Caesars Gallic Wars
Sanders Walker Dr. Bishop Western Civilization 103-104 11/20/12 Caesars Conquest Caesar is known as one of the greatest military leaders in history. His was General and later, Ruler of Rome during its peak years.
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Caesar is known for his military strategy and conquest of much of ancient Europe. Where Caesar made a name for himself was his conquest of the Gauls. Caesars conquest of Gaul consisted of many campaigns throughout northern Europe; the most notable being the battles of Avaricum, Gergovia, and the final battle in Alesia.
Caesar and Vercingetorix, the leader of the Gauls, were both similar in ambition. How does Caesar fair strategically against Vercingetorix and the Gauls at the battles of Avaricum, Gergovia and, Alesia? Caesars conquest of Gaul was indeed his most difficult one. Gaul consisted of dozens of tribes and much of the territory being Northern Europe had never been explored before by the Romans. A great amount of pressure was put on Caesar by himself to conquer Gaul.
He was in deep political debt to Rome and its leaders, and he saw the conquest of Gaul to the best way to get out of debt and make a name for himself. Caesar making the first Triumvirate with Crassus and Pompey gained the power of the election and became consul for the year 59 B. C. During this year he was made, “Governor of Illyricum, or Dalmatia, and of Gaul, that is to say of Gallia Cisalpina” (Pg. 40), this land is really known as a Province that Caesar acquired. Caesar having acquired these lands, but not officially having control, sought to conquer the inhabitants.
Caesar is described as, “In person he was tall and slight, but well-knit; and, if he was as licentious as the mass of his contemporaries, his constitution, fortified by abstemious habits, was capable of sustaining prodigious efforts. His broad dome-like skull ; his calm and penetrating eyes ; his aquiline nose ; his massive yet finely moulded jaw, expressed, like no other human countenance, a rich and harmonious nature, a€” intellect, passion, will moving in accord. And, if his vices were common, his generosity, his forbearance, his equanimity, his magnanimity were his own.
He believed, with an unwavering faith, that above himself there was a power, without whose aid the strongest judgement, the most diligent calculation might fail. That power was Fortune; and Caesar was assured that Fortune was ever on his side” (Pg. 41). Caesar was extremely ambitious and refused to be undermined by his enemies, this is probably why his conquest against overwhelming odds was so successful. As Caesar dealt with his issues in Rome, there was word that newly acquired provinces in Gaul were going to be marched on by the Helvetti.
Caesar left Rome as soon as possible, cutting through the Alps to reach the province of Geneva (Cisalpine/Transalpine province). Caesar legions linked up with the legion of that province and destroyed the bridge or Rhine leading to Geneva. Helvetii sent requests to pass through, but Caesar denied them. Caesar waited out the requests as levies were created and simply denied the crossing of the Helvetii. Some tried to force themselves over, but failed miserably in doing so. Caesar crossed back gathering more legions for his command.
Caesar dispersed his legions with Lieutenants into different regions of Gual, with his plan being to divide the already disbanded Gallic tribes. Caesar returned to Rome and received great praise for his victory over the Helvetii. Caesar marches back towards northern Europe in 58 B. C where Ariovistus and his massive hordes of Germanic soldiers, had become a threat to Caesars campaign against the Gauls outside the town of Vesontio. The legions lacking rest and supplies and fearing Ariovistus, was taking its toll on Caesars men.
A panic amongst the legionnaires ensued; Caesar immediately puts to work his persona. Giving a riveting speech to the legions, he regained the confidence overwhelmingly. There only several miles separating Caesar and Ariovistus, but many Cavalry skirmishes took place as Caesar tried time and again to force the Germanics to fight. Ariovistus requested several meetings with Caesar, the first resulting in failure due to lack of compromises, and the second because Caesar never attended. Ariovistus refused to fight before the New Moon, Caesar finding this out attacked early forcing the Germans to fight.
Caesar having command of the right wing of the legions, had planned on attacking the opposing Germans left wing which was supposedly their weak point. Ariovistus and the German horde fell upon the Roman legions quickly leaving huge gaps between the legions. This prevented the Roman javelins to be thrown. The Germans formed a, “phalanxes” (Pg. 66), which was a wall of men inclosing themselves in a shielded wall. The Romans made quick dismemberment of this wall of shields as the Romans, “Dug their swords down into them” (Pg. 66), leading to the German left wing falling back.
The left wing of the Roman legion however was beginning to give up ground. In command of the Caesars cavalry was Publius Crassus, the son of the famed triumvir Marcus Licinius Crassus. Publius Crassus led the 3rd line of the cavalry in and quickly rerouted the German onslaught on the Roman left wing. This led to the victory over Ariovistus and the Germanic army. With later victorious campaigns over Aquitani, Usipetes, Tencteri and Atuatuca from 56-54 B. C. Caesar believes Gaul is won and return to Rome to gain political power. While Caesar believed Gaul to be, “tranquillized” (Pg. 29), or rather under control as Caesar had planned to make all of Gaul a Roman province. The Gallic chieftains discussed in great detail of what was to become of Gaul if something was not done. A rumor quickly spread through Gaul in 52 B. C that Clodius had been murdered and violent riots broke out all over Gaul. The Gallic chieftains of Carnute made quick use of time while Caesar was still in Rome; a small group of Carnutes stormed into the town of Cenabum and killed Roman merchants and a commissariat officer of Caesars as well.
In the Gallic town of Gergovia, a young Gallic noble came to power. His name was Vercingetorix and he quickly assumed dominance throughout Gaul. Vercingetorix was very impressionable and ambitious, much like Caesar. He soon united all Gaul sparking a massive rebellion in 52 B. C. Caesar observed Vercingetorix and saw that he was vastly becoming a huge threat. Roman provinces in peril began to fall due to lack of supplies, But Caesar moved swiftly from Rome to rescue the provinces. Caesar stopped the invasion of Narbo. Caesar still needed to regroup with his legions in the north.
Caesars being the brilliant military leader he was, planned to march north through mountains of Cevennes into the land of Vercingetorix, where the land Agedincum was. The journey was rough for Caesars men under the harsh conditions of winter, but to Caesars advantage, Vercingetorix did not realize where the Romans were or where they were going. As Romans came through the mountains, “Caesar’s horsemen swept over the country in small parties, carrying fire and sword” (Pg. 135), Caesar anticipated that Vercingetorix would come to Agedincums relieve, and he did so reluctantly while Caesar proceeded north to regroup with his legions.
Once Caesar had gathered his legions he awaited Vercingetorix next move. Vercingetorix recovered from the Romans strategic maneuvering, decided to go south, opposite of Caesars position and siege Gorgobina an allies of Caesars provinces. Vercingetorix figured this, “To strike at Caesar’s allies would be equivalent to striking at Caesar himself” (Pg. 136). This indeed was true it was imperative that Caesar could not lose the trust of his allies, but Caesar also knew that pursuing hundreds of miles south without enough supplies would put his legions at risk of starvation. Caesar contemplated this and decided to relieve Gorgobina.
Caesar instead of taking the same route he took to come north he went around in attempt for revenge for the massacre of Roman citizens. Caesar went about it, “More-over, by ravaging the lands of Carnutes and Bituriges, he might count on forcing Vercingetorix to relax his hold on Gorgobina” (Pg. 137). Caesar captured Vellaunodunum and approached Cenabum with rage as Romans set Cenabum ablaze as supplies were given up to the legions while Caesar marched onwards to Avaricum. Vercingetorix believed the only way to weaken Caesars onslaught through his land was to burn and destroy any resources ahead of Caesar.
The Gauls did not receive the news very optimistically. Burning down towns and crops was a harsh method of slowing down the Romans, but Vercingetorix got the Gauls to agree, with this speech he made, “They must make up their minds to sacrifice their own interest for the national weal. Every hamlet, every barn where the enemy could find provender must be burned to the ground. Even the towns must be destroyed, save those which were impregnable, lest they should tempt men who ought to be in the field to go to them for shelter, and lest the Romans plunder their stores” (Pg. 139).
The Gauls still however thought to defend Avaricum rather than burn it to the ground. Avaricum was surrounded by walls and marshes and moats. Caesar made his encampment south of Avaricum several hundred yards out. Caesar realized the only way to siege Avaricum was to build siege towers and terraces. The marshes could not serve as proper platforms so, “in order to provide a secure foundation, the ground was cleared of obstructions and leveled as far as possible by men working inside stout huts” (Pg. 140). Wooden shields protected men relaying material through, “lines of sheds” (Pg. 40), as it was said to have taken several weeks to construct the towers. The effects of Vercingetorix burning of Gallic resources began to take its toll on Caesars legions. The Romans supplies began to dwindle and as Caesar sent men out to gather supplies and resources, Vercingetorix had patrols keep track of Caesars movements. Caesar was surrounded and while they waited to attack Avaricum, his men killed the cattle for food. Caesar did all he could to keep his legions spirits up, he would tell them, “He would abandon the siege” (Pg. 141), but the legionnaires were stubbornly loyal.
A small attack was made on the towers, but only set the construction a day behind. The following day Caesar conducted his siege of Avaricum. The siege took no time at all with the Romans climbing the walls, they realized it was pointless to go down into the city, but rather, “They lined the wall round; and not a man of them would come down. Throwing away their weapons, the Gauls ran for their lives through the town to its furthest extremity; and there many jostling one another in the narrow gateways, were slaughtered, while others, who shouldered their way out were cut down by the cavalry” (Pg. 146).
This was indeed a massacre by the Romans; no one was spared not man women or child. The Romans found a multitude of resources such as corn and other supplies. The Gauls were outraged by this massacre at Avaricum. Caesar had hoped to break the Gallic pride with this victory, but it did quite the opposite. Vercingetorix following the massacre made a speech and a promise to Gaul. This speech gave Gaul a new found enragement and confidence. Caesar marched south to Gergovia, Vercingetorix homeland. Once Vercingetorix got word of Caesars movement he quickly destroyed all bridges along the river leaving only the bottom intact.
As the Gauls caught up with Caesar, the Romans found it impossible to repair the bridges with the Gauls watching. Caesar was forced to come up with another diversion; under the cover of darkness he moved opposite of one of the bridges, and in the morning, “he took forty out of the sixty cohorts, composing his force; arrayed them in six divisions, so that seen from a distance, they would look like the six legions” (Pg. 149). With Caesar outwitting Vercingetorix, he moved south toward the mountain of Gergovia.
As Caesar approached Gergovia a cavalry skirmish ensues, but the Gallic cavalry of Vercingetorix is forced back in the stronghold of Gergovia. Gergovia was going to prove to be another difficult siege due to its geography, “The town stood on an oblong plateau, which formed the summit, extending about seven furlongs from east to west, and six hundred yards wide” (Pg. 150). The town also had an outer wall as well, but the weak point appeared to be the southern wall. There were two large encampments in Gergovia, the smallest was on the southern wall, while the main encampment was on the steepest part of Gergovian wall.
Caesar under the cover of night had several divsions move up the southern wall having Vercingetorix think that was where the main attack would be. Caesars full-scale attack actually occurred on the eastern or steepest side with Vercingetorix largest encampment was. The Gauls were caught off guard, “but the Romans deceived by their armour, took them for enemies: the Gauls were closing in up them on every side” (Pg. 158). As the Romans became overwhelmed they came back down the southern hillside, the Gauls followed blindly, as the Gauls were struck by left and right flanks of Caesars 10th legion.
The battle on the hill was devastating on sides, 46 centurions and approximately 700 legionnaire’s dead and thousands wounded. Caesar disbanded the siege and tried to return to Rome to regroup and gather supplies and men. After the Gergovia the people of Gaul still had their faith in Vercingetorix, he was re-elected Commander and Chief. Caesar is further planning his campaign decided to enlist a large number of German cavalry to his assortment. During the entire Gallic Wars, Caesar has been outnumbered almost 3 to 1 and sometimes 4 to 1 odds, but Caesars strategy is what has been proving key in battles; the quality of men over numbers.
As Caesar marches toward the provinces, Vercingetorix in a sudden ignorant act of boldness ascends his infantry and small cavalry head on attacking Caesars Roman legions. Caesar staying calm, “He sent his cavalry, in three divisions, to repel the triple attack” (Pg. 168). The Gauls retreated to Alesia with Caesars legions following close behind night and day. As the Romans reach Alesia Caesar informs his men that this battle will be a, “toilsome effort” (Pg. 170). Caesar realized that Alesia could only be taken by what he called, “a line of investment, fully nine miles in length, along which a ring of camps was constructed” (Pg. 70), this was a series of circumvallations: trenches, ramparts, entrenchments, and barriers built around Alesia with cavalry on low ground and legion infantry on high slopes. The Romans being few in number did not have enough men or cavalry to guard the surrounding blockade of Alesia. Vercingetorix realizing that he was being closed in with four Roman legions linking up with Caesars six legions, Vercingetorix had to get help somehow. Under the cover of darkness Vercingetorix sent out Gauls to every region and, “bring back with them every man who could wield a sword” (Pg. 171). He also reminded them not to abandon the Gallic cause.
Caesar had been given news of Vercingetorix call for relief armies, by group of deserters. Caesar understood that he too was surrounded by all of Gaul, but it was still uncertain whether the relief armies would show up for Vercingetorix. Unlike the Romans who had proven loyalty and precision in battle, the Gauls even though united, were still undisciplined and lacked the skill of a Roman legionnaire. Caesar seeing the potential threat from the surrounding mountains proceeded to build entrenchments and barriers to his rear and on the western slope of Alesia where an open meadow was located.
Caesars men made haste with the construction of barriers and traps like, “five rows of strong boughs were fixed in each, with one end protruding above ground, sharpened and with the branches projecting so as to form a kind of abatis” (Pg. 139/Part I). Caesar also had traps under the ground surface, “In front of them and rising a few inches above the ground, but purposely concealed by brushwood, were sharp pointed logs embedded in small pits” (Pg. 139/Part I), as there were also barbed spikes lying under the turf. Caesar moved quickly to gather as much corn and resources as he could, knowing that this battle may very well be the last.
Meanwhile inside the wall of Alesia Vercingetorix had the grain thrown into a single stock; as the grain would be dispersed among the soldiers rather than the citizens. A council of Gallic Chieftains gathered at an assembly to discuss Vercingetorix situation in Alesia and how he had requested a, “universal levy” (Pg. 173), or a mass of armies combined. It was heavily debated because many tribes were at conflict with Germanic tribes or resolving domestic problems; some simply refused to send any army. In all about 43 tribes joined in with a massive cavalry as well.
Four generals were given command of the 250,000 Gauls as it was said there was, “No one leader of sufficient eminence to command universal respect” (Pg. 174), this would be proven decisively. As the relief army of Gaul marched towards Alesia, days away, the city was going into famine. The chieftains proposed the method of cannibalism as said, “That their fathers, when driven into the fastnesses by the Cimbri and Teutoni, had sustained life by feeding upon the flesh of those who were useless for warfare” (Pg. 175). It was rather decided that the weak, young, and old were citizens of the town, were to be exiled.
The hopeless looking women and children, and elderly came down to the Roman blockade. Caesars blockade forbid no-one to pass through; the exiled inhabitants were not taken in, instead Caesar had them sent back or stay between the lines of the wall and blockade to perish. The relief army soon arrives passing through the mountain valley, they could be seen from miles away as a mass of cavalry and infantry. Commius leading the Gallic mass launched a cavalry assault on Caesars rear defenses as Vercingetorix attacked from the inner defenses from Alesia.
The Roman legions held strong repelling the Gallic cavalry with Caesars brilliant defensive military strategy. The Romans formed a compact body of infantry and split the Gallic cavalry’s onslaught into disarray. The one major advantage the Caesar had over all the Gauls it was the reliable communication he had with his commanders of his legions. The Romans were on point and deadly, as the first day was won by Caesar. A 24 hour period of cease fire took place, and this time under the cover of darkness the Gauls launched a surprise attack on the Roman blockade using loud shouts to alert the rest of the Gallic army.
The Gauls attempted to siege the blockade walls with grappling-hooks and ladders they attempted to overpower the blockades. In between the defensive lines the Gauls were dismembered by the wooden spikes and traps placed along the lines. Two sections of the Gallic army failed to cooperate with the rest of the mass due to poor communication during the night. Roman artillery took apart the Gauls in between the defenses as casualties mounted because of poor effectiveness during the night raid. The Gauls retreated before dawn, fearing a flank from the right.
Vercingetorix and Caesar refused to give into each other with casualties piling up on both parties, neither side budged. The soldiers of both sides were describes as they fought, “Every man fought like a hero; for they knew that from the heights around friends and enemies alike were anxiously watching” (Pg. 176). Vercingetorix and the Gauls planned for a final assault on the Romans. Vercingetorix discovered a weak spot in the Roman blockade where Caesars men were unable to build a barrier. The Gauls with no delay assaulted the weak point with 60,000 Gallic warriors against only two legions.
The Romans became heavily overwhelmed and in disarray with 60,000 Gauls attacking from the rear and Vercingetorix army attacking from the inner walls. The Romans in panic and disorganization were described as, “painfully distracted by the roar of battle in their rear; for both on the inner and the outer line men felt, as they fought, that they would perish if their comrades behind suffered the enemy to break through” (Pg. 178). It was difficult for the Roman legions to mass together due to the overwhelming Gallic numbers. Vercassivellaunus, commanding the 60,000 Gauls from the rear; continually sent fresh infantry in.
The Gallic infantry was disposable due the sheer numbers. Caesar seeing the disarray of the Romans and his cavalry sent Labienus with six cohorts to hold their ground till they were forced to fight in open ground. In astonishing fashion Caesar mounting horseback went down the Roman line as it was depicted, “riding down between the lines on to the plain, he harangued his weary soldiers and adjured them not to give in” (Pg. 179), continuing he said, “Just one short hour, and the prize was won” (Pg. 179). It was not until Caesar himself on horseback galloped steadfast, leading the last head on assault.
A new found zealous came over the Roman legions as they followed behind Caesar, they disbanded the Gauls in a mass, scattering across the land. The Gauls to appease the Romans would have Vercingetorix give himself up and die. Vercingetorix gave himself up willingly out of respect for Caesar, being an admirer of his military brilliance. It was said that Vercingetorix, “took off his armour, laid down his sword, and bowed himself at Caesar’s feet” (Pg. 180). Caesar had no admiration for Vercingetorix as it came with a great cost. Caesar had him imprisoned in a dungeon, and then executed six ears later. The conquering of Gaul propelled Caesars political power tremendously. In 49 B. C he was elected dictator or emperor of Rome and soon after Civil war broke out eventually leading to Caesars killing. Caesar outwitted the ambitious and powerful, yet inexperienced Vercingetorix profoundly in the battles of Avaricum, Gergovia, and Alesia. Caesar conquered Gaul in such extraordinary fashion, that it still leaves some historians in amazement. Caesar outmaneuvered a quarter million Gauls and strategically dismantling them.
Caesars reasoning for this long and grueling conquest of Gaul was to dig himself and Rome out of the debt that had amounted. His conquest of Gaul was also an attempt, a successful one at that, to further his political career and bolster his power. His victory in Rome, as said before, put Caesar on a pedestal surpassing Pompey and Crassus and making him the favorite amongst Roman people. Works Cited Holmes, Thomas. Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. 1899. Print. . Julius, Caesar, W. A. McDevitte , and W. S. Bohn. The Gallic Wars . 1st. Print. . Julius, Caesar, W. A. McDevitte , and W. S. Bohn.
The Gallic Wars . 3rd. Print. . Julius, Caesar, W. A. McDevitte , and W. S. Bohn. The Gallic Wars . 4th. Print. . Julius, Caesar, W. A. McDevitte , and W. S. Bohn. The Gallic Wars . 8th. Print. . Holmes, Thomas. Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul:An Historical Narrative (being Part I of the Larger Work on the Same Subject). Part 1. Macmillan, ———————–  The First Triumvirate was between the Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey. An alliance to help bolster power for Caesar in particular.  Equanimity…one of Caesars great attributes being that he was very calm and poised in battle. 3] Phalanxes was a battle formation with consisted of shields and spears. The Romans used it very effectively against all. [pic]  The Cevennes Mountains are in south-central France. It is known as Hidden France by some.  Cenabum’s massacre was Caesars attempt at revenge as the town was pillaged.  The massacres of Cenabum and Avaricum specifically, was because of the difficulty Caesar had sieging the towns, thus frustration led to the killings.  The Roman 10th Legion was known as the Legio X Equestris and was one of Caesar more famous legions. 8] Abatis were used as barriers; they had long sharpened pointed logs.  “According to Napolean I (Precis des guerres de Cesar, 1836, p. 110), more than fifty days must have elapsed between the departure of Vercingetorix’s cavalry and the arrival of the relieving army” (Pg. 175)  Gaul having 4 commanding armies that totaled in a quarter million men made it Qy ‘»LiAOUaaaA ? ™ ¶ ? n w ? o? UO? UAU»±§? “‰“oA|o_oRoRERhw? h42aCJ^JaJhw? h. “CJ^JaJjhyg? 0Jhw? h®w›CJ^JaJhw? ho CJ^extremely difficult for Vercingetorix to communicate successfully outside the walls.