Saturday, September 25, 2004

In this month in military 52 B.C.

In this month in military 52 B.C. Caesar's legions defeat Vercingetorix's Gauls at Alesia in Burgundy, France.

Caesar was appointed counsel of Cisalpine (northern Italy and the Adriatic Coast) and Transalpine (France) Gaul in 59 B.C. Between 58 B.C. and 52 B.C., he had been busy moving from one area to another to pacifiy the assorted Gaulic tribes in France. Finally, the Gaulic tribes united under the leadership of Vercingetorix from the Averni tribe (the area of the Massif Central in France) . He argued that the Romans were strong enough to defeat each tribe one at a time, but with all the tribes united, they would be able to defeat the Romans. Starting in the winter/spring of 52 B.C., he led an insurrection over all of Gaul. Caesar called up new legions and with the existing legions in Gaul, started to put an end to the insurrection.

Caesar started first at the city of Cenabum (Orleans) where the insurrection started. After the "pacification" (the Romans didn't worry about the difference between combatant and non-combatant) of Orleans was complete, Caesar marched on the main city of the Averni, Gergovie (close to Clermont-Ferrand) where he found Vercingetorix. Unfortunately, the Gauls handed Caesar a defeat at Gergovie, but instead of retreating, he pursued Vercingetorix to the hilltop city of Alesia and started building fortifications to beseige the city and starve the defenders out. But, before the Romans could completely encirle the city, Vercingetorix sends all his calvary out to rally the whole of Gaul to his aide.

Caesar, knowing that he would be soon fighting Gauls in front as well as behind, started building another set of fortification around his forces to protect him from the Gaulic reinforcements. The first set of fortifications surrounding the city of Alesia stretched about 10 miles while the second set of fortifications paralleling the first surrounding his army stretched 13 to 15 miles. The fortifications consisted of towers, trenches, "punji pits" and other obstacles to protect the Romans from the Gauls (more photos here and here).

The Gaulic relief forces (some say 250,000, but other say more around 80,000-100,000) finally arrived in September 52 B.C. Not counting the forces within the walls of Alesia, Caesar was outnumbered at by 8 to 1. The final battle to relieve the seige of Alesia lasted only two to three days. After a number of unsuccessful tries to overrun the Romans, the Gaulic relief forces decided to try one last, final, "let's all die in glory" assault to relieve Alesia. The attack would have succeded if not for the timely arrival of Caesar's Germanic cavalry in the Gaulic rear. The Gauls were routed and hotly pursued by the German Calvary who the Gauls thought of as "barbarians". After the rout of the relief force, Vercingetorix surrendered to Caesar and was paraded in Rome during Caesar's victory parade and was later strangled in prison by the Romans. Except for a few "dead-enders" (Rumsfeld word), Gaul was completely pacified and never revolted again.

So, while history is full of great victories and great generals, the greatest of all has to be Julius Caesar and his victory at Alesia, 2056 years ago this month. Since Patton believed that he had been at the Battle of Zama where the Romans general Africanus Scipio defeated the Cathaginian general Hannibal (watch the movie Gladiator for a cheesy, colloseum "recreation"), maybe he was also present as a Roman legionaire at Alesia.


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