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Vercingetorix ( in Latin, or in English) (c. 82 BC – 46 BC) was the chieftain of the Arverni tribe known as the man who united the Gauls in an ultimately unsuccessful revolt against Roman forces during the last phase of Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars. Vercingetorix came to power in 52 BC, when he raised an army and was proclaimed king at Gergovia. He soon established an alliance with other tribes and took control of their combined armies, leading them in Gaul's most significant revolt against Roman power. Vercingetorix surrendered to the Romans after being defeated at the Battle of Alesiamarker in 52 BC, after which he was imprisoned for five years. In 46 he was paraded through Romemarker as part of Caesar's triumph before being executed. Known primarily through Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico, Vercingetorix's revolt is frequently used as a heroic example of Gallic virtue and resolve.


The etymology of the name Vercingetorix is still contested. The most generally accepted analysis interprets it as Gaulish ver- ("over, superior" - an etymological cognate of Latin super or Greek hyper), cingeto- ("warrior", related to roots meaning "tread, step, walk", so possibly "infantry"), and rix ("king") (cf. Sanskrit rāja-, Latin rex) , i.e. "great warrior king" or "king of great warriors". In his Life of Caesar, Plutarch renders the name as Vergentorix.


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 modern 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 territory.

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 the nobles of the city, including Vercingetorix's uncle Gobanitio, because they thought opposing Caesar too great a risk. Undeterred, 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 and his army won some initial minor engagements with the Romans units led by Caesar and his chief lieutenant Titus Labienus. However, the Romans captured the capital of the Bituriges, Avaricum (Bourgesmarker), killing the entire population of 120,000. The next major battle was at Gergovia, where Vercingetorix defeated Caesar, inflicting heavy losses. However, the victory cost Vercingetorix many men, including many noblemen. Due to these losses he retreated and moved to another stronghold, Alesiamarker.

Gold stater of Vercingetorix, Cabinet des Médailles

In the Battle of Alesiamarker 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 tactic 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 did he finally manage to prevail. This was a decisive battle in the creation of the Roman Empire.

According to Plutarch, Vercingetorix surrendered in magnificent fashion, riding his beautifully adorned horse out of Alesiamarker 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, describing Vercingetorix's surrender much more modestly. He was imprisoned in the Tullianummarker in Rome for five 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 (Alise-Sainte-Rein)
Napoleon III erected a seven metre statue of Vercingétorix 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 impressive statue still stands. The inscription on the base, written by Viollet-le-Duc, reads (in French):

« La Gaule unie
Formant une seule nation
Animée d'un même esprit,
Peut défier l'Univers. »

Which translates to:

« United Gaul
Forming a single nation
Animated by a common spirit,
Can defy the Universe. »

There is a statue of Vercingétorix by Bartholdi on Place de Jaude in Clermont-Ferrandmarker (see first image).

In France, Vercingétorix is often considered a folk hero.

[[Image:VercingetorixSurrenders.jpg|thumb|Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar. Illustration by Alphonse Marie de Neuville from the English 1883 edition ofFrançois Guizot's The History of France from the Earliest Times to the Year 1789.]]

See also


  1. Proto-Celtic: *wor, An etymological lexicon of Proto-Celtic
  2. Proto-Celtic: *kengeto-, An etymological lexicon of Proto-Celtic
  3. Proto-Celtic: *r–g-, An etymological lexicon of Proto-Celtic
  4. Plutarch, Life of Caesar 25; 27.
  5. Julius Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic War Book VII, sect. 4.
  6. Numbers of victims or enemy combattants in classical Roman sources are generally not taken at face value by modern historians.
  7. Plutarch's Lives, Everyman's Edition, 1910, reprinted 1953, (Dryden translation), vol. ii, page 551. 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.
  8. Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, Everyman's Edition, 1953 (Trans: John Warrington); Book VII, sect. 89.
  9. Birkhan, Die Kelten (1997) p. 238.
  10. Statue of Vercingetorix, Art and Architecture, 2006


Primary sources

External links

  • A reconstructed portrait of Vercingetorix, based on historical sources, in a contemporary style.
  • Curchin, Leonard A. Lingua Gallica (The Gaulish Language). Retrieved Aug. 21, 2003 from
  • Paul Marius Martin, Vercingétorix : le politique, le stratège. Paris : Perrin, 2000, 260 p. ISBN 2262016917

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