As ancient Roman military leaders go, Julius Caesar was not as bloodthirsty as his legacy makes him out to be. In general, Caesar was one of the more diplomatic and negotiable Roman military leaders of his time. If a foreign ruler behaved as an ally, Caesar would reciprocate the relationship. Yet, that was the catch—as soon as a person crossed that thin line between friend and foe, the amicable, deal-making general immediately transformed into the lightning quick, ruthless Julius Caesar of legend.
In 53 BCE, a rebel leader named Acco was captured by the Romans. Acco, leading the forces of the Senones and Carnutes in Gaul, was only one commander of a much larger wave of rebelling tribes led by a man named Ambiorix, a former ally of the Romans. Acco’s forces, however, were surprised and outmaneuvered by Julius Caesar’s characteristic swiftness, and they surrendered to the Romans. Caesar spared the homelands of the Senones and Carnutes, but he took Acco and other leaders prisoner.
Unfortunately for Acco, Julius Caesar had lost his patience with the Gauls and Germans who were threatening and killing his men. The year 53 BCE had been a rough one—the main rebel force of Ambiorix destroyed a Roman fortress commanded by two officers named Sabinus and Cotta. From there, the rebels sieged another fort led by Quintus Cicero, but Caesar arrived and saved these men from an almost certain death. It was in this atmosphere of betrayal and anger that Acco found himself in the clutches of Julius Caesar.
As a result of their quick surrender, the Sesones and Carnutes who had been led by Acco were given mercy. Other tribes of Gaul, as well as Germans who had given the rebels aid, were hunted down by Caesar’s legions and defeated in battle. The degree to which their lands were pillaged and their people massacred depended on how much their particular tribe had participated in the attacks on Roman troops. Though the Sesones and Carnutes were spared the reprisals mentioned above, Acco, himself, was a different matter.
After Caesar finished his punitive campaign in 53 BCE, he called for all the leaders of Gaul to witness a tribunal in which many of the rebel leaders would be judged. Many of those Gauls would likely never forget what they saw. Caesar condemned Acco to death by one of the Roman Legion’s iconic methods of execution—the fustuarium. The rebel leader, Acco, was publicly beaten to death with clubs in front of the other prominent Gauls present at the tribunal.
Caesar probably hoped the execution of Acco would frighten the leaders of Gaul into submission, but it is more likely that the tribunal only made the Gauls more disgruntled. Soon, Gaul would rise up in another huge wave of rebellion, this time led by Vercingetorix.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Julius Caesar by Philip Freeman. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2008.