THE BATTLE OF ALESIA

 

JULIUS CAESAR

 

 

 

In 52 BC during the siege of Alesia, Roman legions under JuliusCaesar would find themselves not only besieging Gallic forces of equal strength, but fighting a massive relief army sent to rescue their trapped comrades. Surrounded and out numbered by as much as 5 to 1, JuliusCaesar would achieve one of the most remarkable military victories in history.   

During the Roman Gallic campaign of 58- 51 BC, Caesars brutal repression of the populace was severe and earned him many enemies among the tribes of Gaul. There had been many revolts and small scale rebellions with which the Roman army dealt with easily. However, Caesar knew that if the Gallic tribes ever formed a solid alliance against him, the legions under his command would be hard pressed to maintain Roman rule.

One Gallic Prince, Vercingetorix, realized if Gaul ever wanted to become free of their Roman overlords, all the tribes within Gaul would have to put aside their differences and join forces. Vercingetorix called upon all the tribes not allied with Rome and informed them of his planned rebellion, all present agreed to support the uprising, it was time to expel their Roman masters once and for all.

Vercingetorix adopted a policy of engaging the Romans in a guerilla war, burning all crops and towns in the Romans path as to deprive them of food and shelter. After some initial successes, Vercingetorix made the fatal error of fighting the Romans in a pitched battle and suffered a terrible defeat at Gerovia in 52 BC. With the remainder of his Gallic army Vercingetorix withdrew to the fortified hill town of Alesia.

When Caesar arrived at Alesia with his 70,000 men he saw why Vercingetorix and his army of 80,000 had chosen this spot to make a stand. Alesia was an invulnerable hill, a natural fortress, Caesar could not attack such a defensive position without suffering immense casualties.

Caesar had but two options before him, retreat or lay siege. Caesar decided on the latter, knowing he could rely on his Legions who's discipline and fighting ability as well as their fortification and engineering skills, were without equal.

Caesar set about spreading his soldiers into eight camps surrounding the hill. While the Romans were taking up their positions, Vercingetorix launched a surprise cavalry assault down the forward base of the hill, although caught by surprise the Romans managed to hold their positions suffering minimal casualties and the attack was repulsed.

To prevent any further cavalry attacks upon his men, Caesar ordered his troops to dig a deep trench between the two rivers on either side of the forward base of the hill. The Romans then began to construct a defensive corridor around Vercingetorix's entire position and prepared themselves to defend its entire length. 

Caesar also ordered the installation of deadly obstacles and booby traps containing rows of metal spikes, sharpened stakes and circular ditches designed to cripple and maim any attackers. The Romans also dug two more ditches, one of which was flooded. The earth from these ditches was used to construct a fifteen foot wall upon which the Romans built a ten foot fence which was dominated by conning towers.

 

Roman Forts Alesia

ROMAN FORTIFICATIONS

 

  

THE SIEGE

 

 

 

Vercingetorix did nothing to prevent the Romans from completing there siege fortifications, he was confident in the fact that he had sent for reinforcements before the Romans had arrived and knew he would soon be relieved. Caesar was aware that a Gallic army was approaching Alesia, and began building a second defensive trench system facing outward around the inner works already completed.

The Romans had just barely finished their outer defenses when the Gallic relief army slowly began to arrive, even tribes loyal to Rome abandoned their allegiance and sent troops to aid Vercingetorix's besieged army. 

The Gaul's had assembled an immense army numbering 258,000 men. With Gallic forces camped outside his outer line and Vercingetorix's 80,000 strong army still positioned atop Alesia, Caesar and his 70,000 men (12) Legions, now found themselves completely surrounded and heavily outnumbered.

At dawn the next day, the Gallic army outside the Roman lines launched a major cavalry attack, seeing this Vercingetorix ordered an infantry attack down the slope in the direction of the oncoming cavalry. As the Gallic cavalry advanced into the Roman defenses mayhem ensued, the Gallic horse were cut down and impaled against the metal spikes and sharpened stakes. 

Of those horseman which did get past the wall of spikes, the Roman trench system easily swallowed up the remaining survivors. Vercingetorix's infantry attack on the inner defenses faired no better as wave upon wave of Gallic infantry met their end attempting to navigate the Roman killing fields. 

After suffering horrendous casualties the Gauls reached their objective and began their assault on the Roman wall. Vercingetorix's hopes that his men could break through soon vanished, as Roman infantry hurled their javelins into the Gallic ranks stopping the assault dead in its tracks. The Roman archers stationed atop the conning towers now finished off any stragglers attempting to flee, by nightfall the Romans had forced the Gaul's to fall back.

Losses on the first day of battle had been so severe, that the Gallic leadership decided to halt any further attacks all the next day in order to regroup. It had become very apparent to the Gaul's, that any further daylight attacks against such a fortified position would result in the destruction of their army. The Gallic chiefs therefore decided on a night attack.

At midnight that evening, the Gaul's launched a surprise attack on the Roman outer defenses. Vercingetorix once again ordered an assault in the same direction from atop Alesia towards Caesars inner defenses. The Romans now faced fierce onslaughts from their front and rear. Once again thousands of Gaul's were impaled against the spikes or killed by javelins and arrows fired from the ramparts. 

After much carnage, the weight of the Gallic attack had cleared the deadly obstacles and began their assault on the Roman walls. All night long the Gaul's poured in seemingly endless reinforcements to break through the Roman fortifications. 

 

Roman vs Gaul Alesia

 

 

 

 

The Romans now found themselves hard pressed to hold the enemy back from overwhelming their positions. The sheer weight of the Gallic attack now began to show signs of success, as it began to slowly breach the Roman defenses in some sectors. With the situation critical, Caesar himself rushed to the trouble spots along the Roman line to join in the hand to hand fighting along side his exhausted troops. 

Witnessing  Caesar riding up and down the lines with his purple cloak flowing in the breeze, letting his troops no that he was there and fighting along side them, gave the individual Roman soldier renewed vigor to throw the Gaul's back. The fighting would continue in this manner all through the night, as dawn approached the exhausted Gaul's once again began to fall back.

After two days of fighting, both Gallic armies had suffered horrendous casualties and were low on supplies. At another council of war the Gallic chiefs found themselves faced with the grim reality of surrender or continue on fighting. To surrender meant Gaul would be defeated and completely fall under Roman rule. After taking stock of their remaining forces they found they had enough troops for one more good assault and decided on the latter.

The Gallic army outside the lines decided to concentrate their attack on the Roman forces encamped on the northern side of Alesia. During the night 40,000 of their best troops slowly positioned themselves for the assault.

At dawn they launched a surprise early morning attack. At the same moment the remainder of the Gallic forces outside the lines launched their assault across the plains towards the  Roman outer defenses. Vercingetorix, then divided his entire army and hurled them against different points along the Roman inner lines to divide and weaken the Roman defenses, Caesar and his legion's found themselves facing an all out assault.

The fighting now became more desperate and savage, the Gaul's knew this was there last good chance of defeating the Romans and pressed home their final attack. Caesar noticed that his  defenses were weakening on his northern sector and gave the order that all Roman cavalry units should leave their positions and rush to that area and attack the Gaul's from the rear. 

Just as the Gallic attack on the Roman northern defenses began to push the Romans back, the Gauls were suddenly surprised to find Roman cavalry bearing down on them. Caught between enemy cavalry to their rear and infantry at their front the Gaul's panicked and fled the field in all directions. The Roman cavalry continued their charge against the fleeing Gaul's chasing down the survivors and cutting them down without mercy. 

Witnessing their best troops being massacred, the Gaul's attacking the Roman outer defensives lost heart and began to fall back. The withdrawal soon turned into a route as the Roman cavalry swung onto the plain and charged into these troops as well, what was left of the Gallic army began to disintegrate. 

After three days of fighting the battle of Alesia was over, the Romans had won a crushing and decisive victory for the loss of 12,000 men, the Gauls had suffered 60,000 killed and 40,000 taken prisoner, destroying the powerful Gallic tribes and turning the nation of Gaul into a province of the Roman Empire.

Caesar, had successfully defended twenty five miles of entrenchment and beaten two armies, which combined outnumbered him five to one. The next day Vercingetorix surrendered, he was chained and sent to Rome to be part of Caesars triumphant parade, where during the celebration, he was ritually strangled.

 

VERCINGETORIX SURRENDERS TO CAESAR

 

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