Decision at Alesia

| Introduction | Goals and Objectives | Grammar Highlights | Passage | Handouts | Web Resources |

Introduction:

The seldom read DbG 7.77 takes place in 52 BC, after Caesar has besieged Vercingetorix and his 80,000 troops at Alesia, but before the Gallic relief force of 250,000 men had arrived. The situation within the oppidum is getting grim; the Gauls are running out of food and Caesar shows no signs of weakening. Vercingetorix, the Gallic commander, has called together a council to decide what to do. One of the speakers is Critognatus, a Gallic nobleman and relative of Vercingetorix.

This selection is particularly interesting because it provides an interesting window into the motivations and ideals of the Gallic side. Critognatus is concerned not only with matters of honor and valor, but he also fears that the Romans will destroy them even if they surrender. His worries may echo what was commonly felt by frontier "barbarian" nations faced with imperialist Roman aggression.

Not to be ignored is the fact that Caesar is the one writing this passage. To what extent is he being honest in portraying Critognatus? Is he accurately reflecting Gallic positions on his conquest? If he isn't, what does he stand to gain by presenting it in the way he does?

Finally, teachers can use this passage to demonstrate Caesar's ability to use rhetorical devices to his advantage. Historians since Thucydides have included speeches as part of a historical narrative; Caesar is following in this tradition. Although Caesar's Commentarii is supposed to be a raw, unpolished work, it is possible to see the subtle attention to detail that Caesar has in this speech. Key words and phrases (such as libertas, servitus, ius, and deditio) are juxtaposed throughout the speech at critical points to reinforce meaning. Caesar makes use of rhetorical questions, asyndeton, and clever word order to make the speech more compelling.


Goals and Objectives:

Also provided are some sample lesson plans:

  1. Explain the background of the passage (see above in the Introduction).
  2. Give students the passage (Handout A) and read it in Latin or as a translation (Handout C).
  3. Discuss questions on Handout A.
  4. Have students complete side one of Handout B (find key words in the speech)
  5. Discuss more precise meanings of these words (see the following aid) and have students revise translations
  6. Discuss positioning of these words at key points in the speech and how they reveal meaning (Handout B - reverse side)
  7. Take a modern speech (Martin Luther King, Jr. - Handout D) and compare use of rhetoric (Handout E can be used as a guide)


Grammar Highlights:

The following is a list of the more interesting grammatical features of the passage and where each is located.

The primary purpose of this Unit is to analyze Caesar's motives and diction. At this time, there are no grammar exercises based on this selection, but teachers are free to create their own (and submit them to this site, if they'd like!).


Passage:

This passage from De bello Gallico 7.77 is taken from the text at the Perseus Project online and formatted in a table with line numbers and macrons.


Handouts:

There are several activities to go along with the "Decision at Alesia" Unit. They are made to be as printer-friendly as possible; you may wish to set your browser not to print the date, page number, and web address (you can set these options in Netscape under File->Page Setup in the menu bar).

You can also download a zipped version in Microsoft Word format of the entire Unit here.



Web Resources:

Questioning French archaeological beliefs:

Emile Mourey has a website discussing archaelogical difficulties in locating Gallic towns, including Gergovia and Alesia. Much of it is written in French, but there are some English translations. The site has some maps of the Alesian battle, diagrams of theoretical Roman traps, and some theories on Roman entrenchments.

Judy Sylte's Alesia et al. Page:

Here you can find a lovely drawing of the Alesian oppidum and Caesar's surrounding fortifications, plus a short history of the Gallic wars and Caesar's life on other parts of the site.

From the Athena Review Archive:

You'll find here an older picture of the terrain and Roman fortifications surrounding Alesia and some brief information about what kinds of structures were found there.

German Archaeological Institute's Alesian excavations:

There was a French and German project to look at Caesar's fortifications at Alise St. Rheine (ancient Alesia) in the 1990's. You'll find some contact information about the excavations at this site, but not much else.

Martin Luther King, Jr. speeches:

This website is one of many that has the famous "I Have a Dream" speech (from which the formatted Handout D is taken). This particular site also features audio and video versions for interested teachers.