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"A great summary of an epic battle...This 96-page paperback profiles the opposing commanders, their armies and strategies before recounting the campaign and its aftermath. This book is extensively illustrated with drawings, maps, photographs and superb artwork created by Peter Dennis." --Toy Soldier and Model Figure magazine
"...outlines the most famous of all Caesar's campaigns: a battle that has a good amount of archaeological study behind it. It documents the end of one of the most serious resistances to his conquests: one which would change the face of Celtic control forever, and it adds color maps and illustrations throughout. The result is a powerful pick recommended for any military history collection." - James A. Cox, Midwest Book Review (October 2014)
Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende
Dr. Nic Fields started his career as a biochemist before joining the Royal Marines. Having left the military, he went back to University and completed a BA and PhD in Ancient History at the University of Newcastle in England. He was Assistant Director at the British School at Athens, Greece, and then a lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Edinburgh. Nic is now a freelance author and researcher based in southwestern France. The author lives in St, Augustin sur Mer, France.
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Wieder ein ganz hervorragender, reich bebilderter Band aus dem wohl besten Thematisch-Zeitgeschichtlichen Verlag der Welt...dem Osprey-Verlag. Auf 96 Seiten wird minutiös die Entscheidungsschlacht von Caesar gegen Vercingetorix und seine Gallische Armee im Gebiet von Alesia im Jahr 52 vor Christus, im heutigen Frankreich berichtet. Weiterhin, wird an Hand von detaillierten Fundstücken der Konflikt auch sehr gut dokumentiert. Der Ablauf der Schlacht wird Schritt für Schritt erklärt und liest sich spannender als jeder Thriller. "Alesia 52 BC:The Final Struggle For Gaul" von Nic Fields und dem hervorragenden Illustrator Peter Dennis. Ein weiterer Band, der glatte 5 Sterne von mir bekommt.
This is a good, and often an excellent summary of the siege of Alesia, but also of Caesar’s Gallic wars to the extent that these provide the background necessary for understanding the siege. The volume follows the usual format of the Campaign series; the introduction is followed by a (very comprehensive) chronology, before comparing the opposing commanders, armies and plans. This then allows the author to spend the second half of the book (about 45 pages or so) to describe the campaign itself that is the siege of Avaricum, Caesar’s failed assault on Gergovia, his victory in the cavalry battle of Noviodunum and the siege and battles of Alesia.
This book also combines a number of additional good features. These include a rather healthy scepticism for Caesar’s very much self-serving Commentaries while also appreciated how invaluable they are, since they are the main, and often the sole written source. One example of this need for scepticism is the rather incredible figure that Caesar’ come up with for the size of the Gallic relief army that tried to break the siege. They were clearly not in excess of a quarter million fighters, although they probably did outnumber the 50 000 besieging Romans.
Also of value is the analysis of what Caesar actually did – stir up a war, which he then had to win, and use it to justify the conquest of Gaul. This allowed him to compete for supreme power in Rome and made him immensely rich, probably more because of the hundreds of thousands Gallic slaves that flooded the market in Rome than through the (nevertheless considerable amount of) plunder that was obtained. Both his officers and his men benefited from the spoils. In fact, the author clearly shows at what cost came the “Pax Romana”, with various historians estimating that as many as a million Gauls were either killed or enslaved. Even bearing in mind that there is some disagreement on the total size of the population, with estimates ranging between three and six million, if I remember correctly, the scope of the slaughter, enslavement and mass deportation would possibly rank this as something of a genocide in modern terms.
Another point which is well made is that Caesar’s behaviour, however unscrupulous and repulsive it may sound nowadays, was quite typical of that of the Roman aristocrat and warlord of the Republic. Pompey (and Sylla and others before him), had made their fortunes by being victorious in the East (which meant, once again, huge amounts of plunder and huge numbers of slaves to sell). A number of generals (including both Pompey and Caesar) had also been displaying these kinds of activities in Spain since the Second Punic War, and one could go on, and on. What the book does not tell, and what made a difference was the size of the conquered territory and the fact that large areas of Gaul were rather rich and quite prosperous.
Another good feature is to show to what extent the Romans had historically feared the Gauls, and had suffered grievous defeats from the Cimbri and Teutones (which seem to have been Gauls rather than Germans) only half a century before. Also interesting is the fact that despite all the scorn poured onto the Gallic/Celtic “Barbarians”, including by Caesar himself in his commentaries, the Romans – the “great man” included – were generally rather careful (or even scared) when dealing with them. Interestingly, many of the Roman army’s kit have Celtic/Gallic origins, including helmets, chainmail, swords and shields.
A final set of valuable features are the maps, photos and plates, which, when combined with the use of archaeology, make this title into a very good overview and summary. I found the plates simply gorgeous, especially the two showing a night and a day assault on the Roman fortifications with, in the latter case, Caesar having to enter the fray to rally the flagging troops, as he had to do a few times during the career, including at Alesia.
Even the bibliography is rather longer than what is usually found in an Osprey title (two pages instead of the more usual one). One small surprise, however, was to find that while Nic Fields did list a couple of Adrian Goldsworthy’s books (including, of course, his piece on the Roman Army from 100 BC to 100 AD), he did not find it necessary to mention his biography of Julius Caesar. To be fair, however, there are almost a dozen other authors’ biographies which are listed. Five stars.
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A classic battle plan from Julius Caesar. This is truly a wild and weird battle at the heart of Caesar's campaign to reduce the battle capability of the Gauls.
The leader of the Gauls, Vercingetorix, pulled together a major alliance--outnumbering Roman forces. The Roman legions had been fairly successful at suppressing the Gauls, but the latter mounted a major effort.
This slender Osprey volume, as others in the "Campaign" series, has a fairly standard organization. First, an introduction to the campaign. Then, a useful chronology. The key leaders are then profiled--in this instance Vercingetorix and Julius Caesar. We begin to get a sense of the opposing leaders, their personalities, and their leadership skills. The competing armies are then described. One important component, for instance, in Caesar's forces was Germanic cavalry, who played an important role during the campaign. Then, the action plans of the two forces.
Finally, the campaign and culminating battle, the aftermath, and how the battlefield has survived over the centuries.
What makes the final battle so fascinating is that Caesar constructed two different lines of battle--one facing inward as his forces besieged Alesia, where Vercingetorix's forces were stationed. However, behind the inward facing lines were outward facing lines--to repel reinforcements coming to the aid of the besieged Gauls. Although outnumbered considerably, the Roman forces won an improbable victory, cementing Caesar's reputation and standing.
Maps are sometimes not as useful as they could be, although they do help to understand the action.
In the end, a nice addition to the Osprey "Campaign" series.
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Nic Fields is clearly one of the best general public historian in existence and in this Osprey campaign volume he manages the feat of integrating the engagement of the title in the respective campaign, providing simultaneously all the indispensably relevant information without sacrificing a large part of the book. And that wasn’t an easy feat. In 52 BC the campaign was in its seventh year! Using wisely an excellent chronology divided by years and providing relevant information not only in the commanders’ description but also in the opposing forces summaries, the author quickly goes to the dramatic events that lead to Alesia and then to the epic siege itself, which have the lion’s share of the book. One way Fields shares information quickly and competently is with very good maps, for example of Avaricum and Gergovia, which allows the reader not only to see the lay of the land but also how the attack occurred.
The usage of the sources are fabulous, without removing importance but understanding the political objective of “Bello Gallico”, and using as much ancient sources on the Gauls and other relevant issues as possible. Good bibliography and glossary, although I believe it has one small mistake: “Breastwork” isn’t the translation of lorica which means breastplate; probably he wanted to say “Antemurale” (or maybe he wanted to write breastplate but made a mistake).
The photographs with artifacts and reconstructions are very good and perfectly adequate. You’ll find a fused Roman mail, Montefortino and Buggenum helmets, the mouth of a carnyx, sling bullets, photographs of the terrain nowadays, mannequins and reconstructed siege works at MuséoPark Alésia (which everyone should visit by the way). The only regarding the images no-no in my opinion is the abundance of XIX century statues of Gauls and Vercingetorix which are quite useless as historical reference (one would be enough).
The artwork is Peter Dennis at his best including wonderful double page plates of: "the construction of the Roman siege works at Alesia" (with an inset showing the several types of traps and obstacles), "the night time sortie by the Gauls" (the Gauls using fascines and ladders while trying to protect themselves from the heavy fire of the Romans and scaling the defenses) and "the final Gaulish assault at the siege lines" (where you can see the desperate fighting and the Germanic cavalry riding for a rear charge).
For all intents and purposes this ends my review. A very good book from an excellent author. From this point on this is just a minor issue that in my humble opinion the author continues to use wrongly – yes, the ever present issue of circumvallation and contravallation. And this time the author even uses one page to justify his use of contravallation to name the siege works facing the fortress! Using an XIXth century North American military engineering manual as source and stating that Caesar doesn’t use the words circumvallation or contravallation in his seventh commentaries; using only in BG 7.11.1 the term circumvallavit.
Well, Caesar could never had used the term contravallation because the Romans didn’t have that word!!! It was used in the modern age, in the XVIII, XIX th centuries, and I don’t dispute that words have evolutions. For example, ballista was in the Roman times a stone throwing engine, later it became used for a huge arrow/spear thrower! In the issue of the usage of a terminology we can have two different approaches: use what the Romans used or use the present day terminology.
Now for the Roman usage of the word. Nic Fields states that Caesar only uses the word circumvallavit regarding the siege of Vellaunodunum and the author says that that word means “encircled it with entrenchments”; which is correct and obviously implies what circumvallate really means (although the author didn’t accept it as such).
Then the author refers that the terms only appear regarding Alesia in the times of Napoleon III. Which is wrong (see below) and pretty useless information, since there are innumerous ancient sources saying clearly what a circumvallation is. Even Caesar uses the word circumvallare when referring to the impossibility to make siege encirclement at Avaricum.
BG 7.17 “…Castris ad eam partem oppidi positis Caesar, quae intermissa [a] flumine et a paludibus aditum, ut supra diximus, angustum habebat, aggerem apparare, vineas agere, turres duas constituere coepit: nam circumvallare loci natura prohibebat.” Here Caesar states that he can’t besiege Avaricum with a circumvallation due to the lay of the land; and obviously he isn’t referring to siege fortifications to prevent an attack from the outside/reinforcements. Everything on that phrase is in regard to Avaricum.
BG 7.68 “...adhortatus ad laborem milites circumvallare instituit.” Here Caesar decides to invest Alesia with siege fortifications and contrary to what Fields states, he does use the word “circumvallare”.
Using other ancient sources unrelated to this war we can find many times the word circumvallare is used, always with the same meaning.
BH 32 “…ex fuga hac qui oppidum Mundam sibi constituissent praesidium, nostrique cogebantur necessario eos circumvallare.”
RG 18.10 “...ad civitatem reduco, circumvallato murorum …” Ammianus Marcellinus
De Architectura Book 2 Caput Nonum 16 “…admirans Caesar iussit extra telorum missionem eos circumvallari.” Vitruvius; stating that Caesar invested with siege works the town of Larignum due to the fire resistance of certain wood type.
So there is no doubt that the Romans used in fact, contrary to the author’s opinion, the word circumvallation. And that word meant a siege investment and was used even when there was no double lines of walls to prevent a relief army to attack the besiegers. When there was such defenses, they called it double lines of circumvallation. So that is the terminology we can use if we respect the sources.
The second option is acknowledging the evolution of the language and terminology and use the present day usage of the words circumvallation and contravallation.
And here starts the issue. The Oxford Dictionary writes circumvallation in a way that can be used with both meanings; the same with the Webster’s College University where the definition of contravallation is “a fortification set up to protect a besieging force from attack by the defenders of the besieged place or by a relieving force from the outside”.
Some examples: one of the best specialists in Roman Siege warfare Rubén Abad, author of “Los Grandes Asedios de las Legiones Romanas” prefers the usual circumvallation for the siege works (like the Romans used) and contravallation for the protection against a relieving force. Si Shepard in his “The Jewish Revolt” by Osprey also uses “circumvallation” to describe the siege lines of Masada (and not contravallation), I could give a multitude of examples here.
This leads to the main problem…Contravallation was a word created by the French (contravallation), probably in the XVIIth century to be used instead of a word that already existed! And the original word was given another meaning. In my opinion (and many other historians) this makes no sense at all. And I will continue to use the word circumvallation as the Romans used it…for a line of fortifications encircling a city. But if you consult the main dictionaries you’ll see that both terms can be used.
Are you still awake??? Thank you for reading my ramblings, you are indeed a patient person. Cheers. Now go on and buy this book. It’s very good.
HASH(0x8f20e528) von 5 SternenThis is a kind of synopsis of Caesar's Gallic War from a purely military point of view and does as best as any modern book can t11. November 2014
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Finally, an Osprey Campaign book on Alesia and Caesar's Gallic War! I have been pushing for such a book since about 2004 and it has been worth the wait. In those ten years Osprey has hired on Peter Dennis, a master illustrator and the format of their books has really changed to include color images throughout entire books. If you want to know why the ancients though Julius Caesar was a total badass, this book along with the book on Pharsalus should answer your questions. This is a kind of synopsis of Caesar's Gallic War from a purely military point of view and does as best as any modern book can to try to estimate Caesar's enemy in this campaign, Vercingetorix who was the Gallic leader finally able to assemble most of Gaul into a coherent political and military force. The book talks at length about the greater campaign that Alesia fit into, Caesar's conquest of the rest of Gaul and also does well in explaining the terrain and Caesar's use of the most advanced siege tactics of the time. This book does a good job in summarizing the two armies and also adds much about "recent" archaeological finds in the area carried out under the regime of Napoleon III and I was convinced that his idea of the modern site of Alesia is indeed where the siege took place (there had been some controversy about the site, but it seems cleared up as of the 1990s). Overall one of the best Osprey Campaign titles in the series, Peter Dennis will be really busy after his great work in this book!
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