Alesia: Making Sense of the Standard Narrative

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
14,286
The short of the standard narative:

Vercingetorix and his uber army of 80 000 men does not fight Caesar's smaller 50 000 men force and instead locks itself up in well fortified Alesia.

JC promptly constructs fortifications all around Alesia (allegedly 18 km) facing both ways.... In the meantime the gauls gather uber army number 2, anywhere from 200 000 to 300 000 men

Relief efforts eventually fail despite coordinated attacks from the gauls, and it is game over...

From the man himself

[7.69.6-7] The siege works that we were beginning to build formed a circuit of 18 kilometers. Camps were constructed at strategic points along it, and we built 23 redoubts there as well.
[7.71.3] .... they should not now hand him (Vercingetorix) over to the enemy to be tortured. He explained that unless they did their utmost, 80,000 picked men would perish with him.
7.72.1] I had a trench dug 20 feet wide, with perpendicular sides so that it was as broad at the bottom as it was at the top.
[7.72.2] Then I moved all the other siege works back 600 meters from this trench
[7.72.4] Behind these trenches, I erected a rampart and palisade 4 meters high. To this I added a breastwork with battlements, with large forked branches projecting at the point where the breastwork joined the rampart, to stop the enemy if they tried to climb up. Finally, I had turrets erected at intervals of about 27 meters along the entire circuit of our fortifications.
[7.74.1] When these defense works were finished, I constructed another line of fortifications of the same kind, but different from the first in being directed against the enemy on the outside. This second line formed a circuit of
21 kilometers and followed the most level ground we could find.

7.75.1] While this was happening at Alesia, the Gauls summoned a council of their chiefs. They decided against calling up every man capable of bearing arms, as Vercingetorix had proposed. They were afraid that with such a vast number massed together, they would be unable to control their own contingents or keep them separate, or maintain grain supplies for them. Instead they decided to order each tribe to provide a fixed number of men.

[Caesar describes the units; all in all, they number 240,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry.]

7.83.4] The enemy commanders had scouts reconnoiter the position. They then chose from their entire force 60,000 men from the tribes that had the greatest reputation for valor,




Well those numbers, and the tactical situation do not really make sense.... What is plausible is that Vercingtorix's force was smaller than Casear's and that together with the relief force the gaul forces were perhaps slightly more numerous than the romans, but that numerical advantage was negated by roman fortifications... Even then 18 km of line to defend is way longer than any "standard" ancient battles front lines....



So what do you think really happened at Alesia ?
 

Edratman

Forum Staff
Feb 2009
6,790
Eastern PA
Alesia has always been a battle that astonishes me. Regardless of the numbers of combatants, it is astounding that a general intentionally fortified a position that permitted the enemy to surround his forces on all sides. I cannot imagine the effort it required to convince the legionnaires that this would prove to be a viable and winning tactic.
 
Nov 2019
338
United States
So archaeologist think that the site the French have identified is the wrong place, and that it might make more sense if the location was more accurately identified.
 
Jan 2011
1,053
FRANCE
So archaeologist think that the site the French have identified is the wrong place, and that it might make more sense if the location was more accurately identified.
Which archaeologists? In fact 95% of the French archaeologists think Alesia has been identified in the right place, in Alise-Sainte-Reine.
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,074
MD, USA
Which archaeologists? In fact 95% of the French archaeologists think Alesia has been identified in the right place, in Alise-Sainte-Reine.
I laughed at first, too, but found this pretty compelling:


Plus, it's been my experience that archeologists don't change their minds... Well, to be fair, a lot of historians don't, either! And to be even more fair, the whole nation has a huge amount invested in the current site, so it's not as simple as doing a quick sample dig and calling it solved.

Matthew
 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
14,286
Alesia has always been a battle that astonishes me. Regardless of the numbers of combatants, it is astounding that a general intentionally fortified a position that permitted the enemy to surround his forces on all sides. I cannot imagine the effort it required to convince the legionnaires that this would prove to be a viable and winning tactic.

Yes, that is weird... More typically, generals would leave a small covering force to prevent the besieged from breaking out whilst taking their main force to defeat the relief army before it could surround them and/or link with the besiged
 
  • Like
Reactions: Edratman
Aug 2019
159
Netherlands
The short of the standard narative:

Vercingetorix and his uber army of 80 000 men does not fight Caesar's smaller 50 000 men force and instead locks itself up in well fortified Alesia.

JC promptly constructs fortifications all around Alesia (allegedly 18 km) facing both ways.... In the meantime the gauls gather uber army number 2, anywhere from 200 000 to 300 000 men

Relief efforts eventually fail despite coordinated attacks from the gauls, and it is game over...

From the man himself

[7.69.6-7] The siege works that we were beginning to build formed a circuit of 18 kilometers. Camps were constructed at strategic points along it, and we built 23 redoubts there as well.
[7.71.3] .... they should not now hand him (Vercingetorix) over to the enemy to be tortured. He explained that unless they did their utmost, 80,000 picked men would perish with him.
7.72.1] I had a trench dug 20 feet wide, with perpendicular sides so that it was as broad at the bottom as it was at the top.
[7.72.2] Then I moved all the other siege works back 600 meters from this trench
[7.72.4] Behind these trenches, I erected a rampart and palisade 4 meters high. To this I added a breastwork with battlements, with large forked branches projecting at the point where the breastwork joined the rampart, to stop the enemy if they tried to climb up. Finally, I had turrets erected at intervals of about 27 meters along the entire circuit of our fortifications.
[7.74.1] When these defense works were finished, I constructed another line of fortifications of the same kind, but different from the first in being directed against the enemy on the outside. This second line formed a circuit of
21 kilometers and followed the most level ground we could find.

7.75.1] While this was happening at Alesia, the Gauls summoned a council of their chiefs. They decided against calling up every man capable of bearing arms, as Vercingetorix had proposed. They were afraid that with such a vast number massed together, they would be unable to control their own contingents or keep them separate, or maintain grain supplies for them. Instead they decided to order each tribe to provide a fixed number of men.

[Caesar describes the units; all in all, they number 240,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry.]

7.83.4] The enemy commanders had scouts reconnoiter the position. They then chose from their entire force 60,000 men from the tribes that had the greatest reputation for valor,




Well those numbers, and the tactical situation do not really make sense.... What is plausible is that Vercingtorix's force was smaller than Casear's and that together with the relief force the gaul forces were perhaps slightly more numerous than the romans, but that numerical advantage was negated by roman fortifications... Even then 18 km of line to defend is way longer than any "standard" ancient battles front lines....



So what do you think really happened at Alesia ?
I wonder if half of this alesia event is really true and not some ceasar propaganda.
 

starman

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
4,164
Connecticut
I wonder if half of this alesia event is really true and not some ceasar propaganda.
Lol, well, it the truth were much different, we wouldn’t expect Roman rule to persist in Gaul, would we? JC may have embellished some things but he still must’ve won.
 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
14,286
Lol, well, it the truth were much different, we wouldn’t expect Roman rule to persist in Gaul, would we? JC may have embellished some things but he still must’ve won.
Sure , but it is one thing slaughtering some helpless villagers and quite another defeating a 300 000+ ennemy army
 
Aug 2019
159
Netherlands
Lol, well, it the truth were much different, we wouldn’t expect Roman rule to persist in Gaul, would we? JC may have embellished some things but he still must’ve won.
I'm not denying the conquest here, but i'm questioning if this whole 'alesia' event isn't exaggerated or if some of the presesented facts by ceasar were true at all.