Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Caesar's Final Victory in Gaul

Featuring an excerpt from History of Julius Caesar by Napoleon III published in 1865.

Previously in Caesar Conquers Gaul. And now Napoleon III

Time: September 52 BC
Place: Alesia, Gaul (France)

Vercingetorix's surrender to Caesar after the
Siege of Alesia in 52 BC.
Public Domain from Wikipedia.
The mountain was surrounded almost on every side by very low ground, but on one side there existed a valley through which a river (the Tourmente) ran. As it flowed at the foot of two precipitous mountains the disposition of the localities did not admit of turning it aside and conducting it into lower channels. It was difficult for the besieged to come down to it, and the Romans rendered the approaches to it still more dangerous. They placed posts of archers and slingers, and brought engines which commanded all the slopes which gave access to the river. The besieged had thenceforth no other means of procuring water but by carrying it from an abundant spring which arose at the foot of the wall three hundred feet from the channel of the Tourmente. C├Žsar resolved to drain this spring, and for this purpose he did not hesitate to attempt a laborious undertaking. Opposite the point where it rose he ordered covered galleries to be pushed forward against the mountain, and under protection of these a terrace to be raised--labors which were carried on in the midst of continual fighting and weariness.

Although the besieged from their elevated position fought without danger and wounded many Romans, yet the latter did not yield to discouragement, but continued the work. At the same time they made a subterranean gallery, which, running from the covered galleries, was intended to lead up to the spring. This work, carried on free from all danger, was executed without being perceived by the enemy. The terrace attained a height of sixty feet and was surmounted by a tower of ten stories, which, without equaling the elevation of the wall--a result it was impossible to obtain--still commanded the fountain. Its approaches, battered by engines from the top of this tower, became inaccessible. Inconsequence of this, many men and animals in the place died of thirst. The besieged, terrified at this mortality, filled barrels with pitch, grease, and shavings, and rolled them flaming upon the Roman works, making at the same time a sally to prevent them from extinguishing the fire. Soon it spread to the covered galleries and the terrace, which stopped the progress of the inflammable materials.

Notwithstanding the difficult nature of the ground and the increasing danger, the Romans still persevered in their struggle. The battle took place on a height within sight of the army. Loud cries were raised on both sides. Each individual sought to rival his fellow in zeal, and the more he was exposed to view the more courageously he faced the missiles and the fire.

Caesar, as he was sustaining great loss, determined to feign an assault. In order to create a diversion he ordered some cohorts to climb the hill on all sides, uttering loud cries. This movement terrified the besieged, who, fearing to be attacked at other points, called back to the defence of the wall those who were setting fire to the works. Then the Romans were enabled to extinguish the flames. The Gauls, although exhausted by thirst and reduced to a small number, ceased not to defend themselves vigorously. At length the subterranean gallery having reached the source of the spring, the supply was turned aside. The besieged, beholding the fountain suddenly become dry, believed in their despair that it was an intervention of the gods, and, submitting to necessity, surrendered.

Caesar considered that the pacification of Gaul would never be completed if as strong a resistance was encountered in other towns. He thought it advisable to spread terror by a severe example--so much the more so as "the well-known mildness of his temper," says Hirtius, "would not allow this necessary rigor to be ascribed to cruelty." He ordered that all those who had borne arms should have their hands cut off, and sent them away living examples of the punishment reserved for rebels.

Drappes, who had been taken prisoner, starved himself to death; Lucterius, who had been arrested by the Arvernan Epasnactus (a friend of the Romans), was delivered up to Caesar. While these events were taking place on the banks of the Dordogne, Labienus, in a cavalry engagement, had gained a decisive advantage over a part of the Treviri and Germans; had taken prisoner their chief, and thus subjected a people who were always ready to support any insurrection against the Romans. The Aeduan Surus fell also into his hands. He was a chief distinguished for his courage and birth, and the only one of that nation who had not yet laid down his arms.

From that moment Caesar considered Gaul to be completely pacified. He resolved, however, to go himself to Aquitaine, which he had not yet visited and which Publius Crassus had partly conquered. Arriving there at the head of two legions, he obtained the complete submission of that country without difficulty. All the tribes sent him hostages. He proceeded next to Narbonne with a detachment of cavalry and charged his lieutenants to put the army into winter quarters. Four legions, under the orders of Mark Antony, Caius Trebonius, Publius Vatinius, and Q. Tullius, were quartered in Belgium, two among the Aedui and two among the Turones on the frontier of the Carnutes, to hold in check all the countries bordering on the ocean.

These two last legions took up their winter quarters on the territory of the Lemovices, not far from the Arverni, so that no part of Gaul should be without troops. Caesar remained but a short time in the province, presiding hastily over the assemblies, determining cases of public dispute, and rewarding those who had served him well. He had had occasion more than anyone to know their sentiments individually, because during the general revolt of Gaul the fidelity and succor of the province had aided him in triumphing over it. When these affairs were settled he returned to his legions in Belgium and took up his winter quarters at Nemetocenna (Arras).

There he was informed of the last attempts of Commius, who, continuing partisan war at the head of a small number of cavalry, intercepted the Roman convoys. Mark Antony had charged C. Volusenus Quadratus, prefect of the cavalry, to pursue him. He had accepted the task eagerly in the hope of succeeding the second time better than the first, but Commius, taking advantage of the rash ardor with which his enemy had rushed upon him, had wounded him seriously and escaped. He was discouraged, however, and had promised Mark Antony to retire to any spot which should be appointed him on condition that he should never be compelled to appear before a Roman. This condition having been accepted, he had given hostages. Gaul was hereby subjugated. Death or slavery had carried off its principal citizens. Of all the chiefs who had fought for its independence only two survived--Commius and Ambiorix.

Banished far from their country they died in obscurity.

This ends our series of passages on Caesar Conquers Gaul by Napoleon III from his book History of Julius Caesar published in 1865. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.

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