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(978 posts)
Tue Oct 3, 2023, 08:10 AM Oct 2023

On This Day: Julius Caesar dominates most of France/Belgium after siege victory - Oct. 3, 52 BC

(edited from Wikipedia)
The Battle of Alesia or Siege of Alesia (September 52 BC) was the climactic military engagement of the Gallic Wars, fought around the Gallic oppidum (fortified settlement) of Alesia in modern France, a major centre of the Mandubii tribe. It was fought by the Roman army of Julius Caesar against a confederation of Gallic tribes united under the leadership of Vercingetorix of the Arverni.

It was the last major engagement between Gauls and Romans, and is considered one of Caesar's greatest military achievements and a classic example of siege warfare and investment; the Roman army built dual lines of fortifications – an inner wall to keep the besieged Gauls in, and an outer wall to keep the Gallic relief force out. The Battle of Alesia marked the end of Gallic independence in the modern day territory of France and Belgium.

The Gallic Wars

The Gallic Wars were waged between 58 and 50 BC by the Roman general Julius Caesar against the peoples of Gaul (present-day France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland). Gallic, Germanic, and Brittonic tribes fought to defend their homelands against the aggressive Roman campaign. The Wars culminated in the decisive Battle of Alesia in 52 BC, in which a complete Roman victory resulted in the expansion of the Roman Republic over the whole of Gaul.

Though the Gallic military was [perhaps] as strong as the Romans [with sizes difficult to determine], the Gallic tribes' internal divisions eased victory for Caesar. Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix's attempt to unite the Gauls under a single banner came too late. Caesar portrayed the invasion as being a preemptive and defensive action, but historians agree that he fought the wars primarily to boost his political career and to pay off his debts. Still, Gaul was of significant military importance to the Romans. Native tribes in the region, both Gallic and Germanic, had attacked Rome several times. Conquering Gaul allowed Rome to secure the natural border of the river Rhine.

In 51 and 50 BC, there was limited resistance, and Caesar's troops mainly engaged in mop-up operations. Gaul was conquered, although it would not become a Roman province until 27 BC, and resistance would continue until as late as 70 AD. There is no precise end date to the war, but the imminent Roman Civil War led to the withdrawal of Caesar's troops in 50 BC. Caesar's wild successes in the war had made him wealthy and provided a legendary reputation. The Gallic Wars were a key factor in Caesar's ability to win the Civil War and make himself dictator, which culminated in the end of the Roman Republic and the establishment of the Roman Empire.

The siege

Vercingetorix chose to defend Alesia in what would become the siege of Alesia. He assembled some 70,000–100,000 warriors. After the poor performance at Gergovia, [won by the Gauls], Caesar felt a direct assault on the Gauls was no longer a viable solution, so he opted to simply besiege the settlement and starve out the defenders. Vercingetorix was satisfied with this, as he intended to use Alesia as a trap to lay a pincer attack on the Romans and sent a call for a relieving army at once.

Vercingetorix likely did not expect the intensity of the Roman siege preparations. Although modern archeology suggests that Caesar's preparations were not as complete as he describes, it is apparent that he laid some incredible siege works. Over the span of a month, the Romans built some 25 miles (40 km) of fortifications. These included a trench for soldiers, an anti-cavalry moat, towers at regular intervals, and booby traps in front of the trenches.

The fortifications were dug in two lines, one to protect from the defenders and one to protect from the relievers. Archeological evidence suggests the lines were not continuous as Caesar claims, and made much use of the local terrain, but it is apparent that they worked. Vercingetorix's relieving army arrived quickly, yet concerted coordinated attacks by both the defenders and relievers failed to oust the Romans.

After numerous attacks, the Gauls realized they could not overcome the impressive Roman siege works. At this point, it became clear that the Romans would be able to outlast the defenders and that the revolt was doomed. The relieving army melted away.

[On October 3, 52 BC], Vercingetorix surrendered and was held as a prisoner for the next six years until he was paraded through Rome and ceremonially garroted at the Tullianum in 46 BC.

Caesar victorious

In the span of eight years, Caesar had conquered all of Gaul and part of Britain. He had become fabulously wealthy and achieved a legendary reputation. The Gallic Wars provided enough gravitas to Caesar that subsequently he was able to wage a civil war and declare himself dictator, in a series of events that would eventually lead to the end of the Roman Republic.

The Gallic Wars lack a clear end date. Legions continued to be active in Gaul through 50 BC. The campaigns might have continued into Germanic lands, if not for the impending Roman civil war. The legions in Gaul were eventually pulled out in 50 BC as the civil war drew near, for Caesar would need them to defeat his enemies in Rome. The Gauls had not been entirely subjugated and were not yet a formal part of the empire. But that task was not Caesar's, and he left that to his successors. Several rebellions happened subsequently, and Roman troops were kept stationed throughout Gaul.

The conquest of Gaul marked the beginning of almost five centuries of Roman rule, which would have profound cultural and historical impacts. Roman rule brought with it Latin, the language of the Romans. This would evolve into Old French, giving the modern French language its Latin roots.

Conquering Gaul enabled further expansion of the Empire into Northwestern Europe. Augustus would push into Germania and reach the Elbe. The Roman conquest of Britain led in 43 AD by Claudius also built on Caesar's invasions. The Roman hegemony would last, with only one interruption, until the Crossing of the Rhine in 406 AD.


The Gauls emerged around the 5th century BC as bearers of La Tène culture north and west of the Alps. Their homeland was known as Gaul (Gallia). They spoke Gaulish, a continental Celtic language.

By the 4th century BC, they were spread over much of what is now France, Belgium, Switzerland, Southern Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, by virtue of controlling the trade routes along the river systems of the Rhône, Seine, Rhine, and Danube.

They reached the peak of their power in the 3rd century BC. During the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, the Gauls expanded into Northern Italy (Cisalpine Gaul), leading to the Roman–Gallic wars, and into the Balkans, leading to war with the Greeks. These latter Gauls eventually settled in Anatolia (contemporary Turkey), becoming known as Galatians.

After the end of the First Punic War, the rising Roman Republic increasingly put pressure on the Gallic sphere of influence. The Battle of Telamon (225 BC) heralded a gradual decline of Gallic power during the 2nd century BC. The Romans eventually conquered Gaul in the Gallic Wars (58–50 BC), making it a Roman province, which brought about the hybrid Gallo-Roman culture.

The Gauls were made up of many tribes (toutās), many of whom built large fortified settlements called oppida (such as Bibracte), and minted their own coins. Gaul was never united under a single ruler or government, but the Gallic tribes were capable of uniting their armies in large-scale military operations, such as those led by Brennus and Vercingetorix. They followed an ancient Celtic religion overseen by druids.



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