“He stated that he had undertaken that campaign, not for his own occasions, but for the general liberty; and as they must yield to fortune he offered himself to them for whichever course they pleased — to give satisfaction to the Romans by his death, or to deliver him alive.”

– Julius Caesar, Gallic Wars

Alesia is little known besides its famous identity as the site of one of Julius Caesar’s greatest sieges. Today, the MuséoParc Alésia offers Gallo-Roman ruins, reconstructions of Caesar’s fortifications, and a beautiful new museum on site. Yet back in the middle of the 1st century B.C., Alesia was a major walled fort city. It served as the capital of the Mandubii tribe. Though Caesar had largely subdued Gaul, the local tribes were still eager to fight for their freedom. A brave warrior named Vercingetorix, Kin g of the Averni, staged the most successful rebellion. In 52 B.C., he faced one of Caesar’s ultimate innovations, the great circumvallation of Alesia.

Retreat to Alesia

Vercingetorix was under no illusions as to Caesar’s skill on the battlefield. For several months, he had been fighting a guerilla war against the Roman general. He even forced Caesar to withdraw from a siege of Gergovia, bolstering the spirits of the Gallic troops. However, their euphoria was short-lived. Soon after, the Gauls met with a heavy defeat in their first direct engagement with the Romans. Vercingetorix led his soldiers in a retreat to Alesia, continuing the scorched earth policy he had already instituted. They burned stored grain and farmland as they went, hoping to starve out the Romans and force their   retreat. Arriving in Alesia, Vercingetorix closed the gates and trusted in the city’s natural and man-made fortifications for protection.

Alesia, by Carole Raddato licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Caesar and his Roman legions soon arrived and set up camp around Alesia. Aware of