I’ve written a good bit about military history on this blog, comparing generals to martial artists and professional gamers. Since I’ve been learning more about them and their battles, perhaps it’s time I specifically focus on them to expound on what made them tick and what interests me about their motivations and leadership. Each has their own motivations and styles of leadership, but there was one who was way ahead of his time and displayed a quality similar to entrepreneurs and world leaders of today.
Whenever I feel stuck and need some motivation, I would sometimes review Julius Caesar’s life and watch this video by Historia Civilis. I am reminded of what made him different; what made him great. I don’t idolize him for his ideals and politics per se, but I respect him for his approach. It’s similar to how I don’t like Bruce Lee as an actor, but I respect him as a writer and thinker.
Let this serve as a disclaimer of sorts when it comes to me talking about great people in history. I take the good from them while also keeping in mind their faults and frailties. After all, while his assassination continues to be one of the greatest travesty to ever occur in all of history, it wasn’t without reason. If he were truly godlike, he should’ve seen it coming.
But before he got turned into a pincushion, he made Gaul bend to his will and crossed the Rubicon with domination in his mind. Out of the First Triumvirate, he was the one who came out on top, while the other two turned out to have more money than sense. While he had many battles that showcased his military brilliance, the Battle of Alesia in particular revealed how differently his mind worked.
The Battle of Alesia: Julius Caesar Was Built Different
The Battle of Alesia took place in 52 BCE during Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. It was fought between the Roman forces and the combined Gallic army, led by Vercingetorix. While the various Gallic tribes have their own differences, they saw the Romans as a greater threat, so they united under Vercingetorix’s leadership.
The Romans were better equipped, while the Gauls had superior numbers and had recently defeated them in a minor engagement. In this encounter, Vercingetorix was well aware of his forces’ numerical advantage and knowledge of their own terrain. The odds were mostly in their favor; there was little cause for concern as long as he played to his strengths.
Alesia was a hilled fort that Vercingetorix decided to establish a defensive position in. He would then send messengers to call for reinforcements. As long as he held firm and didn’t act foolishly, his allies would come and they could crush Caesar’s force together. If Caesar attacked the fort, he would do so at a great disadvantage as the Gauls held both the high ground and greater numbers. It seemed that Vercingetorix held all the cards.
However, Caesar was not interested in just banging his head against the wall to see if it would crack. He knew very well that Vercingetorix had a superior position and would’ve called for reinforcements. His army would be crushed if he didn’t act fast. He didn’t know how many the reinforcements were and when they would come; he just knew they were coming.
As long as the Gauls are able to hold for long enough, they would be relieved and the Romans will have to fight on two fronts. They could siege the fort and try to starve the Gauls out, but they would soon be overrun by the incoming reinforcements. They were the numerically inferior force anyway, so they’d be spreading themselves thin anyway. Caesar doesn’t want to back down, but there’s no preventing a battle on two fronts.
The Roman Walls
Caesar had his soldiers build an inward-facing wall around the fort, letting the Romans defend against the Gauls while also preventing supplies from reaching them. Roman soldiers were also proficient builders, so they were able to erect a wall two storeys tall and 18 kilometers long around the hilled fort, even clearing sections of forest in the process. This turned Vercingetorix’s advantage against him, turning the fort into a prison.
The Romans then built another wall facing the other side — a contravallation — to defend against the incoming reinforcements. It was an amazing feat of engineering, not only for its size but also the speed at which these incredibly well-trained troops were able to accomplish it. This was made possible by the extreme discipline of the Roman soldiers.
During the siege, Vercingetorix realized that their supplies wouldn’t last much longer. He couldn’t feed both his 80,000 soldiers and the population of Alesia. After rationing all the remaining grain, he and his council decided to make the civilians leave Alesia. They hoped that the Romans would take them captive and feed them.
However, the Romans were also tight on supplies, so they couldn’t take in extra mouths to feed. Caesar forbade them from entering his fortification. The civilians turned back, but Vercingetorix couldn’t let them back in. They would starve to death in the no man’s land between the fort and the inner Roman walls, and the Gallic forces could only watch.
You may watch the video above for details on how the battle would develop. The short of it is that while the Gauls had superior numbers and fought hard to break through the Roman fortification, the reinforcements were repelled and the forces within Alesia could do nothing else but to surrender. Vercingetorix would be taken prisoner, held captive in Rome for six years, then strangled to death at the Temple of Jupiter during Caesar’s triumph.
Julius Caesar was indeed ahead of his time. He is still remembered for his boldness and opportunism, as well as his prodigiousness. If he were alive now, he’d wipe the floor with Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
This was a man who when he was kidnapped by pirates, he threatened to have them crucified if he was ever freed. He acted offended when told of his ransom and made them raise it higher. He would entertain them with his charm and tales of grandeur. He would then be released once his ransom was paid by Rome. He then gathered his army and came back for the pirates to make good his promise of having them crucified. It’s one of the craziest anecdotes in history, but that was not all.
It turned out that he was actually broke during that time. He bailed himself out of bankruptcy by taking the money that was paid as his ransom. At the very moment when he was held captive, he realized what he could do, made a plan, and went for it. He didn’t cower in fear like most other people would have. His confidence knew no bounds, his eyes saw opportunity at every turn, and his mind constantly churned for solutions.
He didn’t sweat the small stuff as he had subordinates he could delegate them to. What he focused on was the big picture and whatever he could do to paint it. Every little advantage was another brushstroke that could make that picture become reality. He would stack the deck to his favor, squeeze every bit of advantage out of the situation, and then roll the dice.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have in the comment section below.
You may also like/follow and leave a message on either Facebook or Twitter. Please subscribe to both the Avoider.net YouTube channel and my personal YouTube channel, as well as my Twitch channel, for more content. Thank you for dropping by.