At the time of Caesar’s , life there were two leading political factions in Rome: the Optimates and Populares. The Optimares was a conservative group gathering old senators attached to their positions. They were accustomed to the ongoing republican system and did not see its weaknesses. It was impossible for them to predict that this system would not be able to maintain the growing Empire without any centralize power and with the corruption spreading all over.
Much earlier there were people who had been trying to change something(eg. Gracchus brothers), but it was not until the Caesar’s (head of Populares) reforms when it was possible to see any effects. To gain real power he contracted an alliance with Pompey and Marcus Crassus and established the First Triumvirate. After Crassus’ tragic death in 53 BCE Caesar and Pompey got into a conflict. Why? Obviously, it turned out that Pompey was the Rebublic’s defender whereas Caesar, despite not being eager for power, clearly pursued it.
According to the anecdotal evidence, Caesar was supposed to say the famous words alea iacta est – “the die is cast” while crossing the Rubicon. Doing that, at the army’s head, was an evident opposition to the Senate’s legal power and there was no going back. The civil war (bellum civile). between Caesar and Pompey began.
Caesar starts his account of the Civil War from within, he does not write about its causes directly, but we get to know them along with the story development. In the very beginning we find out why the Senate favored Pompey in the war. It turns out that two messengers arrived in the Senate Caesar’s and Pompey’s, but it was Pompey who was close to the city and his messenger’s speech worked as if the commander was speaking himself. Moreover, it turned out that Caesar had been taken away two legions which then could be used against him by Pompey who had the Senate’s (reluctant) support.
The Scipio’s request put in the Senate was supposed to order Caesar to disband the army, otherwise he would be considered a traitor. Pompey managed to gather the soldiers from the city and the environs while also setting some influential figures against Caesar.
Political situation was rather unfavorable for Caesar. His supporters had no voice and his adversaries gathered against him around Pompey, tempted with future trophies and fortune. At that time Caesar was staying in Ravenna, by the Adriatic (today – Ravenna1). Pompey started army recruitment in the whole Italy. Senate divided provinces between consuls and praetors, however it was only a formal division. Caesar, of course, did not intend to comply with the Senate’s orders and addressed his soldiers speaking of his opponents’ law violation.
Pompey’s messengers came to Caesar asking for disbanding his army and turning himself in the Senate, for the good of republic. However Caesar’s conditions were simple as he obviously did not
purse war – he demanded dismissing the soldiers and ceasing the recruitment from Pompey in order to restore peace in Italy. Caesar, outraged with Pompey’s claims which he even did not fill himself, began a recruitment in Arimium2 and put his people in the cities that he had already controlled: Arretium3, Pisaurum4, Fanum 5and Ancona6. At short notice his commander, Curio7 (Caesar’s supporter, he contributed to inflaming the conflict between Caesar and Pompey before the war), took over two cities which so far had been in Pompey’s hand. We know what a threat it was to have Caesar as an enemy. Even the tidings about his approaching the city caused the commanders’ escapes and the gates were open for the emperor.
Even false rumors made his influential opponents leave Rome.
Meanwhile Caesar continued his campaign in Italy, taking over the next cities which welcomed him as a commander. The army disbanded by Lentulus8 he incorporated to his legions. It is important to say that at this time Caesar had only two legions because the rest of them did not come back from the winter quarters.
Afterwards Caesar went on a siege of Corfinium9, defended by the Domitius’10 forces (Caesar’s enemy, consul in 54 BCE). Domitius, being afraid of Caesar and having 30 shorts (approximately 3 legions) asked Pompey for help. At the same time Caesar took over Salmon which opened its gates and welcomed Antony’s army, sent by Caesar, with the ovations. Luckily, Caesar got reinforcements three days later (VII Legion, 22 cohorts from Gaul and about 30 from the nordic king). For those reinforcements there was built a camp under Curio’s leadership. After that Caesar built fortifications around the city. Earlier Domitius had received letters from Pompey saying that he did not want to risk and would not help. Meanwhile the siege foiled Domitius’ escape. When the army found out about this plan, they captured him and sent the messengers to Caesar, stating that they were able to surrender the city and give Domitius up. The emperor though ordered the soldiers to stay in and defend the city because of the possible sallies during the night. Nonetheless, Caesar was aware that getting the city at little cost is in his interest and so he was acting preventively.
The following day Lentulus hiding in the city came to Caesar and asked for the rescue. It is a rather crucial moment as Caesar says here what are the reasons for his campaign. He mentiones that he fights in order to defend himself against the insults and protect the tribunes exiled from the city. It meant that Caesar actually did not care about capturing Lentulus or Domitius, or making a massacre on his enemies. Of course, it was one of the reasons for this war but it is important not to forget that Caesar was not only an excellent commander but also an exquisite politician and orator. At bottom Caesar took care about defeating Pompey but he was still not able to face him head-on.
His efforts show what a great orator he was. He pardoned Lentulus temporarily and thereby gained
endorsement of the scared army and access to the next city of his enemy.
In reality Caesar for sure wanted wealth and development for Rome but as a mean to an end he decided to defeat Pompey. Here Caesar appears also as a brilliant expert in human nature. On the next day
when the Senators, Roman knights and military tribunes were brought to him he forbade his soldiers to put them down not to incite them. He only accused them of ungratefulness and then let go not taking 6 million sesterces from the public treasury which were intended to be the pay for Pompey’s army (he knew that perfectly well). He wanted to seem guarded. The same day he broke the camp and started the march.
Near Corfinium11 he spent a week (15th-21st February 49 BCE). Finding out what happened there, Pompey accelerated the recruitment and set off to Brundisium12. Caesar managed to take over some of his cohorts which had been deserted. In order to prevent Pompey from the escape by sea, Caesar strewed the part of the sound with rocks around the shoal and built there rafts from where it was easy to defend. In order to knock through that, Pompey armed the traders (which he had taken over in the city) with the towers from which he could throw the rounds. When after nine days Caesar’s work were half done, Pompey’s vessels arrived (which previously had transferred part of the army). Pompey, planning to leave Italy, prepared for the crossing. Since the inhabitants supported Caesar, they signaled from the roofs that Pompey was transferring the soldiers on the vessels. Caesar got to Brundisium13 at night on March 17th 49 BCE when Pompey had already detached the vessels but Caesar managed anyway to take over two of them. He dropped the idea of chasing Pompey because of the lack of ships and decided to go to Spain.
Curio was sent back with three legions to Africa. Meanwhile, Caesar went to the Senate in order to cast the insults up to them. Nobody ventured messaging Pompey so after few days the matter remained not adjusted and Caesar went to Cisalpine Gaul14. Thereby he finished his campaign in Italy and completely succeeded.
Marseille did not let Caesar in excusing with its neutrality in the conflict with Pompey. However, when Domitius arrived on the vessels, he was acclaimed as a commander in chief. Outraged Caesar ordered to build the towers and draft in 3 legions. He appointed Gaius Trebonius as a commander of the siege. He sent his legate Gaius Fabius to Hispania to take the gaps in the Pyrenees, controlled by Afranius15.
According to Caesar’s words in Spain there were 3 Pompey’s legates with 7 legions, the reinforcement of heavy infantrymen from the provinces standing with them and 5000 of cavalry. Caesar sent to Hispania 6 legions, 5000 of auxiliary infantry and 6000 of cavalry.
On the river Skyros Fabius16 built two bridges on which he transported feed. They were placed near the Afranius’ bridges and close to the Pompey’s legates so the cavalry clashes were quite often. While reading the descriptions of the small battles, it is clearly visible that both Caesar’s and Pompey’s legates were well trained. They were able to use wisely the lay of the land and the situations which would let them to win.
After only two days Caesar appeared at Afranius’ camp, near Ilreda17, with 900 auxiliary soldiers. He camped approximately 300 meters from the hill on which climbed Afranius’ forces. Then he managed to dig the fosse and fortify the camp before the Pompey’s legates had noticed that Caesar carried out work. He did it because he wanted only the third row of the soldiers to work whereas the first two would wait fully armed as if prepared for the fight, hiding the working. During the next days Caesar digged in and after a few clashes he ordered to check the tabors and the rest of the cohorts left in the old camp. He was planning to fortify the hill between Ilreda where were his enemies’ supplies and the camps of Pompey’s legates. Having noticed the move of Caesar, Afranius sent the part of his legions to stop him. At short notice a fight ensued. In the beginning Caesar had to pull out because there was a mess in the troop formation. He called the IX legion for help. Thanks to the reinforcement Caesar forced his enemies to retreat under the walls of Ilreda, but in the pursuit of the escaping, the IX legion went too far and the Afranius’ counterattack began. The battle lasted for 5 hours in the narrow corridor where the cavalry’s help was impossible. A heroic attack let the Caesar’s army to resist the enemy and return safely with the cavalry’s cover. Approximately 70 of Caesar’s soldiers died in this battle and more than 600 suffered an injury. 200 people were supposed to die in Afranius’ troops. Both sites credited themselves with the victory. Finally Afranius managed to fortify the hill which was the subject of the fight.
Because of the heavy rain the level of the rivers increased and Caesar became cut off of the food supplies so the army became to starve. Afranius had his stores in the city in abundance. The reinforcements gathered for Caesar beyond the river had to hide in the mountains from Afranius’ attack. Caesar built small light ships which allowed him to go across the river at night and fortify the nearby hill. Thanks to that he built a bridge in two days and could send the cavalry to take over some of the enemies’ supplies.
Meanwhile there was Marseille where there was build a fleet consisting of 17 huge vessels by order of Domitius. Caesar’s fleet, stationed around, was headed by Decimus Brutus. Although both the number and the equipment of Brutus’ fleet was worse, he made up for it with the greater soldiers. Their enemies were better prepared for the naval battle but each time there was a chance for boarding, the advantage was all Caesar’s. In the end they won the battle and the Marseilles lost 9 vessels.
Let’s get back to Ilreda though. After rebuilding the bridge, Caesar’s situation significantly improve. Many Iberian tribes declared dependency. Caesar built the canals, carried out the water and thus got a ford. Afranius, together with the two other legates, decided to move the war into the more advantageous place – Celtiberia18 (inhabited by Celts who arrived in Iberian Peninsula and mixed with the Iberians; the Celtiberians were extremely combative and difficult to harness). The retreat was possible because the bridge that Caesar was using caused that he had to make a detour. So he sent the cavalry to delay the march and himself swam across the river which took a lot of time. After a few hours of intense chase they managed to catch up the Afranius’ rearguard.
Pompey’s legates did not expect that and quickly garrisoned the hill and prepared for the battle. They were planning to take the gorges in the nearby mountains but because of their exhaustion they postponed it for the next day and only fortified themselves on the hill, the same as Caesar did. At night Caesar managed to caught a group of Afranius’ people who revealed to him that Afranius was going to strike his camps, so Caesar did the same thing. Hearing the signals from Caesar’s camp, those canceled the march. Both commanders knew that the first one to take the gorged would be able to hold the enemy off. In the morning Caesar decided to set off sidestepping Afranius. The march look as if Caesar’s soldiers were starving (without the tabors and the pack animals) and coming back to Ilreda – and that was the exact Afranius’ intepretation. He did not find out the truth until Caesar started turning back and the front guards passed his camp. Then Afranius quickly ordered to leave and block Caesar’s road. Thus began a chase which ended with Caesar’s victory. He hit the plain in front of the gorges where he disposed the troop formations. Having Caesar’s army in front and the cavalry behind, Afranius hide in the nearby hill. He changed his past plans because as the thing were he decided to take the highest hill in order to be able to get across the mountain paths to Octogesa (today – Ebro). Pompey’s legate sent 4 cohorts for getting the hill but they were slaughtered by the enemy’s cavalry. Despite the centurions’ requests, Caesar did not start the battle – he did not want to expose his army to even the smallest loss. He had a hope that Afranius would give up anyway as he was cut off the water and supplies.
In reality Afranius had two options: either get back to Ilreda or go to Tarraco20 (today – Tarragona) but he could not set off without water. His soldiers began to build the rampart to the nearby stream to stock up on water. However, thanks to the fact that Caesar had spared some terrified opponents the day earlier, they were asking for incorporation to his army because they considered him to be the better commander. The only thing they wanted was the guarantee that they commanders would survive, just to make sure that the troopers would not be accused of betrayal. Under these circumstances two hostile camps became one. The vast majority of Afranius’ soldiers was looking for people who could introduce them to Caesar who was congratulated on his tactic. Although, if Afranius was prone to peace talks, Petreius (the other legate) gathered a group of soldiers and drove away fraternizing army, killing the rest of the people. After a short speech in the camps he forced the soldiers to make a vow saying that they would never leave their commanders and then he killed some of the Caesar’s troopers hiding in the camp. State of war returned to its previous state.
The lack of food started having influence on Afranius’ army. If the legionaries had 7-day food supplies taken from Ilreda, the reinforcements had no provision and every day some of they sneaked out to Caesar’s camp. Because of such situation Caesar’s opponents were pressured to get back to Ilreda. Traditionally, Caesar followed them bothering their rearguard with his cavalry. The Afranius’ cavalry was frightened because of the previous battles which made them useless. The army bothered by the cavalry could neither go forward nor find a proper place for the camp. In these circumstances they were forced to stay in the inconvenient place, far from water. Caesar was still avoiding the battle and was trying to surround Afranius with the banks. Afranius decided to arrange a formation for the battle. Caesar canceled the works and also arranged an order but he was waiting for the enemy’s attack. Afranius only wanted Caesar to stop his works and after sunset the soldiers scattered to their camps and Caesar continued the works. Pompey’s legates was trying to get across the Sicoris river on a ford but Caesar quickly transferred the troopers and part of the cavalry on the other side and set out the guards.
After four days of misery they asked for help. In the place chosen by Caesar they begged for peace and saving them. Caesar mentioned Afranius that he had spurned the peace request
He did not demand incorporating soldiers to his legions but disbanding the army and leaving the province. The soldiers took this massage joyously. It was settled that those who had houses in Hispanic would be dismissed immediately whereas the rest by the Varus21 (today – Var).
This way the second Caesar’s campaign ended and, again, he gained the victory. Without any significant loss he managed to win the war in Hispanic Citerior. He again showed his genius, both political and military. At that moment he had wielded power in Italy and Hispania. Soon it was to turn out that the cities remaining faithful to Pompey in Gaul would not be able to resist any more.
The second book brings us again to Marseille where Trebonius’ siege was still going on. The city was surrounded by water from the three sides so it was possible to get into only from the one side and thus there began a building of a levee. Marseille turned out to be a defensible city, well-prepared for the siege. The Romans could built the levee with difficulty. The Albices22 (combative montane tribe living north of Marseille) often made sallies with a view to starting a fire which hardly ever worked out.
Meanwhile, Lucius Nasidius23, Pompey’s supporter, was sent with the fleet to Marseille to help them. A message about a coming fleet arrived in the city so the Marseillians repaired their vessels, equipped them and set off against the commander of Caesar’s fleet. Before the battle they joined each other. On the battle field two trims attacked Decimus Brutus’ ship (Caesar’s commander) who avoided the collision at the last moment and the opponent’s vessels collided. An instant later they were sunk by the Caesar’s fleet. The great expectations concerning Nesidus’ fleet were gone as he was forced to pull out from the battlefield because of the soldiers’ low morale. The Marseillians lost 9 vessels (5 sunk, 4 taken over) and only one was able to escape with the Nasidius’ fleet.
In the concern about the sallies, Caesar’s soldiers built a brick tower which was fire-proof and as high as the fortified tower in the city which allowed to throw the round effectively. Having such a shelter they started building a gallery covered with roof leading from their tower to the Marseillians. Caesar described the process of building a gallery in detail but I have decided to spare the readers all of them. When it comes to the effects of the soldiers’ works, thanks to the gallery they managed to get to the opponents tower and jemmy its back rocks. Part of the building collapsed and the rest was falling apart. Terrified Marseillians ran out of the city without the weapons begging for mercy. They begged to wait for Caesar because the city looked almost conquered. The fortifying works were almost done and people did not want to defend any longer. The soldiers wanted to ravage the city, probably killing lots of people. Finally, the works were called off leaving only guards. The siege looked finished but everybody waited for Caesar.
However, few days later in Trebonius’ ranks set in chaos and the Marseillians made a sudden sally during which they managed to torch the levee, other siege engines built beneath the city, including the tower and the gallery. The next day they tried the same movement with the second tower and the gallery (built simultaneously on the other side of the wall) but the soldiers where prepared for that and easily countered the attack. Furious Romans started building the wall which was supposed to cut off the city from the land. Trebonius’ walls were so close to the city walls that it was possible to throw the manual rounds. On the other hand the wall was not thick enough that the siege engines turned out not to be successful. Under those circumstances the Marseillians began the armistice negotiations. Few days earlier Domitius had predicted that Marseille would give up.He took two ships for his friends and one for himself and during the stormy weather he got out. The chase caught only his friends’ ships, Domitius himself managed to escape.
Writing about how he took the control over Hispania Ulterior, Caesar mentioned in his diary about Marcus Varro. He was one of Pompey’s legates, but, on the other hand, sympathized with Caesar. When he was informed about the Caesar’s stop in Marseille and after that about the supply scarceness in Ilreda, he started the recruitment in Hispanic Ulterior and speak against Caesar, about his failures and fiascos. In his provinces he levied high taxes on Caesar’s supporters and chased convicted criminals. After Caesar’s victory in Hispanic Citerior he sent for the tribune Quintus Casius with the two legions from the other province. Meanwhile Caesar convoked an administration meeting in Corduba24 (today: Cordova), the first Roman colonia on this peninsula. It turned out that the vast majority of the provinces supports Caesar and Corduba and Carmona25 closed its gates for Varro. Knowing that he was not welcomed in the provinces he hurried to the city (where were supplies) not to be cut off the road. Before he had arrived, he got a message that his troops were exiled from the city which was secured for Caesar. One of the legions left Varro who, being completely terrified and cut off, went to Caesar and offered him the second legion, all the money and supplies. This way Caesar took the control over the other Spanish province. Then he went to Marseille where he received a message saying that he was appointed Dictator. Caesar spared the city but he left in there two legions and himself went to Rome.
Meanwhile Curio, sent by Caesar to Sicily a while ago, transited to Africa26. Curio appeared in Africa in August 48 BCE. Ignoring the stationed forces of Caesar’s biggest enemy, Attius Varus, he took only two legions out of four and 500 riders. He docked in Anquilaria27 and sent after one of commanders, Rufus, to Utica28 and himself set off with the hole army. Then, in a very convenient place, Cornelius29, Caesar’s friend, encamped. Varus’ camp was connected to the walls and also well-located.
During the observations of the hostile camp made by Curio, he noticed that people were frantically bringing in all their goods from the countryside behind the wall so he sent there the cavalry to get the east haul. His riders won the clash with the Varus’ forces sent as reinforcement and came back with the trophy. At the same time some warships came to Curio so he ordered to announce the each ship that would not leave the harbor in the city would be consider hostile. This way Curio managed to source about 200 traders and, as a result, provide the army with the necessary supplies. When Curio came back to his camp by Bargada30 (river disgorging to the Gulf of Carthage around Utica) he was appointed the emperor31. The next day he set his troops around Utica. He received an information that the king of Numidia and Pompey’s supporter, Juba31, had sent huge reinforcements to Varus. Curio canceled the worlds and sent the cavalry to stop the march. The riders destroyed the reinforcements and came back to the camp, none of the sites accumulated looses.
It was the next day when the commanders posted their armies. Varus Sexts Quinctilius, whom Caesar released in Corfinium, tried to convince the Curio’s legions with screaming to keep their promise for Domitius, but he did not succeed. Both armies went back to their camps. Curio was suggested to start the siege of the enemy’s camp or the retreat to Cornelius’ camp from where it would be easier to get back to Sicily. Curio rejected both ideas fearing that the siege could not bring desired effects and the retreat would be shameful. Eventually he decided to dress the soldiers. He mentioned the circumstances from Corfinium and the reason why did they made a vow to Caesar. He was convinced about winning this war, particularly after Caesar’s accomplishments in Hispania. He was talking about the honors that would surely wait for the soldiers remaining faithfully with Caesar. He also presented his own success in the African campaign such as transiting the army without prejudice, taking over the traders, causing the enemy off the supplies and finally, two cavalry victories. His speech affected the soldiers who especially did not want to be accused of infidelity. Finally, after the change in the army;s mood he decided to incite the battle whenever there is would be a chance for that. The following day he walked the army and the same did Attius Varus.
Between the armies there was a valley with rather sheer slopes. Various was the first to run his cavalry with the troops down the valley. In response to that Curio sent his riders and won the clash. He forced the enemy’s cavalry to escape and slaughtered the troops. The Attius’ army scattered and meanwhile Curio already started the attack with the infantry. Various thought that he had been surrounded by the cavalry so before Curio managed to leave the valley, the opponents ran away to their camp. Some Varus’ soldiers escaped to the city so he decided to do the same thing with the whole army. As a result Curio decided to close the city with a bank and besiege it. In the city Atius was thinking whether not to surrender it, but a massage from king Juba came saying that he was approaching with the big forces and ordering to defend the city. These information got also to Curio but he did not want to believe in it. He was so proud of his past success that he did not provide for any attack from the king. When he found out that his forces were near Utica he decided to cancel the bank works, came back to Cornelius’ camp and stock up supplies of wood and grain. He was informed that the king had been stopped by the local war and only his prefect Saburra came for help with are reinforcements. Curio believed in those rumors and decided to change the plans and settle the matter with one battle. He was driven by the desire to win, intensified with the faith in luck and previous success. He was a young and good commander, but he was lacking experience.
In reality, Juba’s prefect was in front and only a few kilometers behind there was the king himself with the whole army. At night Curio sent the cavalry to destroy the army of prefect Suburra. It worked out because the soldiers came back with the captives who being asked about who was by Bagrada, answered that it was Suburra. The soldiers’ enthusiasm was as big as the commander’ s confidence. Subbura in the meantime set his army and released the cavalry for the attack. Curio had only 200 riders left, the rest was tired after the march. Gradually, the Numidian cavalry began to outflank the Romans.
After some time the Curio’s soldier were exhausted and injured and thus practically unable to fight. In the meantime Suburra sent more and more reinforcements. The Romans could not escape because they were surrounded by the hostile cavalry. People started to panic as they were sure they were going to die. Curio ordered the attack and getting the nearby hill to hide here. Unfortunately, he was cut off by the cavalry. He died in a fight. Only a few riders managed to escape from the battle and also those who were in the rear wanting for their horses to rest. The infantry was slaughtered.
Finding out about the fiasco a quaestor Martius Rufus who remained in Curio’s camp wanted to uplift the people but they exacted coming back to Sicily from him. Rufus ordered the ships to put in an appearance but it turned out that the rumors about the approaching Varus’ fleet caused panic among the soldiers. Only a few ships appeared at a call, the rest ran away. The soldiers started to fight over who should first go aboard. Overcrowded ships were sinking and only few managed to get to Sicily safely. Those who stayed in Africa wanted to give in to Varus but Juba considered them as his war trophy and ordered to kill all. After a few days spent in the city, he returned to his kingdom with the army.
This way ended the first part of the African campaign, in which Caesar did not take part personally. Curio’s total military disaster was a huge loss for the whole army. It seems though that it did not have a major impact on the whole war. The soldier serving Caesar were feeling rather safe. After defeating Pompey, Caesar came back to Africa to get even with Curio’s slayers.