Gallic Wars: Revolt in Central Gaul (53–52 B.C.E.)

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Caesar at Alesia simulates an epic battle in 52 BC where Julius Caesar surrounded the battered forces of the Gauls led by Vercingetorix. Knowing the Gauls had a relief force coming (of over 250,000 men), Caesar built a defensive perimeter facing outward to match his perimeter facing inward to beseige Vercingetorix. An unusual “donut” formation.

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The large mapboard 33″x28″ portrays the town of Alesia and all of the works built by Caesar. The Gauls have a small force trapped in the town including Vercingetorix as well as a large force which sets up in off board areas. The Gallic player must reveal which off board zones he occupies with at least 1 unit, but does NOT have give further information.

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Alesia module for Vassal (allows real time internet play)

The goal of the game is for the Gauls to create an escape route for Vercingetorix and exit him off the board. The Romans must prevent this over the 20 game turns (which represents 2 days).

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Rome vs. the Gauls under Vercingetorix

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Central Gaul

MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Vercingetorix led the biggest rebellion against Roman rule in Gaul.

OUTCOME: Although dramatically outnumbered, Julius Caesar defeated Vercingetorix and thereby broke the back of rebellion in central Gaul.

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Vercingetorix’s forces, 95,000; Gallic relief force, 240,000; Roman legions, 55,000

The remarkable Arverni chieftain Vercingetorix (d. 46 B. C. E.) led a sudden rebellion among the tribes of central Gaul, which Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 B. C. E.) had considered fully secure. For the first time, the disparate Gallic tribes united, and, under Vercingetorix, warriors became a disciplined and effective army. As the uprising began, most of the Roman legions were in northern Gaul, and Caesar himself was in Italy. Caesar was back in Gaul by January. In February 52, he led a small force from southern Gaul, through the Cevennes Mountains, and around Vercingetorix. He was able to join the legions in the Loire region, then launched an attack against Cenabum (Orléans), where the rebellion had begun. Caesar recaptured the town.

Dispatching legions under Titus Labienus (100-45 B. C. E.) to hold northern Gaul, Caesar led an expedition into southern Gaul, the heart of Vercingetorix’s power. Caesar recaptured town after town as Vercingetorix made a highly destructive fighting retreat, in which he enforced a scorched-earth policy that inflicted great hardship on the legions.

In March 52, the Roman legions, hungry and short of supplies, were outside of Vercingetorix’s stronghold at Avaricum (Bourges). They laid siege to the town, which fell but Vercingetorix eluded captured. Caesar pressed his weary troops southward and laid siege to Gergovia (modern Gergovie), the capital of the Arverni. Vercingetorix fortified the capital extensively and, during April and May 52, withstood Caesar’s siege. Impatient and critically short of supplies, Caesar prematurely ordered an attack, which was repulsed with great loss of life. Caesar withdrew from Gergovia and joined Labienus in the north.

At this point, Caesar was forced to acknowledge that he had lost control of Gaul. He retreated to Province, his main base, to regroup with supplies and reinforcements. However, Vercingetorix, leading an army of 80,000 infantry and 15,000 cavalry, deployed his forces in the hill country along the Vingeanne, a tributary of the upper Saone. His object was to block Caesar and force him into battle.

In July, the Battle of the Vingeanne commenced. Vercingetorix hesitated, however, and thereby lost the initiative- which Caesar, as always, was quick to seize. Vercingetorix retreated, and Caesar pursued. The Arverni leader ensconced his forces in the fortified mountaintop town of Alesia (Alise-Ste-Reine), located on Mount Auxois. At this point, he had 90,000 men with which to oppose Caesar’s 55,000, and he also enjoyed a superior position. As usual, Caesar did not let inferiority of numbers or position inhibit him. He attacked with great vigor, forcing the Gauls to hole up within the walls of Alesia. Then Caesar put his engineers to work building a giant siege-work wall, some 14 miles in circumference, around the town. After this great project had been completed, a tremendous Gallic force of 240,000 marched to the aid of Vercingetorix. This force laid siege to Caesar, even as he continued to hold Alesia under siege. Caesar, however, was fully prepared to withstand a long siege and had plenty of supplies. He allowed the relief force to make three attacks, all three times repulsing them and inflicting great losses. In the meantime, Vercingetorix and his followers were starving. When he tried to send women and children through the Roman lines, Caesar turned them back. At last Vercingetorix surrendered. This broke the back of the rebellion in central Gaul. The relief army dispersed. Vercingetorix was marched back to Rome, where he was there executed six years later.

The defeat and execution of Vercingetorix (d. 46 B. C. E.), greatest of the Gallic chieftains, broke the back of rebellion in Gaul. However, Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 B. C. E.) conducted an extensive “mop-up” operation, ensuring that he had thoroughly extinguished all pockets of persistent rebellion. This grand tour through Gaul was also intended to impress the people of that country with the might and majesty of the Roman legions, and in this Caesar was highly successful. Gaul was now securely in Roman hands and a key addition to the empire.

Vercingetorix (d. c. 45 B. C. E.)

Chieftain of the Averni, one of the dominant Gallic tribes, Vercingetorix led a confederation of tribes against Rome and was defeated by Julius Caesar. Vercingetorix’s leadership presented Julius Caesar with a major crisis in Gaul. Vercingetorix was soundly defeated in an open field battle against Caesar at Noviodonum in the winter of 52 B. C. E. Now wary of direct confrontations with the Romans, Vercingetorix employed guerrilla raids and scorched-earth tactics. In March 52 B. C. E., Caesar moved quickly to eliminate one of the centers of Gallic rebellion and so laid siege to the Biturigan stronghold of Avaricum. During the siege, the Gauls effectively used fortifications, fire, and ballistics against Caesar’s two legions. Despite the Gauls’ attempts to end the siege, the Romans ultimately broke through the fortifications and slaughtered the city’s 40,000 inhabitants. Roughly a month after the defeat of Avaricum, Caesar turned his attentions to Gergovia, another center of rebellion in central Gaul and an imposing fortress situated on a steep hill. Vercingetorix, however, beat Caesar to Gergovia and, employing many of the tactics used at Avaricum, carefully prepared its defenses. Vercingetorix repulsed the Roman attacks and handed Caesar one of the rare defeats of his career. In the summer of 52 B. C. E., Caesar briefly engaged Vercingetorix’s forces near Alesia. Retreating from the Romans, Vercingetorix expelled the city’s women and children in order to make room for his 60,000 troops. Caesar’s 50,000 legionaries and Germanic cavalry laid siege to Gergovia. Caesar withstood three bloody assaults against his position by 100,000-250,000 (sources differ) Gallic troops who attempted to relieve Vercingetorix. He attempted to break out of the city but soon realized that Roman victory was inevitable. Upon surrender at Alesia, Vercingetorix was taken to Rome and executed in 46 B. C. E.

Further reading: Julius Caesar, The Gallic War, trans. Carolyn Hammond (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).