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I am reading Caesar's Gallic Triumph, Alesia 52BC by Peter Inker, and he provides a few maps of the camps and forts around Alesia. Two of the camps (camp H & K) are located outside of his cirumvellations lines, so they are completely exposed on all sides to Gauls. The only mention of the two in the book is that camp K housed Caesars cavalry and guarded the approaches to the river, and that camp H could also hold cavalry and guarded the northern plain and the Oze river. Evidence that they held cavalry has been found in later archaeological digs.

The locations of these camps just dont make much sense to me, for one they can be completely surrounded (especially in the case of H). Also as the majority of the Gauls were camped betweeen the Oze and Ozerain, so for the cavalry in camp K to attack the main Gaulic force they would have to cross the Ozerain first before entering battle, which does not seem very wise.

Caesar obviously knew that the Gauls would concentrate in the Plain of Laumes (which is why he had the stoutest defense there) so why would he put forts in these locations? what role did they play?

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UPDATE: After watching a documentary on the subject where they reconstructed the fort from archaeological digs, they came up with this map, which clearly shows the cavalry camps connected to the main camps. I can't say which is 100% correct but this newer maps definitely makes more sense to me.

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    Not an expert and I'm really going way back on my reading list on this but I want to say that one of the things Historians marvel at and the Gauls struggled with was the Roman ability to throw up fortifications as an engineering skill...thus though completely surrounded and seemingly easy to annihilate whenever the Gauls tried the Roman defensive "works" proved too much. Having exhausted themselves on the attack Caesar if I recall correctly then remarkably ordered an offensive himself annihilating the Gauls...and sealing their fate... – Doctor Zhivago Nov 13 '16 at 1:25
  • Yes an amazing battle. Defeat was almost at hand a couple times, with Gauls even managing to break into the walls below the A camp and pressing to overrun entirely the D camp. It was the cavalry charge down on the Gauls attacking D camp that broke their back and set them to rout. Very fascinating battle, not let to mention the amazing seigeworks involved. My best guess on the camp location would be to allow cavalry to sally out and attack the backs of the gauls in the plains, but it doesnt seem wise to entire hem in your cavalry in on all sides. Imagine the outcome without Caesar's cavalry. – ed.hank Nov 13 '16 at 2:59
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    Simple: because cavalry inside the circumvallation is useless. If the battle lasts multiple days, as it actually did, the cavalry requires a safe place to water , feed, and rest the horses overnight; but one with fast access into clear terrain each morning as the Gauls return to the fray. I would expect the entrances to those two forts (H and K) to be facing the main circumvallation to provide additional cover for the cavalry as they sortied. IIRC, Caesar's cavalry spent most of the first two days in the woods surrounding the circumvallation, defeating the Gallic cavalry. – Pieter Geerkens Nov 13 '16 at 4:50
  • This is sort of what I was thinking, and you are def right on parts, but others I still have questions. Labenius' cavalry was kept inside the contravellation near camp C. The 2nd day the calvary fought several times within the walls, both shoring up the attack on D and after the Gauls inside Alesia penetrated the lines below camp A, Ceasar then dispatches his calvary to ride counterclockwise within the walls to the north to come out and down on the Gauls attacking D. Later maps show both camps breached but not taken. How was Caesar able to get his cavalry to him as they were surrounded? – ed.hank Nov 13 '16 at 7:10
  • Not a student of the Gallic wars, or Roman warfare tactics in general, so I am out on a limp here, but... when I look at the scale, those forts are quite close to the circumvallation lines. If the Gauls got between those forts and the lines, they would be within easy bowshot range from both sides. Not a position you'd like to be in, just waiting for the troops from the forts coming out, or not. "Surrounded by Gauls" therefore does not ring true to me. But as I said, I am just guessing here. – DevSolar Dec 9 '16 at 15:03
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Although there are a couple of Alesia siege maps that show some Roman cavalry stationed outside the circumvallation line, I think you have a point that cavalry was somewhat restricted. From what we can tell from several accounts, however, including Livius and Caesar himself, the cavalry had to be able to counter threats from the Gauls within the siege lines, as well as Gauls of the relief army attacking from without--as the cavalry did at Mt. Rea by riding between the circumvallation and contravallation lines and then moving outside the circumvallation line. That fight was a close call, but it is clear that the cavalry had sufficient room for a massed attack on the Gauls.

Even though the cavalry appears to have been protected by the circumvallation line, which protection was required by the fact that the Roman Army was also besieged by superior numbers, the cavalry forces still had the ability to move at will beyond the fortifications. It is also possible, even likely, that small groups of cavalry were outside the circumvallation line in observation posts but still under the protection of Infantry and cavalry troops within the line.

  • I think this is the best answer so far, I will give it a few days if anyone else has anything to say and if not I will accept. Thank you for your thoughts! – ed.hank Dec 9 '16 at 15:20
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As the previous commentator noted, cavalry placed inside the lines would have been seriously restricted in their movements. Equally important, oppposing troops could have quite easily boxed in the cavalry by creating narrow corridors for them to pass through, and these corridors would have negated the blunt force of a cavalry unit in line of battle. At this time, it's likely that Julius Caesar would have thrown the cavalry into a battle first in order to split the attacking forces into small and disarrayed groups that are easier to destroy than solid masses of troops. The cavalry, then, had to have complete freedom of movement, not protection from a fortified line.

Cavalry troops, in addition to providing what we now call "shock and awe," are an army's eyes and ears and so must be free to go wherever they think an enemy might be massing against them--in this role, the serve as an early warning system for the Roman camp.

  • You say cavalry needs freedom of movement but my point is it seems to me those camps provide the least freedom of movement. gauls completely surrounded them. We also know the calvary was inside the main Roman camp as Caesar sent them around it counter-clockwise to come down on the gauls attacking in the north. It just seems to me that those camp locations would have been extremely exposed and isolated. – ed.hank Dec 8 '16 at 0:32

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