Fighting prowess, as with all Celtic warriors, was the measure of a man. The Nervii are an excellent example of this. Their tribal name derives from Nerios, a Celtic god of strength. A cut above most unarmored swordsmen, the Nervii are respected by all fellow Belgic tribes in their warrior tradition. Their equipment gives them a great advantage over other unarmored opponents, even giving many medium and some heavily armed foes a run for their money. To battle they bring javelins to hurl from a distance, but not too many as that is a skirmishers job and these warriors are eager for close combat! Though large shields do well protecting the Nervii warrior from the axe, spear, and sword of his enemies, where the Nervii warrior's advantage truly shines is their superior swordsmanship and tenacity in melee combat. These swordsmen are a cut above many other Belgic swordsmen and they can force their way through powerful enemies by their swordplay and skill alone.
Far away from most of Gaul, the northern Gallic tribes were set apart from their Celtic neighbors, like the Arverni directly to the south, and those in the east. Many Gallic tribes migrated across the Rhine in great numbers, though they were not considered a Germanic people simply because of their geographical location on the other side of the Rhine. Intermingling and trading with the brave Germanic tribes, these Gauls would have picked up on the best warrior aspects of these German tribesmen, many of whom possessed their own traditions and cultures. This, in addition to their own superior Celtic weapons, metalworking, and crafting culture, meant that overtime these Gauls could perhaps be considered the best of both the Celtic and Germanic worlds. Hundreds of years and many generations after these migrations, in the time of the Roman invasion, the Belgae were a group of tribes that Caesar at least thought was somewhat set apart from both the regions and people residing in regions of the Gauls and the Germans, and of these, the Nervii were the most fierce in war.
The Atrebates whose name means "inhabitants," the Veromandui or "men crushers," and particularly the Nervii, or "servants of Neiros," would have arguably came closest to defeating Caesar in the entire Gallic War. This near victory would take place during the battle of the Sambre river in 57 B.C. This battle would go into history as a testament to the ferocity and bravery of the Belgic warrior. Caesar had earlier defeated the Germans invading Gaul under Ariovistus and now was to go to northern Italy, but received reports that the Belgae were forming a coalition against him, fearing that if the rest of Gaul was under Roman rule then they would be the next to fall at Caesar's hand. Caesar raised two new legions and quickly marched north towards Belgic lands. His rapid march surprised the Remi tribe, who sent out two leading men within the tribe, Andecombogius and Iccius, stating that all they had was at Caesar's disposal as well as providing intelligence for the Belgae and how many warriors each tribe was promising. After three days marching into Nervii territory, the Romans learned they were ahead and awaiting them on the other side of the river Sambre. Some of the Gauls marching with the Romans kept in mind the marching order of the Romans which was a legion followed by a baggage train, followed by another legion then another baggage train and so on. These Gauls kept this marching order in mind and deserted to tell the Nervii. They believed that to destroy the legion that arrived first would dishearten the rest of the Romans behind them. The Nervii agreed that once the first baggage train appeared, the attack would begin. (However, with the enemy close by Caesar had changed the order of the march and brought six legions to bear in front of the baggage and not a single legion as he had previously).
On their side of the river, the Romans were just starting to trench for base camp atop a hill that descended evenly down towards the river. On the other side of this river was a clearing with thick forest and hedges behind it. This is where the Atrebates, Veromandui, and Nervii warriors were waiting. Caesar sent an advance force, cavalry, slingers, and archers, out to scout the opposite side of the Sambre. Here, the river was only about 3 feet deep. This Roman force crossed the river and began engaging the Nervii cavarly, which kept moving backwards to the nearby forest. The Roman force was giving fight but did not dare risk pursuing into the forest. From their hiding places in the forest, the Belgae warriors finally saw the roman baggage train appearing in the distance on the Roman side of the river making it way to camp. It's arrival was their signal to attack. The Belgae quickly routed the cavarly, slingers, and archers that crossed the river. They sped across the clearing, across the Sambre river to the Roman held side, and ran up the hill to the roman camp area. The six legions that had arrived ahead of the baggage train were busy making camp and digging the trenches when the Belgae began their attack. Totally caught off guard, the Romans had no time to pull covers off their shields, wear their helmets, nor form up into their own legions correctly. Instead, they rallied at whatever banner was closest to them. Caesar emerged and gave what commands he could, but the centurions, legati, and those under him in the Roman command structure gave further orders to organizing the fighting men.
The Atrebates soon engaged the right section of the Roman line Here, members of the 9th and 10th legion were working, and their commander was Labienus. Once engaged, The 9th and 10th drove the Atrebates back across the Sambre, and due to the Atrebates exhaustion from the quick rush up the hill and being worn down by the pila, they were soon forced back across the river. The Atrebates made another stand on their side of the river, but were driven away a second time. Labienus took the enemy camp.
In the Roman center, where members of the 11th and 8th legions were working, warriors of the Veromandui rushed to attack. Though the Romans drove them down the hill to the river, the Veromandui rallied, counter attacked, and held their ground bravely. The fighting continued here for sometime.
On the Roman left, the Nervii, under their leader, Boguognatus, crossed swords with the 7th and 12th legions. A detachment of this Nervii force attempted to surround the two legions. They made way to the height of the hill where more of the camp area was located. The cavalry, slingers, and archers that were routed when the attack began had made it back to camp. Encountered the Nervii, they ran without resisting. The camp servants and the baggage train drivers fled in confusion as well. Its recorded that the Treveri cavalry, marching with Caesar, came upon the scene and the disorder within the camp. Seeing this state of chaos along with the legions in such strain against the Gauls, they left without fighting, returned to their homes, and reported the Romans had lost the battle. Caesar eventually made his way to the hard pressed 7th and 12th legions fighting the Nervii. After rearranging and organizing some of the line, these two legions regained courage in face of the attack. Around this time, Labienus, who was in the Belgae camp across the river, saw the dire situation the Romans were in against the Nervii, sent the 10th legion to help the 7th and 12th. Once the 10th legion recrossed the river and arrived in support, the Nervii could not withstand all this force brought to bear against them. The Romans achieved a close victory.
This hotly contested Roman victory is a prime example of how superior Roman organization, training, and command structure saved themselves from total destruction. Despite victory, Caesar thought he had all but destroyed the Nervii. He obviously exaggerates when he mentions that only 500 warriors were left capable of bearing arms out of 60,000 warriors that made the attack. The Neverii warriors and fighting ability were not destroyed. 3 years later in 54 B.C. they rose again with Ambiroix of the Eburones tribe and others against the Romans. Here, Nervii warriors sent warriors to help besiege Cicero's camp. In 52 B.C., the Nervii tribe sent 5,000 warriors to aid the Arverni and allies, under Vercingetorix, in the last true threat to the Roman invasion of Gaul.