‘Look at Cnaeus Pompey’s position, when neither the glory of his name or past deeds, nor even his client kings and states, of which he has so often boasted, can keep him safe, and even the chance of an honourable escape, which even the humblest possess, is denied him; chased out of Italy, Spain lost, his experienced army captured, and now on top of it all blockaded, something which I do not think has ever happened to another general [imperator].’ - Publius Cornelius Dolabella, writing to Cicero from Caesar’s camp outside Dyrrachium, May-June 48 BC.1

‘But fortune, which has great power in all matters and most of all in war, causes great shifts in human affairs with just a little disturbance.’ - Caesar.2

Caesar left Quintus Cassius Longinus in command in Spain. It was an unusual post for a tribune of the plebs, but these were exceptional times, and Cassius had already served in Spain during his quaestorship so had some experience of the region and its peoples. The choice was not to prove a happy one. Caesar welcomed any man who came to him, rewarding loyalty with honours, office and wealth - he once said that he would faithfully reward even a bandit if the man had done him a service. Cicero and others were scornful of the band of dissolute wastrels who had flocked to join Caesar. They saw them as people who had squandered their own inheritance and now expected to govern the Republic. Suetonius claims that in the years before 49 BC, Caesar often jokingly told such men that they needed a civil war. Certainly there were many desperate men for whom Caesar’s victory offered a last chance of wealth and success in public life, but it would be a mistake to take the sweeping judgements of Cicero and Pompeian propaganda at face value. It is true that Caesar’s legates and senior subordinates during the Civil War were, with a few exceptions, not notable for their great ability or good character. Several made serious misjudgements. However, the competence and honesty of many of the senior Pompeians were equally questionable, even if these possessed more distinguished names. A high proportion of the ex-consuls in Pompey’s camp had faced charges of electoral bribery in the past. Caesar had the advantage of being able to issue orders and did not have to deal with wilfully independent men like Domitius Ahenobarbus. However, it was certainly the case that things tended to go better when Caesar was present. Trebonius and Decimus Brutus had handled the siege of Massilia efficiently. Curio had secured Sicily without fighting, for Cato, sent by the Pompeians to command the island, had no significant forces at his disposal and had seen no point in wasting any lives in a hopeless defence. After this success Curio took legions to North Africa in the summer of 49 BC. At first he did well, routing a strong Pompeian force, but he was then lured into an ambush by the Numidian army of King Juba. Curio died fighting along with many of his soldiers. Others were slaughtered as they fled or surrendered only to be executed on the king’s orders. Only a handful escaped, including Asinius Pollio, and it may well have been Caesar’s flattering portrayal of Curio that made Pollio later question the reliability of some passages in the Commentaries. A smaller defeat was suffered by Mark Antony’s younger brother, Lucius, who surrendered in Illyricum along with fifteen cohorts.3

News of these setbacks reached Caesar as he returned from Spain. They were unfortunate, but the initiative still lay with him and he was determined to confront Pompey and the main enemy army as soon as possible. Perhaps more worrying was a mutiny that broke out amongst his legions when they had camped at Placentia (modern Piacenza) in northern Italy. The trouble began amongst the Ninth, who had fought well for Caesar in Spain, and like many mutinies throughout history had a range of causes, with festering grievances coming to the surface during a period of rest and inactivity. With the war far from decided their general needed them, and many legionaries must have guessed that this placed them in a strong position to bargain for favours. Some of the men had now served their full term and wanted to be discharged. More complained that they had not yet received the bounty of 500 denarii that he had promised them at Brundisium earlier in the year. There was also resentment that the mildness and clemency with which he was waging war was delaying their victory and - and this was probably most important - depriving them of plunder. Caesar was still at Massilia when he received a report of the mutiny, but at once hastened to the spot and confronted the mutineers. The proconsul’s tone was stern and unrelenting as he explained that such a great conflict could not be hurried. He then announced that he intended to decimate the Ninth, an ancient punishment that involved selecting by lot one out of every ten men to be beaten to death by his comrades. The remainder of the legion would be dishonourably discharged from the army. The veteran soldiers were dismayed and their officers began to beg their stern commander for mercy. Caesar knew how to work a crowd and gradually gave ground, finally saying that only 120 ringleaders would need to draw lots to choose twelve men to be executed. The selection is supposed to have been rigged to ensure that the names of the main troublemakers were drawn. However, Appian claims that one man who had not even been in the camp during the mutiny was included in the twelve. As soon as Caesar discovered this, he released the soldier and replaced him with the centurion who had tried to arrange the death of an innocent man in this way. It was the first time since 58 BC that Caesar had faced any serious disobedience on the part of his soldiers, but the outbreak was quickly suppressed. The Ninth would fight with great distinction for Caesar in the forthcoming campaign, as would his other troops. The Commentaries make no mention of the whole affair.4

Since he had slipped away from the enemy at Brundisium in March, Pompey had been exercising all his organisational skill to create the army with which he would win final victory. At the same time he used his connections in the region - nearly every community and certainly all major rulers were amongst his clients - to mobilise the manpower and resources of the eastern Mediterranean, to provide his soldiers with pay, food and equipment, and to supplement their numbers with allies and auxiliaries. He had nine legions, a mixture of the troops he had brought with him and newly levied units from the citizens settled or resident in Greece and Asia. Metellus Scipio had gone to Syria and would in time bring two legions that had been stationed on the border with Parthia. Frantic diplomatic activity had ensured that the latter would not threaten the province, but it is hard to know whether our sources are correct to claim that serious attempts were made to seek military aid from the Parthians. Pompey certainly did make extensive use of foreign troops and amassed a particularly strong force of cavalry. The raw material of a great army was there and as the months went by Pompey dedicated himself to training the inexperienced soldiers. He was fifty-seven, and until the Civil War began had not served in the field for more than thirteen years, but everyone is said to have been impressed with his energy. Their commander trained with the men, going through the drills with legionary equipment or mounting a horse and demonstrating to the cavalry how they were to fight. Plutarch says that he could throw a javelin further, more accurately and with greater force than many a younger man. Inspired by his example, a strong and effective army began to take shape. As the year went on, the Pompeians grew steadily more powerful.5

During Caesar’s absence there had also been a slow trickle of senators leaving Italy and deciding to end their neutrality and join the Pompeians. Some went because they judged that Pompey would win and wished to join the victors. For others it was a matter of conscience or persuasion by family and friends. It was a strange feature of the Civil War that letters continued to be exchanged freely and men remained in regular contact with correspondents on both sides. The most distinguished of those who decided at this stage to play a more active role in the conflict was Cicero, who had sailed to Greece after much soul searching. He still felt the Civil War unnecessary and hated Pompey’s plan of abandoning Rome and Italy Caesar’s clemency had cheered him, although he was not sure how long this would last and whether Caesar would prove himself as cruel as Cinna had been in the eighties BC as soon as his dominance was secure. Curio had paid him a visit on his way to invade Sicily and done little to assuage his fears. The tribune had openly said that he thought Caesar’s moderation was purely a matter of policy, which conflicted with his naturally cruel disposition. In time the veil would be drawn aside and his true nature revealed. These were somewhat strange words from an ally, but Curio had never been one to restrain his speech. However, he did not know Caesar well, having only joined him a year before, so his judgement may be questioned. Latter events would show that Caesar did not abandon his merciful treatment of his enemies and never attempted to rule by fear. Throughout his life it is hard to see any real trace of cruelty. He could be utterly ruthless if he felt that this was advantageous, and had a coldly furious temper, but was never cruel simply for the sake of cruelty. Cicero was unsure about how Caesar would behave in the long run. His feelings about Pompey were similar and he judged that whoever won the Civil War would then be effectively a dictator, possessing royal power or regnum. Yet always there remained his deep attachment to Pompey and his respect for the distinguished men who fought alongside him. In each case it was often more respect for the sort of men he felt they ought to have been, rather than necessarily the ones they actually were, but it was no less strong for that. He also hated inactivity, but did not feel willing to join in the politics of a Republic controlled by Caesar. In spite of letters from his friends and family in Caesar’s camp, and from Caesar himself, Cicero eventually decided that he must stand with the Pompeians. His brother Quintus, in spite of his years as Caesar’s legate in Gaul, did the same.6

There were defections, but the bulk of the Senate still remained neutral, and Caesar continued to maintain at least a facade of normal public life at Rome. He wished now to become consul for 48 BC, but there was no existing consul to preside over elections. A praetor was available, but a praetor had never supervised the appointment of new consuls, and when Caesar proposed this it was rejected by the college of augurs. Instead the praetor Marcus Lepidus appointed Caesar dictator so that he could hold the elections. There was a single precedent for this, dating back to the darkest days of the Second Punic War. Caesar returned to Rome, summoned the Comitia Centuriata and was duly made consul for the following year with Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus as his colleague. It was unorthodox, though strictly speaking legal, although it is perfectly possible that there were no other candidates in the elections then held. Caesar would be consul again in 48 BC, the proper ten years after his first consulship. His colleague was the son of the man under whom he had served in Asia during the seventies BC, and was very much a member of the established elite, married to a niece of Cato. It was another indication of how complex and confusing loyalties were during the Civil War.

Elections were also held for the other magistracies - Caelius Rufus became praetor - and then afterwards Caesar used his powers as dictator to pass a series of laws. One recalled from exile all of those condemned by Pompey’s extraordinary courts in 52 BC. Milo was specifically excluded, so that in the main those benefiting from this were men associated with Clodius. Caesar also recalled men such as Sallust, who had been expelled by Appius Claudius during his censorship, as well as Gabinius, the Syrian governor who had restored Ptolemy to the Egyptian throne. Both would fight for him during the war. Full political rights were also finally restored to the children of the victims of Sulla’s proscriptions. Such measures were mainly intended to confirm the loyalty of his supporters and win him new ones. Of more general concern was the problem of debt, as the value of property had in some cases plummeted since the war began. There was pressure for an abolition of debt, especially from those - many of whom had joined him - who owed huge sums of money. The cry of ‘new tablets’ (novae tabulae) - meaning rubbing out all account books and starting from scratch - had been a frequent one in recent decades, and a major rallying call of Catiline’s rebels. Many feared that Caesar, well known as a popularis and a frequent debtor himself - would seek support in the same way However, the dictator refused to employ such a drastic measure and instead sought a compromise. Assessors were appointed to value all property at its pre-war value, and debtors were then made to give this to their creditors in payment. An old regulation was also revived which stipulated that no one was supposed to have more than 15,000 denarii in hard cash. The aim was to deter hoarding, which was bound to have an impact on the economic life of Rome and Italy. Such a measure was inevitably difficult to enforce.7


After just eleven days Caesar resigned the dictatorship and left Rome. He did not wait for January to take up his consulship in the normal way, but hastened to Brundisium where he had ordered his army to concentrate. Despite the best efforts of his officers during the last six months, there was still a serious shortage of transport vessels. Caesar had twelve legions - probably some 25,000-30,000 effectives, for they had suffered casualties, and many stragglers and convalescents had been left behind on the march back from Spain - in or near Brundisium, but there were only enough ships to transport 15,000 infantry and 500 cavalry. Even these troops would have to travel with the barest minimum of baggage, while the low proportion of horsemen was simply a reflection of the much greater space required by their mounts. It was obvious that more than one crossing would need to be made, but there was a great risk that the troops landed first would be overwhelmed by the enemy. Even the initial voyage would be dangerous, for the Pompeians had amassed a very large fleet of some 500 warships and many smaller vessels used for scouting. The bulk of this was under the command of Bibulus and was stationed in ports along the eastern Adriatic shore to intercept any invasion force. Caesar had only twelve war galleys, certainly not enough to protect the transport ships if they were caught by the enemy navy, and every trip needed to ferry his army across the Adriatic faced this serious threat. Caesar understood these factors, but also knew that they were unlikely to change in the immediate future. He was eager to strike at the heart of the enemy, knowing that waiting would only give Pompey time to grow stronger and better prepared. Bad weather delayed him for some weeks and it was not until 4 January 48 BC that he set sail. Twelve months earlier no one had expected him to attack in the winter months when armies normally rested. The same was true this time. Pompey’s legions were dispersed in winter quarters and Bibulus’ fleet was not ready. Caesar was able to cross and disembark at Paeleste on the coast of Epirus without any opposition. This was done quickly and the ships sent back to Brundisium on the same night, but by this time the enemy had realised what was happening and managed to catch a few vessels. Caesar claims that Bibulus was so enraged that he ordered these ships to be burned along with their crews. The vast majority of the transports got back safely, but it was clear that the next convoy would face a warned and waiting enemy.8

For the moment Caesar was cut off from reinforcements and supply convoys. He had seven legions, each with an average strength of about 2,140 men, as well as the 500 cavalry, but there had been no room to carry significant quantities of food and they would need to rely on obtaining this locally. The Roman calendar was currently running weeks ahead of the natural seasons, so in reality it was late autumn, and he would need to find some way of keeping the army concentrated and fed during the coming winter months while still operating against the enemy. On the night after the landing Caesar marched against Oricum, which quickly surrendered when the townsfolk turned against the small Pompeian garrison. The Commentaries report that they were unwilling to fight against a man holding legal imperium on behalf of the Roman people. A rational calculation that the Pompeians were unlikely to win this encounter may also have contributed to their decision. With much of the population of Italy not strongly committed to either side, it was unsurprising that there was little trace of any stronger sentiment in most of the provinces. The garrison commander, Lucius Manlius Torquatus, was as usual spared by Caesar and chose to remain with him. After this success Caesar pushed on to Apollonia, and once again the population refused to fight against him, forcing the Pompeians to flee. Most of Epirus soon followed the example of these towns and went over to Caesar. He had secured a base in Greece and for the moment the towns were able to keep his army supplied. Some food stores gathered by the enemy had been captured, although one convoy of grain ships anchored near Oricum was scuttled by the Pompeians sailing as escort. Pompey’s main supply depot was at the great trading port of Dyrrachium (modern Durazzo in Albania), further north along the coast. Caesar made a drive to capture this great prize, but by this time the enemy was beginning to react. Pompey ordered his legions to concentrate, force-marched the men to Dyrrachium and arrived before Caesar, who promptly withdrew. The enemy had nine legions, each much closer to their proper strength, and must have outnumbered Caesar by more than two to one. Yet the morale of the Pompeians seems to have been shaken by the unexpected enemy landing and their initial successes. Labienus made a public profession of his faith in Pompey, taking an oath never to desert him and to share his fortune. He was followed by the tribunes and centurions, and finally all of the legionaries collectively made the same vow.9

Caesar retired to Epirus. Although he controlled the ports of Apollonia and Oricum, Bibulus’ fleet was now very active, imposing a tight blockade. One convoy carrying reinforcements of legionaries and cavalry was forced to turn back to Brundisium, and lost a single ship. Bibulus had all the men on board executed, regardless of their rank. Perhaps he hoped that such a display of brutality would help to deter further attempts to get through to Caesar, but his deep-seated hatred of his former colleague as aedile, praetor and consul doubtless fed his anger. Personal sorrow probably also played a part, for his two eldest sons had recently been murdered in Egypt. Bibulus fought with a dreadful savagery, but was not unique in this. From the beginning of the war few of the Pompeians had shown any inclination to compete with Caesar in displays of clemency and moderation. If anything, his policy, with its obvious implication of his personal superiority, seemed only to increase their rage and stir them to further atrocities. Cicero had been shocked by the attitudes he encountered in Pompey’s camp. Most of the leading Pompeians declared that men who had remained neutral were almost as bad as Caesar’s active partisans, and there was talk of widespread punishment when they finally led the army back to Italy.10

Caesar camped near the River Apsus, not far from Apollonia. Pompey’s larger army took up a position on the opposite bank but showed no inclination to attack and force a battle. There was another attempt at negotiation, initiated when Caesar sent back one of Pompey’s officers, whom he had captured for the second time. He suggested that both he and his opponent take an oath to dismiss their armies within three days - a seemingly fair if probably impractical measure - and then rely on the Senate and People to arbitrate in their dispute. No response came from Pompey at first, but Caesar was content to wait, in the hope that more of his troops would be able to join him from Italy. In the meantime he put pressure on Bibulus’ fleet by denying them landing places on the coast. War galleys had very large crews for their size, since they relied on the strength of many rowers for their speed and manoeuvrability. There was little space for carrying food and fresh water, and even less space for the rowers to move around or rest, since their combined body weight acted as ballast to keep the ship stable. Therefore, it was necessary to land at regular intervals - at the barest minimum every third day - so that they could resupply and allow the rowers and crew to recover. Ancient fleets acted best when they had bases nearby or when closely supported by land forces. Caesar’s men controlled the harbours and watched the coast, attacking any ships that tried to land, forcing Bibulus’ men to return to their bases on the island of Corcyra more regularly than they would wish. Added to the severe winter weather, imposing the blockade became a great strain for the Pompeian fleet. Bibulus asked for a truce, but sent his senior subordinate Lucius Scribonius Libo to the talks, excusing his own absence by saying that his personal animosity towards Caesar and his natural hot temper was likely to hinder agreement. Libo’s daughter was married to Pompey’s younger son Sextus, again showing the close family links between many of the leading Pompeians. Caesar went to the meeting, but was disappointed when Libo simply asked for a truce, during which the Pompeian ships would be free to land as they wished, and promised only to refer anything else to Pompey for his consideration. Caesar replied by stating that he would only permit such a truce if the enemy ended their blockade. He asked Libo to give safe conduct to envoys he would send to Pompey Neither request was granted and, as the Commentaries put it, ‘when Caesar understood that his entire speech was framed with a view to the present danger and the shortage of supplies, and that he offered no hope or serious offer of peace, he returned to his plans for continuing the war’.11

Bibulus succumbed to disease and fatigue soon afterwards. No one was appointed to replace him as overall commander of the fleet, but still the Pompeians maintained the blockade in spite of the difficulties. At the Apsus, the rival armies continued to stare at each other from the opposite banks. There were more negotiatons. At one point Vatinius went to the river bank and called out to the enemy outposts until finally he was told that an officer would come for a meeting the next day This occurred, but was interrupted by the angry intervention of Labienus and ended in a shower of missiles. Caesar’s former legate shouted out afterwards that they could, ‘Stop all talk of peace terms; there was no possibility of peace until Caesar’s head was brought to them!’ Shortly before this Pompey himself is supposed to have said that he would not even consider peace if it looked as if he was holding on to life through ‘Caesar’s generosity’. The stand-off continued and Caesar grew increasingly desperate as the weeks and months went by without any reinforcement from Italy Several sources claim that he grew suspicious of the determination and loyalty of his subordinates in Italy. Deciding that only his own presence could impart the necessary energy, he decided to go to Brundisium in person. He did so in disguise, pretending to be one of his own slaves who were often employed as messengers, aboard a small merchant ship anchored near the mouth of the River Aous. As the craft headed down river to the sea the crew had to struggle against a strong wind blowing in from the sea. After a while, the sailors decided to give up the attempt and turn back, but Caesar suddenly threw back his cloak and told them not to be afraid because they carried ‘Caesar and Caesar’s good fortune’. The rowers and helmsman redoubled their efforts, trying to force the craft out to sea, but in the end were forced to give up. It is extremely questionable whether a general should have left his army in such circumstances, even if this was to fetch reinforcements, and it was probably for this reason that no mention of the incident is made in the Commentaries. However, Plutarch claims that when his legionaries discovered what had happened, they did not feel abandoned, but merely offended that their commander did not feel confident in winning with them alone. As he returned to camp the men are supposed to have clustered around him, imploring him to have more faith in them. It was a mark of the incredible bond and trust between general and soldiers that had grown up since the early days in Gaul.12


Eventually, on 10 April, Mark Antony was finally able to bring the bulk of the troops across from Brundisium to Greece, landing near Lissus in the north with four legions and 800 cavalry Pompey was too slow to prevent the two Caesarean forces from joining together. Caesar now had a more powerful army at his disposal. He was still outnumbered, especially in cavalry, but could rely on the better quality of his veteran legionaries to counterbalance this. However, the arrival of more troops increased the problems of supply, especially if the army was forced to remain in one place for any length of time. A number of large detachments were sent away from the main army to protect his allies in Thessaly and Macedonia. With the remainder Caesar offered battle to Pompey, who refused to be drawn. He remained convinced that the Caesareans could be worn down by depriving them of food. Caesar was aware of the danger and decided to try once again to capture Pompey’s main supply base at Dyrrachium. This time he managed to get there before the enemy, although not quickly enough to capture the town and its supplies. Instead he pitched camp between Dyrrachium and the Pompeian army, which took up position on a hill called Petra, overlooking a natural harbour. With ready access to the sea, Pompey was able to keep in easy communication with the town itself and his forces elsewhere. He sent orders instructing grain convoys to be brought directly to the army from as far afield as Asia. Caesar’s camp was on high ground inland and his troops would have to rely on gathering food and forage from the surrounding lands. He decided to construct a line of fortifications on the hills, both to protect his own foraging parties and to hinder those sent out by the Pompeians, who had far more cavalry mounts and supply animals and so even greater requirements than his own forces. In addition ‘he wished to reduce Pompey’s prestige (auctoritas) amongst foreign nations, when the story spread around the world that he was besieged by Caesar and was afraid to fight a battle’. Pompey could not afford to withdraw and allow Caesar to capture Dyrrachium and its depots. Therefore, he set his own men to constructing a fortified line facing Caesar. Skirmishes were fought to secure key points along the high ground, and in one instance a detachment of the Ninth had to be ordered to retire from a position where it was too exposed to enemy archers and slingers. At one point the legion turned around and, led by Mark Antony, charged and routed their pursuers to demonstrate that they were not retiring because they had been defeated, but through choice. When completed, the Pompeian line was 15 Roman miles long and strengthened by twenty-four forts. Caesar was on the outside, and inevitably his line had to be larger, especially since he hoped to hem the enemy in completely, and his siegeworks eventually stretched for some 17 miles.13

Caesar’s men were short of food, for it was still winter by the natural seasons even if by the calendar it was well into spring. Livestock was reasonably plentiful, so that meat was usually available and came to form a greater than usual proportion of the diet. Grain was hard to come by and often the men had to be content with barley - usually reserved for animal feed - rather than wheat. Even this could not always be found and sometimes they had to make do with the root of a plant called charax, which could be mixed with milk and baked into a sort of loaf. When Pompey saw some of these loaves his rueful comment was that they were fighting beasts rather than men. Caesar’s men had good access to water supplies, but he ordered them to divert or dam the streams that flowed through their lines into the enemy position. The Pompeians had plenty of food, since supplies were constantly coming in by sea, but began to run short of water. Pompey ordered them to dig new wells, but this was only partially successful. A very large number of men were concentrated in a small area within their siege lines and apart from the soldiers and servants there were many animals. Priority for fodder and water was given to cavalry mounts, and large numbers of baggage and pack animals started to die or were deliberately killed. In the crowded camps disease - perhaps typhus, but the descriptions in our sources are somewhat vague - also broke out. Both sides were suffering, for this was effectively a siege carried out on an enormous scale, but now that they were committed neither commander wished to back down, and the enemy’s problems only encouraged them to persist. Caesar felt that his own confidence was shared by his soldiers. At times they threw loaves of charax into the enemy lines to taunt them with this sign of their determination. As the weeks went by and the crops in the fields started to ripen there was further encouragement with the prospect of plentiful grain. Caesar anyway claims that some of his sentries were overheard saying that they would eat the bark from trees before letting Pompey escape.14

The building of the fortified lines went on, Caesar still hoping to complete his encirclement so that Pompey would be forced either to escape by sea, to break through Caesar’s lines or to watch his army wither. Skirmishes and raids continued. The Pompeian archers and slingers took to shooting at or near the fires visible in Caesar’s lines. In response the soldiers sat or slept away from the flames, preferring to be concealed and cold rather than warm but at risk. Pompey then launched a series of major attacks on a number of sections of Caesar’s fortifications, testing their strength and probing for weak spots. One attempt to capture a key hill was repelled when Publius Cornelius Sulla - the dictator’s nephew, for his son Faustus Sulla was with the Pompeians - brought up two legions to reinforce the threatened fort. The Pompeians were routed, but Sulla chose not to counter-attack and exploit the situation. Caesar approved his caution as appropriate for a legate, since such decisions were the prerogative of the commander-in-chief. The Commentaries proudly reported the bravery of Caesar’s legionaries. In one sector three cohorts of the Ninth held off an entire legion supported by large numbers of allied archers and slingers. After a day of bitter fighting virtually every one of the defenders was wounded, although clearly a good number were still able and willing to fight. Most of the wounds were caused by missiles - 30,000 arrows are said to have been picked up within the fort after the last attacks had been beaten off. Four out of the six centurions in one cohort were hit in the face and lost an eye. The shield of one centurion, a man named Scaeva, had been hit by no less than 120 missiles. Other sources tell us that he was one of the men hit in the eye, but in spite of this wound and others to the thigh and shoulder, kept fighting. At one point he feigned a willingness to surrender and then, when the enemy rushed forward, killed one and lopped the arm off another. Scaeva and his men then stood their ground, their defiance so intimidating the Pompeians that none dared to advance against them. Scaeva may have served with Caesar for many years, possibly having been with him during his time as propraetor in Spain as well as the years in Gaul. Their commander now rewarded the entire cohort lavishly, doubling their pay, awarding decorations to many of them, issuing them with new clothes and - at the time this may have been the most valued, although we should never doubt the importance of pride for good soldiers - an extra grain ration. Scaeva was promoted to primus pilus, the senior centurion of the legion, and given a bounty of 200,000 sestertii. It was not his last service to Caesar, and in later years he seems to have become an equestrian and for a while led a unit of auxiliary cavalry that took his own name - the ala Scaevae.15

The lines at Dyrrachium

The attacks had been repulsed, but it was difficult for Caesar with fewer troops to hold a longer line than the enemy. The Commentaries claim that the Pompeians suffered around 2,000 casualties, including a number of centurions, one of whom was the son of a former praetor. In contrast Caesar lost only twenty dead, although even he implies that the number of wounded was substantial. It is questionable how soon Scaeva and many of his men would have been able to return to duty. After this burst of fighting Pompey’s men spent several days working hard to strengthen vulnerable parts of the line of fortification, raising the rampart to a height of 15 feet. Caesar countered by leading his army out for battle each morning and deploying in a line just out of catapult range of the enemy fortifications. Pompey felt that it would have lowered his own prestige and the confidence of his men if he did not respond, but formed his legions with the rear line of cohorts of the triplex acies only just in front of his rampart. He had no desire to fight, feeling that it was better to starve the enemy into submission. A battle was more likely to favour Caesar’s veterans than his own inexperienced legionaries, especially in the rough ground between the lines where it would have been difficult to exploit his superiority in cavalry. Caesar refused to give the order for an attack. The slope favoured the Pompeians, who would have had the additional benefit of support from missiles thrown or shot from the rampart behind them. Caesar contented himself with the knowledge that his soldiers would see this as a reluctance on the part of the Pompeians to face them on anything like equal terms. For the moment Caesar seems to have despaired of successfully negotiating with Pompey, but he made an indirect approach by sending an envoy with a personal letter to Metellus Scipio, who had arrived in Macedonia with the legions from Syria. In the meantime, to add to the pressure on Pompey, Caesar’s legionaries extended their fortifications to block the two approaches to Dyrrachium itself. Pompey had sent a force of cavalry by sea to land near the town. Around the same time he may have made an attempt to capture the town with a surprise night attack, possibly after a traitor had offered to admit his men. The attempt failed, but the additional fortifications made it even harder for Pompey’s cavalry to find sufficient fodder and after a few days they were taken by ship back to his main position within his own fortifications. By this time the horses were being fed mainly on leaves and reeds, since not enough proper feed could be brought by ships from Corcyra or even further afield.16

Pompey realised that his own army was suffering as much, perhaps even more than the enemy, and decided that he needed to seize back the initiative once again. An opportunity came with the desertion of two Gaulish noblemen, the brothers Roucillus and Egus. They were the sons of one of the main chieftains of the Allobroges from Transalpine Gaul and had served with Caesar for many years, leading a contingent of tribal cavalry with some distinction. Characteristically he had rewarded their loyalty well, making them senators, probably within their own tribe, although some have preferred to take the more natural reading of this passage to suggest that he had actually enrolled them in the Senate at Rome. It is certainly probable that the men were citizens. However, more recently the brothers had taken to siphoning off much of their men’s pay and also sending in false returns of the number of warriors they had to claim extra money and rations. In the end their own troopers went and complained to Caesar, who delayed making a formal decision, but privately spoke to them and warned them to stop these corrupt practices. The brothers realised that they had become unpopular and feared punishment in the future, so soon began to plan their escape. They borrowed substantial sums of money - the rumour was that they wished to make recompense to their men - and started buying up horses. A plan to murder the overall commander of Caesar’s cavalry was abandoned as impractical, so Roucillus and Egus then simply rode over to the enemy lines. With them went their household warriors, whose oaths of loyalty ensured that they must always follow their chieftains. Pompey was pleased, for up until this point no one had deserted from Caesar’s army during the entire campaign. He had them paraded around his lines and shown to the troops as a sign that the enemy must be weakening when two distinguished men chose to abandon them. Even more usefully the brothers had held senior positions and so were well acquainted with Caesar’s lines of fortification and the routine of his army.17

Armed with this information, Pompey prepared for another major attack that was intended to break through Caesar’s lines and end the blockade. During the day his legionaries made wicker coverings for their helmets. These reduced the chance of the bronze glinting and so revealing their position when it caught the light, but also added further protection, taking some of the force out of a missile. This was especially important for stones flung from a sling or thrown by hand, which could concuss a man even without penetrating his helmet. The point chosen for the attack was the southernmost sector of Caesar’s lines where these came closest to the sea. Knowing that these were vulnerable, he had ordered the construction of an additional line behind the first, but work on this and on a wall at right angles to join the two together had not yet finished. Archers and light infantry, along with equipment for filling the enemy ditch and scaling the wall, were sent to the spot in boats. At midnight Pompey himself led out the main force of sixty cohorts. The attack began just before dawn and fell heavily on the Ninth, which was on duty in this sector. The Pompeians’ helmet covers proved very effective against flung stones, while the incomplete fortifications allowed the lines to be outflanked and quickly infiltrated. The two cohorts on the spot were driven off, and other units sent up in support failed to stem the rout and were quickly put to flight themselves. All save one of the centurions of the legion’s first cohort were killed and the eagle standard was only saved when its bearer flung it over the rampart of the nearest fort. It was not until Mark Antony brought up twelve cohorts from further along the line that the situation began to stabilise. Messages - many through a system of smoke signals that had been arranged to allow communication between the different forts in the line - summoned more reserves, accompanied now by Caesar himself. The fort was held, but the Pompeians controlled the positions closest to the sea and were building a camp there. They had punched a hole in Caesar’s line and would now be able to forage more freely over a wide area.18

Caesar built a new camp for a strong force facing the one built by Pompey’s men. In this area was another fort about half a mile from Pompey’s main camp. It had originally been built by the Ninth, but was subsequently abandoned when the layout of this sector of the fortifications was changed. Later, the site had then been occupied and modified by the enemy, but these had also left after a few days. Now, Caesar’s scouts reported that a Pompeian force, roughly equivalent to a legion in size, was moving towards this position. Later patrols confirmed that the old fort now housed a legion. Caesar felt that his opponent had left this unit exposed and sensed an opportunity to win a local victory that would help to balance the recent enemy success. He left two cohorts to guard his own lines and took the rest of the immediately available troops - some thirty-three cohorts, although these included the Ninth, which was still shaken and had lost many centurions - on a march that took them to the fort by a roundabout route. The deception was successful and Pompey was unaware of the threat until Caesar’s men had actually begun their attack. After a stiff fight the fort was stormed, the legionaries hacking apart the barrier of stakes that blocked its main gateway. However, things then started to go badly wrong. Although Caesar’s men were past the outer wall of the fort, there was another smaller enclosure within this and the garrison managed to cling on within this protection. Meanwhile, the cohorts of the right wing were unfamiliar with this stretch of the line and got lost, following a rampart that led away from their objective when they mistook this for one of the walls of the fort. Although puzzled that they had not encountered a gateway, the units kept going, and were followed by Caesar’s cavalry. By this time Pompey had responded, launching an immediate counter-attack with the five legions working to fortify his new camp, their approach inspiring the survivors of the garrison to renewed enthusiasm. A large body of Pompeian cavalry also headed towards Caesar’s right wing, and the Caesarean horsemen dissolved into panic, fearing that their line of retreat back to their own lines would be cut off. The situation was confused, the panic quickly infectious. The right wing crumbled first, but as men saw this happening the rest of the attacking force also began to flee. Some men were trapped in the ditches around the camp as the cohorts dissolved into a mob and each man tried to force his way past his comrades. As the Commentaries put it, ‘everywhere there was chaos, terror and flight, so much so that when Caesar took hold of the standards carried by fleeing men and ordered them to stop, some spurred their horses past him without stopping and fled, while others in their fear even dropped their standards, and not a single one halted.’ This time Caesar was unable to steady the line as he had done at the Sambre and on many other occasions. The accounts from other sources report an even less heroic incident, claiming that one of the fleeing men actually tried to stab Caesar with the spike at the butt end of his standard. The commander was only saved because one of his bodyguards was faster and sliced off the man’s arm with his sword.19

The attack had ended in costly failure, Caesar losing 960 soldiers, 32 tribunes and centurions, and a number of other senior officers. The Pompeians captured 32 standards as marks of their success, along with a number of prisoners. However, Pompey contented himself with repulsing the attack and made no attempt to assault Caesar’s lines. This was widely felt to have been a mistake, since his men were elated at a time when the Caesareans were badly demoralised. Caesar himself declared that the enemy ‘would have won today, if only they were commanded by a winner’. In the aftermath Labienus asked to be given charge of the captured legionaries and, mockingly calling them ‘comrades’, had them all executed in clear sight of the enemy lines. On the next day Caesar paraded his men and spoke to them, just as he had done after Gergovia. He reminded them of that earlier defeat and how that had been followed by their great victory. He encouraged them with just how much they had achieved, confining a bigger enemy army for so long, and urged them to make up for yesterday’s failure by fighting all the harder in the next encounter. His reprimands were mild, as were his punishments, contenting himself with demoting a number of the standard-bearers. The soldiers greeted his appeal with enthusiasm and some of his officers even urged him to risk a battle. Caesar was less confident that his men had recovered sufficiently from the defeat, and may also have realised that there was no reason why Pompey should accept his challenge. It was clear now that the attempt to blockade the Pompeians had failed. The enemy had captured one end of his encircling line of fortifications and he did not have the resources to construct a new, inevitably longer line to box them in once more. Pompey’s army could now supplement the supplies brought by sea with those foraged locally. Caesar knew that he had failed in his objective, but as he had told his men was determined to make sure that the campaign still ended in victory He decided to withdraw, marching away from the sea where it was so easy for his enemy to resupply During the night he sent one legion to escort his baggage train and large numbers of wounded men to Apollonia. An hour or two before dawn he set out with the rest of the army, apart from two legions who formed the rearguard and remained in the lines. These men sounded the normal trumpet calls that woke the army to a new day The Pompeians were deceived, and the rearguard was able to follow and rejoin the main force. Pompey sent his cavalry in pursuit, but these were held off by Caesar’s outnumbered horsemen closely supported by 400 legionaries marching in battle order. After a few skirmishes the two armies broke contact, as Pompey did not chose to follow Caesar straightaway.20


As Caesar’s army marched away from the enemy it moved into regions that had not yet been visited by foraging parties from either army. By this time it was summer and the new grain crops had ripened sufficiently to be harvested by the hungry soldiers. Caesar was also rejoined by some of the detached troops, which helped to replace some of his losses. However, as news spread of his defeat at Dyrrachium, some communities decided that it would be a mistake to aid a leader who looked likely to lose the war. At Gomphi the city’s magistrates closed the gates and refused to admit his men. Caesar refused to tolerate this challenge. His army stormed the town, which was then sacked, the drunken soldiers killing, raping and plundering at will. The magistrates committed suicide. When the army moved away on the following day, some sources claim that its progress was more of a drunken revel than a disciplined march. Curiously, it was also claimed that the debauch greatly improved the health of many of the men who had suffered during the food shortages and heavy labour in the lines outside Dyrrachium. It was the first time since the start of the Civil War that Caesar had permitted his men to mistreat the population of a captured town, and was clearly a deliberate display of ruthlessness. Fear of suffering the same fate as Gomphi ensured that other cities and towns in the region all welcomed Caesar’s army.21

Dyrrachium was undoubtedly a victory for the Pompeians and a mood of elation spread throughout their camp, for this was the first time since the beginning of the Civil War that Caesar had suffered a reverse. Most confident of all were the senior officers, who now felt that only decisive action was necessary to end the war. Afranius urged Pompey to use his naval power to take the army back to Italy, so that they could reoccupy Rome and take from Caesar any pretence that he represented the true Republic. Others, particularly men like Domitius Ahenobarbus, argued that Caesar was now at their mercy and should be brought to battle and crushed as soon as possible. Pompey remained more cautious and still had great respect for the fighting power of Caesar’s veterans. He had always planned to return to Italy at some point, but with Caesar still at large, he was nervous that it might seem as if he had been forced into another evacuation by sea. More importantly this would leave his father-in-law Scipio, who with his Syrian legions had still not yet reached the main army, at the mercy of Caesar’s larger army Pompey preferred to stay in Greece, but still believed that fighting a battle was both unwise and, at least at the moment, unnecessary. Better to shadow the enemy and wear them down by depriving them of supplies.

This caution was not popular with his more distinguished allies. Ahenobarbus took to calling him Agammemnon - the King of Mycenae who had led the Greeks in the ten-year struggle at Troy - or ‘King of Kings’ and accusing him of prolonging the war to maintain his own supremacy. If Cicero, who had a deep affection for Pompey, openly spoke of the Civil War being a question of whether Pompey or Caesar would hold supreme power, then it is unsurprising that others were even more suspicious of his motives. With victory now eagerly expected in the near future, many men were looking to secure for themselves a generous share in the spoils. Some sent agents to Rome to buy them a grander house closer to the Forum - especially one that was owned by one of Caesar’s partisans. Domitius Ahenobarbus, Metellus Scipio and Lentulus Spinther were already bickering over who would succeed Caesar as Pontifex Maximus. Many of the leading Pompeians had themselves benefited from Sulla’s victory decades before, and now hoped to escape their debts and thrust themselves even further into the forefront of public life. Cicero found the mood of the camp sickening, and later made a grim pun on Cato and his associates’ name for themselves - the ‘good men’ or boni - by saying that there was ‘nothing good about them, apart from their cause’. He doubtless exempted Cato himself from this judgement, but the latter was not with the army, having been left in command of the garrison protecting Dyrrachium. Malicious rumour said that Pompey had given Cato this task so that he would be unable to influence events when Caesar was defeated. There was much in-fighting between the various leaders as well as their suspicion of Pompey Afranius was accused of betraying the army during the Spanish campaign. Others squabbled over who should be permitted to stand for election in the next year. Domitius Ahenobarbus was more concerned with punishing not only Caesar’s supporters, but also those who had remained neutral in Italy Pompey had never enjoyed the same unquestioned authority with which Caesar directed his own war effort.

In the days after Dyrrachium, the mood amongst the senior officers in the Pompeian camp became a volatile mixture of overconfidence and pride, greed and ambition, jealousy and mutual suspicion. The pressure on Pompey to provoke a final encounter with the enemy grew. He had never coped well in the face of hostility and, like every other participant in the war, was concerned for his own position when peace returned. Since his third consulship he had drawn closer to the established elite of the senate, and now had to be careful not to alienate these men. After Dyrrachium Pompey was less decisive and more readily influenced by the advice of others. Beginning to place too much trust in his own legions, Cicero said that after this success Pompey ‘was no longer a general’.22

Pompey waited until Scipio had joined him before advancing into Thessaly and closing with the enemy It was early August and for a number of days the two armies manoeuvred close to each other in the familiar style of warfare in this period. Caesar felt that his men were now in both better health and spirit than they had been at the start of the retreat, and formed them up to offer battle. Pompey declined, which does show that he had certainly not been pressured to the point where he was determined to fight under any circumstances. He remained enough of a general to wait for a better opportunity on more favourable ground. The cavalry of the two armies skirmished, and once again Caesar’s outnumbered horsemen were able to hold their own with the aid of picked infantrymen providing them with close support. The Pompeians were camped on a hill and Pompey deployed them on the slope in front of this, inviting Caesar to attack at a disadvantage. The supply situation had greatly improved, but even so Caesar was reluctant to keep his army in one locality for too long unless there was good reason for this. After several days of this stand-off, on the morning of 9 August he gave the order to strike the camp and march away, hoping to find a better opportunity for battle elsewhere. As this was underway, he was surprised to observe the Pompeian army advance down off the slope and onto the open plain. With part of his own column already formed up for the march, Caesar gave the order to halt, declaring that, ‘We must postpone our march and think instead of battle, as we have always craved; let us ready our spirits for the struggle; we will not readily get another opportunity.’ The legionaries set down their packs and moved out with only their armour and weapons. The greatest battle of the war, fought by armies commanded by the ablest generals of the age, was about to occur and inevitably sources recounted the great omens that foreshadowed this massive shift in fortune. Appian tells us that Caesar spent the night performing sacrifices to Mars and his ancestor Venus, vowing to build the goddess a temple in Rome if he prevailed. As usual his own account makes no mention of such concerns and deals with more practical matters, although as is so often the case, there is not enough detail for us to locate the battlefield with absolute certainly.23 The plain of Pharsalus was wide and open, bounded on one side by the River Enipeus. Pompey deployed his army with his right flank resting on the river. A small force of 600 cavalry were on this flank, probably with the support of some light infantry and allied troops. Next to them was the main force, eleven legions deployed in the usual triplex acies. The best legions were divided between the flanks and the centre - the First and Third, the two that had once fought for Caesar, now held the left of the line. Each cohort was formed ten ranks deep, a much thicker formation than was usual. Deep formations made it harder for the men in the front rank to flee and so helped to keep inexperienced soldiers in the battle line as they struggled to cope with the stress of combat. The chief disadvantage was that only a small proportion of the men in such a formation were able to fight, and it would have been difficult for the men in the rear ranks even to throw their pila effectively. Altogether Pompey had 110 cohorts, making up a total of some 45,000 legionaries according to the Commentaries, although some other sources made the figure smaller by several thousand. The right wing was placed under the command of Afranius (or Lentulus in Appian’s version), while Metellus Scipio had charge of the centre and Domitius Ahenobarbus the left wing. The legions were ordered to stand their ground rather than advance to meet the enemy - their task in the battle was essentially to pin and occupy the enemy foot. Pompey expected to win the battle with his cavalry, some 6,400 of which were massed on the left flank under the direct command of Labienus. They were supported by thousands of light infantrymen, but it was the horsemen who were expected to overwhelm Caesar’s outnumbered cavalry and then attack the flank and rear of his legions. It was a simple plan, but reasonable enough, exploiting their advantage in numbers and especially the great superiority in cavalry that would have room to manoeuvre on the open plain. Its main disadvantage was that there was no thought for what might happen if the cavalry attack failed. Yet Pompey was confident that it would not and that his own legions would be able to resist Caesar’s men for long enough to allow the mounted troops to roll up the enemy line. Labienus harangued the army after Pompey had encouraged them, assuring his listeners that there were hardly any of the tough veterans of Gaul left in the ranks of Caesar’s army.24

The Battle of Pharsalus

The Battle of Pharsalus

Caesar formed his army up with the river on his left. He had eighty cohorts, but these were much smaller than those in Pompey’s legions and amounted to no more than 22,000 men. Both sides left some additional forces to guard their camps - seven cohorts in Caesar’s case. The legions formed up in three lines just like their opponents, but of necessity the cohorts were in shallower formations, perhaps some four, five or six ranks deep. Also like their opponents, the flanks were entrusted to the best units. The Tenth was on the right of the line, in the place of greatest honour, while the left was held by a combined formation of the Ninth, which had suffered particularly heavy casualties at Dyrrachium, supported by the Eighth. Mark Antony was given charge of the left wing, Cnaeus Domitius Calvinus had the centre and Publius Sulla the right. The last appointment was in some respects nominal, since Caesar himself took station with the Tenth and remained with the right wing throughout the battle, having guessed rightly that the key tactical moves would occur in this sector. He had only 1,000 cavalry and seems to have stationed all of them next to the Tenth to face the mass of enemy horsemen on their left. Pompey’s plan was obvious, since such a great force of cavalry was clearly not intended to act defensively. To counter it Caesar took six cohorts from the third line of his army and brought them into a position behind his own right wing to form a short fourth line set back at an oblique angle. Shielded from view by the troopers ahead of them, and doubtless also masked by the clouds of dust inevitably thrown up by so many men and horses moving on the plain, the enemy commanders failed to notice this redeployment.25

It must have taken hours for the two armies to move into their positions, their front lines probably less than a mile apart. Battles have always been confusing, those in a civil war doubly so, and to reduce the chance of mistaking friend for enemy and vice versa, each side issued a password. Caesar took the name of his divine ancestor in the form that associated her with military success - ‘Venus, the Bringer of Victory’ - while the Pompeians used ‘Hercules the Unconquered’ as their sign. Some of the later sources spoke of a time of hesitation, when the two sides balked at the prospect of slaughtering fellow citizens, but this is most likely mere romantic invention. Both armies seem to have been confident. Caesar was encouraged by the spirit of his men as he rode along the lines, talking to them and checking that the units were in their appointed place. He does claim to have recounted to them once again the wrongs done to him and all the efforts he had made to arrange a peaceful settlement. He had gone all along the line and was with the Tenth when he gave the signal for the advance. As the trumpets blared out, close to him was Crastinus, a retired primus pilus of the legion, who called out, ‘Follow me, my old comrades, and give your general true service. Only this battle remains; when it’s over he will regain his dignity and we our freedom.’ At the same moment he turned to Caesar and said, ‘Today, general, I shall earn your gratitude whether I live or die.’ After saying this he charged forward from the right wing, and about 120 handpicked soldiers from the same century - all serving as volunteers - followed him.26

Caesar’s infantry advanced in good order, keeping to a steady pace to preserve their formation. When they came closer to the enemy, the front line of cohorts charged forward ready to throw their pila when they came within effective range of about 15 yards. The normal tactic was to keep silent, save for the orders and encouragement of the centurions and other officers, and only to raise a cheer when they flung their heavy javelins and ran forward to close with the enemy. This time the Pompeians stayed rooted to the spot, not advancing to meet them. The centurions had judged the moment to order the charge on the assumption that the enemy would also come forward. Now they realised at the last minute that this was not going to happen, and that there was the danger they would launch their volley of pila too soon and have lost formation by the time they reached the enemy. In a frightening display of their discipline, Caesar’s veterans halted, calmly redressed their ranks and then came on again in good order. At the right moment they then accelerated for a second time, hurled their pila, raised a shout and charged sword in hand at the Pompeian line. Caesar felt that Pompey’s order for his troops to remain stationary was a mistake, since it denied them the enthusiasm of the charge. However, helped no doubt by their numbers and deep formation, the enemy legionaries for a while managed to resist the charge and heavy fighting developed all along the line.

Pompey did not need his legionaries to beat the enemy, merely to keep them occupied and allow the cavalry attack time to succeed. As the battle began Labienus led his men forward against the massively outnumbered Caesarean horse. The latter gave ground, perhaps deliberately retiring to draw the enemy onwards. Over 6,000 cavalry were concentrated in a small area. They were a mixed bag of many different races, inexperienced and led mainly by enthusiastic but equally raw, young aristocrats. Pompey’s cavalry had had few opportunities to operate en masse in the campaign so far. Their horses can only have been in a poor state after the hardships endured at Dyrrachium, which may well have meant that the charge occurred at no faster rate than a trot. In the beginning such a large body of cavalrymen should have been divided into several lines and care taken to make sure that reserves were kept back to exploit any success or give support as required. However, as the cavalry advanced and drove back Caesar’s horsemen this good order seems to have vanished, as the riders and mounts both became carried away by the exhilarating sense of power derived from the close presence of so many others. Labienus and his officers lost control, and instead of an ordered body the force seems to have degenerated into a great disordered mass. At this point Caesar gave the order for the six cohorts in his fourth line to attack. The legionaries came forward, infantry attacking horsemen in a way that has been rare throughout history They kept their pila in their hands and used them as thrusting spears. Labienus’ men had lost order and momentum. It may well be that they had halted, perhaps because he was trying to regain control before moving against the flank of Caesar’s infantry Whatever the cause, the result was a rout in which the entire mob of cavalry stampeded to the rear and played no further part in the battle. Their supporting light infantrymen fled or were cut down.

Caesar kept his fourth line under tight control. Rather than pursuing too far, they swung round to strike the left flank of the Pompeian infantry All along the rest of the front, the cohorts of Caesar’s first and second line were already heavily engaged - these two lines usually worked closely together. They had made some headway and more progress was made as the enemy line was turned. Now Caesar gave the order for his final reserves, the fresh cohorts of the third line, to advance into the fighting line. The Pompeians gave more ground, and then their line collapsed and degenerated into flight. Caesar kept some troops in hand and led them on to storm the enemy camp. He and his officers exhorted the men to spare fellow citizens whenever possible, but it is claimed that they also told them to massacre the enemy auxiliaries to make it clear that their mercy was a special favour. Caesar claims that 15,000 enemy were killed and 24,000 captured along with the eagles of nine legions and 180 other standards. Asinius Pollio gave the lower figure of 6,000 for the Pompeian dead, which may well be more accurate. Domitius Ahenobarbus was killed in the fighting, but most of the other leading Pompeians escaped. Servilia’s son Brutus soon joined the prisoners, and Caesar is alleged to have sent men out looking for him and been delighted when he was found to be still alive. His own losses had been comparatively small considering the scale of his victory, amounting to 200 men and 30 centurions - the latter tended to suffer disproportionately high casualties because of the aggressive leadership expected of them. Crastinus was amongst the dead, killed by a sword thrust that went through his mouth and came out of the back of his neck. This was only after he had performed great heroics. Appian tells us that Caesar gave him an honoured burial and even decorated him, which was unusual since the Romans did not normally give posthumous decorations. Caesar himself tells us that he and his men were disgusted by the lavishness of the enemy camp and the arrogance shown by the tents and shelters already decorated with symbols of victory. Asinius Pollio recorded the more revealing comment made as Caesar looked across the field strewn with enemy dead. ‘They wanted it; even after all my great deeds I, Caius Caesar, would have been condemned, if I had not sought support from my army.’27

Even allowing for hostile sources, Pompey had not done well at Pharsalus and had little impact on the course of the battle after it had begun. Soon after the cavalry attack failed, he returned to camp. A little later, as he saw the signs of collapse, he took off his general’s insignia and fled. It might not have made any difference if he had remained with his soldiers, but it was very poor behaviour for a Roman commander, who was never supposed to admit defeat and, even if things went badly, should try to get as much of his army away in as good order as possible. A battle might be lost, but the general’s task was to make sure that the war would eventually be won. At Pharsalus Pompey despaired, perhaps because for most of the campaign he had wished to avoid fighting such a pitched battle at all. He made no real effort to re-form an army in Greece, but with his advisors soon thought of fleeing overseas. There were rumours that he even considered seeking refuge and aid from the Parthians, but in the end Pompey chose to go to Egypt, where the throne was being fought over by the children of King Ptolemy. Egypt had supplied him with military aid in the recent campaign and was wealthy, so may well have seemed a likely base for rebuilding his fortune. Along with his wife Cornelia, some officers and attendants, Pompey sailed into Alexandria. Openly, the young king - or rather his advisors since the boy was only in his early teens - sent messages of welcome. Pompey got into a boat sent out from the shore. On board were several Egyptians, but also two Roman officers who had served with him years before, and then subsequently been part of Gabinius’ army, remaining in Egypt after the restoration of Ptolemy. As his wife and friends watched from the deck of the ship, these officers stabbed Pompey to death. Thus ended Pompey the Great, a man who had celebrated three triumphs and been consul three times. He was just one day short of his fifty-ninth birthday. His head was cut off and kept to present to Caesar in the hope of gaining the goodwill of the victor, but the rest of the body was left on the beach until one of his own freedmen came and buried it.28

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