Back to the Battle of Alesia

As mentioned in the earlier post, all bar two of the Gallic tribes had started an uprising against their Roman conquerers. The leader of this revolt was Vercingetorix, the King of the Arverni and he proved to be more than just a ‘common barbarian’ as the Romans often thought of the Gauls. He based his whole campaign around a ‘scorched earth’ tactic  which proved highly effective. He ordered his soldiers to destroy all of the farms in the country to cut off any source of supplies that the Romans could use. This caused a loss of morale and fighting ability in Caesar’s legionaries, making the once difficult task of controlling the revolt to a near impossible one. In the seven years that Caesar had been in Gaul he had never had much difficulty in controlling any uprisings against him. But that was because these would be single tribes fighting on their own. Joining together would present the tribes with a huge chance of ridding themselves of the Romans, merely through numbers alone.

Upon hearing of the revolt Caesar split his forces into two. He sent his second in command Titus Labienus north with four legions to attack the revolting Senones and the Parisii and he took the remaining six legions to attack Vercingetorix himself. After succeeding in a few minor battles Caesar suffered defeat at Gergovia, the capital of the Arverni. He was forced to retreat with considerable losses. With these losses and the supply problems Caesar would have been extremely weak and vulnerable should  Vercingetorix have attacked. However the Gallic King took this time to retreat with his forces to the town of Alesia, the capital of the Mandubii tribe,  to replenish.

Alesia was situated on the top of a hill and was therefore very hard to attack. Caesar decided to lay siege to the city. IN just three weeks the Romans managed to build a circle of fortifications including ditches, traps, walls and a moat of circumference eleven miles around the city. This set of fortifications was known as a circumvallation. Then, weary of an a relief force from the other tribes who had joined Vercingetorix against him Caesar then ordered his men to make an even larger ring of fortifications facing out to protect against such a force. This was known as a contravallation. Overall it was estimated that a total of 2,000,000 cubic meters of soil were dug out. As shown on the image Caesar’s and Vercingetorix’s armies were of roughly the same size.

As the city’s food supplies slowly ran out the women and children who lived there were sent out, in the hope that Caesar would let them pass. However the Roman general saw this as a trick to distract him and his forces so that the Gauls could attempt a break out. He refused and the women and children were stuck in the no-mans land between the city and the Romans, slowly starving. However in late September 52BC the Gallic relief army arrived with a huge 258,000 men under the leadership of Commius, of the Atrebates. The Romans were now outnumbered at a staggering 5 – 1, a reason why this would become one of the greatest military victories in history.

On the 30th both Commius and Vercingetorix attacked at the same time. Using his fortifications and the training of his troops to good effect Caesar managed to push off the attack. The next day the Gauls did the same, however this time it was under the cover of darkness. They managed to breach some sections of the Roman line but anyone who broke through was attacked by cavalry led by Mark Antony and Gaius Trebonius, effectively plugging the hole.

The next planned attack was for the 2nd October where a cousin of Vercingetorix, Vercassivellaunus, planned to attack with 60,000 men from the outside at a section of Caesar’s line where natural obstacles had prevented the building of a fortification. This made that section vulnerable to an attack and break through. In response to this attack, along with constant pressure from Vercingetorix inside the city, Caesar showed some of the great qualities required by a general. He rode among his men inspiring them to fight for him, for Rome. He kept his orders simple: hold the line; and when it seemed like it was about to break he personally led 6,000 men, or thirteen cohorts, around the back to attack the oncoming 60,000 from the rear, preventing the annihilation that would have surely happened should the Gauls have broken through. Instead almost all of the 60,000 were slaughtered and with the rest of the relief army routed Vercingetorix and his remaining men in the city were given an ultimatum: surrender or starve. Naturally he picked the former.

Despite the staggering numbers of his enemy Caesar somehow managed to only lose around 12,800 men killed and wounded as opposed to the 250,000 casualties that the Roman legionaries managed to inflict on their enemy, with a further 40,000  having been captured. Vercingetorix was imprisoned in Rome until 46BC, when he was executed. This dest


1 Response to “Back to the Battle of Alesia”

  1. July 28, 2012 at 6:19 am

    I dont know what to say. This blog is fantastic. Thats not really a really huge statement, but its all I could come up with after reading this. You know so much about this subject. So much so that you made me want to learn more about it. Your blog is my stepping stone, my friend. Thanks for the heads up on this subject.

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