The siege of Alesia was the climax of Vercingetorix's revolt, the first and only occasion in which the Gallic tribes united against Caesar. The revolt was largely dominated by a series of sieges – Avaricum, Gergovia and finally Alesia. The second of these was a Gallic victory, possibly inspiring Vercingetorix to make the fateful decision to hole up in Alesia. This gave Caesar the chance to defeat the revolt in a single battle, and after a great deal of effort, including the construction of a famous set of twin siege walls, the Gauls were forced to surrender.
This is one of those difficult campaigns where we only really have one major source, making it difficult to produce a balanced account of events. In this case the problem is made worse as that sole source is Caesar's own Commentaries on the Gallic Wars – understandably a rather one-sided account of events. If the current (rather convincing) identification of Alesia as Alise-Sainte-Reine is correct, then we can compare Caesar's description of his siege works with the archaeological record. This suggests that his description was fundamentally accurate, but somewhat exaggerated – in this case his siege works weren't as complete as his text would suggest. This is hardly surprising given that Caesar's audience would have been fairly well informed about events in Gaul, so for Caesar's account to be convincing it would have to had been fairly close to the truth.
Fields has produced a good account of the siege and the campaign leading up to it. He acknowledges the problems with the sources, and attempts to produce a more realistic view of the battle. The text is supported by the usual collection of photos and maps, including in this case a series of overview maps showing the siege walls and the failed relief effort. The aerial photographs of the site are particularly useful, clearly showing the siege walls and the surrounding terrain.
The Battlefield Today
Author: Nic Fields