Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

How Vercingetorix Died for his Country

The Gauls had stood at the gate of Rome. They had sacked and burned the city, and had forced the Romans to buy their freedom with gold. But Rome rose from the ashes, and took once more her proud, commanding position. Year by year the Romans grew stronger. Year by year they claimed more of the world for their own. Bit by bit they drove the Gauls out of Italy, out of Spain and Portugal. Then, in order to make their conquests safe and to secure a road from one peninsula to the other, the Romans took possession of the south of Gaul, that is the south of France. Thus the Gauls were shut out of both peninsulas, and were also cut off from the sea. And while the Romans pressed upon the Gauls from the south, wild tribes from the German Ocean and the Baltic pressed upon them from the north. Yet with two great foreign foes to fight, one on the north and one on the south, the Gauls were often at war within their own borders, and so less able to drive away outside foes.

Thus three hundred years and more went past, the Romans always growing stronger, the Gauls weaker. At length Julius Caesar came as Governor of the Roman province of Southern Gaul. He made up his mind not to be content with the south only, but to make the whole of Gaul a Roman province.

So the fight began. Caesar was one of the greatest soldiers and conquerors the world has ever seen. He marched over the country with unheard of swiftness, making roads and building bridges and ramparts wherever he passed. He crossed the wide, swift river Rhine upon a bridge, which had taken only ten days to build, in order utterly to subdue the wild tribes beyond it, who gave help to the Gauls. Next, finding that the Gauls were helped and encouraged by the people from the neighbouring island of Britain, he set sail and landed in Kent. Of that you will read in English history. A few weeks later he was once more in Gaul. So the great General worked and fought, striking a blow now here, now there, until the whole of Gaul was conquered.

When news of Cesar's conquests reached Rome, the people cried aloud in astonishment and admiration. It was the swiftness of Caesar's marches, the boldness and sureness with which he struck his blows that roused their wonder even more than his victories.

But Caesar's work was not done. The Gauls were beaten, but not subdued, and they rose in rebellion in 52 B. C. under a young noble named Vercingetorix. Vercingetorix really means merely commander-in-chief, but it is the only name for the young leader of Gaul that has come down to us. It was in the mountainous part of France that this rising took place, among the hills of Auvergne and in the Cevennes.

Caesar was in Rome when he heard of it, and although it was winter and the snow lay deep upon the Alps, he hastened back to Gaul. He had need of all his haste, for Vercingetorix, with a skill almost equal to Caesar's own, was gathering and drilling his troops. The different tribes of Gaul forgot their quarrels, and joined under their new leader to fight for the freedom of their country.

It was a last, brilliant struggle. The Gauls burned their towns and laid waste their country so that the Romans should find neither food nor shelter. They learned to make their camps in Roman fashion, they fought the Romans with their own weapons. Never before had Caesar met with so skillful and so obstinate an enemy. Battle after battle was fought.

At length, before the town of Gergovia, Caesar was defeated. He lost his sword and left seven hundred soldiers among the slain. Great was the joy among the Gauls. The all-conquering General had been defeated! Gaul they thought would once more be free. They praised their gods for the victory, and hung Caesar's sword in their temple. Long after, Caesar himself saw it there. But when his soldiers would have torn it from the place he smiled and said, "Let it remain; it is sacred."

Meanwhile Vercingetorix gathered his generals and spoke to them. "Now is the time," he said, "the hour of victory has come. The Romans are fleeing in all haste homeward. It is enough for the liberty of the moment; it is not enough for the peace in time to come. Soon they will return in greater force, and we shall never see the end of war. We cannot offer them battle direct, but we must harass their march, make them cast away their baggage so that they die from hunger and want, and flee from Gaul covered with shame."

When Vercingetorix had ceased speaking, a great shout went up from the leaders of the Gauls. With one voice they swore never more to see their homes, never more to greet their wives, children, and friends until they had twice crossed the enemies' line.

Next day the whole army of the Gauls set forth. But, although the soldiers were brave and their leader skillful, they had to fight against the greatest general in the world. They fought and lost. In a few days the Gauls found themselves shut in the city of Alesia, while Caesar and his legions lay around besieging them. Alesia was built upon a hill, in a very strong position, with two rivers flowing round the walls. Caesar saw that the position was so strong that he could not hope to carry it by storm. So he resolved to starve the Gauls into surrender. Quickly his soldiers set to work to dig a broad trench and build a high wall, so as to shut the city off from all outside help.

For thirty days and more the siege lasted. Then a mighty army, gathered from all parts of Gaul, appeared to help their starving comrades. There was a great battle in which the besieged Gauls took part, but it ended in a victory for Caesar. It was not a mere victory. It was the end of the struggle. The spirit of Gaul was crushed and broken.

Early on the morning after the battle Vercingetorix called together his counsellors. "I fought not for myself," he said, "but for Gaul. Yet I am the cause of this war, therefore I give myself up freely to the conqueror. Let his wrath fall on me, but let him spare my country."

Vercingetorix then put on his most splendid armor and jewels. He mounted his war-horse, the harness of which was gay with crimson and gold. Then the gates of Alesia were opened and he rode forth.

[Illustration] from History of France by H. E. Marshall


Before the gates Caesar sat in counsel. Vercingetorix on a splendid horse, his jewels and armor gleaming in the sunshine, rode quickly round the tribunal. Then vaulting from his horse he threw his sword and spear at Caesar's feet, and, without a sword, seated himself upon the steps of the throne.

Even the Roman soldiers were touched at the sight of this splendid hero who thus gave himself up for his country. Caesar alone remained cold and cruel. To him Vercingetorix was merely the man who had for one day robbed him of the name unconquerable. A few minutes he gazed at him in silent hatred, then he burst forth into a torrent of wrath. In silence Vercingetorix listened. Then at a sign from Caesar he was bound and led away.

Vercingetorix was sent to Rome a prisoner. There for six long years he lay in a dark and noisome dungeon. Then he was brought forth to add glory to Caesar's triumph. And after having been led through the streets to be jeered at by the Roman multitude, his head was cut off at the foot of the Capitol, while upon its height Caesar knelt to the gods, giving thanks to them for his victories.