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Demise of Vercingetorix

I perceive that the parading of ones enemies and ritual strangulation was a part of a Roman triumph, nevertheless it was not permits adopted. After the destruction of Carthage in 146 BC and his being led via the streets of Rome in Scipio’s triumph, Hasdrubal was permitted to dwell a lifetime of luxurious in Italy. Zenobia was equally allowed to retire peacefully to Italy. The identify of one other, maybe a Gallic chieftain who fought Rome, escapes me, however he too retired to the Italian countryside after I imagine giving a speech on the Senate ground. So why was Vercingetorix, who surrendered peaceably (after a time) strangled, and by the so typically magnanimous Caesar no much less?

Comments ( 16 )

  1. Probably because Caesar wanted to use his defeat as a political tool to help him retain the consulship and get even more popularity with the lower classes.

  2. Not that I’m 100% confident of this, but part of it is probably Roman culture/bigotry. The Romans considered Gauls to be the ancient enemies of Rome and utterly barbaric to boot. According to traditional Roman history, the Gauls sacked Rome ~390BC. A prominent Gaulic war leader that had some successes against the legions like Vercingetorix did would probably have caused uproar if he’d been allowed to live among the Romans.

  3. > The name of another, perhaps a Gallic chieftain who fought Rome, escapes me, but he too retired to the Italian countryside after I believe giving a speech on the Senate floor

    Caratacus, who took up the reign when Togodumnus was killed. He was sentenced to death and basically told the senate “I had it all, is it any wonder I fought to keep it. And If I hadn’t fought so hard, you wouldn’t have as much glory in my defeat. Kill me now and I will be just another fallen to Rome that time will soon forget, but let me live and I will forever be a symbol of your mercy”;


    >If the degree of my nobility and fortune had been matched by moderation in success, I would have come to this City as a friend rather than a captive, nor would you have disdained to receive with a treaty of peace one sprung from brilliant ancestors and commanding a great many nations. But my present lot, disfiguring as it is for me, is magnificent for you. I had horses, men, arms, and wealth: what wonder if I was unwilling to lose them? If you wish to command everyone, does it really follow that everyone should accept your slavery? If I were now being handed over as one who had surrendered immediately, neither my fortune nor your glory would have achieved brilliance. It is also true that in my case any reprisal will be followed by oblivion. On the other hand, if you preserve me safe and sound, I shall be an eternal example of your clemency.

  4. Because he almost won, no way Caesar could let such a dangerous opponent survive.

  5. Ceasar’s first Triumph was the Gallic campaign. The calculation of whether to spare Vercingetorix or not was probably having something to do with that fact. Also remember that in Ceasar’s dispatches to Rome Vercingetorix was portrayed as his nemesis of sorts. Killing him sent a different message within that context.

  6. Just gonna go ahead and insert a plug for the Historia Civilis YouTube channel. There are videos dedicated to how Vercingetorix was defeated by Caesar, Caesars triumphs, and Roman triumphs in general (and lots more!). Outstanding channel and videos.

  7. Caesar knew the value of drama. Which is a bigger impact on the common people: parading a guy around for a few hours then giving him a house to chill in for the rest of his life, or killing him in front of the citizens who were told stories about his tenacity for years?

  8. Because Vercingetorix was too badass to be allowed mercy

  9. Vercingetorix led the Galls in the Second Gallic War. The word Second is critical here. Julius Caesar had a general policy of showing some mercy against a defeated foe once, but if he had to go back again to fight, all manner of brutality was on the table. Caesar was pissed that he was wasting time and resources knocking down the Galls again in the Second Gallic War, and he slaughtered whole cities, sold captured women and children en-mass into slavery, and denied their military leader the customary Roman mercy.

  10. Not a historian, but I feel like it probably played a role that Vercingetorix was defeated in a rebellion against Rome that involved a significant amount of conspiracy and betrayal by Roman “allies”

  11. It was said that Caesar would forgive those who he defeated, but only once. If you rose up in arms against him a second time then he was not so capable of forgiveness.

  12. > Zenobia was similarly allowed to retire peacefully to Italy.

    I can speak to this particular point.

    [As mentioned,]( Vercingetorix was perceived as a savage and a bandit.

    Zenobia, on the other hand, was the wife of Odenathus, the governor of Palmyra. It’s hard to overstate just how important Palmyra was to the empire. It was the western terminus of the Silk Road and a *huge* source of reliable tax revenue. One didn’t become governor of that particular province by failing upwards or biding time. Odenathus would have been a fascinating guy. He must have been fluent in numerous languages, a skilled negotiator, and a decent military leader.

    Then things went all kablooey. The Emperor of Rome was defeated and captured by the Persians. He’d never see the west again. His son Gallienus (who was quite capable, screw you Gibbon) inherited the biggest crap sandwich ever. The western empire saw invasions from the Goths in Gaul, the Franks in the north, and a Persian king who was oh so very pleased with himself.

    Gallienus pretty much did everything by the book, but he only had resources to fight a war on one front. Spoiler: that means Italy. Gaul and Palmyra would have to deal. It appears Odenathus said, “hey, I know some guys. I’ll make some calls.” He assembled an army and defended Palmyra. Against the same Persian king who’d taken the Emperor hostage. He reclaimed most of the lands the Persians had taken in the war, and he even invaded Persia.

    Guess who never had to pay for his own drinks again. Yep, this guy.

    Odenathus then declared himself King of Palmyra. Gallienus had his hands full. so…OK, at least Palymra’s safe for now while he takes care of things at home. Everything’s hunky dory just as long as…oh, crap. Gallienus just got killed by his soldiers.

    Odenathus was also assassinated. Stories vary, but his wife Zenobia stepped in. Unlike the Romans, the “barbarians” were generally smart enough to know putting boys on the throne was a bad move. Odenathus’ son was far too young, so Zenobia took the title of regent. Then she declared herself Empress of the Palmyrene Empire and went conquering.

    Problem is, subsequent Emperors were tied up in western Europe, so there was little they could do. It wasn’t until Aurelian came in with a plan (and the mobile cavalry Gallienus invented) to put the pieces back together. The whole Aurelian/Zenobia fight would make a heck of a movie, but suffice it to say, they were both really sharp and had loyal armies behind them.

    Aurelian won, Palmyra was back in the band with a warning not to play long drum solos without permission, and Zenobia was taken back to Rome to be abased in a triumph. Then, like all usurpers, she was…wait. She wasn’t executed? In fact, it looks like Aurelian gave her a house within commuting distance of Rome and let her live out her life.

    Why? Here’s my hypothesis: Aurelian was a frontiersman. He’d been born outside the Empire, and like many provincials who’d worked their way out of poverty and barbarism through military service, he believed more strongly in Roman principles than many people born within the central Empire. Among those principals were a recognition of merit and a desire to make the best use of resources. Zenobia would have had *a network.* She knew people from China to Spain, and she ran a split Hellenic/Semitic empire with no real recorded dissent. Her talents were apparent, and I’m guessing Aurelian kept her close for consultation from time to time.

  13. defeated dacia king Decebal cut his own throat rather to be taken alive.

  14. In regards to Hasdrubal, which one are you referring to? Hannibal’s brother? There are many, just as there are many Scipio’s. Gets confusing.

  15. Because Caesar was frustrated that a small village of indomitable Gauls refused to surrender

  16. Julius Caesar’s reputation for being magnanimous is somewhat overblown.

    He could certainly be magnanimous when the enemies were fellow Romans, and there was a political benefit to be mined from it, but if the enemies were foreign and there was no political benefit from showing mercy, or he instead benefitted from being ruthless…he was ruthless.

    There are plenty of examples of Caesar being brutal with his Gallic enemies. Avaricum for example, where a city of some 40,000 was put entirely to the sword, or the aftermath of Uxellodunum where Caesar ordered the hands of all the Gallic prisoners lopped off, before scattering those prisoners throughout Gaul, so they would be a demonstration of the price of raising one’s sword against Rome. Going father back in his career, he also was quite ruthless in his retaliation against the pirates who had held him for ransom. Execution for pirates was not necessarily a given, as Pompey for example famously spared many of the Cilician pirates following his suppression of them, pardonining those who had turned to piracy out of desperation due to poverty, and resettled them in cities. In short the execution of Vercingetorix was not really out of character for Caesar.

    It’s impossible to say of course what motivated the decision not to show clemency, as his thoughts on the matter were never recorded. I do recall watching a BBC documentary about Alesia ages ago where one of the historians on the programme speculated that Caesar probably knew Vercingetorix personally prior to the rebellion, as Caesar frequently met with tribal leaders during his campaigns & Vercingetorix was an important figure among the Arverni, who were also one of Gaul’s most powerful tribes. He posited that the reason for Vercingetorix’s execution my have been personal rather than political – that Caesar was angered that Vercingetorix had pulled the wool over his eyes. Again though, that was just speculation.

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