in Gallia. In B.C. 51 Drappes a Senon and Lucterius a Cadurcan, who had given the Romans much trouble, being pursued by C. Caninius Rebilus, one of Caesar's legates, took refuge in Uxellodunum, a town of the Cadurci (B. G.
8.32--44): Uxellodunum was in a position naturally strong, protected by rocks so steep that an armed man could hardly climb up, even if no resistance were made.
A deep valley surrounded nearly the whole elevation on which the town stood, and a river flowed at the bottom of the valley.
The interval where the river did not flow round the steep sides of this natural fortress was only 300 feet wide, and along this part ran the town wall. Close to the wall was a large spring, which supplied the town during the siege, for the inhabitants could not get down the rocks to the river for water without risk of their lives from the Roman missiles. Caninius began his blockade of Uxellodunum by making three camps on very high ground, with the intention of gradually drawing a vallum from each camp, and surrounding the place. On the river side his camps were of course separated from the town by the deep valley in which the river flowed; he may have planted two camps here and one on the land side of Uxellodunum.
The townsmen remembering what had happened at Alesia the year before, sent out Lucterius and Drappes to bring supplies into the place. Lucterius and Drappes took all the fighting men for this purpose except 2000, and they collected a large quantity of corn; but as Lucterius was attempting to carry it into the town by night, the Romans surprised him, and cut his men to pieces.
The other part of the force which had gone out was with Drappes about 12 miles off. Caninius sent his cavalry and light German troops against Drappes to surprise him, and he followed with a legion. His success was most complete. Drappes was taken prisoner and his force destroyed or captured. Caninius was now enabled to go on with his circumvallation without fear of interruption from without, and C. Fabius arriving the next day with his troops undertook the blockade of part of the town.
Caesar hearing the news about Uxellodunum and resolving to check all further risings in Gallia by one signal example more, hurried to the place with all his cavalry, ordering C. Calenus and two legions to follow him by regular marches.
He found the place shut in, but it was well supplied with provisions, as the deserters told him; and there remained nothing to do but to cut off the townsmen from the water.
By his archers and slingers, and by his engines for discharging missiles (tormenta) placed opposite those parts of the town where the descent to the river was easiest, he attempted to prevent the enemy from coming down to the river to get water. His next operation was to cut them off from the spring, and this was the great operation of the siege on which depended the capture of the town. Caesar dealt with his enemies as a doctor with a disease--he cut off the supplies. (Frontinus, Strat.
He moved his vineae towards that part of the town where the spring lay under the wall, and this was the isthmus which connected the hill fort with the open country.
He also began to construct mounds of earth, while the townsmen from the higher ground annoyed the Romans with missiles. Still the Romans pushed on their vineae and their earthworks, and at the same time began to form mines (cuniculi) to reach the source of water and draw it off.
A mound of earth 9 feet high was constructed, and a tower of ten stories was placed upon it, not high enough to be on a level with the top of the wall, but high enough to command the summit level of the spring. Thus they prevented the enemy from reaching the spring, and a great number of cattle, horses, and men died of thirst.
The townsmen now tumbled down blazing barrels filled with fat, pitch, and chips of wood, and began a vigorous onset to prevent the Romans from quenching the flames; for the burning materials being stopped in their descent by the vineae and mounds, set the Roman works on fire. On this Caesar ordered his men to scale the heights on all sides and to divert the defendants from the land side by a feint of attacking the walls.
This drew the enemy from the fire; and all their force was employed in manning the walls.
In the meantime the Romans put out the fire or cut it off.
The obstinate resistance of the enemy was terminated by the spring being completely dried up by the diversion of the water through the subterraneous passages which the Romans had constructed; and they surrendered after many of them had died of thirst. To terrify the Galli by a signal example, Caesar cut off the hands of all the fighting men who remained alive.
The attack and defence of Uxellodunum contain a full description of the site.
This hill-fort was surrounded by a river on all sides except one, and on this side also the approach to it was steep.
It is agreed that Uxellodunum was somewhere either on the Oltis (Lot
) or on the Duranius (Dordogne
). D'Anville places it at Puech d'Issolu,
on a small stream named the Tourmente,
which flows into the Dordogne
after passing Puech d'Issolu.
He was informed by some person acquainted with the locality that the spring still exists, and we may assume that to be true, for Caesar could not destroy the source: he only drew off the water, so that the besieged could not get at it. D'Anville adds that what appeared to be the entrance of the place is called in the country le portail de Rome,
and that a hill which is close to the Puech,
is named Bel-Castel.
But this distinguished geographer had no exact plan of the place, and had not seen it. Walckenaer (Géog. des Gaules,
i. p. 353) affirms that the plan of Puech [p. 2.1332]d'Issolu
made by M. Cornuau, at the request of Turgot does not correspond to the description in the Gallic War, for the river Tourmente
washes only one of the four sides of this hill; he also says, that nothing appears easier than to turn the river towards the west on the north side of the town, and to prevent its course being continued to the south.
But the author of the eighth book of the Gallic War says that Caesar could not deprive the defenders of Uxellodunum of the water of the river by diverting its course, “for the river flowed at the very foot of the heights of Uxellodunum, and could not be drawn off in any direction by sinking ditches.” There is a plan of Capdenac
in Caylus' Antiquités
(tom. v. pl. 100, p. 280), and Walckenaer observes that this also corresponds very imperfectly with the description.
The researches of Champollion (Nouvelles Recherches sur Uxellodunum
), which are cited by Walckenaer, appeared in 1820. Walckenaer makes some objection to Capdenac,
on grounds which are not very strong.
He says that the Lot
is above 300 feet wide where it surrounds Capdenac,
and one cannot conceive how archers placed on one bank could have prevented the besieged from getting water on the other side. If the archers and slingers were on the river in boats or rafts, which is likely enough, this objection is answered, even if it be true that an archer or slinger could not kill a man at the distance of 300 feet. Walckenaer makes some other objections to Capdenac,
but they are mainly founded on a misunderstanding or a perversion of the Latin text.
It is possible that we have not yet found Uxellodunum, but a journey along the banks of the Lot, for that is more probably the river, might lead to the discovery of this interesting site of Caesar's last great military operation in Gallia.
The position of the place, the attack, and the defence, are well described; and it cannot be difficult to recognise the site, if a man should see it before his eyes. Nothing could be easier to recognise than Alesia.
It is impossible for any man to doubt about the site of Alesia who has seen Alise
In the case of Uxellodunum, we have not the help of a corresponding modern name, unless it be a place not yet discovered.