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A British Army Officer and Caesar's Bridge across the Rhine

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In 1705 Captain Martin Bladen published C. Julius Caesar’s Commentaries of his Wars in Gaul and Civil War with Pompey, translations of his De Bello Gallico and De Bello Civili. He illustrated his book with engravings by the Italian architect, Palladio. I have used the second edition of 1712. Bladen graduated from St John’s, Cambridge, in about 1700, and was admitted to the Inner Temple. He then joined the Army and served under the Duke of Marlborough in the Low Countries and Spain. In 1709 he was promoted to Lieutenant-colonel, and sold his commission in 1710. In 1714 he was appointed Comptroller of the Royal Mint, and resigned the post in 1717 when he was appointed to the Board of Trade. He later became very powerful in the Colonial Office, where he controlled the patronage. He served several terms in Parliament, and acquired a lucrative plantation in North Carolina.

Books 3 and 4 of Caesar’s De Bello Gallico are taken up with his campaigns in eastern France. They were relatively successful, but by 55 BC some German tribes had allied themselves with Gaulish tribes that were still holding out against the Romans, and were sending raiding parties across the Rhine. Most of the trouble was near the confluence of the Moselle and the Rhine. Caesar decided to cross the Rhine south of this point to teach the Germans a lesson. As the river was narrow and very rapid at the place he chose, he decided to build a bridge so that his men could cross the river in fighting order.

Caesar describes the bridge in De Bello Gallico 4.17, and most eighteenth-century editions and translations of Caesar have a drawing of the bridge. Most of them are of Roman legionaries marching across the bridge, but the Palladio drawing that Bladen uses is an architect’s sketch showing how the bridge was constructed. In the paper I intend to discuss how Bladen read Caesar, and in particular what influence, if any, the Palladio drawing had over Bladen’s vision of this military operation.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group series.

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