On a trip to Belgium over the summer I wandered into the town square of Tongeren, an ancient city. The square is dominated by an imposing statue of a Celtic chieftain named Ambiorix. The warrior looks fearsome with his heavy axe, fur cloak, bare torso and long mustaches. His hand rests on his heart, and his foot on a Roman eagle sigil.
Ambiorix was a terror to Caesar’s legions in 54 BC. Caesar was wintering in Gaul that year. The summer had been dry, and his legions were forced to fan out across the country to find provisions. One means of securing those provisions was to ask the Celtic tribes — who had endured the same dry summer as the Romans — for tribute. Ambiorix, who had been on friendly terms with Caesar, decided to prey on the Romans at their time of need. He tricked a Roman column into leaving the safety of their fortifications, then directed an ambush against the men. The Romans, totally surprised, were slaughtered. Ambiorix had visions of a full-on regional rebellion, and set out to recruit other Celtic leaders.
Caesar retaliated, though, crushing the rebellion and punishing the civilians affiliated with Ambiorix. Ambiorix himself was never caught. His fate remains unknown, but he lives on in bronze grandeur, overlooking the Tongeren town square.
Ambiorix was not an instant celebrity during his lifetime, even though historians (including Caesar himself) wrote about the man in ancient times. It wasn’t until the 1840s, when Belgians, whose country had recently become an independent state, began searching historical records for potential national heroes. They found Ambiorix, and recognized his bravery in the face of the conquering legions. A long poem was written about the man, and the statue in Tongeren crafted. Ambiorix had become famous, just 1900 years after his run-in with the Romans.
Now think, “What have I done in my lifetime that might earn me the adoration of my countrymen… in a couple millennia?”