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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces part of
The African War

by an unknown author, 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!

African War

p139 Introduction

As soon as Caesar had crushed Pharnaces at Zela and temporarily reorganised the affairs of Asia, he might, if military strategy alone had governed his policy, have sailed straight to Africa, where his enemies had had a year already in which to consolidate their position. But Caesar was more than a mere general; and, as he well knew, the political situation in Rome was serious and urgently demanding his presence.1

Troubles there were in plenty. Economic problems such as the administration of the new law of debts gave scope to malcontents like Caelius and Dolabella, who had expected harsh reprisals against the defeated Pompeians and were disgusted with Caesar's leniency. Still more dangerous to public security were Caesar's veteran legions, who, having been sent home after Pharsalus, had now little to do save noisily demand their promised triumph and discharge. Antony, the absent dictator's deputy in the city, had found all this unrest beyond his powers effectively to check: no magistrates had as yet been elected for the current year, and those for 46 were shortly due for election.

Such was the situation which confronted Caesar in September. By November he had restored order: p140the economic crisis had been temporarily mitigated: the elections had been held: the mutinous legions disciplined and some detailed for service in Africa. But the additional delay was to cost him dear; for not only was he to start his new campaign in the winter, when every convoy from Sicily was at the mercy of the winter gales, but, as he was soon to find out, his opponents had made good use of the respite.

Since Curio's defeat in 49 the Roman province of Africa had been in the hands of the Pompeians. Its most powerful neighbour, king Juba of Numidia, had no love for Caesar and could accordingly, if his imperious temper were tactfully handled, be relied on to support Caesar's enemies. His military resources were reputed to be enormous and to outweigh by far those of his two Mauretanian neighbours, Bocchus and Bogud, who favoured Caesar, even if the latter were backed up by Sittius, a Roman adventurer who had for several years been operating in those parts with his own private army. Attius Varus, who had governed the province since 50, was joined, after Pharsalus, by Scipio and Cato, each with his own contingent of survivors from that battle. Labienus, Petreius and Afranius had now also joined them; and in Labienus the enemy had a tactician hardly inferior to Caesar himself. In addition to Juba's four legions and countless cavalry and light-armed troops the Pompeians could muster ten legions, though most of them were raised in Africa and were of dubious quality. They possessed a considerable fleet: they had fortified practically all p141the coastal towns and concentrated in them abundant stocks of grain; and by calling up many of the native farmers they had curtailed the harvest of 47 and thus made it more difficult for Caesar to live off the land.

Caesar's tiny expeditionary force was thus beset with enormous difficulties, not only of supply and reinforcement, but of very existence; and within a week of its landing Labienus came very near to destroying it. The narrative of de Bello Africo bears striking testimony to Caesar's manifold qualities: the dogged patience which strategy demanded in the earlier stages; the outward buoyancy and cheerfulness with which, despite his inward anxiety, he maintained the morale of his troops; the unflagging determination with which he tempted Scipio to engage; and the brilliant tactics and opportunism thanks to which at Thapsus he finally turned the tables on his would‑be ambusher.

Although the identity of the author of de Bello Africo is obscure, certain inferences may yet be drawn from his narrative.2 The careful chronology and the faithful record of the feelings of the troops suggests a soldier — possibly a junior officer — who was on the spot. That he was young and inexperienced; an ardent, but not always a balanced, partisan; a keen observer of all that went on around him, but without access to the inner counsels of his p142C.‑in‑C. — all these, I think, are reasonable inferences. His historical perspective was weak; for he sometimes gives unimportant, yet at other times withholds important, details.3 However, apart from this and the errors into which his blind admiration for Caesar occasionally leads him,4 his account on the whole rings true and leaves a distinct impression of sincerity and enthusiasm.

His literary style is distinctive. His vocabulary, though it includes a number of Greek words5 and colloquial phrases6 normally avoided by good prose writers, is nevertheless marked by a definite poverty of expression;7 and his sentence structure, though not infrequently embellished by stock rhetorical flourishes,8 is often ungainly and sometimes ungrammatical.9 Yet, on the whole, his style is clear, p143if frequently monotonous and, in places, meretricious; and in the set speeches — in which respect he is much more ambitious than the writer of de Bello Alexandrino — he is quite effective in varying the style to reflect the personality of the speaker.10

The Author's Notes:

1 Bell. Alex. ch. 65.

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2 For these remarks I have drawn freely on the wealth of material contained in Bouvet's excellent Introduction (pp. xvii‑xxxix), to which the reader is referred for fuller detail in the way of illustration.

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3 e.g. the detailed order of battle given in ch. 59‑60, though in fact no battle ensues; whereas at Thapsus much is left to the reader's imagination.

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4 e.g. in ch. 31 the various excuses made for Caesar's cautious tactics, especially the last.

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5 e.g. catascopus, ch. 26; epibata, ch. 20.

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6 e.g. convulnerare, ch. 5, etc.; rapsare, ch. 73; magis suspensiore, ch. 48.

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7 e.g. constant repetition of words such as interim, praeterea, etc.; in ch. 29‑31, monotonous recourse to the relative pronoun as a link word (quod . . . quod . . . quo facto . . . quod . . . quibus rebus); in ch. 32 non intermittere in two consecutive sentences.

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8 e.g. alliteration: ch. 35: praemiis pollicitationibusque propositis pro perfugis.

Chiasmus: ch. 37: singulae turres speculaeque singulae.

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9 e.g. ch. 5, where postquam is followed by no less than seven imperfects; and ch. 19, last but one sentence, where Labienus, the subject, has no verb.

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10 e.g. the didactic tone of Cato's lecture in ch. 22; the forthright retort of the centurion in ch. 45; and Caesar's disciplinary harangue in ch. 54.

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