Vercingetorix (/ˌvɜːrsɪnˈdʒɛtərɪks/ VUR-sin-JET-ə-riks or
/ˌvɜːrsɪŋˈɡɛtərɪks/ VUR-sing-GET-ə-riks; Latin
pronunciation: [wɛrkɪŋˈɡɛtɔrɪks]; c. 82 BC – 46 BC) was
a king and chieftain of the
Arverni tribe; he united the
Gauls in a
revolt against Roman forces during the last phase of Julius Caesar's
Vercingetorix was the son of Celtillus the Avernian, leader of the
Vercingetorix came to power after his formal
designation as chieftain of the
Arverni at the oppidum
Gergovia in 52
BC. He immediately established an alliance with other Gallic tribes,
took command and combined all forces, and led them in the Celts' most
significant revolt against Roman power. He won the Battle of Gergovia
Julius Caesar in which several thousand Romans and allies died
and Caesar's Roman legions withdrew.
However, Caesar had been able to exploit Gaulish internal division to
easily subjugate the country, and Vercingetorix's attempt to unite the
Gauls against Roman invasion came too late. At the Battle of
Alesia, the Romans besieged and defeated his forces. In order to save
as many of his men as possible he gave himself to the Romans. He was
held prisoner for five years. In 46 BC, as part of Caesar's triumph,
Vercingetorix was paraded through the streets of
Rome and then
executed by strangulation on Caesar's orders.
primarily known through Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War. To
Vercingetorix is considered a folk hero in Auvergne, his
Vercingetorix on Roman coinage (dated 48 BC) Top: bust right (war
chariot on reverse); Bottom: tied near war trophy (female head on
2.1 Battle of Alesia
4 See also
6.1 Primary sources
7 External links
Vercingetorix derives from the Gaulish ver- ("over, superior" – an
etymological cognate of German über, Latin super, or Greek hyper),
cingeto- ("warrior", related to roots meaning "tread, step, walk", so
possibly "infantry"), and rix ("king") (cf. Latin rex), thus
literally either "great warrior king" or "king of great
warriors". In his Life of Caesar,
Plutarch renders the name
Roman Republic in 58 BC.
Vercingetorix throws down his arms at the feet of Julius Caesar.
Painting by Lionel Royer.
Vercingetorix statue by Frédéric Bartholdi, on Place de Jaude, in
Having been appointed governor of the Roman province of Gallia
Narbonensis (modern Provence) in 58 BC,
Julius Caesar proceeded to
conquer the Gallic tribes beyond over the next few years, maintaining
control through a careful divide and rule strategy. He made use of the
factionalism among the Gallic elites, favoring certain noblemen over
others with political support and Roman luxuries such as wine.
Attempts at revolt, such as that of
Ambiorix in 54 BC, had secured
only local support, but Vercingetorix, whose father, Celtillus, had
been put to death by his own countrymen for seeking to rule all of
Gaul, managed to unify the Gallic tribes against the Romans and
adopted more current styles of warfare.
The revolt that
Vercingetorix came to lead began in early 52 BC while
Caesar was raising troops in Cisalpine Gaul. Believing that Caesar
would be distracted by the turmoil in
Rome following the death of
Publius Clodius Pulcher, the Carnutes, under Cotuatus and Conetodunus,
made the first move, slaughtering the Romans who had settled in their
Vercingetorix, a young nobleman of the Arvernian city of Gergovia,
roused his dependents to join the revolt, but he and his followers
were expelled by Vercingetorix's uncle Gobanitio and the rest of the
nobles because they thought opposing Caesar was too great a risk.
Vercingetorix raised an army of the poor, took Gergovia
and was hailed as king. He made alliances with other tribes, and
having been unanimously given supreme command of their armies, imposed
his authority through harsh discipline and the taking of hostages. He
adopted the policy of retreating to natural fortifications, and
undertook an early example of a scorched earth strategy by burning
towns to prevent the Roman legions from living off the land.
Vercingetorix scorched much of the land marching north with his army
Gergovia in an attempt to deprive Caesar of the resources and
safe haven of the towns and villages along Caesar's march south.
However, the capital of the Bituriges,
Avaricum (Bourges), a Gallic
settlement directly in Caesar's path, was spared. Due to the town's
strong protests, naturally defendable terrain, and apparently strong
man-made reinforcing defenses,
Vercingetorix decided against razing
and burning it. Leaving the town to its fate,
well outside of
Avaricum and focused on conducting harassing
engagements of the advancing Roman units led by Caesar and his chief
lieutenant Titus Labienus. Upon reaching
Avaricum however, the Romans
laid siege and eventually captured the capital. Afterwards, in a
contemptuous reprisal for 25 days of hunger and of laboring over the
siegeworks required to breach Avaricum's defenses, the Romans
slaughtered nearly the entire population of some 40,000 leaving only
about 800 alive. The next major battle was at Gergovia, capital
city of the
Arverni and Vercingetorix. During that battle,
Vercingetorix and his warriors crushed Caesar's legions and allies,
inflicting heavy losses.
Vercingetorix then decided to follow Caesar
but suffered heavy losses (as did the Romans and allies) during a
cavalry battle and he retreated and moved to another stronghold,
Battle of Alesia
Battle of Alesia
Battle of Alesia (September, 52 BC), Caesar built a
fortification around the city to besiege it. However, Caesar's army
was surrounded by the rest of Gaul, and
Vercingetorix had summoned his
Gallic allies to attack the besieging Romans, so Caesar built another
outer fortification against the expected relief armies (resulting in a
doughnut-shaped fortification). The relief came in insufficient
numbers: estimates range from 80,000 to 250,000 soldiers.
Vercingetorix, the tactical leader, was cut off from them on the
inside, and without his guidance the attacks were initially
unsuccessful. However, the attacks did reveal a weak point in the
fortifications and the combined forces on the inside and the outside
almost made a breakthrough. Only when Caesar personally led the last
reserves into battle he did finally manage to prevail. This was a
decisive battle in the creation of the Roman Empire.
According to Plutarch, Caes. 27.8-10,
Vercingetorix surrendered in a
dramatic fashion, riding his beautifully adorned horse out of Alesia
and around Caesar's camp before dismounting in front of Caesar,
stripping himself of his armor and sitting down at his opponent's
feet, where he remained motionless until he was taken away.
Caesar provides a first-hand contradiction of this account, De Bell.
Gal. 7.89, describing Vercingetorix's surrender much more
modestly. He was imprisoned in the
Rome for almost
six years, before being publicly displayed in Caesar's triumph in 46
BC. He was executed after the triumph, probably by strangulation in
his prison, as ancient custom would have it.
Vercingétorix Memorial in Alesia, near the village of
Poster for the French film Vercingétorix by
Cândido de Faria
Cândido de Faria for
Pathé, 1909. Collection EYE Film Institute Netherlands
Napoleon III erected a seven-meter-tall
Vercingétorix monument in
1865, created by the sculptor Aimé Millet, on the supposed site of
Alesia. The architect for the memorial was Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.
The statue still stands. The inscription on the base, written by
Viollet-le-Duc, which copied the famous statement of Julius Caesar,
reads (in French):
La Gaule unie
Formant une seule nation
Animée d'un même esprit,
Peut défier l'Univers.
Forming a single nation
Animated by a common spirit,
Can defy the Universe.
Many other monumental statues of
Vercingetorix were erected in France
during the 19th century, including one by Bartholdi on the Place de
Clermont-Ferrand (see image above).
Celtic Studies portal
Vercingetorix in popular culture
^ Bakker, Marco. "Reportret: Vercingetorix". www.reportret.info.
Retrieved 1 April 2018.
^ "France: The Roman conquest". Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved April 6, 2015. Because of chronic
internal rivalries, Gallic resistance was easily broken, though
Vercingetorix's Great Rebellion of 52 BC had notable successes.
^ "Julius Caesar: The first triumvirate and the conquest of Gaul".
Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved
February 15, 2015. Indeed, the Gallic cavalry was probably superior to
the Roman, horseman for horseman. Rome's military superiority lay in
its mastery of strategy, tactics, discipline, and military
engineering. In Gaul,
Rome also had the advantage of being able to
deal separately with dozens of relatively small, independent, and
uncooperative states. Caesar conquered these piecemeal, and the
concerted attempt made by a number of them in 52 BC to shake off the
Roman yoke came too late.
^ Proto-Celtic: *wor[permanent dead link], An etymological lexicon of
^ Proto-Celtic: *kengeto-[permanent dead link], An etymological
lexicon of Proto-Celtic
^ Proto-Celtic: *r–g-[permanent dead link], An etymological lexicon
^ Evans, D. Ellis (1967). Gaulish personal names: a study of some
Continental Celtic formations. Clarendon P. pp. 121 &
^ X., Delamarre, (2003). Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise : une
approche linguistique du vieux-celtique continental (2e éd. rev. et
augm ed.). Paris: Errance. p. 314. ISBN 9782877723695.
^ Plutarch, Life of Caesar 25; 27.
^ Julius Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic War Book VII, sect. 4.
^ Julius Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic War vii.
^ Plutarch's Lives; Caes. 27.8-10; Flor. 1.45.26; Dio 40.41.3.
Medieval French Historians are also partly responsible for
romanticising Vercingetorix's surrender. Romancing the Past: The Rise
of Vernacular Prose Historiography in Thirteenth-Century France, by
Gabrielle M. Spiegel, page 143, Berkeley: 1993.
^ Plutarch. "The Life of Julius Caesar". The Parallel Lives. Loeb
Classical Library Edition. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
^ Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, Everyman's Edition, 1953 (Trans:
John Warrington); Book VII, sect. 89.
^ Dio 40.41.3, 43.19.4
^ Statue of Vercingetorix, Art and Architecture, 2006
^ Dietler, Michael, "Our ancestors the Gauls": archaeology, ethnic
nationalism, and the manipulation of Celtic identity in modern Europe
(7.3M), American Anthropologist, 1994, 96: 584–605. Dietler, M., A
tale of three sites: the monumentalization of Celtic oppida and the
politics of collective memory and identity, World Archaeology, 1998,
Commentarii de Bello Gallico
Commentarii de Bello Gallico Book 7
Dio Cassius, Roman History 40:33–41, 43:19
Plutarch, Life of Caesar 25–27
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Vercingetorix.
A reconstructed portrait of Vercingetorix, based on historical
sources, in a contemporary style.
Curchin, Leonard A. Lingua Gallica (The Gaulish Language). Retrieved
January 23, 2010 from Uwaterloo.ca
Paul Marius Martin, Vercingétorix : le politique, le stratège.
Paris : Perrin, 2000, 260 p. ISBN 2-262-01691-7.