The siege of Uxellodunum according to the ancient texts...
AUTHORS' VIEWS ON PUY D'ISSOLUD
Many historians and editors of Caesar's Commentaries accept that there is a high probability that Puy Issolud is indeed Uxellodunum(70).
Michel Labrousse, a supporter of Puy Issolud, writes(71) :
"There is a difficulty that hinders absolute certainty. At Puy Issolud the spring that was diverted by Caesar can only be that of Loulié, but its position does not correspond to the topographic position given by the most objective interpretation of Hirtius' text.
The major difficulty concerns the river which partially encircled Uxellodunum and formed a loop, with an isthmus about 300 feet wide (about 90 m), the fountain gushing out at the foot of a rampart facing the isthmus" (VIII,41 : ... sub ipsius oppidi murum ubi magnus fons aquae prorumpebat ab ea parte quae fere pedum trecentorum interuallo fluminis circuitu uacabat). Yet the oppidum of Puy Issolud is not in a loop of the river and the condition is not met for the spring of Loulié.
To overcome this obstacle, which has always given rise to multiple interpretations, some authors have translated the text as : The fountain of Loulié situated at the bottom of the western flank of the oppidum and about 300 m from the river Tourmente. Others, however, think Hirtius had not personally witnessed the battle or that he used poor documentation. Still others attribute the problem to a faulty drafting of Hirtius' text, who could have been "deceived by his memories".
Camille Jullian translated this part of the embarrassing text - "Quorum omnis postea multitudo aquatum in unum locum conueniebat sub ubi ipsius oppidi Murum magnus fons aquae prorumpebat" as - the abundant spring of Loulié, muffled even at the foot of the plateau on the left or south of the place where the path of Loulié begins to descend - " Prorumpebat ab ea quae fere parte pedum trecentorum interuallo fluminis circuitu uacabat ": which seems to say that the source gushed out at the place, 300 feet wide, where the river did not surround the oppidum, and this text makes one think of an oppidum closed in a loop of the river, except for a 300 ft wide isthmus.
To make this text fit Puy d'Issolud, it is necessary (assuming that Hirtius' memory is not mistaken) to give vacabat the meaning of distabat, to interpret circuitu fluminis as flumine circumdante, and to read DCCCC, instead of CCC, feet or passuum instead of pedum, the distance from the spring to the Tourmente being 300 m as the crow flies, and further by following the footpaths.
Finally, several opponents of Puy Issolud find other requirements of the text that do not seem to be respected. We list the main ones(72):
- There are no valleys.
- The Tourmente does not flow close enough to the slope to allow easy access.
- The distance between the source and the agger seems too low.
- The Gauls could descend to the spring of Loulié only by a steep, narrow path.
- The tunnels are too close to the source.
- The overall simulated assault on all sides of the oppidum was impossible because of the cliffs.
- The space required to conduct combat in front of the fountain is too small.
The conclusion of Rice Holmes(73) on the siting of Uxellodunum at Puy d'Issolud :
" It is as certain as two and two make four that Uxellodunum was on one of the sites I have examined. Scrutinize closely the pages of Staff's large ordnance survey map covering the department of Lot and the surrounding countryside, and you will be unable to find another site that is even worthy of discussion. All conceivable sites were reviewed by sharp eyes; and, of all this number, there remain only four, as we have seen, which are serious. After rigorous scrutiny, two can be rejected (Capdenac and Ussel). There remains the choice between Luzech ( I'lmpernal) and Puy lssolu.
Luzech is the only place where there is an isthmus very roughly corresponding to Hirtius' description. Puy d'lssolu is the only place which, in other respects, corresponds exactly or approximately to his description.
It seems almost impossible that the author could describe Uxellodunum as a peninsula surrounded by rivers on all sides except an isthmus 300 feet wide, if there is no isthmus at all. The errors he allegedly made are nothing less than monstrous.
If he had simply said that the hill was almost completely surrounded by a river, I would say that there are ten chances to one against him describing the Puy lssolu in such terms. But when I consider that he gave the clarification that the source was just above the isthmus, I am inclined to say that there are ten times ten chances to one that it is not wrong.
But when I return to the detailed account of Cessac on how the source of Puy lssolu had been diverted; when I consider the combined strength of all the arguments that he and his companions have advanced - the argument of tradition, of the charter which mentions Uxellodunum, of the discovery of defensive works, the high defensive strength of Puy-d'Issolu, the difficulty of scaling it, its geographical position which would have appealed to Lucterios, and finally the obvious similarity of its name with that of Uxellodunum - when I consider all this, I cannot hesitate any longer.
Hirtius committed this error which does not seem credible, and Uxellodunum should be identified with the Puy lssolu."