Vercingetorix (statue) was influenced by Dumnorix’s policy and tragic death.
By Periklis Deligiannis
In the subsequent years, Caesar conducted his famous Conquest of Gaul, crashing the Suebi of Ariovistus and the Belgians. After the Roman victory over the Belgians, Diviciacus, the main supporter of the Gallic collaboration with Rome, disappears from Caesar’s narrative. Liscus also disappears from his narrative but this is explainable because he probably could not be the Aeduan Vergobretus any more. After all he rather gained his office with Diviciacus’ political support (the latter was the unofficial leader of the tribe). Diviciacus’ disappearance is the real mystery.
Diviciacus probably did not believe that the Gauls could cope with the dual military pressure of the Romans and the Germans, and he preferred the former. Apart from his decisive diplomatic and counseling assistance to Caesar, he was the main founder of his numerous allied Gallic cavalry. The antithesis of Diviciacus was Dumnorix, who believed in Gallic power and did everything for the freedom of his people. Dumnorix appears later as the main political leader of the Aedui (and possibly their Vergobretus) when he was Caesar’s hostage. The most likely hypothesis for Diviciacus’ “disappearance” in 57 BC was either his physical death, or his murder possibly by Dumnorix’s incitation. Then or a little later, Dumnorix succeeded him in the unofficial leadership of the Aedui.
Coin of the Aedui.
In the following years, Caesar completed the conquest of Gaul by the subordination of the maritime Galatian/Gallic tribes (especially the Eneti/Veneti and the Morini) and he also unleashed additional preventive campaigns in Germany, Illyria and Belgica. In the spring of 54 BC, he was ready for the invasion of Britain.
Caesar understood that during his absence in Britain, a revolution in Gaul would break out, because the country was in turmoil. In this case, he and his army would be isolated on a hostile island without any contact with his safe base, the province of Narbonesia. In this case, he and his men would be exterminated. He decided to gather all the anti-Roman Galatian leaders and take them to Britain as hostages. The most prominent among them was Dumnorix. Caesar knew that in a case of a Gallic uprising, the popular Galatian warlord would be its leader; thereby he absolutely had to overpower him. Dumnorix was constantly trying to form a Gallic alliance that would use the Germans as allies to expel the Romans from the motherland and then he would obviously turn against the Germans in order to eliminate any threat to Gaul.
The Roman general concentrated the Anti-Roman leaders in the port of Itium (near present-day Calais). Dumnorix with a few Aedui companions of his were moved there as well, under Roman military escort. The Romans announced to the Gallic leaders that they would take them to Britain until the end of the campaign. Caesar mentions in his book that Dumnorix pleaded his fear of the sea and religious obligations, in an attempt to persuade the Roman to leave him behind. He presents him probably as a coward, but this presentation is rather a fake: the Aeduan leader possibly intended to put into effect his plan of a revolt against the Romans. When Caesar refused Dumnorix’s request, the Aeduan spoke openly to the other Galatian leaders about the probable plans of the Roman general. He told them that the Roman “wanted to take them to Britain in order to murder them all there” because if he did it in Gaul, the whole country would revolt immediately.
A furious attack of Early Germanic warriors. Ariovistus’ Suebi were one of the most aggressive Germanic tribes (artwork by G. Rava).
In my point of view, Dumnorix was probably right. Maybe this was Caesar’s plan in order to permanently paralyze Gallic resistance. I must note that the Roman had already acted exactly in the same way during his campaigns against the Aduatici, the Veneti, the Usipetae and the Tencteri tribes. The official Roman apology to the Gallic people for the death of their hostage leaders, could be the statement that the ship carrying them wrecked and they all got drowned, or that they have been killed in the battles in Britain, fighting as allied units (auxilia).
Dumnorix’s speech brought the refuse of the Galatian hostage leaders to board the Roman ships. A day before the departure of the fleet, Dumnorix and a few of his supporters (Aedui and other Gauls) escaped from their Roman guards and galloped on their horses to freedom. Caesar immediately sent a large part of his cavalry to hunt them. The Caesarean cavalry (Romans and pro-Roman Gauls) overtook the fugitives and surrounded them. There was no hope of escape for them. When the Romans called Dumnorix and his men to surrender, they refused and drew their long Celtic swords. The Caesarian horsemen attacked and massacred Dumnorix and some of his men, while the rest surrendered. Dumnorix died crying out that he was a “free man of a free people!” After the death of the menacing Dumnorix, Caesar had no reason to kill any of the rest hostage leaders.
Vercingetorix on the road to surrender, in a classic artwork.
Dumnorix’s decision to die on the spot fighting the invader is not random or due to simple heroism. There was apparently a political calculation. He was sure that death awaited him anyway in Britain. If, however, he did not manage to escape and finally die in Gaul, he would cause exactly what Caesar feared. He would light the flame and then the fire of the Gallic Revolution across the whole country. If this was Dumnorix’s aim, he succeeded. It is certain that his relentless massacre shocked the Gallic patriots and that this was one of the main reasons for the great revolution that followed. Among these Gallic patriots was Vercingetorix, a young Arvernian warlord, a little more than 18 years old. We can assume that the great Vercingetorix who managed to bring Caesar in a very difficult position, was decisively influenced by Dumnorix’s example. My opinion is that if Dumnorix was not murdered, he would possibly be the leader of the great Gallic Revolution which followed, instead of Vercingetorix. But Vercingetorix, although very young, proved to be a great general and military leader despite his mistakes (a few in my opinion).
Dumnorix is rather one of the greatest Gallic and generally Celtic heroes, but unfortunately he remains forgotten today. The modern French owe to attribute him full honours.
Julius Caesar: COMMENTARII DE BELLO CALLICO