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Vercingetorix

Vercingetorix

 

VercingetorixAfter five years of skillful warfare Julius Caesar had in 53, B.C., apparently completed the conquest of Gaul. He had also crossed into Germany and into Britain but though successful in his battles with the natives, had been unable to maintain a prolonged conflict at such distance from Italy. The enforced withdrawal of his armies from these regions and the increasing oppression of the Roman dominion inspired the Gauls with fresh determination to cast of the foreign yoke. In order to succeed it was necessary that they should be united, and that each tribe should be willing to sacrifice individual interests for the general welfare. They secured an able leader in Vercingetorix, whose heroic career recalls that of Hermann in Germany. But the resistless genius of Caesar overcame the Gallic chieftain and effectually incorporated Gaul within the Roman Empire.

 

Vecingetorix first appears as a young nobleman of great power among the Arverni. His father, Celtillus, had been a Chief, but was put to death for aiming at sovereignty. When the Carnutes rose in revolt and massacred the Romans in Genabum, Vercingetorix collected his own dependents and called upon the rest of his tribe to seize the opportunity of overthrowing the Roman tyranny. With many chief of Central and 'VVestern GallI he organized an extensive conspiracy for this object. But his uncle Gobanites and other principal men of his own State, apprehensive of the result, united their authority against him and expelled him from the city of Gergovia. The people, however, soon declaired in favor of the young chief and his bold attempt for freedom, and drove the more prudent magistrates into exile in their turn.

 

Vercingetorix was now hailed as King of the Arverni, and immediately sent ambassadors in every direction, exhorting his fellow.conspirators to fulfill their pledges. The Senones, Parisii, Pictones, Turones, and all the other tribes bordering upon the Ocean, acknowledged him as commander-in-chief of the Gallic Confederacy. His first object was to raise and equip as large a cavalry force as possible. To the greatest activity, he joined an extreme rigor of command. He was supported by all the influence of the Druids, and was thus able to join the sanctions of religion to his commands. The abandonment of their standards by those who had taken the great oath was punished by torture and the flames. Those guilty of lighter offenses had their ears cropped or their eyes put out, and were sent home to serve as a warning to their countrymen of the punishment which awaited all offenders.

 

Vercingetorix led his army into the territory of the Bituriges. This people, who were under the protection of the AEdui, called for succor against the enemy. By the advice of the lieutenants Caesar had left with the army, the AEdui sent a considerable force to protect them. But this force refused to cross the Loire and returned again to their own country. The reason of this conduct, as given in the report of Caesar's lieutenants, was an apprehension of treachery on the part of the Bituriges. It is certain that their retreat threw the latter into the arms of Vercingetorix.

 

Caesar, while yet in Italy, was informed of these facts and set out immediately for Transalpine Gaul. In spite of the winter snows he crossed the Cevennes and entered the upper valley of the Elaver. The panic-stricken Arverui reported this sudden invasion to Vercingetorix, who, moved by their entreaties, put his army upon the march, and quitting the territories of the Bituriges, advanced towards Auvergue. Caesar had foreseen this movement and hastened across the country to Vienna now Viennie where he found a body of cavalry, fresh and vigorous, awaiting him. With this rein forcement he hastened back through the territories of the AEdui and joined young Brutus, whom he had left in command during bis absence. In front of the Arverni, Caesar now drew up his cavalry and two legions, who had wintered among the Lingones, before Verciugetorix had even heard of his presence. 'When the latter general got notice of this prompt action he led his army into the territory of the Boii, whom at the close of the Helvetic War, Caesar had assigned to the AEdui.

 

Vercingetorix with excellent military judgment resolved to invest Gergovia. This step greatly perplexed the Roman general, for winter was not yet over, and he foresaw great difficulties in provisioning his army in the field. Resolving, however, at all hazards, not to submit to an affront, Caesar marched to the relief of the city. He captured the towns of Vellauuodunum, Gellabum and Noviodunum. In consequence of this rapid success, Vercingetorix summoned his chiefs to a council and explained to them the ouly plan which could secure to them the victory. He held "that pri vate property ought to be sacrificed to the public exigencies; that all the villages and farm-houses within the reach of the Roman foraging parties should be consigned to the flam es. That it mattered not whether the Romans were themselves slain, or only deprived of their baggage and cattle, without the aid of which the war could not be carried ou. Finally it was necessary that all the towns, which were not strongly fortified, should also be burned. " His advice was followed, and the desperate sacrifice was made. More than twenty towns of the Bituriges were burned down in one day, and the example was imitated by the adjacent States.

 

But one exception was allowed, and that one eventually thwarted the sagacious plan. Avaricunl, Olle of the most splendid cities in all Gaul, was spared at the request of its gallant inhabitants, who pledged themselves to defend it. Caesar besieged this city. All that valor, skill and unbounded zeal could effect, was exhibited by the besieged and besiegers. Vercingetorix was in constant communication with the city, and as constantly on the watch to prevent the necessary supplies from reaching the Roman camp.Much the defenders within the city began to be worn out, it was decreed that 10,000 men should be sent to reinforce its garrison. This was done, and still the besieged kept their pledge. At length the place became no longer tenable, and the inhabitants attempted to retire. The Romans, eager to revenge the massacre of Genabum, and exasperated by the obstinate defense of the place, spared neither old men, women nor children, so that out of about 40,000 scarce eight hundred of the besieged escaped to the camp of Vercingetorix.

 

Caesar now proceeded to assail the Arverni in their own country. Before he could approach their capital, Gergovia, he had to pass the Elaver, but found all the bridges broken down. Vercingetorix, to avoid a battle, rapidly retreated to Gergovia, which he had chosen as the place where he was determined to stand and await the Roman attack. This citadel of .the Arverni occupied the summit of a lofty hill, difficult of access and strongly fortified. Midway down the steep declivity the Gallic general had built a stone wall six feet high. In the meantime Convictolitulitanus, the new AEduan Vergobret or chief ruler, had joined the national cause, and was only waiting for a favorable opportunity to induce the State to take the same part. He gave the command of 10,000 infantry intended for Caesar to Litavicus, a young nobleman of great influence, and one of his accomplices. This officer informed the AEduans that their countrymen Viridumarus and Eporedorix, the commanders of Caesar's AEduan cavalry, had, with their men, been massacred by the Romans. This false· hood so worked on the AEduans that they resolved to throw in their lot with the Confederates. They were led in the direction of Gergovia by Litavicus. Caesar, being informed of this, immediately marched with four legions after tbe AEduan cavalry. On his overtaking them, the falsehood was exposed, and the troops threw themselves on Caesar's mercy. Litavicus escaped with his clansmen to the camp of Vercingetorix. Caesar sent a message to the AEuan magistrates that the treason had miscarried, and that their troops; were safe in camp. But this information came too late. A previous message received from Litavicus had excited popular outrages: many Romans were slain, and others sold as slaves. On receiving Cesar's letter the magistrates punished the perpetrators of these excesses; but they felt that the State was compromised, and began to prepare for an open declaration of hostilities. The departure of the four legions had not escaped the notice of Vercingetorix he attacked the other two which had been left by Caesar to guard the camp; they gallantly resisted the attack, and the Roman general's timely return forced Vercingetorix to retire to Gergovia.

 

Caesar now began a regular siege of that town. The Romans carried the stone-wall and made themselves masters of three of the camps. A centurion scaled the city wall with three of his own men but when Vercingetorix galloped into the town at the head of his cavalry, the Gauls proved victorious. The Romans turned and fled, and were pursued to the foot of the hill by Vercingetorix. Forty-seven centurions fell in this attack. Eporedorix and Viridumarus now deserted Caesar, and the whole state followed in their steps. Caesar's position was indeed critical. All Gaul, with the exception of three tribes, had rallied round the national standard. Caesar attempted to retire, and Vercingetorix, rashly throwing himself in the lion's path, was utterly defeated.

 

The Gaulish general took refuge behind the walls of Alesia with 84,000 infantry and 10,000 horse. The latter force, now useless, was dismissed, with orders to returned to their several tribes and summon them to the rescue. This they did; but on their arrival they were again and again defeated, chiefly by Caesar's German auxiliaries. Vercingetorix, observing these movements from the citadel of Alesia, led forth his troops and had the best of the engagement until the arrival of Caesar himself changed the aspect of affairs. The Romans redoubled their exertions, and the Gauls were soon in full retreat towards Alesia. On the next day Vercingetorix, assembling a council, made a remarkable address. He declared that he had undertaken the war not from self-interest, but to recover the common liberty of Gaul and that, since there was a necessity of yielding to fortune, he was willing to become a victim for their safety, whether they should think proper to appease the anger of the conqueror by his death, or to deliver him lip alive. A deputation immediately waited on Caesar to receive his orders. He insisted on the surrender of their arms and the delivering up of alt their chiefs. Having accordingly seated himself at the head of his army, before the camp, their leaders were brought, the brave Vercingetorix delivered up, and their arms thrown into the ditch. Vercingetorix was kept a close prisoner, and afterwards taken to Rome to grace the triumph of Caesar. After being thus exhibited to the Roman populace the valiant warrior was put to death in prison. As a leader of his countrymen Vercingetorix had displayed both military ability and political sagacity in a high degree. Had he been confronted with a less potent genius than that of Caesar, he might have repelled the Roman legions from Gaul as Hermann did from Germany.

 

THE SIEGE OF GERGOVIA.

 

Caesar's main army advanced along the Allier down into the canton of the Arverni. Vercingetorix attempted to pre· vent it from crossing to the left bank of the Allier; but Caesar overreached him, and after some days stood before the Arvernian capital, Gergovia. Vercingetorix, however, doubtless even while he was confronting Caesar on the Allier, had caused sufficient stores to be collected in Gergovia, and a fixed camp, provided with strong stone ramparts, to be constructed for his troops in front of the walls of the town, which was situated on the summit of a pretty steep hill and, as he had a sufficient start, he arrived before Caesar at Gergovia and awaited the attack in the fortified camp under the wall of the fortress. Caesar, with his comparatively weak army, could neither regularly besiege the place nor even sufficiently blockade it; he pitched his camp below the rising ground occupied by Vercingetorix, and was compelled to preserve an attitude as inactive as his opponent. It was almost a victory for the insurgents that Caesar's career of advance from triumph to triumph had been suddenly checked all the Seine and on the Allier. In fact, the consequences of this check for Caesar were almost equivalent to those of a defeat. The Haedui, who had hitherto continued vacillating, now made preparations in earnest to join the patriotic party ; the body of men whom Caesar had ordered to Gergovia had on the march been induced by its officers to declare for the insurgents; at the same time they had begun in the canton itself to plunder and kill the Romans settled there. Caesar, who had gone with two-thirds of the blockading army to meet that corps of the Haedui which was being brought up to Gergovia, had by his sudden appearance recalled it to nominal obedience but it was more than ever a hollow and fragile relation, the continuance of which had been almost too dearly purchased by the great peril of the two legions left behind in front of Gergovia; for Vercingetorix, rapidly and resolutely availing himself of Caesar's departure, had during his absence made an attack Oil them, which had well nigh ended in their being overpowered and the Roman camp being taken by storm Caesar's unrivalled celerity alone averted a second catastrophe like that of Aduatuca. Though the Haedui made once more fair promises, it might be foreseen that, if the blockade should still be prolonged without result, they would openly range themselves on the side of the insurgents. While the bulk of the garrison of Gergovia was occupied in intrenching the side all which the assault was expected, the Roman general watched his opportunity to surprise another access less conveniently situated, but at the moment left bare. In reality, the Roman storming columns scaled the camp wall, and occupied the nearest quarters of the camp ; but the whole garrison was already alarmed, and, owing to the small distances, Caesar found it not advisable to risk the second assault all the city wall. He gave the signal for retreat; but the foremost legions, carried away by the impetuosity of victory, heard not or did not wish to hear, and pushed forward without halting up to the city wall, home even into the city. But masses more and more dense threw themselves in front of the intruders; the foremost fell, the columns stopped; invain centurions and legionaries fought with the most devoted and heroic courage the assail· .ants were chased with very considerable loss out of the lawn and down the hill, where the troops stationed by Caesar in the plain received them and prevented greater mischief. The expected capture of Gergovia had been converted into a defeat, and the considerable loss in killed and wounded-seven hundred soldiers had fallen, including forty·six Centurions was the least part of the misfortune.

 

Caesar's imposing position in Gaul depended essentially on the halo of victory that surrounded him and this began to grow pale. The conflicts around Avaricum, Cesar's vain attempts to compel the enemy to fight, the resolute defense of the city and its almost accidental capture by storm, bore a stamp different from that of the earlier Celtic wars, and had strengthened rather than impaired the confidence of the Celts in themselves and their leader. Moreover, the new system of warfare-the making head against the enemy in intrenched camps under the protection of fortresses-had completely approved itself at Lutetia as well as Gergovia. Lastly, this defeat, the first which Caesar in person had suffered from the Celts, crowned their success, and it accordingly gave, as it were, the signal for a second outbreak of the insurrection. The Haedui now broke formally with Caesar and entered into union with Vercingetorix. Their contingent, which was still with Caesar's army, not only deserted from it, but also took occasion to carry off the dep6ts of the army of Caesar at Noviodunum on the Loire, whereby the chests and magazines, a number of fresh horses and all the hostages furnished to Caesar fell into the hands of the insurgents. It was of at least equal importance that on this news the Belgae, who had hitherto kept aloof from the whole movement, began to bestir themselves. The powerful canton of the Bellovaci rose with the view of attacking in the rear the corps of Labienus, while it confronted at Lutetia the levy of the surrounding cantons of central Gaul. Everywhere else, too, men were taking to arms; the strength of patriotic enthusiasm carried along with it even the most decided and most favored partisans of Rome. - T. MOMMSEN.

 

Vercingetorix

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