All About History

THE FORTIFICAT­IONS OF ALESIA

Caesar’s fortificat­ions around Alesia are recounted in immense detail in the Gallic War. They have been reproduced and even reconstruc­ted many times

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Although archaeolog­ical excavation­s have cast some doubts on the extent of the actual fortificat­ions completed, Caesar’s account may represent the planned extent of these fortificat­ions. They are impressive and involved many man hours and as much manpower as Caesar had at his disposal. The almost 40km of fortificat­ions involved the placement of legion and auxiliary camps as well as other cavalry camps within the two sets of walls, various towers and other devices – such as covered pits with sharpened stakes to impede cavalry (called euphemisti­cally ‘lilies’). Wood was in short supply, which created another challenge. Closest to Alesia, a trench was dug 500 metres away from the other works being built to prevent attacks on them as they were being constructe­d. Two more trenches, one filled with water, were then built before a rampart was constructe­d, with palisade walls three and a half metres high. These had battlement­s on top so men could both shoot and be protected from enemy missiles. Stakes projecting from the rampart prevented the enemy climbing them. Redoubts were placed at regular intervals, the whole circuit having 23 such towers. Lines of booby traps were then placed in front of the double ditch – rows of sharpened stakes, the covered pits, and wooden stakes with iron spikes stuck into them. The outer fortificat­ion had the same defences built facing outwards. The constructi­on of this massive undertakin­g took about a month, but there may have been gaps in the line and the terrain also provided natural protection, which did not need such extensive fortificat­ions.

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