How Julius Caesar built a unique bridge over the Rhine and why he destroyed it just 2 weeks later
How Julius Caesar built a unique bridge over the Rhine and why he destroyed it just 2 weeks later

Summer 55 BC turned out to be hot for Caesar. For three years, the great Roman commander tried to crush the proud Gauls. At that time, the Rhine River served as a natural border and obstacle in the way of Julius. The Germanic tribes on the east bank launched a retaliatory invasion to the west, protected by this natural border. The ingenious strategist Caesar found a solution that was as accurate as it was unexpected. Read on to find out what came of this.

The general constantly had to deal with the superior forces of the Gauls. Caesar used various tactical tricks and tricks. In the territory controlled by Rome, there were local tribes who served the Great Empire. They offered help to Caesar's legions - their ships so that the Roman troops could cross the Rhine.

Guy Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar for some reason rejected this offer. Instead, the Roman general decided to build a complex engineering structure. Bridge over the Rhine. Thus, the commander decided to demonstrate all the strength and might of Rome. An empire can not only wage war, but it can cross the border whenever it wishes. Among other things, Julius Caesar wrote that it was not safe to use ships. The bridge is much more in keeping with his own dignity and the dignity of the great Roman people.

Illustration of Caesar's Bridge over the Rhine from A History of Rome and the Roman People from Its Origin to the Invasion of the Barbarians (1883)

The construction of the bridge was fraught with extreme difficulties. After all, the Rhine River is too wide, fast and deep. Caesar felt he had to do it himself. He was convinced that his army should not be led in any other way.

Construction was carried out between what is now Andernach and Neuwied, downstream of Koblenz, in an area where the river reaches almost ten meters. On both banks, the Romans erected watchtowers. This was done to protect the bridge entrances. They placed piles and barriers upstream. This was to serve as protection against possible attacks and debris carried by the current.

This is what Caesar's bridge over the Rhine looked like

Several tens of thousands of legionnaires erected the bridge in just a week and a half. He held on to wooden piles that were driven into the river bed. Huge heavy stones served as a weight for them. The structural system has been designed in such a way that the stronger the flow, the stronger the bridge will hold.

Scale model of Caesar's bridge over the Rhine at the Museo Della Civilta Romana in Rome

Two logs half a meter thick pointed to the bottom. While the river was deep, they were linked together at a distance of half a meter. The logs were hammered not perpendicularly, like pillars, but inclined towards the river. They were also equipped with special devices. Down the river, somewhere a little more than a dozen meters away, were two other logs. They were blocked in the same way, holding back the blows of the strong current of the river. In addition, they were firmly held together by half-meter-thick beams. These beams were placed at the ends of the logs between two brackets on each side.

Reconstruction of a Roman copra used to build a bridge over the Rhine at Ehrenbreitstein Fortress in Koblenz, Germany

Unfortunately, history has not preserved the name of the brilliant engineer. The new technology was revolutionary, no one had ever done it before. The ancient Roman historian Cicero suggested that a certain Mumarra might have been the architect. It should also not be ruled out that it could have been Marcus Vitruvius Poli. He was a genius architect who authored the famous Ten Books on Architecture.It is known that he met with Caesar.

Historians believe that the length of this bridge could be from one hundred and forty to four hundred meters. Its width ranged from seven to nine meters.

When the construction was completed, Caesar and his legions crossed to the other side. There the friendly Germanic tribes were to wait for him. In anticipation of the arrival of the Roman troops, they retreated to the East. Caesar could not fight against the vastly superior forces of the enemy. He made the decision to retreat. After fighting several local battles and destroying several settlements, the Roman general crossed the bridge again and destroyed it behind him. The campaign lasted only eighteen days.

Possible location of Caesar's Bridge over the Rhine

Two years later, history was destined to repeat itself. Near where the first bridge was, about two kilometers to the north. It is next to the modern Urmitz. Gaius Julius Caesar built the second bridge. The construction was much simpler this time.

The soldiers completed the work within a few days. After that, the main forces of the Roman army were transferred here. A guard was posted near the bridge. Caesar led the rest of the army and cavalry forces.

The defeated leader of the rebellious Gauls, Vercingetorigus, before Caesar

History repeated itself again. The Gauls abandoned their settlements and took refuge in the forests. Caesar returned and destroyed his bridge again. The truth is not complete this time. The part touching the east bank was left. On it, the Romans erected defensive towers to protect the preserved part of the bridge.

Caesar's Gaulish campaign

This was done in order not to completely free the barbarians from fear of Roman invasion and in order not to detain their legionnaires. The army was stationed on the coast, building powerful fortifications.

Julius Caesar's ingenious strategy has borne the desired results. He managed to demonstrate in all its glory the power of the Roman Empire and its ability to cross the Rhine at will at any time. Thus, Julius Caesar completely secured the borders of Gaul. For several centuries the Germans did not dare to violate its borders.

The area of ​​residence of the Gauls during the time of Julius Caesar

All this also contributed to the final Roman colonization of the Rhine Valley. Later, permanent bridges were built here at Castra Vetera (Xanten), Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (Colonia), Confluentes (Koblenz) and Moguntiakum (Mainz).

During archaeological excavations in the late 19th century in the Andernach Neuwied area, the remains of piles were discovered in the Rhine. Their analysis could be carried out only in the 20th century. He showed that the age of the material dates back to the middle of the 1st century BC. Historians believe that these are the very bridges of Caesar. Although the experts did not manage to determine their exact location.

The ingenious strategist Caesar came up with an interesting solution to the problem

As for the Germanic tribes loyal to Rome, in 39 BC Marco Vipsanio Agrippa finally transferred them to the western bank of the Rhine. This was done as payment for their long-standing services. They were too afraid of persecution from neighboring tribes. The Gauls remained loyal to Rome throughout its history. Ultimately, their tribes mingled with the Franks. This gave rise to new kingdoms in Gaul during the Middle Ages.

Read about the fate of the great Roman commander and emperor in our other article: how Caesar was liquidated, or what actually happened on the ides of March.

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