The Siege and Battle of Alésia (52 BC)
Gaul (which approximately corresponds to today’s France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland , Italy and Germany) was mainly under the dominance of Rome. When the tribe of the Eburones (certainly living around the Dutch Limburg region) rebelled against Rome and annihilated the famous XIV Legion, a feeling of rebellion spread the pacified Gallic tribes.
The Aedui called for a council between the different tribes favorable to a revolt against Rome to took place in their capital of Bibracte (in the actual Burgundy region). They named the Arveni ( a tribe living in what is now the Auvergne region) Vercingetorix commander of their united forces.
After many skirmishes between the Gallic and Roman forces and Julius Caesar’s defeat at the battle of Gergovia, Vercingetorix decided to settles his army in the oppidum of Alesia, a town and fort hill of Mandubii tribe. The Mandubii were a tribe living in modern Burgundy and Jura.
Alesia was strongly defended. Its natural fortifications and fort plus the estimated 80,000 men inside the walls, Julius Caesar saw a siege as the only way to win against Vercingetorix.
In three weeks, the Roman army (composed of 12 Legions, around 45,000 men plus thousands of auxiliaries and fierce German riders) surrounded Alesia with fortifications, traps and watchtowers. The city was completely besieged with no way to escape the Romans. However, during the construction, a small group of cavalry managed to escape the city. Anticipating that it would lead to the arrival of Gallic reinforcement, Caesar decided to build a second line of fortifications. This second line was not meant to siege the city but protect the rear of his army, should a second force of Gallic fighters arrive to help Alesia.
Alesia, with 80,000 men and the local population inside could not hope to survive a long siege. In order to save the food for his fighters, Vercingetorix threw out of the city the women, children and any man unable to fight. He also hoped that Caesar would let them pass through his fortifications to flee and at the same time, open a breach for he and his fighters to engage the fight. Unfortunately for the Gallic commander, Caesar refused to let the civilians through his lines. They died starving between the walls of Alesia and the Roman lines, putting a blow to the moral of the besieged until the arrival of the reinforcement.
After Caesar’s own estimations, this new Gallic army was of a terrifying size. Around 240,000 on foot fighters and 8,000 cavalry. Now that the besiegers are besieged the united tribesmen launched twice an attack against the Romans but are defeated. Having lost many men during the first two offensives, they decided to attack a third and ultimate time. For hours, fights are raging all around Alesia, without a winner in sight. However, during this extremely long and fierce fight, Roman’s German allies present in the army managed to rout the Gallic reinforcement that flees from the battle. Vercingetorix is forced to retreat in Alesia and soon decides to surrender himself to Caesar for the sake of his surviving fighters.
With this great victory, the Roman Republic is making a turning point in its conquest and stabilization of Gaul. But even with the defeat and loss of Vercingetorix, many tribes are remain in opposition to the Roman dominion such as the Carnutes and Bituriges.