The battle of Alesia, is considered by many to be Julius Caesar’s greatest military victory. Caught between two enemy armies, outnumbered by as many as five to one, Caesar emerges victorious. After 8 years, this victory marked the end of the Gallic wars and gave Rome dominion over all of Gaul. The battle of Alesia also provides business owners with insight into how to win against almost insurmountable odds.
The Battle of Alesia – The Background
Caesar, by this point, has been engaged in an eight year war with the Gauls in modern day France and Belgium. He was fighting a hard and ruthless campaign to suppress the rebellions throughout the Gallic region.
Vercingetorix, a Gallic prince, realized that for Gaul to be free, all the Gallic tribes would need to put aside their differences. They would need to unite against their common enemy – Rome.
A King Arises
In time, Vercingetorix sent out the call to war. As a result of Caesar’s brutal repression, all the tribes not allied with Rome answered his call. Many warriors flocked to Vercingetorix banner and he was made king of the Gauls.
The Fatal Mistake
For years Vercingetorix led a successful campaign against Caesar. His success was based on relying on guerilla warfare and avoiding direct conflict. But Vercingetorix made a fatal mistake in 52 BC. He confronted the Roman’s on a battlefield and suffered a terrible defeat at Gerovia.
Retreat to the Fortified Town of Alesia
With the remainder of his Gallic army, he rushed to the fortified town of Alesia to take refuge. This set the stage for what would become known as the battle or siege of Alesia.
Caesar arrived at Alesia with 70,000 hardened Roman soldiers. Vercingetorix had an army of 80,000. Why did Vercingetorix choose Alesia? Because it was a natural stronghold and practically invulnerable to attack. There was no way Caesar could attack the city without suffering immeasurable casualties, it was a risk Caesar could not take.
The only option for Caesar was to lay siege. One thing you must remember is the Romans were incredible engineers and builders. In fact, so ingrained was military engineering into the psyche of the army that a shovel was standard issue. Right alongside the gladius (sword), shield and pila (spear.) A Roman army could literally throw up a fortified camp in as little as three hours.
Playing to his army’s strengths, Caesar put together a plan that guaranteed a near perfect blockade. Caesar ordered the construction of an encircling set of fortifications, (a circumvallation,) around Alesia. It was eleven Roman miles long (16 km) long and had 24 redoubts (towers).
A Nation’s Call to Arms
But Vercingetorix did not sit idly by. Prior to Caesar’s arrival he sent his cavalry to call the remaining Gallic tribes to war. Seeing their king in trouble over 250,000 more men answered his call.
When Caesar heard the news from deserters and captives, he knew he had to come up with a new plan or else risk facing the 80,000 troops inside the town the 250,000 coming to their king’s aid. Caesar had to adjust quickly to the new information and devise a strategy to counter his enemies newfound strength. Caesar had to adjust quickly to the new information and devise a strategy to counter his enemies newfound strength.
In response, Caesar had his army dig a trench twenty feet deep. That, however, was just the beginning. He then had his army dig two more trenches – fifteen feet long and fifteen feet deep. The inner trench was then filled with water from the nearby rivers. He then had his army build surprise pit traps filled with stakes – eight rows.
Behind this he built a twelve foot high rampart along with a 10 foot wall with a parapet. He also employed large stakes projecting from the joint between the parapets and the battlement to prevent the enemy from scaling it. This was then surrounded with turrets eighty feet apart.
By this point of the Battle of Alesia, the Gauls had the 250,000 man relief army camped outside of Caesar’s fortifications. Meanwhile Vercingetorix still had his 80,000 man army inside Alesia’s fortifications. Caesar and his 70,000 men (12 Legions) were completely surrounded.
After days of preparation Caesar and his army were prepared. Attack after attack by the Gauls on both fronts were thwarted. The losses suffered on the first day alone forced the leaders of the Gallic army to halt any further attacks. It took all of the following day for the Gallic armies to regroup.
After three days of fighting the battle of Alesia was over. Rome had won a crushing and decisive victory. They destroyed the powerful Gallic tribes. Thus turning the nation of Gaul into a province of the Roman Empire.
Caesar and his army, had successfully defended twenty five miles of entrenchment and beaten two armies to his front and back, which when combined outnumbered him five to one.
In the end, after the battle was over the King of the Gauls surrendered.
The Battle of Alesia – Business Lesson Number One
You must have a plan…period. When developing your plan you must know your market place (the field of battle), your competitors (the enemy) as well as, or better than you know your own company (your army).
You must make a plan that plays to your strengths, that takes advantage of your competitors weakness, and uses the market place to strengthen your position. Remember what happened to Vercingetorix when he stopped playing to his strengths by switching away from guerilla tactics.
The Battle of Alesia – Business Lesson Number Two
Never stop gathering information. Your competitors and the market place are constantly changing. If you don’t continuously gather information you will be blindsided.
Remember this military axiom:
Hearing a piece of information from a single source is a rumor. Hearing it from two sources is gossip. Hearing it from three sources is actionable intelligence.
The Battle of Alesia – Business Lesson Number Three
Adapt, adapt, adapt. No plan will ever be perfect. The marketplace and your competitors will constantly be evolving. When you get actionable intelligence (see lesson number two), you have to be flexible enough to change your plan.
The Battle of Alesia – Business Lesson Number Four
Execute, execute, execute. Don’t be so focused on developing a “perfect” plan that you fail to execute. You have to pull the trigger and take action. Yes, things will change. Just don’t be so inflexible or create a plan so rigid that you can’t adapt.
Remember this military axiom:
A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.