Gaius Julius Caesar ( warning this page contains an image over 110 kB in size )was born in the year 100 BC into a patrian family who claimed decendancy from the kings of Alba Langa and through them, Aeneas of Troy whose mother was the goddess Venus. Caesar's name Julius comes from Iulius, the family name. This comes from Iulus, the name of Venus' son.
At the time of his birth, Rome was still a republic and the empire was only really beginning. The senators ruled, motivated by the greed of power in the hope of becoming either a consul or a praetor, the two senior posts which carried imperium, the legal right to command an army. From these posts it was possible to, with the help of the army at your command, conquer new territories and so gain a triumph and the pleasure of knowing that your name would be remembered forever in statues and inscribed monuments, paid for by the spoils of the war.
Caesar made his way to praetorship by 62 BC and many of the senate felt him a dangerous, ambitious man. Because of this, they deprived him of a triumph after his praetorian command in Spain (61-60 BC) and they also did their best to keep him out of consulship. He finally became consul in 59 BC.
Much of the thanks for this achievement should be given to Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey the Great) who had just come back from a campaign which had doubled the income of the Roman treasury and gained three new provinces to the empire. Because of this he had popular support and his voice carried great weight with the public at large. Because of Pompey, however, to become a leading person in Roman politics you had to have more then just an ordinary triumph.
It was because of this that Caesar, during his consulship, pushed through a special law giving him a five-year command in Cispine Gaul and Illyricum, both provinces in the empire covering North Italy and the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia. Caesar saw this as a great opportunity to extend the empire either into Gaul or in the Balkins. While in Gaul, the most important section of the Roman Army, positioned at the German border, was under his control.He was a brilliant military leader and lead many campaigns:
Because the whole point of these campaigns was to get high public and political acclaim, he wrote about all the campaigns and sent the books to Rome so people knew and remembered his name.
Caesar had all the acclaim he could hope for and the triumph to back it up, however, to get the position he felt his achievements deserved, he had to take his troops across the River Rubicon and in doing so declare civil war on the state and Pompey. Pompey, the person who had got Caesar to where he was, was sent to stop him but failed. General Pompey fled to Egypt while Caesar entered Rome in triumph as Dictator. The battle for Rome continued for five years of bloody fighting. He was assassinated by a group of senators, possibly in support of Pompey or possibly for some gain of their own, on the Ides of March 44 BC, below a statue of Pompey.
By the time Caesar came to Gaul, the Romans were in control of Cispine Gaul and also Narbonese Gaul in the southern most point of Gaul which was simply called the Province because it was the main province in the Roman empire after Rome itself.
The rest of Gaul was free and divided into Celtic tribes. They had many fights among themselves and except for the higher up leaders or druids, none really feared the advancing Romans. Most of the oppida, Gallic fortified town or stronghold, such as Cenabum, the main oppidum of the Carnutes, had Roman traders who now lived there. The Romans didn't use violence to take over, they just sent in the traders who settled and married and slowly they infiltrated their ideas into the society. By this stage some of the Gauls had given up worshipping their Celtic gods and had set up alters to the Roman gods.
The Aedui tribe in particular had been affected. When Caesar first came to Gaul, the country had two main tribes and all the other tribes supported one or the other. At that time, the Aedui and the Sequani were the two rival tribes. The Sequani made an alliance with some Germans and with their help defeated the Aedui tribes many time over. They killed all the nobles and took the sons of all the leading men as hostages. They made the tribe swear an oath never to plot against the Sequani. The Sequani also keep occupied a section of Aeduan land bordering their own. By doing this, they established themselves as the leading tribe in Gaul.
When Caesar heard of these developments, he returned from Rome. The hostages were returned and the former dependents of the Aedui restored. The Sequani lost their supremacy and the Remi tribe, who were also favoured by Caesar, took over their place. Because of this incident, the Aedui tribe were allies of Caesar and when the Aedui felt threatened by the Arverni, they began to trade grain for Romans soldiers to build up their armies.
There had always been a lot of unrest among the Gauls as Caesar's army began to have more control over the country and as the Roman philosophies infiltrated the tribes. There were many revolts and small scale rebellions which the Roman army dealt with easily. However the Romans knew that if ever the Gallic tribes formed an alliance, it would not be so easy.
One tribal prince, Celtius of the Arverni, tried to do just that and to make himself King of all free Gaul. This is supposedly against the Gallic beliefs and it punishable by death, however when he was found murdered, evidence pointed that Roman weapons had been used when, if he was due for death, the druids would have done it. Celtius' son, Vercingetorix was furious and blamed the Romans. He also realised that if they wanted to remain free, they would have to join all the together.
The Carnutes were the first to respond because on their land was the sacred grove which was the holiest place in the country. The head druid was elected there and it was where the druids met. The Carnutes asked the other tribes to bring their military standards together which was a very solemn oath, and to swear not to desert them when the war started.
The result was that on an appointed day, the Carnutes, lead by Cotuatus and Conconnetodumnus, entered Cenabum and killed all the roman citizens who had settled there and plundered their property. When the news spread through the country, reaching Arverni, Vercingetorix called all his descendants together and told them of his planned rebellion. Once word spread more people joined his army. He first went to get support from his fellow Arvernians and then from other tribes such as the Senones, the Parisii, the Pictones, the Cadurci, the Turoni and all other tribes along the Atlantic coast.
Vercingetorix moved his forces towards the Bituriges who were allies of the Aedui but a fairly strong tribe in their own right. When the realised he was coming, they sent word to the Aedui for help and the Aedui sent out Roman cavalry and infantry. However, once the troops reached the R. Loire separating the two territories, they were too scared to cross it and left after three days. With this, the Bituriges allied themselves with the Arverni.
Now that he had control over the lands of the Bituriges, Vercingetorix started to lead his army to the Boii oppidum of Gorgobina whom Caesar had settled under the protection of the Aedui after he had defeated them in battle.
Caesar sent word that he was going to come and help them. On the way he stopped his troops at Vellaundunum, oppidum of the Senones, and set up siege. He didn't want to leave any enemies behind him who might get in the way of the grain deliveries and supply. The siege lasted three days before a deputation was sent out to discuss terms of surrender. Once this was finalized, Caesar set off again for Gorgobina via Cenabum.
The Carnute had only just heard of the siege at Vellaundunum. They had begun to gather and organize troops to garrison Cenabum, the Carnutes stronghold. They didn't expect the siege to be so short and were surprised to find Caesar camped outside the town. They decided to escape over the bridge at the back but Caesar had predicted this and stationed patrols to keep armed watch all night. When he heard of the escape, he set fire to the gates of the oppidum and entered. Because the bridge and roads were so narrow, very few inhabitants escaped.
Because of his losses at Cenabum, Vellaunodunum, and also Noviodunum, Vercingetorix decided to call a council of war to decide what to do next. He suggested that they put all their efforts into trying to cut off the Romans' supplies of grain and fodder. He also thought it would be a good idea to burn all villages and isolated buildings in any direction from the Romans' line of march. Because of the season, the grass at the moment was impossible to cut and so the Romans would have to send small patrols to try and forage for food. This would mean the Gauls could, daily, pick them off easily. He later suggested that, because of the way in which the Romans easily destroyed the oppida, it would be a good idea to burn all oppida that were not absolutely safe. The others at the council agreed unanimously. Within a day, 20 Bituriges towns were on fire and the other tribes followed suite. The countryside was ablaze.
It hurt a lot of the Gauls to burn their strongholds but in the case of the Bituriges, it was too much to bare. They refused to set fire to Bourges saying it was the most beautiful town in the country and that it was fairly well protected, surrounded by marsh and forests, it would be easy to defend. After much begging and pleading, Vercingetorix agreed and sent special troops to defend it. He set up camp about 16 miles from Bourges.
Caesar had arrived and was camped at a small gap between the marsh and forests. he had built a siege-terrace but could do little else because of the awkward terrain. He was trying to negotiate with the Aedui and the Boii to provide him with grain. the Aedui were reluctant and, while the Boii were willing to provide the grain, they were a small weak tribe and couldn't support the full army. The moral was dipping slightly although Caesar was pretty confident that the troops wouldn't desert.
The weather was consistently cold and wet and both sides were apprehensive. Finally the battle began as the Gauls poured out of the oppidum. The fighting went on all night and it seemed that the Gauls were going to win. They knew the terrain and this helped as the fighting continued through the night. The Gauls also had a better supply of strong warriors.
The next day, the Gauls inside Bourges tried to escape. They decide to leave quietly at night but their wives refused to be left as slaves for the Romans. As the men were about to leave, the women started shouting to the patrols and so the men abandoned their escape plan.
Caesar felt the siege had to end soon or else Vercingetorix would try charge the Romans from behind. The next day it rained heavily. Caesar realised this was his chance and quickly organized his men who attacked quickly. The Gauls didn't expect it at all and panicked. Of the 40,000 people living in the oppidum, only 800 managed to escape and that was because they left at the first sound of the assault.
Vercingetorix got worried there would be a mutiny and called another council meeting. He explained that the Romans only won because of superior siege skills which the Gauls didn't have. He then decided to build a fortified camp.
The next major battle came at Gergovia. Caesar had just cleared up a revolt among the Aedui tribe although he was still not fully able to trust them. Vercingetorix was at Gergovia long before Caesar and had set up encampments there. Caesar had sent about half his troops and was now on the way himself.
While at Gergovia and inspecting the defense works, he noticed that one hill that had been full of troops a few days ago, was now empty. After questioning some deserters and comparing with his own sources, he realised that they had moved to fortify a ridge on one side of the hill which lead almost directly to the oppidum. He began to try to arouse the Gauls suspicions by sending men around on horses and off in different directions. The Gauls got suspicious and moved even more men to build the fortifications.
When he saw the enemy camps were empty, he quickly gathered his army and moved them in small groups from the larger camp to the smaller. From here, they had easy access to the encampments. He marched in and took over three easily and quickly.
Some of his men got excited with their easy victory and decided to attack the actual stronghold. As they tried to climb the walls, the people inside shouted out and the men working on the fortifications came down. A very close battle ensued in which the Romans lost 700 men and would have lost more if the Aedui, with their right shoulders uncovered showing allegiance to the Romans, came down from the right. The Romans retreated quickly. The two sides met again out in open terrain later on that day and for the next few days after, for cavalry fights before Caesar finally pulled out and left to Senone territory.
The Aedui had finally left their alliance with the Romans and they came to Vercingetorix to arrange a joint campaign. Vercingetorix agreed until he heard the condition. The two men in charge of the Aedui wanted supreme command of the army and campaign. Vercingetorix refused and an argument followed. A general council of all Gaul was summoned for the vote. Vercingetorix was finally voted unanimously, commander-in-chief.
Near the oppidum of Alesia, a battle took place in which the Roman enlisted the help of the Germans. The Germans were fierce warriors and Vercingetorix and his troops were severely beaten. They were also severely demoralized as they depended heavily on their cavalry who were easily outmatched. Vercingetorix called a retreat and the Gauls marched to Alesia, the oppidum of the Mandubii.
Caesar and his troops followed behind, often killing people at the rear as they went. After inspecting the oppidum, Caesar ordered his men to build siege works. They had only just started when a cavalry battle took place as the Gauls charged them. The fighting was hard on both sides and when Caesar saw the Romans were loosing strength, he sent in the Germans on horseback. The Germans slaughtered the Gauls, and when they retreated, the Germans followed them all the way to the fort.
The Gauls were stuck in Alesia and food and supplies were running out. A deputation was sent out to try and get a relief organized and to get supplies. While they were gone, Alesia ran out of grain and not realizing that 8,000 cavalry and 240,000 infantry were on the way from Aedui with supplies, Vercingetorix called a council to decide what to do with the situation. It was decided to stay as they felt that when the relief came, hopefully its size would scare the Romans. They also decided that all none essential people involved in the fighting would have to leave and all the Mandubii were turned out by those who let them in.
When the relief finally arrived, there was great celebrations. They sent out all the cavalry and started preparing their fortifications for war. Unfortunately, because of the siege, the relief couldn't reach them. A fight started at midday and lasted until sunset when Caesar again sent the Germans in. The Gauls had problems with Caesar's traps hidden in the grass. After another similarly ended battle, the Gauls got together to discuss there situation. They decided they had only one choice- to try and leave by breaking the siege. The left Alesia, throwing soil as they went to cover the goads in the ground.
After a while both sides were loosing strength and stamina and the Gauls still in Alesia were giving up hope. Caesar finally personally lead an attack with fresh soldiers and the Gauls were seriously defeated. When news of Caesar's victory reached the Gallic relief, they left, fleeing for their respective villages.
The next day, Vercingetorix called his last council. He told them that he had been fighting for personal gain but was fighting to keep the freedom of Gaul. Since he had to surrender, he would place himself at the mercy of Caesar and let the Romans decide what to do with him. Vercingetorix gave himself up to Caesar and the Gallic weapons were laid at his feet, before him. Gaul was no longer a free country but was under the control of Rome and Julius Caesar had got the rewards he was looking for.