Battle of the Sabis

Seems like a thousand years (or a bit over 30 generations) since I had occasion to actually write about Gaul. But I came across a  marvellous website devoted to the  Battle of the Sabis by a group called Livius.

The Battle of the Sabis, of course, is the 57 BC fight between Julius Caesar’s legions and the Nervian Confederacy of Northern Gaul (Belgium, they called it–but it was a much broader swath of land that what we call Belgium today.)

It’s a key fight that Emyn sees in bits–thanks to her ghosts–toward the end of Death Speaker.

The pictures on Livius’ site–including my favorite here, which belongs to Livius & is © Marco Prins and Jona Lendering–are of the Selle River. I hope those folks don’t mind that I use them–if so, contact me and I’ll take them down.

These pictures may or may not show the location of the battle. As I understand it, other locations (like the Escault River) have their adherents  and no archaeological discoveries have settled the matter. No battlefield remnants have been found.

Still, these pictures are great, very well researched, and fit all that is known about the Sabis River site. Except . . .

. . . well, the picture right above is, according to the site, a hill called Le Quesnoy, and the spot where Caesar’s 10th Legion had parked. A hill? Seriously? The “slope” to the right leads down to the river.

Here is what Caesar says, according to my copy of The Conquest of Gaul:

“2:18 At the place that the Romans had chosen for their camp a hill sloped down evenly from its summit to the Sambre. Opposite it, on the other side of the river, rose another hill with a similar gradient, on the lower slope of which were three hundred yards of open ground. . .”

Sambre was the Roman’s name for the river.

The Livius site says this last picture looks from the Nervian side of the river, looking toward where the 12th and 7th legions of Rome assembled. Here, yes, I do see a hill. However, most of the landscape in the pictures (and there are over a dozen) show land I consider pretty flat.

In fact, I will throw in the small version of a last picture, showing the Nervian campsite. Remember, this is supposed to be a similar hill, with 300 yards of open ground on its lower slope.

Of course, in 2000 years, places change a lot, and I do not have a military eye for high ground at all. But it’s fair to say that the jury’s still out. Wonder if excavations–or even metal detector sweeps–have gone on at these sites?

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6 Responses to Battle of the Sabis

  1. L. Kuhn says:

    This is exactly what I’ve been wondering myself, ever since I came to realize my obsession with Caesar’s writings on this ten year period. The original location theory put forward by Napolean doesn’t really match, mostly due to the width and depth of the Sambre winding through it, as well as how the hills are shaped. But in all the articles on the 57 B.C. battle I’ve read, each has similar text at the end, usually stating that an alternate location near Saulzoir was suggested as the site of the battle with conclusive evidence. WHAT WAS THIS EVIDENCE??? I can’t find it or any other reference to it ANYWHERE on the web! Is this ‘evidence,’ in all actuality, merely the argument that the Saulzoir location fits Caesar’s description better???

    I don’t know French, but if someone could show me an English-text version of Pierre Turquin’s, “La Bataille de la Selle” article, I can’t find this on the internet, either. The only line of text from this article I can find is, quote, “…has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the battle was fought at the Selle, west of modern Saulzoir.” How did he prove it?

    One last thing before I stop. One should remember that ancient battles such as these cannot be fought without leaving behind certain peices of trace evidence, in this case pilum points, arrowheads, sling bullets, and possibly more–ancient Roman and Celtic and Belgian coins most certainly would have been dropped and lost both before and after the battle on all sides, could finding coins in respective locations at the Saulzoir site be evidence enough?

  2. L. Kuhn says:

    You’re welcome! Hey, are you the author of that book, Death Speaker???

    • vickeykalambakal says:

      Absolutely! That’s me–Vickey Kall. & the Battle of the Sabis is featured in the book, based mostly on Caesar’s descriptions, as well as earlier battles.�

  3. L. Kuhn says:

    So what made you pick THIS particular one, out of all of Caesar’s documented pitched battles?

  4. Vickey Kall says:

    The book Death Speaker takes place up through the first three years of Caesar’s campaign into Gaul–it ends after the sea battle with the Veneti forces.
    It’s a historical romance, so the battles are not main focus–but they certainly are important, and the historical facts are respected. The story is told from the point of view of the Gauls, not the Romans.

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