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Alèsia: Plan of Late Iron Age oppidum and Roman siegeworks


In  52 BC, the seventh year of the Gallic Wars,  native discontent crystalized under the military leader Vercingetorix. After several months of battles, the Gauls retreated for a final stand at the oppidum or stronghold of Alèsia, on Mont Auxois near Dijon. After a long seige engineered by Caesar, the Gallic resistance was finally broken. Fig.1 shows the Roman siegeworks, an inner series of trenches and walls called contravallation, which prevented the Gauls from escaping; and the outer ring or circumvallation, which sealed out any potential Gallic relief forces.

The Gallic oppidum at Alèsia comprised a town of 97 hectares containing wooden houses. After the Roman conquest, the town was rebuilt with a basilica, theater, and artisans quarters including a bronzeworkers guild. Among the range of houses were a mansion with hypocaust and a private bathhouse. Among Gallo-Roman temples were a shrine to the goddess of horses Epona and the Mother Goddess. Later, the town of Alèsia held a Merovingian basilica, then a Medieval convent and shrine which became famous for its mystery plays. Mid-19th century archaeologists included the French Emperor Napoleon III, who drew accurate plans of the Roman siegeworks.

[Fig.1: Contour map of Alèsia (after T. Rice Holmes 1911, from plans by Napoleon III).]


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