optimism about the new international law by believing that the law of nations was too much founded on the vague unwritten rules of customary law.”[33]

The central theme of his Plan for a Universal and Perpetual Peace essay is that, in order to establish world peace, nations should sacrifice national self-interest. He addresses proposals to all nations, especially to England and France, which include giving up of colonies, establishing free trade, reducing the navies to what is necessary to protect against pirates and the mutual reduction of the size of armies.[34]

Nevertheless, according to Bentham, even if these reforms were to be adopted, there could still be conflicts among nations because "[w]herever there is any difference of opinion between the negotiators of two nations, war is to be the consequence."[35] Thus, he suggests that to prevent disputes nations should agree to establish an international court of arbitration or, in his own words, "a common court of judicature." Bentham envisions this court as “a Congress or Diet” composed of representatives of each country.

As envisioned by Bentham, the international court would work by establishing gradual responses. The first response would be the mere reporting of the Court’s opinion. The second response would be the circulation of the opinion in each nation so as to stimulate a favorable public reaction. The third response would be “putting the refractory state under the ban of Europe.” And fourth, as last resort, participating states would contribute and deploy armed contingents "for enforcing the decrees of the court."[36]

In a manuscript written during the 1820’s, following on this theme, Bentham proposed a legislative alliance among “all civilized nations,” each to be represented by an envoy at a congress with both judicial and legislative authority.[37] In this regard, Bentham was critical of Emmerich de Vattel, the last of the great modern writers on the law of nations.  Bentham regarded Vattel’s formulation as an inadequate foundation for a new international order. He argued that only an international order “grounded on the greatest happiness principle, ... would, if the plan and execution be more moral and intellectual than Vattels, possess a probability of superseding it, and being referred to in preference.”[38]

The context of Bentham’s position rested on the contemporary resurgence of interest in Vattel’s work, evidenced in new editions and translations of Vattel throughout Europe.  Bentham reportedly remarked in 1827 or 1828 that “Vattel’s propositions are most old-womanish and tautological. They come to this: Law is nature—Nature is law. He builds upon a cloud. When he means anything, it is from a vague perception of the principle of utility; but more frequently no meaning can be found. Many of his dicta amount to this: It is not just to do that which is unjust.”[39] Nevertheless, Bentham’s plan for a code of International Law never came to completion.

Bentham’s Contribution

Bentham’s philosophical foundations are based on a calculative view of human nature. Human beings and by extension states are rational calculators who aimed to maximize the quantum of happiness. This happiness is a function of the balance between that which man is governed in his nature by the twin masters of pleasure and pain.[40]Principles of International Law reflects Bentham’s chief aspiration: the necessity for law reform.[41] As Janis argues, “it should be no surprise that Bentham brought his reformatory zeal, albeit briefly, to international, as well as to municipal law. Realist and idealist-Bentham displayed both the skepticism and the romanticism that still invests the discipline he named.”[42]

Bentham believed in the need of a positive code of international law to replace the idea of the “law of nations.” At the heart of this codification is a belief-system. Bentham assumed that if people could only be made to understand the rules, and as error was removed from perception, universal rules could then be drafted and followed. Bentham thought that the same principle could be applied to the law on a global scale. Bentham perceived the inadequacies of existing codes of law as they related to the international realm and advanced his critique of the idea of the “law of nations,” which led him to embrace a distinctly different view of “international law.”

A number of scholars argue that Bentham’s essays indicate that he was certainly concerned with international relations; however, he does not appear to delve at all profoundly into international law itself.[43] In this regard, H.B. Jacobini argues that while the four essays “present an interesting commentary on international relations, they contain little of note concerning the nature of international law.”[44] However, as mentioned above, before Bentham coined the term, international law had not even received a proper distinctive name. In this regard, one of his most significant legacies to the international law field is his nomenclature.

Bentham was called during his lifetime “legislator of the world”.[45] Although his efforts to codify international law failed in his own time, the impact of codification of law cannot be underestimated. Indeed, for Bentham, if the world could be codified by international law then uncertainty could be banished. With uncertainty gone, security and ultimately peace would surely prevail. For Bentham, codification meant replicating European civilization through legal codes to the rest of the world.[46] This in short was Bentham’s ideal.  

It can be argued that Jeremy Bentham for his part was a visionary. International legal theorists and historians cannot deny the fact that the codification and institutionalization of many forms of international law took time but indeed took place. Examples of this can be seen from the Geneva Conventions to the World Trade Organization and the International Court of Justice. And despite all of their imperfections, were they not in existence, the world, in search of peace and security, would probably create them again.


[1] J. Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, edited by J.H. Burns & H.L.A. Hart (London, 1970). Return to Text.

[2] Hidemi Suganami , A Note on the Origin of the Word 'International', British Journal of International Studies Vol. 4, No. 3 (Oct., 1978), 226. Return to Text.

[3] Bentham, supra note 1, 296, note x. Return to Text.

[6] H. V. Bowen, 'British Conceptions of Global Empire, 1756-83’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, XXVI, 1998, 1-27. Return to Text.

[7] H. L. A. Hart, ‘The United States of America’, in Hart, Essays on Bentham: Jurisprudence and Political Theory (Oxford, 1982), 53-78. Return to Text.

[8] David Armitage, Globalizing Jeremy Bentham. History of Political Thought  32, 2011, 63. Return to Text.

[9] James Cook, Captain Cook's Three Voyages Round the World: With a Sketch of His Life, George Routledge and Sons, 1880. Return to Text.

[10] Jeremy Bentham, A Fragment on Government (1776), ed. J. H. Burns and H. L. A. Hart, introd. Ross Harrison (Cambridge, 1988), 3. Return to Text.

[12] He describes the utility principle as that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question. Return to Text.

[13] See, C. Blamires, The French Revolution and the Creation of Benthamism ( London: Palgrave, 2008), 1829. Return to Text.

[15] See, Miriam Williford, Jeremy Bentham on Spanish America (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980). Return to Text.

[17] See, The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, General Editors: J. H. Burns, J. R. Dinwiddy, F. Rosen, T. P. Schofield, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968). Return to Text.

[18] Jeremy Bentham, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1780/89), ed. J. H. Burns and H. L. A. Hart (Oxford, 1996). Return to Text.

[19] Burns & Hart, Introduction to J. Bentham, A Comment on the Commentaries And a Fragment on Government (Oxford, 1977). Return to Text.

[23] The other essays are: Of Subjects, or of the Personal Extent of the Dominion of the Law, which has to do with the question of which sovereigns may regulate which subjects; And Of War, Considered in Respect of Its Causes and Consequences, which outlines Bentham's view of the causes of war, a theme more fully developed in the Plan for an Universal and Perpetual Peace. Return to Text.

[24] M.W. Janis, Jeremy Bentham and the Fashioning of "International Law," The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 78, No. 2, 1984. Return to Text.

[25] Bentham, Principles of International Lawsupra note 20. Return to Text.

[26] Bentham, Principles of International Law, supra note 20. Return to Text.

[27] Bentham, Principles of International Law, supra note 20. Return to Text.

[29] Bentham, Principles of International Law, supra note 20. Return to Text.

[34] Bentham, Principles of International Law, supra note 20. Return to Text.

[37] Ernest Nys, ‘Notes inédites de Bentham sur le droit international’, The Law Quarterly Review, I (1885), 225-31. Return to Text.

[39] Bentham’s Conversation, in Jeremy Bentham’s Collected Works, Bowring ed., 1848, p. 584. Return to Text.

[40] Philip Schofield “Jeremy Bentham, The Principle of Utility, and Legal Positivism” 56(1), Current Legal Problems, 2003, 1. Return to Text.

[41] See H. L. A. Hart, Essays on Bentham , supra note 8. Return to Text.

[43] See for example, H.B. Jacobini, Some Observations Concerning Jeremy Bentham's Concepts of International Law, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 42, No. 2, 1948. Return to Text.

[44] H.B. Jacobini,  Some Observations Concerning Jeremy Bentham's Concepts of International Law, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 42, No. 2, 1948, 415. Return to Text.

[45] José del Valle, the Guatemalan politician, wrote in a letter to Bentham: “Your works give you the glorious title of legislator of the world.” Return to Text.

[46] Charles Noble Gregory, Bentham and the Codifiers, 13(5), Harvard Law Review, 1900, 344. Return to Text.



For Further Reading



1838–43, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, Published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring, 11 vols., Edinburgh: William Tait.

1968–, The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, General Editors: J. H. Burns, J. R. Dinwiddy, F. Rosen, T. P. Schofield, London: Athlone Press; Oxford: Clarendon Press, in progress


Bahmueller, C. F., 1981, The National Charity Company: Jeremy Bentham’s Silent Revolution, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Cain, P. J., 2011, “Bentham and the Development of the British Critique of Colonialism”, Utilitas, 23 (1): 1–24.

Crimmins, J. E., 2004, On Bentham, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Harrison, R., 1983, Bentham, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Hart, H. L. A., 1982, Essays on Bentham: Studies on Jurisprudence and Political Theory, Oxford: Clarendon.

Jones, H. S., 2005, “The Early Utilitarians, Race, and Empire: The State of the Argument”, in B. Schultz and G. Varouxakis, eds., Utilitarianism and Empire, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, pp. 179–88.

Lieberman, D., 2011, “Bentham on Codification”, in S. G. Engelmann, ed., Selected Writings: Jeremy Bentham, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, pp. 460–77.

Pitts, J., 2005, “Jeremy Bentham: Legislator to the World?” in B. Schultz and G. Varouxakis, eds., Utilitarianism and Empire, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, pp. 57–92.

Resnik, J., 2011, “Bring back Bentham: ‘open courts,’ ‘terror trials,’ and public sphere(s)”, Law, Ethics, Human Rights, 5 (1): 1–69.

Semple, J., 1993, Bentham’s Prison: A Study of the Panopticon Penitentiary, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Wallas, G., 1926, “Bentham as Political Inventor”, Contemporary Review, 129: 308–19.

Gallic War

 p3  Book I (chapters 1‑29)

1 Gaul is a whole divided into three parts, one of which is inhabited by the Belgae, another by the Aquitani, and a third by a people called in their own tongue Celtae, in the Latin Galli. All these are different one from another in language, institutions, and laws. The Galli (Gauls) are separated from the Aquitani by the river Garonne, from the Belgae by the Marne and the Seine. Of all these peoples the Belgae are the most courageous, because they are farthest removed from the culture and civilization of the Province,1 and least often visited by merchants introducing the commodities that make for effeminacy; and also because they are nearest to the Germans dwelling beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually at war. For this cause the Helvetii also excel the rest of the Gauls in valour, because they are struggling in almost daily fights with the Germans, either endeavouring to keep them out of Gallic territory or waging an aggressive warfare in German territory. The separate part of the country which, as has been said, is occupied by the Gauls, starts from the river Rhone, and is bounded by the river Garonne, the Ocean, and the territory of the Belgae; moreover, on the side of the Sequani and the Helvetii, it touches on the river Rhine; and its general trend is northward. The Belgae, beginning  p5 from the edge of the Gallic territory, reach to the lower part of the river Rhine, bearing towards the north and east. Aquitania, starting from the Garonne, reaches to the Pyrenees and to that part of the Ocean which is by Spain: its bearing is between west and north.

2 Among the Helvetii the noblest man by far and the most wealthy was Orgetorix. In the consulship2 of Marcus Messalla and Marcus Piso, his desire for the kingship led him to form a conspiracy of the nobility, and he persuaded the community to march out of their territory in full force, urging that as they excelled all in valour it was easy enough to secure the sovereignty of all Gaul. In this he persuaded them the more easily, because the Helvetii are closely confined by the nature of their territory. On one side there is the river Rhine, exceeding broad and deep, which separates the Helvetian territory from the Germans; on another the Jura range, exceeding high, lying between Sequani and the Helvetii; on the third, the Lake of Geneva and the river Rhone, which separates the Roman Province from the Helvetii. In such circumstances their range of movement was less extensive, and their chances of waging war on their neighbours were less easy; and on this account they were greatly distressed, for they were men that longed for war. Nay, they could not but consider that the territory they occupied — to an extent of •240 miles long and 180 broad — was all too narrow for their population and for their renown of courage in war.

3 Swayed by these considerations and stirred by the influence of Orgetorix, they determined to collect what they needed for taking the field, to buy up as  p7 large a number as they could of draught-cattle and carts, to sow as much cornº as possible so as to have a sufficient supply thereof on the march, and to establish peace and amity with the nearest communities. For the accomplishment of these objects they considered that two years were sufficient, and pledged themselves by an ordinance to take the field in the third year. For the accomplishment of these objectives Orgetorix was chosen, and he took upon himself an embassage to the communities. In the course of his travels he persuaded Casticus, of the Sequani, son of Catamantaloedes, who had held for many years the kingship of the Sequani, and had been called by the Senate "the friend of the Roman people," to seize in his own state the kingship which his father had held before him; and Dumnorix also, of the Aedui, brother of Diviciacus, at that time holding the chieftaincy of the state and a great favourite with the common people, he persuaded to a like endeavour, and gave him his own daughter in marriage. He convinced them that it was easy enough to accomplish such endeavours, because he himself (so he said) was about to secure the sovereignty of his own state. There was no doubt, he observed, that the Helvetii were the most powerful tribe in all Gaul, and he gave a pledge that he would win them their kingdoms with his own resources and his own army. Swayed by this speech, they gave a mutual pledge, confirming it by oath; and they hoped that when they had seized their kingship they would be able, through the efforts of three most powerful and most steadfast tribes, to master the whole of Gaul.

4 The design was revealed to the Helvetii by informers. In accordance with their custom they compelled Orgetorix to take his trial in bonds. If  p9 he were condemned, the penalty of being burnt alive was the consequence. On the day appointed for his trial Orgetorix gathered from every quarter to the place of judgment all his retainers, to the number of some ten thousand men, and also assembled there all his clients and debtors, of whom he had a great number, and through their means escaped from taking his trial. The state, being incensed at this, essayed to secure its due rights by force of arms, and the magistrates were bridging together a number of men from the country parts, when Orgetorix died, not without suspicion, as the Helvetii think, of suicide.

5 After his death the Helvetii essayed none the less to accomplish their determination to march forth from their borders. When at length they deemed that they were prepared for that purpose, they set fire to all their strongholds,3 in number about twelve; their villages, in number about four hundred, and the rest of their private buildings; they burnt up all their corn save that which they were to carry with them, to the intent that by removing all hope of returning homeward they might prove the readier to undergo any perils;a and they commanded every man to take for himself from home a three months' provision of victuals. They persuaded their neighbours, the Rauraci, the Tulingi, and the Latobrigi, to adopt the same plan, burn up their strongholds and villages, and march out with them; and they received as partners of their alliance the Boii, who had been dwellers beyond the Rhine, but had crossed over into Noricum and attacked Noreia.

 p11 6 There were two routes, and no more, by which they could leave their homeland. One lay through the territory of the Sequani, betwixt the Jura range and the river Rhone, a narrow route and a difficult, where carts could scarce be drawn up in single file; with an exceeding high mountain overhanging it, so that a very few men might easily check them. The other route, through the Roman Province, was far more easy and convenient, forasmuch as the Rhone flows between the borders of the Helvetii and the Allobroges (who had lately been brought to peace),4 and is in some places fordable. The last town of the Allobroges, the nearest to the borders of the Helvetii, is Geneva, from which a bridge stretches across to the Helvetii. These supposed that either they would persuade the Allobroges (deeming them not yet well disposed toward the Roman people), or would compel them perforce to suffer a passage through their borders. Having therefore provided all things for their departure, they named a day by which all should assemble upon the bank of the Rhone. The day was the 28th of March, in the consulship5 of Lucius Piso and Aulus Gabinius.

7 When Caesar was informed that they were endeavouring to march through the Roman Province, he made speed to leave Rome, and hastening to Further Gaul by as rapid stages as possible, arrived near Geneva. From the whole Province he requisitioned the largest possible number of troops (there was in Further Gaul no more than a single legion), and ordered the bridge at Geneva to be broken down. When the Helvetii learned of his coming, they sent as deputies to him the noblest men of the  p13 state. Nammeius and Verucloetius held the chief place in the deputation, with instructions to say that their purpose was to march through the Province without any mischief, because they had no other route; and they asked that they might have leave so to do of his good will. Remembering that the consul Lucius Cassius had been slain,6 and his army routed and sent under the yoke, by the Helvetii, Caesar considered that no concession should be made; nor did he believe that men of unfriendly disposition, if granted an opportunity of marching through the Province, would refrain from outrage and mischief. However, to gain an interval for the assembly of the troops he had levied, he replied to the deputies that he would take a space of time for consideration; if they wished for anything, they were to return on the 13th of April.

In the meanwhile he used the legion which he had with him, and the troops which had concentrated from the Province, to construct a continuous wall, •sixteen feet high, and a trench, from the Lake of Geneva, which flows into the river Rhone, to the Jura range, which separates the territory of the Sequani from the Helvetii, a distance of •nineteen miles. This work completed, he posted separate garrisons, in entrenched forts, in order that he might more easily be able to stop any attempt of the enemy to cross against his wish. When the day which he had appointed with the deputies arrived, and the deputies returned to him, he said that, following the custom and precedent of the Roman people, he could not grant anyone a passage through the Province; and he made it plain that he would stop any attempt to force the same. Disappointed of this hope, the  p15 Helvetii attempted, sometimes by day, more often by night, to break through, either by joining boats together and making a number of rafts, or by fording the Rhone where the depth of the stream was least. But they were checked by the line of the entrenchment and, as the troops concentrated rapidly, by missiles, and so abandoned the attempt.

9 There remained one other line of route, through the borders of the Sequani, by which they could not march, on account of the narrow ways, without the consent of the Sequani. When they could not of their own motion persuade the Sequani, they sent deputies to Dumnorix the Aeduan, in order that they might attain their object through his intercession. Now Dumnorix had very great weight with the Sequani, for he was both popular and open-handed, and he was friendly to the Helvetii, because from that state he had taken the daughter of Orgetorix to wife; and, spurred by the desire of the kingship, he was anxious for a revolution, and eager to have as many states as might be beholden to his own beneficence. Therefore he accepted the business, and prevailed on the Sequani to suffer the Helvetii to pass through their borders, and arranged that they should give hostages each to other — the Sequani, not to prevent the Helvetii from their march; the Helvetii, to pass through without mischief or outrage.

10 The news was brought back to Caesar that the Helvetii were minded to march through the land of the Sequani and the Aedui into the borders of the Santones, which are not far removed from the borders of the Tolosates, a state in the Province. He perceived that this event would bring great danger upon the Province; for it would have  p17 a warlike tribe, unfriendly to the Roman people, as neighbours to a district which was at once unprotected and very rich in corn. For these reasons he set Titus Labienus, lieutenant-general, in command of the fortification which he had made, and himself hurried by forced marches into Italy. There he enrolled two legions, and brought out of winter quarters three that were wintering about Aquileia; and with these five legions made speed to march by the shortest route to Further Gaul, over the Alps. In that region the Ceutrones, the Graioceli, and the Caturiges, seizing points on the higher ground, essayed to stop the march of his army. They were repulsed in several actions; and on the seventh day he moved from Ocelum, the last station of Hither Gaul, into the borders of the Vocontii in Further Gaul. Thence he led his army into the borders of the Allobroges, and from thence into the country of the Segusiavi, the first tribe outside the Province, across the Rhone.

11 By this time the Helvetii, having brought their own forces through the defiles and through the borders of the Sequani, had reached the borders of the Aedui, and were engaged in laying waste their lands. Unable to defend their persons and their property from the invaders, the Aedui sent deputies to Caesar to ask for aid. These pleaded that the Aedui had always deserved too well of the Roman people to merit the devastation of their lands, the removal of their children into slavery, and the capture of their towns, almost in sight of the Roman army. At the same time the Aedui Ambarri, close allies and kinsmen of the Aedui, informed Caesar that their lands had been laid waste, and that they could not easily safeguard their towns from the violence of the  p19 enemy. The Allobroges also, who had villages and settlements across the Rhone, fleet to Caesar, affirming that they had nothing left to them save the bare ground. All these events drove Caesar to the decision that he must not wait till the Helvetii, having wasted all the substance of the Roman allies, should penetrate into the land of the Santoni.

12 There is a river Arar (Saône), which flows through the borders of the Aedui and the Sequani into the Rhone: its sluggishness is beyond belief, for the eye cannot determine in which direction the stream flows. This river the Helvetii proceeded to cross by rafts and boats fastened together. When Caesar's scouts informed him that three-quarters of the Helvetian forces had actually crossed, and that about a quarter remained on the near side of the river Saône, he left camp in the third watch with three legions and came up to the division of the enemy which had not yet crossed. He attacked them unawares when they were heavily loaded, and put a great number of them to the sword; the remainder betook themselves to flight and hid in the nearest woods. The name of the canton was the Tigurine; for the whole state of Helvetia is divided into four cantons. In the recollection of the last generation this canton had marched out alone from its homeland, and had slain the consul Lucius Cassius and sent his army under the yoke. And so, whether by accident or by the purpose of the immortal gods, the section of the Helvetian state which had brought so signal a calamity upon the Roman people was the first to pay the penalty in full. Therein Caesar avenged private as well as national outrages; for in the same battle with  p21 Cassius the Tigurini had slain Lucius Piso, the general, grandfather of Lucius Piso, Caesar's father-in‑law.

13 This action over, he caused a bridge to be made over the Saône and sent his army across thereby, in order to pursue the remainder of the Helvetian forces. Alarmed at his sudden approach — for they perceived that the business of crossing the river, which they themselves had accomplished with the greatest difficulty in twenty days, had been despatched by Caesar in a single one — the Helvetii sent deputies to him. The leader of the deputation was Divico, who had been commander of the Helvetii in the campaign against Cassius. He treated with Caesar as follows: If the Roman people would make peace with the Helvetii, they would go whither and abide where Caesar should determine and desire; if on the other hand he should continue to visit them with war, he was advised to remember the earlier disaster of the Roman people and the ancient valour of the Helvetii. He had attacked one canton unawares, when those who had crossed the river could not bear assistance to their fellows; but that event must not induce him to rate his own valour highly or to despise them. The Helvetii had learnt from their parents and ancestors to fight their battles with courage, not with cunning nor reliance upon stratagem. Caesar therefore must not allow the place of their conference to derive renown or perpetuate remembrance by a disaster to the Roman people and the destruction of an army.

14 To these remarks Caesar replied as follows: As he remembered well the events which the Helvetian deputies had mentioned, he had therefore the less need to hesitate; and his indignation was the more vehement in proportion as the Roman people had  p23 not deserved the misfortune. If the Romans had been conscious of some outrage done, it would not have been hard to take precaution; but they had been misled, because they did not understand that they had done anything to cause them apprehension, and they thought that they should not feel apprehension without cause. And even if he were willing to forget an old affront, could he banish the memory of recent outrages — their attempts to march by force against his will through the Province, their ill‑treatment of the Aedui, the Ambarri, the Allobroges? Their insolent boast of their own victory, their surprise that their outrages had gone on so long with impunity, pointed the same way;7 for it was the wont of the immortal gods to grant a temporary prosperity and a longer impunity to make men whom they purposed to punish for their crime smart the more severely from a change of fortune. Yet, for all this, he would make peace with the Helvetii, if they would offer him hostages to show him that they would perform their promises, and if they would give satisfaction to the Aedui in respect of the outrages inflicted on them and their allies, and likewise to the Allobroges. Divico replied: It was the ancestral practice and the regular custom of the Helvetii to receive, not to offer, hostages; the Roman people was witness thereof. With this reply he departed.

15 Next day the Helvetii moved their camp from that spot. Caesar did likewise, sending forward the whole of his cavalry, four thousand in number, which he had raised from the whole of the Province, from the Aedui, and from their allies, to observe in which direction the enemy were marching. The cavalry,  p25 following up the rearguard too eagerly, engaged in a combat on unfavourable ground with the cavalry of the Helvetii, and a few of ours fell. Elated by this engagement, because five hundred of their horsemen had routed so large a host of ours, the Helvetii began on occasion to make a bolder stand, and with their rearguard to provoke the Romans to a fight. Caesar kept his troops from fighting, accounting it sufficient for the present to prevent the enemy from plundering, foraging, and devastation. The march continued for about a fortnight with no more interval than •five or six miles a day between the rearguard of the enemy and the vanguard of the Romans.

16 Meanwhile Caesar was daily pressing the Aedui for the corn that they had promised as a state. For by reason of cold weather (since Gaul, as has been said above, lies under the northern heaven) not only were the corn-crops in the fields unripe, but there was not even a sufficient supply of forage to be had. At the same time he was less able to use the corn-supply that he had brought up the river Saône in boats, because the Helvetii had diverted their march from the Saône, and he did not wish to lose touch with them. The Aedui put him off day by day, declaring that the corn was being collected, was being brought in, was at hand. He perceived that he was being put off too long, and that the day was close upon him whereon it was proper to issue the corn-ration to the troops: accordingly he summoned together the Aeduan chiefs, of whom he had a great number in his camp, among them Diviciacus and Liscus, who had the highest magnify, called Vergobret8 by the Aedui: the magistrate is elected annually, and holds the power of life and death over his fellow-countrymen. Caesar  p27 called them severely to account because they offered no relief in a time of stress, with the enemy close at hand, when corn could neither be purchased nor taken from the fields. And just because he had undertaken the war largely in response to their entreaties, he complained the more severely of their desertion.

17 Then, and not till then, the remarks of Caesar induced Liscus to reveal a fact concealed before. There were, he said, certain persons, of paramount influence with the common folk, and of more power in their private capacity than the actual magistrates. These persons, by seditious and insolent language, were intimidating the population against the collection of corn as required, on the plea that it was better for the Aedui, if they could not now enjoy the primacy of Gaul, to submit to the commands of Gauls rather than of Romans; for they did not doubt that, if the Romans overcame the Helvetii, they meant to deprive the Aedui of liberty, in common with the rest of Gaul. These, again, were the men, who informed the enemy of the Roman plans and all the doings of the camp; nor had he power to restrain them. Nay, more, he perceived with what risk he had acted in informing Caesar, under sheer force of necessity; and for that reason he had held his peace as long as he could.

18 Caesar felt that Dumnorix, the brother of Diviciacus, was indicated in these remarks of Liscus; but as he would not have those matters threshed out in presence of a company, he speedily dismissed the meeting. He kept Liscus back, and questioned him separately on his statement in the assembly. Liscus now spoke with greater freedom and boldness. Caesar questioned others privately upon the same matters,  p29 and found that it was so — that Dumnorix was the man who, unequalled in boldness, and strong in the influence that his generosity gave him over the common folk, desired a revolution. For several years, it was said, he had contracted at a low price for the customs and all the rest of the Aeduan taxes, for the simple reason that when he made a bid none durst bid against him. By this means he had at once increased his own property and acquired ample resources for bribery; he maintained a considerable body of horse permanently at his own charges, and kept them about his person; not only in his own but even in neighbouring states his power was extensive. To secure this power he had given his mother in marriage to the noblest and most powerful man among the Bituriges, he had taken himself a wife from the Helvetii, and had married his half-sister and his female relations to men of other states. This connection made him a zealous supporter of the Helvetii; moreover, he hated Caesar and the Romans on his own account, because their arrival had diminished his power and restored his brother Diviciacus to his ancient place of influence and honour. If anything should happen to the Romans, he entertained the most confident hope of securing the kingship by means of the Helvetii: it was the empire of the Roman people which caused him to despair not only of the kingship, but even of the influence he now possessed. Caesar discovered also in the course of his questioning, as concerning the unsuccessful cavalry engagement of a few days before, that Dumnorix and his horsemen (he was commander of the body of horse sent by the Aedui to the aid of Caesar) had started the retreat, and that by their retreat the remainder of the horse had been stricken with panic.

 p31 19 All this Caesar learnt, and to confirm these suspicions he had indisputable facts. Dumnorix had brought the Helvetii through the borders of the Sequani; he had caused hostages to be given between them; he had done all this not only without orders from his state or from Caesar, but even without the knowledge of either; he was now accused by the magistrate of the Aedui. Caesar deemed all this to be cause enough for him either to punish Dumnorix himself, or to command the state so to do. To all such procedure there was one objection, the knowledge that Diviciacus, the brother of Dumnorix, showed the utmost zeal for the Roman people, the utmost goodwill towards himself, in loyalty, in justice, in prudence alike remarkable; for Caesar apprehended that the punishment of Dumnorix might offend the feelings of Diviciacus. Therefore, before attempting anything in the matter, Caesar ordered Diviciacus to be summoned to his quarters, and, having removed the regular interpreters, conversed with him through the mouth of Gaius Valerius Procillus, a leading man in the Province of Gaul and his own intimate friend, in whom he had the utmost confidence upon all matters. Caesar related the remarks which had been uttered in his presence as concerning Dumnorix at the assembly of the Gauls, and showed what each person had said severally to him upon the same subject. He asked and urged that without offence to the feelings of Diviciacus he might either hear his case himself and pass judgment upon him, or order the state so to do.

20 With many tears Diviciacus embraced Caesar, and began to beseech him not to pass too severe a judgment upon his brother. "I know," said he, "that the reports are true, and no one is more pained  p33 thereat than I, for at a time when I had very great influence in my own state and in the rest of Gaul, and he very little, by reason of his youth, he owed his rise to me; and now he is using his resources and his strength not only to the diminution of my influence, but almost to my destruction. For all that, I feel the force of brotherly love and public opinion. That is to say, if too severe a fate befalls him at your hands, no one, seeing that I hold this place in your friendship, will opine that it has been done without my consent; and this will turn from me the feelings of all Gaul." While he was making this petition at greater length, and with tears, Caesar took him by the hand and consoled him, bidding him end his entreaty, and showing that his influence with Caesar was so great that he excused the injury to Rome and the vexation felt by himself, in consideration for the goodwill and the entreaties of Diviciacus. Then he summoned Dumnorix to his quarters, and in the presence of his brother he pointed out what he had to blame in him; he set forth what he himself perceived, and the complaints of the state; he warned him to avoid all occasions of suspicion for the future, and said that he excused the past in consideration for his brother Diviciacus. He posted sentinels over Dumnorix, so as to know what he did and with whom he spoke.

21 On the same day his scouts informed him that the enemy had halted close under a height •eight miles from the Roman camp. A party was sent to reconnoitre the height, and to see what kind of ascent a detour might afford: the report was that it was easy. Caesar ordered Titus Labienus, lieutenant-general and chief of the staff,9 to move in the third  p35 watch with two legions and the guides who knew the route, and to climb the topmost ridge of the height; and he showed him his own intention. He himself, starting in the fourth watch, marched speedily against the enemy by the same route which they had taken, sending forward the whole of the horse. Publius Considius, reputed a past master in the art of war, who had seen service in the army of Lucius Sulla and afterwards in that of Marcus Crassus, was sent forward with the scouts.

22 At dawn Labienus was in possession of the summit of the height, and Caesar was no more than •a mile and a half from the enemy's camp; and, as he learnt afterwards from prisoners, neither his own approach nor that of Labienus was discovered. At this moment Considius galloped back to him, saying that the mountain he had wished Labienus to seize was in possession of the enemy: he knew it by the Gallic arms and badges. Caesar withdrew his own troops to the nearest hill, and formed line of battle. Labienus had instructions from Caesar not to join battle unless his own troops appeared near the enemy's camp, so that a simultaneous assault might be made upon the enemy from all sides; accordingly, having seized the height, he awaited the main body and refrained from engaging. At length, when the day was far spent, Caesar learnt from his scouts that the height was in possession of his own troops, and that the Helvetii had shifted their camp, and therefore that Considius in sheer panic had reported to him as seen that which he had not seen. On that day he followed the enemy at the customary interval, and pitched his camp •three miles from theirs.

23 On the morrow, as no more than two days remained before it was proper to issue the corn- p37 ration to the troops, and as he was no more than •eighteen miles from Bibracte, by far the largest and the best-provided of the Aeduan towns, he considered that he must attend to the corn-supply. He therefore turned his line of march away from the Helvetii, and made with all speed for Bibracte. The change was reported to the enemy by some deserters from Lucius Aemilius, a troop-leader of the Gallic horse. Now the Helvetii may have supposed that the Romans were moving away from them because of sheer panic, the more so because on the day before they had not joined battle after seizing the higher ground; or they may have believed that the Romans could be cut off from their corn-supply. Whichever the reason, they changed their plan, altered their route, and began to pursue and to annoy the Roman rearguard.

24 As soon as he remarked this, Caesar withdrew his troops to the nearest hill, and sent the horse to check the enemy's charge. Meanwhile he himself drew up his four legions of veterans in triple line10a half‑way up the hill: but he ordered the two legions which he had last enlisted in Nearer Gaul and all the auxiliary troops to be posted on the top of the ridge, so as to fill the hill-side entirely with men: in the meantime the packs were to be collected in one place, which was to be entrenched by the troops posted in line on the higher ground. The Helvetii followed with all their carts, and collected their baggage in one place: the fighting men, in a densely-crowded line, repulsed the Roman horse, then formed mass10b and moved up against our first line.

25 Caesar first had his own horse and then those of all others sent out of sight, thus to equalise the  p39 danger of all and to take away hope of flight. Then after a speech to encourage his troops he joined battle. The legionaries, from the upper ground, easily broke the mass-formation of the enemy by a volley of javelins, and, when it was scattered, drew their swords and charged. The Gauls were greatly encumbered for the fight because several of their shields would be pierced and fastened together by a single javelin-cast; and as the iron became bent, they could not pluck it forth, nor fight handily with the left arm encumbered. Therefore many of them preferred, after continued shaking of the arm,11 to cast off the shield and so to fight bare-bodied. At length, worn out with wounds, they began to retreat, retiring towards a height •about a mile away. They gained the height; and as the Romans followed up, the Boii and Tulingi, who with some fifteen thousand men brought up the rear and formed the rearguard, turned from their march to attack the Romans on the exposed12 flank, and overlapped them. Remarking this, the Helvetii, who had retired to the height, began to press again and to renew the fight. The Romans wheeled, and advanced in two divisions, the first and second line to oppose the part of the enemy which had been defeated and driven off, the third to check the fresh assault.

26 Thus the engagement became twofold, and the fight was fierce and long. When the enemy could no longer hold out against our attacks, one division continued to retire to the height, the other concentrated upon their baggage and carts. There was no rout, for throughout the action, though it lasted from the seventh hour to eventide, no one could have seen the back of an enemy. Even round the baggage the  p41 fight was continued far into the night, as the enemy had constructed a rampart of carts, and from the higher ground they continued to hurl missiles upon our advancing lines, while some of them kept discharging native pikes and darts from underneath the carts and wheels, wounding our men. However, after a long fight, our troops gained possession of the baggage and the camp, where the daughter of Orgetorix and one of his sons were taken prisoners. Some 130,000 persons survived the action, and marched continuously the whole of that night; the march was not interrupted for any part of the night, and three days after they reached the borders of the Lingones; for our own troops had not been able to pursue them, having halted for three days to tend their wounds and to bury the dead. Caesar despatched letters and messages to the Lingones, ordering them not to give assistance by corn and otherwise, and affirming that, if they gave such assistance, he would treat them in the same fashion as the Helvetii. He himself, after the three days' interval, began to follow them with all his forces.

The Battle against the Helvetii

Heights are indicated in metres above sea level.

(The map is reproduced from the French Survey dated 1853. There is little doubt that the battle took place on this ground, on which Colonel Stoffel discovered the entrenchment E. The positions of the opposing forces here shown are in general accordance with the theory of Colonel Bircher.)


R C Roman Camp. Route of Roman Army northwards. Route of Helvetii northwards.
H C Camp of Helvetii on morning of the battle.
W L Wagon laager, formed just before the battle.
2 L The 2 new Legions occupying the whole hill and partly engaged in making E.
A Roman Auxiliaries
E Entrenchment to protect the men's packs.
R 1 1st position of the 4 veteran Legions.
H 1 1st position of the Helvetii (advancing).
H 2 2nd position of the Helvetii (after retirement)
H 3 3rd position of the Helvetii (advancing)
B T The Boii and Tulingi advancing against the exposed flank of R 2.
R 2 2nd position of the 4 Legions, with the 3rd line changing front to meet B T.

27 The Helvetii were compelled by lack of all provision to send deputies to him to treat of surrender. These found him on the march, and, throwing themselves at his feet, in suppliant tones besought peace with tears. He bade them await his arrival in their present station, and they obeyed. Upon arrival there Caesar demanded the surrender of hostages and arms, and of the slaves who had deserted to them. While these were sought out and collected together night intervened; and about six thousand men of the canton called Verbigene — it may be in sheer panic, lest after the surrender of their arms they might be put  p43 to the sword; or else they were tempted by the hope of escape, and the thought that in so vast a multitude of prisoners their own flight could be concealed or even unnoticed — left the Helvetian camp at nightfall and hastened to the Rhine and the borders of the Germans.

28 So soon as Caesar came to know of this he commanded the inhabitants through whose borders they had marched to seek them out and bring them back, if they wished to clear themselves from complicity in his sight. When the runaways were brought back he treated them as enemies; all the remainder, upon delivery of hostages, arms, and deserters, he admitted to surrender. He commanded the Helvetii, Tulingi, and Latobrigi to return to their own borders, whence they had started; and as they had lost all their produce, and had no means at home of sustaining hunger, he required the Allobroges to give them a supply of corn. He also ordered them to restore with their own hands the towns and villages which they had burnt. His chief reason for so doing was that he did not wish the district which the Helvetii had left to be unoccupied, lest the excellence of the farmlands might tempt the Germans who dwell across the Rhine to cross from their own into the Helvetian borders, and so to become neighbours to the Province of Gaul and to the Allobroges. He granted the petition of the Aedui that they might establish the Boii, known to be of remarkable courage, in their own borders. The Aedui gave them farmlands, and afterwards admitted them to like measure of privilege and liberty with themselves.

29 In the camp of the Helvetii were found, and brought to Caesar, records written out in Greek  p45 letters,13 wherein was drawn up a nominal register showing what number of them had gone out from their homeland, who were able to bear arms, and also separately children, old men, and women. On all these counts the total showed 263,000 persons of the Helvetii, 36,000 of the Tulingi, 14,000 of the Latobrigi, 23,000 of the Rauraci, 32,000 of the Boii; of these there were about 92,000 able to bear arms. The grand total was about 368,000. Of those who returned home a census was taken in accordance with Caesar's command, and the number was found to be 110,000.

The Editor's Notes:

1i.e. the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis, formed about 121 B.C.

2 61 B.C.

3 The word oppidum, which denotes "town," connotes a "stronghold" in the case of the Gauls.

4 60 B.C. The phrase is a euphemism for "subdued."

5 58 B.C.

6 107 B.C.

7i.e. to coming vengeance.

8i.e. dispenser of judgment.

9 See Appendix A.

10a10b See Appendix A.

11i.e. to shake off the javelin.

12i.e. the right, unshielded side.

13 Perhaps introduced through the Greek colony of Massilia (Marseilles): cf.VI.14.

Thayer's Note:

a A common device, especially if the commander is none too sure of the commitment of their troops: several instances of it are collected in a footnote to the Strategemata of Frontinus.

Page updated: 9 Nov 13

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