In 52 BC when Gallic Prince Vercingetorix surrendered to Julius Caesar at Alesia, the long campaign Caesar waged for possession of Gaul was all but over. Caesar and his legions were victorious.
For seven years, Caesar and his veteran legions fought battle after battle in the territory from the Rhine to the Pyrenees. Now on the heels of their greatest battle, Alesia, Rome was victorious and a huge region would be added to the empire, courtesy of Rome’s greatest General Gaius Julius Caesar.
Born in 100 BC to a highly venerated patrician family of modest financial circumstances, Caesar displayed early the remarkable traits that would make him a world leader.
In 59 BC, having achieved the co-consulship in the Roman Senate, Caesar formed an alliance with two of the most powerful and wealthy Romans of the period: Pompey and Crassus. The ruling group they formed was called the ‘First Triumvirate.’ From this position of power and the support of Pompey and Crassus, Caesar looked to obtain a governorship in the provinces and thus acquire a military command as well as the wealth he needed to meet his ambitious political agenda.
Caesar was awarded the proconsulship of Illyricum, Cisalpine Gaul and Transalpine Gaul. From 58 BC to 51 BC, Caesar fought the Gallic Wars, becoming the most famous general of his time and welding his legions into arguably the finest military units ever. His victory at Alesia effectively illustrates both his and his legions’ skill.
The most able of all the opponents that Caesar would face in his conquest of Gaul was Prince Vercingetorix, son of Averni King Celtillus who was leader of the major Gallic tribe, the Averni.
The Romans hired local Gauls to serve in their cavalry units. Vercingetorix served as a cavalry officer in a Roman cavalry unit, during which time he studied Roman military tactics. After his term with the legions, Vercingetorix felt he was ready to pursue his plan to rebel against Rome. Part of his plan was to unite the Gallic tribes under his leadership.
While no previous Gallic leader had been able to unite the tribes, Vercingetorix was successful, especially after several victorious skirmishes against the legions. His strategy of laying waste to the countryside, leaving nothing available to the Romans, proved successful. However, large engagements against the legions at Avaricum and Gergovia proved to be less successful.
Prelude to the Battle of Alesia
Caesar’s conquest of Gaul relied on a series of complex treaties with the various Gallic tribes, the substance of which involved the threat of direct subjugation by the Roman legions or by other tribes loyal to Rome, should they fail to conform..
In the winter of 53-52 BC, the pacification which Caesar had achieved in six years of hard-fought battles in Gaul came close to becoming unraveled. Vercingetorix was the source of this rebellion in Gaul. Vercingetorix managed to coax tribes originally loyal to Rome as well as those still opposed to Caesar into a massive revolt against Roman authority.
Vercingetorix’ scorched-earth warfare and his guerrilla tactics were taking their toll on Caesar’s forces. Caesar knew he needed to place Vercingetorix’ Gauls in a situation where the disciplined legions could fight ‘their kind of warfare’ against the Gauls.
The Battle of Alesia
After several battles with the combined Gallic tribes serving under Vercingetorix, Caesar managed to herd the Gauls to Alesia which stood on a flat-topped hill not far from modern Dijon. Once Caesar had the Gauls on the Alesia plateau, he proceeded to build a wall of forts around the 60,000 Gauls, trapping them in Alesia. Vercingetorix managed to get much of his cavalry out before the Romans finished building the encircling forts. The cavalry was to recruit the other Gallic tribes to come to rescue the Alesian Gauls. In anticipation of this large relief force, which was to number perhaps 200,000, Caesar built another fourteen-mile wall of forts outside the first wall.
When the battle finally commenced, Caesar’s twelve legions of roughly 70,000 men simultaneously fought the attack on the outer wall as well as fighting the Gaul’s from within Alesia on the inner wall. The legions repulsed both forces.
Vercingetorix surrendered to Caesar. The last great obstruction to Roman colonization of Gaul was thus removed.
After Vercingetorix’ surrender to Caesar, he was sent to Rome in captivity, residing in reasonable comfort for five years. Vercingetorix was displayed in Caesar’s triumph after which he was executed by strangulation in 46 BC.