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Bill Thayer

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Chapters 48‑64

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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Alexandrian War

 p115  [Chapters 65‑78]

65 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] On his arrival in Syria1 from Egypt Caesar learned from those who had joined him there from Rome, as well as from information contained in despatches from the city, that there was much that was bad and unprofitable in the administration at Rome, and that no department of the government was being really efficiently conducted;2 for rivalries among the tribunes, it was said, were producing dangerous rifts, and the flattering indulgence shewn to their troops by the military tribunes and legionary commanders was giving rise to many practices opposed to military custom and usage which tended to undermine strict discipline. All this, he saw, urgently demanded his presence: yet, for all that, he thought it more important to leave all the provinces and districts he visited organised in such a way that they would be immune from internal disagreements, would accept a legal constitution, and lay aside their fears of aggression from without. This he was  p117 confident he would speedily achieve in Syria, Cilicia and Asia, as these provinces had no war afflicting them: in Bithynia and Pontus he had, as he saw, a heavier task impending. For he heard that Pharnaces had not evacuated Pontus, and he did not expect him to do so, exceedingly puffed up as he was by the successful battle he had fought against Domitius Calvinus. He spent some time in practically all the more important states of Syria, bestowing rewards both upon individuals and communities where they deserved them, and holding official inquiries and giving his ruling in questions of long-standing dispute; while as for the kings, sovereigns and rulers who, as neighbours of the province, had one and all flocked to him, on condition that they undertook to watch over and guard the province, he dismissed them as very loyal friends both to himself and the Roman people.

66 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] After spending a few days in that province he posted Sextus Caesar, his friend and kinsman, to command the legions and govern Syria: he himself set out3 for Cilicia in the same fleet in which he had arrived. He then summoned all the states of this latter province to forgather at Tarsus — perhaps the most famous and strongest township in the whole of Cilicia. There he settled all the affairs of the province its neighbouring states; but when he had done so, his eagerness to set out and prosecute the war admitted no further delay; and so, after traversing Cappadocia by forced marches and staying two days at Mazaca, he reached Comana, where is the shrine of Bellona — the most ancient and holiest in Cappadocia.4 This shrine is worshipped with such  p119 reverence that the priest of that goddess is held by common consent of the nation to rank next to the king in majesty, dominion and influence. This priesthood he awarded to Lycomedes, a Bithynian of very noble descent, who sought it by right of inheritance; for he was sprung from the royal Cappadocian house, his claim in this respect being, in point of legal right, by no means in doubt, though, in long passing of time, because of the chequered fortunes of his ancestors and changes in the royal line of descent, continuity had been broken. As for Ariobarzanes and his brother Ariarathes, both of them had deserved well of the Republic; and so, to prevent Ariarathes from being tempted to claim his inheritance to the kingdom, or, as heir to it, from intimidating Ariobarzanes, Caesar granted him part of Lesser Armenia and allowed Ariobarzanes to treat him as his vassal. Whereupon Caesar himself proceeded to complete the remainder of his journey with similar despatch.

67 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] When Caesar approached closer to Pontus and the boundaries of Gallograecia,5 he was met by Deiotarus. Although the latter's position at that time was tetrarch of practically the whole of Gallograecia was disputed by all his fellow tetrarchs as inadmissible both by law and by tradition, he was, however, indisputably hailed as king of Lesser Armenia by the Senate;6 and now he laid aside his royal insignia and, dressed not merely as a private person but actually in the garb of defendants in the courts, he came to Caesar as a suppliant to beg his pardon for having been on the side of Cn. Pompeius. He explained that, situated as he was in a part of the world which had had no garrisons of Caesar's to protect  p121 it, he had been compelled to do so by orders backed by armed force; for it had been no business of his to act as judge in the disputes of the Roman people, but only to obey the commands of the moment.

68 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] In his reply Caesar reminded him of all the many loyal services he himself as consul had rendered to him by official decrees,7 and went on to point out that his apology would not be accepted as any excuse for his unwisdom; a man, in fact, as wise and careful as he was could have known who was master of Rome and Italy, what was the attitude of the Senate and the Roman people and the position taken up by the government, who in short was consul after L. Lentulus and C. Marcellus.8 'Nevertheless,' he continued, 'I make allowance for that action of yours in view of your past generosity towards myself,9 our long-standing ties of hospitality and friendship, your rank and age, and the entreaties of all those guests and friends of yours who have flocked in crowds to entreat for your pardon. As for the matters in dispute between the tetrarchs, I shall examine into them later.' He then bade Deiotarus resume his royal garb, but ordered him to bring that legion of his, which was raised from the ranks of his own countrymen but in equipment and training organised on our pattern, together with all his cavalry, for the prosecution of the war.

69 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] On his arrival in Pontus Caesar mustered his whole force at a single rendezvous. It was but a modest force both numerically and in practical experience in the field; for apart from the Sixth legion, which he had brought with him from Alexandria — and this,  p123 being a veteran one with a long record of hazardous and strenuous achievements, had lost so many men, due partly to the difficulties of transit both by land and sea, partly to the frequency of its campaigns, and was now so much below strength as to comprise less than one thousand troops — apart from the Sixth, the remainder of the force consisted of three legions — one belonging to Deiotarus, and the two which had taken part in that engagement which Cn. Domitius fought with Pharnaces, as I have related. Whereupon envoys sent by Pharnaces approached Caesar and first and foremost entreated him not to approach their country in any hostile spirit, since Pharnaces would carry out all his instructions. In particular they reminded Caesar that Pharnaces had refused to provide Pompeius with any auxiliary troops for use against Caesar; whereas Deiotarus, who had provided them, had none the less given him satisfaction.

70 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Caesar replied that he would be scrupulously fair to Pharnaces if the latter intended to carry out his promises. He warned the envoys, however, in his usual tactful language, not to tax him with the case of Deiotarus or pride themselves unduly on their good services in having refused to send Pompeius auxiliary troops. For whereas nothing gave him greater pleasure than granting pardon when it was humbly entreated, yet it was impossible for him to condone public outrages against the provinces in the case of those who had been loyal towards himself. 'In point of fact,' he went on, 'that very act of loyalty which you call to mind proved more expedient to Pharnaces, who thereby had the foresight to avoid defeat, than to myself, for whose victory the immortal gods were responsible. As for the great and serious outrages  p125 perpetrated against Roman citizens engaged in trade in Pontus, since it is not in my power to set them to rights, I accordingly forgive Pharnaces. I cannot, in fact, restore to murdered men the life they have lost, nor to the mutilated their manhood; and such indeed is the punishment — worse than death — that Roman citizens have undergone. Pharnaces, however, must withdraw forthwith from Pontus, release the household slaves of the tax‑gatherers, and make all other such restitution as lies in his power to the allies and Roman citizens. If he does this, then — and not before — shall he send me the tributes and gifts which triumphant commanders are in the habit of receiving from their friends.' (Pharnaces had, in fact, sent him a golden crown.) Such was the reply with which the envoys were sent back.

71 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] All this Pharnaces graciously promised to do. However, as he hoped that Caesar's impetuous haste would lead him to trust his own assurances still more readily than the circumstances justified, so that he might tackle more urgent matters with the greater expedition and propriety — for everyone was aware that there were many reasons demanding Caesar's return to Rome — in this hope, then, he began to take a more leisurely line, to demand a later date for his withdrawal, to propose agreements by way of causing delay — in fine, he proceeded to cheat. Realising the fellow's cunning, Caesar was now of necessity constrained to adopt the very tactics which on other occasions it had been his natural habit to employ — namely to come to grips more promptly than anyone expected.

72 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Zelaa is a town situated in Pontus, with adequate natural defences, considering its position in a plain: for its battlements are reared upon a hillock — a  p127 natural one for all its artificial appearance — whose summit is loftier than all the terrain surrounding it. Encircling this town are many considerable hills, intersected by valleys; and one of these — a very lofty one — which enjoys no little fame in those parts thanks to the victory of Mithridates, and the misfortune of Triarius and defeat of our army,10 is all but linked to the town by tracks along the higher ground, and is little more than three miles distant from Zela.11 Here Pharnaces repaired the ancient works of his father's once prosperous camp, and occupied the position with his entire forces.

73 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Caesar pitched his camp five miles distant from the enemy; and as he now saw that that valley by which the king's camp was protected would, if its width separated them, equally afford protection to a camp of his own, provided only that the enemy did not anticipate him in capturing the ground in question, which was much nearer the king's camp, he ordered materials for a rampart to be carted within the entrenchments. This was speedily collected. The following night he left camp at the fourth watch12 with all his legions in light order and the heavy baggage left behind in camp, and surprised the enemy at dawn by capturing that very position where Mithridates once fought his successful action against Triarius. To this spot13 he ordered the slaves  p129 to bring from the camp all the accumulated material for the rampart, so that none of his troops should quit their work of fortification, since the intervening valley which separated the enemy's camp from the emplacements which Caesar had begun was not more than a mile wide.

74 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] On suddenly observing this situation at dawn, Pharnaces drew up all his forces in front of his camp. In view of the highly uneven character of the intervening ground Caesar supposed that it was the king's normal military practice more than anything that occasioned this deployment; or else his object was to delay Caesar's own work of fortification, through the necessity of keeping more men standing to arms; or again it might be intended as a display of confidence on the king's part, to shew that it was not on fortification so much as on armed force that Pharnaces relied to defend his position. Accordingly, Caesar was not deterred from keeping the remainder of his army engaged on the work of fortification, deploying only the front line in front of the palisade. Pharnaces, however, took it into his head to engage. Whether it was the lucky associations of the spot that drove him to take this course, or whether it was his scrupulous observance of omens, to which, as we afterwards heard, he gave careful heed, that so prompted him; or maybe it was the small number of our troops which, according to his information, were standing to arms (for he had supposed that that vast gang of slaves which transported the material for the rampart, as though it was their daily employment, was in fact composed of troops); or maybe even it was his confidence in that veteran army of his, which, as his envoys boasted, had fought and  p131 conquered upon two and twenty battle-fields, coupled with a contempt for our army, which he knew had been routed by himself when Domitius led it: anyway, having decided to engage, he began the descent down the steep ravine. For some little time Caesar laughed contemptuously at this empty bravado on the part of the king, and at his troops packed closely on ground which no enemy in his senses would be likely to set foot on; while in the meantime Pharnaces with his forces in battle array proceeded to climb the steep hill-side confronting him at the same steady pace at which he had descended the sheer ravine.

75 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] This incredible foolhardiness or confidence on the part of the king disconcerted Caesar, who was not expecting it and was caught unprepared. Simultaneously he recalled the troops from their work of fortification, ordered them to stand to arms, deployed his legions to meet the attack, and formed line of battle; and the sudden excitement to which all this gave rise occasioned considerable panic among our troops. Disorganised as our men were, and as yet in no regular formation, the king's chariots armed with scythes threw them into confusion; but these chariots were speedily overwhelmed by a mass of missiles. In their wake came the enemy line: the battle cry was raised and the conflict joined, our men being greatly helped by the nature of the ground but above all by the blessing of the immortal gods. For just as the gods play a part in all the chance vicissitudes of war, so above all do they do so in those where human strategy has proved quite powerless to avail.

76 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Heavy and bitter hand-to‑hand fighting took place; and it was on the right wing, where the veteran Sixth  p133 legion was posted, that the first seeds of victory were sown. As the enemy were being thrust back down the slope on this wing, so too on the left wing and in the centre — much more slowly, but thanks nevertheless to the same divine assistance — the entire forces of the king were being crushed. The ease with which they had climbed the uneven ground was now matched by the speed with which, once dislodged from their footing, the unevenness of the ground enabled them to be driven back. Consequently, after sustaining many casualties — some killed, some knocked out by their comrades' falling on top of them — those whose nimbleness did enable them to escape none the less threw away their arms; and so, after crossing the valley, they could not make any effective stand from the higher ground, unarmed as they now were. Our men, on the contrary, elated by their victory, did not hesitate to climb the uneven ground and storm the entrenchments. Moreover, despite the resistance of those enemy cohorts which Pharnaces had left to guard his camp, they promptly won possession of it. With his entire forces either killed or captured Pharnaces took to flight with a few horsemen; and had not our storming of his camp afforded him a freer opportunity for flight, he would have been brought alive into Caesar's hands.

77 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Such a victory transported Caesar — for all the many past victories to his credit — with incredible delight, inasmuch as he had brought a very serious war to so speedy a conclusion, and because an easy victory, which delighted him the more when he recalled the sudden risk it had involved, had transpired out of a very difficult situation. Having thus  p135 recovered Pontus and made a present to his troops of all the royal plunder, he himself set out on the following day with his cavalry in light order; instructing the Sixth legion to leave for Italy to receive its rewards and honours, sending home the auxiliary troops of Deiotarus, and leaving two legions in Pontus with Caelius Vinicianus.

78 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Thus he marched through Gallograecia and Bithynia into Asia, holding investigations and giving his formal ruling on matters of dispute in all those provinces, and assigning due prerogatives to tetrarchs, kings and states. Now Mithridates of Pergamum, whose speedy and successful action in Egypt I have described above,b was not merely of royal birth but also of royal training and upbringing; for Mithridates, king of all Asia, had carried him off to camp with him from Pergamum on the score of his noble birth when he was quite young, and had kept him there for many years; for which reasons Caesar now appointed him king of Bosphorus, which had formerly been under control of Pharnaces, and by thus creating a buffer state ruled by a most friendly king, he secured the provinces of the Roman people from barbarian and unfriendly kings. To the same Mithridates he awarded, by right of racial affinity and kinship, the tetrarchy of Gallograecia which had been seized and occupied a few years earlier by Deiotarus.14 Nowhere, however, did he delay any longer than the urgency of unsettled conditions at Rome appeared to warrant; and when he had accomplished his tasks with the greatest success and expedition, he arrived in Italy more quickly than anyone expected.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 He touched first at Ace Ptolemais on the Syrian coast about mid‑June (Holmes), early July (Stoffel).

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2 The main causes of unrest were economic; in particular Caesar's measures for the relief of debt were too mild for extremists like Caelius and, later, Dolabella: see also Introduction to Bell. Afr., 139.

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3 He sailed from Seleucia, the port of Antioch, for Tarsus, probably early in July, 47.

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4 This sentence, as the text stands, presents a difficulty; for it implies that, despite his urgent haste, Caesar made a detour of 60 miles SE from Mazaca to visit the Cappadocian Comana. Strabo and Appian say that it was the Pontic, not the Cappadocian, Comana that Caesar visited, and possibly our author was confused.

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5 Better known as Galatia.

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6 For his assistance to the Romans against Mithridates Deiotarus had been rewarded by Pompey with grants of land in eastern Pontus and the title of king: Lesser Armenia may have been given him at the same time. He was originally tetrarch of western Galatia only, and his claim to central Galatia as well is a matter of some obscurity.

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7 As consul in 59 B.C. Caesar had got the Senate to ratify the grants of land with which Pompey had rewarded him.

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8 Lentulus and Marcellus were consuls in 49 B.C.: Caesar and Servilius in 48.

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9 This appears to be the meaning of superioribus suis beneficiis, viz. 'past acts of kindness done by Deiotarus to Caesar'. Others interpret the words as meaning 'acts of kindness done by Caesar'; but though this would be the more obvious and usual meaning of the phrase, it scarcely suits the present context.

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10 Lucullus' lieutenant, C. Triarius, was heavily defeated in 67.

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11 Its exact position is doubtful; the highest hill in the neighbourhood (now Altiagatch Dagh, about 2000 feet) being some eight Roman miles north of Zela.

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12 The reference of the two temporal expressions — vigilia quarta and prima luce — is not easy to decide. The rendering given is perhaps the most likely. Caesar had some four miles to march; and if he left camp early in the fourth watch (this would be quite short in June), he could have taken the position at dawn. Two other interpretations seem possible: (1) 'at the fourth watch as the dawn was (just) breaking he captured . . .' (2) 'When at the fourth watch on the following night this material had been collected . . .'. But this would more likely have been a daylight operation, unless motives of security demanded otherwise.

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13 The site of Caesar's new camp appears to have been immediately south of the valley, on the northern edge of which Pharnaces was already encamped. The site seems to have been dominated by — though not identical with — the hill where Mithridates had once encamped.

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14 Probably the tetrarchy of the Trocmi in East Galatia: cf. ch. 67.

Thayer's Notes:

a For the battle of Zela — background, pre-Roman history, an account of the battles of 67 B.C. (the defeat of Triarius by Mithridates VI) and 47 B.C. (Caesar's defeat of Pharnaces), topography, map, photographs — see the page at Livius.Org.

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b Chs. 26‑29.

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Page updated: 10 Dec 16