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Bill Thayer

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Chapters 37‑66

This webpage reproduces part of
The African War

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

Loeb Classical Library

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 79‑86

African War

 p249  [Chapters 67‑78]

67 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Caesar meanwhile was embarrassed by lack of corn;º for which reason he mustered all his forces in camp and, leaving troops to garrison Leptis, Ruspina and Acylla, and assigning his fleet to Cispius and Aquila to maintain the naval blockade, the one of Hadrumetum and the other of Thapsus, he himself set fire to his camp and at the fourth watch of the night in battle formation with his baggage concentrated on the left wing evacuated that position and came to the town of Aggar. This town had previously  p251 been repeatedly attacked by the Gaetulians only to be very stoutly defended by the inhabitants themselves. Here in the plain he pitched a single camp and then set off in person with part of his army on a foraging mission round the farmsteads; and finding a large quantity of barley, oil, wine and figs, and a little wheat, he returned to camp with his army duly refreshed. Meanwhile Scipio, who had got to know of Caesar's departure, proceeded to follow him across the plateau with his entire forces and established himself six miles away from Caesar's camp, with his forces divided among three separate camps.

68 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] There was a town called Zeta, which was ten miles distant from Scipio but situated in the general direction of his camp; whereas it was relatively distant and remote — fourteen miles in fact — from Caesar.​1 To this town Scipio sent two legions to forage. When Caesar learned of this from a deserter he moved his camp from the plain to a safer position on the high ground; and leaving a covering force there, he himself set out at the fourth watch, marched on past the enemy's camp, and took possession of the town. He then ascertained that Scipio's legions were foraging farther afield; and he was just proceeding to march in their direction when he observed enemy forces hastening up to support those legions. This circumstance made him loath to attack. And so, taking prisoner C. Minucius Reginus, the commandant of that town, who was a Roman knight and a very intimate friend of Scipio, and P. Atrius, a Roman knight and a member of the corporation of Utica, and leading away twenty‑two of the king's camels, he proceeded to retire to camp, leaving his lieutenant, Oppius, with a garrison in the town.

 p253  69 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] When he was now not far away from Scipio's camp, which of necessity he had to pass, Labienus and Afranius with all their cavalry and light-armed troops sprang up and revealed themselves from behind the nearby hills where they had been lurking in ambush, and flung themselves upon his rearguard. Seeing himself thus attacked, Caesar deployed his cavalry to bear the brunt of the enemy onslaught and ordered his legionaries to pile their packs and promptly deliver a counter-attack. As soon as this was under way the enemy cavalry and light-armed troops were without difficulty driven back and dislodged from the hill directly the legions charged. No sooner had Caesar come to the conclusion that the enemy, beaten back and demoralised as they were, would now stop their harrying, and no sooner had he begun to resume his march, than once again they promptly flung themselves from the cover of the nearby hills and attacked Caesar's legionaries, employing the same tactics as I described above — Numidians and light-armed troops they were, possessed of a marvellous turn of speed, fighting in the ranks of the cavalry and used to keeping pace with the horsemen and doubling forward or retreating at their side. As they repeated this manoeuvre quite frequently, chasing the Julians as they marched and taking to flight when their opponents turned to attack them, and as they would not approach at all close, but employed peculiar tactics and were content with wounding the horses with their javelins, Caesar realised that what they were trying to do was no less than force him to pitch camp at a spot where there was not a drop of water, so that his famished army, which had tasted nothing at all from  p255 the fourth watch of the night right up till the tenth hour of the day, should die of thirst — both men and beasts.

70 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] It was now nearly sundown and less than a hundred paces had been covered all told in four hours, when Caesar withdrew his cavalry — in view of the casualties among their horses — from the rearguard, and called on the legions to replace them. By employing the legionary troops in this manner and advancing calmly and at a gentle pace he found it less awkward to contain the enemy's violent onslaught. Meanwhile detachments of the Numidian cavalry kept charging ahead along the high ground to his right and left and availing themselves of their superior numbers to surround Caesar's forces with a kind of continuous circle of troops, while others of them pursued his rear-guard. Meanwhile on Caesar's part it needed no more than three or four of his veterans to wheel round and brandish and hurl amain their heavy javelins at the Numidians who menaced them for more than two thousand of the latter to turn tail to a man; and then, wheeling their horses round on all sides, they would regroup once more for battle and resume their pursuit at a set distance, hurling their javelins at the legionaries. In this manner, now advancing, now pausing to fight back, Caesar completed his march, albeit somewhat slowly; for it was the first hour of the night when he brought all his men back to camp, with not a single man lost and ten wounded. Labienus retired to his lines with roughly three hundred men missing, many wounded, and all his troops exhausted by their continuous offensive. Meanwhile Scipio, who had deployed his legions, with the elephant posted in  p257 battle array in front of his camp in full view of Caesar to inspire terror, now led them back to camp.

71 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Faced with an enemy of this kind Caesar proceeded to train his forces, not as a commander trains a veteran army with a magnificent record of victorious achievements, but as a gladiatorial instructor trains his recruits. How many feet they were to retreat from the enemy; the manner in which they must wheel round upon their adversary; the restricted space in which they must offer him resistance — now doubling forward, now retiring and making feint attacks; and almost the spot from which, and the manner in which they must discharge their missiles — these were the lessons he taught them. For it was surprising the amount of worry and anxiety the enemy's light-armed troops were causing our army, what with their making the cavalry chary of engaging for fear of losing their mounts, since the light-armed troops kept killing them with their javelins, and with their wearing the legionaries out by their speediness; for no sooner had a heavy-armed soldier, when pursued by them, halted and then made an attack on them than their speed of movement enabled them easily to avoid the danger.

72 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] As a result of this Caesar was seriously perturbed, since as often as an engagement had occurred he had been quite unable to be a match with his own cavalry, unsupported by legionary troops, for the enemy cavalry and their light-armed units. Moreover, there was this other problem which worried him: as yet he had had no experience of the enemy legions; and how, he wondered, could he cope with their cavalry and amazing light-armed troops if they  p259 were backed up by their legions too. He had yet another cause for anxiety — the panic with which the size and number of the elephants gripped the minds of his soldiers. Here, however, was one problem to which he had found an answer; for he had ordered elephants to be brought across from Italy to enable our troops not only to become familiar with them, but also to get to know both the appearance and capabilities of the beast, what part of its body was readily vulnerable to a missile and, when an elephant was accoutred and armoured, what part of its body was still left uncovered and unprotected, so that their missiles should be aimed at that spot. He had also this further object in mind, that his horses would learn by familiarity with these beasts not to be alarmed by their scent, trumpeting or appearance. From this experiment he had profited handsomely: for the troops handled the beasts and came to appreciate their sluggishness; the cavalry hurled dummy javelins at them; and the docility of the beasts had brought the horses to feel at home with them.

73 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] For the reasons above-mentioned Caesar was worried, and his old habitual dashing tactics had now given place to a more sedate and deliberate policy. And no wonder: for the troops he now commanded had been used to fighting in the flat terrain of Gaul against Gauls — men of forthright character with barely a trace of deceit, whose habit it is to rely on valour, not on guile, in their fighting; whereas now he had to perform the ardour takes of accustoming his troops to recognise the tricks, traps and stratagems of the enemy, and what tactics could fittingly be adopted, and what avoided. Accordingly, to speed up this training of theirs, he took pains not to  p261 keep the legions confined to one area, but to keep them constantly on the move, first to one spot, then to another, ostensibly for foraging purposes, for the very reason that he reckoned the enemy forces would not fail to follow in his tracks. And two days later, when he had led forth his forces duly and carefully deployed, he marched past close to the enemy's camp and challenged them to battle on level ground; but when he saw the enemy reluctant to accept, he led his legions back to camp as evening was approaching.

74 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Meanwhile envoys arrived from the town of Vaga, which was near Zeta, the occupation of which by Caesar we have already described. They prayed and besought Caesar to send them a garrison, saying they would assist him by furnishing various supplies useful in war. At this point, by the good will of the gods and their favour towards Caesar, a deserter informed his compatriots that king Juba had speedily hastened to the town with his forces to forestall the arrival there of Caesar's garrison; that at his coming he had surrounded the town with vast forces, won control of it, slaughtered all the inhabitants to a man, and then given it over to his troops to plunder and destroy.

75 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Meanwhile Caesar ceremonially purified his army on March 21st. On the following day he led forth his entire forces, advanced five miles from his own camp, and took his stand in battle array at a distance of some two miles from Scipio's camp. On perceiving that his opponents, despite this adequate and sustained challenge, declined his offer of battle, he led his forces back; and on the following day he struck camp and took the road to the town of Sarsura, where Scipio had posted a garrison of  p263 Numidians and laid in a stock of corn. When Labienus perceived this he proceeded to harry Caesar's rear-guard with his cavalry and light-armed troops; and having by this means cut off the baggage trains of the sutlers and merchants who were carrying their wares in carts, he was thereby the more encouraged to grow bolder and come closer to the legions, since he supposed that the soldiers were worn out with carrying their heavy packs and so in no condition to fight. But this contingency had not escaped Caesar's attention: he had in fact given instruction that three hundred men out of each legion should be in light order; and these he accordingly disestablished against Labienus' cavalry to give support to his own squadrons. Whereupon Labienus, dismayed at the sight of the standards, wheeled round his horses and beat a hasty and highly undignified retreat. The legionary troops, having killed many of his men and wounded not a few, retired to their standards and proceeded to resume their march. Labienus still kept up his pursuit at a distance, moving along the crest of the ridge of hills upon the right.

76 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] When Caesar came to the town of Sarsura he massacred Scipio's garrison while his opponents looked on, not daring to assist their friends. Its commander, however, P. Cornelius, a reservist recalled by Scipio, offered a gallant resistance, but was surrounded by overwhelming numbers and killed. Then Caesar gained control of the town, distributed corn to his army on the spot, and arrived next day at the town of Thysdra. Considius was in the town at this time with a considerable garrison force and his own bodyguard of gladiators. Caesar  p265 studied the characteristics of the town, and the lack of water discouraged him from attacking it: he then set out forthwith and pitched a camp some four miles away near water, only to quit it at the fourth watch and return once again to the camp he had occupied near Aggar. Scipio followed suit and led his forces back to his old camp.

77 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Meanwhile the inhabitants of Thabena,​2 who dwelt on the coast at the extreme verge of Juba's kingdom and were his traditional lieges and subjects, had none the less massacred the royal garrison, and now sent envoys to Caesar informing him of their action and earnestly soliciting that the Roman people should give them succour in their present plight, as they had deserved well at their hands. Caesar approved their policy and sent Marcius Crispus with three cohorts and numerous archers and pieces of artillery to Thabena as a garrison force. It was at this same time that Caesar was reinforced by the troops from all his legions who, whether prevented by sickness or because they had been granted leave, had previously been unable to cross to Africa with the colours: these comprised about four thousand infantry, four hundred cavalry and a thousand slingers and archers, and all came in one convoy. And so, leading out all his legions, including these forces, he took up a position in battle array in the plain five miles away from his own camp and two miles distant from Scipio's.

78 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Below Scipio's camp there was a town called Tegea, where he kept a standing garrison force of cavalry numbering some two thousand men. This cavalry he now deployed in line on the right- and left-hand flanks of the town, while he himself led his  p267 legions out of camp and after advancing not much more than about a mile from his defences drew them up arrayed in battle formation on the lower slopes of a ridge. After some little time had elapsed without Scipio's shifting his position, and as the daylight hours were being frittered away in inaction, Caesar ordered some squadrons of his own horse to make a charge against the enemy cavalry which were posted on guard near the town, and despatched some light-armed units, archers and slingers to the same objective in support. When this manoeuvre was under way and the Julians had delivered their attack at full gallop, Pacideius began to deploy his horsemen on a broader front, to enable them to swarm round the flanks of the Julian cavalry and still fight with the utmost gallantry and spirit. When Caesar observed these tactics he instructed the three hundred men in light order — it was his normal practice that this number of men in each of his legions should be in light order — from the legion which was posted in the line nearest the scene of this action to hasten to the assistance of the cavalry. Meanwhile Labienus sent cavalry reinforcements to support his own horsemen, furnishing unscathed troopers and those whose strength was relatively unspent to take the place of their wounded or exhausted comrades. Now that the four hundred Julian cavalry were finding it impossible to contain the violent onslaught of an enemy some four thousand strong, and were suffering casualties at the hands of the light-armed Numidians and giving ground very slightly, Caesar despatched a second wing of cavalry to dash speedily to the help of his hard-pressed men. This action raised the spirits of his troops, who delivered a massed charge against the  p269 enemy and turned their opponents to flight; and after killing many and wounding not a few and chasing the enemy for three miles and driving them right up to the high ground they retired to their lines. Caesar waited till the tenth hour and then withdrew to his camp in battle order without any losses. In this engagement Pacideius was seriously wounded in the head by a heavy javelin which pierced his helmet; and several of the enemy leaders and all their bravest men were either killed or wounded.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The distances given in the MSS. — 10 and 14 (or 18, or 19) have been much disputed, and editors have amended to suit their own identification of the towns. But the general meaning seems clear — that Zeta lay closer to Scipio. I have adopted Veith's identification of Aggar, Zeta and Tegea.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Its site is unknown, and the suggested identification with Thena, mentioned by Strabo and located by some editors far south, opposite the islands of Cercina, seems dubious.

Page updated: 26 Jul 13