Gius Julius Caesar- we all know him to be the emperor of Rome from our Shakespherean readings and historical studies. However, far more renowned than his accomplishments as a statesman are his accomplishments on the battlefield. Here is a recount of the Battle of Alesia which took place in 52 B.C.E. between the Gallic rebel army leader, Vercingetorix and Julius Caesar. It portrays Caesar’s capabilities as an excellent out of the box thinker perfectly.
To provide some context- Caesar and his men were weary of the campaigning. They had been doing it for 8 long years in the Gallic nations, resting in their dear country of Rome in the winters and taking down rebellions in Gaul through the rest of the year.
After trailing Vercingetorix’s army for weeks, the Gauls finally decided to stand their ground, by placing their army on a high terrain. Vercingetorix’s army outnumbered Caesar’s by a third, so he figured that if Caesar was foolish enough to attack him on high ground, he would be decimated. Just in case Caesar decided to wait him out, Vercingetorix also sent out messengers to all Gallic leaders for reinforcements and fortified his position. Vercingetorix played to his strengths perfectly, creating an seemingly impossible situation for Caesar.
What followed is History - Caesar surrounded Vercingetorix’s army with his own, spread himself thin and put himself in a terrible position for any attacks coming from the outside. He then commanded his army to create walls facing inside towards Vercingetorix’s army. Not just make shift walls, but walls that were two storeys tall with ladders and watch towers. He also made two sets of ditches, each 15 feet deep, with wooden spikes at the bottom. This is approximately what it looked like:
After completing this, Caesar went ahead and did the exact same thing on the other side to protect his army from any outside attacks. He completed all these fortifications in a matter of weeks!
Vercingetorix tried hindering the process as much as he could with regular raids, but the German Cavalry that Caesar had at the time easily pushed them back. In the above image, the green at the center is where Vercingetorix’s army was, and the black was Caesar’s army.
When Vercingetorix’s reinforcements arrived from the South East as seen in the image above, the numbers became clearer. The Gallic armies outnumbered Caesar 3 to 1.
On the first day, the Gallic reinforcements attacked by creating two lines of archers hidden behind their cavalry. When Caesar’s cavalry attacked, they were rained upon by showers of arrows. However, Caesar's cavalry comprised elite
Germanic troops who braved the showers, went back and forth with the Gallic cavalry. Eventually about 5,000 of the German cavalry flanked the Gallic ones, fighting their way through to the archers and slaughtering them. This called an end to the first day of fighting.
On the second night Vercingetorix’s army as well as his reinforcements launched a concentrated attack on a particular section of the wall. To the occasion rose Mark Antony, who heroically defended it by taking command of the legions and consolidating his troops. The vanguards of the Gallic army were tasked with the suicide job of laying down planks over the ditches, and most fell in themselves on to the sharpened wooden spikes at the bottom (Keep in mind, back in those days, barely any medical provisions were carried by armies, so if injured, you were on your own - unless you were a high ranking officer.) According to Caesar, the day was saved single-handedly by Mark Antony.
(Above is what day 2 looked like, the double stripes are infantry, single - cavalry and dots are the auxiliary)
Day 3: The reinforcements and Vercingetorix launched a massive attack along the entire roman defenses, as seen in the picture below:
Accounts of the battle say that Julius Caesar personally took charge and took every spare man the platoons could spare to defend against the concentrated attack by the reinforcements on the outer wall. The Gallic army was doing what the Romans feared- they spread the them thin, creating massive openings for them to exploit without the Romans bearing down upon them.
When Caesar realized that the inside army was about to break out, he moved more men to defend the inner walls rather than the outer ones, spreading his lines even more thin. When Vercingetorix (the besieged) realized that his tactics were failing, he spread his army out, attacking all sides of the interior wall surrounding Caesar’s army and forcing them to fight on all directions at once.
When the reinforcements on the outside of the wall finally broke through, about 7000 of Caesar’s men created a shield wall to block any advances. The shield wall looked like below:
(Imagine trying to punch a hole in that)
While the battle looked like:
In the meantime, Caesar’s elite cavalry had broken through (as seen in the bottom right corner of the image above). They charged uphill towards the high ground and charged the Gallic reinforcements from behind, slaughtering them. At the very sight of the cavalry behind them, most of the Gallic reinforcements started to flee, not realizing that this was the final card in Caesar’s hand.
Caesar’s army encircled the remaining Gauls, making quick work of them, and finally turned around and attacked the still besieged Vercingetorix, who had to shortly pull back.
Vercingetorix surrendered the next day.
What you realize from this battle is Caesar’s level of out of the box thinking. He faced devastating odds, a situation where he would have no reinforcements, supplies would be low, they would be in unknown territory, and the opposing army which held all tactical advantages outnumbered them 3 to 1. Caesar turned it around for them.
Recounts of Caesar say that he never concerned himself with (what he called) trivialities such as maneuvers or formations. He concerned himself with questions such as where his strengths and his enemies were, how to mitigate situations and how to make the enemy skip a meal or fight with the sun in their eyes.