Despite defeat, Alesia remains an important moment in the History of the French.
In general we tend to forget failures more quickly or erase them completely from memory. Yet even today, several regions of France are literally fighting to be declared “official site of the battle of Alesia”! But why?
Alesia was the siege where the ultimate combat took place against emperor Julius Caesar and the “head of the Arverni” . The clash was of course one-sided! Rome and its armies on the one side, Vercingetorix, Gallic chief on the other. Yet the latter inflicted a surprising defeat faced with Caesar’s army in Gergovie. Most importantly Vercingetorix represented a new danger for Rome; he had just succeeded in doing what no Gallic chief had done before him: he had unified, after the victory of Gergovie, the many small Celtic tribes living in Gaul and had proclaimed himself, in Bibracte, “Chief of the Gauls”. Eduens, Arvernes, Carnutes and other Bituriges, who had fought among themselves for so many years, much to Rome’s amusement, finally came to understand the concept of united we stand.
A nation had just been born and the Celts of Gaul had finally found a leader! Alesia possibly remains in the collective unconscious of the French, like the birth of our nation, the “first stone” of the History of France. Vercingetorix retreated on the mound of Alesia. The place, from a strategic point of view, doomed the Gallic chief to failure. Vercingetorix, a strategist, had to have a reason to retreat from this so special place. Surrounded on this mound with his 80,000 warriors, Vercingetorix surrendered to Caesar in exchange for the mercy of his men.
But Caesar would not keep his promise and the Gallic chief was taken to Rome to symbolise the “triumph of the Emperor” before being strangled after 6 years of solitary confinement. But for the great Arverne chief the important thing was achieving the unity of the Celts, on what was maybe the mythical place of their origin…
Alesia is “officially” situated in Alise-Sainte-Reine in the Côte d’Or. Napoleon III had excavations carried out there. Although precise, Caesar’s writings leave room for various interpretations concerning this battle. So Alaise in the Doubs, Salins-les-Bains in the Jura and Guillon in the Yonne contest the official version in favour of their town.
For more information type “Alesia” in your search engine and you can freely read the version of each. It’s up to you to form an opinion.