"A last alliance against tyranny - the battle for free Gaul"
Gaul hung by a thread.
As Rome’s grip tightened around their homeland, the Tribal Kings met to discuss their grim reality.
Age-old rivalries were tossed aside for the sake of unity, and Vercingetorix was raised as supreme commander of Gaul.
The task ahead of him was monumental. The odds of success - minimal.
But what a song it would be for their ancestors!
This episode follows the epic conclusion to Caesar’s Gallic Wars, including the famous Siege of Alesia.
Sources and Further Reading:
In the year 52 BC, the biggest and baddest chieftains of Gaul met at the city of Cenebum. Situated in the dead center of the land, it was a place sacred to all tribes. This ancient meeting place had been where tribes had met for centuries. And in the past, a wide range of issues would have been discussed. But this time, there was just one. What was to be done about Rome?
This was Gaul. Free Gaul. Their lands were not Roman provinces. Caesar had been invited by a single tribe to deal with a threat that now no longer posed any danger. What were the legions still doing here? Recently, Chief Ambiorix, leader of the Eburones, had led the largest revolt Gaul had seen yet. He had convinced several tribes to put aside their rivalries and fight as one. And under one banner they fought, and Caesar had utterly destroyed them.
Some chieftains thought this would calm things down, that Caesar may take a step back. But he didn't. Since then, he started organizing the kingdoms of Gaul and districts, the first signs of creating fully fledged Roman provinces. The indignation of such an act was lost on no one but few dared speak up. Acco, the leader of The Senones, was whipped to death for daring to even think about rebellion. Now even the most peace loving chiefs could not dispute Rome's intentions. Even the tribes that had prospered through their alliance with the empire were equally unhappy with what was developing.
Commius, King of the Atrebates was an old friend of Caesar, who in the past had fought on behalf of Rome and was disgusted at this betrayal. Did this general have no shame? This man would lie to his face while he pulled the rug out from under him. A storm was brewing around Caesar. Around the table sat some of the most powerful men in Gaul. Grizzled chieftains and disfigured kings. All of them combat veterans, men who raised the sword first and asked questions later. Too long they had sat idle and divided as Caesar stole their lands from under them. Today was the day that changed.
Caesar had to go.
Each chief prize their independence, their power that they had meticulously built through battles, marriages and prestige. But all of them had watched Caesar pick off tribes one by one. Divided, they were weak. If they were to do battle with Rome, they would need to do it the Roman way. They need to become one people, led by one leader, with uh absolute authority, just like Rome.
For years, Vercingetorix, chief of the Averni, had practically been begging the council for exactly this. Passionately he spoke about Gallic freedom and about seizing the moment. Was there liberty not worth dying for? Should we roll over like a sick dog for a few flaggons of wine and handful of gold? He told them, quote it was better, they urged uh to be slain in battle than to fail to recover their old renown in war and the liberty which they had received from their forefathers. In the dim light of the grotto of Cenabum, one by one, the chieftains rose and dropped their battle standard in a pile. Soon, a stack of colourful cloth had formed. Each one of them was an oath of loyalty from a Gallic tribe. All had agreed Vercingetorix was to lead them.
Welcome back to anthology Heroes. My name is Elliot Gates, the host of this show, and I'm happy to, um, announce that as of this week, the podcast has joined the Evergreen Podcast Network. To hear more about what this means, stay tuned after the credits at the end of this episode. But don't worry, everything more or less stays as is.
This is part three of Caesar's Worst Nightmare, and we're dropping into the rebellion at the 11th hour. In part one, we dived into Gallic culture and we got a few hints at the type of man Caesar would become by looking at his first few assignments across the empire. We finished with a thorough and rather brutal subjugation of Helvetian People, a Gallic tribe that had been trying to migrate through Roman territory. In part two, we covered the opening salvos of the Gallic rebellions against Caesar. From single tribes to little confederations, we watched as the Gallic people tried and failed to outplay the general. You can listen to this episode, stand alone if you like, but to understand how we got to this point, how almost all of these fiercely independent tribes became desperate enough to join a confederation together, I'd say check out those two first. All caught up? Good.
Time to bring it home with the finale, Caesar's Worst Nightmare part 3: Vae Victis.
In all of Gallic history, it's doubtful any leader managed to, uh, unite so many tribes. And it really shows just how dire things have become in Gaul. Aside from Vercingetorix’s tribe, the Averni, seven other major tribes and a few other ones joined the war band, Vercingetorix had the oath of these chieftains. But he wanted more. So he took hostages from each tribe to ensure they held up their end of the bargain. Again, enforcing this is the endgame. We are fighting to the death here, so don't try weaving out because I've got half your family. He and his council then worked out the number of troops to be supplied by each tribe, paying particular attention to the number of cavalry he could get his hands on. Gallic cavalry was superior to anything Rome could offer. He knew it, and so did Caesar. If he could reduce Rome to just its foot soldiers, deadly as they were, his army would be more versatile.
It seemed that he had done what his father failed to do. Vercingetorix had effectively become King of Gaul. And the king's justice was absolute. Anyone seen shirking their duties had their eyes gouged out or their eaves lopped off and those of guilty of serious offenders were burnt to death. From the time Caesar had set foot in Gaul, Vercingetorix had watched his tactics. Some historians even mused over whether the Gallic king had fought alongside Roman eunice in the past. Wherever his insight came from, he made it clear to the other chieftains that this would not be a fair or easy fight. Whatever the Gaulish word for scorched earth was was probably thrown around, that is, burning and destroying your own lands to make it harder for the enemy to find food.
This was to be their strategy. Bleed Caesar dry in a foreign land, while the army of Gaul held out with all their supplies in their strongest till forts. This strategy cannot have been an easy sell to the other chieftains. For the Gauls, fighting in battle was honorable. It brought glory and prestige. And now this king I say this with air quotes that only had for a week or so, was telling them they needed to burn their crops, destroy their cities and hide away in the forts and just wait for Caesar to go home. Where was the honor? There. But logic won over. All of these chieftains had seen the methodical efficiency of the legions. Entire tribes had vanished trying to fight Rome mano-e-mano. This new strategy was sound. But their sacrifices didn't end there. Vercingetorix insisted that only a few of their best hill fords were to be garrisoned. Many of the chieftains capitals, he argued, were just not up to scratch. These too needed to be burnt and evacuated. Otherwise Caesar would take them.
There was no room for sentimentality here. Many of these tribes had probably not seen Roman siege warfare. Catapults that could fire stones as large as a barrel, and scorpions that could fire crossbow bolts longer than an arm. For these chieftains, their ancient capitals had withstood millennia of raids from other Gallic tribes, steep cliffs with minimal entrances. How could they possibly be taken? But the new king insisted, as painful as it was, the ghost must be united, singular in purpose. Because if they failed, caesars alternative was much, much worse.
He needed them to trust his judgment, and more than that, he needed them to be patient, a trait not exactly prized in Gallic culture. Grumbling the chiefs agreed. In theory, they would do what was required, they said. But they knew as well as Vercingetorix did that he had no way of forcing them to comply. His position was completely unique in the Gallic world, and the new authority he ruled with extended only as far as they let it. Was Caesar back in Italy, performing some damage control on a political situation. Now was the best time to strike. If they could cause enough chaos in Gaul and destroy Caesar's logistics network, then perhaps the Senate would recall him. It was a bold plan, but it was all they had. All around Gaul, the fields usually brimming with wheat and barley, lay barren. Not a stalk grew .Regional grain sailors were emptied and their contents moved into the hill forts. Buildings were pulled apart and capitals pulsed with activity. Perhaps a few cluey Roman administrators took notice, but by then, it was too late. The coalition sprang into action. All across Gaul, Roman officials and merchants are murdered at their post. Each chief does all the damage you can to the Roman logistics network within their lands. Caesar tells us that the Gauls actually had a system of shouters to pass messages quickly along long distances. So perhaps a code word or something similar was shouted through the network of settlements to confirm. Hey, it's happened. Uh, we're on.
And as the Roman administrators begin to reach out to the other settlements hey, are the locals going bananas over there? Because they are here! Vercingetorix sends out one of the chieftains he had come to trust south at the head of a small army. The chieftain's name was Lucretius, and his orders were to march south and try and sway some of the tribes during the coalition, either through diplomacy or force. Before Rome had even realized what was going on, Lucretius had earned the loyalty of three powerful tribes. With his ranks swelling, he heads further south towards Roman Gaul. Unlike the rest of Gold, this area was part of the Roman Empire. If he could turn these border tribes that had embraced Roman rule in orbit name, caesar would have no way of reaching the heartland.
Almost overnight, the situation in Gaul is flipped on its head when Caesar hears that this many tribes are an open revolt. Well, you can imagine him dropping his fork mid meal at one of his villas, can't you? Caesar likely knew of Vercingetorix as an influential young noble from a wealthy tribe. I read one source said, in the past, he'd actually tried to court friendship with him, but got nowhere. So, probably still pulling his toga on, caesar jumps on his horse and races north as quickly as he can. If he was to lose Gall now, his political career would be over.
His dreams of replicating the deeds of his hero, Alexander the Great disappearing before his eyes, he spurred north, going hell for leather. The response of the local Roman garrisons to this great revolt, though, was… pretty weak. It seems like they probably hadn't yet realized the scale of this thing. With no orders yet received from Caesar, the local commander tells the Aedui tribe, hey, there's a bit of trouble up north. Go over there and sort it out. Remember, the Aedui were Rome's oldest Gallic ally. The Druid Nwas the one that invited Caesar into Gaul in the first place.
Even though the official position of the Aedui was ally of Rome, their government was not at all unified in this position. Diviacus once had a younger brother by the name of Dumnorix - fiercely anti roman and pro-independence, this man had done all he could to sabotage his brother and any cooperation with Caesar. Almost every missing crate of food, every late cavalry charge or delayed pledge of loyalty had the fingerprints of Dumnorix on it.
In one of the rebellions. In the previous years, Caesar finally got his hands on him. With the same defiance that so many of his countrymen showed, Dumnorix was chased down by Caesar's cavalryman. Once they caught up with him, he refused to come quietly screaming at them that he didn't need to go with them because, quote, I'm a free man of a free state.
Dumnorix was murdered, but his spirit lived on. If the choices of the Aedui were servitude to a fellow Gaul or to Rome, many of his tribe were inclined to the former. But orders were ordered. So the Aedui army rides out to see what's going on, and they either see this big coalition, this big army starting to muster, or maybe the locals just tell them, hey, you do not want to be here right now. Whatever happened, they came running back soon after and tell the Roman governor, hey, this is too much for us. We can't take care of this.
By the time Caesar arrives, he's in a wild panic. Along the ride, he's gathered up literally anyone he could robbers, thieves, veterans, whatever. He didn't know what was going on. And this rabble would surely be better than nothing. He would have been furious at local governors for essentially subcontracting their job to a tribe whose loyalty was already questionable. His merchants were dropping like flies. His veteran legion scattered throughout Gaul, and he had no idea of their condition. The men he had with him were recruits well in over their head, and his Gallic allies were cold on him and going colder by the day. He knew he was in a lot of trouble. Finally thought Caesar a worthy foe.
Across the same snow covered passes that Hannibal had once crossed when he marched on Rome 150 years ago came Caesar. With his trademark speed and charisma, he spurred his rookies over the treacherous Alps. In the nick of time, he arrived and hits back at Lucretius, who was definitely not expecting an army to march across the Alps. Welcome to war with Caesar. With Lucretius's army sent packing, caesar tells the little army, hey, go nuts. Take whatever you want, murder who you can find, cause as much trouble as you can. And he scatters them to the wind, hoping that the army breaking apart to go pillaging would disguise just how small his force actually was.
Caesar, with just a few men, then heads north through the hostile countryside. Some sources say he actually dressed himself up as a ghoul because the area was just that hostile to anyone who looked Roman at that point, it was dangerous. But he couldn't wait. He needed to get to his legions, and he needed to get to them. Now, with a heavy helping of the general's trademark luck, he finds them. The scene was a bleak one. Bloodied and bruised from Gallic hit and run attacks, they were almost out of food. But thank the gods, they were still alive.
Vercingetorix had failed his first objective. He had been too eager to take the bait, chasing Caesar's bandits around the countryside while the real prize slipped right past him. The master general now had his perfect army. But the war chief always knew this was a possibility. His plan was still solid, keeping Caesar's army hungry and scared. No matter how good this army was, they were still men and they still had to eat. Somewhere around the center of France lived the Boii tribe. The Boii were fairly insignificant in the scheme of our story, but they were a direct client of Rome. If Vercingetorix could break them, it would be a strong propaganda victory. It would show that Rome could not even defend a tribe small as this. And perhaps it would sway others who were lukewarm to Roman friendship.
This fact didn't escape Caesar, but there was a problem. The march to defend this little tribe would burn through his near empty food stores. Perhaps it would be sensible to conserve their supplies. Then again, if they let this tribe fall, other tribes may sense weakness and begin withholding more food. Caesar and his men set off and got there first, leaving two legions behind to protect the boy. He struck two cities in quick succession. The speed and efficiency of a Roman siege was astonishing. The first siege went for just three days and the second not much longer. Once Vercingetorix and his forces arrived to the strong Roman guard around the boy, they raced back, arriving just in time to see Caesar accepting the surrender of yet another city. Part of the surrender terms pack animals. Exactly what the general needed to keep his precious food close to the army. Bishop to e7. The cunning general had stolen the initiative from the Gallic king. Once again, Caesar was back in the green.
The opening salvos for the rebellion had been won by Caesar. A bitter pill to swallow for the galaxy alliance. But there had been no decisive battles yet, and if Vercingetorix had his way, there would be none. Refusing to give battle, he shadowed Caesar shying away from any pitched battle. He kept his army packed together, only allowing them to raid if they spotted any legionnaires dragging behind. It was only in a marshy lowland swamp did he give any indication of wanting to fight a pitch battle. This was completely unacceptable to Caesar. In the boggy terrain, Gallic ponies and lightly armed warriors would make mincemeat out of his legions. So instead he marched onwards towards the fortified hill fort of modern day Bourges.
As the Roman army close in, Vercingetorix sends his messages to the chief of the tribe like, hey, I'm sorry, I've got to tell you, but like we planned, you've got to abandon your capital. We can't defend it. So burn it all down and pull back, just like we talked about.
But the chieftain… couldn't do it! Around the campfire. Back in Cenebum, it was all well and good to agree to the destruction of another tribes capital city. I mean, that was the plan, wasn't it? If Caesar was heading for a big city, it needed to be abandoned and nothing left from inside. But when it's your city, with all its history, its wealth, with all its residents who trusted you, the chief, to keep them safe, it's a different story, isn't it? I mean, imagine if the NATO commander in chief told the president of Romania, sorry, you've got a completely level Bucharest - lovely city, I know, but burn the whole thing down and move west. It's the only way it's got to go. So, in what must have been an incredibly frustrating situation, Vircingetorix reluctantly agrees to make an exception. In this case, he would do his best and try to defend Avericum.
Credit to its defenders. This really was a formidable defensive structure, surrounded by swamps on all sides had just one entrance, which was ringed by a towering stone wall. It would have been easy for the defenders to be overconfident, but they weren't. They manned the walls all day and night. Whenever Roman grappling hooks or ladders found their way on the climbers were met with a volley of sharp spears or boiling oil. Everyone knew the Romans could not wait them out. They didn't have enough food. Caesar needed to force to surrender or take the city. Whatever he did, it had to be done soon. They had no hope of scaling the wall, so Caesar ordered the construction of an enormous earthen ramp that got higher and higher as it grew closer to the wall. As the structure began to take shape, caesar had another group start digging tunnels to try and force a collapse of parts of the wall. But this part of Gaul was full of iron mines, and its defenders were well versed on how to construct and destroy tunnels.
Day after day, the legionnaires toiled away in miserable torrential rain. In their sodden tunics, they lugged pile after pile of dirt to the front, dodging arrows and spears, while the Gallic defenders yelled insults and threats down upon them. Caesar was now desperate for food. This siege was taking way too long, so he sent orders to the Aedui and Boii tribes to supply troops and food without delay. The former made excuses and nothing arrived. And the latter was too small of a tribe to offer anything really substantial. The countryside was bare. The Gallic war chief strategy was starting to hurt badly. One day, the exhausted legionnaires awoke and found the camp kitchen closed. There was no food left, as in literally none.
Vercingetorix nipped at the heels of any foraging parties desperate enough to venture away from the safety of camp. Soaked to the bone, the legionnaires began to talk of breaking the siege and Caesar, with his usual fox like cunning, agreed with them. He said, Maybe you're right, my brothers. Maybe this hardship is too much for the 10th Legion. Maybe the men of the 7th Legion are not up to such a task. If you'd like it, we can go home. I guess all our comrades that were murdered by these ghouls don't really deserve to be avenged. Come on, let's call it, shall we? Come on, let's go.
This brilliant exploitation of the men's pride and the use of terms like comrade instead of soldier shamed the legions. It made them feel like they were letting one of their own down. Later, when a foraging party stumbled back into camp with a head of cattle, a cheer probably went up to their commander. And the siege continued. As the people of Avericum watched, the ramps snake closer and closer to their walls. They knew something had to be done. They had tried to raise the height of their own wall in response, but it was a shambling, makeshift thing, nowhere near the sophistication of the Roman ramp that crept towards them. Worse still, an enormous siege tower was beginning to take shape at the base of the ramp. If this behemoth reached the wall, it was all over for them. The attackers building the ramp were protected by a roof they'd built to top it. But what protected them beneath their feet?
Weeks of planning had led to this very moment. Unbeknown to the Romans, the expert Gallic tunnels had built a long mine shaft under the ramp. With everything in place, the tunnelers lit the support beams on fire and ran for the exit. Through the drizzly black night, one of Caesar's lookouts noticed something peculiar. Parts of the wooden siege ramp were smoking. As a group of men went to investigate, the gates of Avericum flung open and the Gallic warriors cut their way towards the siege tower. Like a crack of lightning, the night lit up. Caesar barked orders to defend the tower at all costs. And from the wall the defenders fired arrows and hurled barrels were burning pitch at the structure. Desperately trying to bring the thing down, the legionnaires scrambled to pull the tower back before it was too badly damaged.
As the support structures underneath the mine finally began to give way, part of the ramp sunk into the tunnel. But the legionnaires defended their precious tower through the jet black night. Caesar himself observed an act of the most courageous bravery from the Gallic defenders. Illuminated by the night sky and the fires swirling around him on top of the city gates, one Gallic warrior hurled pots of boiling pitch onto the tower. Desperately trying to keep the fire burning. Like a man possessed, he threw one pot after another after another, before a Roman ballistic skewered him and he fell dead. Barely a second later, another man took his spot and continued the work. The same ballista shot him through and another filled his place. And another.
As the ferocity of the assault pleaded out, roman discipline turned the tide and the men of Gaul retreated back into the city. The siege tower was badly singed but salvageable and the ramp, though damaged, was patched up. Things went from bad to worse when Vercingetorix led a raid, chasing after one of Caesar's foraging parties. With their unifying chief missing, Caesar launched his counterattack. The defenders held out, but they were furious that Vercingetorix had left him in the lurch at such a pivotal moment. Some even accused him of being in cahoots with Caesar.
With the ramp now almost touching the wall, Vercingetorix told his soldiers with a grim certainty there was nothing they could do for a veracom. As a rainstorm swirled above the fortress, caesar knew his moment had come. With talks of mutiny in the Gallic ranks, he ordered a final charge. Over the completed ramp came thousands of soldiers like ants pouring out of an anthill. The muddy structure swarmed with the exhausted centurions. It was too much, no match for the legionnaires in combat. Their defense crumbled, a few of the bravest men of the city formed up in the market square, ready to meet their ends. As the Roman defenders swarmed down from the walls from his camp nearby, Vercingetorix would have turned his head away, knowing there was nothing more he could do for the doomed city.
Avericum, the capital of the Biturige people, was lost. When a city resisted Rome like this, there was never any mercy for its inhabitants. Weeks of rage and frustration erupted into an orgy of rape and violence in the winding streets away from the stern gaze of the centurions. There was no one to reign in the frenzied soldiers. Roman historian Adrian Goldsworthy says of the fall quote caesar does not seem to have made any effort to restrain his men, although it's highly questionable whether he would have been able to do so even if he had tried.
Though he had never wanted to defend Avericum and had given explicit orders for it to be abandoned, The fall of the city was initially a blow to the prestige of Vercingetorix, but as the dust settled, it kind of flipped. As his chieftains realized things weren't exactly like he said they would. As tragic as the fall of Avericum was, its fate was sealed when Caesar locked eyes on it. But the massacre that followed, that could have been avoided if they just followed his orders.
Caesar's propaganda machine got to work. Why resist us? Look what happens under Roman rule. You'll be rich, you'll be safe from the Germans and your children will always have work. As he prepared to march on though he received some troubling news. The Aedui, you remember: that tribe that had initially called for his help, but since had provided him nothing but excuses. Those guys, well, they had just held their election, and two claimants had claimed the position of prime minister or elected king. Whatever word you want to use, there should have only been one of them. Knowing full well the Anti-Roman feelings that lingered in the tribe, caesar needed to ensure that the guy he liked, or the guy who liked him, I should say ended up with the top job. So he heads there, sorts it out, and by the time he's ready to leave, his old shadow Vercingetorix is right there waiting for him.
It's a testament to the respect that the gallic commander had that over and over again, he managed to hold this huge, boisterous group of tribes together. I've got to stress this again. This was not the gallic way. In their world, the battles were quick and bloody. No need to figure out boring things like logistics and baggage because no one stuck around for long enough to need them. Keeping these men from tearing each other apart would have been challenging enough. But to also keep them from saying, screw this and attacking or just going home Birken get rick must have had a hell of a way with words. Back on the ground, caesar split his army and his food supplies, and two, one contingent went north, and he headed south. And this time it was personal, because he wasn't just marching to another miscellaneous hill fort or town. No, he was marching directly for Gregovia, the war chief’s capital, the site where he was raised as king of the Averni.
Caesar wanted to hit his rival right where it hurt, right in the pride. Losing his home city would be a prestige hit to Vercingetorix , and perhaps it would be enough to tip the fickle loyalty of the tribal chieftain caesar's way. But unlike Avericum, gregovia was always designed to be held. It was one of those gallic cities that was best positioned to withstand a siege. And, yes, it's probably no coincidence that it also happened to be the war chief's home city. On the opposite side of a riverbank, Vercingetorix’s army followed Caesar and burnt all the bridges to stop them crossing. But one day, like any other, caesar's legions marched out, and as usual, voking ghettox followed. But Caesar had duped him.
Before the morning sun, caesar had split his forces in two. One part hid in the brush and the other headed away from camp, marching with their ranks spaced out from the other side of the river. It seemed like nothing out of the ordinary, and Vercingetorix and his men took the bait, continuing to shadow the smaller group. It was only in the afternoon the Gaul realized he'd been fooled. As quickly as he could, he marched back, but it was too late. In under 12. Hours, caesars men had reconstructed the destroyed bridge and had begun fortifying the other side. Most of the army had already crossed. Cursing himself for being fooled again, Vercingetorix pulled back and began to ready his capital for the Roman storm that was now imminent.
The legions settled in and got to work on the siege camp. The speed of construction was still a site of awe and dread for the Gallic defenders. After a good amount of cajoling and threats, caesar's lukewarm allies finally agreed to send him some food. Now, I know what you're thinking, and I'm sure Caesar thought the same. Yeah, I've heard that one before. That food is not arriving. But this time, Caesar's own officers confirmed that there really was a convoy of supplies heading to them. The general just need to hang tight, and it would be with him soon. Understandably, this precious cargo was under heavy guard. 10,000 Gallic warriors under the command of an adobe chieftain escorted it. But remember how we spoke about the wavering loyalty of this tribe, about how factionalism had split Rome's oldest ally down the middle? Well, this particular chieftain's political leaning was toward the Gallic confederation. Walking alongside, a stack of food sent for Caesar really didn't sit too well with him. So when Vercingetorix sent a diplomat to meet him, a few sacks of gold was all it took to convince him to switch sides.
Pockets lined with gold. The chieftain had no problem lying to his 10,000 men. That shock and horror. He'd received news that Caesar had executed all of his Gallic allies under charges of colluding with the enemy. That seems to have been all it took. In a wild fury, the 10,000 turn on their Roman escort, torture them to death, and make off with all the food. Back at camp, Caesar probably tapping his foot like we do while we wait for uber eats, going, how long is this food going to be? All of a sudden, the news arrives. His escort had turned on him, the guards were dead, and the food was right this second being carried off. with literally no time to lose, caesar prepared to march out and secure whatever was left. But he had a problem. He would need to split his forces and bring his precious Gallic cavalry with him to prove that he had not ordered them executed. He knew it was a gamble. Vercingetorix and his army were just waiting to pounce. Almost as soon as he left camp, the Gallic trumpet sounded, and the Roman siegeworks were under attack. But the general pressed on. He had no choice. If he didn't secure the supplies, they were done.
Covering an incredible 25 miles, caesar comes across the chaotic scene. The reports were true. All his Roman escorts were dead. Having met their end in horrible ways at the sight of his legions and is still very much alive. Gallic cavalry. Most of the Aedui soldiers immediately surrender and beg for clemency. They tell Caesar they were led astray by a few bad apples. It wasn't their fault that they'd always wanted to be loyal to him. Yada. Yada. Yada. Was he buying it? I really doubt it. I'm sure he wasn't, And one hand gesture would have been all it took to have all these men executed. But Julius Caesar was never one to let his emotions show. An order like this would do nothing for his course. And he needed to get back, like, right now. So he tells them, Fine, if you want to prove your loyalty, come with me and help us with this siege. After giving his men just three measly hours to sleep, they all trudge back to the siegeworks.
By the time they arrived, the commander he left behind is in a state. In the day or so it took Caesar to leave and return, they had barely got a moment's peace. Under constant attack from Vercingetorix, they were exhausted. And Caesar didn't fail to notice that the Gallic army had begun to extend their lines, threatening to flank Caesar's exhausted, hungry men. Gergovia was not just chosen because it was Vercingetorix’s home city. To call the city hillfort doesn't really do it justice. The city was built on the flat part of something like a mountain. It wasn't steep so much as it was long. The flat plateau where the city was built sat about 360 meters, 1200ft above the plains below, commanding sweeping views from all angles. To take it, the legionnaires would have a long, hard run uphill, dodging the trees they'd need to endure volleys of arrows. And if they made it past that, they'd also have to vault over a six foot stone wall Vercingetorix had built. Caesar was in a bad place. He was at the bottom of a fortified hill, low on food, and his men were exhausted at a countryside that was soaring to their presence more and more by the day. But he couldn't just pack up and head back to recover his strength. Why? Image. The Rome he represented was one of invincibility, always moving forwards, onwards and upwards, unbeatable and unshakable.
And this facade wasn't just to intimidate his Gallic allies. It was for his own legions, as just as much it was they who needed to believe that they were invincible. Their morale is what won the battles. If he turned and fled from these lowly barbarians just once, it meant acknowledging them as equals. He needed a quick victory, something to let him save face before heading back. Vercingetorix watched his every move. He read into his every action, always trying to counter it without thinking critically about the motive behind the order. Perhaps Caesar realized this was to be his weakness. He had deceived the Gaul twice now let's try for a third. Slapping a bunch of slaves onto horses, he made it look like the bulk of his cavalry were heading around the side of the hill. He even threw in a few actual cavalrymen to make the deception more complete. The slaves were told to keep the animals loud and noisy and to attract as much attention as possible. Birkengedix took the bait. With the bulk of his forces, he circled around the top of the mountain, waiting for them. At the same time, Caesar began to move his troops to a little hillock close to the base of the mountain. They, too, were part of the deception. Little by little, a few men doddled over to the spot. They moved slowly. They weren't marching. They weren't even in military order. From the city atop, it would have just looked like a little trickle of men pacing over a distance. Then, like a magician's trick, the legions appeared in perfect battle order. Marching up from the bottom of a hill the Gallic troops were caught completely off guard. What magic was this? They had watched the Roman camp all day and had only seen a few men dawdling across the field. One chief wasn't even dressed as allegiance tore into his camp. With just a pair of pants on. He jumped on a horse and scrambled up the hill. The trap was sprung, and from the other side of the hill fort.
Vercingetorix cursed himself for again falling for Caesar's tricks. The Gallic camps midway up the hill were plundered. With this little victory, Caesar had made his point. Time to go before the war chief returned. He sounded the trumpet, and the legions closest to him retreated. But those on the other side of the hill either didn't hear or driven on by the illusion of an easy victory, pressed forward. Scrambling um over the deserted stone wall. They reached the very outskirts of the city. The citizens, fearing that their city had fallen, began to beg for mercy from the soldier. Caesar says, quote the matrons begin to cast their clothes and silver over the wall and, bending over as far as the lower part of the bosom without stretched hands, beseeched the Romans to spare them and not to sacrifice to their resentment even women and children, as they had done at a veracum. Some of them let themselves down from the wall by their hands and surrendered to our soldiers. Lucius Fabius, a centurion of the 8th Legion, who was known to have said that that day uh among his company that he was spurred on by the rewards of Avericum and would allow no one to mount the wall before him. End quote.
But just as everything looked like it was lost, Vercingetorix and his army tore back onto the scene. Smashing into the flanks of the overextended Roman legions. They quickly turned the tide. The same women and children previously begging for mercy climbed back onto the walls and screamed encouragement at their men. Panicked, the Roman soldiers mistook their own Gallic cavalry for those of Vercingetorix. Lucius Fabius, our centurion friend who wanted to ensure he was first on the wall, was cut to pieces. Another centurion decided this was his final battle. Saying there was no escape, caesar tells us, quote, already he had received many wounds, and he cried to the men of his company who had followed him. And this is Caesar quoting the centurion now, as I cannot save myself with you, I will at any rate provide for your life, whom, in the eager desire for glory I have bought into danger when the chance is given, do look after yourselves. With this, he burst into the midst of the enemy, and by slaying two, shifted the rest a little from the gate. When his men tried to assist him, he said and this is him quoting the centurion again in vain do you try and rescue my life, for blood and strength are already failing me. Therefore depart while you have a chance and get back to the legion. So a moment later, he fell fighting and saved his men.
The line collapsed, and the furious Gaul, seeing the Romans so close to their family, cut them to shreds. Caesar could do nothing. Watching his soldiers struck down as they desperately tried to escape, he knew the Roman aura of invincibility was now well and truly shattered. For Caesar, the loss of personnel at Gulfia was regrettable, particularly the 46th century. Men of this experience and bravery were hard to replace. But realistically speaking, the casualties were no huge setback. But the reputational damage though man, he had blown it. His lecherous enemies back at the senate would drag his name through the mud. What was he even doing there? They'd say throwing away Rome's sons in some foreign land for what? He had ten legions, and he couldn't even handle a dirty barbarian chief.
But these scolding remarks were barely a concern compared to what the setback had changed on the ground. Because the Aedui, Rome's oldest ally and lately the provider of all their food, had decided the tide was turning. And now they've thrown in their lot behind Vercingetorix. Officially, they had been growing colder and colder to Caesar, and this setback was the straw that broke the camel's back their little charade with the food delivery, caesar had deliberately been lenient. Knowing how close they were to outright rebellion, he probably figured it was better to have an apathetic, lukewarm ally than an outright enemy. But now it was all for nothing, murdering the little groman garrison that was left behind, the Adooy plundered the grain depots they had been holding for Caesar, but they couldn't carry. They burned. And alongside the grain, uh, was a nice little bonus. All of Caesar's hostages he had hoarded away to ensure compliance from the smaller tribes, scooping up them, too. The Adoi tore down Caesar's little administrative headquarters and headed over to Vercingetorix. In what must have been a tense meeting, the Aedui, who I've read one historian say were the traditional enemies of the Averni sat down with all the other big players in Vercingetorix's war council with stockpiles of food and crowds of hostages.
The Aedui told the war chief to step aside, that they should now lead the rebellion. But Vercingetorix was the height of his power. Had these people not heard he had just defeated Julius Caesar? Shrewdly, he put the matter to vote, and surprise, surprise, the council picked him, as opposed to the guy whose tribe had been Rome's ally up until five minutes ago. With the defection of the Aedui tribe came a tidal wave of smaller tribes with them. All in all, Caesar was left with just two very small tribes that still supported him. In their song ‘Kingdom Come Undone’ The Gallic inspired metal band Eluveitie sing about this moment. Quote rise and unite, arise, united will stand. This is v for vengeance, this is v for vehemence. This is v for victory. This is v for Vercingetorix.
Caesar was now living as a vacant. His legionnaires had no clear base, and he was scrounging food wherever he could find it. Most concerning of all was the advantage Vercingetorix now had in cavalry. Rome did not do cavalry. They did infantry while the Allies supplied the cavalry. But what happens when you've got no allies? Well, you've got to look further afield, don't you? So Caesar managed to secure about 400 German cavalry from across the Rhine. 400 was not a big number, especially with all the, well, all of Gaul up in arms against you. But it wasn't about the amount. These were Germans. Scary, foreign Germans. They held a special place in the fear and the psyche of the Gallic people. They fought a little differently, too. It was not just a group of mounted riders. A rider would work in tandem with an infantryman who would run alongside the horse, and they'd kind of cover each other back during combat. With the backing of the legion, caesar manages to keep Vercingetorix out of Roman Gaul. Already, this little band of German cavalry starts to make a real difference. After the battle, Caesar begins a little retreat south to Regroup. And you get the feeling at this point, Vercingetorix got a bit trigger happy. He had, under his authority, the largest ever Gallic army assembled, and he was probably being pressured to use it. Perhaps fearing the Romans may be retreating completely from Gaul, and plan an attack, and before battle, the riders get together and take an oath.
Caesar describes it as so. Quote the horsemen shouted with one accord, that they should be bound by a most solemn oath, that no man should be received beneath the roof, nor have access to children or to parents, or to a wife who had not twice written through the enemy's column. End quote. The affair was pretty clumsily orchestrated. Eager to push his advantage of cavalry, Vercingetorix's aimed to cut off the romans from their food baggage. But the legions, as usual, proved a tough nut to crack. Despite the small number of German cavalry Caesar had, he used them decisively, with the unflinching legions becoming a stonewall for them to group behind. If a skirmish was heading the wrong way, the Germans could retreat. The legionnaires would make a corridor, let them through, and they'd form up again. They could remount, regroup and keep going out again and again. As the day went on, it became clear that Vercingetorix’s forces were running out of steam, and he ordered a retreat back to the nearest fortified town. Along the way, Caesar nipped at his heels, turning a minor setback into quite a substantial one. As the Sunset vertigin ghettox and his bruised army climbed up towards the nearest hill fort, the ground they stood on would soon enter the annals of one of the most important battlefields in all history. These next few weeks would become an obsession for military planners and armchair historians forevermore. Vercingetorix’s and his army had arrived at Alesia.
Alesia was probably not intended to play the role it did. It was the capital of the Mandubii tribe, a little vessel of the Aedui, and when virtually the entire Garlic army arrived at the doorstep, they really weren't prepared, which is what makes their fate even more tragic. The town sat on a flat plateau, elevated about 1300ft or 300 meters high. And unlike Gergovia , the ascension up was steep and sharp, interspersed with cliffs. And it's during this siege that Julius Caesar would transform from a talented commander to a military genius. It's here where men that would go into serving for the rest of their life came to realize they were in the presence of a mastermind. Alesia would be the first real marker of a man whose career would eventually lead to the overthrow of the ancient Roman republic. For the first time since the war began, caesar had Vercingetorix hemmed in. The Gaul would not shadow him. He couldn't ambush him, and he couldn't go behind his back. He was right there, just across the field. And this time, he wasn't about to get away.
The Gallic army had taken a mauling in the retreat, but it would recover quickly. Roman historian Adrian Goldsworthy puts the ten Roman legions at around 45,000 men, and the Gallic army is really anyone's guess. It was probably a little larger than the Roman army, but not the 800 strong that Caesar claims. With one eye on the hill fort, Caesar began constructing his siegeworks. But this was no standard siege works. No, this was your premium creme de la creme, platinum package siegeworks. If you ever watch that show ninja warrior or tough mudder with all the obstacles, it was like this. But if you messed up, you didn't fall into a pool of water. You impaled yourself on sharpened stakes or barbed iron hooks spanning the entire circumference of the mountain that Alesia sat on. Caesar had a 20 foot, six meter wide ditch, dug 130 foot, 40 meters. Behind that was another two ditches, one which he diverted into a stream to flood, creating a motor. Directly behind that was a twelve foot, three and a half meter high wooden wall, complete with guard towers, spaced out at standardized distances. And Caesar looked upon his creation and decided, no, that's not going to cut it.
So the troops got to work again. Ahead of the ditches formed a maze of holes and booby traps, stripping the countryside of wood. He had his men sharpened fat wooden stakes, hardening them by fire to ensure they kept their point hidden in pits covered by shrubs. The Roman soldiers nicknamed these nasty things tombstones. Mixed in amongst the foliage were iron barbs that we might call caltrops or ninja stars. And the upper parts of the ditches were lined with briar thorns, ancient barbed wire. All in all, 10 miles or 16 walls, towers, ditches and death. This enormous project was observed by Vercingetorix and his army, who again and again rode out to stop it being built, but were repulsed by the defenders after a particular raid where the Romans chased the galaxy soldiers all the way back up to the gates, crushing them against their own walls. Vercingetorix knew he had to act. Caesar's field of pain would be too much for his men to pass through. If he sent his army across it, how many would make it through? And what shape would they be in at the end to fight? But what if Caesar was attacked from the rear?
The King of Gaul knew what he must do that night, with a heavy heart, an enormous amount of trust, Vercingetorix ordered the majority of his cavalry out of Alesia. Entrusted to lead them were two men Vercingetorix cousin Vercassivellaunos, and a Commius, another Gallic chieftain, who had proved his metal. They were commanded to rouse every male of military age all across Gaul and return in 30 days with a relief army. In an uncharacteristically emotional moment, Vercingetorix asked them to remember what he's done and what he's sacrificed for them… He tells them that even if they had no love for him personally, remember that the rest of their countrymen were still holed up in Alesia with him.
So at the stroke of midnight, after swearing an oath to the king, the cavalry squeezed out through the last gap in the Roman defenses, a small clearing that hadn't yet been fortified. As the hope of Gaul disappeared into the darkness, Vercingetorix knew it was now out of his hands. All the King of Gaul could do now was wait. As the weeks dragged on, Vercingetorix worked on a list of contingency plans to make the food supplies last longer. Everything, uh, banked on the earth that men had given him, that they would return. And he had faith but what if it took them more than 30 days? That was all the food he had. Every grain of bali was fuel. Fuel that needed to be spent to power the soldiers. And right now they were burning fuel by feeding all the useless mouths the man to be civilians. In a cruel, tragic and coldly logical act, the war chief ordered the entirety of the man to be tribe out of their city. If you couldn't hold a spear or draw a bow, you were literally not worthy of food.
And so the men, the women, the children, the sick and the elderly were forced out of Alicia, out of their homes with a gate locked behind them. Bewildered, they found themselves in no man's land hemmed in by Roman fortifications. They couldn't go and forage as Caesar soldiers could. Thousands upon thousands of citizens made their way to the Roman wall asking to be let through. But Caesar was known for his cruelty just as much as his clemency.
The gate was barred and the legionnaires were forbidden to feed them. Perhaps Caesar hoped that Vercingetorix would relent and take them back exhausting his food supply quicker. But he, too, turned a blind eye. The Mandubii people were stranded without a friend in the world. They slowly starved. Under the banking September sun in full view of both camps, each mother, father, son and daughter died a long, slow death from starvation or exposure. As the pain of hunger set in, they begged the walls of both camps, begging to be taken as a slave just for a few scraps of food. But inside Alesia, the King had little food to give.
Vercingetorix had told them all from the start there would be sacrifices. And as the 30th day came and went, the grain supply was all but empty. He told his council that soon they may need to start doing the unthinkable. They might need to start eating the dead.,,,
But it wouldn't come to this because, unbeknownst to him, just beyond the horizon, his relief army was mustering. His cousin had done as he ordered. An enormous body of men now marched towards Alesia. Caesar probably knew that a relief army was a possibility. But once he learns of the mind blowing size of it, which he exaggerates as 120,000, he does something. Something that has never been done before and as far as I know, has never been done since…. He built a second wall, a second set of fortifications, the spikes, the holes, the guard towers all of it exactly the same as it was before, but facing the other way. So picture this doughnut made of walls with Alesia the hole in the center. It's got to be one of the most brazen defensive offensive structures ever built. It seems almost silly, like something you do while you're playing age of empires or something. But he does it before he seals up his second set of walls, he sends out foraging parties, telling the men, grab everything you can and bring it back here because this is going to get ugly.
The simultaneous relief of Vercingetorix and the dread felt by Caesar when the army began to form up on the horizon. It must have been a sight to behold. Caesar would have seen every tribe he thought he'd broken from all across Gaul, thinking only of vengeance. All of them had made the journey, marching down from their destroyed cities on the northern coast, the remains of the Nervii had answered Vercingetorix’s call. The few surviving men that stood atop the mound of corpses and flung the Roman spears back at them were there. The battered Helvetians, the very first tribe that Caesar had so ruthlessly stomped down during their migration, the ones that had been forced to return home to their burnt out towns, even with the pressure of German raiders on their border, they were there.
Every little tribe that Caesar had ground to a pulp, every chieftain he tortured, all of them supplied what they could determine to send this hated man back to hell. For the first time in history, almost all the tribes of Gaul were united. The men of Gaul had a long memory, and Caesar had made an enemy of every one of them. Here at Alicia, the fate of a nation would be decided. A last alliance against Tyranny, the battle for free Gaul.
All concerns for both sides of the Gallic defenses were food. Part of the reason armies didn't get this beak is because a ton of food was required. Luckily, the relief army was not planning to be there long, because a group this large would simply run out of food. The first great wave attack came almost immediately. Hideous screams rippled through the Gallic lines as soldiers discovered the cruel traps the Romans had dug. As bones shattered and limbs were impaled, caesar released his Hellhounds, his German cavalry. It's bizarre that such a small group of men could make such a difference, but time and time again they did. Soon the haunted retreat was sounded and the men were sent to the forest, ordered to fell trees, build ladders and gather up dirt to fill in the trenches and traps. They now knew what they were up against. The next day, the Romans manned both sides of the wall. On a high alert, they waited. The sentry's eyes darted back and forth, but both the relief army and Alesia were still. Then, at midnight, an enormous throaty roar came from the camp. This was the signal Vercingetorix had been waiting for!
Trumpets sounded throughout Alesia and both sides charged at the Roman lines. But the timing was off, and by the time Vercingetorix’s men had rallied, filled in the traps and trenches. The relief army had been engaged for some time. But still both sides came close to meeting. As they bore down on the weakest section of the wall, if the army's linked up, the siege was done. Arrows and stones rained down on the Gaul’s as a trickle of men who passed the deadly obstacles became a flood. But Caesar's right hand man, Mark Antony, was as legendary a fighter as he was a lover. Learning from the best, he doled out the reserve sparingly and always kept a cool head. It was touch and go, but as dawn came, the attack was called off. The Gallic forces retreated back across the grizzly fields and returned to camp. The siege works had proved their worth. The trenches and traps now covered in the bodies of the dead and the dying and the casualties were heavy. Time was running out and the Gallic commanders knew it.
The men had one great attack left in them. It was doing them no good trying to bear down. At one point, the mast Roman forces would just concentrate everything there. But if they were stretched thin, they just needed to have one group break through. Under the cover of night, Vercingetorix’s cousin and Commius split their forces. Vercassivellaunos takes most of the cavalry around the fortifications behind a bulging hill that the Romans had been unable to fortify due to the terrain. The rest of the army was to assault every inch of the wall at once and overwhelm Caesar with diversionary attacks. His real assault would come at noon.
The plan was a good one. The hill was likely defended with only two legions. The weight of the charge may be enough. At daybreak the Gauls came. Bloodied, bruised and fearless men charged through the killing fields. The ancient rivals between the tribes gone as Averni and Aedui fought and died side by side. Nervii and Helvetian fought shoulder to shoulder, united by mutual hatred. Vercingetorix, though not informed of the plan, musters forces and charged down to fight. Caesar dispersed reinforcement sparingly as the breadth of the attacks must have seemed almost dizzying, he moved himself to the highest position of the fortifications. He couldn't be everywhere at once, and he needed to make sure that sections that needed reinforcements were attended too quickly. The Roman lines were stretched as thin as could be. Volleys of stones and spears rained down on the legionnaires, but they held. Then, as the sun peeked over the horizon, Vercassivellaunos and his army charged out from behind the hill. Realizing that this was the real attack, caesar knew there was one man for the job. Labienus, the man who helped him subdue all of Gaul, was the only man who came close to his level. It was a gargantuan task, though. As the cavalry tear down the hill towards the fortress, caesar tells him, hold it for as long as you can, but don't be a hero. If it becomes too much, pull back. As the army crashed into the side of the undemand defenses, barrel after barrel of dirt is packed against the fortifications as the Gauls desperately begin the creation.
Of the crude earthen ramp to reach the top of the walls. Made with literal blood and sweat, the thing begins to take shape. Uh and Caesar ready for his men for the ultimate clash. Running the length of the lines, he yells encouragement at the soldiers, telling them men, that this was it, this was their last fight in goal. This is why they were here. It was their victory. They just needed to take it. But as Labienus and the reinforcement struggled badly against the force of the cavalry charge on the other side of the wall, Vercingetorix’s forces managed to tear down one of the sentry towers. As the wooden structure collapses into splinters before their eyes, the Gallic king roars at his man as they charge into the breach. In a matter of seconds, ladders and grappling hooks were flung against the wall.
The legions, overwhelmed at the sheer number, begin to fall back and Vercingetorix and his men surge over the walls. As scores of legions fall back, caesar sends his future assassin, Brutus into the fray, telling him to repel it at all costs. But it was no good. The dam was already bursting and Brutus couldn't hold it back. Um under a hail of missiles, he and the reinforcements barely make headway as more men charge up the rampants, pulling more and more men from the wafer thin line of defenses on the rest of the walls, caesar finally manages to plug the gap. Vercingetorix's assault stalls and the Romans begin to gain the upper hand as he puts out this fire to his horror word reaches him that Labienus had been overwhelmed.
His best man had lost the wall!
The earth and rampant they had been building had finally reached it. And in a wild fury, the ghosts charged in, tearing apart the wall and widening the breach. At this moment, when everything hung in the balance, caesar himself entered the fray. Seven years of campaigning hinged on this very moment, he would leave Gaul a hero or not at all.
Likely wearing a cape of regal purple. The general's presence was immediately noticed. It spurred his men on. While the Gauls, seeing their despised dictator only a few feet away, charged. Caesar's personal guard hurled spears at the frothing Gauls. As those in the front line fell, their comrades dragged them behind and a new man stepped up. As the fate of Gaul bounced on the edge of a knife caesar's life saving German cavalry emerged from behind the gallic lines. Slamming into the exposed rear of the group, the men of Gaul began to falter. The back line broke off first and fled for their lives. Then the second back and then the third. The battered men, still pushing with the divergence attacks, noticed the route and they, too began to break off. Soon, only the ghosts hemmed in between the wall and Caesar were left.
Vercassivellaunos, Vercingetorix ‘s cousin, fought on. His bravery was an example to the rest of their men. But as the rank thinned out, he was disarmed and captured. With nowhere to go, the rest of the Gallic troops were slaughtered by the Zealous legionnaires. With the agony of despair that you and I could never understand. Vercingetorix watched the last hope of his rebellion peter out before he, too, signaled a retreat.
It was over.
This last great push was all Gaul could muster. Their food was practically gone, and the vast majority of those that arrived were injured or worse. As the survivors from the relief army fled back to their homelands as fast as they could, Caesar collected 74 different war standards. A show of the sheer size this coalition had been, the spirits inside Alicia were even lower. The King of Gaul's last act was to call his chieftains together and let them know of his intention to surrender. If there were any objections, none were recorded. It says much about the character of the man that he was so willingly accepted his fate. He had styled himself a king, and now he would face the consequences as one.
While Caesar's own description of the surrender are somewhat mundane, let me read you the account of Roman historian Cassius Dio, who lived about 150 years later after the event. Quote he (Vercingetorix) came to him (Caesar) without any announcement or herald but, appeared before him suddenly as Caesar was seated on the tribunal and threw some who were present into alarm. For he was very tall to begin with, and his armor made him an extremely imposing figure. When quiet had been restored, he uttered not a word. Um, but fell upon his knees with hands clasped in an attitude of supplication. This inspired many with pity at remembrance of his former fortune and at the distressing state in which he now appeared. But Caesar reproached him in this very matter on which he most relied for his safety, and by setting over against his claim of former friendship. His recent opposition showed his offense to have been more grievous. Therefore, he did not pity him even at the time, but immediately confined him in bonds”
Dio seems to imply that Vercingetorix and Caesar had a prior relationship, and other historians have speculated that perhaps Vercingetorix’s had commanded a detachment in one of Caesar's earlier wars. Whatever the case, Caesar was in no mood for reminiscing, because even now trouble was brewing back in Rome and he needed to be there in person. Vercingetorix and probably his cousin were bound, and like so many Gauls that had gone before them, made the long journey to Rome.
But unlike the countless slaves that preceded them, these two were not there to be worked to death. They were needed alive for Caesar's triumph. The Aedui and the Averni , the two most important tribes in the rebellion, quickly surrendered. And Caesar, eager to forget this little hiccup in his conquest, was fairly lenient. A few defiant tribes still refused to bow. But he mopped up them pretty quickly. The only Gaul who flipped the bird to Caesar and lived to tell about it was Commius, one of the main commanders of the relief army, who managed to escape to Britain and establish a dynasty. We've even got a couple of coins with his name on it.
Meanwhile, Vercingetorix, the man who had almost beaten Julius Caesar, languished in a squalid prison in Rome. Sitting alone with his honor in a dungeon in the dark, he was kept alive purely for the sake of the triumph. How did he feel during those years? Perhaps the biggest question on his mind was was it worth it? He must have known the odds going into this were not good. What would he have changed if he had his time again? Did his resistance ever really have a chance? The biggest tragedy for the Gallic alliance was that it began too late.
By the time the tribes had really, really understood the gravity of their situation, caesar was so invested in Gaull that nothing apart from death would have stopped him. Even if Alicia had held out. Then what? Then the war would have gone on. Perhaps a less dogged Roman statesman may have given up and returned to Roman shame. But Caesar? No chance.
In 60 BC, Caesar returned to Rome with plans to celebrate a triumph and run for Console in the elections. Perhaps Vercingetorix breathed a sigh of relief that sooner life of anguish, guilt and regret would be over. But things didn't go as planned. According to the laws of Rome, a general celebrating his triumph needed to wait outside the limits of the city for permission of the Senate to begin his triumph. But to formally enter himself as a candidate for the consul ship, he needed to be at the Forum in person. The date for the election was already set and he was up against the clock to get himself on the ballot sheet. So he requested an exemption to the rule and the senators met to discuss it. One senator, whose hatred for Caesar probably rivaled any Gallic chief, stood up to voice's opinion on why Caesar's exemption should be denied. And talked and talked and talked and talked. Hours went by and the man showed no signs of slowing down. Soon it became very clear that this senator had no intention of letting the issue go to vote. He would simply keep talking until the clock ran out. Caesar had to make a decision. Triumph or consul? He couldn't have both. So crossing the line into the city of Rome, he entered his name at the Forum. His triumph was cancelled or postponed.
Years and years passed, and the Roman world changed. Inexplicably all the while, Vercingetorix sat in his cramped cell. A brutal civil war, the likes of which the empire had never seen, rocked the Roman world. And Caesar, of course, came out on top, defeating his old father in law that had helped him get that position in Gaul all those years ago. Finally, after six long years, the bars of the Gallic King's cell creaked open and the tall, skinny frame of Vercingetorix was led outside. The city of Rome would have looked a lot grander than it did when he came in. Several brand new enormous buildings were standing in the already crowded Forum, the construction of many of them funded with the treasure looted from his home. Vercingetorix was now actually just one of four acts in a never before seen quadruple triumph, a multipart, multiday celebration of Caesar's victories. It's telling that Appian, one of our main sources for the tribe, doesn't even mention the Gallic King. This enormous rebellion, with all the tragedy, glory and despair, was barely a flash in the pan for Caesar's unstoppable climb to the top. Over the course of the four day party, appian tells us of all the spectacular games he gave. Various spectacles with horses and music and a combat of foot soldiers, 10 on each side, and a cavalry fight of 200 on each side. There was also another combat of horses and foot together. There was a combat of elephants, 20 against 20, and a naval engagement of 4000 ozmen, where 1000 fighting men contended on each side. True to his word, Caesar made everyone who stood by him rich, and the people of Rome too. 20,414 or almost ten tons of gold coins were handed out, according to one source. One historians speculate that by the end of the triumph, caesar was probably near bankruptcy again. But it didn't matter. Money came and went. This triumph had bought him a special place in the hearts of minds of people all across the empire. A celebration of this magnitude had never taken place in Rome, let alone anywhere in Gaul. Hundreds of years later, another barbarian king would be paraded through the streets in a triumph similar to this, and his feelings could just as easily be applied to Vercingetorix as he watched the wealth of his nation toss to the feckless citizens of the capital. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity, end quote.
Finally, when the party was winding down, as the thousands of animals and corpses were dragged from the arenas and the last of the citizens were stumbling home, the King of Gaul was quietly killed, probably strangled or decapitated. Today, if you visit Rome and head to the Forum, take a little stroll away from the tourist trail and head into the Mamertine Prison, where downstairs in an old dungeon, you'll get an idea of how this brave man spent his final years. Nearby is a plaque with a list of prisoners who were executed in the room, mixed in between rebellious provincial governors and corrupt senators. About halfway down the page, you'll see Vercingetorix, The King of Gaul. Decapitated 49. BC.
Over the next century, or so Gaul would become an integral part of the Roman world. Augustus, Caesar's heir, would officially section off their various states into administrative provinces in 27 BC. And slowly the Gaulish language would begin to disappear from the urban centers, then the countryside, clinging to life in isolated villages until around 600 Ad. After which the dialect of Latin the Romans left behind eventually morphed into the modern French language. Vercingetorix has been a difficult person to research. In this podcast, I've tried my best to put meat on the bones of the man. It's a double edged sword that we really only have Caesar's account of him, who obviously wrote with a bias, but without it we might not even know he existed. French interest and demand has grown over the centuries, hand in hand with French nationalism. Vercingetorix, like many other chieftains who fought Caesar, became a symbol of the country's identity. Since the 19th century, there has been a renewed interest in trying to find out more about the rebellion. After a petition from its inhabitants, the village of Madonna was renamed back to Gergovia to ensure the site of Vercingetorix’s first success against Caesar was never forgotten.
Meanwhile, the excavations of Caesar's enormous siege works at Alesia continued to give us little clues to corroborate the general's account of the siege. And today, in the middle of the French countryside, where many believe the city of Alesia once stood, is a seven meter, 23 foot statue. A steely eyed Gallic man with long, unkempt hair and a drooping mustache gazes off into the distance with both hands resting on the hilt of his sword. He stands atop a pillar inscribed with the following in French: ‘gaul united, forming a single nation, animated by a common spirit, can defy the universe’.
This has been anthology of Heroes thanks for listening and stay tuned after the credits for an announcement.
Hey guys, I hope you enjoyed the story of Vercingetorix’s. As I mentioned in the intro anthology of Heroes is joining the Evergreen Podcast Network. Podcasting networks help content producers like myself pair with advertisers and expand our reach to listeners of similar shows. But don't worry, I promise I won't be yelling you to download World of Tanks or giving you my promo code for Hello Fresh. In fact, at this stage, I'm not even placing any advertisements in the show. Instead, the 45 segment in the middle of each episode, where I usually play a promo for another show, will now exclusively be programs on the Evergreen Network. In turn, my promo will be played on many more podcasts, which should hopefully draw in a few more listeners to this show. There's some great shows on the Evergreen Network, like Conflicted, whose host, Zach Cornwall guested on our episode, where we did the movie review for the day of the siege. For new listeners, some of the episodes in our back catalogue will now have the old guest promo I originally recorded plus another one from Evergreen, which will play after I felt it wasn't really right to pull the trailers out of other shows whose back catalogs still have my promo in them. So overall, that's about two minutes of promos for shows you'll hatefully. Enjoy. Not too bad, right? Perhaps further down the track I may add advertisements in, but as an avid podcast listen to myself, I'll be doing my best to ensure these are sparingly placed as not to ruin the experience. Nothing like being on the edge of your seat listening to this dramatic story only for someone to try and start selling you erectile dysfunction pills as usual. Thanks again to you guys, my listeners. I've got some really juicy episodes coming up, so if you haven't already, please show the podcast and love on Spotify or Apple podcast with a five star rating. We've just crossed the 50 mark now, so I'd love your help getting to 75. Take care and see you on the next one.