Text #9758

Caesar. "The Civil War"


[3.88] When Caesar approached Pompey’s camp, he observed that his army was drawn up in the following manner: On the left wing were the two legions, delivered over by Caesar at the beginning of the disputes in compliance with the Senate’s decree, one of which was called the First, the other the Third. (note Here Pompey commanded in person.)

[Pompey’s father-in-law Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius] Scipio with the Syrian legions commanded the center. The Cilician legion in conjunction with the Spanish cohorts […] were disposed on the right wing. These Pompey considered his steadiest troops. The rest he had interspersed between the center and the wing, and he had 110 complete cohorts; these amounted to 45,000 men. He had besides two cohorts of volunteers, who had received favors from him in former wars, and now flocked to his standard: these were dispersed through his whole army. The seven remaining cohorts he had disposed to protect his camp and the neighboring forts. His right wing was secured by a river with steep banks; for this reason he placed all his cavalry [commanded by Titus Labienus], archers, and slingers, on his left wing.

[3.89] Caesar, as always, had placed the tenth legion on the right, the ninth on the left, although it was very much weakened by the battles at Dyrrhachium. He placed the eighth legion so close to the ninth as to almost make one of the two, and ordered them to support one another. He drew up on the field eighty cohorts, making a total of 22,000 men, and left two cohorts to guard the camp. He gave the command of the left wing to Marc Antony, of the right to [Publius Cornelius] Sulla, and of the center to Gnaeus Domitius [Calvinus]. Caesar himself took his post opposite Pompey. At the same time, fearing, from the disposition of the enemy which we have previously mentioned, lest his right wing might be surrounded by their numerous cavalry, he rapidly drafted a single cohort from each of the legions composing the third line, formed of them a fourth line, and opposed them to Pompey’s cavalry, and, acquainting them with his wishes, admonished them that the success of that day depended on their courage. At the same time he ordered the third line, and the entire army not to charge without his command: that he would give the signal whenever he wished them to do so.

[3.90] When he was exhorting his army to battle, according to the military custom, and spoke to them of the favors that they had constantly received from him, he took especial care to remind them “that he could call his soldiers to witness the earnestness with which he had sought peace […], that he had been always reluctant to shed the blood of his soldiers, and did not wish to deprive the republic of one or other of her armies.” After delivering this speech, he gave by a trumpet the signal to his soldiers, who were eagerly demanding it, and were very impatient for the onset.

[3.91] There was in Caesar’s army, a volunteer named Crastinus, who the year before had been first centurion of the tenth legion, a man of pre-eminent bravery. When the signal was given, he said, “Follow me, my old comrades, and display such exertions on behalf of your general as you have determined to do. This is our last battle, and when it shall be won, he will recover his dignity, and we our liberty.”

At the same time he looked back to Caesar, and said, “General, I will act in such a manner today that you will feel grateful to me, living or dead.”

After uttering these words he charged on the right wing, and about 120 chosen volunteers of the same century followed.

[3.92] There was so much space left between the two lines as sufficed for the onset of the hostile armies, but Pompey had ordered his soldiers to await Caesar’s attack and not to advance from their position, or suffer their line to be put into disorder. He is said to have done this by the advice of Gaius Triarius, that the impetuosity of the charge of Caesar’s soldiers might be checked, and their line broken, and that Pompey’s troops remaining in their ranks, might attack them while in disorder; and he thought that the javelins would fall with less force if the soldiers were kept in their ground, than if they met them in their course. At the same time he trusted that Caesar’s soldiers, after running over double the usual ground, would become weary and exhausted by the fatigue.

But to me Pompey seems to have acted without sufficient reason: for there is a certain impetuosity of spirit and an alacrity implanted by nature in the hearts of all men, which is inflamed by a desire to meet the foe. A general should endeavor not to repress this, but he must increase it. Nor was it a vain institution of our ancestors that the trumpets should sound on all sides and a general shout be raised, by which they imagined that the enemy would be struck with terror and their own army inspired with courage.

[3.93] Our men, when the signal was given, rushed forward with their javelins ready to be launched, but perceiving that Pompey’s men did not run to meet their charge, and having acquired experience by custom and practice in former battles, they of their own accord repressed their speed, and halted almost midway, so that they would not come up with the enemy when their strength was exhausted. After a short respite they renewed their course, threw their javelins, and instantly drew their swords, as Caesar had ordered them.

Nor did Pompey’s men fail in this crisis, for they received our javelins, stood our charge, and maintained their ranks; and having launched their javelins, had recourse to their swords. At the same time Pompey’s cavalry, according to their orders, rushed out at once from his left wing, and his whole host of archers poured after them. Our cavalry did not withstand their charge, but gave ground a little, upon which Pompey’s horse pressed them more vigorously, and began to file off in troops, and flank our army.

When Caesar perceived this, he gave the signal to his fourth line, which he had formed of the six cohorts.note They instantly rushed forward and charged Pompey’s horse with such fury, that not a man of them stood; but all wheeling about, not only quitted their post, but galloped forward to seek a refuge in the highest mountains. By their retreat the archers and slingers, being left destitute and defenseless, were all cut to pieces. The cohorts, pursuing their success, wheeled about upon Pompey’s left wing, while his infantry still continued to make battle, and attacked them in the rear.

[3.94] At the same time Caesar ordered his third line to advance, which till then had not been engaged, but had kept their post. Thus, new and fresh troops having come to the assistance of the fatigued, and others having made an attack on their rear, Pompey’s men were not able to maintain their ground, but all fled. Caesar had not been wrong when he had declared in his speech to his soldiers that victory would have its beginning from the six cohorts that he had placed as a fourth line to oppose the horse. For by them the cavalry were routed; by them the archers and slingers were cut to pieces; by them the left wing of Pompey’s army was surrounded, and obliged to be the first to flee.

When Pompey saw his cavalry routed […], he despaired […], quitted the field, and retreated straightway on horseback to his camp. Calling to the centurions, whom he had placed to guard the main gate, with a loud voice, that the soldiers might hear: “Secure the camp,” says he, “defend it with diligence, if any danger should threaten it; I will visit the other gates and encourage the guards of the camp.” Having thus said, he retired into his tent in utter despair, yet anxiously waiting the issue.

[3.95] Caesar, having forced the Pompeians to flee into their entrenchment and thinking that he ought not to allow them any respite to recover from their fright, exhorted his soldiers to take advantage of fortune’s kindness, and to attack the camp. Though they were fatigued by the intense heat, for the battle had continued till midday, they were prepared to undergo any labor and cheerfully obeyed his command.

The camp was bravely defended by the cohorts which had been left to guard it, but with much more spirit by the Thracians and foreign auxiliaries. For the soldiers who had fled for refuge to it from the field of battle, affrighted and exhausted by fatigue, having thrown away their arms and military standards, had their thoughts more engaged on their further escape than on the defense of the camp. Nor could the troops who were posted on the battlements long withstand the immense number of our darts. Fainting under their wounds, they quitted the place, and under the conduct of their centurions and tribunes, fled, without stopping, to the high mountains which joined the camp.

[3.96] In Pompey’s camp you might see arbors in which tables were laid, a large quantity of plate set out, the floors of the tents covered with fresh sods, the tents of Lucius Lentulus and others shaded with ivy, and many other things which were proofs of excessive luxury and a confidence of victory, so that it might readily be inferred that they had no apprehensions of the issue of the day, as they indulged themselves in unnecessary pleasures, and yet upbraided with luxury Caesar’s army, distressed and suffering troops, who had always been in want of common necessaries.

Pompey, as soon as our men had forced the trenches, mounted his horse, stripped off his general’s habit, went hastily out of the back gate of the camp, and galloped with all speed to Larissa. Nor did he stop there, but with the same dispatch, collecting a few of his flying troops, and halting neither day nor night, he arrived at the seaside, attended by only thirty horse, and went on board a victualing barque, often complaining, as we have been told, that he had been so deceived in his expectation, that he was almost persuaded that he had been betrayed by those from whom he had expected victory, as they began the fight.

[3.97] When Caesar was master of Pompey’s camp, he urged his soldiers not to be too intent on plunder and lose the opportunity of completing their conquest. Having obtained their consent, he began to draw lines round the mountain. The Pompeians distrusting the position, as there was no water on the mountain, abandoned it, and all began to retreat toward Larissa. Caesar perceived it, divided his troops, ordered part of his legions to remain in Pompey’s camp, sent back a part to his own camp, and taking four legions with him, went by a shorter road to intercept the enemy, Having marched 9 kilometers, Caesar drew up his army.

But the Pompeians observing this, took post on a mountain, whose foot was washed by a river. Caesar encouraged his troops, though they were greatly exhausted […], to throw up works and cut off the communication between the river and the mountain, so that the enemy might not get water in the night. As soon as our work was finished, they sent ambassadors to treat about a capitulation. A few senators who had espoused that party, made their escape by night.

[3.98] At dawn, Caesar ordered all those who had taken post on the mountain to come down from the higher grounds into the plain, and pile their arms. They did this without refusal, and with outstretched arms they prostrated themselves on the ground and with tears implored his mercy. He comforted them and bade them rise, and having spoken a few words of his own clemency to alleviate their fears, he pardoned them all, and gave orders to his soldiers, that no injury should be done to them, and nothing taken from them. Having used this diligence, he ordered the legions in his camp to come and meet him, and those which were with him to take their turn of rest, and go back to the camp. The same day, they went to Larissa

[3.99] In that battle, no more than 200 privates were missing, but Caesar lost about 30 centurions, valiant officers. Crastinus, also, of whom mention was made before, fighting most courageously, lost his life by the wound of a sword in the mouth. It had not been false what he had declared when marching to battle: for Caesar entertained the highest opinion of his behavior in that battle, and thought him highly deserving of his approbation.

Of Pompey’s army, there fell about 15,000; but upwards of 24,000 were made prisoners: for even the cohorts which were stationed in the forts, surrendered to Sulla. Several others took shelter in the neighboring states. 180 stands of colors, and nine eagles, were brought to Caesar. Lucius Domitius [Ahenobarbus], fleeing from the camp to the mountains, his strength being exhausted by fatigue, was killed by the horse.

Text #9759

Plutarch. Lives. Vol. 7
[Plut. Caes. 43--48. Translated by Bernadotte Perrin. Harvard University Press. 1967. (11 Vols.) p. 551]


4 There were constant skirmishings about the fortifications of Pompey, and in all of them Caesar got the better except one, where there was a great rout of his men and he was in design of losing his camp. 5 For when Pompey attacked not one of Caesar’s men stood his ground, but the moats were filled with the slain, and others were falling at their own ramparts and walls, whither they had been driven in headlong flight. 6 And though Caesar met the fugitives and tried to turn them back, he availed nothing, nay, when he tried to lay hold of the standards the bearers threw them away, so that the enemy captured thirty-two of them. Caesar himself, too, narrowly escaped being killed. 7 For as a tall and sturdy man was running away past him, he laid his hand upon him and bade him stay and face about upon the enemy; and the fellow, full of panic at the threatening danger, raised his sword to smite Caesar, but before he could do so Caesar’s shield-bearer lopped off his arm at the shoulder. 8 So completely had Caesar given up his cause for lost that, when Pompey, either from excessive caution or by some chance, did not follow up his great success, but withdrew after he had shut up the fugitives within their entrenchments, Caesar said to his friends as he left them: “To‑day victory had been with the enemy, if they had had a victor in command.” 9 Then going by himself to his tent and lying down, he spent that most distressful of all nights in vain reflections, convinced that he had shown bad generalship. For while a fertile country lay waiting for him, and the prosperous cities of Macedonia and Thessaly, he had neglected to carry the war thither, and had posted himself here by the sea, which his enemies controlled with their fleets, being thus held in siege by lack of provisions rather than besieging with his arms. 10 Thus his despondent thoughts of the difficulty and perplexity of his situation kept him tossing upon his couch, and in the morning he broke camp, resolved to lead his army into Macedonia against Scipio; 11 for he would either draw Pompey after him to a place where he would give battle without drawing his supplies as he now did from the sea, or Scipio would be left alone and he would overwhelm him.

40 1 This emboldened the soldiers of Pompey and the leaders by whom he was surrounded to keep close to Caesar, whom they thought defeated and in flight. 2 For Pompey himself was cautious about hazarding a battle for so great a stake, and since he was most excellently provided with everything necessary for a long war, he thought it best to wear out and quench the vigour of the enemy, which must be short-lived. 3 For the best fighting men in Caesar’s army had experience, it is true, and a daring which was irresistible in combat; but what with their long marches and frequent encampments and siege-warfare and night-watches, they were beginning to give out by reason of age, and were too unwieldy for labour, having lost their ardour from weakness. 4 At that time, too, a kind of pestilential disease, occasioned by the strangeness of their diet, was said to be prevalent in Caesar’s army. And what was most important of all, since Caesar was neither strong in funds or well supplied with provisions, it was thought that within a short time his army would break up of itself.

41 1 For these reasons Pompey did not wish to fight, but Cato was the only one to commend his course, and this from a desire to spare the lives of his fellow citizens; for when he saw even those of the enemy who had fallen in battle, to the number of a thousand, he burst into tears, muffled up his head, and went away. 2 All the rest, however, reviled Pompey for trying to avoid a battle, and sought to goad him on by calling him Agamemnon and King of Kings, implying that he did not wish to lay aside his sole authority, but plumed himself on having so many commanders dependent on him and coming constantly to his tent. 3 And Favonius, affecting Cato’s boldness of speech, complained like a mad man because that year also they would be unable to enjoy the figs of Tusculum because of Pompey’s love of command.72 4 Afranius, too, who had lately come from Spain, where he had shown bad generalship, when accused of betraying his army for a bribe, asked why they did not fight with the merchant who had bought the provinces for him.72 5 Driven on by all these importunities, Pompey reluctantly sought a battle and pursued Caesar.

6 Caesar accomplished most of his march with difficulty, since no one would sell him provisions, and everybody despised him on account of his recent defeat; 7 but after he had taken Gomphi, a city of Thessaly, he not only provided food for his soldiers, but also relieved them of their disease unexpectedly. 8 For they fell in with plenty of wine, and after drinking freely of it, and then revelling and rioting on their march, by means of their drunkenness they drove away and got rid of their trouble, since they brought their bodies into a different habit.

42 1 But when both armies entered the plain of Pharsalus and encamped there, Pompey’s mind reverted again to its former reasoning, and besides, there befell him unlucky appearances and a vision in his sleep. He dreamed, namely, that he saw himself in his theatre applauded by the Romans, . . . 2 Those about him, however, were so confident, and so hopefully anticipated the victory, that Domitius and Spinther and Scipio disputed earnestly with one another over Caesar’s office of Pontifex Maximus, and many sent agents to Rome to hire and take possession of houses suitable for praetors and consuls, assuming that they would immediately hold these offices after the war. 3 And most of all were his cavalry impatient for the battle, since they had a splendid array of shining armour, well-fed horses, and handsome persons, and were in high spirits too on account of their numbers, which were seven thousand to Caesar’s one thousand. 4 The numbers of the infantry also were unequal, since forty-five thousand were arrayed against twenty-two thousand.

43 1 Caesar called his soldiers together, and after telling them that Corfinius was near with two legions for him, and that fifteen cohorts besides under Calenus were stationed at Athens and Megara, asked them whether they wished to wait for these troops, or to hazard the issue by themselves. 2 Then the soldiers besought him with loud cries not to wait for the troops, but rather to contrive and manoeuvre to come to close quarters with the enemy as soon as possible. 3 As he was holding a lustration and review of his forces and had sacrificed the first victim, the seer at once told him that within three days there would be a decisive battle with the enemy. 4 And when Caesar asked him whether he also saw in the victims any favourable signs of the issue, “Thou thyself,” said the seer, “canst better answer this question for thyself. For the gods indicate a great change and revolution of the present status to the opposite. Therefore, if thou thinkest thyself well off as matters stand, expect the worse fortune; if badly off, the better.” 5 Moreover, one night before the battle, as Caesar was making the round of his sentries about midnight, a fiery torch was seen in the heavens, which seemed to be carried over his camp, blazing out brightly, and then to fall into Pompey’s. 6 And during the morning watch it was noticed that there was actually a panic confusion among the enemy. 7 However, Caesar did not expect to fight on that day, but began to break camp for a march to Scotussa.

44 1 But just as the tents had been struck, his scouts rode up to him with tidings that the enemy were coming down into the plain for battle. At this he was overjoyed, and after prayers and vows to the gods, drew up his legionaries in three divisions. 2 Over the centre he put Domitius Calvinus, while of the wings Antony had one and he himself the right, where he intended to fight with the tenth legion. 3 But seeing that the enemy’s cavalry were arraying themselves over against this point, and fearing their brilliant appearance and their numbers, he ordered six cohorts from the furthermost lines to come round to him unobserved, and stationed them behind his right wing, teaching them what they were to do when the enemy’s horsemen attacked. 4 Pompey had one of his wings himself, and Domitius the left, while Scipio, Pompey’s father-in‑law, commanded the centre. 5 But his horsemen all crowded to the left wing, intending to encircle the enemy’s right and make a complete rout about the commander himself; 6 for they thought that no legionary array, however deep, could resist them, but that when so many horsemen made an onset together the enemy would be utterly broken and crushed.

7 When both sides were about to sound the charge, Pompey ordered his legionaries to stand with arms at the ready and await in close array the onset of the enemy until they were within javelin cast. 8 But Caesar says78 that here too Pompey made a mistake, not knowing that the initial clash with all the impetus of running adds force to the bows and fires the courage, which everything then conspires to fan. 9 As Caesar himself was about to move his lines of legionaries, and was already going forward into action, he saw first one of his centurions, a man experienced in war and faithful to him, encouraging his men and challenging them to vie with him in prowess. 10 Him Caesar addressed by name and said: “Caius Crassinius,79 what are our hopes, and how does our confidence stand?” Then Crassinius, stretching forth his right hand, said with a loud voice: “We shall win a glorious victory, O Caesar, and thou shalt praise me to‑day, whether I am alive or dead.” 11 So saying, he plunged foremost into the enemy at full speed, carrying along with him the one hundred and twenty soldiers under his command. 12 But after cutting his way through the first rank, and while he was forging onwards with great slaughter, he was beaten back by the thrust of a sword through his mouth, and the point of the sword actually came out at the back of his neck.

45 1 When the infantry had thus clashed together in the centre and were fighting, Pompey’s cavalry rode proudly up from the wing and deployed their squadrons to envelope the enemy’s right; 2 and before they could attack, the cohorts ran out from where Caesar was posted, not hurling their javelins, as usual, nor yet stabbing the thighs and legs of their enemies with them, but aiming them at their eyes and wounding their faces. 3 They had been instructed to do this by Caesar, who expected that men little conversant with wars or wounds, but young, and pluming themselves on their youthful beauty, would dread such wounds especially, and would not stand their ground, fearing not only their present danger, but also their future disfigurement. 4 And this was what actually came to pass; for they could not endure the upward thrust of the javelins, nor did they even venture to look the weapon in the face, but turned their heads away and covered them up to spare their faces. 5 And finally, having thus thrown themselves into confusion, they turned and fled most shamefully, thereby ruining everything. 6 For the conquerors of the horsemen at once encircled the infantry, fell upon their rear, and began to cut them to pieces.

7 When Pompey, on the other wing, saw his horsemen scattered in flight, he was no longer the same man, nor remembered that he was Pompey the Great, but more like one whom Heaven has robbed of his wits than anything else, he went off without a word to his tent, sat down there, and awaited what was to come, until his forces were all routed and the enemy were assailing his ramparts and fighting with their defenders. 8 Then he came to his senses, as it were, and with this one ejaculation, as they say, “What, even to my quarters?” took off his fighting and general’s dress, put on one suitable for a fugitive, and stole away. 9 What his subsequent fortunes were, and how he delivered himself into the hands of the Egyptians and was murdered, I shall tell in his Life.

46 1 But Caesar, when he reached Pompey’s ramparts and saw those of the enemy who were already lying dead there and those who were still falling, said with a groan: “They would have it so; they brought me to such a pass that if I, Caius Caesar, after waging successfully the greatest wars, had dismissed my forces, I should have been condemned in their courts.”1 2 Asinius Pollio says that these words, which Caesar afterwards wrote down in Greek, were uttered by him in Latin at the time; 3 he also says that most of the slain were servants who were killed at the taking of the camp, and that not more than six thousand soldiers fell. 4 Most of those who were taken alive Caesar incorporated in his legions, and to many men of prominence he granted immunity. One of these was Brutus, who afterwards slew him. Caesar was distressed, we are told, when Brutus was not to be found, but when he was brought into his presence safe and sound, was pleased beyond measure.

47 1 There were many portents of the victory, but the most remarkable one on record is that which was seen at Tralles. 2 In that city’s temple of Victory there stood a statue of Caesar, and the ground around it was naturally firm, and was paved with hard stone; yet from this it is said that a palm-tree shot up at the base of the statue. 3 Moreover, at Patavium, Caius Cornelius, a man in repute as a seer, a fellow citizen and acquaintance of Livy the historian, chanced that day to be sitting in the place of augury. 4 And to begin with, according to Livy, he discerned the time of the battle, and said to those present that even then the event was in progress and the men were going into action. 5 And when he looked again and observed the signs, he sprang up in a rapture crying: “Thou art victorious, O Caesar!” 6 The bystanders being amazed, he took the chaplet from his head and declared with an oath that he would not put it on again until the event had borne witness to his art. At any rate, Livy insists that this was so.2

48 1 Caesar gave the Thessalians their freedom, to commemorate his victory, and then pursued Pompey; when he reached Asia he made the Cnidians also free, to please Theopompus the collector of fables, and for all the inhabitants of Asia remitted a third of their taxes. 2 Arriving at Alexandria just after Pompey’s death, he turned away in horror from Theodotus as he presented the head of Pompey, but he accepted Pompey’s seal-ring, and shed tears over it.85 3 Moreover, all the companions and intimates of Pompey who had been captured by the king as they wandered over the country, he treated with kindness and attached them to himself. 4 And to his friends in Rome he wrote that this was the greatest and sweetest pleasure that he derived from his victory, namely, from time to time to save the lives of fellow citizens who had fought against him.

  1. Hoc voluerunt; tantis rebus gestis Gaius Caesar condemnatus essem, nisi ab exercitu auxilium petissem (Suetonius, Div. Jul. 30). [OF]

  2. In Book cxi, which is lost. [OF]

Text #1934

Dio Cassius. Roman History. Series: Dio's Roman History. Vol. 4
[DioCass. 41.51.2--41.63.2. Translated by Earnest Cary. William Heinemann. 1916. (9 Vols.)]


51 Caesar, in view of this occurrence and because his grain had failed, inasmuch as the whole sea and land in the vicinity were hostile, and because for this reason some had actually deserted, feared that he might either be defeated while watching his adversary or be abandoned by his other followers. Therefore he levelled all the works that had been constructed, destroyed also all the parallel walls, and thereupon set out suddenly and hastened into Thessaly. During this same time, it seems, while Dyrrachium was being besieged, Lucius Cassius Longinus and Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus had been sent by him into Macedonia and Thessaly. Longinus had been disastrously defeated in Thessaly by Scipio and by Sadalus, a Thracian; and Calvinus had been repulsed from Macedonia by Faustus, but on receiving accessions from the Locrians and Aetolians had invaded Thessaly with these troops, and after being ambushed had afterwards set ambuscades himself and conquered Scipio in battle, thereby winning over a few cities. Thither, accordingly, Caesar hastened, thinking that by uniting with these officers he could more easily secure an abundance of provisions and thus continue the war. When no one would receive him, because of his reverses, he reluctantly held aloof from the larger settlements, but assaulted Gomphi, a little town in Thessaly; and upon taking it he put many to death and plundered everything, in order that by this act he might inspire the rest with terror. Metropolis, another town, for example, did not even contend with him but forthwith capitulated without a struggle; and as he did no harm to its citizens he more easily won over some other places by his course in these two instances.

52 So he was once more becoming powerful. Pompey did not pursue him, for he had withdrawn suddenly by night and had hastily crossed the Genusus river; however, he was of the opinion that he had brought the war to an end. Consequently he assumed the title of imperator, though he uttered no boastful words about it and did not even wind laurel about his fasces, disliking to show such exultation over the downfall of citizens. From this same motive he neither sailed to Italy himself nor sent any others there, though he might easily have taken possession of it all. For with his fleet he was far superior, as he had five hundred swift ships and could land at all points at the same time; moreover, the sentiment of that country was not opposed to him in any case, and, even if it had been ever so hostile, the people were no match for him in war. But he wished to be far from giving the impression that Italy was the stake for which he was fighting, and did not think he ought to cause any fear to the people who were then in Rome. Hence he made no attempt on Italy, nor even sent to the government any despatch about his successes; but after this he set out against Caesar and came into Thessaly.

53 As they lay opposite each other the appearance of the camps bore, indeed, some semblance of war, but their arms were idle as in time of peace. As they considered the greatness of the danger and foresaw the obscurity and uncertainty of the issue, and still felt some regard for their common ancestry and their kinship, they continued to delay. Meanwhile they exchanged propositions looking toward friendship and appeared to some likely even to effect an empty reconciliation. The reason was that they were both reaching out after the supreme power and were influenced greatly by native ambition and greatly also by acquired rivalry, — since men can least endure to be outdone by their equals and intimates; hence they were not willing to make any concessions to each other, since each felt that he might win, nor could they feel confident, if they did reach some agreement, that they would not be always striving to gain the upper hand and would not fall to quarrelling again over the supreme issue.

54 In temper they differed from each other to this extent, that Pompey desired to be second to no man and Caesar to be first of all, and the former was anxious to be honoured by a willing people and to preside over and be loved by men who fully consent, whereas the latter cared not at all if he ruled over even an unwilling people, issued orders to men who hated him, and bestowed the honours with his own hand upon himself. The deeds, however, through which they hoped to accomplish all that they wished, were perforce common to both alike. For it was impossible for any one successfully to gain these ends without fighting against his countrymen, leading foreigners against kindred, obtaining vast sums by unjust pillage, and killing unlawfully many of his dearest associates. Hence, even though they differed in their desires, yet in their acts, by which they hoped to realise those desires, they were alike. Consequently they would not yield to each other on any point, in spite of the many claims they put forward, and finally came to blows.

55 The struggle proved a mighty one and unparalleled by any other. In the first place, the leaders themselves had the name of being the most skilled in all matters of warfare and clearly the most distinguished not only of the Romans but also of all other men then living. They had been trained in arms from boyhood, had constantly been occupied with them, had performed deeds worthy of note, had been conspicuous for great valour and also for great fortune, and were therefore most worthy of commanding and most worthy of victory. As to their forces, Caesar had the largest and the most genuinely Roman portion of the state legions and the most warlike men from the rest of Italy, from Spain, and the whole of Gaul and the islands that he had conquered; Pompey had brought along many from the senatorial and the equestrian order and from the regularly enrolled troops, and had gathered vast numbers from the subject and allied peoples and kings. With the exception of Pharnaces and Orodes (for he tried to win over even the latter, although an enemy since the time he had killed the Crassi), all the rest who had ever been befriended at all by Pompey gave him money and either sent or brought auxiliaries. Indeed, the Parthian had promised to be his ally if he should receive Syria; but as he did not get it, he lent him no help. While Pompey, then, greatly excelled in numbers, Caesar’s followers were their equals in strength; and so, the advantages being even, they were an equal match for each other and the risks they incurred were equal.

56 As a result of these circumstances and of the very cause and purpose of the war a most notable struggle took place. For the city of Rome and its entire empire, even then great and mighty, lay before them as the prize, since it was clear to all that it would be the slave of him who then conquered. When they reflected on this fact and furthermore thought of their former deeds, — Pompey of Africa, Sertorius, Mithridates, Tigranes, and the sea, and Caesar of Gaul, Spain, the Rhine, and Britain, — they were wrought up to the highest pitch of excitement, believing that those conquests, too, were at stake, and each being eager to acquire the other’s glory. For the renown of the vanquished, far more than his other possessions, becomes the property of the victor, since, the greater and more powerful the antagonist that a man overthrows, the greater is the height to which he himself is raised.

57 Therefore they delivered to their soldiers also many exhortations, but very much alike on both sides, saying all that is fitting to be said on such an occasion with reference both to the immediate results of the struggle and to the subsequent results. As they both came from the same state and were talking about the same matters and called each other tyrants and themselves liberators from tyranny of the men they addressed, they had nothing different to say on either side, but stated that it would be the lot of one side to die, of the other to be saved, of the one side to be captives, of the other to enjoy the master’s lot, to possess everything or to be deprived of everything, to suffer or to inflict a most terrible fate. After addressing some such exhortations to the citizens and furthermore trying to inspire the subject and allied contingents with hopes of a better lot and fears of a worse, they hurled at each other kinsmen, sharers of the same tent, of the same table, of the same libations. Yet why should any one, then, lament the fate of the others involved, when those very leaders, who were all these things to each other, and had, moreover, shared many secret plans and many exploits of like character, who had once been joined by domestic ties and had loved the same child, one as a father, the other as grandfather, nevertheless fought? All the ties with which nature, by mingling their blood, had bound them together, they now, led by their insatiable lust of power, hastened to break, tear, and rend asunder. Because of them Rome was being compelled to fight both in her own defence and against herself, so that even if victorious she would be vanquished.

58 Such was the struggle in which they joined; yet they did not immediately come to close quarters. Sprung from the same country and from the same hearth, with almost identical weapons and similar formation, each side shrank from beginning the battle, and shrank from slaying any one. So there was great silence and dejection on both sides; no one went forward or moved at all, but with heads bowed they stood motionless, as if devoid of life. Caesar and Pompey, therefore, fearing that if they remained quiet any longer their animosity might become lessened or they might even become reconciled, hurriedly commanded the trumpeters to give the signal and the men to raise the war cry in unison. Both orders were obeyed, but the combatants were so far from being imbued with courage, that at the sound of the trumpeters’ call, uttering the same notes, and at their own shout, raised in the same language, they showed their sense of relationship and betrayed their kinship more than ever, and so fell to weeping and lamenting. But after a long time, when the allied troops began the battle, the rest also joined in, fairly beside themselves at what they were doing.

59 Those who fought at long range were less sensible of the horrors, as they shot their arrows, hurled their javelins, discharged their slings without knowing whom they hit; but the heavy-armed troops and the cavalry had a very hard time of it, as they were close to each other and could even talk a little back and forth; at one and the same moment they would recognize those who confront them and would wound them, would call them by name and would slaughter them, would recall the towns they had come from and would despoil them. Such were the deeds both done and suffered by the Romans and by the others from Italy who were with them on the campaign, wherever they met each other. Many sent messages home through their very slayers. But the subject force fought both zealously and relentlessly, showing great zeal, as once to win their own freedom, so now to secure the slavery of the Romans; they wanted, since they were reduced to inferiority to them in all things, to have them as fellow-slaves.

60 Thus it was a very great battle and full of diverse incidents, partly for the reasons mentioned and partly on account of the numbers and the variety of the armaments. There were vast bodies of heavy-armed soldiers, vast bodies of cavalry, in another group archers and still others that were slingers, so that they occupied the whole plain, and scattered over it, they fought often with each other, since they belonged to the same arms, but often with men of the other arms indiscriminately. The Pompeians surpassed in cavalry and archers; hence they would surround troops at a distance, employ sudden assaults, and retired after throwing their opponents into confusion; then they would attack them again and again, turning now to this side and now to that. The Caesarians, therefore, were on their guard against this, and by wheeling round always managed to face their assailants, and when they came to close quarters with them, would seize hold of both men and horses in the eagerness of the struggle; for light-armed cavalry had been drawn up with their cavalry for this very purpose. And all this took place, as I said, not in one spot, but in many places at once, scattered all about, so that with some contending at a distance and others fighting at close quarters, this body smiting its opponents and that group being struck, one detachment fleeing and another pursuing, many infantry battles and many cavalry battles as well were to be seen. Meanwhile many incredible things were taking place. One man after routing another would himself be turned to flight, and another who had avoided an opponent would in turn attack him. One soldier who had struck another would be wounded himself, and a second, who had fallen, would kill the enemy who stood over him. Many died without being wounded, and many when half dead kept on slaying. Some were glad and sang paeans, while the others were distressed and uttered lamentations, so that all places were filled with shouts and groans. The majority were thrown into confusion by this fact, for what was said was unintelligible to them, because of the confusion of nations and languages, and alarmed them greatly, and those who could understand one another suffered a calamity many times worse; for in addition to their own misfortunes they could hear and at the same time see those of their neighbours.

61 At last, after they had carried on an evenly-balanced struggle for a very long time and many on both sides alike had fallen or been wounded, Pompey, since the larger part of his army was Asiatic and untrained, was defeated, even as had been made clear to him before the action. For thunderbolts had fallen upon his camp, a fire had appeared in the air over Caesar’s camp and had then fallen upon his own, bees had swarmed about his military standards, and many of the victims after being led up close to the very altar had run away. And so far did the effects of that contest extend to the rest of mankind that on the very day of the battle collisions of armies and the clash of arms occurred in many places. In Pergamum a noise of drums and cymbals rose from the temple of Dionysus and spread throughout the city; in Tralles a palm tree grew up in the temple of Victory and the goddess herself turned about toward an image of Caesar that stood beside her; in Syria two young men announced the result of the battle and vanished; and in Patavium, which now belongs to Italy but was then still a part of Gaul, some birds not only brought news of it but even acted it out to some extent, for one Gaius Cornelius drew from their actions accurate information of all that had taken place, and narrated it to the bystanders. These several things happened on that very same day and though they were, not unnaturally, distrusted at the time, yet when news of the actual facts was brought, they were marvelled at.

62 Of Pompey’s followers who were not destroyed on the spot some fled whithersoever they could, and others who were captured later on. Those of them who were soldiers of the line Caesar enrolled in his own legions, exhibiting no resentment. Of the senators and knights, however, he put to death all whom he had previously captured and spared, except some whom his friends begged off; for he allowed each friend on this occasion to save one man. The rest who had then for the first time fought against him he released, remarking: “Those have not wronged me who supported the cause of Pompey, their friend, without having received any benefit from me.” This same attitude he adopted toward the princes and the peoples who had assisted Pompey. He pardoned them all, bearing in mind that he himself was acquainted with none or almost none of them, whereas from his rival they had previously obtained many favours. Indeed, he praised these far more than he did those who, after receiving favours from Pompey, had deserted him in the midst of dangers; the former he could reasonably expect would be favourably disposed to him also, but as to the latter, no matter how anxious they seemed to be to please him in anything, he believed that, inasmuch as they had betrayed their friend in this crisis they would, on occasion, not spare him either.

63 A proof of his feeling is that he spared Sadalus the Thracian and Deiotarus the Galatian, who had been in the battle, and Tarcondimotus, who was ruler of a portion of Cilicia and had been of the greatest assistance to Pompey in the matter of ships. But what need is there to enumerate the rest who had sent auxiliaries, to whom also he granted pardon, merely exacting money from them? He did nothing else to them and took from them nothing else, though many had received numerous large gifts from Pompey, some long ago and some just at that time. He did give a certain portion of Armenia that had belonged to Deiotarus, to Ariobarzanes, king of Cappadocia, yet in this he did not injure Deiotarus at all, but rather conferred an additional favour upon him. For he did not curtail his territory, but after occupying all of Armenia previously occupied by Pharnaces, he bestowed one part of it upon Ariobarzanes and another part upon Deiotarus. These men, then, he treated in this wise. Pharnaces, on his side, made a plea that he had not assisted Pompey and therefore, in view of his behaviour, deserved to obtain pardon; but Caesar showed him no consideration, and furthermore reproached him for this very thing, that he had proved himself base and impious toward his benefactor. Such humanity and uprightness did he show throughout to all those who had fought against him. At any rate, all the letters that were found filed away in Pompey’s chests which convicted any persons of good-will toward the latter or ill-will toward himself he neither read nor had copied, but burned them immediately, in order not to be forced by what was in them to take several measures; and for this reason, if no other, one ought to hate the men who plotted against him. I make this statement with a particular purpose, since Marcus Brutus Caepio, who afterwards killed him, was not only captured by him but also spared.

Text #9762

Pocock. "What Made Pompeius Fight in 49 BC? ". Greece & Rome, Second Series


He was now once more Lord High Admiral of the Mediterranean, controller of the corn supply (from Egypt, Sicily, and Africa), lord of the East, proconsul of the whole of Spain, and facile princeps in Rome and Italy. It is no use blaming him for being great. He had so far no sinister object as far as we can see, except security. He and the state had become indivisible. Things had so befallen, and he had but followed his star.

He is, however, to be blamed for the use he made of this great machine of power. We can look back and see that the old senatorial government of the Roman Republic was finished, and that the right thing for Pompeius to have done in the crisis of 50 was to co-operate once more with Caesar, as in 59 and 56, and attempt some new and peaceful political solution. He should have seen this himself; instead, with the support of a very small clique of Caesar’s personal enemies, he decided on civil war. Once he had made that decision nothing could turn him from his purpose, though the time came when even Cato and his clique would have preferred a peaceful settlement. The war went on not because Caesar’s enemies had got at Pompeius, but because he had made his plans, made up his mind, and meant to fight. What then were his motives ? They were as follows:

(i) As Lucan and Cicero and Caelius Rufus saw, the real reason was jealousy pure and simple, the inability to endure a peer-even a friendly rival, we may add. This is sad; for Pompeius was not a barbarian or a demagogue but a gentleman.

(2) That jealousy was encouraged by circumstances. The greatest egoist in the world desires to stand well with the society around him. Pompeius, coming from Picenum, was no doubt prone, like Cicero, to value highly the approval of the inner circle of the old aristocracy. Here the family alliances he had formed probably did play some part. The support of the senatorial aristocracy, we might add, was part of his great defensive scheme.

(3) It would be his natural instinct to justify himself and claim that he was fighting for senatorial government, even though the majority of the Senate itself did not wish to fight. He no doubt did equate himself with the constitution and persuade himself that it was his duty (when his personal prestige was threatened) to save the res publica from aggression.

(4) There was the existence of his great military machine in itself to influence him. We of the twentieth century are well aware that all great armaments are primarily ‘defensive’-as Juvenal says, ‘nolunt occidere quemquam: posse uolunt’. We are also unpleasantly aware that great armaments are apt to turn into a ‘Frankenstein’, generating a life and momentum of their own and carrying with them their too highly-strung human designers.

(5) Finally, there was Pompeius’ own professional pride and moral courage; and his supreme self-confidence in his ability to make his plans and carry them out.

His grand plan, prepared long before hostilities commenced, was based on sea power and control of the corn supply. He would begin the war with military control in varying degrees in Italy, Spain, Sicily, Sardinia, North Africa, and the East, with ample resources of manpower. If the worst happened in Italy, supplies of corn to the enemy could be stopped or threatened, and overwhelming forces built up overseas.

It seems certain that, like others, he was not unaware of his rival’s strength and readiness for action, and that he was not underestimating the likelihood that in the earlier stages the tactical advantage would lie with Caesar. At all events he had plans ready for the eventuality; Italy would obviously be the first battlefield; and it was recognized that here space would have to be conceded. That space included not only North Italy but in all probability the city of Rome itself, and perhaps the whole of Italy. It might be hoped not, but it might be so. That surely was Pompeius’ own personal calculation. It is hard to think of anyone else with the strategic foresight or military composure of mind to make or contemplate in cold blood a decision so startling to others. His remark about merely having to stamp his foot in Italy may have reflected a mood of optimism, or it may be written off as the ‘morale-boosting’ so familiar to our generation.

Such plans as Pompeius had in mind are best kept quiet; but they were being discussed before the war began. Caelius Rufus, writing to Cicero in the September of 50, had prophesied that war would come within a year and had then said that there was no comparison between the armies. (Fam. viii. 14)

Writing to Atticus from Ephesus on I October Cicero says that the news given him by one Batonius about Caesar was terrifying-that he would never dismiss his army, and that Pompeius was thinking of leaving the City. (Att. vi. 8.) (That this meant ‘in case of hostilities’ is not absolutely certain from the context, but is supported by later references.)

By the beginning of December Cicero has come to the conclusion that if war should come Caesar would probably win it, and that it was more expedient to yield to his demands than fight. (Ibid. vii. 3, 5, 6, 7.)

At Formiae on 10 December he had seen Pompeius, who held out no hope of maintaining peace, in as much as Hirtius, Caesar’s most intimate friend, had been in the neighbourhood but had not called upon him. (Ibid. 4.)

On 25 December Cicero travelled with him from Lavernium to Formiae, and there spent the whole afternoon discussing the situation with him. He says on the 26th: (Ibid. 8.) ‘As far as I could gather from the long and exhaustive discourses of Pompeius, he has not even the wish for peace …. He feels confident in his own and the state’s resources. . . . In short, he appeared to me not merely not to desire the peace you talk of but even to fear it. … However, he is, I think, somewhat shaken in his idea of abandoning the City because of the bad impression it would make.’ (Here we may conclude that Pompeius has been discussing matters of strategy and watching Cicero’s reactions. Cicero, an imperator himself, is flattered; but the suggestion to him is just academic, he simply does not realize its significance.)

Writing again the next day, (Att. vii. 9.) and attempting to analyse the situation, he says ‘seeing finally that if war is once begun we must either defend the City or abandon it and try to cut him off from supplies and other resources . . .’, clearly quoting Pompeius but not really taking it in.

By 17 January he is talking of ‘the insane decision’ to leave Rome, (Ibid. 10.) and goes on, ‘What plan our Gnaeus has adopted or is adopting I don’t know. . . If he makes a stand in Italy, we shall all be together: if he abandons it,Ibid. 0o. I shall have to reconsider the matter.’

Again on the 19th he writes, (Ibid. 11.) ‘What do you think of Pompeius’ plan? I mean in abandoning the City, for I am at a loss to explain it. .. .’

Again on the 22nd: (Ibid. 12) ‘If he stays in Italy, I am afraid he cannot have a dependable army. … Such a want of all plans! [How wrong of Cicero!] So utterly opposed to my advice!’ And on the 23rd: ‘Could anything be worse than such a flight? … I have no idea what he is contemplating at the moment, though I never cease asking again and again by letter …. The men he is enlisting are reluctant to serve and averse to fighting. (Ibid. 13 a.)

On the 23rd L. Caesar brought to Pompeius Caesar’s proposal that all troops in Italy should be disbanded, that Pompeius should withdraw to Spain, and that an immediate interview should be arranged. (Ibid. 13 b, Fam. xvi. 12; Caes. B.C. i. 8 f.) Cicero writes, ‘… I met the consuls and many members of the Senate. All were anxious that Caesar should stand by his offer. … Even Cato himself now prefers slavery to fighting.’ Only Pompeius, unfortunately - with Labienus’ support - could keep his head when all about him were losing theirs. It was his war, he alone knew that his plans were perfect and that he could not lose - if he held to them.

By 27 February, sixteen days before Pompeius left Brundisium, Cicero has at last realized what his plans in fact meant. In Att. viii. 11 he writes, ‘Nor did he abandon the City because he was unable to protect it, or Italy because he was driven from it; but his idea from the first was to stir up every land and sea, to rouse foreign princes, to bring barbarous tribes against Italy, to collect the most formidable armies possible. For some time past a kind of royalty like Sulla’s has been the object in view.’ (This is not quite fair - Pompeius’ own words, ‘Sulla potuit: ego non potero?’ were meant in a military sense.)

On 17 March he writes, ‘Our leaders will think themselves entitled to starve to death the holiest of parents, their country. And this fear is not with me a matter of conjecture. I have heard their actual words. The whole object of collecting this fleet from Alexandria, Colchis, Tyre and Sidon, Aradus, Cyprus, Pamphylia, Lycia, Rhodes, Chios, Byzantium, Lesbos, Smyrna, Miletus, and Cos is to intercept the supplies of Italy and blockade the corn-growing provinces.’ This is not mere rhetoric; it compares closely enough with the list given by the less voluble Caesar: (B.C. iii. 3.)

‘After a whole year’s respite for organizing his forces Pompeius had collected a great fleet from Asia and the Cyclades, Corcyra, Athens, Pontus, Bithynia, Syria, Cilicia, Phoenicia, and Egypt.’ ‘This disgraceful measure’, Cicero proceeds, referring to the abandonment of Italy, (Att. ix. 10) ‘our friend Gnaeus has contemplated for two years past: for so long has his mind been set on playing the Sulla.’ (This sounds probable: it might well take two years to organize so large an operation.) By this time M. Tullius is an authority on Pompeius’ strategy.

In April Caelius Rufus writes to him (Fam. viii. I6.) begging him to do nothing rash, and adds, ‘At least wait until it is known how we get on in the Spanish provinces, which, I have to tell you, will be ours as soon as Caesar arrives. What hope your people can have when the Spains are lost, I do not know.’

But on 2 May (Att. x. 8.) Cicero says, ‘Besides, observe that the decision . . . does not depend on Spain, unless you really think that Pompeius will throw down his arms if that is lost. On the contrary, his view is entirely that of Themistokles: he holds that the master of the sea must inevitably be master of the Empire. Accordingly his object has never been to hold Spain for its own sake; the equipment of a fleet has always been his first care. He will take to the sea, therefore, as soon as the season permits, with an enormous fleet, and will approach the shores of Italy. And what then will be our position who remain there doing nothing? It will be impossible for us to remain neutral any longer.’ (That is what really worried Cicero.)

Enough has been said perhaps to demonstrate:

(i) the rather obvious fact that Pompeius’ decision to fight was the logical result of his strategic ‘build-up’;

(2) that naval power-predominance in the battle of the Mediterranean, as we might say-was its corner-stone

(3) that carefully thought out plans, naval, military, and political, had been made for its application;

(4) Pompeius’ firm personal confidence in the ultimate success of his plans, though he recognized, while everyone else feared, Caesar’s preparedness and efficiency;

(5) the consequent deduction that it was this, more than any other single factor, that precipitated the Civil War.

Only the epilogue remains. Pompeius may have hoped to hold the bridgehead of Brundisium, had it not been for Domitius’ insubordination or incompetence; but even that seems doubtful. His evacuation of the town and the withdrawal of his H.Q. to the Greek coast was clearly premeditated and very skilfully accomplished. The loss first of Sicily and then of the Spains must have been a severe disappointment, but those countries, like Italy, were space to be conceded, as Cicero, no strategist himself, but naturally quick to read another’s mind, had foreseen. The plan remained valid and Pompeius confident.

We have Caesar’s authority for the fact that his attempt to beleaguer Pompeius’ army at Dyrrhachium was a counsel more or less of desperation. The result was that Pompeius, as Caesar tells us, had the ‘match point’ in his hands, but missed the tactical opportunity and threw it away. So far, nevertheless, Pompeius’ conduct of affairs shows no noticeable deterioration. His troops fought well at Dyrrhachium, and we cannot but admire the fortitude with which he bore what must have been an enormous personal burden, apart from the arrogance and factiousness of his entourage.

After the engagement at Dyrrhachium, though he had not administered the coup de grace, his plan appeared to have triumphantly succeeded. Caesar was to all intents and purposes beaten. Pompeius was right to follow Caesar’s retreat in force, right not to attempt a return to Italy. His strength still lay in the essence of his plan: Caesar was too dangerous a tiger to be left at large in Greece. Pompeius knew very well how he should have been hunted down; but on the day of Pharsalus his nervous system probably paid the penalty for forty years of constant strain and responsibility. Against his own judgement he yielded to the clamour of others and presented Caesar with what seems to have been his only possible chance of survival. Then when everything was at stake he appears to have cracked up, as we say, lost control upon the battlefield, and suffered shameful and total defeat. He had gambled, against his custom, and lost everything to a greater gambler and a more brilliant tactician.

Caesar was a few years younger; and four years later Caesar too, it seems, had ‘had it’. The Ides of March were perhaps the more sensational: Pompeius’ peripeteia was more pathetic and more truly tragic. He is best left with Cicero’s rather curious epitaph:* ‘De Pompei exitu mihi dubium nunquam fuit. tanta enim desperatio rerum eius omnium regum et populorum animos occuparat ut quocunque uenisset hoc putarem futurum. non possum eius casum non dolere; hominem enim integrum et castum et grauem cognoui.’ *

Text #9692

"Battle of Pharsalus", in Wikipedia.

The Battle of Pharsalus was a decisive battle of Caesar’s Civil War. On 9 August 48 BC at Pharsalus in central Greece, Gaius Julius Caesar and his allies formed up opposite the army of the republic under the command of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (“Pompey the Great”). Pompey had the backing of a majority of the senators, of whom many were optimates, and his army significantly outnumbered the veteran Caesarian legions.

The two armies confronted each other over several months of uncertainty, Caesar being in a much weaker position than Pompey. The former found himself isolated in a hostile country with only 22,000 men and short of provisions, while on the other side of the river he was faced by Pompey with an army about twice as large in number. Pompey wanted to delay, knowing the enemy would eventually surrender from hunger and exhaustion. Pressured by the senators present and by his officers, he reluctantly engaged in battle and suffered an overwhelming defeat, ultimately fleeing the camp and his men, disguised as an ordinary citizen.

A dispute between Caesar and the optimates faction in the Senate of Rome culminated in Caesar marching his army on Rome and forcing Pompey, accompanied by much of the Roman Senate, to flee from Italy to Greece in 49 BC where he could better conscript an army to face his former ally. Caesar, lacking a fleet to immediately give chase, solidified his control over the western Mediterranean – Spain specifically – before assembling ships to follow Pompey. Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, whom Pompey had appointed to command his 600-ship fleet, set up a massive blockade to prevent Caesar from crossing to Greece and to prevent any aid to Italy. Caesar, defying convention, chose to cross the Adriatic during the winter, with only half his fleet at a time. This move surprised Bibulus and the first wave of ships managed to run the blockade easily. Now prepared, Bibulus managed to prevent any further ships from crossing, but died soon afterwards.

Caesar was now in a precarious position, holding a beachhead at Epirus with only half his army, no ability to supply his troops by sea, and limited local support, as the Greek cities were mostly loyal to Pompey. Caesar’s only choice was to fortify his position, forage what supplies he could, and wait on his remaining army to attempt another crossing. Pompey by now had a massive international army; however, his troops were mostly untested raw recruits, while Caesar’s troops were hardened veterans. Realizing Caesar’s difficulty in keeping his troops supplied, Pompey decided to simply mirror Caesar’s forces and let hunger do the fighting for him. Caesar began to despair and used every channel he could think of to pursue peace with Pompey. When this was rebuffed he made an attempt to cross back to Italy to collect his missing troops but was turned back by a storm. Finally, Marc Antony rallied the remaining forces in Italy, fought through the blockade and made the crossing, reinforcing Caesar’s forces in both men and spirit. Now at full strength Caesar felt confident to take the fight to Pompey.

Pompey was camped in a strong position just south of Dyrrhachium with the sea to his back and surrounded by hills, making a direct assault impossible. Caesar ordered a wall to be built around Pompey’s position in order to cut off water and pasture land for his horses. Pompey built a parallel wall and in between a kind of no man’s land was created, with fighting comparable to the trench warfare of World War I. Finally the standoff was broken by a traitor in Caesar’s army, who informed Pompey of a weakness in Caesar’s wall. Pompey immediately exploited this information and forced Caesar’s army into a full retreat, but ordered his army not to pursue, fearing Caesar’s reputation for setting elaborate traps. This caused Caesar to remark, “Today the victory had been the enemy’s, had there been any one among them to gain it.” Pompey continued his strategy of mirroring Caesar’s forces and avoiding any direct engagements. After trapping Caesar in Thessaly, the prominent senators in Pompey’s camp began to argue loudly for a more decisive victory. Although Pompey was strongly against it—he wanted to surround and starve Caesar’s army instead—he eventually gave in and accepted battle from Caesar on a field near Pharsalus.

The date of the actual decisive battle is given as 9 August 48 BC according to the republican calendar. According to the Julian calendar however, the date was either 29 June (according to Le Verrier’s chronological reconstruction) or possibly 7 June (according to Drumann/Groebe). As Pompey was assassinated on 3 September 48 BC, the battle must have taken place in the true month of August, when the harvest was becoming ripe (or Pompey’s strategy of starving Caesar would not be plausible).

The location of the battlefield was a long subject of controversy among scholars. Caesar himself, in his Commentarii de Bello Civili, mentions few place-names; and although the battle is called after Pharsalos, four ancient writers – the author of the Bellum Alexandrinum (48.1), Frontinus (Strategemata 2.3.22), Eutropius (20), and Orosius (6.15.27) – place it specifically at Palaepharsalos. Strabo in his Geographica (Γεωγραφικά) mentions both old and new Pharsaloi, and notes that the Thetideion, the temple to Thetis south of Scotoussa, was near both. In 198 BC in the Second Macedonian War Philip V of Macedon sacked Palaepharsalos (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 32.13.9), but left new Pharsalos untouched. These two details perhaps imply that the two cities were not close neighbours. Until the early 20th century, unsure of the site of Palaepharsalos, scholars followed Appian (2.75) and located the battle of 48 BC south of the Enipeus or close to Pharsalos (today’s Pharsala).

The “north-bank” thesis of F. L. Lucas, based on his 1921 solo field-trip to Thessaly, is now, however, broadly accepted by historians. “A visit to the ground has only confirmed me,” Lucas wrote in 1921; “and it was interesting to find that Mr. Apostolides, son of the large local landowner, the hospitality of whose farm at Tekés I enjoyed, was convinced too that the [battle-]site was by Driskole [now Krini], for the very sound reason that neither the hills nor the river further east suit Caesar’s description.” John D. Morgan in his definitive “Palae-pharsalus – the Battle and the Town”, arguing for a site closer still to Krini, where he places Palaepharsalos, writes: “My reconstruction is similar to Lucas’s, and in fact I borrow one of his alternatives for the line of the Pompeian retreat. Lucas’s theory has been subjected to many criticisms, but has remained essentially unshaken.”

The Caesarian army

Caesar had the following legions with him:

Legions of veterans from the Gallic Wars – Caesar's favourite legion, X Equestris, and those later known with the names of VIII Augusta, IX Hispana, and XII Fulminata
Legions levied for the civil war – legions later known as I Germanica, III Gallica, and IV Macedonica

However, all of these legions were understrength. Some only had about a thousand men at the time of Pharsalus, due partly to losses at Dyrrhachium and partly to Caesar’s wish to rapidly advance with a picked body as opposed to a ponderous movement with a large army. According to his accounts, he had 80 cohorts on the battlefield, about 22,000 men.

The Pompeian army

In total, Caesar counted 110 complete cohorts in the Pompeian army, 11 legions consisting of about 45,000 men, although Orosius, following Livy and Pollio, only counted 88 cohorts, and Hans Delbrück suggests that Caesar’s count includes detachments at Dyrrachium and elsewhere, leaving only 88 cohorts in the Pompeian army.

Pompey had every tactical advantage an army could hope for; he held the higher ground, had superiority of numbers, and was better supplied from his many allies in Greece. This caused him to act conservatively. Pompey deployed his army in the traditional formation of three lines with a depth of ten men. Again according to convention he posted his most experienced legions on the flanks (the first and the third legion on his left with Pompey himself commanding, the Syrian legions in the center with Scipio, the Cilician legion and the Spanish cohorts on the right with Afranius), dispersing his new recruits along the center. Pompey’s right was protected by the River Enipeus, therefore he massed all his cavalry on Caesar’s right. He had given command of the cavalry to Labienus, the former commander of Caesar’s favourite X legion. He deployed the rest of the army on his left together with his auxiliary troops. Pompey’s plan was to allow Caesar’s infantry to advance, have his cavalry attack and push back the numerically inferior Julian horses, and then attack Caesar’s infantry from behind.

Caesar knew this would be his last stand as his army had run out of supplies, and with no lines of retreat they would be at Pompey’s mercy and likely to be slaughtered if they lost the battle. This “nothing to lose” mentality was played up by Caesar to his men as he explained that defeat meant nothing less than death. Caesar also deployed in three lines but could only set them to six men deep if he was to match the length of Pompey’s line. Like Pompey he was protected by the river on his left allowing him to position all his cavalry to the right as a counter. As was typical of Caesar he gambled and began discreetly thinning his already depleted ranks of men then repositioned them as a fourth line to support his cavalry against the inevitable assault by the much larger Pompeian cavalry. Caesar himself commanded the cavalry, he posted the renowned tenth legion on his right under Sulla, with the undermanned eighth and possibly the ninth on his left under Marc Antony. In the center he designated Domitius as the commanding officer

There was significant distance between the two armies, according to Caesar. Pompey ordered his men not to charge, but to wait until Caesar’s legions came into close quarters; Pompey’s adviser Caius Triarius believed that Caesar’s infantry would be fatigued and fall into disorder if they were forced to cover twice the expected distance. But seeing that Pompey’s army was not advancing, Caesar’s men, without orders, stopped to rest and regroup before continuing the charge; Caesar, in his history of the war, would praise his own men’s discipline and experience, and questioned Pompey’s decision not to charge.

The heavy infantry then engaged. Pompey’s legions could take the attack due to their deep formations. Labienus then ordered the Pompeian cavalry to attack; as expected they successfully pushed back Caesar’s cavalry until his hidden fourth line joined in, using their pila to thrust at Pompey’s cavalry and turn them to flight. After this, Caesar threw in his last line of reserves —a move which at this point meant that the battle was more or less decided. Pompey could see this; after observing his cavalry routed, Pompey retreated to his camp and left his troops to their own devices, ordering the garrison to defend camp as he gathered his family, loaded up gold, and threw off his general’s cloak and fled.

Caesar urged his men to end the day by capturing the enemy camp. They complied with his wishes, furiously attacking the walls. The Thracians and the other auxiliaries who were left in the camp, in total seven cohorts, defended bravely, but were not able to fend off the assault.

Caesar had won his greatest victory, claiming to have only lost about 200 soldiers and 30 centurions.

Pompey fled from Pharsalus to Egypt, where he was assassinated on the order of Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII. Ptolemy XIII sent Pompey’s head to Caesar in an effort to win his favor, but instead secured him as a furious enemy. Ptolemy, advised by his regent, the eunuch Pothinus, and his rhetoric tutor Theodotus of Chios, had failed to take into account that Caesar was granting amnesty to a great number of those of the senatorial faction in their defeat. Even men who had been bitter enemies were allowed not only to return to Rome but to assume their previous positions in Roman society.

Pompey’s assassination had deprived Caesar of his ultimate public relations moment — pardoning his most ardent rival. The Battle of Pharsalus ended the wars of the First Triumvirate. The Roman Civil War, however, was not ended. Pompey’s two sons, Gnaeus Pompeius and Sextus Pompey, and the Pompeian faction, led now by Metellus Scipio and Cato, survived and fought for their cause in the name of Pompey the Great. Caesar spent the next few years ‘mopping up’ remnants of the senatorial faction. After seemingly destroying all his enemies and bringing peace to Rome he was assassinated by friends in a conspiracy organized by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus.

Paul K. Davis wrote that “Caesar’s victory took him to the pinnacle of power, effectively ending the Republic.” The battle itself did not end the civil war but it was decisive and gave Caesar a much needed boost in legitimacy. Until then much of the Roman world outside Italy supported Pompey and his allies due to the extensive list of clients he held in all corners of the Republic. After Pompey’s defeat former allies began to align themselves with Caesar as some came to believe the gods favored him, while for others it was simple self-preservation. The ancients took great stock in success as a sign of favoritism by the gods. This is especially true of success in the face of almost certain defeat — as Caesar experienced at Pharsalus. This allowed Caesar to parlay this single victory into a huge network of willing clients to better secure his hold over power and force the Optimates into near exile in search for allies to continue the fight against Caesar.

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Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

Considering Pocock’s analysis above, one really is inclined to wonder if it was the portents that affected the mind of Pompeius Magnus?

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