A. 9.—Events proved kinder to him than he could have hoped. His ill-wishers at Rome actually aided his preparations for war; for Caesar had not yet gained any special military reputation, while the barbarians whom he was to meet had a very high one, and might reasonably be expected to destroy him. And the Helvetian peril proved of such magnitude that he had every excuse for making a much larger levy than there was any previous prospect of his securing. On the surpassing genius with which he manipulated the weapon thus put into his hand there is no need to dwell. Suffice it to say that in spite of overwhelming superiority in numbers, courage yet more signal, a stronger individual physique, and arms as effective, his foes one after another vanished before him. Helvetians, Germans, Belgians, were not merely conquered, but literally annihilated, as often as they ventured to meet him, and in less than three years the whole of Gaul was at his feet.
Sea-fight with Veneti and Britons—Pretexts for invading Britain—British dominion of Divitiacus—Gallic tribes in Britain—Atrebates—Commius.
B. 1.—One of the last tribes to be subdued (in B.C. 56) was that which, as the chief seafaring race of Gaul, had the most intimate relations with Britain, the Veneti, or men of Vannes, who dwelt in what is now Brittany. These enterprising mariners had developed a form of vessel fitted to cope with the stormy Chops of the Channel on lines exactly opposite to those of the British “curraghs." Instead of being so light as to rise to every lift of the waves, and with frames so flexible as to bend rather than break under their every stress, the Venetian ships were of the most massive construction, built wholly of the stoutest oak planking, and with timbers upwards of a foot in thickness. All were bolted together with iron pins “as thick as a man’s thumb.” Forecastle and poop were alike lofty, with a lower waist for the use of sweeps if needful. But this was only exceptional, sails being the usual motive power. And these were constructed chiefly with a view to strength. Instead of canvas, they were formed of untanned hides. And instead of hempen cables the Veneti were so far ahead of their time as to use iron chains with their anchors; an invention which perished with them, not to come in again till the 19th century. Their broad beam and shallow keel enabled these ships to lie more conveniently in the tidal inlets on either side of the Channel.