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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces part of
The Alexandrian War

probably by Hirtius, 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 34‑41

Alexandrian War

 p11  [Chapters 1‑33]

[image ALT: A map of Alexandria in the time of Caesar's civil wars.]

Map 1: Plan of Alexandria

Thayer's Note: The map is from the end of the volume of the Loeb edition. The topography of Alexandria is so changed today that adding a Google map would not have been useful.

1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] When the Alexandrian war flared up, Caesar summoned every fleet from Rhodes and Syria and Cilicia; from Crete he raised archers, and cavalry from Malchus, king of the Nabataeans,​1 and ordered artillery to be procured, cornº despatched, and auxiliary troops mustered from every quarter. Meanwhile the entrenchments were daily extended by additional works, and all those sectors of the town which appeared to be not strong enough were provided with shelters and mantlets; battering-rams, moreover, were introduced from one building into the next through holes, and the entrenchments were extended to cover all the ground laid bare by demolitions or gained by force of arms. For Alexandria is well-nigh fire-proof, because its buildings contain no wooden joinery and are held together by an arched construction and are roofed with rough-cast or tiling.​2 Caesar was particularly anxious that, by bringing to bear his siege-works and pent-houses, he should isolate from the rest of the city that narrowest part of the town which was most constricted by the barrier of marshland lying to the south; his object being first that, since his army was divided between two sectors of the city, it should be controlled by a single strategy and command; secondly, that if they got into difficulties in one sector of the town, assistance  p13 and support could be brought from the other sector.​3 But above all his object was to secure himself abundance of water and fodder; of which, as regards the former, he had but a scanty supply, and, as regards the latter, no stocks whatever; and the marshland could afford him bountiful supplies of both.

2 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Not indeed that this occasioned any hesitation or delay on the part of the Alexandrians in concerting their measures. They had in fact despatched emissaries and recruiting officers throughout the entire length and breadth of the territory and kingdom of Egypt for the purpose of holding a levy, and had conveyed into the town a large quantity of weapons and artillery and mustered a countless host. In the city too, no less, vast arms factories had been established. They had, moreover, armed the adult slaves, and these the wealthier owners furnished with their daily food and pay. This numerous force they deployed to guard the fortifications of outlying areas; while they kept their veteran cohorts unemployed in the most frequented quarters of the city so that, no matter in what district fighting occurred, they could be thrown in as fresh and lusty reinforcements. All the streets and alleys were walled off by a triple barricade, built of rectangular stone blocks and not less than forty feet high; while as for the lower quarters of the city, these were fortified with very lofty towers, each ten stories high. Besides these there were other towers which they had contrived — mobile ones of the like number of stories; and these, being mounted on wheels with ropes and draught animals attached, they moved along the level​4 streets to any area they saw fit.

 p15  3 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Highly productive and abundantly supplied as it was, the city furnished equipment of all kinds. The people themselves were clever and very shrewd, and no sooner had they seen what was being done by us than they would reproduce it with such cunning that it seemed it was our men who had copied their works. Much also they invented on their own account, and kept assailing our entrenchments while simultaneously defending their own. In their councils and public meetings the arguments which their leaders kept driving home were as follows: 'the Roman people were gradually acquiring a habit of seizing that kingdom; a few years earlier Aulus Gabinius​5 had been in Egypt with an army; Pompeius too had resorted thither in his flight; Caesar had now come with his forces, and the death of Pompeius had had no effect in dissuading Caesar from staying on among them. If they failed to drive him out, their kingdom would become a Roman province: and this driving out they must do betimes; for cut off as he now was by storms owing to the season of the year, he could not receive reinforcements from overseas.'

4 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Meanwhile a quarrel had arisen — as related above​6 — between Achillas, who commanded the veteran army, and Arsinoe, the younger daughter of King Ptolemaeus;​7 and with each party plotting against the other and anxious to obtain the supreme power for himself, Arsinoe, acting through the eunuch Ganymedes, her tutor, struck the first blow and killed Achillas. After his murder she herself exercised complete control without any consort or guardian, while the army was entrusted to Ganymedes. On undertaking this duty the latter increased  p17 the soldiers' bounty and performed the rest of his functions with consistent thoroughness.

5 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Practically the whole of Alexandria is undermined with subterranean conduits running from the Nile, by which water is conducted into private houses; which water in the course of time gradually settles down and becomes clear. This is what is normally used by the owners of mansions and their households; for what the Nile brings down is so turbid that it gives rise to many different diseases: yet the rank and file of the common sort are perforce content with the latter, inasmuch as there is not one natural spring in the whole city. The main stream in question,​8 however, was in that quarter of the city which was held by the Alexandrians. This circumstance suggested to Ganymedes the possibility that the water supply could be cut off from our troops; who, posted as they were in various quarters of the town to guard our entrenchments, were using water drawn from conduits and cisterns in private buildings.

6 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] This plan being once approved, Ganymedes embarked upon a serious and difficult task. Having first blocked up the conduits and sealed off all quarters of the city occupied by himself, he then made haste to draw off a vast quantity of water out of the sea by means of mechanical water-wheels; and this he steadily poured from higher ground into Caesar's area. For which reason the water drawn from the nearest buildings was a little more brackish than usual, and occasioned no little wonder among men as to why this had come about. Nor could they quite believe the evidence of their own ears when their neighbours lower down said that the water they were using was of the same kind and  p19 taste as they had previously been accustomed to; and they were openly discussing the matter amongst themselves and, by tasting samples, learning how markedly the waters differed. However, in a short space of time the water nearer the contamination was entirely undrinkable, while that lower down was found to be relatively impure and brackish.

7 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] This circumstance dispelled their doubts, and so great was the panic took hold upon them that it seemed that they were all reduced to a most hazardous plight, and some asserted that Caesar was being slow in giving orders to embark. Others were much more seriously alarmed, on the ground that, in making their preparations for a withdrawal, it was impossible to keep the Alexandrians in the dark, being as they were so short a distance away from them; and with their foes on top of them and pursuing them, no chance was afforded them of retreating to their ships. There was, however, a large number of townsfolk in Caesar's sector, whom Caesar had not evacuated from their homes, because they openly affected loyalty to our side and appeared to have deserted their own folk. Yet, as far as I am concerned, had I now the task of championing the Alexandrians and proving them to be neither deceitful nor foolhardy, it would be a case of many words spent to no purpose: indeed when one gets to know both the breed and its breeding there can be no doubt whatever that as a race they are extremely prone to treachery.

8 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] By encouragement and reasoning Caesar allayed his men's alarm, declaring that sweet water could be found in wells and trenches, inasmuch as all sea‑shores naturally possessed veins of sweet water.  p21 But if the nature of the sea‑shore of Egypt was different from all others, none the less, since they held unfettered command of the sea, while their enemies had no fleet, they could not be prevented from seeking water daily in their ships, either from Paratoniumº on their left, or the island on their right​9 — voyages which, being in opposite directions, would never be prevented by contrary winds at one and the same time. As for retreating, there was no sound policy in that, not merely for those who held the chief responsibility, but not even for those whose sole concern was for their own lives. They were hard put to it to contain the enemies' frontal attacks from their entrenchments: once abandon those and they could be no match for them either in vantage ground or numbers. Moreover, boarding ships, especially from pinnaces, involved considerable delay and difficulty; while set against this the Alexandrians had the greatest mobility and knowledge of the ground and buildings. These people above all, overweening as they became in victory, would dash ahead and seize the higher ground and the buildings and thus prevent our men from retreating and gaining their ships. Accordingly, they should put that policy out of their minds and reflect that, at all costs, they must win the day.

9 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Having harangued his men to this effect and put fresh heart into them all, he briefed his centurions as follows: they were to interrupt their other tasks and turn their attention to digging wells, continuing without any cessation all through the night. Whereupon, the business being once undertaken with unanimous enthusiasm for the task, in the course of  p23 that one night a great quantity of sweet water was discovered. Thus the laborious machinations and supreme efforts of the Alexandrians were countered by a few hours' work. In the course of the following day the Thirty-Seventh legion, part of the surrendered remains of Pompeius' troops, after being embarked by Domitius Calvinus with corn, arms, weapons and artillery, made the coast of Africa a little beyond Alexandria. An East wind, which blew continuously for many days, prevented this fleet from gaining harbour; but the ground throughout all that area gives excellent hold for anchors. And as they were weather-bound for a long time, and hard put to it for lack of water, they informed Caesar by means of a fast boat.

10 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] In order to take some personal decision as to what he thought ought to be done, Caesar boarded a ship and ordered his whole fleet to follow him. He did not embark any of our troops, since, as he was going somewhat too far afield, he was loth to leave our entrenchments unmanned. On their arriving at that place which is called Chersonensus,º10 and putting the rowers ashore to fetch water, some of their number, bent on plunder, advanced rather too far from the ships and were picked up by enemy cavalry. From them the enemy learned that Caesar himself had arrived with his fleet, without any troops on board. This intelligence prompted the belief among them that fortune had put in their way a great opportunity for scoring a success. Accordingly, they manned with combat troops all the ships they had got in readiness for sailing, and encountered Caesar as he was returning with his fleet. Now there were two reasons why Caesar was loth to fight an action that  p25 day: he had no troops on board; and it was now after the tenth hour as the matter now stood, and on the other hand nightfall would, he thought, inspire greater confidence in the enemy, who were relying on their local knowledge. In his own case, also, he would be denied the advantage of encouraging his men, since no encouragement was quite to the point where it was impossible to single out for comment either bravery or slackness. For these reasons Caesar withdrew to land what ships he could, at a point where he supposed that the enemy would not follow them.

11 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] There was one Rhodian ship on Caesar's right wing stationed far apart from the rest. As soon as the enemy caught sight of it they could not restrain themselves, and four decked ships and several open ones dashed madly towards it. This vessel Caesar was obliged to succour, to prevent the disgrace of sustaining rough treatment in full view of the enemy; though, if any serious mischance should overtake its crew, he reckoned they would deserve it. Battle was joined, with hard fighting on the part of the Rhodians; and though in every fray they had excelled both in seaman­ship and valour, on this present occasion above all they bore the whole brunt unflinchingly, lest it should seem their fault if any defeat were sustained. And so a highly successful action was fought. One enemy quadrireme was captured, a second was sunk, and two stripped of all their marines; in addition, a large number of combat troops was killed aboard the other vessels. If night had not put an end to the action, Caesar would have become master of the entire enemy fleet. The catastrophe utterly demoralised the enemy, and  p27 Caesar returned to Alexandria with his victorious fleet, towing the merchant-ships against a gentle head wind.

12 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] So shattered were the Alexandrians by this reverse — for they saw that now it was not the bravery of combat troops but the seaman­ship of sailors that had caused their defeat​11 — that they scarcely trusted their ability to defend themselves from the buildings, from which, as well as from their higher positions, they derived support,​12 and used all their timber in building barricades, fearing as they did that our fleet would attack them even ashore. Nevertheless, after Ganymedes had declared in the council that he would not only make good the losses they had sustained but also increase the number of their ships, their hopes and confidence ran high and they began to repair their old ships and to devote greater care and more earnest attention to this matter. And though they had lost more than a hundred and ten warships in the harbour and docks,​13 yet they did not abandon the idea of re‑equipping their fleet. They saw in fact that neither troop reinforcements nor supplies could be conveyed to Caesar if they themselves had a strong fleet; apart from which, the men of the city and the coastal district, seamen as they were and trained as such from boyhood by daily practice, were anxious to resort to this their natural and native gift, and were aware how successful they had been with their humble little vessels. Consequently they threw themselves whole-heartedly into the task of equipping a fleet.

 p29  13 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] There were guardships posted at all the mouths of the Nile to levy customs dues, and in secret royal dockyards there were old ships which had not seen service afloat for many years. These last they proceeded to repair, while the guardships they recalled to Alexandria. There was a shortage of oars: the roofs of colonnades, gymnasia and public buildings were dismantled, and their beams made to serve as oars. In one case it was natural ingenuity that helped to bridge the gap, in another the city's resources. In fine it was no lengthy voyaging for which they were preparing; but perceiving that the conflict must take place in the harbour itself they obeyed the dictates of the moment. In a few days, therefore, they surprised everyone by completing 22 quadriremes and 5 quinqueremes, to which they added a considerable number of smaller, open craft; and then, after trying out in the harbour by rowing what each of them could do, they manned them with suitable troops and prepared themselves at all points for the conflict. Caesar had 9 Rhodian ships (10 had been sent, but one had been lost during a voyage, on the coast of Egypt), 8 Pontic, 5 Lycian and 12 from Asia.​14 These included 10 quinqueremes and quadriremes, while the rest were smaller craft and most of them un‑decked. None the less, though informed of their enemies' forces, Caesar proceeded with his preparations for an action, confident in the valour of his troops.

14 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Now that the stage was reached when each side was self-confident, Caesar sailed round Pharos15  p31 with his fleet and drew up his ships fa­cing the enemy. On his right wing he posted the Rhodian ships, on his left the Pontic ones, leaving a gap of 400 paces between them — a distance which he regarded as adequate for deploying his vessels. Behind this line he arranged his remaining ships in reserve, deciding which should follow each of the former vessels and which ship each should support, and giving orders accordingly. Nor were the Alexandrians hesitant to bring up and array their fleet; posting 22 ships in front, and the remainder in a second line in reserve. Besides these they brought up a large number of smaller craft and pinnaces, equipped with incendiary missiles and combustibles, in the hope that sheer numbers and the shouts and flames might have some effect in intimidating our men. Between the two fleets lay shoals with a narrow intersecting channel (these shoals belong to the region of Africa — in fact they say that half Alexandria is part of Africa); and for quite a long time there was a pause among the actual combatants as they waited to see which side was to begin the passage, inasmuch as it seemed that those who once entered the channel would be more restricted both in deploying their fleet and, if things fared badly, in withdrawing.

15 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] The commander of the Rhodian squadron was Euphranor, a man who in point of personality and bravery deserved comparison with our people rather than with the Greeks. Thanks to the great fame which his professional skill and forceful personality enjoyed, the Rhodians chose him to command their fleet. When he perceived Caesar's hesitation, he said: 'It seems to me, Caesar, that you are afraid  p33 that, if you once sail into these shoals with your leading flotilla, you may be forced to fight before you can deploy the rest of your fleet. Leave it to us: we shall bear the brunt of the fighting — we won't let you down — until the others can come up with us. Certainly for these fellows to go on boasting yonder in our sight is a sore disgrace and mortification to us.' Caesar offered him encouragement and paid him every tribute of praise, and then gave the signal for battle. Four Rhodian ships advanced beyond the shoals to be at once surrounded and attacked by the Alexandrians. The Rhodians bore up and by skill and dexterity deployed their line; and of such powerful effect was their training that despite the odds not one of them exposed its broadside to the enemy, not one had its oars swept away, but they always met the oncoming foe head‑on. Meanwhile the remaining ships came up with them. Then through lack of sea room skill had perforce to be sacrificed and the whole struggle devolved on courage. And indeed there was not one man in Alexandria, either of our troops or of the townsfolk, whose attention was bespoken with either work or fighting, but he made for the loftiest roof-tops and from out of all the vantage points chose one from which to view that spectacle, and besought the immortal gods with prayers and vows to grant victory to his side.

16 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] The issues involved in the struggle were by no means equal. On our side no chance of escape either by land or sea was presented in the event of repulse and defeat, while victory would in no way settle the question; whereas in their case, if their fleet should gain the upper hand, they would hold all the cards, while if they were beaten, it would still be left to  p35 them to try their luck again. At the same time it seemed a grievous shame that the supreme issue and the salvation of all should be decided by the rival exertions of so few; and if any one of these wavered in purpose or courage, the others too, who had had no chance of fighting to defend themselves, would have to look out for themselves. These considerations Caesar had repeatedly explained to his men in recent days, that they might fight with the greater resolution because they saw that the safety of all was entrusted to themselves. It was by these same arguments too that every man, as he escorted his messmate, friend or acquaintance, implored him not to prove false to the estimate which not only he himself had formed of him, but all those others likewise, to whose decision he owed it that he was now going forth as one of the chosen combatants. Consequently such was the resolute spirit with which the battle was contested that the Alexandrians, albeit a maritime and seafaring folk, derived no assistance from their dexterity and skill, nor did they benefit from their superiority in number of ships, nor could their men, though chosen for their bravery from so vast a multitude, match the bravery of our men. In this battle one quinquereme and a bireme were captured with their combat crews and rowers, and three were sunk, all our ships being unharmed. The rest of their ships fled to the nearby town, where the townsmen, from stations on the moles and adjacent buildings, protected them and prevented our men from approaching at all close.

17 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] To prevent the possibility of this kind of thing occurring to him too frequently, Caesar thought that he ought at all costs to make an effort to gain control  p37 of the island​16 and the mole extending to it. For as his entrenchments in the town were in the main completed, he was confident that a simultaneous attempt could be made against both island and city. Having formed this plan, he embarked in smaller craft and pinnaces ten cohorts, some picked light-armed troops and such of his Gallic cavalry as he deemed suitable; and, to distract the enemy garrison, he launched an attack with decked ships upon the other side of the island, offering large rewards to the first to capture it. At first the islanders held off our troops' attack, simultaneously fighting back from the roofs of buildings, and with equal success defending the beaches with armed parties — and there the roughness of the ground did not afford our troops an easy approach — and guarding the narrow waters with pinnaces and five warships displaying both speed and skill. But as soon as our men had become acquainted with the ground and tried out the shallows, a few got a footing on the beach, others followed in their wake, and a determined attack was launched upon those of the enemy who were drawn up against us on the level foreshore; whereupon the men of Pharos all turned tail. Following their rout the enemy abandoned their defence of the harbour, brought their ships to the built‑up area by the water-front, and hastily disembarked to defend the buildings.

18 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] They could not, however, hold on so very long with the defences these afforded, though the buildings were of a type not unlike those of Alexandria — to employ a flattering comparison — with a continuous line of lofty towers taking the place of a wall; and our troops had not come equipped with ladders or  p39 wicker screens or any other equipment for assault. But panic robs men of their sense and reason and palsies their limbs; and so it happened then. The very men who on level and unbroken ground were confident they were a match for us, none the less, utterly demoralised now by the flight of their fellows and the slaughter of a few, did not venture to take up a position on buildings thirty feet high, but at various points along the mole dived into the sea and swam the intervening 800 paces to the safety of the town. Many of these, notwithstanding, were captured or killed; indeed, the number of captives amounted all told to six thousand.

19 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] After granting his soldiers leave to plunder, Caesar ordered the buildings to be demolished. Near the bridge — the one closer to Pharos — he fortified a redoubt, and posted a garrison there. This bridge the inhabitants of Pharos had abandoned in their flight; while the other one, which was narrower and closer to the town, was guarded by the Alexandrians. However, on the next day he attacked it from a similar motive, because the possession of these two bridges seemed likely to do away with all the sallies and sudden forays of the enemies' ships. And by now he had dislodged the members of its garrison with artillery and arrows shot from his ships, had driven them back into the town, and put ashore approximately three cohorts — the confined space would not afford a footing for more — while the rest of his forces remained at their posts aboard the ships. At this stage he ordered the bridge to be screened by a rampart on the side fa­cing the enemy, and the opening for the passage of ships — formed by an arch which supported the bridge — to be filled up and  p41 blocked with stones. The latter task being completed, so that not a single pinnace could come out, and the former one being under way, all the Alexandrians' forces burst out of the town and took post in a fairly open position over against our fortifications of the bridge; while at the same time they drew up near the mole the vessels which they had been in the habit of sending out under the bridges to set fire to our transports. And so the battle proceeded, with us fighting from the bridge and the mole, and with them from the area fa­cing the bridge and from their ships opposite the mole.

20 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] While Caesar was occupied with this situation, and as he was encouraging the troops, a large number of rowers and seamen left our warships and suddenly landed on the mole. Some were inspired by their anxiety to watch the fray, others also by the desire to take part in it. They began by driving back the enemy vessels from the mole with stones and slings, and it seemed that their heavy volleys of missiles were having great effect. But when a few Alexandrians ventured to disembark beyond that point, on the side of their unprotected flank, then, just as they had advanced in no set order or formation and without any particular tactics, so now they began to retire haphazardly to the ships. Encouraged by their retreat, more of the Alexandrians disembarked and pursued our flustered men more hotly. At the same time those who had stayed aboard the warships made haste to seize the gang-planks and ease the ships away from land, to prevent the enemy from gaining possession of them. All this thoroughly alarmed our troops of the three cohorts which had taken post on the bridge and the tip of the mole;  p43 and as they heard the clamour behind them, and saw the retreat of their comrades, and sustained a heavy frontal barrage of missiles, they feared they might be surrounded in rear and have their retreat entirely cut off by the departure of their ships; and so they abandoned the entrenchment they had begun at the bridge, and doubled frantically to the ships. Some of them gained the nearest ships, only to be capsized by the weight of so many men; some were killed by the Alexandrians as they put up a forlorn and bewildered resistance; some proved luckier in reaching ships at anchor cleared for action, and so got away safely; and a few, holding their shields above them and steeling their resolution to the task, swam off to ships near by.

21 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] So long as by words of encouragement Caesar was able to keep his men at the bridge and its emplacements, he too was involved in the same danger; but when he perceived that they were all retreating, he withdrew to his own vessel. As a large number of men followed him and kept forcing their way aboard it, and as no opportunity was afforded either of navigating it or easing it off shore, anticipating what actually happened he dived from the vessel and swam to those ships which were hove to farther off. From them he sent pinnaces to the help of his men who were in difficulties, and saved not a few. His vessel was in fact capsized by the large number of troops, and foundered with the men on board. In this battle the losses among the legionary troops amounted to approximately 400, with a slightly larger number of seamen and rowers. The Alexandrians reinforced the redoubt there with strong entrenchments and many pieces of artillery and  p45 removed the stones from the sea, subsequently making free use of the opening to despatch their vessels.

22 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] This reverse, so far from dismaying our troops, fired and stimulated them to carry out large-scale sallies in the course of storming the enemy's defence-works. Every day encounters took place, and whenever a chance offered itself and the Alexandrians burst out in a frontal sally and gave Caesar an opportunity of engaging battle, he achieved considerable success, thanks to the excellent morale and ardent enthusiasm of his troops; nor could his widespread words of encouragement keep pace with the legions' exertions or their eagerness for fighting, so that they had to be deterred and held back from the most hazardous encounters rather than be spurred on to fight.

23 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] The Alexandrians saw that the Romans were heartened by successes and stimulated by reverses, nor were they aware of any third vicissitude of war which could make them yet more steadfast. And so, whether it was they were warned by the king's friends who were in Caesar's camp, or whether they were acting on some previous plan of their own made known to the king by secret despatches and approved by him, — we can only guess at their motive — they sent envoys to Caesar requesting him to release the king and allow him to go over to his own side. 'The whole population,' they said, 'being tired and wearied of the girl, of the delegation of the kingship,​17 and of the utterly remorseless tyranny of Ganymedes, were ready to do the king's bidding; and if, at his instance, they were to enter into a loyal friendship with Caesar, then no danger would intimidate or prevent the population from submitting.'

 p47  24 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Though Caesar was well aware that they were a deceitful race, always pretending something different from their real intentions, yet he decided that it was expedient to satisfy their plea for clemency, since, if their demands in any way reflected their feelings, then he believed the king would remain loyal when released; but if, on the other hand, they wanted to have the king to lead them with a view to waging the war — and that was more in keeping with their character — then he thought there would be greater honour and distinction for him in waging war against a king than against a motley collection of refugees. Accordingly, he urged the king to take thought for the kingdom of his fathers, to have pity on his most illustrious country, shamefully scarred as it was by fire and desolation, to recall his citizens to sanity first and then to preserve them therein, and to prove his loyalty to the Roman people and to Caesar, inasmuch as Caesar himself had such faith in him that he was sending him to join an enemy under arms. Then, grasping his right hand in his own, Caesar made to take leave of the boy — already grown to manhood. But the royal mind, schooled in all the lessons of utter deceit, was loth to fall short of the customary standards of his race; and so with tears he proceeded to beseech Caesar to the opposite effect not to send him away; his very kingdom, he declared, was not more pleasing to him than the sight of Caesar. Checking the lad's tears, albeit not unmoved himself, Caesar declared that, if that was the way he felt, they would speedily be reunited, and so sent him back to his people. Like a horse released from the starting-gate and given his head, the king proceeded to wage war against the Caesar  p49 so energetically that the tears he had shed at their conference seemed to have been tears of joy. Not a few of Caesar's officers and friends and many of the centurions and soldiers were delighted at this turn of events, inasmuch as Caesar's over-generosity had, they felt, been made fun of by the deceitful tricks of a boy. As if indeed it was merely generosity and not the most far‑sighted strategy which had led him to do it!

25 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Having got themselves a leader, the Alexandrians observed no greater degree of resolution in themselves or of listlessness in the Romans; in addition, the fun which the soldiers made of the king's youthfulness and irresolution caused great resentment, and they saw they were making no headway. As, moreover, rumours were current that large reinforcements for Caesar were on their way overland from Syria and Cilicia — intelligence which had not yet come to Caesar's ears — they decided to intercept a convoy of supplies which was being conveyed to our troops by sea. Accordingly they stationed some lightly armed vessels on guard at suitable points near Canopus, and lay in wait for our ships and supplies. When Caesar was informed of this he ordered his entire fleet to be got ready and equipped, putting Tiberius Nero​18 in command. Included in this fleet when it set out were the Rhodian ships, and aboard them Euphranor, without whom no naval action had ever been fought, and none even that was not a resounding victory. Fortune, however, very often reserves for a harsher fate those upon whom she has showered her most prolific blessings; and so too the force that now attended Euphranor was different from that of former times. For when they reached  p51 Canopus and each side had drawn up its fleet and entered the conflict, Euphranor, following his normal custom, was the first to join battle; but when he had holed and sunk one enemy quadrireme, he pursued the next one too far; and as the other ships were not quick enough in following his lead, he was surrounded by the Alexandrians. No one brought him assistance, either because they thought that, considering his courage and his good luck, he was quite able to take care of himself, or because they were afraid for their own sakes. And so the one and only man who was successful in that battle perished alone along with his victorious quadrireme.

26 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Round about the same time Mithridates of Pergamum​19 approached Pelusium. A man of high standing in his own country and of great experience and valour in war, as well as a very loyal and valued friend of Caesar, he had been sent into Syria and Cilicia at the outbreak of the Alexandrian war to fetch reinforcements; and now, accompanied by large forces which he had speedily raised, thanks both to the very helpful attitude adopted by the states and to his conscientious efforts, he arrived at Pelusium by the overland route which links Egypt with Syria. This town had been occupied by a strong garrison of Achillas on account of the tactical importance of the place; for Pharos and Pelusium are regarded as the keys, as it were, to the defence of the whole of Egypt, Pelusium guarding the overland approach, as Pharos defends the seaward one. Mithridates now suddenly surrounded it with large forces; and, despite the obstinate defence put up by its numerous garrison,​20 thanks both to the large number of fresh troops which he kept throwing in to  p53 replace the wounded and exhausted and to the stubborn and unremitting nature of his assault, he reduced it to submission on the same day he started to attack it, and then posted a garrison of his own in it. Whereupon, having achieved this success, he marched to join Caesar in Alexandria, peacefully subduing, meanwhile, and winning over to friendship with Caesar, by that authority which normally belongs to the victor, all those districts along his line of march.21

27 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Not so very far from Alexandria lies what is perhaps the best known spot in those parts. It is called Delta, and took its name from its resemblance to the letter; for a certain section of the river Nile splits up into two channels which diverge gradually but are separated by a very wide interval at the coast, where the river joins the sea. When the king learned that Mithridates was approaching this spot,​22 and knew that he must cross the river, he despatched large forces against him, by which he believed Mithridates could either be beaten and destroyed, or else undoubtedly held in check. However, desirous as he was for his defeat, he was quite as content to cut him off from Caesar and hold him in check. The first of his forces to succeed in crossing the river from Delta and meeting Mithridates joined battle in eager haste to forestall those following up behind, and so rob them of the chance to participate in victory. Mithridates contained their attack with great discretion, fortifying his camp after our regular fashion; but when he saw them coming up to the entrenchments with a contemptuous  p55 recklessness, he made a general sally and killed a large number of them. And had not the remainder employed their knowledge of the district to find cover for themselves, and some retired to the ships in which they had crossed the river, they would have been completely wiped out. When they had recovered a little from the resulting panic, they joined forces with their comrades following up behind, and proceeded to a new attack on Mithridates.

28 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] A messenger was despatched by Mithridates to Caesar to bring him tidings of the action. The king learned of these same events from his own people. Accordingly at practically the same time the king set forth to crush Mithridates, and Caesar to relieve him. The king had recourse to the quicker method of transport, namely sailing up the river Nile, in which he had a large fleet in readiness. Caesar was unwilling to use the same route, so as not to fight a naval action in the river. Instead, he sailed round by that sea which is said to belong to part of Africa, as I have explained earlier.​23 Yet in spite of this he came up with the king's forces before the latter could attack Mithridates, and so rescued the victorious Mithridates with his army intact. The king had encamped with his forces in a naturally strong position,​24 since in itself the position was higher than the plateau which lay beneath it on all sides; moreover, on three sides it was covered by defences of diverse types: one side abutted the river Nile; a second ran along very high ground and formed one face of his camp; while the third was encircled by a marsh.

 p57  29 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Between the camp and Caesar's line of march ran a narrow river with very high banks, which flowed into the Nile and was some seven miles distant from the king's camp. When the king learned that Caesar was coming by this route, he despatched all his cavalry and a picked force of light-armed infantry to this river to Caesar from crossing it and to engage at long range from its banks — an unfair engagement, for the spot could neither afford scope for valour nor involve cowardice in any risk. These tactics filled our infantry and cavalry with burning resentment at the thought that for so long their struggle with the Alexandrians should prove a drawn battle. And so, at the same time as scattered groups of German cavalry, looking for places to ford the river, swam across it at some points where the banks were lower, simultaneously the legionary troops, having felled lofty trees tall enough to reach from bank to bank, hurled them forward and crossed the river on a causeway hastily thrown on top. So terrified were the enemy by their attack, that they pinned their hopes of deliverance to flight: in vain, however; for few survived that route to take refuge with the king, and practically all the remainder were killed.

30 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] After this most notable success Caesar forthwith pushed forward triumphantly to the king's camp, holding the view that his sudden approach would strike great terror into the hearts of the Alexandrians. But when he observed that this camp was strongly entrenched as well as protected by its natural position, and saw the serried mass of armed men posted at the rampart, he was unwilling to let his soldiers, weary as they were with marching and  p59 fighting, advance to attack the camp. Accordingly he pitched camp at no great distance from the enemy. In a nearby hamlet, not far distant from the king's camp, there was a fort which the king had built and linked with bastions to the main defences of his camp so as to hold the hamlet. This fort Caesar attacked and took by storm on the following day with all his forces; not that he thought it would be difficult to gain that objective by using a smaller number of soldiers, but in order that, with the Alexandrians thoroughly unnerved as a result, he might go straight on from that victory to attack the king's camp. And so, having chased the retreating Alexandrians from the fort into their camp, our troops carried on their charge right up to the fortifications, where they proceeded to fight at long range very briskly. On two sides our men were afforded an opening for assault: the first was the one which, as I have explained, allowed unimpeded approach; the second comprised the moderate-sized space between the camp and the river Nile. The largest and most carefully picked contingent of the Alexandrians was defending that side which afforded the easiest approach; but the defenders in the area of the river Nile were the most successful in repelling and wounding our men:​25 for the latter were being hit by missiles coming from opposite directions — from the rampart of the camp ahead of them, and from the river behind them, where many ships manned with slingers and archers were engaging our men.

31 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Now Caesar saw that, while it was impossible for his soldiers to fight with any greater gallantry, yet little headway was being made on account of the difficulty of the ground; he also noted that the  p61 highest sector of their camp had been abandoned by the Alexandrians, not only because of its natural strength, but also because, in their eagerness in some cases to fight, in others to look on, its defenders had rushed down to the sector where the fighting was going on; consequently he ordered some cohorts to proceed thither, skirting the camp, and storm the height, putting in command of them Carfulenus, a man of exceptional personality and experience in the field. When they arrived there our men fought with the greatest gallantry against those few of the enemy who were defending the entrenchment; whereupon the Alexandrians, panic-stricken by the shouting and fighting on both sides of them, began to rush about in confusion hither and thither throughout the camp. This utter bewilderment of theirs fired the spirits of our troops to such a pitch that they captured the camp almost simultaneously in all sectors, though its highest point was the first to capitulate; and from that point our men rushed down and killed a vast multitude of the enemy in the camp. In their efforts to escape this danger most of the Alexandrians hurled themselves en masse from the rampart into the area adjoining the river; the first of these were crushed by their heavy fall in the actual trench of the fortification, but the rest found it easier to escape. It is established that the king himself fled from the camp and then, after being taken aboard a ship along with a large number of his men who were swimming to the nearest ships, perished when as a result of the numbers the vessel capsized.

32 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] This signal victory, the outcome of a most speedy and successful action, filled Caesar with such confidence that he hastened with his cavalry to Alexandria  p63 by the nearest overland route, and entered it triumphantly by that quarter of the town which was held by the enemy garrison. Nor was he mistaken in his own conclusion that, as soon as they heard of that battle, the enemy would cease to think any longer in terms of war. On his arrival he reaped the well-earned fruits of valour and magnanimity; for the entire population of townsfolk threw down their arms, abandoned their fortifications, assumed that garb in which suppliants are used to placate tyrants with earnest prayers, and brought forth all the sacred emblems by the sanctity of which they had been wont to conjure the embittered and wrathful hearts of their kings: even so did they hasten to meet Caesar on his arrival and surrendered themselves to him. Caesar took them formally under his protection and consoled them; then, passing through the enemy fortifications, he came to his own quarter of the town amid loud cheers of congratulation from his own troops, who rejoiced at the happy issue, not only of the war itself and the fighting, but also of his arrival under such circumstances.

33 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Having made himself master of Egypt and Alexandria, Caesar appointed as kings those whose names Ptolemaeus had written down in his will with an earnest appeal to the Roman people that they should not be altered. The elder of the two boys — the late king — being now no more, Caesar assigned the kingdom to the younger one and to Cleopatra, the elder of the two daughters, who had remained his loyal adherent; whereas Arsinoe, the younger daughter, in whose name, as we have shewn,​26 Ganymedes had long been exercising an unbridled sway, he determined to remove from the realm, to  p65 prevent any renewed dissensions coming into being among factious folk before the dominion of the royal pair could be consolidated by the passage of time. The veteran Sixth legion he took away with him: all the others​27 he left there, the more to bolster up the dominion of the said rulers, who could enjoy neither the affection of their people, inasmuch as they had remained throughout staunch friends of Caesar, nor the authority of a long-established reign, it being but a few days since they came to the throne. At the same time he deemed it conducive to the dignity of our empire and to public expediency that, if the rulers remained loyal, they should be protected by our troops: whereas if they proved ungrateful, those same troops could hold them in check. Having thus completed all his dispositions, he set out in person for Syria.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 A people of Arabia Petraea.

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2 This seems to be the meaning of pavimentum here: elsewhere it is used only of floors.

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3 A much disputed passage. I assume that Caesar already occupied two separate sectors of the city south of Cape Lochias, and these he now intended to join up into one by securing the ground immediately to the south, adjoining the marshy depression.

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4 Or possibly 'along the straight streets.'

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5 A supporter of Pompeius who in 55 B.C., as governor of Syria, restored Ptolemy Auletes to the throne of Egypt. See ch. 43 below for his death in Illyricum.

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6 Presumably a reference to Civil Wars III, ch. 112.

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7 Though in the Latin text I have retained the unfamiliar spelling given by all the MSS., in translation I have adopted the more common form.

Thayer's Note: I.e., the Loeb editor finds the Latin spelling Ptolomaeus unusual; yet the form is common, and has led to the modern Italian and Spanish forms (Tolomeo, Ptolomeo).
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8 This is generally taken to be the Canal (see map).

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9 The places referred to are much disputed and have not been marked on Map 2. Strabo mentions a Παραιτόνιον, but it lay some 130 miles W of Alexandria — too far, it seems, to be intended here. As for the island, Pharos itself hardly lay on their right: perhaps either the Delta is intended or some otherwise unknown island near Canopus.

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10 Identified by some with a promontory about 8 miles W of Alexandria.

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11 The contrast here appears to lie between combat crews (propugnatores, practically synonymous perhaps with the Greek term epibatae), whose function was that of marines, and navigating crews (classiarii = fleet personnel, sailors, as distinct from marines). Caesar had no marines on board, whereas the Alexandrians had; so that, though Caesar doubtless improvised boarding parties from such sailors as could be spared, he had to rely mainly upon superior seaman­ship to ram or cripple his opponents' ships.

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12 Or perhaps ut superioribus locis should be read, the sense being 'which, as being more elevated sites, had proved their mainstay.'

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13 These losses are briefly alluded to in Civil Wars III, ch. 111.

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14 This is somewhat difficult to reconcile with chapter 1, where Syria and Cilicia, as well as Rhodes, are specifically mentioned, and with the statement in Civil Wars III, ch. 106, where it is said that Caesar arrived at Alexandria with ten warships from Rhodes and a few from Asia. Could the missing Rhodian galley be after all at one described in chapter 11? Even so, unless the re­quisition for additional Rhodian ships had not so far been complied with, the figure of 9 remains a difficulty. The total of 34 tallies with the dispositions in ch.14, below.

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15 i.e. from the Great Harbour to the Eunostos Harbour.

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16 According to Civil Wars III, ch. 112, Caesar had already seized Pharos and placed a garrison in it; but this may have been only the eastern tip, where the lighthouse stood, commanding the entrance to the Great Harbour.

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17 viz. by Arsinoe to Ganymedes (cf. ch. 33): others, however, interpret the phrase as meaning 'the kingdom, by rights Ptolemy's, held in trust by others'. Andrieu, omitting the comma after puellae, renders 'dégoûté de l'autorité fictive d'une jeune fille.'

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18 The father of the Emperor Tiberius.

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19 Son of a wealthy citizen of Pergamum who had been adopted by Mithridates the Great, from whom he took his name: another account made him out to be a natural son of the latter.

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20 I assume here that something like oppidanis is to be supplied as the noun defined by propugnantibus.

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21 Apparently he marched south so as to cross the Nile south of the Delta.

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22 In antiquity the term 'Delta' was also applied, in a restricted sense, to the southern apex of the triangle. The battle must have taken place to the east of the Nile — according to Josephus at the Encampment of the Jews, identified by some with Tal-el‑Jahoudieh about 17 miles north of Cairo.

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23 See chapter 14. Apparently Caesar sailed W to Chersonensus,º to avoid fighting his way through the enemy-occupied part of Alexandria, and then marched SE, keeping Lake Mareotis on his left.

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24 There is wide disagreement about identifying this position; but assuming that Mithridates marched NW to join Caesar it seems reasonable to place it close to the western branch of the Nile about half‑way between Cairo and Alexandria, but perhaps closer to the latter.

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25 This interpretation assumes qui . . . propugnabant as the subject of proficiebant; and the normal usage of propugnare of defensive fighting seems to confirm it. The alternative — omitting the comma after nostris — 'they (the largest contingent of the Alexandrians) were the most successful in . . . wounding our men who were fighting in the area of the Nile.' seems hardly to agree with the tactical situation.

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26 See chapter 4.

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27 The Twenty-seventh, the Thirty-Seventh and a third whose identity is not certain — possibly the one despatched overland by Calvinus (see ch. 34).

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