Summary and Analysis
Arriving in Italy, Caesar learns that the senate has decreed that all young men of military age should be drafted, so he decides to enroll soldiers in Cisalpine Gaul. The natives of Transalpine Gaul, meanwhile, hear of his decision and spread rumors that the general is detained in Rome and cannot join his army. Their hope is to stimulate to rebellion those Gauls who object to Roman rule. The rumors do just that.
The various chiefs meet and their first task is to make sure Caesar is kept from joining his army, which seems easy enough with the legions in winter quarters and the knowledge that they will not leave without their commander-in-chief. There is risk in the plan, but all chiefs present agree that it is better to die in battle than fail to try to regain their previous power and liberty. Agreements are made accordingly: the Carnutes offer to begin the warfare, and since the tribes all want to keep their plans secret, they realize that they cannot take the risk of exchanging hostages, so all take an oath of honor not to betray one another. A date is set for the beginning of their campaign and the meeting is adjourned.
On the agreed date, the Carnutes, led by Cotuatus and Conconnetodumnus, strike. They attack Cenabum, kill the Romans there and plunder the Roman property stored in the town. News of the slaughter travels quickly — as quickly as the rebels. The Gauls pass news of the war from field to field and by evening the story of the attack reaches Arverni, about 160 miles away. There, reaction is immediate. Vercingetorix, son of the former Gallic chieftain, arouses his men to assemble and is soon joined by many other adventurers and soldiers. His uncle, Gobannitio, and the other chiefs try to stop him, but unable to dissuade him, they finally drive him from town.
Vercingetorix, however, gathers more recruits, and in turn drives the officials out of the state. At once he is called "King" by his supporters and soon manages alliance with other tribes, all of which agree that he is best suited to be their chief. Then, to insure more than verbal agreement from them, Vercingetorix orders that hostages, soldiers, and weapons be delivered to him; his command is most strict and non-compliers are mutilated or killed. Thus he soon raises a large army and sends Lucterius with a part of his army to the land of the Ruteni; the others he takes to battle against the Bituriges. The Bituriges fearfully ask the Aedui for help and the Aedui, on the advice of the Romans, send infantry and cavalry. These troops go only as far as the Loire river, stay a few days, then come home and report to the Romans that they fear the Bituriges too greatly to attempt war. There is, of course, no way of knowing whether they said this because it was true or because of treachery.
Caesar hears of the attacks and, because the difficulties in Rome are solved, he heads for Transalpine Gaul. But he is faced with a dilemma: if he sends for his legions, they might be attacked without their general and, if he goes to them, he might be betrayed by the tribes to whom he entrusts his personal safety.
Lucterius, meanwhile, unites the Ruteni with the Arverni, then brings the Nitiobriges and the Gabali into the alliance. Caesar places troops among the Ruteni in the province and among others who border on enemy territory and orders many of the new troops he brings with him from Rome to gather in the territory of the Helvii, bordering on the Arverni. Lucterius is thus stopped and Caesar moves into the land of the Helvii, but is confronted by a mountain range, the Cevennes, separating the Arverni from the Helvii. At this time of year the range is covered by deep banks of snow, but Caesar decides to move ahead and by a massive effort, his troops clear a way through six feet of snow and reach the Arverni, who are caught completely by surprise. Naturally they had thought the snow was impenetrable. They send for Vercingetorix to save them now that the war has gone against them, and he turns from his battle with the Bituriges and speeds toward the Arverni.
Caesar has anticipated just such a move. He pauses for two days, then leaves his army and pretends to be out seeing to further inductions. While he is gone, he leaves young Brutus in charge with orders to let the cavalry operate as far and wide as possible and says that he will return in three days. Then, by forced marches, Caesar gets to Vienne and with the cavalry he had sent there, he continues marching day and night straight through the lands of the Aedui into the Lingones, where two legions are in their winter quarters. Any plots the Aedui might have had are aborted by the rapidity with which he joins his legions. He groups his legions together before the Arverni learn of his plans, but Vercingetorix' messengers bring news to their general and he moves his army back to the Bituriges, deciding to attack Gorgobina, a city of the Boii.
Verciugetorix' retreat troubles Caesar. If he keeps his legions in one place, defections mount and soon all Gaul will revolt as it becomes apparent that Rome is powerless to stop the rebellions. And, if Caesar moves his legions out too early, there will be difficulty maintaining the grain supply. Of the two, then, Caesar decides that the lack of food is preferable to the disgrace of not being able to protect his allies, so he tells the Aedui to transport the supplies for his army, then informs the Boii that he is on the march.
Next day he reaches Vellaunodunum, which he decides to capture so there will be no enemy at his rear and so the food supplies can move safely after him. Caesar then moves to the town of Cenabum, whose inhabitants have heard of the siege of Vellaunodunum and have prepared their garrison. Caesar, however, arrives there in two days, before their preparations are complete, but he arrives too late in the day to begin battle, so he camps for the night and posts two legions under arms in case the people try to escape by crossing the Loire. As he suspected, just before midnight, the men of the town begin to slip away. As soon as Caesar is informed, he has the town's gates burned and sends in the waiting legions. The town is quickly taken; few of the enemy manage to escape, and Caesar orders his men to plunder and burn the town, then moves his army across the river to the borders of the Bituriges.
Hearing that Caesar is cutting a bloody path toward him, Vercingetorix leaves the attack against the Boii and turns to meet the Romans. But Caesar plans one more conquest before dealing with Vercingetorix. He assaults the city of Noviodunum and has little trouble claiming another victory. But, while the residents are fulfilling Caesar's demands on them, the vanguard of Vercingetorix' army is sighted. No longer are the residents of Noviodunum as fearful of the Romans; they take up arms again and try to close their gates; manning their walls at the same time, they hope to reclaim their city from the Roman invaders.
Caesar's troops withdraw safely from the city, and plot moves against the mightier foe rapidly approaching. Caesar's first maneuver is to send his cavalry to meet that of the enemy. They encounter some difficulty, however, and Caesar is forced to send 400 German horsemen as support. The Gauls then break rank and retreat with heavy losses.
Inside the gates of Noviodunum, the people panic. Seeing that mighty Caesar is victorious, they seize those whom they think roused them to battle and bring them to Caesar, pleading for his acceptance of their surrender. Caesar obliges, then moves on toward Avaricurn, the largest and best fortified of the Bituriges' towns. Here, he feels, the states of the Bituriges will come again under his control if he can capture Avaricum.
After losing three cities, Vercingetorix calls a convention of his followers and tells them their tactics must be changed; they must prevent the Romans from getting forage, a fairly easy task at this time of year when there is virtually no forage in the fields; everything has been cut and placed within the homesteads. And, since the Gauls have many horsemen, they can easily outnumber and surround Roman foraging parties. The plan is accepted and, for the common good, private property rights vanish — all towns and homes in the foraging area are to be burned. The Gauls hope to survive only because they have the cooperation of the local tribes. They hope desperately that the Romans will not be able to stay in the area if there is a great scarcity of food or perhaps even better, that the Romans will go far afield and be easy to pick off. As a final measure, any town not secure enough to defend itself is to be burnt. The plan is harsh, but the alternative in defeat is harsher: Families will be made slaves and soldiers will be slaughtered.
As the towns are destroyed, there is much mourning, but the pain of loss is compensated for by the hope of recovering their losses by overcoming the Romans. During the burning, there is debate concerning the burning of Avaricum — the finest city in all Gaul — and although Vercingetorix strongly believes that it too should be destroyed, he finally yields to the arguments defending the city's survival.
The day for war nears and Vercingetorix camps some sixteen miles from Avaricum so that his scouts can keep him informed. Caesar's foraging parties are kept under surveillance and whenever any are widely scattered, Vercingetorix orders them attacked. Caesar, mean-while, prepares to attack the town with a ramp and towers. But because the Boii have little grain and the Aedui are of little help in providing grain, Caesar's troops must endure several days without grain; on other days they have only cattle captured in distant villages, but in spite of this, morale remains high. Caesar offers to give up the siege if the men are too troubled by the lack of food, but the Romans refuse, preferring temporary hunger to dishonor. Too, they are especially anxious to avenge those Romans who were killed at Cenahum.
Caesar learns that Vercingetorix has moved nearer Avaricum because he is out of forage and that he plans an ambush for the next day. Moving quickly by night, the Roman general reaches the enemy's camp by morning, but he is unable to take it by surprise. They too have an able intelligence staff and have learned of Caesar's approach and have hidden the wagons and baggage in nearby dense woods. Now, grouped together on high ground, they wait.
Caesar's defense is immediate. He orders the packs piled and the men to ready their weapons. Wary of sudden attack, though, Caesar explains to his men that the enemy has an advantage of position and, rather than appear rash, he moves the troops back to camp and prepares for the siege of the town.
Vercingetorix' followers are less trusting and accuse their leader of treachery; he moved their camps near the Romans, then went off with the cavalry and left the camp without a commander. The Romans seized this opportunity and moved closer to the city. Vercingetorix replies that it was they who had insisted on moving the camp, and that they had no need of horses on marshy ground. Furthermore, he had not left them a commander because he did not want to risk someone else's enthusiasm launching them all into an impromptu battle with the Romans. If the Romans moved by chance, he says, then the Gauls may thank fortune, and if they moved because of an informer, the Gauls should thank the informer- now they know how few in number the Romans are and that they are reluctant to fight Vercingetorix. If they wish, he continues, they can take back the title of king they have given him, but he asks them to consider whether or not they have profited from his leadership.
Vercingetorix then brings forward Roman prisoners whom he has tortured and who, he believes, will support his theories. These men, however, have been instructed by Caesar to say that the Roman army is weakened by hunger and that Caesar has decided to withdraw if he is not successful in three days. Vercingetorix boasts that he and he alone is responsible for this; how, then, dare his men accuse him of treachery? Trust is reestablished and his men praise him for such loyalty and intelligence. Their next move is to send 10,000 men into the town. If victory is to be theirs, Avaricum must be held.
By various contrivances, meanwhile, the Gauls in town attempt to undo the siege apparatus assembled by Caesar's troops. They try to undermine the ramp and set it afire, and attempt to kill the soldiers doing the building. They also build up the scaffolding on their walls to keep it on a level with the Roman turrets.
Gallic walls, it is now explained, are made in overlapping units, filled with rubble on the inside and covered by large stones on the outside. This is particularly ingenious because, once overlapped, the whole wall is reinforced and cannot be battered or pulled down. In addition, the stones protect it from fire. But, in spite of the Gallic counter-measures, the Romans manage within 25 days to build a ramp 330 feet wide and 80 feet high.
Late one night the Romans see smoke coming from the ramp and realize that the enemy has set it afire from a tunnel. They rush to save the structure, but are confronted by the enemy rushing from two gates at once; at the same time men on the wall begin to hurl pitch and burning wood onto the ramp. There is much confusion, but as always Caesar has two legions in the bivouac ready for such emergencies and he also has the construction relief crews, if need arises. Fighting continues throughout the night. The enemy fights with new hope because they see burning the Roman turrets that once gave cover to the working parties. But one link in their defense fails: one of the grease and pitch throwers loses his position on the wall and the Romans are quick to overpower the opening. Fires are finally put out and fighting stops. The Gauls try to escape during the night and reach Vercingetorix' camp but are once again unsuccessful, for the men of the town are given away by the screams and moans of their wives, begging them not to leave.
Caesar, meanwhile, is sure of success; in only a short time the town will be his. And, next day, as a heavy rain drenches his legions, he observes that the guard on the wall is less than usual. The time is right for his plan: he orders the men at work to slacken their speed. In the meantime, he instructs the men behind the mantlets to prepare themselves. Then Caesar offers prizes to those who mount the wall first and, that done, gives the signal, and the troops charge the wall. The Gauls are panic-stricken. They form in wedges in the town's open places, ready to fight when the Romans come down the walls, but the Romans fail to descend. They stay atop the wall and call for more Romans to join them. The townspeople then fear they will have absolutely no way of escape if they wait any longer, so they throw away their weapons and run to the far side of the town. Some are killed there as they crush through the narrow gates and others are killed by the cavalry waiting outside for them. A few, probably 800, manage to get to Vercingetorix, but the Romans troops kill the rest.
Vercingetorix has the escapees assigned to their separate tribal camps along his lines. He fears their coming into the main camp and starting a mutiny. He relates in a conference that the Romans have conquered by strategy, and by skill in laying siege, not by courage and, furthermore, no defense of the town was ever agreed to by him; thus the disaster is only due to the ignorance of the Bituriges. He will, he says, make up for the loss by bringing to their side the rest of Gaul; the combination will be unbeatable!
As promised, Vercingetorix attempts to get the other Gauls to join the war. He orders each state to supply certain numbers of soldiers and requests that all archers be brought to him. His forces grow rapidly. Teutomatus, king of the Nitiobriges, whose father Ollovico had been a friend of Rome, joins Vercingetorix and brings with him a large cavalry force, some his own people and others hired from Aquitania.
Caesar, meantime, spends a few days in Avaricum, letting his army feast on the supplies they find there, but before he can formulate battle plans, the Aedui come for help concerning a matter of internal politics. For a year, two men — Convictolitavis and Cotus — have both claimed legal right as chief magistrate, and the state is divided, each man having his following. Only Caesar can settle the dispute.
Caesar is hesitant to leave the war, but knows that if the Aeduan dispute is not settled, the losing party will probably join Vercingetorix. Thus he travels to the Aedui, hears the conflicting claims and makes his decision: Cotus must give up his claim; Convictolitavis is the legally elected magistrate. He then urges the Aedui to forget all disputes and concentrate on the war. He reminds them that there will be reward once it is over. He also tells them to send him all their horsemen plus 10,000 infantry troops, which he needs to guard his grain supply. That done, he sends Labienus with four legions against the Senones and the Parisii; the other six he takes to Gergovia in the country of the Arverni.
Vercingetorix is notified of Caesar's plans and destroys all bridges along the river Allier, which forms the line of Caesar's march. The enemy general, puffed with pride, marches down the other side. The two armies thus move in parallel columns down opposite sides of the river.
The enemy intends to keep the Romans from building bridges to span the river, but Caesar sees the danger in their strategy. He stops to consider and camps in a thick wood. Next day he keeps two legions hidden and has the rest of his men march out, spacing the intervals so they will appear to the enemy to be the same number of troops as the day before. Luckily, their camp is near one of the bridges that Vercingetorix has destroyed and when the legions have departed and Vercingetorix' troops have followed on the other side, Caesar orders the bridge rebuilt. The job is enthusiastically completed and two legions cross the river. They next find a safe camp and send for the remainder of the army.
Caesar reaches Gergovia in five days. The town is on a great height and is difficult to approach, so he knows he cannot take it by storm. On the other hand, he does not want to attempt a blockade until he secures his own grain supply. Vercingetorix, meanwhile, situates his army along a ridge near the town. Each morning, he meets with the various chiefs in council, then exercises the troops.
Convictolitavis is seemingly ungrateful for Caesar's decision. He allows himself to be bribed by the Arverni and shares the bribe with Litaviccus and his brothers, telling them that the Aedui are the only force preventing the victory of Gaul; if the Aedui join the rebels, the Romans will be beaten. His decision seems traitorous, for after Roman defeat, an even brighter future is promised for the Aeduan king. The brothers agree to join the plot and they set to work to plan Caesar's defeat.
Litaviccus, they decide, will make the initial move. He takes many troops with him, and when they are about 30 miles from Gergovia he stops them and tells them that many Aeduans have been put to death by the Romans and that, to gain revenge and safety, they must join the Arverni at Gergovia. They then send messages to the various chiefs among the Aedui and try to rouse them with the same lies.
Two young men are with the train — Eporedorix, who has been born to rank and influence, and Viridomarus, who has been raised to his high position on Diviciacus' recommendation. In the dispute over the magistracy they were on opposing sides. Now, however, Eporedorix reports Litaviccus' plans to Caesar and begs that he not allow the plots of these young traitors to destroy the friendship between Rome and the Aeduans. Caesar is greatly disturbed, for he has always favored the Aedui and he immediately marches four legions out of camp. He leaves Gains Fabius in charge of the two legions left to garrison the camp, and orders the arrest of Litaviccus' brothers, but they have fled. He pushes his troops until they see the column of Aedui, then sends the cavalry ahead to stop them and orders that there be no killing. He has Eporedorix and Viridomarus move up with the horsemen so that their people will see that they have not been murdered. The troops see the two men and realize that Litaviccus has lied. The wily leader and his dependents escape, however, before they can be dealt with. The others beg for mercy. Caesar informs the Aeduan state that he might easily have put the column to death, but that he chose to show mercy. Then he allows his army a night rest of three hours before moving back to Gergovia.
Halfway there, messengers from Fabius report that the camp has been attacked by a full force of invaders and that many of the defenders have been wounded. Fabius expects another attack on the following day. With great effort, Caesar's troops arrive in camp before sunrise.
The Aeduans who have not heard that Litaviccus was a traitor act on his first advice and, according to the initial plans, plunder and kill many Roman citizens in their midst and enslave many others.
Convictolitavis encourages this, assuming that once started they will continue in their crimes. They pledge safe passage to Marcus Aristius, saying that he may leave the town of Cabillonum, and that the traders who had settled there must also go, but as soon as they start out, the Aedui attack and take all equipment and baggage, then blockade them for a day and a night. After many have been kille4 on both sides, the Aedui bring up reinforcements.
While the battle rages, a messenger arrives and reports to the Aedui that their army is in Caesar's power. They immediately flee to Aristius, claiming that the state had nothing to do with all that has happened, and they order an inquiry. They also confiscate the property of Litaviccus and his brothers and send deputies to Caesar to clear themselves. But, because they have committed great crimes, they are afraid that they will be severely dealt with. Thus they secretly consider war and send deputies to other states. Caesar hears of these moves, but tells their deputies that he will not have his goodwill toward the Aedui swayed by the ignorance of the common people, for he fears a greater rebellion in Gaul and wants to pull back from Gergovia and concentrate his forces again; most of all, he does not want his departure to look like a retreat.
Caesar then notices that the hill opposite his forces is undefended and learns from enemy deserters that Vercingetorix has pulled the defenders off that area in order to fortify another hill, the loss of which would cut off his troops from escape and forage. So, just after midnight, Caesar sends his cavalry there with instructions to be extra noisy in their movements. At daybreak he has the muleteers disguise themselves as cavalry and ride around the hills. This is, of course, seen from the town and the muleteers are mistaken for the real cavalry. Caesar then sends one legion in the same direction, stops it part way, and hides it in the woods. The Gauls become suspicious and bring all their force to the area to defend it. Caesar's bait is effective. He sees now that the enemy's camp is empty, so moves his men from the larger to the smaller camp and tells the commanders to keep the troops under control because everything depends on speed and surprise. When he gives the signal to move, he also sends the Aedui under his command up another side of the hill.
Halfway up the hill is a stone wall built by the Gauls and behind it their camps are grouped closely together. At the signal, the Roman troops quickly cross the wall and take three camps. The capture is so fast that Teutomatus, king of the Nitiobriges, barely escapes.
Satisfied with his strategy, Caesar orders that the retreat be sounded. The Tenth Legion, which he had accompanied on the charge, stops as instructed, but the others do not hear the trumpet and they continue charging. Their commanders attempt to restrain them, but the troops are excited at the prospect of an easy victory. They charge the town's wall. Women climb atop the wall and with bared breasts plead for mercy, for they have heard that the women and children at Avaricum were killed. Lucius Fabius, a centurion in the Eighth Legion, has sworn to be first to climb the wall and is assisted up by three of his men.
The Gauls, who have been decoyed to the other side of town, hear the shouting and return to the side where the Romans are attacking. The Romans are tired by their long charge and, unfortunately, are also outnumbered. Caesar sees that his men are fighting with the odds against them and sends a message to Titus Sextius, who has been left to guard the smaller camp. He is to bring his troops to the foot of the hill and stop the enemy if they pursue the Roman troops.
The battle continues at close quarters, the enemy depending on position and numbers, the Romans on their bravery. The Aedui which Caesar had sent out earlier appears on the Romans' right flank and the Romans mistake them for enemy troops. Lucius Fabius and his three men are killed and thrown from the wall. Marcus Petronius, a centurion in the same legion, tries to cut down a gate but is overwhelmed. He tells his men to leave, that he cannot save himself, but perhaps he can save them.
The Romans are indeed in trouble, but the Tenth Legion prevents the Gauls from pursuing the harried soldiers and, when they reach level ground, they turn and face the enemy. Vercingetorix decides that it is time to lead his men back inside the fortifications and the day ends. Caesar, surveying the remains of the battle, finds that almost 700 Romans are missing. Next day the Roman general calls a parade and reprimands the troops for failing to obey orders; he describes the disadvantages of being positioned on unfavorable ground and, although he admires their courage, he stresses that bravery does not substitute for discipline and self-restraint. After the upbraiding, he reminds them that they should never consider the enemy braver than they simply because the enemy has won a skirmish on unfavorable ground.
There are a few more skirmishes during the next few days, but no major battles because Vercingetorix cannot be lured to level ground. Caesar feels the skirmishes have reestablished his troops' confidence and so moves camp to the territory of the Aedui. The enemy does not pursue, and in three days the Roman army reaches the river Allier, rebuilds the bridge and crosses over. There Caesar is greeted by the Aeduans Viridomarus and Eporedorix. They report that Litaviccus has gone with his cavalry to incite the Aedui and say that they must go and try to get ahead of him so that they can maintain the loyalty of the Aeduan people. Caesar feels that their departure will do more harm than good but does not want to seem distrustful, so gives them permission to go, reminding them of all he has done for the Aedui, and that he freed them from oppression and humiliation.
Noviodunum is an Aeduan town, well situated on the banks of the Loire. In it, Caesar has placed all the Gallic hostages, his grain, his money, most of his army's equipment, and many horses that have been purchased in Spain and Italy. When Eporedorix and Viridomarus arrive, they find ruins. Litaviccus has been received by the Aedui at Bibracte, has been joined by Convictolitavis, and has sent representatives to make a treaty with Vercingetorix. The two young men have killed the Roman troops and traders at Noviodunum, divided the money and horses, and sent the hostages to Bibracte; then the town was burned so that it would be of no use to the Romans.
Knowing that he must fight a major battle before the enemy can assemble larger forces, Caesar moves quickly. He cannot change his original plan for it would be difficult to get through the mountains, but he is anxious about Labienus and his legions. By long marches he gets to the Loire and finds a place shallow enough for the troops to wade across, then with the cavalry helping break the force of the river, the entire army gets safely across. The enemy is surprised at Caesar's determined efforts and are totally confused. Caesar then finds sufficient supplies for his troops and decides first to march toward the Senones.
Labienus, meanwhile, leaves the new recruits at Agedincum to guard the equipment and moves his four legions to Lutetia (Paris), but is pitted against Camulogenus, an old but superior soldier. The latter decides to take advantage of a marsh flowing into the Seine to keep the Romans from crossing the river. Labienus, because he cannot build a road through the marsh, moves his army back to Metiosedum, where he seizes fifty boats, ties them together to form a bridge and moves his troops so quickly across that Metiosedum is taken without a fight. Then he repairs the bridge the enemy had earlier cut down and marches to Lutetia. The enemy hears of his approach, burns the town and all bridges approaching it, and moves to a position across the Seine from Labienus.
Rumors of Caesar's difficulties spread and Labienus decides his problem is more than merely winning this battle. He must also get his army safely to Agedincum. But his current task is made doubly difficult because he is pressed on one side by the brave Bellovaci and on the other by Camulogenus' army. Between his legion and their equipment is the Seine. In desperation, he assigns each of the fifty boats to a Roman knight and orders that at night they move in silence four miles downstream and wait for him there. He then leaves the five cohorts he thinks are least reliable as camp guard and has the other five cohorts in his legion move upstream at midnight. They are to take the baggage with them and make much noise. He sends the small boats upstream and instructs them to make much noise also. Later, he marches downstream with his other three legions and goes to meet the boats. There, they overcome the enemy scouts and cross the river safely. Just before dawn, however, the enemy gets reports of the Roman movements and decides that the legions are probably crossing in three places. Camulogenus therefore splits his army into three parts; a guard is left opposite the Roman camp, a small group goes upstream as far as the smaller boats; the rest go against Labienus.
Labienus bravely encourages his soldiers, then joins in the combat himself. The company manages to rout the enemy unit facing it, but on the other side of the line of battle, the Twelfth Legion faces a particularly brave enemy that refuses to retreat even though many are killed and wounded. Camulogenus, the leader of the enemy force, commands the group. As quickly as possible the tribunes of the Seventh Legion bring their troops around to Camulogenus' rear, but even so he refuses to back up. He fights until all his men, including himself, are annihilated. Labienus then returns to Agendincum, picks up the baggage, and proudly marches to meet Caesar.
The Aeduan revolt spreads. Hostages that were taken from the Romans are used as leverage to get other states to join the conspiracy; many hostages even are executed to increase the pressure on reluctant states. The Aedui ask Vercingetorix to join them to make plans for the war, but insist that they must have supreme command. All the Gallic leaders then convene at Bibracte to discuss the dispute and the body votes that Vercingetorix continue as leader.
The Remi and Lingones do not attend this meeting for they are still friends of Rome. Nor do the Treveri attend, for they are too far distant, and are at war with the Germans. The Aedui are distressed at being forced to follow Vercingetorix, but are bound to their allies; thus Eporedorix and Viridomarus unwillingly obey the chosen leader.
Vercingetorix first orders hostages from the other states and requires 15,000 horsemen to assemble. He commands the Gauls to destroy all their property so that the Romans will find no forage. He further asks the Aedui and the Segusiavi to supply 10,000 infantry and 800 cavalry. These he sets under the command of Eporedorix' brother, and sends them to fight the Allobroges. Other groups are sent against other tribes.
Twenty-two cohorts drafted from the province are set to oppose the enemy. The Helvii attempt to fight the enemy but are finally conquered and their chief, Gaius Valerius Donnotaurus is killed. The remaining Helvii then take refuge in their towns. Caesar knows that the enemy has superior cavalry and that he cannot get help from the province or Italy, so he sends for cavalry and infantry from the German tribes with whom he has made peace. He finds the German horses, unfortunately, not good enough for his purposes, so takes the horses away from the Romans and gives them to the German horsemen.
Vercingetorix assembles many of his troops about ten miles from the Romans, then tells his commanders that the Romans are fleeing, but that they will return and says that they must attack them en route and shame them by taking their equipment. His men are enthusiastic and swear an oath that they will not return home until they pass twice through Caesar's column.
In a cavalry battle the next day, the united Romans and the German cavalry manage to kill great numbers and put to flight many more. Sizable units captured include Cotus and other generals, including Cavarillus and Eporedorix. Distressed that his cavalry has been destroyed, Vercingetorix begins to move the rest of his army toward Alesia, a town of the Mandubii. Caesar secures his baggage on a hill, then leaves two legions to guard it while he takes the rest of the army in pursuit. His soldiers kill 3,000 of the enemy's rear guard; the next day Caesar sets up camp near Alesia, knowing that the enemy has been terrified by the loss of such great numbers of men.
The stronghold of Alesia is atop a hill, well protected by natural obstacles, with a plain in front of the town and steep hills on all other sides. On the east the Gauls set up their line. While construction of siege works is underway, a cavalry battle disrupts the peace and the Romans begin to falter. Caesar sends in the Germans to join his troops, but not before setting legions in front of his camp to prevent a sudden attack. The enemy are quickly put to flight and the Germans pursue them all the way to their wall. There, like sheep herded into a fold, the enemy is trapped. They cannot manage entry through their small gate openings and many are killed by the German swordsmen.
Vercingetorix is forced then to send all his horsemen away before the Romans have blocked escape routes and he asks the men to go and recruit all new troops possible; he reminds them of the services he has rendered them and says that if they fail 80,000 troops will die. He has food for only a little over thirty days. He moves his forces inside the city to await the new troops from Gaul.
Caesar has reports of the enemy's plans and sets his men to work building trenches, ramps, battlements, and other siege works. Because a large part of his force is occupied getting food and timber, he reinforces his defense lines with sharpened stakes; anyone charging them will be instantly impaled.
This completed, Caesar builds another set of entrenchments at his rear so that he cannot be surrounded. He then orders his troops to call in a thirty-day supply of grain and forage.
The Gauls decide against gathering together all men available, for that would strain the food supply and also create a force difficult to discipline. Still, their number is vast — almost 300,000 troops are requisitioned. The Bellovaci, who intend to fight the Romans themselves, do not make up their quota of 10,000 but because of their regard for Commius they do send 2,000. When 8,000 cavalry and 250,000 infantry are collected, the army is organized and officers appointed. In charge are Commius, Viridomarus, Eporedorix, and Vercassivellaunus. Among their first decisions is this: they decide that those too sick, young, or old to fight should leave the town and that the Mandubii, who own the town, also should leave, along with the other noncombatants. These people go to the Roman lines and beg to be taken in as slaves, but Caesar refuses to admit them.
Commius and the others reach Alesia and set up their position a mile from the Roman camp. They spread their horsemen and footmen over the plain before the town. Caesar, meanwhile, sets up defensive units on both sides of his entrenchment and sends the cavalry out to fight. The Gauls have archers mixed with their cavalry and these, for a time, check the Romans. The Gauls are overjoyed for it seems that their cavalry is sure to win. The men on both sides fight even more bravely than usual because they know they are being watched by both sides, and the fight lasts from noon to sunset before the Germans mass and charge so violently that the enemy must retreat. Then, when their cavalry has fled, the archers are surrounded and killed.
The following night the Gauls attack the Roman camp and when the troops in town hear the shouting, Vercingetorix leads them out to join in the fighting. The Romans, however, are prepared and take their assigned posts, fire their missiles, and hold off the Gauls. Because of the darkness, it is hard to tell how much damage is being done, but many men are injured and killed. Marcus Antonius and Gaius Trebonius, in charge of the defense of the sections under attack, take soldiers from areas not being attacked and have them move behind the defenders to help wherever possible.
The Gauls, thirsting for victory, sweep closer to the Roman lines and, in the darkness, fall into the traps Caesar had prepared; others are injured by pikes thrown from the walls. They do not get through the trench and, at daybreak, decide to pull back. On the other side, Vercingetorix' troops from the town fill the Roman trenches in order to cross over, but this task takes too long and by the time they are ready, they find that their allies on the far side of the Roman camp have already retreated; thus, they too must withdraw.
After these two defeats, the Gauls reconsider their plans. One end of the Roman camp, they discover, leads to a hill so great that the Romans were unable to include it within their entrenchment. The area seems vital so the Gauls send 60,000 of their bravest soldiers there in secret. Vercassivellaunus, commander of the forces, hides the men behind the hill just before dawn and at noon he moves against the Roman camp. At the same time the Gallic cavalry attacks the Roman lines farther down the plain.
Vercingetorix, in the city, sees the Romans under full attack, so moves out with all the machinery his men need to cross the Roman trenches. Suddenly the Romans find themselves fighting on all fronts; they must spread out more than is militarily desirable. Caesar finds a place for his command post and sends support to the units in most difficulty, feeling that if they manage to hold off this attack, they will be victors.
Caesar believes that the most difficult fighting is probably centered on a hill, which permits the enemy to charge down a slope with a great number of troops, so he sends Labienus there with six cohorts. Then he goes forward to encourage his troops.
The Gauls on the city side of the Roman lines empty the Roman turrets by firing missiles, then fill in the trenches and tear down the breastworks by pulling them over with large hooks, but all is not theirs yet Caesar sends young Brutus with troops, and Gaius Fabius with even more, then goes himself with still more until the enemy is beaten back. He then moves to aid Labienus, who has pulled back four cohorts and sent the horsemen around the wall to attack the rear of the enemy units who harass the hill side of the Roman entrenchment.
Both sides see that Caesar is coming to Labienus' aid and that he is wearing a flashing scarlet cape; the general has entered the thick of battle. Then, suddenly, the enemy is aware that the Roman cavalry has come up behind them, so they try to run, but the cavalry kills great numbers. The townspeople, seeing the slaughter, pull their troops back and had Caesar's soldiers not been so exhausted by the day's battle, they might have destroyed the entire enemy army at that point.
That night the cavalry goes after the retreating Gauls, catches the rear guard and kills or captures many. The rest of the enemy forces disperse to their respective states.
Vercingetorix calls a council and says he will do whatever they think best: they may kill him to please the Romans or they may surrender and present him to the enemy alive. Caesar's decision is this: he orders all weapons surrendered and tells the Gauls to bring their chiefs out. He takes all of the enemy prisoner, including Vercingetorix. The Arverni and the Aedui are not held, for he still hopes eventually to gain their loyalty.
He then goes to the Aedui and accepts their submission to Rome. The Arverni send representatives and agree to do the same. Many hostages are then taken and the legions are sent into winter quarters. Once more, when the dispatches of Caesar's mighty victories reach Rome, the senate proclaims a public thanksgiving of twenty days.
This is the longest book in the Gallic Wars and it describes the great revolt of most of the Gallic tribes. Tribes which Caesar has fought earlier, and many with whom he has been at peace, combine and try their luck against the mighty Roman general. It is here that we are able to see how delicate is the balance of political control in Gaul and how great is the responsibility of the governor responsible for peace. In other books, the rebellions are generally restricted to a single area at a time, but here the revolt is general, including even the usually reliable Aedui.
The revolt begins when the Gauls hear of the political turmoil in Rome. They obviously think that Caesar will be unable to leave Rome to return to the army and that the army will be ineffectual without him. Thus they want to ready their forces in secret and so do not exchange hostages, which would reveal that coalition was being accomplished. Instead a solemn oath is taken.
We can be fairly sure that many of the Gallic leaders involved are interested in personal power rather than political freedom for their people. This seems to be the case with Vercingetorix, and it certainly will be the case later with the Aeduans. Thus one of the most difficult problems facing Caesar is the ease with which one ambitious or dissatisfied local politician can incite an otherwise peaceful state to rebellion. In Vercingetorix' case, the chiefs of the tribe are opposed to his plans, hut he manages to organize his own army, dispose of the chiefs, and revolt against Rome.
It should be noted, however, that not all the tribes revolt freely. Some of the tribes that join the rebellion do not even wish to be included in the fracas, but are forced into it by circumstances. The Bituriges, for example, would have remained on Caesar's side had not the Adenans failed to help them.
It is little wonder that Caesar is accorded heroic stature, especially after one considers the deeds recorded in this book. Clearing a roadway through six feet of snow in the Cevennes mountains is a massive feat when one considers that it had to be done by manual labor. And by doing what the enemy had considered impossible, Caesar strikes fear into the enemy. He quickly gets his army together and, though matters are still dangerous, he is able to move with striking effect. He takes Cenabum by being ready for anything. His men are waiting; when the men of the town sneak out, the Romans are able to flood inside. All of Caesar's skills — being prepared, moving quickly, and taking advantage — are more important in this book than anywhere else; this widespread Gallic rebellion is his greatest challenge.
The portrait of Vercingetorix is far from that of a villain; he is a professional and recognizes the danger in letting Avaricum stand. And Caesar quite deliberately presents him in this way because if Vercingetorix is shown to be a superior leader; then Caesar's success against him is even more impressive.
The break in the narrative seems necessary and not simply a whim of the writer: Caesar must stop the war to settle the childish dispute among the Aedui. The law is clear and there is no justification for Cotus' attempt to have the office. The diversion, besides providing relief from the battle scenes, also prepares us for the jealousy within the tribe and figures in the betrayal later. The Aedui, as we see when Caesar visits them, are easily confused and led astray, and we are prepared for their irrational attacks on the Romans.
Convictolitavis is bribed, but there is the implication that he is largely influenced by a desire for greater power, for even though he is in office because of Roman authority, he says he would prefer that Rome had to come to the Aedui for assistance rather than vice versa. He is easily swayed and so is his partner Litaviccus; both of them are ready to believe any rumor. When Eporedorix reports the events to Caesar, the general realizes that it is not necessary to fight the Aedui. Instead, he simply had Eporedorix and Viridomarus ride out with the troops and let themselves be seen by the Gauls, who immediately return to the Roman side at the sight of the two men.
One of the appealing elements in the Gallic Wars is inclusion of the many Roman tactical errors. When Caesar's troops, for instance, capture a strategic hill of the Gauls, they ruin success by being too enthusiastic and charging against orders. They are so confused, in fact, that after they find themselves in trouble, they are unable to recognize the friendly Aeduan forces that come to help them. Note, too, that later when Caesar chastises them, he makes sure that he also spends much time encouraging them; he knows that a group of soldiers who are beaten, and then told by their leader that it was because of their own foolishness, is not a group that will be an effective fighting force. Thus, after his lecture, he compliments them equally on their bravery and lets them fight a few minor battles to regain their confidence.
Caesar suspects that Eporedorix and Viridomarus will betray him, but he does not want to seem distrustful because he cannot be sure. He merely points out, before letting them ride away, all that he has done for them and their people. He seems, at times, to be almost unduly humane. This quality is also observe4 when he gives the German horsemen the mounts his men have been using; he wants the Germans to have the best horses available. The Romans are not cavalrymen and the Gauls still with Caesar are no good at cavalry fighting, thus this thoughtfulness is rewarded later when the cavalry is responsible for the breakdown of the enemy forces at Alesia.
The battle at Alesia is perhaps the most involved of all battles described in the Gallic Wars. Caesar's assault position is inside a double ring of fortifications. One side faces the town, the other protects the Roman rear. He is between two enemy forces and knows that his role can shift from attacker to defender if things do not go well, so he must be especially crafty and thus, to make sure an enemy attack cannot reach his lines too quickly, he takes the added precaution of planting traps outside his trench.
This is one of the rare occasions in which one of Caesar's own camps has a deficiency in its construction. The hillside, at the end the enemy attacks, is open because Caesar would have had to enclose the entire hill to complete his entrenchments. This could have been done, but another problem would have presented itself: he would have had to station troops on the other side of the hill to protect that part of the entrenchment, thinning both the ranks facing the city, and those facing the enemy force. As it turns out, the weakness is to his advantage, for the enemy commits itself to attack, and Labienus is able to send the cavalry around behind the enemy force and is successful in disrupting it.
Caesar is most deserving of the twenty-day thanksgiving proclaimed by the senate.