Julius Caesar, Civil War 2.11

Quo male perterriti subito oppidani saxa, quam maxima possunt, vectibus promovent, praecipitataque muro in musculum devolvunt. Ictum firmitas materiae sustinet, et quidquid incidit, fastigio musculi elabitur. Id ubi vident, mutant consilium; cupas taeda ac pice refertas incendunt easque de muro in musculum devolvunt. Involutae labuntur, delapsae ab lateribus longuriis furcisque ab opere removentur.

The Marseillians were so terrified by the sudden evil machine, that they moved with a lever the largest stones possible and dropped them from the wall onto the galley. The strength of the timber sustained the blow, and whatever fell slid down from the gable to the galley. When the Marseillians saw this, they changed the plan. They filled barrels with pitch and tallow and threw these down onto the galley from the wall. Having rolled down, the barrels slid away. And when fallen, they were removed with long poles and forks.

Background
Although the term of Caesar’s political office had ended, he still refused to disband his army in Gaul. Knowing that he would be arrested upon arriving in Rome, Caesar “crossed the Rubicon” and pursued his opponents. He was eventually established as dictator. The events of this civil war are recorded in this text, the de Bello Civili.

At Marseille, Lucius Domitius Ahenhobarbus, the proconsul of Gaul, was sent to oppose Caesar. At the same time, the locals shut the city off to JC. During the ensuing engagement, Caesar won the naval battle against Ahenobarbus. The Marseillians defended against Caesar’s siege machines fairly well, but Caesar’s troops undermined the walls  and managed to enter the city. Marseille surrendered.

Commentary
Barrels! In this scene, we learn from the Marseillians how to kill two birds with one stone: defend a city AND simultaneously toast the inside of barrels for a delightful, barrel aged stout.

This text does not reveal the original contents of the barrels. Although the Gauls are renowned for their beer consumption, Marseille (Lat. Massalia) had been heavily influenced by the Greeks (originally a Greek colony, in fact) and Romans. Thus, the local tastes had long been sullied by the sweet vinous nectar (wine).

At the very least, this is an important passage to tell us about the presence of barrels in a beer-drinking region.

Author’s Note
Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE)
Yup, that Caesar. He won the Civil Wars, but was assassinated  in his own Senate five years later.

 

*Image source: wikimedia commons

 

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