Thursday, 17 April 2014

Battle of Bibracte, June 58 BC

Ave Caesar... just!

During that day Caesar followed the enemy at the usual interval and pitched his camp three miles from theirs. Next day, as the distribution of rations was due in two days' time and he was only seventeen miles from Bibracte, far the largest and richest town of the Aedui, he thought it advisable to secure his food-supply, and therefore diverged from the route that the Helvetii were following and marched towards the town.

His movements were reported to the enemy by some runaway slaves of Lucius Aemilius, the commander of Caesar's Gallic cavalry. The Helvetii perhaps thought that we were breaking contact with them out of fear, especially as we had declined engagements the day before, although we had the advantage of position; or it may be they were confident of being able to cut us off from access to supplies. In any case they changed their plan, altered the direction of their march, and began to hand upon our rear and harass it.

Observing this, Caesar withdrew to a hill close at hand and sent out his cavalry to meet the enemy's attack. In the meantime he formed his four veteran legions in three lines half-way up the hill, and posted the two recently levied in Italy on the summit with all the auxiliaries, so that the whole of the hillside above him was occupied with troops.

[...] The Helvetii, who were following us with the whole of their transport, now parked it all together, and, after repulsing our cavalry, with a battle-line drawn up in very close order, formed a phalanx and climbed towards our first line. [...]

By throwing down spears from their commanding position the troops easily broke the enemy's phalanx, and then drew their swords and charged.

At length, exhausted by wounds, they [the Helvetii] began to fall back towards a hill about a mile away.

Our men were approaching to dislodge them,

when the fifteen thousand Boii and Tulingi who protected the rear of their column suddenly marched up, attacked us on the right flank, and surrounded us.

Thereupon the Helvetii who had retreated to the hill began to press forward again and renew the battle.

Caesar ordered his veteran legions to march towards the advancing Helvetti,

while the Italian legions he turned to withstand the newly-arrived troops.

Forming a solid line, Legio VII, VIII and X fought back the counter-attacking Helvetii, while Caesar ordered Legio IX to turn to protect their right flank against the advancing Boii and Tulingi.

Under pressure from the vast numbers of Helvetii attackers, Legio VIII on the right of the line and two cohorts of Legio VII on the left were broken.

The Italian legions on the hill held firm against the Boii and Tulingi infantry and cavalry.

Having defeated their Boii and Tulingi opponents, Legio IX faced a threat from the Helvetii to their rear.

Other warriors from the same tribe moved to threaten the flank of Legio X, but their line with the remainder of Legio VI held firm.

Attacked to the front by the Boii and Tulingi and to the flank by the Helvetii, the first of the Italian legions broke, but their countryman held firm on the hill with the auxilia.

Legio IX fought well against the Helvetii who charged after them into the wood.

Caesar ordered Legio VI and X to turn to three sides to combat the remaining Helvetii,

and the Italian legions to counter-attack the Gauls attacking the hill.

The veteran legions held firm.

The attack on the hill was defeated.

Orgetorix could only demonstrate in the face of Legio X.

The remaining Gauls laid down their arms before Caesar and his victorious legions.


Centuries later, the renowned scholar of ancient Rome, Peter Connolly, passed this judgement on the early stages of Caesar's conquest of Gaul.
It is quite clear from his own accounts of the early part of his war in Gaul that he was making mistakes and the army was managing to get out of [them] and his first three battles were in one way or another errors in judgement... it is only the sheer guts of the Roman soldier and Caesar's own willingness to go into the frontline and to fight next to the blokes to inspire them that actually wins the battle. (Transcribed from The Great Commanders: Caesar, 1993).
Our version of this battle was in keeping with this observation.

Caesar, GJ (1951) The Conquest of Gaul. Translated by SA Handford. Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England. 283 pp.
Grabsky, P (1993) The Great Commanders: Caesar.


  1. Marvelous!

    what a lovely battle report with brief historical notes. The units look great, I like the nice smooth/clean terrain/features.

    Thanks for sharing

    1. Thank you very much Phil; pleased that you found it interesting.

  2. So many beautiful pics, really impressive!

  3. Great write-up James.

    Are the dead figures used to represent casualties or unit cohesion?

    1. Cheers Mark. Yes, as you suspect, they indicate 'disorder' (unit cohesion). I used a few to help stage a photo or two though!

  4. Great stuff. I feel inspired to paint Caesar's Romans now. We already have a few Gauls in our group too.

    1. Great, that's something for the rest of us to look forward to then, when you begin posting reports of some games using Caesarian Romans.
      p.s. I thought that you were all Celts up your way?!! Sorry, droll, I know, but I could not resist! :)

  5. Nicely done report on an interesting battle, James. One gets the impression that all of the great captains were favored by a certain amount of luck as they were learning their craft!

    1. Thanks Peter. Yeah, it's generally written off as their 'apprenticeship' isn't it?
      We generals of miniatures are the luckiest of all as not only do we get a second chance, but our lead/plastic mates all come back too!

  6. Lovely work James and wonderful terrain and figures - great report mate!

  7. pretty nice blog, following :)

  8. Another great battle! Am having difficulties emailing you...