DoomSword – “Gergovia”

For much of the decade of the 50s BCE, Julius Caesar extended Roman dominion over the fields and forests of Gaul (roughly modern-day France). He did so not only through superior discipline, tactics, and logistics of the Roman legions, but also through a careful strategy of divide-and-conquer, taking advantage of the political disunity of the various Celtic tribes that inhabited the land and squabbled among themselves.

Only a united Gaul could ever have had a chance to expel the Roman invaders. What they needed was a leader, a king and standard around whom they could rally in defense of Gallic liberty. By 52 BCE, Caesar all but declared his mission accomplished, confident that Gaul had successfully been reduced to yet another province of the Empire. His satisfaction was premature. The chief of the Arverni tribe, Vercingetorix, became that very man who united a massive confederation of Gallic tribes in revolt against Caesar’s so-called governorship of their lands.

It was at the hill-top town of Gergovia that Vercingetorix’s revolution came closest to ultimate victory. Caesar’s forces besieged the Gallic forces entrenched in the town, but due to a couple key Roman blunders (mistaking some auxiliaries for enemies, for instance), Vercingetorix exploited this opportunity and attacked the disordered legions. Taking heavy losses, Caesar was forced to retreat and fight another day. While he records that only 700 legionaries fell, modern estimates are in the thousands. Vercingetorix’s revolt, riding high after this win, ultimately failed after Caesar pulled victory from the jaws of defeat at Alesia. Gaul became a Roman province, and remained so until the Franks (who gave their name to France) took it over in the 400s and 500s CE.

The Italian epic heavy/doom metal band DoomSword celebrate Vercingetorix’s victory at Gergovia on this track from their 2007 album My Name Will Live On. While Caesar’s own written account downplays his losses, Deathmaster and company give Caesar’s Gallic nemesis his due meed of glory. Not only in this song, but also in the album’s cover artwork is Vercingetorix immortalized, as the name of the album suggests. The 1899 painting by Lionel Royer ‘Vercingetorix throws his weapons at the feet of Julius Caesar’ is often seen as intended to glorify Caesar and his victory over Vercingetorix at Alesia. But DoomSword see the painting as also glorifying the vanquished Gallic king. Though ultimately defeated, Vercingetorix can boast to be the one man who defeated the otherwise unconquered Caesar in battle. Vercingetorix’s name will live on, not because he ultimately lost the war, but because he stood and fought for freedom and the integrity of his national identity against imperial oppression and erasure of tradition. Even a band from Italy can admire the symbolism of their ancestor’s northern nemesis.

7 times a hundred roman souls
46 centurions slain on Gergovia’s hill
700 skulls to celebrate the gods
As they bless the name of Vercingetorix

The eagle spreading his wings
Has darkened our sun
Our forage destroyed,
Our crop is watered in blood
Legions invincible march of Gaul
One by one tribes are paying the toll
I heard of a hero who would stop all of this
And reign over Gaul as a king
I heard of a man who will triumph over Rome

Caesar entrenched camp outside their fort
And captured a high hill from where he laid siege
Centurions advanced
To ensure the Gauls have surrended
Legions invincible launch the attack
One by one tribes pay the toll
Oblivious of what’s hidden within the walls
Gergovia the glorious had a new king
Hailing their leader the Gauls shouted loud: Vercingetorix

Caesar roared as the legions charged
Ordering to retreat – recedite!!
Blinded by blood thirst his army attacked
and ignored his command
Crying for victory marching to death
Hailing “Caesar, Caesar!” to their last breath

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