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This webpage reproduces part of
Gallic War

Julius Caesar

Loeb Classical Library

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Gallic War

 p469  Book VII (chapters 63‑74)

63 When the revolt of the Aedui became known the war increased in extent. Deputations were sent round in all directions: with all the power of influence, authority, money, they strove to stir up the states, and having got possession of the hostages whom Caesar had lodged among them, they sought by the execution of these to terrify waverers. The Aedui requested Vercingetorix to come to them and concert plans for the conduct of the war. When their request was granted, they insisted that the supreme command should be assigned to them. The matter was disputed, and a convention of all Gaul was summoned at Bibracte. Thither assembled many persons from all quarters. The question was put to the vote of the host, and all to a man approved Vercingetorix as commander-in‑chief. From this  p471 convention the Remi, Lingones, and Treveri were absent: the former two out of consideration for the friendship of Rome, the Treveri because they were too far distant and were hard pressed by the Germans, which was the reason why they took no part throughout the war and sent no succours to either side. The Aedui were greatly distressed at their rejection from the leadership, complaining of the change in their fortune and feeling the loss of Caesar's kindness towards them; but nevertheless, having undertaken the campaign, they durst not part counsel from the rest. Unwillingly, for they were young and very ambitious, Eporedorix and Viridomarus obeyed Vercingetorix.

64 He for his part made requisition of hostages from the other states, and appointed a day for the same, ordering all the horsemen, to the number of fifteen thousand, to assemble with speed. He said that he would be content with the footmen that he had beforehand, as he did not purpose to try his fortune or fight a pitched battle; but, as he had abundance of horsemen, it was easy enough to prevent the Romans from getting cornº and forage. Only, the Gauls must consent to destroy with their own hands their corn-supplies and burn their buildings, seeing that by such loss of property they were acquiring dominion and liberty for all time. When he had made these arrangements he required of the Aedui and the Segusiavi, who are neighbours of the Province, ten thousand foot-soldiers; to this total he added eight hundred horsemen. He set the brother of Eporedorix in command of them, and ordered them to make war on the Allobroges. On the other side he sent the Gabali and the cantons of the Arverni next them against the Helvii, and likewise the  p473 Ruteni and Cadurci to devastate the borders of the Volcae Arecomici. At the same time, by secret messages and deputations, he sought to rouse the Allobroges, hoping that their temper had not yet settled down after the late war.1 To their chiefs he promised sums of money, to their state the dominion over the whole Province.

65 To meet all these emergencies there had been provided contingents to the number of two-and‑twenty cohorts, drafted from the whole Province by Lucius Caesar, lieutenant-general, and now set to oppose the enemy at all points. The Helvii of their own motion joined battle with their neighbours, and were repulsed; the chief of their state, Gaius Valerius Donnotaurus, son of Caburus, and several others were slain, and they were shut up within the walls of their towns. The Allobroges posted numerous detachments at intervals along the Rhone and protected their borders with great care and efficiency. Caesar was aware that the enemy were superior in mounted troops and that, as all the lines of communication were interrupted, he could in no wise be assisted from the Province and from Italy; accordingly, he sent across the Rhine into Germany to the states which he had reduced to peace in previous years, and fetched horsemen from them and infantry trained to fight along with the horsemen. On their arrival he found that the horses they were using were unsuitable, and therefore he took the horses from the military tribunes and the rest of the Roman knights and the re‑enlisted veterans,2 and distributed them among the Germans.

 p475  66 In the meanwhile the enemy's contingent from the Arverni and the horsemen requisitioned from the whole of Gaul were assembling. While Caesar was marching to the country of the Sequani across the outermost borders of the Lingones, so as to be able to lend support more easily to the Province, Vercingetorix got together a great number of these contingents and established himself in three camps about ten miles from the Romans. He called the cavalry commanders together to a council of war, and stated that the hour of victory was come. The Romans were fleeing to the Province and leaving Gaul. In his opinion that was enough to secure a temporary liberty, but it was too small a gain to give peace and quiet for the future; for they would return when they had collected a large force and would make no end of the war. Therefore, the Gauls must attack them while encumbered with baggage in column of route; then, if the legionaries hung back to give support to their comrades, they could not pursue the march; if, as he felt sure was more likely to happen, they left the baggage and looked to their own safety, they would be stripped at once of necessaries and of reputation. For, as touching the enemy's cavalry, they themselves,3 at any rate, ought to have no doubt that not a man of them would dare even to advance beyond the column; and further, to make the commanders act with more spirit, he would have all his force paraded in front of the camp and strike terror into the enemy. The horsemen shouted with one accord that they should be bound by a most solemn oath — that no man should be received beneath a roof, nor have access to children, or to parents, or to wife, who had not twice ridden through the enemy's column.

 p477  67 This was approved, and all were sworn, and on the morrow the horsemen were divided into three detachments. Two, in battle array, made a demonstration on the two flanks, and one began to hinder the march at the head of the column. On report of this Caesar divided his own cavalry likewise into three, and ordered it to advance against the enemy. The battle began simultaneously in every quarter. The column halted, and the baggage was drawn back inside the legions. At any point where our troops seemed to be distressed or too hard pressed Caesar would order the standards to advance and line of battle to be formed. This served to check the enemy in pursuit and to encourage our troops by hope of succour. At length the Germans on the right flank gained the top of a ridge and dislodged the enemy, drove them headlong as far as the river, where Vercingetorix had halted with the footmen of his force, and slew not a few. The rest remarked this and, fearing they might be surrounded, betook themselves to flight. Everywhere slaughter ensued. Three Aeduans of distinguished rank were captured and brought to Caesar. They were Cotus, a commander of horse, who had had the quarrel with Convictolitavis at the last election; Cavarillus, who after the revolt of Litaviccus had commanded the footmen of the force; and Eporedorix, under whose leadership before the coming of Caesar the Aedui had fought a campaign with the Sequani.

68 When all the horsemen had been put to flight Vercingetorix drew his forces back from their position in front of the camps and at once began the march to Alesia, a town of the Mandubii, ordering the baggage to be brought speedily out of camp and to  p479 follow close after him. Caesar withdrew his baggage to the nearest hill and, leaving two legions to guard it, pursued as long as daylight allowed. Some three thousand of the enemy's rearguard were slain, and on the next day he pitched camp near Alesia. He reconnoitred the situation of the city, and as the enemy were terror-struck by the rout of their horsemen, the branch of their army on which they most relied, he urged his soldiers to the task and began the investment.

69 The actual stronghold of Alesia4 was set atop of a hill, in a very lofty situation, apparently impregnable save by blockade. The bases of the hill were washed on two separate sides by rivers. Before the town a plain extended for a length of about three miles; on all the other sides there were hills surrounding the town at a short distance, and equal to it in height. Under the wall, on the side which looked eastward, the forces of the Gauls had entirely occupied all this intervening space, and had made in front a ditch and a rough wall six feet high. The perimeter of the siege-works which the Romans were beginning had a length of eleven miles. Camps had been pitched at convenient spots, and three-and‑twenty forts had been constructed on the line. In these piquets would be posted by day to prevent any sudden sortie; by night the same stations were held by sentries and strong garrisons.

Plan of Alesia
(after Colonel Stoffel)

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

70 When the siege-work had been started, a cavalry encounter took place in the plain which we have described above as set between hills and extending to a length of three miles. Both sides strove with the utmost vigour. When our men were distressed Caesar sent up the Germans, and posted the legions  p481 in front of the camp to prevent any sudden inrush on the part of the enemy's footmen. With the reinforcement of the legions behind them our men's spirit was increased; the enemy were put to flight, and, hampering one another by sheer numbers, as the gates were left too narrow, were crowded together in a press. The Germans pursued most vigorously right up to the fortifications.5 A great slaughter ensued; some of the enemy abandoned their horses, and tried to cross the ditch and scale the wall. Caesar ordered the legions posted in front of the rampart to advance a short distance. The Gauls inside the fortifications were in just as great a confusion as the rest; believing that the enemy were coming on them at once, they shouted the call to arms, and some in panic burst into the town. Vercingetorix ordered the gates to be shut, lest the camp should be deserted. After much slaughter and the capture of many horses the Germans retired.

71 Vercingetorix now made up his mind to send away all his horsemen by night, before the Romans could complete their entrenchments. His parting instructions were that each of them should proceed to his own state and impress for the campaign all men whose age allowed them to bear arms. He set forth his own claims upon them, and adjured them to have regard for his personal safety, and not to surrender to the torture of the enemy one who had done sterling service for the general liberty. He showed them that if they proved indifferent eighty thousand chosen men were doomed to perish with him. He had calculated that he had corn in short rations for thirty days, but that by economy he could hold out just a little longer. After giving these instructions he sent  p483 the horsemen silently away in the second watch, at a point where a gap was left in our works. He ordered all the corn to be brought in to his headquarters; he appointed death as the penalty for any disobedience of the order; the cattle, of which great store had been driven together by the Mandubii, he distributed man by man; he arranged that the corn should be measured out sparingly and gradually; he withdrew into the town all the force which he had posted in front of it. By such measures did he prepare for the conduct of the campaign, in anticipation of the succours from Gaul.

72 Caesar had report of this from deserters and prisoners, and determined on the following types of entrenchments.6 He dug a trench twenty feet wide with perpendicular sides, in such fashion that the bottom thereof was just as broad as the distance from edge to edge at the surface. He set back the rest of the siege-works four hundred paces from the trench; for as he had of necessity included so large an area, and the whole of the works could not easily be manned by a ring-fence of troops, his intention was to provide against any sudden rush of the enemy's host by night upon the entrenchments, or any chance of directing their missiles by day upon our troops engaged on the works. Behind this interval he dug all round two trenches, fifteen feet broad and of equal depth; and the inner one, where the ground was level with the plain or sank below it, he filled with water diverted from the river. Behind the trenches he constructed a ramp and palisade7 twelve feet high;  p485 to this he added a breastwork and battlements, with large fraises8 projecting at the junctions of screens9 and ramp, to check the upward advance of the enemy; and all round the works he set turrets at intervals of eighty feet.

73 As it was necessary that at one and the same time timber and corn should be procured, and lines of such extent constructed, our forces, having to proceed to a considerable distance from camp, were reduced in number; and sometimes the Gauls would try to make an attempt upon our works by a sortie in force from several gates of the town. Caesar, therefore, thought proper to make a further addition to these works, in order that the lines might be defensible by a smaller number of troops. Accordingly, trunks or very stout branches of trees were cut, and the tops thereof barked and sharpened, and continuous trenches five feet deep were dug. Into these the stumps were sunk and fastened at the bottom so that they could not be torn up, while the bough-ends were left projecting. They were in rows of five fastened and entangled together, and anyone who pushed into them must impale himself on the sharpest of stakes. These they called "markers."10 In front of these, in diagonal rows arranged like a figure of five,11 pits three feet deep were dug, sloping inwards slightly to the bottom. In these, tapering stakes as thick as a man's thigh, sharpened at the top and fire-hardened, were sunk so as to project no more than four fingers' breadth from the ground; at the same time, to make  p487 all strong and firm, the earth was trodden down hard for one foot from the bottom, and the remainder of the pit was covered over with twigs and brushwood to conceal the trap. Eight rows of this kind were dug, three feet apart. From its resemblance to the flower the device was called a "lily." In front of all these, logs a foot long, with iron hooks firmly attached, were buried altogether in the ground and scattered at brief intervals all over the field, and these they called "spurs."

74 When all these arrangements had been completed Caesar constructed parallel entrenchments of the same kind facing the other way, against the enemy outside, following the most favourable ground that the locality afforded, with a circuit of fourteen miles. This he did to secure the garrisons of the entrenchments from being surrounded by a host, however large it might chance to be. And in order that he might not be constrained to dangerous excursions from camp, he ordered all his men to have thirty days' corn and forage collected.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 61 B.C.

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2 See Appendix A.

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3 The Gallic cavalry commanders. The clause et ipsos . . . dubitare is answered by the clause et quo . . . futurum. Vercingetorix tells them that they have no right or reason to doubt; and that he will make assurance doubly sure by parading the forces.

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4 For the operations at Alesia see the plan.

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5 i.e. the ditch and wall mentioned in ch. 69.

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6 For the contrivances described in this and the next chapter see the diagrams in Appendix A.

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7 Probably the two words form one idea, a ramp revetted with palisades.

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8 i.e. pointed stakes projecting horizontally — a sort of chevaux-de‑frise.

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9 The wooden hoarding which formed the breastwork on the top of the ramp.

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10 The word cippus means both a boundary-stone and a tombstone, and its use here probably represents a rough jest (cf. lilium, stimulos below) of the Roman soldiers.

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11quincunx, :·:

Page updated: 9 Nov 13