In 60 BC, life was good for the Romans.

They had the strongest military in the world, an endless supply of resources, and one of history’s most legendary figures, Julius Caesar, leading them farther into prosperity every year.

But there was one pesky problem. Next door to Rome (in modern day France and Belgium), there lived a horde of barbarians called the Gauls. And every now and then, the Gauls would attack the Roman borders, steal food and murder Roman citizens.

It was more of an annoyance than anything else, but in 58 BC, Julius Caesar decided to solve the problem for good. He was going to take his gargantuan, unstoppable army into Gallic territory, and he was going to offer every Gaul one of two options:

  • Assimilate with Rome.
  • Or die.

Most of them assimilated without resistance – the Roman Legion, after all, was the greatest fighting force the Earth had ever seen. The Gauls stood absolutely no chance. And after six years, Caesar had absorbed much of the surrounding peoples and territory.

The One Who Rebelled

But he had not assimilated a man named Vercingetorix (and, for those curious, that’s pronounced verse-in-jet-or-icks). Vercingetorix was a nobleman with little or no formal combat experience. However, in 52 BC, he announced his desire to round up what was left of the dispirited Gauls and go to war with the unstoppable Roman Legion.

Many Gauls refused to help him. The scattered scraps of tired barbarian tribes had no chance at defeating Julius Caesar. And Vercingetorix agreed with them.

He had no intention of fighting the Romans with swords and shields, because he understood one major principle of commerce – the bigger an organization (or, in this example, an army), the more reliant it is upon systems and processes.

Vercingetorix wasn’t going to attack the Romans. He was going to attack their processes.

How? By using the equivalent of a reversed Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (DMAIC) Six Sigma methodology. However, in this case, instead of improving Caesar’s processes, Vercingetorix plotted to destroy them. For instance…

Caesar had a process for feeding his army

Here’s how Vercingetorix retaliated against that process.

DEFINE: Julius Caesar had an enormous army, and those men needed lots of food.

MEASURE: Caesar’s food-acquisition process was genius. He’d capture a town or village, kill or imprison its residents, and then feed his soldiers with the food that was left over (and by growing new crops on the existing farmland until he was ready to move on).

ANALYZE: Vercingetorix understood that a well-fed Legion was impossible to defeat, and he capitalized on the one flaw in Caesar’s methodology – an army can’t eat if there’s no food left over.

DESTROY: Vercingetorix told his people to take all the food they could carry, destroy all the food they couldn’t carry, and run!

CONTROL: To keep Caesar from growing anything in the future, Vercingetorix burned his own peoples’ land. He ruined the soil, leaving it barren and useless by the time Caesar’s hungry men arrived.

Vercingetorix sent all his people (and their food) to the city of Avaricum – a township of about 40,000, with strong, high, fortified walls. It was not a place Caesar wanted to be, but with all the farmland burned, Avaricum was the only place that had any food. So, Caesar was forced to go there, set up camp outside the walls, and figure out a way inside.

Caesar had a backup plan for sourcing food

Caesar had to figure out a way past Avaricum’s sturdy walls, but in the meantime, he also had to feed his starving soldiers. By this point, they had been completely out of food for days, so Caesar devised a new process.

And Vercingetorix took notice…

DEFINE: Caesar’s men were starving. Morale was low. They needed something to eat. Anything.

MEASURE: Caesar elected a few of his hungry men and designated them hunters instead of soldiers. He sent them into the surrounding forests to bring back plants, wildlife and anything else they could scrounge up for supper.

ANALYZE: Vercingetorix couldn’t defeat the sheer ferociousness of the collected RFighting Soldiersoman Legion. But these small pockets of soldiers that Caesar sent out to hunt? No problem.

DESTROY: Vercingetorix and his men ventured into the forests and killed the first line of Caesar’s hunters.

CONTROL: To completely take away this potential source of food, Vercingetorix permanently stationed many of his Gallic soldiers in the forests. They killed any Romans they saw, and no food ever made it back to Caesar’s camp.

Eventually, Caesar gave up on this process completely. The only source of food left was inside the walls of Avaricum, and lucky for the Romans, Caesar had a plan to get his starving, exhausted men past those walls without fighting.

Caesar had a process for scaling high walls with ease

His men were far too weak to bore through or under Avaricum’s strong walls, but Caesar didn’t intend to do either of those things. Going over, he figured, would be much easier.

But Vercingetorix knew that too…

DEFINE: Caesar needed the food beyond the Avaricum walls, and his men didn’t have the strength or stamina to take it by force.

MEASURE: Caesar instead decided to construct a wooden ramp. The ramp would be the same height of Avaricum’s walls, and Caesar’s men would be able to run up the ramp, jump over the walls and capture the city.

ANALYZE: Even with the Romans in a weakened state, Vercingetorix didn’t want to engage them in combat. Luckily, he didn’t have to, because he found the flaw in the Romans’ ramp-building plan—it would work only if the ramp was higher than the Avaricum’s walls.

DESTROY: Vercingetorix gathered up supplies, and started building Avaricum’s walls higher than Caesar’s ramp. So, the starving Romans built the ramp even higher. In response, Vercingetorix built the walls higher. Rinse and repeat, over and over again, and during this time, Roman soldiers began dying of hunger.

CONTROL: During a days-long race to build the ramp higher, Vercingetorix sneakily dug a tunnel underneath the walls, below Caesar’s ramp, and set fire to it. The ramp began to crumble, and for the first time, the once-invincible Roman Legion seriously considered surrendering to Vercingetorix and the Gauls. But Caesar refused to give up.

This creative back-and-forth went on for a full year. Vercingetorix spent that entire period finding creative ways to battle the Romans without actually fighting them, but in 51 BC, Caesar’s wartime experience, larger army, and resilient processes eventually overcame the Gauls’ clever tactics.

Vercingetorix was kept in a Roman prison for five years, before his execution in 46 BC. But his legacy remained intact. In modern day France, he’s remembered as the hero who stood against an unstoppable military tidal wave, and waged a war not of swords and spears, but of processes and logistics.

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