This illustration, by the German artist Johann Michael Mettenleiter (c. 1765-1883), depicts a meeting between the Roman military leader and eventual dictator, Julius Caesar (c. 100-44 BCE), and the Germanic Suebian warlord, Ariovistus. A clash between the two opposing forces was inevitable after Ariovistus crossed the Rhine to wage war against the Gallic Aedui people, who were Julius Caesar’s allies. The Romans responded to this attack in 58 BCE, deploying forces to confront the Germanic army. Julius Caesar and Ariovistus, each trying to outmaneuver the other, eventually came head to head in the Vosges mountain range, perhaps at a place near what is now called Colmar. The two leaders at first tried to negotiate. Julius Caesar mentions this meeting in his Commentaries on the Gallic War:
“There was a large plain, and in it a mound of earth of considerable size. This spot was at nearly an equal distance from both camps. Thither, as had been appointed, they came for the conference. Caesar stationed the legion, which he had brought on horseback, 200 paces from this mound. The cavalry of Ariovistus also took their stand at an equal distance. Ariovistus then demanded that they should confer on horseback, and that, besides themselves, they should bring with them ten men each to the conference” (Julius Caesar, Gallic War, 1.43).
It is this meeting between Julius Caesar and Ariovistus that Johann Michael Mettenleiter re-created in his artwork. Of course, little headway was made in the negotiation between the Roman leader and his Germanic adversary. After a period of skirmishes and standoffs, Julius Caesar decisively beat Ariovistus in battle, forcing the Suebian warlord, and whatever remained of his army, back across the Rhine.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- War Commentaries by Gaius Julius Caesar and Aulus Hirtius, translated by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn, 1869, 2014.