Kicking away the dirt hiding Roman history and finding what lies beneath...have we got the age of Rome all wrong?
Friday, 13 July 2012
The other guy
Okay, we've seen a bit about Julius Caesar these last few days...how about his protaganists? Well, today I'm going to introduce one of the world's greatest what-ifs. This is one of those guys who could have turned history completely upside down if things had gone his way...a Robert E Lee or an Erwin Rommel. We know him as Vercingetorix (Ver-sin-get-trix), although this probably wasn't his real name. "Vercingetorix" actually means Great Warrior King, and considering he was born just an ordinary noble in a state that had its own Senate rather than kings suggests the name we know him as was an honorary title rather than an amazing prediction by his family. But what a title, even now it has a sense of presence - so much so it still shows up in the mass media - including Starship Troopers and the Simpsons.
Vercingetorix was born during 76BC in the Arvernian city of Gergovia (near modern day Clermont-Ferrand), and was still a teenager when Caesar first invaded Gaul in 58BC. Not that this worried him. The Arverni controlled much of central France and had a long standing treaty with Rome. Caesar couldn't touch them - and he didn't want to - with a treaty in place the Arverni were permitted a standing army, unlike those surrounding neighbours who made do with citizen militias.
Now while our modern mental picture of Gauls is a bearded, blonde Asterix in pigtails, Vercingetorix and his peers no longer appeared as this in the first century BC. He certainly spoke Latin and was literate. He was clean-shaven, with high cheek bones and a long straight nose. His hair was most likely brown or fair, and he kept it cut in the style of Alexander the Great. I suspect he rather wanted to be like the Macedonian Boy King - and this may have been his motivation in December 53BC when the Great Revolt began. The actual revolt started in another part of Gaul on the Winter Solstice - when hundreds of Roman citizens living in modern day Orleans were massacred - it had nothing to do with the Arverni, and if not for Vercingetorix the revolt would have been put down within a month or two. But the twenty-four year old want-to-be-king saw an opportunity. At the time he was most likely a senior officer in the Arvernian Army, and within weeks of the massacre he had launched a military coup, overthrowing his elected government (including his uncle) and declaring war on Julius Caesar - who at the time was a long way away in Northern Italy. As they say, while the cat's away, the mice will play. What happened next? Well, we'll look at that tomorrow.