Ambiorix

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For the racehorse, see Ambiorix (horse).
Statue of Ambiorix in Tongeren (a fanciful interpretation, rather than an archaeological reconstruction, of his possible appearance).[citation needed]

Ambiorix was, together with Cativolcus, prince of the Eburones, leader of a Belgic tribe of north-eastern Gaul (Gallia Belgica), where modern Belgium is located. In the 19th century Ambiorix became a Belgian national hero because of his resistance against Julius Caesar, as written in Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico.[1]

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Early history [edit]

In 57 BC Julius Caesar conquered Gaul and also Belgica (modern day Northern France, Belgium and a southern section of the Netherlands to the Rhine River; and the north-western portion of North Rhine-Westfalia, Germany.) There were several tribes in the country who fought against each other regularly. The Eburones were ruled by Ambiorix and Catuvolcus. In 54 BC Caesar's troops urgently needed more food and thereby the local tribes were forced to give up part of their harvest, which had not been good that year. Understandably the starving Eburones were reluctant to do so and Caesar ordered that camps be built near the Eburones' villages. Each centurion was ordered to make sure the food supplies were delivered to the Roman soldiers. This created resentment among the Eburones.

Although Julius Caesar had freed him from paying tribute to the Atuatuci, Ambiorix joined Catuvolcus in the winter of 54 BC in an uprising against the Roman forces under Quintus Titurius Sabinus and Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta.

Resisting the Romans [edit]

Because a drought has affected the grain supply, Caesar's troops must winter among the rebellious Belgic tribes. Roman troops, led by Q. Titurius Sabinus and L. Aurunculeius Cotta are wintering among the Eburones when they are attacked by the Eburones, led by Ambiorix and Cativolcus. Ambiorix deceives the Romans by saying that the attack was made without his consent, and furthermore advises them to flee because a huge Germanic army is coming from across the Rhine. After much discussion and disagreement, the Romans decide to trust Ambiorix and leave the next morning. As the Romans are marching away the next morning, the Eburones ambush them, killing most of the Romans. A few Roman survivors make it back to their winter quarters where they commit suicide that night.

Other Roman troops are wintering among the Nervii under Quintus Tullius Cicero (brother of the famous orator). Ambiorix convinces the other Belgic tribes to immediately attack Cicero's camp. Cicero's troops are trapped, outnumbered, and blocked from help as their messengers are intercepted. The situation gets progressively more desperate for the Romans, but finally they are able to get a message to Caesar. Caesar summons the other Roman legions and rushes to Cicero's aid. When Caesar approaches Cicero’s camp, the Belgae abandon their siege of Cicero's camp and head toward Caesar’s troops. Caesar, vastly outnumbered, creates a ruse, ordering his troops to appear confused and frightened. The ruse works and entices the Belgae to attack on ground favorable to the Romans. Caesar's troops counterattack and put the Belgae to flight. That same day Caesar’s troops reach Cicero's camp finding most of the men wounded. Meanwhile, Indutiomarus, a leader of the Treveri, begins to harass the camp of Labienus daily, until Labienus sends out cavalry for the express purpose of killing Indutiomarus. After killing Indutiomarus, the Roman cavalry routs the rest of Indutiomarus' army. Caesar personally stays in Gaul all winter due to the risk of unrest among the Gallic tribes.

Caesar's revenge [edit]

When the Roman Senate heard what happened, Caesar swore to put down all the Belgic tribes. It was very important that the other Roman provinces know that the almighty Roman republic couldn't be beaten so easily. After all, Ambiorix had killed a whole Roman legion and five cohorts. A Belgic attack on Quintus Cicero (brother of the orator), then stationed with a legion in the Nervii's territory, failed due to the timely appearance of Caesar. The Roman campaigns against the Belgae took a few years, but eventually the Belgae were no match against 50,000 trained Roman soldiers. The tribes were slaughtered or driven out and their fields burned. The Eburones were history from that point. According to the writer Florus, Ambiorix and his men managed to cross the Rhine and disappear without a trace.[2]

Legacy [edit]

Caesar wrote about Ambiorix in his commentary about his battles against the Gauls: "De Bello Gallico". In this text he also wrote the famous line: "Of these [three regions], the Belgae are the bravest." ("...Horum omnium fortissimi sunt Belgae...").

Ambiorix remained forgotten until the 19th century. When Belgium became independent in 1830 the national government started searching through their historical archives for persons who could serve as national heroes. In Caesar's "De Bello Gallico" they discovered Ambiorix and his deeds. In 1841 the Belgian poet Joannes Nolet de Brauwere van Steeland wrote a lyrical epic about Ambiorix and on September 5, 1866 a statue of Ambiorix was erected on the Great Market of Tongeren in Belgium. There is no proof he ever lived there, but since Tongeren is Belgium's oldest city and Caesar referenced Atuatuca (Tongeren's original name was Atuatuca Tongorum) it was placed there.

Nowadays Ambiorix is one of the most famous characters in Belgian history. Many companies, bars and French fry stands have named themselves after him and in many Belgian comics such as Suske en Wiske and Jommeke he has played a guest role. There was also a short lived comic called Ambionix,[3] which features a scientist teleporting a Belgae chief, loosely based on Ambiorix, to modern day Belgium.

In the French comic Asterix in the album Asterix in Belgium, Asterix, Obelix, Dogmatix and Vitalstatistix go to Belgium because they are angry with Caesar about his remark that the Belgians are the bravest of all the Gauls.

In 2005 Ambiorix was nominated for the title De Grootste Belg (The Greatest Belgian). In the Flemish edition he ended in fourth place. In the Walloon edition he ended in 50th place.

References [edit]

Other sources [edit]

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