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Chapters 7‑36

This webpage reproduces part of
The African War

by an unknown writer, attached to the name of
Julius Caesar

Loeb Classical Library
1955

The text is in the public domain.

This text has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapters 67‑78

Caesar
African War

p203 [Chapters 37‑66]

37 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Now that Caesar had reinforced his troops with two veteran legions, cavalry and light-armed forces from his second convoy, he gave orders that the ships, now uploaded, should set sail forthwith for Lilybaeum to bring across the rest of his army. On January 25, at approximately the first watch,1 he personally issued orders that all his scouts and aides-de‑camp should hold themselves at his disposal. Accordingly, without anyone's knowing or suspecting his plan, at the third watch he ordered all his legions to be led outside the camp and follow him in the direction of the town of Ruspina, where he had a garrison; p205it was also the first place to have joined his side. He then descended a gentle slope and, keeping to the left side of the plain, led his legions along close to the sea.2 This plain is remarkably level and extends for twelve miles; and the chain of not so very lofty downs which encircles it right from the very sea gives it the appearance of a kind of amphitheatre. This chain includes a few high hills, on each of which were situated some very ancient turrets and watch-towers; and in the last3 of these Scipio had a defence-post and picket.

38 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] After Caesar had climbed up to the ridge I have described and visited each individual hill and tower, he proceeded to construct redoubts and these he completed in less than half an hour; and when he was now not so very far away from the last hill and turret, which was nearest the enemy camp and where, as I have explained, there was a defence post and picket of Numidians, he paused for a little while; then, after studying the lie of the land, he posted his cavalry on guard and assigned to his legions their tasks, ordering them to carry a line of fortifications straight along the middle of the chain, from the point he had now reached right up to the point from where he had started. When Scipio and Labienus observed this, they led their entire cavalry force out of camp and, deploying it in battle line, advanced about a mile from their fortified positions and drew up their infantry forces in a second battle line less than four hundred paces from their camp.

p207 39 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Caesar kept encouraging the troops as they worked, quite unmoved by his opponents' forces. When he perceived that no more than a mile and a half now separated the enemy ranks from his own fortifications, and realised that the enemy were approaching closer for the purpose of obstructing his troops and forcing them to abandon their task, and as he considered that he must now perforce withdraw his legions from their work of building fortifications, he ordered a squadron of Spaniards to launch a speedy attack upon the adjacent hill, dislodge its enemy defenders, and capture the position; and he also instructed a small detachment of light-armed troops to follow them in support to the same objective. Thus despatched they speedily attacked the Numidians, capturing some of them alive and seriously wounding others of their troopers as they sought to escape, and so won the position. As soon as Labienus observed this, he detached practically the entire right wing of the line of cavalry he had deployed, so as the more speedily to render them assistance; and with this force he made haste to proceed to the relief of his retreating troops. But when Caesar saw that Labienus had now withdrawn some distance from his forces, he launched the left wing of his own cavalry, so as to cut the enemy off.

40 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Now in the area where this action was going on there was a very large farm building, constructed with four lofty towers; and this impeded Labienus' field of view and prevented his observing that he was being cut off by Caesar's cavalry. Consequently it was only when he realised that his men were being cut down from the rear that he actually saw the Julian squadrons. As a result, triumph suddenly p209gave place to panic among the Numidian cavalry, and Labienus made haste to flee straight back to camp. As for the Gauls and Germans, they stood their ground; but hemmed in between the enemy on the higher ground and those in their rear, despite a gallant resistance they were slaughtered to a man. On observing this, Scipio's legions, which were drawn up in front of his camp, were seized with a blind panic and began to flee by every gate into their camp. Now that Scipio and his forces had been swept in disorder from plain and hills and driven wholesale into their camp, Caesar ordered the retreat to be sounded and withdrew all his cavalry inside his own fortifications; and it was then, when the field had been cleared, that his attention was caught by the amazing bodies of the Gauls and Germans: some of whom had followed Labienus from Gaul in deference to his authority; others had been induced to join him by rewards and promises; and there were yet others who, having been made prisoners after Curio's defeat and their lives being spared, had been anxious to give proof of their unswerving gratitude by maintaining a correspondingly unswerving loyalty. These were the men whose bodies, amazing in their beauty and stature, were lying mutilated and prostrate here and there all over the battle-field.

41 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] On the day following this action Caesar withdrew his cohorts from all his defence posts and drew up all his forces in the plain: whereas Scipio, after the disastrous reception his troops had met with and their resulting heavy casualties in dead and wounded, proceeded to sit tight within his own fortifications. Caesar deployed his battle line along the lowest spurs of the chain of hills, and then slowly approached p211closer to Scipio's fortifications. And now the Julian legions which were less than a mile away from the town of Uzitta, which Scipio held, when the latter, fearing that he would lose the town, on which his army had been accustomed to rely for its water supply and all other means of support, led out all his forces. These forces were drawn up, according to his custom, in four lines, the first consisting of cavalry deployed in line of squadrons, interspersed with elephants equipped with towers and armour. Thus deployed, Scipio marched to the relief of the town, while Caesar, observing this move and supposing that Scipio was advancing towards him prepared and fully resolved to fight, accordingly halted before the town in the position I described a little earlier. With his own centre covered by the town, Scipio drew up his right and left wings, where his elephants were, in full view of his opponents.


[image ALT: A map of the battle of Uzitta in Caesar's war in Africa.]

Map 4: Uzitta

42 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Caesar had now waited till nearly sunset without observing any signs of Scipio's leaving the position in which he had halted and advancing towards him; and his impression was that Scipio would rather remain on the defensive, utilising his position, if the circumstances demanded it, than venture to come to close grips on the plain. Accordingly, there seemed no sense in approaching closer to the town that day. For he was aware that it contained a large garrison force of Numidians, and he realised that the enemy had used the town to screen his centre, and that he himself was faced with a difficult task in simultaneously attacking the town and at the same time engaging in battle on his right and left wing from a disadvantageous position, the more especially so since his troops had been standing to since early p213morning without a bite of food, and were quite exhausted. Accordingly, he led his forces back to camp, deciding to wait till the following day and then extend his fortifications nearer the enemy's line.

43 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] In the meantime Considius with eight cohorts and some Numidian and Gaetulian mercenaries was besieging Acylla, where C. Messius was in command with three cohorts. He had made prolonged and manifold attempts, and had repeatedly approached the walls with siege-works on a large scale; but these the townsfolk had set on fire, and he was making no progress. So when the unexpected report of the cavalry engagement arrived, he was much disconcerted and set fire to the large stock of cornº in his camp, rendered unusable his wine, oil and all the other victuals with which an army is normally provided, and raised the siege of Acylla. Then he marched through Juba's kingdom,4 gave part of his forces to Scipio, and retired to Hadrumetum.

44 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Meanwhile from the second convoy, which Alienus had despatched from Sicily,5 one ship having aboard Q. Cominius and a Roman knight named L. Ticida had got astray from the rest of the fleet and had been carried by the wind toward Thapsus; and being intercepted by the pinnaces and light craft of Vergilius was escorted to that port. A second trireme from the same fleet likewise went astray, was carried by a gale towards Aegimurus, and captured by the fleet of Varus and M. Octavius. On board this vessel were some veteran soldiers, with one centurion and a few recruits; and these Varus kept under guard, though without any maltreatment, p215and had them escorted to Scipio. When they came before him and stood in front of his tribunal, he said: 'It is not of your own free will — of that I am quite sure — but under the compulsion and at the behest of that villainous commander of yours, that you are iniquitously persecuting your own citizens and all truth patriots. But now that fortune has delivered you into our hands, if you mean to do your duty and range yourselves on the side of all true patriots in the defence of the state, then I am resolved to grant you your lives and reward you with money. Now therefore declare your mind.'

45 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] After addressing them to this effect Scipio had little doubt that they would express their gratitude to him for his kindness, and accordingly gave them permission to speak. One of their number, a centurion of the Fourteenth legion, then spoke as follows: 'For your great kindness, Scipio — I refrain from calling you commander-in‑chief — I thank you, inasmuch as you promise me, by rights a prisoner of war, my life and safety; and maybe I should now avail myself of that kind offer, but for the utterly iniquitous condition attached to it. Am I to range myself in armed opposition against Caesar, my commander-in‑chief, under whom I have held my command, and against his army, to sustain the victorious reputation whereof I have been fighting for upwards of thirty‑six years?6 No, I am not likely to do that, and I strongly advise you to give up the attempt. For you now have the chance of appreciating — if you have not previously found it out sufficiently by experience — whose troops they are you are fighting. Choose from your men one cohort, the one you regard as your most reliable, and array p217it here over against me: I for my part will take no more than ten men from my comrades whom you now hold in your power. Then from our prowess you shall realise what you ought to expect from your own forces.'

46 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] This forthright and quite unlooked for retort on the part of the centurion infuriated Scipio. Smarting with resentment he signified his wishes to his own centurions by a nod, causing the centurion to be executed in his presence, and issuing instructions for the remaining veterans to be segregated from the recruits. 'Away with these fellows,' said he, 'tainted as they are with unspeakable iniquities and gorged with the blood of their own citizens.' Accordingly, they were led outside the rampart and tortured to death. As for the recruits, he ordered them to be drafted among the legions, and would not allow Cominius and Ticida to be brought into his presence. This incident disquieted Caesar, who took steps to punish those whom he had instructed to be stationed with warships anchored out at sea on guard off Thapsus, so as to give protection to his transports and men-of‑war: in view of their negligence he had them dismissed from the service with ignominy, and had a general order published reprimanding them most severely.

47 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] It was round about this time that an incredible and unheard‑of experience befell Caesar's army. Although the constellation of the Pleiades had set,7 at about the second watch of the night a heavy rainstorm suddenly broke, accompanied by a shower of hail stones. Moreover, to make matters worse, Caesar at the time was not, as was his custom on previous occasions, keeping his army billeted in p219winter quarters; but every other, or every third day, he would be advancing, moving up closer to the enemy and fortifying a camp, and in the course of doing this work his troops had no chance to look after themselves. Apart from this, his arrangements for transporting his army from Sicily were such as to allow only the troops themselves and their arms to be embarked, but no baggage, no slaves,8 none of the soldier's normal comforts. In Africa, moreover, not only had they neither bought nor provided themselves with anything, but in addition the high price of corn had run away with all their savings. In these straitened circumstances very few men indeed were sleeping under proper tents: the rest bivouacked under tents of a sort improvised from clothing or woven with reeds and twigs. And so when the rain came down suddenly and the hail followed it, their tents sagged under the weight, and were undermined and swept away by the violence of the floods: in the dead of night the storm put out their fires: all their victuals were ruined; and they wandered aimlessly hither and thither about the camp, covering their heads with their shields. That same night the spear-points of the men of the Fifth legion spontaneously caught fire.9

48 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Meanwhile king Juba had been informed of Scipio's cavalry battle; and in response to a written summons from the latter he left behind his general, Saburra, with part of his army, to keep Sittius in check, and quitting his kingdom set off to join Scipio. With him he took three legions, eight hundred bridled cavalry, a numerous contingent of Numidians who rode without bridles, and of light-armed infantry troops, and thirty elephants. His p221purpose in so doing was to add a certain prestige to Scipio's army by his personal appearance, and the more to intimidate Caesar's. On reaching Scipio he pitched a separate royal camp with the forces I have mentioned, and took up a position not so far distant from Scipio. Now hitherto there had been considerable apprehension in Caesar's camp: before Juba's arrival the feeling of suspense was greater, and it was this which unsettled Caesar's army as it was waiting for the royal forces; but as soon as the king pitched his camp close to theirs, they held his forces in contempt and all their fears were laid aside. And so all the prestige with which his previous absence had endowed the king he forfeited now that he was on the spot. That the king's arrival in this manner gave Scipio additional courage and confidence was a fact that anyone could readily appreciate; for on the following day he led out his own and the king's entire forces, including sixty elephants, and set them in battle array with as much pomp and circumstance as possible, and then, after advancing somewhat farther than usual from his fortified positions and pausing their a little while, withdrew to camp.

49 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] When Caesar observed that practically all the reinforcements that Scipio had been awaiting had now forgathered and that there was nothing to delay an engagement, he began to advance with his troops along the crest of the ridge, carrying forward his lines of fortification and building strong points. He also made strenuous efforts to seize the high ground closer to Scipio and, by capturing it, to forestall his opponents, lest, relying on their superiority in numbers, they should seize the nearby hill and so p223deprive him of the opportunity of advancing farther. But Labienus too had made up his mind to seize this hill; and his closer proximity to it had enabled him to achieve the objective more rapidly.

50 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] There was a ravine, of a fair width and with high, precipitous sides, and honeycombed at many points with cave-like hollows; and Caesar had to cross it before he could reach the hill he wished to take. On the far side of this ravine there was an ancient olive grove, dense and thickly planted with trees. It was here that Labienus, perceiving that Caesar must first cross the ravine and olive grove if he wanted to seize that position, and availing himself of his local knowledge, took his stand in ambush with a detachment of cavalry and some light-armed troops. In addition he had posted some cavalry out of sight behind the range of hills, in order that, when he himself unexpectedly launched his attack upon the legionaries, this cavalry might make its appearance from behind the hill; thereby Caesar and his army were to be thrown into utter confusion by this double attack and, denied the opportunity either of retiring or advancing, were to be surrounded and cut to pieces. When Caesar, in ignorance of the ambush, but with a screen of cavalry thrown out in front, came up to this position, the troops of Labienus either misinterpreted or forgot his instructions, or maybe they were afraid of being caught in the trap by Caesar's cavalry; anyway, they came out from behind the rocks in small groups or singly, and made for the crest of the hill. Caesar's cavalry pursued them, killing some and capturing others alive, and then forthwith made all haste towards the hill, which they speedily seized after dislodging p225Labienus' holding force. Labienus and part of his cavalry barely managed to escape with their lives.

51 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] After this action fought by the cavalry Caesar fortified a camp on the hill of which he had gained possession, assigning each legion its share of the work. He then began to carry two fortified lines from his own principal camp across the centre of the plain in the direction of the town of Uzitta — which town was situated on flat ground between his camp and Scipio's and was occupied by the latter — their direction being such as to make them converge upon the right and left corners of the town. His purpose in constructing this field-work was as follows: when he advanced his forces closer to the town and proceeded to attack it, he should have his flanks covered by these fortifications of his and not be enveloped by the swarms of enemy cavalry and so be deterred from attacking; moreover, it should make it easier to hold conversations with the enemy, and if any of the latter wanted to desert — this had often occurred in the past, but at great risk to the deserters — it should now prove easy and devoid of risk. He was also anxious to discover, when he approached closer to the enemy, were they intended to fight. Over and above these reasons was the additional fact that this was a low‑lying tract, and quite a few wells could be sunk in it: water in fact was in short supply and had to be carried a long distance. While the legionaries were engaged in this work of fortification which I have mentioned above, a detachment of them took post in front of the work in battle formation close to the enemy; for the latter's foreign cavalry and part of his light-armed force kept skirmishing at close quarters.

p227 52 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] It was now nearly dusk, and Caesar was withdrawing his troops from this work to camp, when Juba, Scipio and Labienus launched a violent attack upon his legionaries, employing all their cavalry and light-armed forces. Caesar's cavalry reeled and gave ground momentarily under the sudden and violent impact of the massed swarms of the enemy. But the latter found that this manoeuvre did not go according to plan; for Caesar halted in his tracks and led his forces back to the assistance of his cavalry. The arrival of the legions put fresh heart into the cavalry, who wheeled round, charged the Numidians in the middle of their eager, but scattered pursuit, and drove them right back into the royal camp, with heavy casualties and many of their number killed. And had not nightfall speedily overtaken this action, and a cloud of dust raised up by the wind hampered everyone's vision, Juba and Labienus would have been captured and have fallen into Caesar's hands, and their cavalry and light-armed troops would have been utterly and entirely annihilated. Whereupon an incredible number of Scipio's troops deserted from the Fourth and Sixth legion — some to Caesar's camp, others to various places wherever each individual managed to find refuge. The cavalry who were once under Curio's command10 likewise lost confidence in Scipio and his forces, and many of them took refuge with the others.

53 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] While the leaders on either side were engaged in these operations in the neighbourhood of Uzitta, two legions, the Tenth and the Ninth, which had sailed from Sicily in transports, were now not far from the port of Ruspina. Here they sighted those ships of p229Caesar's which were stationed on patrol off Thapsus; and fearing they might be falling unawares upon an enemy flotilla loitering there presumably with treacherous designs, they made off out to sea. Many days later, exhausted by thirst and privation after a long and very storm-tossed voyage, they at length reached Caesar.

54 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] These legions were then disembarked. Now Caesar had in mind the lack of discipline of old among the troops in Italy and the plundering exploits of certain individuals; and he had now some ground for complaint, though only a trifling one, in the fact that C. Avienus, a military tribune of the Tenth legion, had commandeered a vessel from the convoy and filled it with his own household slaves and beasts of burden, without transporting a single soldier from Sicily. Accordingly, on the following day Caesar paraded the tribunes and centurions of all his legions and thus addressed them from the platform. 'I could have wished above all things that people would at some time or other have set bounds to their wanton and highly irresponsible behaviour, and had regard for my own leniency, moderation and forbearance. However, since they set themselves no limit or boundary, I myself will set them a precedent in accordance with military custom, so that the remainder may behave somewhat differently. Inasmuch as you, C. Avienus, in Italy have stirred up soldiers of the Roman people against the state and have committed acts of plunder in various municipal towns; inasmuch as you have proved useless to me and to the state and have embarked, instead of troops, your own household slaves and beasts of burden, so that thanks to you the state is short of p231troops at a critical time; for these reasons I hereby discharge you with ignominy from my army and direct that you leave as soon as possible and be quit of Africa this day. You also, A. Fonteius, I dismiss from my army, for having proved a mutinous military tribune and a disloyal citizen. T. Salienus, M. Tiro and C. Clusinas, you have attained your ranks in my army, not by merit, but by favour; your conduct has been such as to prove you neither brave in war, nor loyal nor competent in peace, and more eager to stir up mutiny among the troops against your commander-in‑chief than to preserve respect and discipline; on these counts I deem you to be unworthy to hold rank in my army, and I hereby discharge you and direct that you be quit of Africa as soon as possible.' Accordingly he handed them over to the centurions, assigned them each no more than a single slave, and had them embarked separately in a ship.

55 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Meanwhile the Gaetulian deserters who, as we have described above,11 were sent by Caesar with despatches and instructions, arrived back among their own citizens. The authority they held readily induced their countrymen, who were also influenced by Caesar's reputation, to revolt from king Juba; and so they one and all promptly took up arms and did not hesitate to oppose the king. On learning of this situation king Juba, compelled as he now was by necessity to divide his energies between three fronts, detached six cohorts from the force which he had led against Caesar and sent them to his own royal domain to defend it against the Gaetulians.

p233 56 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Caesar had now completed his lines of fortification and extended them right up to a point so as to be just out of range of spear-cast from the town. He then fortified a camp, ranging catapults and scorpions at close intervals in front of it and training them upon the town, and harrying without respite the defenders of its walls; he also detached five legions from his former camp and brought them down to the new one. Making use of the opportunity thus offered, certain more distinguished persons and those of the widest acquaintance kept demanding to see their friends and relations, and conversation ensued between them. Caesar was not blind to the expediency of this turn of events; and in fact some of the nobler Gaetulians among the royal cavalry, including captains of horse, whose fathers had previously served with Marius and had, by his good offices, been presented with farms and lands, but later on after Sulla's victory had been handed over as subjects to king Hiempsal, seized their chance and deserted, when it was night and the lamps were now lit, and came with their horses and grooms — roughly a thousand of them — to Caesar's camp which was situated in the plain close to Uzitta.

57 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] It was just about this time, after Scipio and his colleagues had come to learn of this disconcerting setback, that they saw M. Aquinus holding a conversation with C. Saserna. Scipio sent word to Aquinus saying that he had no business to be holding a conversation with the enemy. When none the less the messenger brought back to Scipio the other's answer, namely that on the contrary it remained for him to complete the rest of his business, Juba also sent him a courier, in the hearing of Saserna: p235'The king forbids you to hold this conversation.' Alarmed by this message, Aquinus withdrew in deference to the king's injunction. To think that it had come to this, that a Roman citizen, one, moreover, who had received office at the hands of the Roman people, at a time when his country and all his fortunes stood secure, should rather have obeyed Juba, a foreigner, than deferred to Scipio's instructions or else, if he preferred, let his own partisans be massacred, while he himself returned home safe and sound! Still more arrogant even was Juba's behaviour, not towards M. Aquinus, a mere upstart and junior member of the Senate, but towards Scipio, whose family, rank and magistracies were such as to make him an outstanding man. For Scipio had been in the habit of wearing a purple cloak before the king arrived; and Juba — so it is said — took the matter up with him, saying that Scipio ought not to wear the same dress as he himself wore. And so it came about that Scipio changed to white dress in deference to Juba — that by‑word of arrogance and indolence.

58 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] On the next day the enemy led out their entire combined forces from all12 their camps and, gaining possession of a certain prominent knoll, arrayed their battle line not far from Caesar's camp, and took up their position there. Caesar likewise led forth his forces, speedily arrayed them and took up a position in front of his fortifications which were in the plain; for he thought, no doubt, that his opponents, seeing they were equipped with such substantial forces and the reinforcements supplied by the king, and had previously been quite prompt to sally forth, would now take the initiative, advance towards him and join battle. After riding round p237encouraging his legions he gave the signal and awaited the enemy's advance. For he himself had good reason not to advance too far from his fortifications, since the town of Uzitta, held by Scipio, contained enemy cohorts under arms; moreover, his right-hand wing lay opposite the said town, and he was afraid that, if he advanced beyond it, the enemy might make a sally from the town, attack him in flank, and maul him severely. Apart from this there was another reason too to make him pause, namely that in front of Scipio's line there was a patch of very broken ground, which he believed would prevent his troops from going over to the offensive.

59 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] I do not think I ought to pass over without mention the manner in which the armies of either side were deployed in battle formation. Scipio's order of battle was as follows. In front he placed his own and Juba's legions: behind these, in a support line, the Numidians, drawn out in so thin and long a formation as to give the impression at a distance that the centre was a single line composed of legionary troops. His elephants he had placed at regular intervals on his right and left wings, and behind the elephants his light-armed troops and Numidian auxiliaries were stationed in support. On his right wing he had posted his entire force of bridled cavalry; for his left wing was covered by the town of Uzitta, and there was no room to deploy cavalry. In addition he had posted some Numidians and a vast multitude of light-armed troops to cover the right flank of his line at a distance of at least a mile or so, pushing them more towards the foothills and so withdrawing them farther away both from the enemy and his own forces. His purpose in doing this was that when p239the two battle lines charged one another, his cavalry would only have to continue their outflanking movement a little farther in the early stages of the action, and then by sheer weight of numbers they could surprise and envelop Caesar's army, throw it into disorder, and riddle it with lances. Such was Scipio's plan of battle that day.

60 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Caesar's battle line, on the other hand, was disposed as follows, my description beginning with his left wing and working round to his right. On his left wing he had the Tenth and Ninth legions: in the centre the Twenty-Fifth, Twenty-Ninth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Twenty-Eighth and Twenty-Sixth. As for the actual right wing, he had posted there some of the cohorts of his veteran legions as well as a few cohorts from the legions of recruits besides. His third line he had concentrated on his left wing, extending it right up to the central legion of his line, and had arranged it in such a formation that his left wing was composed of three lines. His motive for doing this was the fact that, whereas his right flank was supported by his fortifications, he was hard put to it to know how his left flank could bear up under the hordes of enemy cavalry; and it was on this same left flank that he had concentrated the whole of his own cavalry and, not feeling too confident in it, had detached the Fifth legion to support this cavalry, and drafted light-armed troops at intervals among the horse. As for his archers, he had posted them in various formations at definite points throughout the line, but chiefly on the wings.

61 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Such was the manner in which the armies on either side were drawn up, with a distance of no more than three hundred paces separating them — a situation p241which had never, perhaps, arisen before without leading to an engagement; and there they remained continuously from early morning right until the tenth hour. And now, while Caesar was beginning to lead his army back within his fortifications, suddenly the entire force of cavalry — the more distant one, comprising Numidians and Gaetulians riding without bridles — began a movement on the right and to advance closer to Caesar's camp on the high ground, while Labienus' bridled cavalry maintained their positions and distracted the attention of the legions. Whereupon part of Caesar's cavalry together with the light-armed troops, acting without orders and without discretion, suddenly advanced too far, crossed a marshy tract and found themselves too far outnumbered to be able to contain the enemy. Abandoning the light-armed troops, the cavalry were driven back and fled to their own lines not without casualties — one horseman missing, many horses wounded and twenty-seven light-armed soldiers killed. It was now night when Scipio, delighted with this successful cavalry engagement, withdrew his forces into camp. But in vouchsafing him this triumph the fortunes of war saw fit to make it but short-lived. On the following day, in fact, a detachment of Caesar's cavalry which he had sent to Leptis on a foraging mission surprised in the course of their march and attacked about a hundred marauding Numidian and Gaetulian horse, killing some of them and taking the rest alive. Meanwhile Caesar made it his constant and daily practice to lead his legions down into the plain, proceed with his field-works, carry his rampart and trench across the middle of the present, and thereby hinder his p243opponents' sallies. Scipio likewise built counter-defences, pushing them forward in haste to prevent Caesar from barring him access to the ridge. Thus the generals on both sides were occupied with field-works, but none the less engaged one another daily in cavalry actions.

62 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Meanwhile Varus, who had previously beached his flotilla at Utica for the winter, learned that the Seventh and Eighth legions were on the way from Sicily. Thereupon he promptly launched his flotilla, manned it on the spot with Gaetulian oarsmen and marines and, setting sail from Utica, arrived at Hadrumetum with fifty-five ships with the object of setting a trap for them. Caesar, who was unaware of his arrival, despatched L. Cispius with a squadron of twenty-seven ships to the area of Thapsus to patrol there and give cover to his convoy; and he also sent Q. Aquila with thirteen warships to Hadrumetum for the same purpose. Cispius speedily reached his destination, whereas Aquila, lashed by a storm and unable to double the headland, gained a certain cove which was sheltered from the storm and afforded him and his squadron a fairly inconspicuous retreat. The rest of the fleet stood at anchor out at sea off Leptis; and as the crews had disembarked and were roaming here and there about the beach, some of them having gone off to the town to buy themselves food, the fleet had no one to defend it. Learning of this situation from a deserter, Varus seized his opportunity: at the second watch he came out of the inner harbour of Hadrumetum and arrived off Leptis in the early morning with his entire squadron; and there he set p245fire to the defenceless transports which were anchored out at sea at some distance from the port, and captured two five-banked warships, which offered no resistance.

63 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Meanwhile a message speedily acquainted Caesar with the news as he was touring the defence works in his camp, which was six miles distant from the harbour. Putting everything else on one side and giving his horse its head he speedily reached Leptis, where he insisted that all the ships should follow his lead: he himself then went aboard a small cutter. As he sailed on he came up with Aquila, who was filled with panic and confusion at the large number of the enemy ships, and then set off in pursuit of the enemy squadron. Meanwhile Varus, disconcerted by Caesar's promptitude and boldness, had turned about with his entire squadron and was now beating a hasty retreat to Hadrumetum. In four miles' sail Caesar overhauled him, recovered one of his quinqueremes, complete with all its crew, and capturing in addition the enemy prize-crew aboard her, one hundred-and‑thirty strong, and then captured the nearest enemy trireme, which in the course of the action had lagged behind the rest, with its full complement of rowers and marines. The rest of the enemy fleet doubled the headland, and one and all sought refuge in the inner harbour of Hadrumetum. But the wind did not hold for Caesar also to be able to double the headland; so after riding out that night at anchor in deep water he approached Hadrumetum at dawn. There he set fire to the transports which were outside the inner harbour and then, as all the others had either been beached by the enemy or massed inside the inner harbour, he waited p247a little while to see if by chance the enemy were disposed to fight a naval action and then withdraw back to his camp.

64 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Among those made prisoner aboard that trireme was P. Vestrius, a Roman knight, and P. Ligarius, once a supporter of Afranius. Caesar had set the latter free in Spain along with the other Afranians,13 and he had later on joined Pompeius and then, as a fugitive after the battle (of Pharsalus), had come to Varus in Africa. In view of his falseness and treachery Caesar bade him be executed. P. Vestrius, on the other hand, he pardoned; for his brother had paid the stipulated ransom at Rome, and Vestrius himself had satisfied Caesar as to the honesty of his motives, explaining that he had been taken prisoner by the fleet of Nasidius, his life had been saved through the kindness of Varus just as he was being led off to execution, and after that he had been given no opportunity of going over to Caesar's side.

65 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] There is in Africa a custom among the natives whereby both in the open fields and in practically all their farm buildings they have a secret underground vault for the storage of corn, the main motive for this provision being wars and the sudden appearance of an enemy. When Caesar got to know of this custom through an informer, at the third watch of the night he sent two legions and some cavalry a distance of ten miles from his camp,14 and later saw them return to camp laden with a large quantity of corn. When Labienus learned of this, he advanced seven miles from his camp across the hilly plateau across which Caesar had marched the day before, encamped two legions there and, supposing that Caesar would frequently pass along that same route for foraging p249purposes, established himself daily at suitable points to lie in wait for him with along force of cavalry and light-armed troops.

66 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] In the meantime information reached Caesar from deserters about Labienus' trap. He waited in camp there a few days for the constant repetition of the same daily routine to lead the enemy into carelessness and then, early one morning, he suddenly gave the order that three veteran legions and a detachment of cavalry should follow him by way of the rear gate. Then, sending on the cavalry ahead, he suddenly surprised the enemy ambush lurking in the ravines, killing some five hundred of their light-armed troops and throwing the rest into a very unseemly rout. Whereupon Labienus dashed up with his entire cavalry force to the relief of his routed troops; and as the odds were now too great for the Caesarian horse to contain their powerful onslaught, Caesar displayed to the enemy forces his legions in battle formation. This action utterly daunted and checked Labienus, and Caesar thereupon withdrew his own cavalry without loss. On the following day Juba crucified those Numidians who had quitted their post and fled back to their camp.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 i.e. early in the night of January 25/26.

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2 See Maps 3 and 4. Presumably he kept close to the sea till he reached Sidi Messaoud, the north-easternmost height of the chain of hills, which lies approximately mid‑way between Ruspina and Leptis, some two‑thirds of a mile from the coast, and then struck inland.

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3 This would seem to mean the last, i.e. southernmost, hill which contained a turret: its possible identity, along with several other problems arising from the narrative of chs. 37‑66, is discussed in Appendix A, p391.

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4 It would seem that he marched west of the Sebkra de Sidi el Hani — thus entering Numidian territory — to give a wide berth to the fighting zone round Uzitta. But the site of Acylla is open to doubt.

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5 cf. ch. 34, where it is implied that all the ships arrived safely.

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6 This, the MSS. reading, has often been queried. But thirty‑six years' service was no impossibility; and the implied claim that it was all devoted to Caesar can, I think, be taken as a rhetorical overstatement prompted by that extreme loyalty which Caesar so often inspired in his troops.

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7 The setting of the Pleiades in early November was normally accompanied by stormy weather; but it was now probably December, 47 (= February, 46, according to the unreformed calendar).

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8 cf. ch. 54 for the flagrant infringement by Avienus, and ch. 85 where, by the time of the battle of Thapsus, there would seem to have been many slaves in Caesar's camp.

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9 Probably the electrostatic phenomenon called St. Elmo's fire.

Thayer's Note: The point of the statement is that this was an omen of a type worthy of report, as for example in Obsequens, chs. 9, 5069; in Livy and other authors.
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10 After the battle of the Bagradas they had been pardoned by Juba and incorporated in his army: cf. ch. 40.

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11 Ch. 32.

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12 This appears to imply that Labienus had a separate camp.

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13 After the battle of Ilerda, in August 49 B.C.

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14 Perhaps SE to the fertile district round Moknine.

Page updated: 26 Jul 13