After arriving in Cappadocia in mid-July 47 B.C., the Roman column spent two days at the city of Mazaca, today’s Kayseri. This was the royal seat of the kings of Cappadocia, and, during his stay at the palace at Mazaca, Caesar pardoned Ariobazarnes, king of Cappadocia for the past five years, for having sided with Pompey and providing the republican side with cavalry at the Battle of Pharsalus.
Ariobazarnes had an ambitious younger brother, Ariarathes. To lessen the possibility of Ariarathes scheming to overthrow the king and causing instability in the region, Caesar gave the king’s brother control of part of Armenia Minor. But Ariarathes would only be able to take control of the lands now assigned to him by Caesar once Pharnaces had been dealt with. This was a tangible incentive for Ariobazarnes and Ariarathes to provide their best cavalry to Caesar for the Roman leader’s planned campaign against Pharnaces. With Pharnaces out of the way, Ariarathes would take charge in Armenia Minor and King Ariobazarnes would have his troublesome brother out of his hair. And Caesar would have two more grateful allies in the East.
Adding several hundred of the best Cappadocian cavalry to his column, Caesar moved on, continuing northwest along the principal Cappadocian highway to the city of Comana—not the city of the same name in Pontus. This Cappadocian Comana, the modern Sahr, also known as Chryse in Roman times to distinguish it from the Pontic Comana, was the site of a massive temple that was ancient even in Caesar’s time. This was the shrine of the Hittite goddess Ma, who had been adopted by the Romans as the war goddess Bellona.
The shrine of Bellona at Comana was cared for by thousands of servants, and the goddess was so revered by Cappadocians that they ranked the senior priest of Comana second only to their king. The priesthood of Comana being vacant, Caesar stamped his authority on Cappadocian affairs by appointing a new priest, a Bythinian whose family had in the past traditionally provided the priests of this shrine.
As Caesar marched on through Cappadocia in the latter part of July, moving closer to Pontus with each passing day, he reached the borders of Cappadocia and Gallograecia, in what today is central-eastern Turkey. King Deiotarus had been ruling most of Gallograecia for a number of years with Pompey’s blessing, although the Senate at Rome had actually styled him King of Armenia Minor. Old Deiotarus now came to Caesar.
Laying aside his fine clothes and royal insignia, King Deiotarus prostrated himself before Caesar wearing simple unwashed clothes, and begged his forgiveness for having previously supported Pompey. The shrewd old king claimed that he had joined Pompey’s army with six hundred cavalry for the Battle of Pharsalus because Pompey had commanded him to do so, and he had been afraid of disobeying the command because of Pompey’s military might. He added that at the time there had been no forces of Caesar in the region to whom he could turn for help.
Caesar could read Deiotarus like a book. The king had thrown in his lot with Pompey because he had expected him to beat Caesar. From other reports, Caesar knew that Deiotarus and members of his family had enthusiastically joined Pompey’s war effort—Deiotarus’s grandson Tarcondarius Castor also had been present at Pharsalus, leading three hundred Gallograecian cavalry for Pompey. And even after Pompey’s defeat at Pharsalus, Deiotarus had met up with him in Thessaly when both were fleeing from Caesar’s forces, where Deiotarus had asked Pompey what he should do. Pompey had told him to look after himself. This he had done, tracking down General Domitius when he arrived in the region and seeking help to oust Pharnaces from Armenia Minor.
Other regional nobles came in crowds to Caesar at Comana to speak up for Deiotarus, although the tetrarchs of the region asserted that the king had no hereditary claim to the Gallograecian territory he currently controlled and suggested that his lands be distributed among them instead.
Caesar was a pragmatic man who frequently overlooked the past crimes and misdemeanors of those who came over to his side. He was proud of the fact that he pardoned his enemies, and Deiotarus would be another who would benefit from his magnanimity. But before he pardoned the king he made him sweat a little. He reminded Deiotarus that when he was consul twelve years before he had conferred numerous benefits on him. He told him that a man of Deiotarus’s intelligence should have known better than to support Pompey against Caesar, especially after Caesar had taken control at Rome in the spring of 49 B.C. and it was apparent who was the man in charge of Rome’s destiny.
But in light of their old bonds of friendship, of Deiotarus’s age and standing and the entreaties of his friends, Caesar said, he would pardon him for his folly. As to the matter of who controlled Gallograecia, he now advised the king and the other rulers of the region that he would settle that later, once he had dealt with more pressing affairs. Caesar had in fact already decided who would rule Gallograecia, and it was neither Deiotarus nor one of the other tetrarchs who had petitioned him for it. Leaving the king up in the air about his future, he then commanded Deiotarus to bring his infantry and all his cavalry to Pontus to join him in the campaign against Pharnaces.
According to Suetonius it was on July 28 that Caesar arrived in Pontus with his escort, including the 6th Legion men. There he was soon joined by the 36th Legion, the Pontic Legion, and Deiotarus and his infantry and cavalry. The survivors from the two legions of Deiotarus that had been much depleted by the defeat at Nicopolis had by now been formed into a single legion of close to full strength, and it took the name, then and long afterward, of the Deiotariana, or Deiotarus’s Legion. Within sixteen years it would be given the vacant number of the 22nd Legion to become the 22nd Deiotariana, one of the legions of Rome’s new standing army. Caesar had brought several thousand slaves with him from Cappadocia. The reason for this is not spelled out, but his intent was probably to make Pharnaces think he had more fighting men with him than he in fact possessed.
Unbeknownst to Caesar, Pharnaces was now also faced with problems back home in his Bosporan realm. Pharnaces had left his good friend and deputy Asander in charge at Kerch. But in his king’s absence Asander had revolted and taken control of the kingdom in his own name. The ambitious Asander planned, says Cassius Dio, to ally himself to Rome and so receive Caesar’s support against Pharnaces. Having only recently learned of Asander’s betrayal, Pharnaces had mobilized his army and was marching for the northern coast of Pontus to join his fleet to return to Kerch and throw Asander off his throne, when he’d been informed that Caesar was approaching Pontus, marching an army in the direction of the Yesil River. Deciding to deal with the most immediate threat first, Pharnaces had then wheeled around and marched his army to the Yesil River valley, to stand in Caesar’s way, setting up his headquarters at the town of Zela, modern-day Zile, in central Turkey.
Pharnaces’ intent seems to have been to settle with Caesar, preferably through bluff or negotiation, and preserve his army for a confrontation with Asander. Yet, having already defeated one Roman army, and learning that much of the small army that Caesar was bringing against him was made up of the remnants of Domitius’s defeated force, he was not averse to doing battle with him either. After all, a military victory over Caesar would end Asander’s hopes of an alliance with the Roman leader, and in that case Asander probably would vacate the Bosporan throne of his own accord and flee for his life. Just the same, the cheapest and surest course for Pharnaces was to avoid battle with Caesar. If he could bluff Caesar into returning to Rome to sort out his own problems in his own capital, leaving Pharnaces still in control of Pontus, Pharnaces could then handle Asander with his army intact and with the reputation of having stared down Caesar and won. Either way, Asander’s support back in the Bosporan Kingdom could be expected to melt away. With his course set, Pharnaces prepared for war but continued sending deputations to Caesar.
Envoys from Pharnaces now reached the Roman camp on the Yesil. Offering Caesar a golden crown as a gift from Pharnaces in recognition of his victory in Egypt, the ambassadors asked that Caesar not enter their country of Pontus as an enemy but as a friend. Pharnaces, they said, was prepared to obey all Caesar’s commands. And they went to great pains to emphasize to Caesar that Pharnaces had never acceded to Pompey’s requests for Bosporan troops prior to the Battle of Pharsalus. Yet they had heard that King Deiotarus, who had provided Pompey with troops, had lately been pardoned by Caesar. And they wondered where the fairness was in that.
“I will be absolutely fair to Pharnaces,” Caesar replied mildly, so Hirtius writes, “if he does in fact fulfil his promises.” But, Caesar warned the Bosporan envoys, they shouldn’t be citing the case of Deiotarus or be too smug about not sending troops to Pompey. “I myself am never happier than when pardoning petitioners. But I can’t overlook public outrages against the provinces by those who may have done me service.”
He then reminded the envoys that Pharnaces’s “good deed”—that of avoiding giving support to Pompey—had been more profitable for Pharnaces than it had been for Caesar. Now, he said, while he could not put right the terrible things that Pharnaces had done, Pharnaces could make some amends. He could speedily withdraw from Pontus, and he could free the men he’d enslaved and restore the property of Roman citizens and allies he’d confiscated. “When he’s done this, then he can send me the gifts that generals are accustomed to receive from their friends after victory.”
The envoys were sent back to Pharnaces with their golden crown. Yet Pharnaces was not unhappy at the reply the envoys conveyed to him; it was what he would have expected of Caesar. The envoys also brought him their assessment of the army that Caesar had with him. He had left most of his troops in Egypt, they would have said, and they confirmed that, as they had been hearing, many of those soldiers marching with him were the same men that Pharnaces had whipped at Nicopolis.
Pharnaces doubted that Caesar would commit to battle. He felt sure he was bluffing. Pharnaces, aware of the continuing disturbances in Rome, decided that if he could string Caesar along long enough the Roman leader would be forced to up stakes and hurry back to Rome.
So, from Zela, Pharnaces sent back word pledging to do everything that Caesar required of him. But for him and his court to overnight leave Pontus, his hereditary kingdom, was simply not possible, he said. He proposed a departure date some months in the future, and sent terms for a formal agreement that he desired Caesar and he would enter into. By the last week of July, Caesar could see that Pharnaces was stalling, and decided to act without further delay. Trumpets sounded “Prepare to march” throughout the Roman camp.
The men of the 6th Legion would have smiled among themselves. They were marching on Zela, to teach Pharnaces and his ragtag army of foreign mercenaries a lesson and to show Domitius’s chastened amateurs how to fight and win. There was an old Roman saying about a javelin that never failed its owner, “Wherever you throw it, it will stand.” The 6th Legion was just like that javelin—sharp, lethal, and ever dependable.