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Mutiny of Caesar’s legionaries

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Caesar in battle
Caesar in battle

Legion X Equites was the best and most respected unit by Julius Caesar. It served under his leadership in numerous campaigns, occupying the honourable right wing. After the subordination of Gaul, in 48 BCE a civil war broke out, in which Caesar could once again count on his faithful troops of the 10th Legion. However, the lack of awards promised by Caesar began to cause bitterness among the soldiers.

Legionaries also took part, i.e. in the famous battle of Pharsalus, which allowed Caesar to defeat Great Pompey. After this victory, the soldiers of the X legion returned to Italy, where, after almost 13 years of continuous service, they waited until they finally receive a peaceful life and land for their faithful fight for Caesar.

At this time, Caesar went to Alexandria in pursuit of Pompey who was running away. Unexpectedly, he was dragged into the civil war in Egypt and besieged with his troops. Over the following months, no one in Italy knew what was really going on with Caesar. Disappointed with the lack of fulfilment of promises, soldiers of the legion VII, IX, X and XII raised a rebellion, in which the main role played legionaries from X Equites. Some senior officers were killed, and Mark Antony himself had to escape from the camp.

Caesar, after defeating forces loyal to Ptolemy XIII, and then the Pontic army, in 47 BCE returned to Italy. He went to Rome, from where he sent his praetor Salustius (who became famous as a historian) to try to control the rebellion. Salustius miraculously survived and returned to the city. Caesar was getting ready for the worst and even commissioned preparations to defend the capital, in the vicinity of which the rebel soldiers had camped.

Caesar finally decided to personally go to the rebel camp. He entered the camp, stood on a platform and asked soldiers about what was bothering them. The soldiers did not dare to demand prizes from him, so they demanded release, hoping that Caesar needed the army for a campaign to Africa. To everyone’s surprise, Caesar agreed and said that all gathered would be released from service. Caesar addressed them with the words Quirites instead of Romani1, treating them as ordinary citizens. Then he turned towards the gates of the camp, wanting to leave his soldiers.

Caesar’s behaviour caused a great shock among the rebellious legionaries. The dishonoured people begged him to take them on to another campaign. Caesar refused, saying he was disappointed that the soldiers did not trust his promises after so many years of fighting together. Legionaries began to ask Caesar for forgiveness. Finally, Caesar agreed to re-admit all legions except the “Tenth”. Then soldiers of the 10th legion began to beg for forgiveness, even agreeing to decimation, as a form of punishment. Finally, Caesar also forgave the X legion.

Caesar did not condemn any rebel soldier to death. However, using his agents, he collected the names of the most ardent rebels and placed them in upcoming battles, in the most dangerous places.

  1. The word Quirites was used for citizens-civilians, while Romani was used for soldiers-civilians.
  • Appian, The Civil Wars, II 92-94
  • Graphics: Peter Dennis

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