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This webpage reproduces part of
Gallic War

Julius Caesar

Loeb Classical Library

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Gallic War

 p429  Book VII (chapters 34‑52)

34 Having made this decision between them, he urged the Aedui to forget disputes and discord and, leaving all such matters alone, to devote themselves to the present campaign, in anticipation of the rewards they deserved from himself so soon as the conquest of Gaul was complete. He bade them send him speedily all their horsemen and ten thousand infantry, that he might put them in various garrisons to protect the cornº-supply. He then divided the army into two parts. Four legions he gave to Labienus to be led against the Senones and Parisii, six he led in person along the river Allier towards the town of Gergovia, in the country of the Arverni; he assigned part of the cavalry to Labienus, part he left for himself. As soon as Vercingetorix heard of it he broke up all the bridges over that river and began to march along the other side thereof.

35 When the two armies had drawn apart, they proceeded to pitch camp in sight of each other and almost opposite, with the enemy's scouts posted about to prevent the Romans from constructing a bridge and effecting a passage. Caesar's position was thus beset by great difficulties; for there was danger that the river would block him for the greater part of the summer, as the Allier is not usually fordable in the autumn. To prevent this, therefore, he pitched camp in a wooded spot opposite one of the bridges which Vercingetorix had caused to be cut away, and on the morrow he kept two legions hidden, sending on the rest of the force with all the baggage, according to his custom, and opening out some of the cohorts to make the number of the legions appear the same as usual. This force  p431 was ordered to march out as far as possible, and when by the time of day he conjectured that they were safe in camp, he began to rebuild the bridge on the same piles as before, the lower part of which was still intact. The work was speedily completed and the legions put across; and when a suitable camping-ground had been chosen, he recalled the rest of the force. On report of this, Vercingetorix moved ahead by forced marches, in order that he might not be forced to fight against his own wish.

36 From that position Caesar reached Gergovia1 in five days' march. On the fifth day a slight cavalry skirmish took place; and having reconnoitred the position of the city, which was set upon a very lofty height, with difficult approaches on every side, he despaired of taking it by storm, and he determined not to attempt a blockade until he had secured his corn-supply. Vercingetorix, for his part, had pitched camp near the town, and posted the contingent of each state separately at short intervals around himself. Every eminence on the ridge from which a bird's‑eye view was possible had been seized, and the appearance was formidable. He would order the chiefs of the states, whom he had chosen to assist him in council, to assemble at dawn daily at his quarters in case there should seem to be anything to communicate or to arrange. And scarcely a day passed that he did not put to the test, by an encounter of horsemen with archers placed among them, the spirit and the courage of each of his followers. Opposite the town there was a hill at the very foot of the mountain, an exceedingly strong position, precipitous on every side. If our troops  p433 secured this they thought they could cut off the enemy at once from great part of their water-supply and from freedom of foraging. The post was held, however, by the enemy with a garrison, albeit not a very strong one. None the less, Caesar marched out of camp in the silence of night, dislodged the garrison before it could be reinforced from the town, and made himself master of the position. He posted two legions there, and ran a double ditch, twelve feet broad in each case, from the greater to the lesser camp, so that even single soldiers could pass to and fro safe from a sudden onset of the enemy.

37 During these operations about Gergovia Convictolitavis the Aeduan, to whom, as above mentioned, the magistracy had been adjudged by Caesar, was tempted by a bribe on the part of the Arverni, and held converse with certain young men, among whom the leaders were Litaviccus and his brethren, young scions of a most distinguished house. The Aeduan shared his bribe with them, and urged them to remember that they were born to freedom and command. The state of the Aedui was the only bar to the absolutely certain victory of Gaul; by its influence the rest were held in check; if it were brought over, the Romans would have no foothold in Gaul. It was true that he himself had received some benefit at Caesar's hands, but simply in the sense that he had won an entirely just cause before him, and he had a greater duty to the general liberty. Why should the Aedui come to Caesar to decide a question of their own right and law, rather than the Romans to the Aedui? The young men were speedily won over by the speech of the magistrate and by the bribe, and avowed that they would be the very first to support his design. Then they  p435 began to seek a means of executing it, because they were not sure that the state could be induced off‑hand to undertake a war. It was resolved that Litaviccus should be put in command of the ten thousand soldiers who were to be sent to Caesar for the war, and should be responsible for their leading, while his brethren hastened forward to Caesar. They determined the plan to be adopted for carrying out the rest of the scheme.

38 Litaviccus took over the army, and when he was about thirty miles from Gergovia he suddenly called together the troops, and with tears addressed them: "Whither, soldiers, are we proceeding? All our horsemen, all our chivalry is perished; Eporedorix and Viridomarus, chief men of our state, have been accused of treachery by the Romans, and put to death with their cause unheard. This you shall learn from men who actually escaped from that same massacre; for all my own brethren and all my kindred have been put to death, and grief prevents me from declaring what was brought to pass." The persons whom he had instructed what they were to say were brought forward, and set forth to the host the same tale which Litaviccus had declared — that many horsemen of the Aedui had been put to death because it was alleged that they had held converse with the Arverni; that they themselves had hidden in the general throng of soldiers, and so had escaped from the midst of the massacre. The Aedui shouted with one accord and entreated Litaviccus to take counsel for their safety. "As if," quoth he, "this were a matter of counsel, and it were not necessary for us to make speed to Gergovia and join ourselves to the Arverni! Or can we doubt that after committing an abominable  p437 crime the Romans are already hastening hither to slay us? Wherefore, if we have any spirit in us, let us avenge the death of those who have perished most shamefully, and let us slay these brigands." He pointed to Roman citizens, who were accompanying his force in reliance on his safeguard; he plundered a large quantity of corn and supplies, and put the Romans to death with cruel tortures. He sent messages throughout the state of the Aedui and sought to arouse them by the same falsehood concerning the massacre of horsemen and chiefs, urging them to avenge their own wrongs in the same fashion as he himself had done.

39 Eporedorix the Aeduan, a young man of the highest rank and of supreme influence in his own country, and with him Viridomarus, his peer in age and popularity, but not in birth — he had been commended by Diviciacus to Caesar, who had advanced him from a humble station to a pre‑eminent position — had come along with the horsemen in response to a personal summons from Caesar. These two had a struggle between them for chieftaincy, and in the late dispute2 between the magistrates the one had fought with might and main for Convictolitavis, the other for Cotus. Of these two, Eporedorix, when he learnt the design of Litaviccus, reported the matter about midnight to Caesar. He besought him not to allow the state to fall away from the friendship of Rome through the mischievous designs of the young men; yet this, as he foresaw, would happen if those thousands of troops joined forces with the enemy, for their kindred could not ignore their safety, nor could the state account it of slight importance.

 p439  40 This report caused Caesar great anxiety, because he had always shown especial indulgence to the state of the Aedui; and without a moment's hesitation he marched four legions in light order, and all the cavalry, out of camp. There was no time at such a crisis to reduce the camp-area,3 as the issue seemed to depend on speed; he left Gaius Fabius, lieutenant-general, with two legions as camp-garrison. He ordered the brethren of Litaviccus to be arrested, but found that they had fled to the enemy shortly before. He urged the troops not to be disturbed by the fatigue of a march which the emergency rendered necessary, and then, amid the greatest eagerness of all ranks, he advanced for five-and‑twenty miles, when he caught sight of the column of the Aedui. By sending on the cavalry he checked and hampered the enemy's march, and he forbade all to put any man to the sword. Eporedorix and Viridomarus, whom the other side supposed to be slain, he ordered to move among the horsemen and address their own people. When they were recognized, and the deceit of Litaviccus was discovered, the Aedui began to stretch out their hands in token of surrender and, casting away their arms, to beg for mercy. Litaviccus escaped to Gergovia with his dependents; for, according to the custom of Gaul, it is a crime in dependents to desert their patrons, even in desperate case.

41 Caesar sent messengers to the state of the Aedui to report that the men, whom by right of war he might have put to death, had by his own favour been saved; and then, having given the army three hours of the  p441 night for rest, struck camp for Gergovia. About halfway thither some troopers sent by Fabius related how perilous had been their case. They reported that the camp had been attacked in full force, fresh men frequently taking the place of the fatigued and wearing down our troops by incessant toil, inasmuch as the size of the camp obliged the same men to continue throughout on the rampart. Many men, they said, had been wounded by the swarms of arrows and of every kind of missile; the artillery, however, had proved of great use in resisting these assaults; and, on the withdrawal of the enemy, Fabius was barricading all the gates except two, setting screens to the rampart, and preparing for a like event on the morrow. On report of this, Caesar reached the camp before sunrise, by a supreme effort of the troops.

42 During these operations about Gergovia the Aedui received the first messages sent by Litaviccus. They left themselves no time to investigate: some were influenced by avarice, others by anger and the recklessness which is specially characteristic of their race,4 treating frivolous hearsay as assured fact. They plunder the goods of Roman citizens, massacred some, dragged off others into slavery. Convictolitavis encouraged the general tendency, and urged the common folk to fury, that by committing crime they might be ashamed to return to a right mind. By giving him a pledge of safety they then induced Marcus Aristius, a military tribune, who was travelling to his legion, to quit the town of Cabillonum; those who had settled there for the sake of trade they compelled to do the same. Then they attacked them the moment they started on their journey, stripped  p443 them of all their baggage, and, when they defended themselves, blockaded them for a day and a night. After many persons had been slain on both sides, they brought up a still greater multitude of armed men.

43 In the midst of this a message was brought that all their soldiers were prisoners in the power of Caesar. At once they ran with one consent to Aristius, declaring that the state had had no share in their design or deed. They ordered an inquiry as touching the plundered goods, they confiscated the goods of Litaviccus and his brethren, and sent deputies to Caesar to clear themselves. This they did to recover their kith and kin; but they were stained with crime, they were tempted by the profit to be made of plundered goods, as the business concerned a large number of persons; so, as they were alarmed by the fear of penalty, they began to entertain secret designs of war and to sound the other states by means of deputations. Caesar was fully aware of this; nevertheless he accosted their deputies as gently as possible, assuring them that the ignorance and inconsequence of the common people did not make him judge more severely of the state, nor diminish aught of his personal goodwill towards the Aedui. He himself was anticipating a greater rising in Gaul; and that he might not be surrounded by all the states, he began to plan how he might withdraw from Gergovia and once more concentrate the whole army without allowing a departure occasioned by fear of the revolt to resemble flight.

44 While he reflected on these matters, a chance of successful action seemed to offer itself. He had come to the lesser camp to inspect the works, when he noticed that a hill held by the enemy, and on  p445 the previous days scarcely visible for the crowd upon it, was undefended. Surprised thereat, he asked deserters, a large number of whom were flocking to him daily, for the reason. All agreed in stating, what Caesar himself had already learnt through scouts, that the crest of the ridge there5 was almost level, but that this hill was wooded and narrow where it gave access to the other6 side of the town. For this spot the Gauls, they said, were grievously alarmed, and had now no alternative but to believe that if, after the seizure of one hill by the Romans, they lost the other, they would find themselves to be almost invested, and cut off from all egress and from foraging. Vercingetorix had accordingly called out every man to fortify this hill.

Plan of Gergovia
(after Colonel Stoffel)

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A larger, fully readable version (479K) opens in a separate window.

45 On this information Caesar sent several troops of cavalry thither just after midnight, with orders to range in every direction in rather more noisy fashion than usual. At daybreak he commanded a large quantity of baggage-mules to be brought forth from camp, and the muleteers to take off the packs, and with helmets on their heads to ride round the hills, like cavalry to all seeming. With them he put a few cavalry, to range more widely by way of demonstration, and ordered them all to make for the same general destination by a long circuit. The proceeding was noticed afar from the town, as there was a bird's‑eye view from Gergovia into the camp; but at so great a distance the real meaning thereof could not be discovered. He despatched one legion in the same direction, and when it had advanced a little way he halted it on the lower ground and  p447 concealed it in the woods. The suspicion of the Gauls was increased, and all their force was brought to the spot to fortify it. When Caesar saw that the enemy's camp was empty, covering the badges of his men and concealing the war‑standards, he moved soldiers from the greater to the lesser camp in small parties so as not to attract attention from the town. He showed the lieutenant-generals whom he had put in command of each legion what he wished to be done: first and foremost he instructed them to keep the troops in hand, lest in the zeal for battle or the hope of booty they might advance too far. He explained the disadvantage caused by the inequality of the ground, and said that this could be remedy by speed alone: it was a question of surprise, not of battle. After these explanations he gave the signal, and started the Aedui at the same moment by another ascent, on the right side.

46 From the level where the ascent began the wall of the town was twelve hundred paces distant in a straight line, if there were no curve to consider. Any deviation added to ease the slope of necessity increased the distance to be marched. About halfway up the hill, the Gauls had put up a six‑foot covering-wall of large stones, running lengthways so as to follow the contour of the height, to check our attack; and leaving all the lower area unoccupied, they had filled all the upper part of the hill, right up to the wall of the town, with their camps, closely crowded together. When the signal was given, the troops speedily reached the fortification, crossed it, and took possession of three camps, and so great was their speed in capturing the camps that Teutomatus, king of the Nitiobriges, caught suddenly in his tent in a noonday sleep, barely escaped from the hands of the  p449 plundering troops, with the upper part of his body bare, and his horse wounded.

47 Having thus secured his particular purpose, Caesar ordered the retreat to be sounded, and at once halted the Tenth Legion, which he had accompanied. But the rank and file of the other legions did not hear the trumpet-call, as a considerable valley lay in between; none the less, efforts were made by the tribunes and lieutenant-generals to hold them back, according to Caesar's instructions. Elated, however, and by the hope of a speedy victory, by the flight of the enemy, and their successful engagements on previous occasions, they thought that nothing was so difficult as to be unattainable by their valour, and they did not make an end of pursuing until they neared the wall and the gates of the town. Then, indeed, shouting arose from all parts of the city, and those who were farther away were terror-struck at the sudden uproar, and, believing that the enemy was within the gates, flung out of the town. Matrons cast clothing and silver from the wall, and with bare breast and outstretched hands implored the Romans to spare them, and then to do as they had done at Avaricum, holding their hand not even from women and children. Some of the women were lowered by hand from the wall, and were fain to deliver themselves to the troops. Lucius Fabius, a centurion of the Eighth Legion, who was known to have said that day among his company that he was spurred on by the rewards at Avaricum, and would allow no one to mount the wall before him, got three men of his company, was lifted up by them, and mounted the wall. Then he in turn took hold of them one by one and pulled them up on to the wall.

 p451  48 Meanwhile the Gauls who had assembled, as above mentioned, at the other side of the town to make a fortification first of all heard the shouting, and then came frequent messages that the town was held by the Romans to arouse them further; so they sent the horsemen in advance and hastened thither in a mighty stream. Each as he arrived took his stand under the wall and swelled the number of their fighting men. When a great host of them had assembled, the matrons who a moment before were stretching out their hands to the Romans from the wall began to adjure their own men and, in Gallic fashion, to show dishevelled hair and to bring their children forward into view. The Romans had no fair contest in ground or numbers; they were tired out by the speedy march and the duration of the battle, and could not easily resist men that were fresh and unhurt.

49 Caesar saw that the battle was being fought on unfavourable ground and that the strength of the enemy was increasing. Anxious, therefore, for his troops, he sent a message to Titus Sextius, the lieutenant-general, whom he had left to guard the lesser camp, bidding him bring the cohorts speedily out of the camp and post them at the foot of the hill on the right flank of the enemy, so that, if he saw our troops driven down from the position, he might deter the enemy from an indiscriminate pursuit. He himself advanced a little with the legion from the place where he had halted, and awaited the issue of the battle.

50 The battle was continued most fiercely at close quarters: the enemy trusted to position and numbers, our troops to courage. Suddenly the Aedui, whom Caesar had sent on the right by another line of  p453 ascent to divert the enemy's forces, were seen on the exposed flank of our troops. The similarity of their armament to that of the Gauls grievously alarmed the Romans; and although it was noticed that they had their right shoulders uncovered — the distinction agreed upon by custom7 — still the troops were disposed to think that even this had been done by the enemy to deceive them. At the same moment the centurion Lucius Fabius and those who had mounted the wall along with him were surrounded, slain, and hurled from the wall. Marcus Petronius, a centurion of the same legion, had tried to cut down a gate, but was overpowered by superior numbers and in desperate case. Already he had received many wounds, and he cried to the men of his company who had followed him: "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 brought into danger. When the chance is given do you 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: "In vain do you try to rescue my life, for blood and strength are already failing me. Wherefore depart while you have a chance and get you back to the legion." So, a moment later, he fell fighting and saved his men.

51 Our troops were hard pressed on every side, and were dislodged from the position with a loss of six-and‑forty centurions. But any immoderate pursuit on the part of the Gauls was checked by the Tenth Legion, which had taken post in support on rather  p455 more even ground. This legion was covered in turn by cohorts of the Thirteenth, which had marched out of the lesser camp with Titus Sextius, the lieutenant-general, and had occupied higher ground. As soon as the legions touched the plain they turned the standards against the enemy and halted. Vercingetorix led his men back from the base of the hill within the fortifications. On that day little less than seven hundred soldiers were missing.

52 On the morrow Caesar called a parade and reprimanded the troops for their recklessness and headstrong passion: they had decided for themselves whither they should advance or what they should do, they had not halted when the signal for retirement was given, and had not been amenable to the restraint of tribunes and lieutenant-generals. He showed what might be the effect of unfavourable ground, what he himself had borne in mind at Avaricum, when, though he had caught the enemy without general and without cavalry, he had given up an assured victory in order that even slight loss in action might not be caused by unfavourable ground. Greatly as he admired the high courage of men whom no camp fortifications, no mountain-height, no town-wall had been able to check, he blamed as greatly their indiscipline and presumption in supposing that they had a truer instinct than the commander-in‑chief for victory and the final result. He required from his soldiers, he said, discipline and self-restraint no less than valour and high courage.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 For all the operations round Gergovia the plan should be consulted.

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2 See ch. 33.

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3 The fortified camp of the six legions was obviously far too large for the two left behind, which were likely to have difficulty in defending it.

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4 i.e. the Gallic race generally.

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5 i.e. the ridge S.W. of Gergovia, of which the hill in question formed part.

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6 i.e. the side not directly attacked by the Romans.

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7 It is probable that the Gauls who fought on the Roman side left their right shoulders bare in action as a distinguishing mark.

Page updated: 15 Jul 16