commentarii de bello gallico

The True Story of Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus

Warning: MASSIVE unmarked spoilers for HBO’s Rome ahead

The tv show that gave us Octavian, Agrippa, and Maecenas putting the “bro” back in “Ancient Brome”1 and reminded everyone why Cleopatra VII’s hotness is common knowledge 2,000 years after her death also gave us a bizarre misunderstanding of Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus – at least, the historical figures.

Historical sources fail to comment, for example, on how much time they spent walking around looking goofy and giving each other relationship advice. 

Rome’s Pullo and Vorenus are the best Bill-and-Ted Centurions you could ask to invade and, through lovable misadventure, interfere in, a significant historical event. They are also clearly heavily inspired by the genuine articles, who occupy an arguably similar place in history.

The real Pullo and Vorenus were more like the Zach Snyder remake of Bill and Ted. I don’t know about you, but it really bugs me when movies and stuff change random names or words when there is absolutely no reason to do so. By “really bugs me” I mean like, I kind of hate it. In fact, you could say I consider it a mortal sin, and spend an inordinate amount of time working myself into a silent rage about particularly egregious instances.  For example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer-and-or-Philosopher’s Stone  Hagrid explains his acquisition of the cute three headed dog Fluffy by telling the principle trio that he “bought him off a Greek chappie I met in the pub”2.  This joke is reasonably clever, and particularly nice because it doesn’t condescend to the reader and spell it out. However, apparently it needed to. Apparently some dude named Steve Kloves was too busy doing whatever it is dudes named Steve Kloves do to bother reading like even one page of any book about Greek mythology ever, or seeing like even one movie that references it. Or just generally being around in conversations with people.  Because Steve Kloves – this catalyst of intellectual rot – this champion of lazy thought and half-done jobs – this petty defiler of the western mind – changed the line to “bought him off an Irish chappie I met in the pub.”3 Excuse me? Does the Hound of Culain (the dog, not the dude named after the dog) have three heads? Does Dobhar frakking Chu? Please, if there is a three headed dog somewhere in Irish mythology, somebody leave that information in the comments section, because I will get like a good fifteen minutes more sleep every night if I can stop thinking about that stupid, stupid edit.

Ok, perhaps that was a digression.  Far less grievous a sin is the as-far-as-I-can-tell random decision to move Vorenus and Pullo from their historic legion, the XI Claudia (or eleventh Claudian) to the thirteenth.

The XI served under Cicero4. But not that Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero, the ridiculously famous dude you’ve definitely heard of, and also who Pullo kills on Octavian’s orders in season 2)5. Pullo and Vorenus worked for another Cicero: Marcus Tullius’ lesser known brother, Quintus Tullius. Quintus  was a favorite of Caesar’s, and one of his main lines of defense against the Nervii, a group of Belgian natives who had decided they didn’t feel like being Roman citizens, thank you just the same.


This is what happens to you when you lose to Rome. This is how you’re remembered.

“In that legion there were two very brave men, centurions, who were now approaching the first ranks, T. Pulfio and L. Varenus [sic]”4

With the occasional breakup ep or wacky misunderstanding, the majority of TV!Pullo and Vorenus’ clashing gets chucked out the window somewhere over the Rubicon. The real life duo had a longstanding and heated rivalry, “and every year used to contend for promotion with the utmost animosity.”ibid

“When the fight was going on most vigorously before the fortifications, Pulfio, one of them, says, “Why do you hesitate, Varenus? or what [better] opportunity of signalizing your valor do you seek? This very day shall decide our disputes.” ibid

Without waiting another second, Pullo anticipates Leroy Jenkins by two thousand years and “rushes on that that part of the enemy which appeared the thickest.” ibid

Challenge accepted, Vorenus ran after.

As soon as he drew close to the enemy, Pullo hurled his javelin and dropped one of the leading men.

A returning volley pierced Pullo’s shield and left a Gallic javelin stuck in his belt. Pullo reached for his sword, but the javelin kind of got in the way.

“The enemy crowd around him when thus embarrassed.” ibid

Y’know, “embarrassed.” Like how you’d feel after ripping your pants in a school play, or sending your boss snap chats of the graffiti in the bathroom at the bar.

So Pullo is down, but struggling to draw his sword and fight. Mooks prepare for their finishing moves, and it’s generally down to the wire. Just like in that scene on the show in the gladiator fight.

Given all the exaggeration, alteration, and adaptation that these stories go through over the centuries and media (it’s not the Commentarii de Bello Gallico, it’s HBO), Raw Mythistory is always touched when something is so raw that no one can top it. And that’s the case here:

Vorenus stepped in for his long-time rival. Whether he was moved by ésprit de corps or just trying to rub Pullo’s nose in it, his heroic assault on the Nervii was enough to be remembered in Julius Caesar’s memoires:

Vorenus “runs up to him and succors him in this emergency. Immediately the whole host turn from Pulfio to him, supposing the other to be pierced through by the javelin. Varenus rushes on briskly with his sword and carries on the combat hand to hand, and having slain one man, for a short time drove back the rest: while he urges on too eagerly, slipping into a hollow, he fell.” ibid

This could be one of those stories about hubris and getting cocky, or it could be one of those stories about an epic defeat, in which the loser puts up such a good fight that their deeds are remembered for thousands of years.  But no. This is a story about awesome dudes winning fights and learning about the magic of friendship.

Because that’s when Pullo comes back:

“To him, in his turn, when surrounded, Pulfio brings relief; and both having slain a great number, retreat into the fortifications amid the highest applause. Fortune so dealt with both in this rivalry and conflict, that the one competitor was a succor and a safeguard to the other, nor could it be determined which of the two appeared worthy of being preferred to the other.” ibid

During the war of the Triumvirate, Titus Pullo fought for Pompey, not Caesar, but that’s another story6.

  1. “The Broath” How I Met Your Mother. CBS. 19 March. 2012. Television.
  2. Rowling JK Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, US edition (New York: Scholastic, 1998), pg. 193
  3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Dir. Christopher Columbus. Perf. Daniel Radcliffe, Ruper Grint, Emma Watson. Warner Bros., 2001. Film.
  4. Caesar J (circa 40 BC) Commentarii de Bello Gallico 5.44
  5. “How Titus Pullo Brought Down the Republic” HBO. 4 Sept. 2005. Rome. Television.
  6. Caesar J (circa 40 BC) Commentarii de Bello Civili 3.67

Gaul before the Romans

Hypothetical reconstruction of a Gallic house, Bibracte, Museum of Celtic civilisation by Urban - Own work. || Map of Gaul in times of Caesar

Gaul (Latin Gallia, French Gaule) is the name given by the Romans to the territories where the Celtic Gauls (Latin Galli, French Gaulois) lived, including present France, Belgium, Luxemburg and parts of the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany on the west bank of the Rhine, and the Po Valley, in present Italy. 

The best description we know about the pre-Roman Gaul is in the first chapter of the Commentarii de Bello Gallico, of Caius Julius Caesar. It is clearly a Roman point of view of the Gallic realities:

All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in ours Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws. The river Garonne separates the Gauls from the Aquitani; the Marne and the Seine separate them from the Belgae. Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest, because they are farthest from the civilisation and refinement of [our] Province, and merchants least frequently resort to them and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind; and they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war; for which reason the Helvetii also surpass the rest of the Gauls in valour, as they contend with the Germans in almost daily battles, when they either repel them from their own territories, or themselves wage war on their frontiers. One part of these, which it has been said that the Gauls occupy, takes its beginning at the river Rhone: it is bounded by the river Garonne, the ocean, and the territories of the Belgae: it borders, too, on the side of the Sequani and the Helvetii, upon the river Rhine, and stretches towards the north. The Belgae rise from the extreme frontier of Gaul, extend to the lower part of the river Rhine; and look towards the north and the rising sun. Aquitania extends from the river Garonne to the Pyrenaean mountains and to that part of the ocean which is near Spain: it looks between the setting of the sun and the north star.

The ancient limits of Gaul were the Rhine River and the Alps on the east, the Mare Nostrum (Mediterranean Sea), the Po Valley and the Pyrenees on the south, and the Atlantic Ocean on the west and North. Before the Roman conquest by Julius Caesar (58-51 BC), the name “Gaul” corresponded to a cultural and military area founded on a common religion and federations of peoples who though that they had a common origin.

 This common origin probably dates back to 8th century, when migrants groups of the Bronze Age Urnfield culture spread slowly across the area of the future territory of Gaul. About 390 BC, the Gauls invaded and sacked Rome. In 222 BC, Cisalpine Gaul (the region between the Alps and the Po Valley) was conquered by the Romans.

koprophagoi  asked:

Did Caesar read any primary sources on the Roman Empire, or was it all secondary source academic / lay audience literature that he got his hands on? Is he aware of any particular Roman era historians e.g. Polybius, Tacitus? I assume he's read of Caesar's writings,for sure.

There are two sources Caesar (IIRC) refers to: Gibbons’ The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Julius Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic War).

It is certainly possible that he read other primary sources.  Based on Arcade’s education, it’s likely that the Followers of the Apocalypse had access to other Roman and Greek literature, including writings by Sallust and Lucan.

As Arcade and Caesar both know Latin, it is likely that the textbooks they used also contained snippets of Roman literature and quotes as sententiae antiquae (very common in Wheelock’s and many other books). Because the primary purpose of contemporary (i.e., 20th/21st century) Latin education is typically not conversation or writing, but comprehension of classic literature, the use of these quotes/references is common, though often without context.

E.g., a student may learn that “festina lente” means “hasten slowly,” but may not know that it came from Suetonious who was quoting Augustus who, in turn, had borrowed the adage from Greek in the first place.  And even if they did learn all that, the Followers might not have access to Suetonious’ text, De vita Caesarium.

Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman statesman, general, and writer of prose. His most famous work is Commentarii de Bello Gallico, which chronicles his military campaigns in Gaul. He was born in 100 BCE and died in 44 BCE. He formed an alliance with Crassus and Pompey in 60 BCE that allowed him to dominate the Roman political scene. His actions were critical to the fall of the Roman Republic and the establishment of the Roman Empire. His efforts in Gaul also greatly extended Rome’s territory.
Sanctuary of the Three Gauls - Wikipedia
The Sanctuary of the Three Gauls (Tres Galliae) was the focal structure within an administrative and religious complex established by Rome in the very late 1st century BC at Lugdunum.

imagine being such a big fan of Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico that you dedicate a temple complex to just its first sentence

But seriously, this is a fascinating read, so check it out. A very eye-opening example of Roman propaganda.