Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE PATRIOT VERCINGETORIX
 AS I have told you, different tribes in Gaul fought one
with the other. But sometimes the clans forgot their
own quarrels, that they might join together against a
common foe. Feeling that even then they were not strong
enough, they would appeal to Rome to help them against
the fierce German warriors, who poured across the river
Rhine and invaded Gaul.
These Germans, when they were victorious, treated their
prisoners even more cruelly than the Gauls treated each
It was natural that the Gallic chiefs should ask the
Romans to help them, for the Romans were a strong
people, with well-disciplined legions of soldiers.
Already, too, they had a special interest in Gaul, as
their provinces were scattered up and down the country.
Long before this, in 283 B.C., a few Roman families,
led by three Roman officers, journeyed to a part of
Gaul called Cisalpine Gaul. Here they took possession
of some ground on the borders of the Adriatic Sea. On
the ground they planted the standard of Rome, a golden
eagle, which they had carried before them on their
The officers ordered a round hole to be dug, and in
this hole they laid a handful of earth and a cluster of
fruit, which, along with the standard, they had brought
Taking a plough, and yoking to it a white bull and a
white heifer, the settlers then drew a furrow round a
 piece of ground, after which the bull and the
heifer were sacrificed to the gods of Rome, and the
ceremony was complete.
Thus the first Roman colony was planted in Gaul.
Fifteen years passed and another Roman colony was
founded, with the same rites, and then another and
another. And wherever the Romans went, they drained the
land and built houses, bridges, towns.
Many of the Gauls among whom they dwelt learned to copy
these Roman buildings, which were so much better than
their own rude huts and irregular villages.
The first time a Roman army came to Gaul, it was led by
a great general, called Scipio, and landed about 218
B.C. at Massilia, which in those long-ago days was the
name for Marseilles.
Massilia opened its gates to the Romans, and welcomed
them to its city, which was already an ancient one,
having been founded by a Greek, 600 B.C.
More than a hundred years after the Romans had settled
at Massilia, a terrible earthquake startled the
inhabitants of northern Europe. A fierce German tribe,
feeling no longer safe in the north, began to travel
southward, and never stopped until it reached Gaul.
Crossing the Rhone, the barbarians came to the camp of
Marius, a Roman general.
They at once offered to fight, but Marius paid no heed
to the taunts by which they tried to rouse him, and
allowed them to pass on their way.
Some time later he broke up his camp and followed the
invaders. He found them, among the mountains, not far
from the town of Aix. Here, in 102 B.C., Marius fought
with the rude Germans and defeated them with terrible
The victory of Aix was an important one; for had the
barbarians conquered, they would probably have gone on
to Italy to try to vanquish Rome. Thus they might have
become the masters of the world.
 Two years after this victory, the man who was to
succeed Marius was born. This was Julius Cæsar, one of
the greatest and most ambitious generals of Rome.
For years Gaul suffered from the invasion of the
Germans. But when, in the year 62 B.C., great hordes of
these warriors poured across the Rhine, more than ever
determined to wrest the land from its owners, the Gauls
turned again to Rome, begging for help.
The Romans, eager to keep their own colonies, perhaps
also eager for new conquests, sent Julius Cæsar, who
was now a man thirty-eight years of age, to the aid of
Even by the well-disciplined troops of Rome the Germans
were not easily beaten, but at length Cæsar utterly
routed them, and they fled in confusion toward the
Rhine, anxious only to go back to their own land.
Now that they were delivered from their foes, the Gauls
would gladly have seen the brave Roman warriors march
back to Rome. But the Romans did not mean to go away,
as the Gauls very soon found out. They meant to stay
until they were themselves masters of Gaul.
This was no light task, for the Gauls dearly loved
their independence. At the end of six years, though
some tribes had been forced to submit, the struggle
against Cæsar was in reality fiercer than it had ever
Their country was in danger, and the Gauls, forgetting
their own quarrels, determined to unite against their
foe in one last great attempt to win freedom for
themselves and their country.
A young Gaul was the chief leader of the revolt. His
real name is not known, but in history he is always
called Vercingetorix, which means "chief of a hundred
Vercingetorix belonged to a powerful tribe, and Cæsar,
with his usual wisdom, had tried to win the young chief
over to his side. But he had failed. And now, about 53
B.C.. Vercingetorix had come down from the mountains
 followers and seized Gergovia, the capital
of his tribe and his own birthplace.
The Gauls flocked to his standard. But whether love
drew them or fear, it is difficult to tell, for
Vercingetorix had decreed that whoever stayed away
should be punished with torture or with death.
Cæsar was in Italy when the rebellion led by the young
Gaul broke out, but he no sooner heard of it than he
hastened back to Gaul, and put himself at the head of
his well-trained legions.
Vercingetorix knew he could not hope to destroy the
Roman legions in the open field, but he could attack
small bands of the enemy and harass their movements.
Moreover, he begged the people of Gaul to destroy their
dwellings, their springs, their bridges, their
provisions, so that when Cæsar came he might find
nothing but ruins.
But in spite of all that Vercingetorix could do, Cæsar
reached Gergovia, and at once laid siege to the town,
which was really a rough cluster of huts, surrounded by
strong barricades made out of trunks of trees.
The Gauls were not used to be shut up in a town, and
soon they were clamouring to be led against the enemy.
But Cæsar had seen tribe after tribe joining the young
Gallic chief. One of his legions, too, when ordered to
assault the walls of Gergovia, had been driven back
with the loss of forty-six of its bravest officers, and
Cæsar thought it was time to raise the siege.
The Gauls could scarcely believe their eyes when they
saw the Roman army withdrawing. It was the first time
that Cæsar had been unable to take a Gallic town, and
the Gauls, shouting in triumph, declared that their foe
was vanquished. Vercingetorix himself believed it would
now be well to strike a blow at the enemy, and placing
himself at the head of his followers, he led them
against the retreating army. Within nine miles of the
fugitives he pitched his
 camp, and gathering
together his chiefs he spoke to them these proud words:
"Now is the hour of victory; the Romans are flying to
their province and leaving Gaul; that is enough for our
liberty to-day, but too little for the peace and repose
of the future; for they will return with greater
armies, and the war will be without end."
Then the young Gaul ordered his troops to pursue the
retreating foe. He did not know that Cæsar had added
to his army a large number of horsemen from the fierce
German tribes which were still wandering through the
country, and had promised them lands and plunder, as
well as wages, if they proved faithful.
Now the battle began. One band of Gauls seized a road
by which the Romans must pass, hoping to bar their
passage. While the fight raged fiercely at this point,
the wild German horsemen dashed up a height held by the
Gauls, drove them away, and chased them toward a river
where Vercingetorix was stationed.
Cæsar ordered his legion to attack the Gauls as they
fled toward their leader, and soon the fugitives dashed
in among Vercingetorix's company followed by the
Romans. The Gallic army was in utter confusion.
With great difficulty Vercingetorix rallied his men and
ordered a retreat. The Roman general followed, taking
many prisoners, and killing more than three thousand
Vercingetorix succeeded in reaching a town called
Alesia, and with the remnant of his army he at once
began to fortify the place.
As you may imagine, Julius Cæsar had soon followed the
Gauls to Alesia. When he saw them within the walls of
the town, he determined to keep them there. He ordered
his great army at once to surround the town and begin
to dig trenches and build forts to keep the Gauls from
Again and again Vercingetorix tried to destroy the
 Roman forts and trenches, but each time he was beaten
back into Alesia.
But the young Gaul had a brave spirit, and he still
hoped to win the day. One night, by his orders, some
Gallic horsemen stole quietly and unnoticed through the
Roman lines, and hastened each to his own tribe to
summon it to arms.
Before long the Gauls throughout the country were
roused and galloping to the help of Vercingetorix.
And so it happened that one day the Romans were
surprised and attacked in their entrenchments by a new
army of Gauls.
A terrible struggle followed. Each time the new Gallic
army attacked the enemy, Vercingetorix led his men out
of the gates of Alesia and joined in the assault.
The Romans fought desperately. To be beaten by these
rough, untrained warriors would humble their pride in
The Gauls, too, strained every nerve to win. To be
beaten by the Roman legions would mean the loss of
home, of country, of freedom.
For four days the battle raged, and then at length the
well-trained troops of Rome were victorious.
The Gallic army had been cut to pieces, and
Vercingetorix and a few men pushed back into Alesia.
Escape was now impossible.
Then Vercingetorix, with rare courage, offered to give
himself up to the Romans, that his followers might go
free, and not one voice was raised to bid him stay.
Too heedless of his life, now that his country was
lost, the young Gaul did not wait to send before him a
herald of peace.
Mounting his war-horse, he rode away alone into
Cæsar's camp, and found the great general seated on
his tribunal to give judgment.
Dismounting in silence, Vercingetorix threw his weapons
 at the feet of his conqueror; then flinging
himself down beside them, he pleaded for mercy.
"VERCINGETORIX THREW HIS ARMS AT THE FEET OF HIS CONQUERORS."
But Julius Cæsar had no pity. Rome's stern motto was
"Vae Victis," Woe to the vanquished!
Vercingetorix was loaded with chains and taken to Rome.
For six long years he was there in a dungeon.
Then, when Cæsar came to Rome to give thanks to the
gods for his victories, Vercingetorix was led, with
other prisoners, in the triumphal procession.
Afterwards he was taken back to his dungeon and
After Vercingetorix had given himself up to Cæsar the
war still dragged on, but without their young chief the
Gauls fought ever more and more listlessly. By the end
of the year 51 B.C. the country was subdued. Cæsar
treated the conquered people kindly, and even enrolled
among his own troops Gauls whose bravery he had proved.
One legion, too, he formed almost wholly of the
conquered people, calling it the "Alauda" or "Lark." For on
their helmets the soldiers of this legion had
engraved the figure of a lark, the old Gallic symbol of