Taking place in the years 49-45 BCE, a great Roman civil war between Caesar and Pompey – two great generals of their time – was not the first to plague the Roman republic. However, it was certainly the most famous and decided about the fall of the Republic and consolidation of power in the hands of one person.
Background of events
At the time of Caesar’s, life there were two leading political factions in Rome: the Optimates and Populares. The Optimates was a conservative group gathering old senators attached to their positions. They were accustomed to the ongoing republican system and did not see its weaknesses. It was impossible for them to predict that this system would not be able to maintain the growing Empire without any centralized power and with the corruption spreading all over.
Much earlier there were people who had been trying to change something(eg. the Gracchi brothers), but it was not until Caesar’s (head of Populares) reforms that it was possible to see any effects. To gain real power he contracted an alliance with Pompey and Marcus Crassus and established the First Triumvirate. After Crassus’ tragic death in 53 BCE, Caesar and Pompey got into a conflict. Why? Obviously, it turned out that Pompey was the Republic’s defender whereas Caesar, despite not being eager for power, clearly pursued it.
According to the anecdotal evidence, Caesar was supposed to say the famous words alea iacta est – “the die is cast” while crossing the Rubicon. Doing that, at the army’s head, was an evident opposition to the Senate’s legal power and there was no going back. The civil war (bellum civile). between Caesar and Pompey began.
Caesar starts his account of the Civil War from within, he does not write about its causes directly, but we get to know them along with the story development. In the very beginning, we find out why the Senate favoured Pompey in the war. It turns out that two messengers arrived in the Senate Caesar’s and Pompey’s, but it was Pompey who was close to the city and his messenger’s speech worked as if the commander was speaking himself. Moreover, it turned out that Caesar had taken away two legions which then could be used against him by Pompey who had the Senate’s (reluctant) support.
Scipio’s request put in the Senate was supposed to order Caesar to disband the army, otherwise, he would be considered a traitor. Pompey managed to gather the soldiers from the city and the environs while also setting some influential figures against Caesar.
The political situation was rather unfavourable for Caesar. His supporters had no voice and his adversaries gathered against him around Pompey, tempted with future trophies and fortune. At that time Caesar was staying in Ravenna, by the Adriatic (today – Ravenna1). Pompey started army recruitment in the whole of Italy. Senate divided provinces between consuls and praetors, however, it was only a formal division. Caesar, of course, did not intend to comply with the Senate’s orders and addressed his soldiers speaking of his opponents’ law violation.
Pompey’s messengers came to Caesar asking for disbanding his army and turning himself in to the Senate, for the good of the republic. However Caesar’s conditions were simple as he obviously did not pursue war – he demanded to dismiss the soldiers and to cease the recruitment from Pompey in order to restore peace in Italy. Caesar, outraged with Pompey’s claims which he even did not fill himself, began recruitment in Arimium2 and put his people in the cities that he had already controlled: Arretium3, Pisaurum4, Fanum5and Ancona6. At short notice his commander, Curio7 (Caesar’s supporter, he contributed to inflaming the conflict between Caesar and Pompey before the war), took over two cities which so far had been in Pompey’s hand. We know what a threat it was to have Caesar as an enemy. Even the tidings about his approaching the city caused the commanders’ escapes and the gates were open for the emperor.
Even false rumours made his influential opponents leave Rome.
Meanwhile, Caesar continued his campaign in Italy, taking over the next cities which welcomed him as a commander. The army was disbanded by Lentulus8 he incorporated into his legions. It is important to say that at this time Caesar had only two legions because the rest of them did not come back from the winter quarters.
Afterwards, Caesar went on a siege of Corfinium9, defended by the Domitius’10 forces (Caesar’s enemy, consul in 54 BCE). Domitius, being afraid of Caesar and having 30 shorts (approximately 3 legions) asked Pompey for help. At the same time, Caesar took over Salmon which opened its gates and welcomed Antony’s army, sent by Caesar, with the ovations. Luckily, Caesar got reinforcements three days later (VII legion, 22 cohorts from Gaul and about 30 from the nordic king). With those reinforcements, there was built a camp under Curio’s leadership. After that Caesar built fortifications around the city. Earlier Domitius had received letters from Pompey saying that he did not want to risk and would not help. Meanwhile, the siege foiled Domitius’ escape. When the army found out about this plan, they captured him and sent the messengers to Caesar, stating that they were able to surrender the city and give Domitius up. The emperor though ordered the soldiers to stay in and defend the city because of the possible sallies during the night. Nonetheless, Caesar was aware that getting the city at little cost is in his interest and so he was acting preventively.
The following day Lentulus hiding in the city came to Caesar and asked for the rescue. It is a rather crucial moment as Caesar says here what are the reasons for his campaign. He mentioned that he fights in order to defend himself against the insults and protect the tribunes exiled from the city. It meant that Caesar actually did not care about capturing Lentulus or Domitius or making a massacre on his enemies. Of course, it was one of the reasons for this war but it is important not to forget that Caesar was not only an excellent commander but also an exquisite politician and orator. At the bottom, Caesar took care about defeating Pompey but he was still not able to face him head-on.
His efforts show what a great orator he was. He pardoned Lentulus temporarily and thereby gained
endorsement of the scared army and access to the next city of his enemy.
In reality, Caesar for sure wanted wealth and development for Rome but as a means, to an end, he decided to defeat Pompey. Here Caesar appears also as a brilliant expert in human nature. On the next day
when the Senators, Roman knights and military tribunes were brought to him he forbade his soldiers to put them down and not to incite them. He only accused them of ungratefulness and then let go not taking 6 million sesterces from the public treasury which were intended to be the pay for Pompey’s army (he knew that perfectly well). He wanted to seem guarded. The same day he broke the camp and started the march.
Near Corfinium11 he spent a week (15th-21st February 49 BCE). Finding out what happened there, Pompey accelerated the recruitment and set off to Brundisium12. Caesar managed to take over some of his cohorts which had been deserted. In order to prevent Pompey from the escape by sea, Caesar strewed the part of the sound with rocks around the shoal and built their rafts from where it was easy to defend. In order to knock through that, Pompey armed the traders (which he had taken over in the city) with the towers from which he could throw the rounds. When after nine days Caesar’s work was half done, Pompey’s vessels arrived (which previously had transferred part of the army). Pompey, planning to leave Italy, prepared for the crossing. Since the inhabitants supported Caesar, they signalled from the roofs that Pompey was transferring the soldiers on the vessels. Caesar got to Brundisium13 at night on March 17th 49 BCE when Pompey had already detached the vessels but Caesar managed anyway to take over two of them. He dropped the idea of chasing Pompey because of the lack of ships and decided to go to Spain.
Curio was sent back with three legions to Africa. Meanwhile, Caesar went to the Senate in order to cast the insults up to them. Nobody ventured to message Pompey so after a few days the matter remained not adjusted and Caesar went to Cisalpine Gaul14. Thereby he finished his campaign in Italy and completely succeeded.
Marseille did not let Caesar in excusing its neutrality in the conflict with Pompey. However, when Domitius arrived on the vessels, he was acclaimed as a commander-in-chief. Outraged Caesar ordered to build the towers and draft 3 legions. He appointed Gaius Trebonius as a commander of the siege. He sent his legate Gaius Fabius to Hispania to take the gaps in the Pyrenees, controlled by Afranius15.
According to Caesar’s words in Spain, there were 3 Pompey’s legates with 7 legions, the reinforcement of heavy infantrymen from the provinces standing with them and 5000 cavalries. Caesar sent to Hispania 6 legions, 5000 auxiliary infantry and 6000 cavalries.
On the river Skyros Fabius16 built two bridges on which he transported feed. They were placed near the Afranius’ bridges and close to Pompey’s legates so the cavalry clashes were quite often. While reading the descriptions of the small battles, it is clearly visible that both Caesar’s and Pompey’s legates were well-trained. They were able to use wisely the lay of the land and the situations which would let them win.
After only two days Caesar appeared at Afranius’ camp, near Ilreda17, with 900 auxiliary soldiers. He camped approximately 300 meters from the hill on which climbed Afranius’ forces. Then he managed to dig the fosse and fortify the camp before Pompey’s legates had noticed that Caesar carried out work. He did it because he wanted only the third row of the soldiers to work whereas the first two would wait fully armed as if prepared for the fight, hiding the working. During the next days, Caesar dug in and after a few clashes, he ordered to check the tabors and the rest of the cohorts left in the old camp. He was planning to fortify the hill between Ilreda where were his enemies’ supplies and the camps of Pompey’s legates. Having noticed the move of Caesar, Afranius sent part of his legions to stop him. At short notice, a fight ensued. In the beginning, Caesar had to pull out because there was a mess in the troop formation. He called the IX legion for help. Thanks to the reinforcement Caesar forced his enemies to retreat under the walls of Ilreda, but in the pursuit of escaping, the IX legion went too far and the Afranius’ counterattack began. The battle lasted for 5 hours in the narrow corridor where the cavalry’s help was impossible. A heroic attack let Caesar’s army resist the enemy and return safely with the cavalry’s cover. Approximately 70 of Caesar’s soldiers died in this battle and more than 600 suffered an injury. 200 people were supposed to die in Afranius’ troops. Both sites credited themselves with the victory. Finally, Afranius managed to fortify the hill which was the subject of the fight.
Because of the heavy rain, the level of the rivers increased and Caesar became cut off the food supplies so the army became to starve. Afranius had his stores in the city in abundance. The reinforcements gathered for Caesar beyond the river had to hide in the mountains from Afranius’ attack. Caesar built small lightships which allowed him to go across the river at night and fortify the nearby hill. Thanks to that he built a bridge in two days and could send the cavalry to take over some of the enemies’ supplies.
Meanwhile, there was Marseille where there was build a fleet consisting of 17 huge vessels by order of Domitius. Caesar’s fleet, stationed around, was headed by Decimus Brutus. Although both the number and the equipment of Brutus’ fleet were worse, he made up for it with the greater soldiers. Their enemies were better prepared for the naval battle but each time there was a chance for boarding, the advantage was all Caesar’s. In the end, they won the battle and the Marseilles lost 9 vessels.
Let’s get back to Ilreda though. After rebuilding the bridge, Caesar’s situation significantly improves. Many Iberian tribes declared dependency. Caesar built the canals, carried out the water and thus got a ford. Afranius, together with the two other legates, decided to move the war into a more advantageous place – Celtiberia18 (inhabited by Celts who arrived in the Iberian Peninsula and mixed with the Iberians; the Celtiberians were extremely combative and difficult to harness). The retreat was possible because the bridge that Caesar was using caused that he had to make a detour. So he sent the cavalry to delay the march and swam across the river which took a lot of time. After a few hours of intense chase, they managed to catch up with the Afranius’ rearguard.
Pompey’s legates did not expect that and quickly garrisoned the hill and prepared for the battle. They were planning to take the gorges in the nearby mountains but because of their exhaustion, they postponed it for the next day and only fortified themselves on the hill, the same as Caesar did. At night Caesar managed to catch a group of Afranius’ people who revealed to him that Afranius was going to strike his camps, so Caesar did the same thing. Hearing the signals from Caesar’s camp, those cancelled the march. Both commanders knew that the first one to take the gorged would be able to hold the enemy off. In the morning Caesar decided to set off sidestepping Afranius. The march looks as if Caesar’s soldiers were starving (without the tabors and the pack animals) and coming back to Ilreda – and that was the exact Afranius’ interpretation. He did not find out the truth until Caesar started turning back and the front guards passed his camp. Then Afranius quickly ordered to leave and block Caesar’s road. Thus began a chase which ended with Caesar’s victory. He hit the plain in front of the gorges where he disposed of the troop formations. Having Caesar’s army in front and the cavalry behind, Afranius hide on the nearby hill. He changed his past plans because as the thing was he decided to take the highest hill in order to be able to get across the mountain paths to Octogesa (today – Ebro). Pompey’s legate sent 4 cohorts for getting the hill but they were slaughtered by the enemy’s cavalry. Despite the centurions’ requests, Caesar did not start the battle – he did not want to expose his army to even the smallest loss. He had a hope that Afranius would give up anyway as he was cut off the water and supplies.
In reality, Afranius had two options: either get back to Ilreda or go to Tarraco20 (today – Tarragona) but he could not set off without water. His soldiers began to build the rampart to the nearby stream to stock up on water. However, thanks to the fact that Caesar had spared some terrified opponents the day earlier, they were asking for incorporation into his army because they considered him to be the better commander. The only thing they wanted was the guarantee that the commanders would survive, just to make sure that the troopers would not be accused of betrayal. Under these circumstances, two hostile camps became one. The vast majority of Afranius’ soldiers were looking for people who could introduce them to Caesar who was congratulated on his tactic. Although, if Afranius was prone to peace talks, Petreius (the other legate) gathered a group of soldiers and drove away from the fraternizing army, killing the rest of the people. After a short speech in the camps, he forced the soldiers to make a vow saying that they would never leave their commanders and then he killed some of Caesar’s troopers hiding in the camp. The state of war returned to its previous state.
The lack of food started having an influence on Afranius’ army. If the legionaries had 7-day food supplies taken from Ilreda, the reinforcements had no provision and every day some of them sneaked out to Caesar’s camp. Because of such a situation, Caesar’s opponents were pressured to get back to Ilreda. Traditionally, Caesar followed them bothering their rearguard with his cavalry. The Afranius’ cavalry was frightened because of the previous battles which made them useless. The army bothered by the cavalry could neither go forward nor find a proper place for the camp. In these circumstances, they were forced to stay in an inconvenient place, far from water. Caesar was still avoiding the battle and was trying to surround Afranius with the banks. Afranius decided to arrange a formation for the battle. Caesar cancelled the works and also arranged an order but he was waiting for the enemy’s attack. Afranius only wanted Caesar to stop his works and after sunset, the soldiers scattered to their camps and Caesar continued the works. Pompey’s legates were trying to get across the Sicoris river on a ford but Caesar quickly transferred the troopers and part of the cavalry to the other side and set out the guards.
After four days of misery, they asked for help. In the place chosen by Caesar, they begged for peace and saving them. Caesar mentioned to Afranius that he had spurned the peace request
He did not demand to incorporate soldiers into his legions but disbanded the army and left the province. The soldiers took this message joyously. It was settled that those who had houses in Hispanic would be dismissed immediately whereas the rest by the Varus21 (today – Var).
This way the second Caesar’s campaign ended and, again, he gained victory. Without any significant loss, he managed to win the war in Hispanic Citerior. He again showed his genius, both political and military. At that moment he had wielded power in Italy and Hispania. Soon it was to turn out that the cities remaining faithful to Pompey in Gaul would not be able to resist anymore.
The second book brings us again to Marseille where Trebonius’ siege was still going on. The city was surrounded by water from three sides so it was possible to get into only from one side and thus there began a building of a levee. Marseille turned out to be a defensible city, well-prepared for the siege. The Romans could build the levee with difficulty. The Albices22 (a combative montane tribe living north of Marseille) often made sallies with a view to starting a fire which hardly ever worked out.
Meanwhile, Lucius Nasidius23, Pompey’s supporter, was sent with the fleet to Marseille to help them. A message about a coming fleet arrived in the city so the Marseillians repaired their vessels, equipped them and set off against the commander of Caesar’s fleet. Before the battle, they joined each other. On the battlefield, two trims attacked Decimus Brutus’ ship (Caesar’s commander) avoided the collision at the last moment and the opponent’s vessels collided. An instant later they were sunk by Caesar’s fleet. The great expectations concerning Nesidus’ fleet were gone as he was forced to pull out from the battlefield because of the soldiers’ low morale. The Marseillians lost 9 vessels (5 sunk, 4 taken over) and only one was able to escape with the Nasidius’ fleet.
Concern about the sallies, Caesar’s soldiers built a brick tower which was fire-proof and as high as the fortified tower in the city which allowed them to throw the round effectively. Having such a shelter they started building a gallery covered with a roof leading from their tower to the Marseillians. Caesar described the process of building a gallery in detail but I have decided to spare the readers all of them. When it comes to the effects of the soldiers’ works, thanks to the gallery they managed to get to the opponent’s tower and jemmy its back rocks. Part of the building collapsed and the rest was falling apart. Terrified Marseillians ran out of the city without their weapons begging for mercy. They begged to wait for Caesar because the city looked almost conquered. The fortifying works were almost done and people did not want to defend themselves any longer. The soldiers wanted to ravage the city, probably killing lots of people. Finally, the workers were called off leaving only guards. The siege looked finished but everybody waited for Caesar.
However, a few days later Trebonius’ ranks set in chaos and the Marseillians made a sudden sally during which they managed to torch the levee, and other siege engines built beneath the city, including the tower and the gallery. The next day they tried the same movement with the second tower and the gallery (built simultaneously on the other side of the wall) but the soldiers were prepared for that and easily countered the attack. Furious Romans started building the wall which was supposed to cut off the city from the land. Trebonius’ walls were so close to the city walls that it was possible to throw the manual rounds. On the other hand, the wall was not thick enough that the siege engines turned out not to be successful. Under those circumstances, the Marseillians began the armistice negotiations. A few days earlier Domitius had predicted that Marseille would give up. He took two ships for his friends and one for himself and during the stormy weather he got out. The chase caught only his friends’ ships, and Domitius himself managed to escape.
Writing about how he took control over Hispania Ulterior, Caesar mentioned in his diary about Marcus Varro. He was one of Pompey’s legates, but, on the other hand, sympathized with Caesar. When he was informed about Caesar’s stop in Marseille and after that about the supply scarceness in Ilreda, he started the recruitment in the Hispanic Ulterior and speak against Caesar, about his failures and fiascos. In his provinces, he levied high taxes on Caesar’s supporters and chased convicted criminals. After Caesar’s victory in Hispania Citerior, he sent for the tribune Quintus Cassius with the two legions from the other province. Meanwhile, Caesar convoked an administration meeting in Corduba24 (today: Cordova), the first Roman Colonia on this peninsula. It turned out that the vast majority of the provinces supports Caesar and Corduba and Carmona25 closed its gates for Varro. Knowing that he was not welcomed in the provinces he hurried to the city (where were supplies) not to be cut off the road. Before he had arrived, he got a message that his troops were exiled from the city which was secured for Caesar. One of the legions left Varro who, being completely terrified and cut off, went to Caesar and offered him the second legion, all the money and supplies. This way Caesar took control over the other Spanish province. Then he went to Marseille where he received a message saying that he was appointed Dictator. Caesar spared the city but he left in there two legions and himself went to Rome.
Meanwhile, Curio, sent by Caesar to Sicily a while ago, transited to Africa26. Curio appeared in Africa in August 48 BCE. Ignoring the stationed forces of Caesar’s biggest enemy, Attius Varus, he took only two legions out of four and 500 riders. He docked in Anquilaria27 and sent after one of the commanders, Rufus, to Utica28 and himself set off with the whole army. Then, in a very convenient place, Cornelius29, Caesar’s friend, encamped. Varus’ camp was connected to the walls and also well-located.
During the observations of the hostile camp made by Curio, he noticed that people were frantically bringing in all their goods from the countryside behind the wall so he sent there the cavalry to get the east haul. His riders won the clash with the Varus’ forces sent as reinforcement and came back with the trophy. At the same time, some warships came to Curio so he ordered to announce each ship that would not leave the harbour in the city would be considered hostile. This way Curio managed to source about 200 traders and, as a result, provide the army with the necessary supplies. When Curio came back to his camp by Bargada30 (river disgorging to the Gulf of Carthage around Utica) he was appointed the emperor31. The next day he set his troops around Utica. He received information that the king of Numidia and Pompey’s supporter, Juba31, had sent huge reinforcements to Varus. Curio cancelled the worlds and sent the cavalry to stop the march. The raiders destroyed the reinforcements and came back to the camp, none of the sites accumulated losses.
It was the next day when the commanders posted their armies. Varus Sexts Quinctilius, whom Caesar released in Corfinium, tried to convince the Curio’s legions by screaming to keep their promise for Domitius, but he did not succeed. Both armies went back to their camps. Curio was suggested to start the siege of the enemy’s camp or retreat to Cornelius’ camp from where it would be easier to get back to Sicily. Curio rejected both ideas fearing that the siege could not bring desired effects and the retreat would be shameful. Eventually, he decided to dress the soldiers. He mentioned the circumstances of Corfinium and the reason why they made a vow to Caesar. He was convinced about winning this war, particularly after Caesar’s accomplishments in Hispania. He was talking about the honours that would surely wait for the soldiers remaining faithfully with Caesar. He also presented his own success in the African campaign such as transiting the army without prejudice, taking over the traders, causing the enemy of the supplies and finally, two cavalry victories. His speech affected the soldiers who especially did not want to be accused of infidelity. Finally, after the change in the army’s mood, he decided to start the battle whenever there is would be a chance for that. The following day he walked the army and the same did Attius Varus.
Between the armies, there was a valley with rather sheer slopes. Various was the first to run his cavalry with the troops down the valley. In response to that Curio sent his riders and won the clash. He forced the enemy’s cavalry to escape and slaughtered the troops. The Attius’ army scattered and meanwhile Curio already started the attack with the infantry. Various thought that he had been surrounded by the cavalry so before Curio managed to leave the valley, the opponents ran away to their camp. Some of Varus’ soldiers escaped to the city so he decided to do the same thing with the whole army. As a result, Curio decided to close the city with a bank and besiege it. In the city, Atius was thinking about whether or not to surrender it, but a message from king Juba came saying that he was approaching with the big forces and ordered to defend the city. This information got also to Curio but he did not want to believe it. He was so proud of his past success that he did not provide for any attack from the king. When he found out that his forces were near Utica he decided to cancel the bank works, came back to Cornelius’ camp and stocked up supplies of wood and grain. He was informed that the king had been stopped by the local war and only his prefect Saburra came for help with are reinforcements. Curio believed in those rumours and decided to change the plans and settle the matter with one battle. He was driven by the desire to win, intensified by his faith in luck and previous success. He was a young and good commander, but he was lacking experience.
In reality, Juba’s prefect was in front and only a few kilometres behind there was the king himself with the whole army. At night Curio sent the cavalry to destroy the army of the prefect of Suburra. It worked out because the soldiers came back with the captives who being asked about who was by Bagrada, answered that it was Suburra. The soldiers’ enthusiasm was as big as the commander’s confidence. Subbura in the meantime set up his army and released the cavalry for the attack. Curio had only 200 riders left, the rest was tired after the march. Gradually, the Numidian cavalry began to outflank the Romans.
After some time the Curio’s soldiers were exhausted and injured and thus practically unable to fight. In the meantime, Suburra sent more and more reinforcements. The Romans could not escape because they were surrounded by hostile cavalry. People started to panic as they were sure they were going to die. Curio ordered the attack and got the nearby hill to hide here. Unfortunately, he was cut off by the cavalry. He died in a fight. Only a few riders managed to escape from the battle and also those who were in the rear wanted their horses to rest. The infantry was slaughtered.
Finding out about the fiasco a quaestor Martius Rufus who remained in Curio’s camp wanted to uplift the people but they exacted coming back to Sicily from him. Rufus ordered the ships to put in an appearance but it turned out that the rumours about the approaching Varus’ fleet caused panic among the soldiers. Only a few ships appeared at a call, the rest ran away. The soldiers started to fight over who should first go aboard. Overcrowded ships were sinking and only a few managed to get to Sicily safely. Those who stayed in Africa wanted to give in to Varus but Juba considered them as his war trophy and ordered to kill all. After a few days spent in the city, he returned to his kingdom with the army.
This way ended the first part of the African campaign, in which Caesar did not take part personally. Curio’s total military disaster was a huge loss for the whole army. It seems though that it did not have a major impact on the whole war. The soldier serving Caesar was feeling rather safe. After defeating Pompey, Caesar came back to Africa to get even with Curio’s slayers.
Preparations for the confrontation in Greece
When Caesar was officially appointed consul together with Publius Servilius32 in 48 BCE he began to stabilize Italy’s economics. Among many other things, he instituted intermediaries whose job was to evaluate the worth of fortunes in order to be able to pay off the debt to the creditors. So they were kind of bailiffs taking care of clearing debts. Caesar also abolished some of the punishments for bribery, established during the time when Pompey was staying next to Rome. Running the errands in Rome and celebrating the Latin holidays took him 11 days. Then he tendered his resignation and set off to Brundisium33. There crossed the trade roads from Italy to Greece and eastwards.
He ordered 12 legions and the whole cavalry to appear but he did not find enough ships to transport Greece more than 15 000 infantry and 600 riders. Caesar had lost many great soldiers on his way to Hispania and in many Gallic wars. Meanwhile Pompey, within a year that he had had for the preparations, gathered a huge fleet, 8 legions and was still waiting for the additional two (brought from Syria) from his father-in-law, Scipio. He additionally recruited 3000 archers, 1200 slingers and 7000 riders. The significant number of the infantry, hired from the different corners of Italy, must be included as it completed the heavy infantrymen. He decided to winter in Dyrrachium or Apollonia34. In order to prevent Caesar from crossing the sea, Pompey set out the fleet along the coast.
Caesar decided not to take any baggage and leave it in Italy so that the ships could transport as many soldiers as possible. 7 legions came aboard and they managed to cross the sea docking in the bay not guarded by Pompey, around the city Paleste35. So he decided to send out all the ships and transport the rest of the legions and cavalry. However, on their way back some of the ships were caught by the Bibulus’ fleet. He took over 30 ships and then burnt them. He decided to man each harbour and haven in this part of the coast and watch them so that Caeser would not get any reinforcements. Marcus Octavius36, Pompey’s fleet commander incited Issa to break an alliance with Caesar. He was also trying to talk Salona37 out of the coalition, but the Roman citizens union in the city chose to support Caesar. Octavius thus began a siege, but as a result of the chaos among the soldiers, who were too confident about the victory, he had to step out, also because of the simultaneous and fierce inhabitants’ resistance.
One of Pompey’s prefects, Vibulius Rufus, was sent by Caesar as a messenger to Pompey. He highly respected both commanders. He had been already sent by Caesar two times (in Corfinium and in Hispania) so he thought that he would do a good job this time as well. Caesar’s conditions were simple: immediate end of the war before somebody would suffer heavy losses, and disbanding the army. In matters concerning the division of the province, he thought that the Senate along with the people should make the decision. Finding out about Caesar’s arrival to Greece, Pompey decided to go to Apollonia to prevent Caesar from taking over the seaside cities. On the same day Caesar disembarked with his army, he went to Oricum and although L. Torquatus, Pompey’s supporter was stationed there and wanted to defend the city, the people of Greece refused to battle with Caesar and the city surrendered without a fight. After capturing the city, Caesar set off to Apollonia where the commander also wanted to defend, but the inhabitants refuse the fight with the Roman consul.
L. Staberius, who was stationed in the city, escaped covertly and the local authority sent a legation to Caesar, giving him the city. The next messages came and finally, nearly half of Epirus was subservient to Caesar. Pompey decided to march night and day and get to Dyrrachium. He managed to cut Caesar off from the city and set up a camp. Caesar, on the other hand, fortified by the river Apsus38 (across the river where was Pompey’s camp) and there chose to wait for the rest of his soldiers from Italy. His opponents also decided to wait for the reinforcements.
In Brundisium Caesar’s envoy did everything according to the instructions that he had been given, so he took the vessels and embarked the soldiers. When he set off, he got a message that the coast had been captured by Pompey and thanks to that he was able to return soon enough. A truly paradoxical situation occurred, in which Bibulus, the commander of Pompey’s fleet, cut Caesar off the reinforcements from the sea and Caesar, taking up all the coast, cut him off the land. Starving soldiers decided to send Bibulus and Libon (who had recently joined Bibulus) as messengers to Caesar asking for a truce. The commanders stated that they wanted to talk not only about the conditions of ending the blockade but also about some serious matters concerning the whole war. Caesar, thus, despite being busy with providing the supplies, immediately went to Oricum to meet the messengers. During the meeting, Libon claimed that he wanted to defuse the conflict but neither he nor Bibulus had received the authority to do that. The messenger asked for a truce during which he agreed to go to Pompey and present him with Caesar’s conditions. He believed for the whole time that the war might be ended peacefully and so he demanded from Libon and Bibulus that his messengers would be protected, but neither of them wanted to take the responsibility. Caesar agreed to a truce but only if Bibulus’ fleet would end its sea patrols which would enable Caesar to help his army with the reinforcements. However, when Caesar noticed that the whole of Libon’s speech was only about seeing off the current danger concerning his soldier’s hunger, he turned them away and started planning a further campaign.
Because of hunger and other inconveniences on the sea, Bibulus became seriously ill and died. With his death, the fleet’s leadership broke and everyone began to command on his own. The fleet commanders were being sent to Pompey to pass Caesar’s conditions. However, in fact, the one who would set the peace terms would also win the war. But Pompey did not intend to give in, mostly because of his ambition.
Pompey’s and Caesar’s camps were separated only by the Aspus river so the soldiers talked a lot and then there were no fights. It proves the great military culture of the Romans and shows how deeply they respected their opponents. We can expect that if the enemies were not the countrymen, there would not be any conversation. There was a well-known rule in Rome: “for among times of arms, the laws fall mute” (inter arma silent leges). However, it still remained obvious that the civil war disagreed even with the soldiers. It was still a time of war during which the only thing needed was a way to end the conflict and the whole campaign.
Caesar sent his legates by the river to agitate for peace. This led to the peace talks in which the head chiefs’ messengers took part, but the conversation was broken off with an argument and mutual rounds throwing. There were a few injured, but this occurrence changed the soldiers’ way of thinking, especially after Labienus39 shouted a statement laughing at peace, which – according to him – could not happen until Caesar lived. For this moment the truce was no longer taken into consideration.
Situation in Italy
Here Caesar in his account moved to Rome for a second, where the administrators were still trying to deal with the borrowers who did not want to pay back their debts. M. Celius Rufus, Caesar’s supporter, willing to be a praetor, was trying to endear people to himself. He wanted to help the borrowers and gain their endorsement so he passed a new law stating that a debt could be paid back up to 6 years free of interest. However, towards the administration’s resistance, he had to quit it, but he proposed two new instead: one – exempting the tenants from paying the rent, the other – reciting the old debts. As a result of his actions, the Senate voted him off. After this incident, he turned away from Caesar as he was looking for support which he did not get.
During the war, in Italy appeared some groups of people fought with each other, a kind of military group, which attacked and ravaged the cities and this way made use of the war chaos. One of these groups was headed by Milo, to whom Celius, dismissed from the office, sent the messengers. He started making bands, consisting mostly of shepherds. He was planning to attack Naples, but they found out about his intentions in time and deemed him an enemy. Thus Celius dropped the idea of attacking the city. Both he and Milo were killed while inciting people against the authorities. Getting back to the matters in Greece, Libon, heading the fleet of 50 vessels, decided that he would not be able to defend the whole coast so he sailed to Brundisium where he blocked Caesar’s only way to receive the reinforcements.
Antony, who was staying in Brundisium at that time, armed about 60 ships and made sail with 3 triremes, allegedly to train the rowers. In response, Libon sent 5 quadriremes. When they approached, Antony’s vessels40 escaped from the harbour, so they ordered a chase. On cue the ships made sail and in the first attack took over one of the opponents’ vessels and then the rest escaped. After the such an ignominious defeat, Libon resigned from the siege, all the more that Antony’s cavalry cut him off the water. Caesar waited for the reinforcements for almost the whole winter. Finally, he sent a letter to Brundisium in which he insisted on ships setting off with the first free wind. And indeed, Mark Antony and Fufius Calenus, who commanded the fleet in Brundisium, disbanded the ships soon after that and same-day arrived at the coast of Apollonia. However, they were noticed in Dyrrachium by the commander of Pompey’s fleet and thus the chase began. As a result of changing weather conditions, Caesar’s fleet managed to escape and hide in a bay. Meanwhile, the enemies’ fleet shattered during the storm before having hit there. Only two of Caesar’s ships did not get to the bay because they had broken away earlier and had to anchor nearby Lissus41 city for the night.
One of Pompey’s commanders wanted to take over the vessels so he sent lots of ships against them, assuring them safety if they gave up at the same time. Ship with young soldiers gave up without a fight and despite the guarantee, everybody was killed. Meanwhile, the second ship, having the veterans on board, started talks about capitulation to get to land and disembark safely at night. In the morning about 200 veterans beat twice as big a cavalry unit and got to the rest of the army. Hearing that, the union of Roman citizens in the city decided to take in Antony with the army and provide them with everything they needed. Otacilius42, who was stationed in the city, escaped, worried about his life. Antony managed to transport 3 old legions and one from the new recruitment and also 800 riders. Then he sent most of the ships to Italy as they carried the rest of the infantry and cavalry.
Both Caesar and Pompey learnt about this situation. Caesar wanted to join Antony as soon as possible but he was far away, beyond Pompey’s camp. Meanwhile, Pompey hoped to cut Caesar off Antony and, if it was possible, destroy the reinforcements. Both set off on the same day but Caesar had a long journey to make as he had to walk upstream to ford. Despite many obstacles, Caesar was the first to gain the place while Pompey had to back out in order not to be surrounded by two armies. He set a camp in Asparagium43. Meanwhile, Scipio, Pompey’s supporter who governed a province in Asia Minor, enforced tribute and taxes from the local people to recruit legions. After receiving a message from Pompey saying that Caesar was near Dyrrachium44 with his troops, Scipio set off with the whole army.
After joining Antony, Caesar decided to go up-country. Messengers from Thessaly and Aetolia offered to join Caesar if he would fill their cities with his crew. Caesar sent one legion, 5 cohorts and a handful of cavalry to those places hoping that he would be provided with food in return He also called away the legion defending the coast in Oricum to man the troops. In Macedonia, where Domitius was sent (Caesar’s legate, paradoxically having the same name as his opponent), arrived Scipio with the army. Scipio, although he had first drifted toward Domitius, now turned to Thessaly, toward Cassius, Caesar’s supporter who was staying there. Terrified Cassius escaped to the mountains which led to the decision to chase. Then a message came from Favonius, informing them about Domitius’ and his army’s approach and the necessity to help him. Scipio thus returned and joined his ally. Despite the soldier’s fire he did not choose to start a battle with Domitius, who, on the other hand, aimed at a fight. He pretended to retreat because of the lack of food whereas in fact, he hides. Scipio was ready for the chase. He sent before the majority of the cavalry which did not avoid ambush. Two troops were surrounded and almost entirely slaughtered. Scipio’s troops came to a standstill.
Meanwhile, one of Pompey’s sons approached Oricum with the fleet, forced the crew to escape and took over the city. He was also trying to get Lissus but there the soldiers and Roman citizens took up arms. After a few days, young Gnaeus Pompeius gave up on the siege.
Caesar and his army were informed that Pompey set up the previously mentioned camp. So he set off with nearly all the soldiers and fortified next to the enemy’s camp. The following day he walked his army to allow Pompey to start the final battle. Pompey, however, did not move so Caesar decided to take a long march to cut his enemy off Dyrrachium, which would mean no supplies from the city. Caesar’s departure might have looked like a withdrawal caused by the lack of food so it was not until the next day that Pompey found out about his plans. He set off, rat run, but Caesar was faster again. Pompey cut off all the supplies. So he decided to build a retrenchment on the coastal highland called Petra and ordered to supply the food by the sea. Caesar took the nearby hills and began building fortifications surrounding Pompey. Because of the mountainous area fortified by Caesar, Pompey’s cavalry was useless. Additionally, Caesar managed to provide the safe delivery of grain and undermine Pompey’s authority among other nations. Caesar eventually besieged him, but he still did not want to get into a fight.
Pompey did not have many possibilities of what to do so he decided to take over as many hills as possible before Caesar would and had this way in his hand possibly the most extensive territory. This led to many clashes while taking over the hills. IX legion (Caesar’s) got the hill but was forced to retreat during which it would suffer a great loss if it was not for engaging more troops for defence by Caesar. The soldiers struck back successfully and retreated safely. The whole siege was breaking all the rules of being at war. Usually, the opponent with the less numerous troops or the one defeated in the battle, or without supplies is being besieged. Caesar, however, besieged an enemy with well-provided, intact and numerous troops. At the same time, Caesar’s soldiers were starving because there was no more grain in Greece. Here we presumably read about the invention of cereals. Caesar’s soldiers were picking a kind of root, then smashed it and add to milk which was supposedly tasty. To undermine the opponents’ morale Caesar blocked or turned the courses of the streams leading to Pompey’s camp so he had to look for water in more dangerous places. Over time Pompey’s soldiers started to be ill whereas Caesar’s soldiers did not lack a thing, as grain ripened and the supplies were again regular45.
Six battles were fought on the same day. Caesar wrote that Pompey had lost 2000 people while only 20 of Caesar’s soldiers had been killed. He mentioned though, that almost everyone had been injured46. We get to know that, thanks to the soldiers’ commitment, he defended one of his forts on the hill. It also turns out that Pompey and his army were fighting in many different places. After some failures, he had to fortify on one of the hills and it was not until the night that he came back to his old fortifications with the army. Caesar intended to endear Achaea47. He sent there some of his commanders with the cohorts. They managed to take over a few cities either voluntarily or by force. To the rest, there were sent messengers. Caesar informed that Scipio was staying in Macedonia, and tried peace talks again. He sent Clodius to convince him to go to Pompey and demand truce on him. As a result of Clodius’ faux pas (criticizing Scipio), he returned to Caesar empty-handed.
Meanwhile in Dyrrachium Pompey was facing another crisis. He was cut off from the cities with additional forts which prevented him from effective cavalry use. He was also lacking feed and grain so the horses were dying from inanition. Pompey thus began to plan how to knock through the encirclement. Caesar too suffered a loss. Two Allobroges brothers, his trusted cavalry commanders, began to rob the soldiers of their pay and haul. The riders complained to Caesar, but he only laid the dust. Nonetheless, the brothers gained the army’s reluctance and out of concern about possible punishment or revenge, they became Pompey’s supporters. The loss of two soldiers was not significant, but Caesar perceived it as his personal failure. Additionally, traitors passed much useful information to Pompey – eg. where the bulwarks were not finished or what was the state of the army or its position.
Using the information from the Allobroges, Pompey attacked Caesar’s bulwarks by the seat on the very next day. X legion left for defence, did not stand the attack from land and sea and had to retreat. Cohorts sent as reinforcements along with the escaping soldiers got into a panic.
It was not until Antony’s arrival with the huge army, and then Caesar’s that the soldiers started to resist successfully. They even managed to build a fortified camp. Meanwhile, Caesar got information that his opponent took over the fort which so far had been empty. Caesar explained here that it used to be his camp but he had withdrawn the soldiers because of his own reasons. The camp now taken over by Pompey was also further fortified but also Pompey withdrew from there after some time. Then it had been empty for some time until one of Pompey’s legates started to occupy it. Caesar, shocked by his defeat the other day, decided to destroy Pompey’s legion with his 33 cohorts.
Caesar appeared at the fort before Pompey had realized what was going on and after a quick fight, he clawed his way inside, slaughtering the vast majority of the soldiers. Despite the initial success, Caesar did not predict further events. His right flank did not get its bearings and started walking down the bank treating it as a camp and looking for a gate. When they noticed that there was no defence, they broke the part of the bank to make their way through and the cavalry followed them. Pompey, noticing what was going on, called 5 legions away from their work and sent for the rescue. He also sent the cavalry to attack this Caesar. Caesar’s riders, on the other hand, were afraid that they would not manage to withdraw, and run away. Also, the infantry was concerned that it would be crushed to death and bolted. Thus appeared a great crush and many people were simply tramped. The left flank became cut off by the right and fearing the possible encirclement, began a chaotic retreat. Caesar was not able to hold back the escaping soldiers. The total failure was prevented only by the fact that Pompey, not believing in what he saw, was afraid of an ambush and did not send his legions to attack the escaping army. Caesar lost over one thousand soldiers and 32 standards. The captives, who went to Pompey’s camp, were killed. In the opponents’ camp, they were celebrating as if the war was completely over and they won48. Caesar had to change his plans. He drew back from the siege and made an uplifting speech to his soldiers. The battle of Dyrrachium took place on 6 July 48 BCE.
Caesar’s soldiers, blaming themselves for the defeat, acted as if they would like to fight with Pompey as soon as possible. Caesar though did not want to do that as he was afraid that the army did not get over the last failure yet. At night he sent the tabors back to Apollonia along with one legion, and then he sent another two. Together with the rest of the army, he set off at the latest. When Pompey noticed his actions, he began a chase, sending the cavalry before, but Caesar already had the edge. Rearguards were forced to fight with the cavalry by the river Genesus49 and thanks to the auxiliary cavalry they managed to scatter his riders. Both commanders settled in their old camps near Asparagus. The bulwarks were unscathed so one part of Pompey’s soldiers went back to the camps for the tabors, whereas the other part walked far away to get food and water. The following day Caesar set off and went farther, but Pompey could not follow him because of the scatter of the army. Pompey first was trying to catch up, but after four days he ceased the chase.
The situation was as follows: Pompey could attack Domitius as it was probable that Caesar would like to join him. But he could also crowd Scipio and thus force Pompey to come to help. Pompey, on the other hand, could attack Oricum and Apollonia to cut Caesar off the sea. Caesar, however, did not choose to join Domitius. Because of the unfortunate result in Dyrrachium, he lost many allies. Meanwhile Domitius, because of the grain delivery headed unconsciously towards Pompey. Eventually, he was warned and then made for Thessaly where he joined Caesar. Those two armies set off to Gomf50 from where had earlier come to the messengers for Caesars, giving him all their stocks to manage. Nonetheless, after hearing about the situation in Dyrrachium, they closed their gates and asked Pompey for reinforcements. Caesar, despite the obstacles, came to the city and took it over and then gave it to the soldiers to pillage. Then he went to Metropolis, which also intended to defend itself, but when the messengers brought news of the plunder of Gomf, the gates were opened. After those events, most of the cities in Thessaly opened their gates for Caesar.
A few days later Pompey arrived to Thessaly and joined Scipio. His camp was still in the mood for victory. It may be said that the whole of Pompey’s army, including his commanders, started to count their chickens before they were hatched. Meanwhile, Caesar stocked up on a grain and his soldiers were ready to fight. Every day he walked with his army, closer and closer to Pompey’s camp, checking how willing was he to fight. Pompey, on the other hand, having the camp on the hill, gathered the soldiers at the foot of a hill and waited for what was going to happen. Caesar, not able to induce Pompey to leave the fort, chose to move out in order to force his army to set off as they were not used to long journeys. When Caesar was ready to march, he noticed that Pompey edged away from the camp as he was probably being persisted by his commanders to five a fight. It was 9 August 48 BCE.
Pompey intended to use his weight of numbers in the cavalry. He planned to scramble through Caesar’s left flank and destroy his army from behind. On the left flank, Pompey put two legions, gathered at the beginning of the war with Caesar in Italy, which he commanded himself. In the middle, there was Scipio with the Syrian legions and on the right flank, there was Afranius along with the Cilician legions and the Hispanic cohorts. The right side was protected by the stream with the steep banks so all the cavalry, slingers and archers were put on the left flank. Cumulatively, Pompey had 100 cohorts which give approximately 45 000 people. Meanwhile, Caesar put the X legion on the right flank and XI legion along with the VIII on the left and legion XI joined with the VII on the left. The left flank was commanded by Antony, the middle by Domitius and the right – Sulla. Caesar himself breasted Pompey51. Caesar had 80 cohorts at his disposal which gives approximately 22 000 people. He also predicted the cavalry attack which Pompey had planned and withdrew one cohort from each legion in the third rank and then created out of them a fourth rank, turned against the cavalry.
The battle began with Caesar’s infantry attack. Pompey ordered to face it without changing their position. The Pompeians stood the attack and Caesar’s cavalry was much weaker than the opponents’. Then he commanded the previously made fourth rank to move and they break the enemies’ cavalry and slaughtered the slingers and archers and then irrupted Pompey’s left flank. Only then Caesar moved his third rank which he had previously told not to move without an order. Thanks to that the new forces replaced the exhausted soldiers and the fourth line got into the opponents’ rear area. Encircled Pompeians bolted, including Pompey, who escaped and hide in the camp. Caesar ordered the siege but Pompey’s soldiers were thinking more about an escape rather than about defending the camp. Realizing his defeat, Pompey ran away through the back gate toward Larissa where he took about 30 people, reached the sea and escaped on the ship transporting grain.
The vast majority of Pompey’s army escaped to the mountains. Caesar divided his forces into two groups: one part stayed in the enemies’ camp, the second one returned to their own, and the other – built a bank at the foot of a hill. Caesar took 4 legions to block Pompey’s retreat to Larissa. When the Pompeians noticed those actions, they decided to stay in the mountains. Caesar built the banks which cut the opponents off the river as they could not be provided with water. The Pompeians, scared of starve, capitulated52.
Caesar wrote that he lost bout 200 peopled meanwhile Pompey lost 15 000 in the battle and 24 000 were taken as captives.
The following day all the soldiers hiding in the mountains came out and laid down their arms. Caesar went to Larissa. Meanwhile, Lelius, commander of Pompey’s fleet, began the beleaguerment of the harbour in Brundisium, totally unaware of what had happened in Thessaly. At the same time, the other part of this fleet won over Caesar’s ships in Messana. The siege of the city started and if it was not for the news about Caesar’s victory, it would surely become surrendered. Cassius53 was trying to destroy both parts of the opponent’s fleet but when he did not manage to do that, he left with his vessels. Caesar chose to chase Pompey. He, on the other hand, continued to escape, but wherever he came, he was not welcomed. Eventually, he asked king Ptolemy for asylum in Alexandria. Pompey was let to get there but at the same time, there were made schemes to kill him. Pompey disembarked from the vessel into a small boat in which were sailing Achillas and Septimius – his future assassins. Caesar’s enemy was stabbed with the dagger a few times and then his head was severed and taken to the king54. This is how one of Caesar’s greatest enemies, winner of many battles in the campaigns in the East, one of the triumvirs and the defender of the Roman Republic, died, on 28 September 48 BCE.
Caesar came to Alexandria on 2 October 48 BCE with 3200 soldiers, as soon as he learned about Pompey’s55 death. There he intervened in the wrangling over power between an underage Ptolemy and his elder sister, Cleopatra VII56. There was made covertly an army against Caesar (Ptolemy’s supporters) commanded by the previously mentioned assassin, Achillas. When Caesar was staying in the city with his army, a message came, saying that the army was making an advance on the city. Caesar did not have enough soldiers to take on the battle so he chose to fight back in the city. Achilles took over the whole city except for the part occupied by Caesar. He was fighting on the narrow streets, but he also had to keep the attacked harbour with the ships. In the end, they were burnt as there was not enough crew to defend them. Caesar manned the Faros island with its famous tower. The island was connected to the land only with the narrow bridge and the person who had Faros could easily defend the access to the harbour. This way Caesar provided himself with food supplies. He managed to take over and fortify the crucial places. He finished his account with the statement: “Such was the beginning of the Alexandrian war.”
In his account, Caesar did not describe the whole story of the civil war but only its first year. Here we present its further story, in a short summary. Fights in Egypt finished in March 47 BCE. Thanks to the reinforcements sent by Mithridates, Caesar managed to destroy the Egyptian army and restore Cleopatra to power. Then he went to Pontus, where he won the war with the son of late Mithridates and informed the Senate about the victory with these famous words: “Veni, vidi, vici”. In the end, he went to Africa to defeat the joined forces of king Juba and the Pompeians. It took him four months and his final engagement was the battle of Thapsus on 6 April 46 BCE.
Pompey’s sons: Sextus and Gnaeus escaped to Hispania to continue the war with Caesar. The victor began the siege of Utica where his opponent was stationed, Cato who committed suicide after realizing that he would not be able to defend the city. Caesar assumed that he only needed to defeat Pompey’s sons in Hispania so he returned to Rome to have a triumphal procession. He was appointed dictator for the next 10 years. He extended Rome architecturally, eg. he began the building of Forum Iulium and rebuilt the Senate’s boardroom. He also managed to reform the calendar which after him was named the Julian calendar.
Caesar was not at all cruel. Moreover, he helped his opponents which caused quite an astonishment. In 46 BCE Cleopatra came to Rome with Caesarion. Her appearance in the city created a stir among some people, but no one opposed the dictator. In November he went to Hispania to finally finish the war. It was settled with the battle of Munda on 17 March 45 BCE. When the battle went adrift Caesar had to join the ranks and fight along with his soldiers. In the end, Caesar’s victory cost the life of 30 000 legionaries from both sides. Caesar returned to Rome for another triumphal procession. The war was over and he was the one who won.
Unfortunately, Caesar still had many enemies attached to the Republic. Many of his friends, who owed their positions and fortunes to him, conspired to kill him. He was assassinated on the Ides of March, 15 March 44 BCE.
After defeating Pompey Caesar wanted to carry out many reforms in the country end extend its territory, but his intentions were misread. At the beginning of 44 BCE, he proclaimed himself dictator in perpetuity. He could not get any imperial title as he was aware of to what extent this system was hated by society. Despite his death, he managed to build a foundation for the Empire. His adopted son, Augustus, had a long way to go before he became the first Roman Emperor but it was his father who had been in fact the slayer of the Republic and also the person thanks to which Rome became the most powerful country and lasted for the next 500 years.