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This webpage reproduces part of
Civil Wars

Julius Caesar

Loeb Classical Library

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Civil Wars

p125 Book II (chapters 1‑22)

1 While this is going on in Spain the legate, G. Trebonius, who had been left behind for the siege of Massilia,1 began to push up to the town on two sides an earthwork, penthouses and towers. One side was quite close to the harbour and docks, the other to the gate by which lies the approach from Gaul and Spain, towards that part of the sea which is adjacent to the mouth of the Rhone. For Massilia is washed by the sea on three sides of the town, more or less. There remains the fourth side, admitting of approach by land. Of this space, too, the part extending to the citadel, strengthened by the natural character of the site and a very deep valley, involves a long and difficult blockade. To carry out these works, G. Trebonius requisitions a great multitude of baggage animals and men from the whole province, and orders rushes and timber to be got together. When these supplies are collected he builds an earthwork eighty feet in height.

2 But there had been in the town from early days such huge military stores of every kind, and such a multitude of engines, that no penthouses woven with osiers could withstand their assault. For beams twelve feet long with spiked ends, discharged by enormous catapults, often fixed themselves in the earth after passing through four layers of hurdles. So the roofs of the penthouses were protected by timbers p127foot square clamped together and beneath this shelter material for the earthwork was carried forward from hand to hand. In front went a tortoise sixty feet in height, for the levelling of the ground, also made of very stout timbers, and wrapped over with everything that could serve to keep off showers of firebrands and stones. But the greatness of the works, the height of the wall and the towers, the multitude of engines, hindered the whole of our operations. Moreover, frequent sorties from the town were made by the Albici, and firebrands were flung upon the earthwork and the towers — all of which assaults our troops repelled with ease, and kept driving back into the town those who had made a sortie, even inflicting great losses on them.

3 Meanwhile L. Nasidius, who had been sent by Gn. Pompeius with a fleet of sixteen ships, a few of which had brazen beaks, to the support of L. Domitius and the Massilians, voyages along the Sicilian strait, without Curio knowing or suspecting it, and bringing his ships to anchor at Messana, when the sudden panic had caused the flight of the chiefs and the senate, removes a ship from their docks. Adding this to the rest, he finishes his course towards Massilia, and, secretly sending a small vessel in advance, informs Domitius and the Massilians of his approach and strongly urges them, now that they have received his reinforcements, again to join battle with the fleet of Brutus.

4 After their previous disaster the Massilians had brought out of the docks and repaired an equivalent number of old ships and equipped them with the utmost industry — there was an abundant supply of rowers and helmsmen — and had added to them some fishing-vessels which they had furnished with decks, p129to protect the rowers from the blows of missiles while they also manned them with archers and catapults. When the fleet was thus equipped, stimulated by the prayers and tears of all the older men, matrons and virgins, beseeching them to succour the state in its extremity, they embark with no less courage and confidence than they had shown in the previous battle. For, by a defect which is common to human nature, we are apt in unusual and unfamiliar circumstances to be too confident or too violently alarmed; and so it happened then. For the arrival of L. Nasidius had filled the community with the utmost hope and goodwill. Finding the wind favourable, they quit the port and reach Nasidius at Taurois, a Massilian fortress, and there get their ships into trim and again make up their minds to the struggle and join in arranging their plans. Operations on the right are assigned to the Massilians, on the left to Nasidius.

5 Brutus hurries to the same place with the number of his fleet enlarged. For six captured Massilian ships had been added to those which had been constructed by Caesar at Arelate. These he had repaired and fully equipped during the preceding days. And so, exhorting his men to despise as now conquered those whom they had worsted when unscathed, he sets out against them full of good hope and courage. It was easy to get a view into the city from the camp of G. Trebonius and from all the higher parts, and to see how all the youth that had remained in the town and all the men of more advanced age with their children and wives in the public places and guard-houses or on the wall were stretching their hands to heaven or visiting the temples of the immortal gods and, prostrate before their shrines, were p131beseeching the gods for victory. Nor was there a single one of them all who did not think that the issue of his whole fortunes rested on the chances of that day. For the youths of good birth and the most important men of every age had gone on board, individually called out and entreated to serve, so that if anything untoward should happen they might see that nothing would be left them to venture withal, but might be confident of securing the safety of the city, whether by domestic resources or by foreign aid, if they should win the victory.

6 When the battle had begun the Massilians showed no lack of valour, but, mindful of the precepts they had just received from their friends, they fought with such spirit as to resemble men who were likely to have no other opportunity for effort, and who thought that they who risked their life in battle did not anticipate by so very much the fate of the rest of the citizens, who, if the city were captured, would have to suffer the same fortune of war. And when our ships had been gradually drawn apart, scope was allowed for the skill of the pilots and the handiness of the ships, and whenever, meeting with an opportunity, our men had secured a ship by casting the grappling-irons on it, the foe went from every side to the succour of their distressed comrades. Nor indeed did the Albici, who took part in the engagement fail in hand-to-hand fighting or fall far short of our men in valour. At the same time a great shower of missiles hurled from the smaller vessels at a distance inflicted many wounds on our men, who were unexpectedly taken off their guard and embarrassed. And two triremes having sighted the ship of D. Brutus, which could be easily recognized from its standard, threw themselves upon it from two sides. But Brutus, seeing p133what was coming, made so vigorous an effort, thanks to the speed of his ship, that a brief thrust carried him ahead of them. They, borne down on one another, collided so heavily that each was seriously damaged by the crash, and one of them, having its beak broken off, collapsed altogether. When this was observed, the ships of Brutus' fleet which were nearest to the spot set upon them while thus disabled and quickly sank them both.

7 But the ships of Nasidius were of no use and quickly retired from the battle; for neither the sight of their fatherland nor the promptings of kinsmen urged them to incur the supreme peril of life. Consequently from that detachment of ships none was missed; out of the fleet of the Massilians five were sunk, four captured, and one fled with the Nasidian ships, and they all made for hither Spain. And when one of the rest, sent forward to Massilia to convey this news, was now approaching the city, the whole multitude poured forth to learn the event, and when they had learnt it such a lamentation followed that it seemed as if the city had been forthwith captured by the enemy. However, the Massilians none the less began to make the other necessary preparations for the defence of the town.

8 In consequence of the frequent sorties of the enemy, it was noticed by the legionaries who were conducting operations on the right that it could be a great protection to them if they made there a tower of brick under the wall to serve as a stronghold and place of retreat. This they constructed at first of low elevation and small size to meet sudden sallies. To this they used to retire; from this shelter they fought if a stronger assault pressed them; from p135this they issued forth to repel and pursue the foe. Its dimensions were thirty feet each way, but the thickness of the walls was five feet. But afterwards, as experience is the guide of all conduct, by applying their wits they discovered that it could be of great service to them if this tower were raised to a height. This was accomplished in the following manner.

9 When the height of the tower reached the level of a story they built the floor into the walls in such a way that the heads of the beams were hidden in the outside structure of the walls, to prevent any projection on which the firebrands of the enemy could lodge. Above this timber-work they built up with brick, only so far as the shelter afforded by the shed and the penthouses allowed, and above this part they laid across two beams not far from the outer walls, whereon to raise aloft the wooden frame which was to serve as the roof of the tower,2 and over these beams they laid joists across at right angles and fixed them in place by tie-beams. These joists they made rather longer and projecting beyond the outside of the walls, so that there might be a place to hang out screens to ward off and repel blows while the walls were being built up below this timber frame; and on the top of this flooring they made a layer of bricks and clay so that the firebrands of the enemy might do no harm. And they further laid thereon mattresses, that missiles hurled by engines might not crash through the flooring or p137stones from catapults dislodge the brickwork. They made moreover three fenders four feet broad out of anchor-ropes to cover the length of the walls of the tower and fastened these on the three sides towards the enemy from the beams projecting round the tower. This was the only kind of protection that they had found by experience in other places to be impervious to any missile or catapult. But when that part of the tower which was finished was protected and defended from every weapon cast by the enemy they removed their sheds to other works, and began to poise and lift the roof of the tower independently by leverage from the first-floor stage. When they had raised it to the height allowed by the hanging fenders, being thus concealed and protected within these defences they proceeded to build up the walls with brick, and again by further leverage made themselves space for fresh building. When the opportunity came for a second story they built in beams, just as at first, concealed in the outside of the walls, and from this flooring again they proceeded to raise the topmost story and the protecting fenders. So safely and without any wounds or peril they built up six stories, and in the course of erection they left openings, where it seemed suitable, for the discharge of darts from catapults.

10 When they were sure that from the tower they could protect all the surrounding works, they set about making out of timber two feet square a covered gallery sixty feet long, to be carried from the brick tower to the enemy's tower and wall. And the form of the gallery was as follows. First of all two beams of equal length are laid on the ground with a distance of four feet between them, and in these posts are fixed five feet in height. These posts they connect p139by rafters of low elevation whereon to place the boarding to be laid for the roofing of the gallery. Over these rafters they lay two-foot beams and fasten them with plates and bolts. On the outside of the roof of the gallery and on the edges of these beams they fasten three-inch-square shingles3 to keep in place the bricks to be laid on the roof. Thus when it had all been sloped and duly constructed, after the beams had been laid on the rafters, the gallery is roofed with tiles and clay, so as to be safe from fire that might be thrown from the wall. Hides are drawn over the bricks lest water discharged at them through pipes should wash them out. The hides too, are covered over with patchwork lest they in their turn should be spoilt by fire and stones. The whole of this work, protected by mantlets, they complete up to the tower itself, and suddenly, when the enemy were off their guard, they put rollers under it — a nautical appliance — and push it forward to the tower of the enemy, so as to join on to the structure.

11 Dismayed at this sudden calamity, the townsmen bring forward with cranes the largest possible stones, and roll them headlong from the wall on to the gallery. The strength of the timber bears the blow, and everything that falls on it slips off owing to the sloping roof of the gallery. Observing this, they change their plan and set on fire barrels filled with pine-wood and pitch, and roll them down from the wall on to the gallery. When, however, they had rolled on to it they slip off and, having fallen from the tiles, are removed from the work by poles and forks. Meanwhile some soldiers under the p141gallery prise out with crowbars the lowest stones of the enemy's tower which served to hold the foundations together. The gallery is defended by our men from the brick tower with missiles and catapults, the enemy are dislodged from their wall and towers, no free opportunity of defending their wall is allowed them. When now a number of stones had been withdrawn from the tower next the gallery, a part of it suddenly collapsed and fell, the rest was beginning to follow it and fall forward, when the enemy, terrified at the sacking of their city, without their arms and wearing fillets, fling themselves in a mass outside the gate and stretch out their hands as suppliants to the legates and the army.

12 In the face of this new occurrence all military operations cease, and the men turning from the fight are drawn to satisfy their longing to hear and learn the news. When the enemy reached the legates and the army they fling themselves in a body at their feet, and beseech them to wait for Caesar's arrival: they say that they behold their city captured, the works of investment completed, their tower undermined, and so they desist from their defence. Nothing can now arise to prevent their being plundered forthwith on his arrival if they do not carry out orders at his beck. They point out that if the tower should collapse altogether the soldiers could not be withheld from bursting into the town in hope of plunder and utterly destroying it. These and many such like words, as might be expected from men of intelligence, are uttered with much pathetic appeal and weeping.

13 Stirred by these events, the legates withdraw their men from the work and abandon the siege, leaving p143sentries to guard the works. Some kind of truce having been arranged out of compassion they wait for Caesar's arrival. No missile is cast from the wall, none by our men; as though the business were finished, all relax their care and diligence. For Caesar in his dispatch had strongly urged Trebonius not to suffer the town to be taken by storm, lest the troops, deeply moved by hatred of the revolt, by the contempt shown for themselves, and by their continuous labour should slay all the youths; which in fact they were constantly threatening to do, and were now with difficulty restrained from breaking into the town, and resented the fact because it appeared to be the fault of Trebonius that they did not get possession of the town.

14 But the enemy, with no sense of honour, sought for time and opportunity for fraud and treachery, and after an interval of several days, when our men were weary and slack in spirit, suddenly at noon, after some had gone away and others after their long toil had surrendered themselves to sleep among the siege works, and all their arms had been put away out of sight, broke forth from the gates and set fire to the works, the wind being strong and favourable. The wind spread the fire to such an extent that the mound, the sheds, the tortoise, the machines all caught fire at once, and they were all consumed before it could be ascertained how it had happened. Our men, alarmed by the sudden mischance, snatch up such arms as they can, others fling themselves from the camp. They charge the enemy, but are prevented from following the fugitives by arrows and catapults from the wall. The foe retire beneath their wall, and there without hindrance set fire to the gallery and the brick tower. So the labour of many p145months perished in a moment through the perfidy of the enemy and the violence of the storm. The Massilians made a like attempt the next day. In similar weather they sallied forth and fought with greater confidence at the second tower and earthwork and cast much fire on them. But though our men had relaxed all the keen vigilance of an earlier period, yet, warned by the previous day's disaster, they had made every preparation for defence. So after slaying many they drove back the rest into the town and prevented them from accomplishing their purpose.

15 Trebonius began to apply himself to the task of repairing his losses, with a great increase of zeal on the part of his troops. For they saw that all their labours and appliances had turned out ill, and were highly indignant that owing to the wicked violation of the truce their valour would be a mark for derision; and so, since there was no place left from which material for a rampart could possibly be collected, because all the trees far and wide in the Massilian district had been cut down and brought in, they set about making an earthwork of a novel kind that no one had heard of before out of two brick walls each six feet thick, and roofing these walls over, so that the width was about the same as that of the former earthwork piled up with timber. Wherever either the space between the walls or the weakness of the timber seemed to require it, piles are placed between them, cross-beams are put in to serve as a strengthening, and all the part roofed is spread over with hurdles, and the hurdles are covered with clay. Under this cover the soldiers, sheltered to right and left by the wall, in front by the defence of a screen, bring up without danger whatever is of use for the p147work. The business is conducted with speed; the wastage of their long-continued labour is soon made up by the skill and energy of the soldiers. Gates are left in the wall wherever seems suitable to allow of a sortie.

16 And when the enemy saw that the losses which they had hoped could hardly be repaired within a long period of time had been so thoroughly repaired by the work and toil of a few days, that there was now no opportunity for treachery or sortie, and that no possible chance was left for any injury to be done either to the men by weapons or to the works by fire; and when they become aware that in a like manner the whole city, where there is an approach to it by land, can be so thoroughly invested by wall and towers that there was no chance for themselves of standing their ground on their own defences, since the investing walls seemed to have been built by our army almost on to their own town walls, and missiles were being hurled by hand; and that the use of their own engines, on which they had laid great hopes, was coming to nothing owing to the narrow space that separated them; and when they understand that if equal conditions of fighting from wall and towers are afforded they cannot equal our men in valour: then they recur to the same terms of surrender.

17 M. Varro, at first in further Spain, when he learnt of the events that had happened in Italy, mistrusting the fortunes of Pompeius, began to speak in the most friendly terms of Caesar. He pointed out that, having been previously secured by Gn. Pompeius as his legate, he was held bound by a pledge of loyalty, yet that no less strong a tie of intimacy existed between himself and Caesar, and that he was not unaware what p149was the duty of a legate who held a post of trust, what his own strength was, and what was the feeling of the whole province towards Caesar. These opinions he used to express in all his talk, but meanwhile made no movement towards either side. But afterwards, when he learnt that Caesar was being detained at Massilia, that the forces of Petreius had been united with the army of Afranius, that large auxiliary forces had assembled, that other large reinforcements were in prospect and constantly expected, and that the whole hither province was unanimous; and when he heard of what had afterwards happened about the dearth of provisions at Ilerda, and when Afranius kept writing to him about this in a large and exaggerated style, he began himself to move in response to the movements of fortune.

18 He held a levy throughout his province, and when he had made up two legions he added about thirty auxiliary cohorts. He collected a great store of cornº to be sent to the Massilians, some also to Afranius and Petreius. He ordered the Gaditanians to make ten ships of war and contracted for the building of many others at Hispalis. He bestowed in the town of Gades all the money and all the treasures from the temple of Hercules; he sent thither from his province six cohorts on garrison duty, and put in charge of the town of Gades Gaius Gallonius, a Roman knight, a friend of Domitius, who had gone thither commissioned by Domitius to take possession of an inheritance; all weapons, private and public, he bestowed in the house of Gallonius. He delivered incriminating speeches against Caesar. He often asserted from his tribunal that Caesar had fought unsuccessful battles, that a great number of soldiers had deserted him for Afranius; that he had ascertained p151 this by trustworthy messengers, on trustworthy authority. He compelled the Roman citizens of the province, terrified by such proceedings, to promise him for the administration of public affairs 18,000,000 sesterces and 20,000 pounds of silver and 120,000 measures of wheat. On all the communities that he thought friendly to Caesar he proceeded to impose very heavy burdens, to move garrisons into them, and to deliver judgments against private persons who had uttered words or made speeches against the commonwealth; their property he confiscated for public purposes. He went on to compel his whole province to swear allegiance to himself and Pompeius. When he had ascertained what had happened in hither Spain he began to prepare war. His plan of campaign was to go to Gades with two legions, and to retain there the ships and all the corn, for he had found out that the whole of his province favoured the side of Caesar. If the corn and ships were collected in the island he thought it would not be difficult for the war to be prolonged. Caesar, though many urgent affairs were summoning him back to Italy, had nevertheless determined to abandon no section of the war in the two Spains, because he knew how great were the benefactions of Pompeius and what large bodies of retainers he had in the hither province.

19 So, having sent two legions into further Spain with Q. Cassius, tribune of the people, he himself proceeds ahead with six hundred horsemen by forced marches, and sends on an order stating on what date he wished the magistrates and chief men of all the communities to meet him at Corduba. When this edict was promulgated throughout the province there was no community that did not send a portion of its council p153to Corduba, no Roman citizen of any repute who did not come on the appointed day. At the same time the Roman burgess-body at Corduba of its own accord shut the gates against Varro, set outposts and sentries on the towers and walls and detained for the defence of the town two cohorts called "Colonial"4 which had come there by chance. About the same time the people of Carmona, which is by far the strongest community in the whole province, of its own accord thrust out three cohorts which had been introduced into the citadel by Varro as a garrison, and closed its gates against them.

20 And this made Varro hurry all the more to reach Gades with his legions as soon as possible, that he might not be cut off from his route or from the crossing, so great and enthusiastic did he find the feeling of the province in favour of Caesar. When he had advanced a little further a dispatch from Gades is handed him stating that, as soon as it was known about Caesar's edict, the chief men of Gades had conspired with the tribunes of the cohorts which were there on garrison duty to expel Gallonius from the town and to secure the city and island for Caesar: that on forming this design they had told Gallonius to quit Gades voluntarily while he could do so without danger; if he did not do so they would take measures for themselves: that Gallonius under the influence of this fear had quitted Gades. When these events became known one of the two legions, which was called the Native5 Legion, removed its colours from Varro's camp while he was standing by and looking on, and, withdrawing to Hispalis, bivouacked in the forum and porticoes p155without harming anyone. The Roman citizens of the district approved this action so highly that every one of them most eagerly welcomed the men with hospitable entertainment in his own house. Varro, alarmed by these events, after sending on word that he had changed his route and was coming to Italica, was informed by his friends that the gates were shut against him. Thereupon, being shut off from every route, he sends word to Caesar that he is ready to hand over his legion to whomsoever he shall appoint. Caesar sends Sex. Caesar to him, bidding him hand it over to him. When the legion was given up Varro comes to Caesar at Corduba; after faithfully rendering him a statement of the public accounts, he hands over the money in his possession and explains what he has in the way of corn and ships, wherever it may be.

21 Caesar held a public meeting at Corduba and thanked all classes separately — the Roman citizens for their zeal in keeping the town under his control, the Spaniards for having cast out the garrisons, the Gaditanians for having crushed the attempts of his adversaries and having vindicated their own liberty, the military tribunes and centurions who had come there on garrison duty for having confirmed the resolutions of the others by their own valour. He remits the sums of money which the Roman citizens had promised to Varro for public purposes; he restores their property to those whom he understood to have been thus penalized for their freedom of speech. Having bestowed on certain communities public and private rewards, he fills the rest with good hope for the future, and after a stay of two days at Corduba sets out for Gades, where he orders the moneys and memorial offerings that had been p157brought from the shrine of Hercules to a private house to be restored to the temple, and sets Q. Cassius over the province, assigning him four legions. In a few days he arrives at Tarraco with the ships which M. Varro had built and those which the Gaditanians had built on Varro's order. There embassies from nearly the whole of the hither province were awaiting Caesar's arrival. Having in the same way conferred honours privately and publicly on certain communities, he leaves Tarraco and makes his way by land to Narbo and thence to Massilia. There he learns that a law had been passed about a dictator, and that he himself had been nominated dictator by the praetor M. Lepidus.

22 The Massilians, worn out by every form of ill, reduced to the extremest scarcity of provisions, twice beaten in a naval battle, routed in their frequent sorties, harassed moreover by a serious pestilence resulting from their long confinement and change of food — for they were all supporting themselves on an old stock of millet and stale barley which they had long ago collected for such emergencies and put in public store — their tower overthrown, a great part of their wall in ruins, with no hope of reinforcements from the provinces and the armies, which they had been informed had fallen under Caesar's control, determined to make a loyal surrender. But a few days before L. Domitius, learning of the intention of the Massilians, having got together three ships, two of which he had assigned to his friends, himself embarking on the other, departed in stormy weather. The ships which by order of Brutus were keeping watch off the port according to their daily custom, catching sight of him, weighed anchor and began the pursuit. p159The ship which belonged to Domitius himself held steadily on its course in flight and, aided by the storm, passed out of sight; two, terrified by the united onset of our ships, took shelter in the harbour. The Massilians produce from the town their arms and engines according to orders, bring out their ships from the port and docks, and hand over their money from the treasury. When all this was done, Caesar, sparing them more on account of the name and antiquity of their state than for anything they had deserved of him, leaves two legions there as a garrison, sends the rest to Italy, and himself sets out for Rome.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 See plan of Massilia.

[image ALT: A plan of the Roman port of Massilia, now Marseille, as besieged by Caesar in the Roman civil wars.]
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2 When the level of the second floor was reached a timber framework was placed on the top of the walls, but not built into them or fastened to them. This framework, serving, with its hanging fenders, to protect the workmen, was raised by leverage as occasion required, till at last it reached the top and formed the roof of the six-storied tower.

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3 Shingles (or "shindles") are thin rectangular slabs of wood. A fringe of these was placed round the edge of the roof of the shed.

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4 So called because raised in a Roman colony.

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5 Consisting of native provincials.

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Page updated: 7 Feb 13