), a Gallic people whom Strabo (iv. p.191
) erroneously calls the neighbours of the Arverni. When Caesar (B.C. 52) was marching through the territory of the Lingones, with the intention of retreating through the Sequani into the Provincia, he was attacked by the confederate Galli under Vercingetorix (B. G.
7.68). The Galli were defeated, and Vercingetorix, with his men, took refuge in Alesia, a town of the Mandubii.
The site of the battle is not indicated by Caesar, but the position of Alesia is at Alise,
or Alise Sainte Reine,
as it is also called, in the department of the Côte d'Or.
The railroad from Paris
crosses the hills of the Côte d'Or,
of which Alesia and the heights around it are a part. The Mandubii were a small people who fed their flocks and cattle on the grassy hills of the Côte d'Or,
and cultivated the fertile land at the foot of Alesia.
Before the blockade was formed, they had driven a great quantity of their animals (pecus) within the walls. (B. G.
The Mandubii who had received their countrymen into the city, were turned out of it by them, with their wives and children, during Caear's blockade, in order that the scanty supply of provisions for the troops might last longer. The Romans refused to receive the Mandubii and give them food.
The certain conclusion from Caesar's narrative is, that these unfortunate people died of hunger between their own walls and the Roman circumvallation (B. G.
7.78; D. C. 40.41
). Caesar's description of Alesia is true; and the operations of his army about the place (B. G.
7.69--90) are easily understood.
This plan of Alesia and the surrounding country is taken from Cassini's large map of France.
The city of the Mandubii, or Alesia, was “on the summit of a hill, in a very elevated position,” as Caesar correctly describes it.
This hill stands alone, and except on the west side, where there is a plain, it is surrounded by hills of the same height, which are separated from Alesia by valleys.
In the flat valley
|PLAN OF THE ENVIRONS OF ALESIA.
PLAN OF THE ENVIRONS OF ALESIA., A.
The east end of the hill of Alesia, where Vercingetorix built his stone wall.
B. Hill partly occupied by Caesar.
F. Hospital of Alise.
aa. Road from Montbard and Auxerre.
bb. Road to Dijon. |
on the north side of Alesia, and in the narrower valley at the east end, is the railroad from Paris
The nearest railway station to Alesia is Les Laumes.
The summit of Alesia is not quite flat; but the irregularities are inconsiderable.
The sides of the hill beneath the plateau are steep and rocky; and the upper part of the ascent to the summit is not easy. Below the plateau, and below this steep ascent, there is a narrow level piece of ground, which appears to have been widened a little by the labour of man; and below this level part there is another descent, which in some parts is steep.
The fine plain (planities) at the western foot of Alesia, which Caesar describes, is seen well from the western end of the level summit.
This is the part which Caesar (100.84) calls the “Arx Alesiae.” The surface of the plateau rises a little towards the western extremity, and then falls away abruptly, terminating in a rocky promontory, something like the head of a boat.
A cross, with a small tree on each side of it, stands at the edge of the brow, and exactly marks the place from which Vercingetorix looked down on the plain of Alesia (100.84). Beneath the Arx Alesiae is the small town of Alise,
on the western and south-western slope of the hill.
It occupies a different place from the old town of the Mandubii, which was on the summit level.
The hill is a mass of rock.
The plateau has a thin soil, and the few parts which are not cultivated are covered with a short grass like that on the Brighton downs.
It appears that the town of the Mandubii occupied all the large plateau, the length of which is shown by the scale, though we must assume that it was not all built on. The Arx, as already explained, was at the west end, commanding a view of the plain.
The city wall seems to have been carried all round the margin of the plateau. Caesar says (B. G.
7.69): “under the wall, that part of the hill which looked towards the east, all this space the forces of the Galli had filled, and they had formed in their front a ditch and a wall of stones (maceria) six feet high.” This is the place marked A. in the plan, the only part of the hill of Alesia which is connected with the neighbouring heights.
It is a small neck of land which separates the valleys of the Loze
and the Lozerain.
This is the part where the plateau of Alesia is most accessible, which Vercingetorix first occupied when he retired to Alesia, and where he constructed the wall of loose stones (maceria).
There are plenty of stones on the spot to construct another such wall, if it were wanted.
At the eastern end of the plateau, just under the summit there is a source of water, which is now covered over with, a small building.
The water is now carried in pipes round the hill, to supply the hospital of Alise,
which is (F.) on the west side of the hill on the slope. Water is got at Aise
by digging wells in the small level below the plateau; and as the Galli held this part of the mountain during the blockade, they may have got water from wells, as they no doubt did from the spring on the plateau.
Caesar's lines were formed all round the hill of Alesia, and they crossed the neck (A.) which connects this hill with another hill (B.) on the southeast side. The “castra” of Caesar (cc. 69, 80) were on B.C. D. E., on all the heights around Alesia.
These hills have a steep side turned to Alesia, and flat tops. They are so near to Alesia that Caesar could not be safe against an attack from the outside, unless he occupied them.
The valleys between Alesia and B.C. D. are narrow. On the north and north-west side the valley is wider.
There is a good source of water on the hill B.
The hill of Alesia is well defined on the north and the south by the valleys of the two streams which Caesar mentions (B. G.
7.69), and on the west side by the plain in which these rivers meet. Caesar estimates the width of this plain from north to south at three Roman miles; and it is that width at least even in the part which is only a little distance from the foot of the hill.
It extends much further in a NW. direction on the road to Montbard.
This plain is a perfect level, covered in summer with fine wheat.
As we go from the foot of the hill of Alesia to Les Laumes,
the Arx Alesiae is a conspicuous object.
Caesar made two lines of circumvallation round Alesia.
The circuit of the inner lines was eleven Roman miles; and we may infer from his words that this circumvallation was entirely in the plain and the valleys, except that it must have passed over the small elevation or neck of land between A. and B.
In making the outer lines, which were fourteen Roman miles in circuit, he followed the level as far as the ground allowed (100.74); from which we conclude that some parts of the outer line were on the high grounds opposite to the hill of Alesia; and the form of the surface shows that this must have been so.
The upper part of the hill west of Cressigny,
part of which hill appears in the north-west angle of the plan, was crossed by the lines; and the camp of Reginus and Rebilus (100.83) was on the slope of this hill which faces Alesia. One of the ditches (fossae) of the interior lines was filled with water from the river (100.72).
The lines of eleven and fourteen miles in circuit are no exaggeration. No less circuit would enclose the hill and give the Romans the necessary space.
The boldness of the undertaking may be easily conceived by the aid of numbers; but the sight of the work that was to be done before Vercingetorix and his troops, to the number of 80,000 men, could be shut in, can alone make us fully comprehend and admire the daring genius of the Roman proconsul.
There was a cavalry fight in the great plain before Caesar had completed his works. The Galli were driven back from the plain to their camp under the east end of the hill, and took refuge within Alesia.
After this defeat Vercingetorix sent his cavalry away, and made preparation for holding out till the Gallic confederates should come to his aid. (B.G.
70, 71.) When the forces of the confederates (7.75) came to raise the blockade of Alesia, they posted themselves on the hills where the name Mussy
appears; and in the battle which is described in 7.79, the Gallic cavalry filled the plain on the west side of the hill of Alesia, while the infantry remained on the heights about Mussy.
The Gallic horse were beaten back to their camp (100.80); but on the following night they renewed the attack on that part of the lines which crossed the plain.
This attack also failed The next night the Gallic confederates sent 60,000 men under Vergasillaunus to the north, to the back of the hill (E.), on the south slope of which Reginus and Rebilus had their camp. Their orders were to fall on the Romans at midday. The Galli got to the back of the hill at daybreak, and waited till near noon, when they began their attack on the camp.
At the same time the cavalry of the confederates came against the lines in the plain; and Vercingetorix descended from the heights of Alesia to attack the lines from [p. 2.259]
the inside. The Galli failed to force the lines both on the inside and the outside.
But the attack on the camp of Reginus and Rebilus was desperate, and Labienus was sent to support them. Neither ramparts nor ditches could stop the fierce assault of the enemy. Labienus summoned to his aid the soldiers from the nearest posts, and sent to tell Caesar what he thought ought to be done. His design was to sally out upon the enemy, as Caesar had ordered him to do, if he could not drive them off from the lines.
The place where the decisive struggle took place is easily seen from the Arx Alesiae ; and it is accurately described by Caesar (Caes. Gal. 83
This is the hill (E.) which slopes down to the plain of the Loze.
The upper part of the slope opposite to the Arx Alesiae is gentle, or “leniter declivis” (100.83); but the descent from the gentle slope to the plain of the Loze,
in which the railway runs, is in some parts very steep. Caesar could draw his lines in such a way as to bring them along the gentle slope, and comprise the steep and lower slope within them.
But there would still be a small slope downwards from the upper part of the hill to the Roman lines; and this is this gentle slope downward which he describes in 100.85, as giving a great advantage to the Gallic assailants under Vergasillaunus ( “Exiguum loci ad declivitatem fastigium magnum habet momentum” ).
The mountain behind which Vergasillaunus hid himself after the night's march is the part of the mountain west of Cressigny.
The camp of Reginus and Rebilus being on the south face turned to Alesia, they could see nothing of Vergasillaunus and his men till they came over the hill top to attack the lines. Vercingetorix, from the Arx Alesiae (100.84), could see the attack on Reginus' camp, and all that was going oil in the plain.
He could see every-thing. Caesar's position during the attack of Vergasillaunus was one (idoneus locus) which gave him a view of the fight.
He saw the plain, the “superiores munitiones, or the lines on the mountain north-west of Alesia, the Aix Alesiae, and the ground” beneath.
He stood therefore on the hill south of Alesia, and at the western end of it.
Caesar, hearing from Labienus how desperate was the attack on the upper lines, sent part of his cavalry round the exterior lines to attack Vergasillaunus in the rear.
The cavalry went round by the east end of Alesia. They could not go round the west end, for they would have crossed the plain outside of the lines, and the plain was occupied by the Galli. Nor could they have got up the hill on that side without some trouble; and they would not have come on the rear of the enemy.
It is certain that they went by the east end, and upon the heights round Alesia, which would take a much longer time than Caesar's rapid narrative would lead us to suppose, if we did not know the ground.
When Caesar sent the cavalry round Alesia, he went to the aid of Labienus with four cohorts and some cavalry.
The men from the higher ground could see him as he came along the lower ground (cc. 87, 88).
He came from the hill on the south of Alesia, between his lines along the plain, with the Arx Alesia on his right, from which the men in the town were looking down on the furious battle.
The scarlet cloak of the proconsul told his men and the enemies who was coming.
He was received with a shout from both sides, and the shout was answered from the circumvallation and all the lines. The Roman soldier throws his pila aside; and the sword begins its work. All at once Caesar's cavalry appears in the rear of Vergasillaunus: other cohorts approach; the enemy turn their backs; the cavalry meet the fugitives; there is a great slaughter; and the victory is won. The Galli who were on the outside of the fortifications desert their camp, and the next day Vercingetorix surrenders Alesia.
The fight of Alesia was the last great effort of the united Galli against Caesar. They never recovered from this defeat; and from this time the subjugation of Gallia, though not yet quite completed, was near and certain.
Alesia was a town during the Roman occupation of Gallia; but the plateau has long since been deserted, and there is not a trace of building upon it. Many medals and other antiquities have been found by grubbing on the plateau.
A vigneron of Alise
possesses many of these rare things, which he has found; a fine gold medal of Nero, some excellent bronze medals of Trajan and Faustina, and the well-known medal of Nemausus (Nîmes
), called the “pied de biche.” He has also a steelyard, keys, and a variety of other things.
The plan of Cassini is tolerably correct; correct enough to make the text of Caesar intelligible.