*painting by Lionel Royer
Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.
October 3rd, 52 B.C.
The Surrender of Vercingetorix & The Roman Conquest of Gaul
From 58 B.C to 50 B.C., Julius Caesar was carving out huge parcels of territory from the feared Celtic Gauls of modern day France, Northern Italy, and Belgium. Rome had been sacked earlier in its history by an invading Gallic tribe, and the Gauls had ever since been the “bogymen” of the Roman psyche. Caesar saw Gaul as a spring board to riches and greater political power; if he could do the unthinkable and conquer this vast country, not only would he become rich, but he would win the undying love and support of the people of Rome.
By 52 B.C., the stage was set for a final climatic showdown. Over the years Caesar had succeeded in subjugating various tribes one by one, picking them off or turning them against old rivals until he crushed them. This changed when a charismatic king and chieftain of the Averni tribe, Vercingetorix, united a large coalition of tribes to attempt to destroy the occupying Romans for good. Most of the Gallic tribes joined in the general revolt and their numbers swelled to over 80,000 men. Caesar rushed to the scene with as many reinforcements as he could muster; he managed to surprise the Gauls in their fortified city of Alesia. Caesar decided to besiege the settlement, hoping to starve the Gauls into surrendering. Caesar and his legions set about the herculean task of digging trenches and building a wall around the city of some 11 miles.
The Gauls, running short of food, called for more tribes to unite and attempt to revive their besieged kin. Within a short time, tens of thousands answered the call, and the Roman legions found themselves surrounded as the Gauls attacked from both sides of their fortifications. The Romans were on the breaking point, but Caesar personally rode to where his troops were most hard pressed and cheered them on as they fought for survival. The Romans persevere, and by morning the Gallic relief force and those still alive in Alesia had given up. The morning of October 3rd, 52 B.C., Vercingetorix rode down to the Roman Camp in his finest armor, stripped himself naked, and knelt before Caesar himself in surrender. This moment was the end of organized Gallic resistance to Rome.
In the coming years, Gaul would become a Roman province and would remain so for the next 500 years. Vercingetorix would be kept prisoner for the next 5 years until Caesar’s triumphant march in Rome, where he was executed in front of the crowds. The end of the Gallic Wars would go on to bring about a series of civil wars that would eventually lead to the downfall of the Roman Republic and Caesar’s own assassination. Finally the republic would be reorganized as an empire under Caesar’s nephew, Octavian.
If you would like to know more about the events surrounding the conquest of Gaul and the battle of Alesia, please follow the links bellow: