The history of the plateau
Following the Gergovie Plateau footpaths means immersing yourself in the battle between Vercingetorix and Julius Caesar, a celebrate event in the Gallic War. It is also an opportunity to explore the history of Arverni, the influential Gallic tribe that made Gergovie their capital.
Gergovia, Vercingetorix and the rout of Caesar
Between 58-51 B.C., Julius Caesar spearheaded the Gallic War with the objective of securing his power in the Roman Senate. Amongst the approximately sixty tribes that lived in this region, the Arveni, who built their wealth from the area’s rich volcanic soils, were one of the most powerful.
In 52 B.C., Vercingetorix led the revolt against Julius Caesar who had already conquered part of Gaul. The young Arveni leader with the command of 6 legions (36,000 men) defeats Caesar on his territory, at Gergovia. The Gallic troops are so great in number that Vercingetorix is forced to position them on the flatlands around the oppidum (Gallic fortress).
Caesar sets up his Main Camp south east of the fortified town. One night, he seizes a Gallic camp on the Roche Blanche hillside, the Small Camp, which he links to the main camp via a double trench with parapets that protect their comings and goings. Caesar launches a diversionary attack from the west using mule drivers dressed as soldiers. In response, the Gauls gather their troops on this slope of the oppidum to reinforce their defences. Meanwhile, Caesar attacks the opposite, southern flank with three legions that manage to reach the foot of the ramparts.
However, alerted by messengers, the Gauls launch their cavalry at the assailants and rout the legionnaires. The melee is at its peak when Roman allies, the Eduens, arrive and are mistaken for the enemy. Two elite legions take position at the foot of the oppidum to block the Gaul counter-attack, but Vercingetorix moves his troops to a higher position rather than risk a battle on the plains where his troops are outnumbered.
Realising that he has lost 700 men and 46 centurions, Caesar is unable to launch another attack and abandons the battlefield.
Following this victory, Vercingetorix is elected chieftain of the Gauls before experiencing defeat at Alesia, which ends the Gallic War and Gallic independence.
When Gergovia was the capital of Arverni
Located at an altitude of 750 m and difficult to reach, the Gergovie Plateau was, quite naturally, chosen as the site for a natural fortification.
The Arverni, the Gaul tribe that occupied the land that now broadly covers the Auvergne, made the most of the opportunity and held the Gergovia Oppidum as their capital for almost 70 years.
The Gergovie Plateau also houses many remains from the Gallic, then Gallo-Roman, town. Visitors can see the ruins of an ancient sanctuary, ramparts, entrance doors, an artisanal district and even paths and paved squares. Remains of amphora are a reminder of the strength of trade between Gergovia, other Gallic tribes and Rome.
The town continued to grow right up to the start of our era (10 – 20 A.D.) when the capital was moved to Augustonemetum, now Clermont-Ferrand, approximately fifteen kilometres away.