Vercingetorix, the national hero, is again talking about him. Who is this illustrious stranger? Danielle Porte, Latinist lecturer at the Sorbonne, offers us a new biography on this character who still fascinates today entitled Vercingetorix: The one who made Caesar tremble. The author had already written books related to Vercingétorix such as The Sham Alesia in 2004 which caused a stir where she defended André Berthier's thesis on the location of Alésia in the Jura at Chaux-des-Crotenay. Why recall this episode? Because for her, a good understanding of this battle is essential to know who Vercingetorix was and in particular if he was a poor soldier or a genius like Caesar.
Philology versus history and archeology?
To understand this book, it is perhaps necessary to understand how the author's method is opposed to that of the historians who defend Alésia. Since the 19th century, there have been excavations on the site of Alise-Sainte-Reine which have revealed quantities of traces of a battle at Alise-Sainte-Reine (numerous items of weaponry). This one is dated archaeologically thanks to the coinage struck with the effigy of Vercingétorix. The lines and camps established by Caesar have largely been found through excavations and aerial archeology. Danielle Porte disputes these excavations by indicating that there were "falsifications" during the first excavations organized by Napoleon III. Real falsifications or inaccuracies? Michel Reddé, a great specialist in Alésia, leans towards the second hypothesis. The major problem for Danielle Porte is this: the site does not exactly match the Caesarean text.
Basing himself primarily on the study of texts (philology), Richard Adam in his article “About a new Alésia Comtoise” published in the Archaeological Review of the East and the Center-East in 1984 shows that the Comtoise hypothesis is not admissible. Michel Reddé also argues against this location in his book Alésia, archeology facing the imagination (we used the second edition of 2012) by taking again the literary and archaeological sources. Here is what he says on the use of ancient texts: "We therefore have three ancient versions, opposed to each other, and it is only from the elements of the texts that we have just quoted - there are none. there is absolutely no other - let each reconstitute, at will, the route taken by Caesar. How do you expect each author not to have his version of the facts, given the information, both very scant and contradictory, we have? ”(P. 48).
Defense of Vercingetorix or Alésia?
The book is interesting in the sense that, after reading it, we understand better why the question of Alésia is so epidermal for those who defend another localization: Alésia seems to be a stain in Vercingetorix's career. A task which is very well expressed on pages 59 and 60: "Let us simply underline here the irreducible dichotomy which opposes the two faces of the character" (the brilliant warlord before Alésia and the warlord "blinded" by a "religious metropolis" to "poor defensive possibilities"). Restoring the location is therefore a way to rehabilitate the national hero Vercingetorix. We understand better then the dedication of the book to Franck Ferrand who is also in favor of the Jura localization of Alésia. Some may wonder on reading this account if the author would not dispute other locations. Let them be reassured Uxellodunum and Gergovie are not correctly located by the "official" historians but the author does not dwell on them because these places are not important for his purpose.
A book in reaction to the historiography of its time
Vercingétorix deserves to be rehabilitated because he is the "only one" to have had "the privilege" of giving "an ideological base to the beautiful country of France (p. 372)". The nation is "the ideology that it aroused from the start of its action." "Whether we like it or not, Vercingetorix was indeed the creator of the French nation, in that, quite the first, he gathered around a single idea, Liberty, the living forces of forty-two tribes" (still p. 372). If we want to destroy this figure, it is because our time is that of "anti-heroes p. 373 ”. These ideas are very problematic for today's historian. These themes are furiously reminiscent of those of "guard historians". Science destroys myths, so does historical science. We can thus understand his vehement position against Goudineau, which shows that Vercingetorix did not wear a beard or mustache (p. 14-18) or that his surrender was more banal than that visible on the famous painting by Lionel Royer (p. 364). -367). On page 7, the author writes: "The hypercriticism in which historical research is currently enjoying itself would end up making us doubt that Caesar even went to Gaul to defeat this unknown there". Mockery and irony are very often used to devalue so-called “official” positions, even going so far as to attribute bad faith to their defenders, which they do not always have.
This work therefore attempts through the biography of Vercingétorix to once again defend the Jura thesis. The book is easy and pleasant to read. The numerous footnotes, color illustrations and indexes are welcome even if the latter reveal quite enlightening biases (thus in the index of proper names appear, in addition to the expected names, historians of the nineteenth century and contemporary personalities like Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, François Mitterrand or Jean-Marie Le Pen but not the contemporary historians whom she vilifies). It is therefore ultimately a book to be read with caution.
Door, Danielle, Vercingetorix: The one who made Caesar tremble, Paris, Ellipses, 2013.