3 October 52 BCE, at Alesia near present-day Alise-Sainte-Reine, somewhere in Burgundy, Vercingetorix, chieftain of the Arverni and leader of the Gallic tribes allied against Rome, surrendered to Julius Caesar.
“Vercingetorix, having convened a council the following day, declares, "That he had undertaken that war, not on account of his own exigencies, but on account of the general freedom; and since he must yield to fortune, he offered himself to them for either purpose, whether they should wish to atone to the Romans by his death, or surrender him alive." Ambassadors are sent to Caesar on this subject. He orders their arms to be surrendered, and their chieftains delivered up. He seated himself at the head of the lines in front of the camp, the Gallic chieftains are brought before him. They surrender Vercingetorix, and lay down their arms.“ (Julius Caesar, "De Bello Gallico")
|Lionel Royer's (1852 - 1926) imagination of how|
"Vercingetorix Throws Down his Arms at the Feet of Julius Caesar" (1899)
The climax of Caesar’s Gallic Wars was no laughing matter at all, nor was it the form of heroic encounter later generations turned it into. In fact, Vercingetorix, leader of the last Celtic uprising in present-day France, had fought a scorched earth campaign against the Romans, even scored a major victory at Gergovia near Clermont-Ferrand, but finally decided to give up his more or less quite successful defensive strategy and pinpointed Caesar by forcing him to lay siege to the fortified town of Alesia and waiting for a relief army to kettle the Romans in and defeat them. After three weeks, food started to get low and Vercingetorix brought his scorched earth approach to a head. Every non-combatant was evicted from the hill fort to force Caesar, rather not wallowing in supplies either, to take care of them. Like hell he would. Thousands of the old ones, women and children starved to death in the no-man’s-land between the Roman siege works and Alesia. Then the expected relief army arrived. Probably not the 250,000 men Caesar recorded in his propaganda writings, but nevertheless, the twelve Roman legions won a brilliant, if quite gory victory in the ensuing battle. On the next day, Vercingetorix laid down his arms and if he hoped for a honourable treatment, he had come to the wrong man. The Gauls who survived were sold into slavery and their leader was lead in triumph through the streets of Rome and finally strangled in the dungeons of the Mamertine prison in 46 BCE.
|Uderzo / Goscinny’s tongue-in-cheek variation of Vercingetorix’ laying down his arms at the feet of Caesar, |
or better, throwing them on it, a parody of a well known and often quoted painting by Lionel Royer from 1899
Tota Gallia capta - the whole of Gaul was conquered and remained a Roman province for the next half millenium. And like the Germans glorified Arminius, early 19th century France made the last Gallic rebellion into something of a foundation myth and Vercingetorix became a national hero, even though the Arverni prince and his antique Celtic people had as much in common with the latter day Frenchmen as Herman the Cherusci with contemporary Germans. Nevertheless, the same type of brummagem colossal sculptures of Vercingetorix arose in Clermont-Ferrand and Alise-Sainte-Reine quite like the one of Arminius in the Teutoburg Forest, the latter looking ironically in defiance towards Romanised France. However, Napoleon III had the words “La Gaule unie / Formant une seule nation / Animée d'un même esprit, / Peut défier l'Univers“ (Gaul united, / Forming a single nation / Animated by a common spirit, / Can defy the Universe) inscribed at the base of the statue at Alise-Sainte-Reine and after the said monarch had lost the Franco-Prussian War, Vercingetorix, proud even in defeat, received a somewhat different connotation even if Clovis, founder of the dynasty of the Merovingian kings, relieved him from his post as national hero. After all, the Frank had usually won his battles.
And more about the Battle of Alesia on: