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ALESIA (Alise-Ste-Reine) Côte d'Or, France.

An oppidum of a Gallic tribe, the Mandubii, situated 260 km SE of Paris and 65 km NW of Dijon. Here Caesar besieged Vercingetorix in 52 B.C.; a large Gallic army tried in vain to raise the siege and Vercingetorix was forced to surrender. This is the most famous episode of the Gallic Wars, thanks to Caesar's account of it (BGall. 7.68-90).

Thereafter as a small Gallo-Roman town Alesia prospered in the 1st and 2d c. A.D., owing largely to its craftsmen working in bronze, silver, and iron (Plin. HN 34.162). Completely destroyed towards the end of the 2d c., the city was rebuilt, perhaps after being abandoned for a few years. It was Christian from the 3d c. on, and disappeared gradually in the Late Empire.

The oppidum occupied the plateau (2 km x 800 m maximum), on top of Mont Auxois (Mons Alisiensis). Its natural defenses were formidable: rising between the valleys of the Oze and the Ozerain, the slopes were topped by a steep limestone cliff; only the W and B ends (La Pointe and La Croix-St-Charles) required artificial defenses (at La Pointe there are traces of a dry stone wall). There is a water-bearing stratum on the plateau (Croix-St-Charles springs) and some tributary springs at the foot of the cliff, outside the oppidum but beyond the range of the Roman projectiles. Moreover, Mont Auxois is ringed with hills of the same height (Montagne de Flavigny, Mont Pennevelle, Montagne de Bussy, Mont Réa), except to the W where the plain of Les Lauines begins (3000 Roman feet long).

Caesar's siege-works are known from his account, from excavations (1861-65 by order of Emperor Napoleon III), and from some recent digs. The arms and coins found in 1861-65 are in the Musée des Antiquités Nationales at St-Germain-en-Laye; on the site itself can be seen casts of weapons, the outline of some of the Roman trenches.

The Gallo-Roman city was also on the summit of Mont Auxois. The forum and the area around it are the chief elements that have been excavated. A large architectural complex has been uncovered (mid 2d c. A.D.) including a basilica with three apses and a portico surrounding an earlier temple, some houses with shops opening under colonnades in front of them, a theater (end of 1st c. A.D.) with a cavea of more than a semicircle, and a house that probably was the corporate headquarters of the bronze- and silver-workers, who also worked extensively in iron. The principal streets, oriented E-W by the lay of the land, were frequently lined with galleries of shops. At Croix-St-Charles there was a large sanctuary built around a healing spring, with baths dedicated to Apollo Moritasgus. The houses, built around a central courtyard on no regular plan, often had one room heated by hypocaust and always had a basement with one or more niches, which served as a sanctuary for domestic cults rather than as a cellar. Objects found on the site are in the two museums in the village of Alise: like the monuments, they reflect a mixed civilization, at once Gallic and Roman, in which the Gallic tradition was for a long time the dominant influence, especially as to religion.

The Gallic oppidum seems to have been simply a fortress-refuge; not until the early stages of the Roman occupation did a sizable population live there permanently, and the huts of dry stone and mud were replaced by masonry buildings during the 1st c.

In Frankish times only a church and a cemetery stood on the site. In a Gallo-Roman well at Alesia a eucharistic service was found, made of lead and identified by a chrism bearing several graffiti with the name Regina. The service dates from the 4th c. A.D. and is one of the earliest pieces of archaeological evidence for the cult of a saint in Gaul.


The siege: Napoleon III, Histoire de Jules César (1866-67)MPI; Joly, Plan du siège d'Alesia (1966)M; id., Guide du siège d'Alesia (1966)MPI; J. Harmand, Une campagne césarienne: Alesia (1967).

The siege and the city: Revue Pro Alesia (1906-32); J. Le Gall, Alesia, archéologie et histoire (1963)MPI; Conference, Dijon, “Connaissance d'Alesia” (1966).


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