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This webpage reproduces part of
Civil Wars

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.
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Civil Wars

Book II (chapters 23‑44)

 p159  23 At the same period G. Curio, who had set out from Sicily for Africa,1 despising at the very outset the forces of P. Attius Varus, was transporting two of the four legions which he had received from Caesar and five hundred horsemen, and after spending two days and three nights on the voyage touches at the place called Anquillaria. This place is distant twenty-two miles from Clupea, and has an anchorage not unsuitable in summer, and is enclosed by two projecting promontories. The young L. Caesar, awaiting his arrival at Clupea with ten ships of war, which, having been laid up at Utica after the pirate war, P. Attius had caused to be repaired for the purpose of this war, being alarmed at the number of the ships, had fled from the high sea and, beaching his decked trireme on the nearest shore and leaving it there, had fled by land to Hadrumetum, a town which G. Considius Longus was protecting with a garrison of one legion; and on his flight the rest of Caesar's ships betook themselves to Hadrumetum. The quaestor Marcius Rufus, following him with twelve ships which Curio had brought from Sicily to protect the  p161 merchant-vessels, on seeing the ship left on the shore, dragged it off with a tow-rope and himself returned to G. Curio with his fleet.

24 Curio sends Marcius on to Utica with his fleet; he himself sets out thither with his army, and having completed a two days' march, arrived at the River Bagrada. There he left the legate G. Caninius Rebilus with the legions, and himself goes on in front with his cavalry to explore the Cornelian Camp, because that spot seemed particularly suitable for a camp. Now this was a straight ridge projecting into the sea, abrupt and rugged on either side, but with a somewhat gentler slope on the side facing Utica. The distance from Utica in a straight line is a little more than three miles, but in this direction a stream rises, by the bed of which the sea runs up for some distance, and the place becomes a wide marsh, and anyone wishing to avoid this only reaches the town by a circuit of six miles.

25 Reconnoitring this place, Curio sees the camp of Varus joined on to the wall and town near the so‑called gate of Baal, strongly protected by the nature of the ground — on one side by the town of Utica itself, on the other by the amphitheatre in front of the town, the substructions of this work being very large, rendering approach to the camp difficult and narrow. At the same time he notices that all along the densely crowded roads there is much carrying and hurrying of property that is being conveyed from the country into the town in fear of a sudden tumult. Hither he sends the cavalry to seize and retain it as booty, and at the same time to protect this property six hundred Numidian horsemen and four hundred foot-soldiers, whom King Juba had sent to Utica by way of aid a few days before, are dispatched  p163 from the town by Varus. Juba had hereditary ties of hospitality with Pompeius, and between him and Curio there was a quarrel because, as tribune of the people, Curio had promulgated a law by which he had confiscated Juba's realm. The cavalry meet in conflict, nor could the Numidians withstand the first onset of our men, but when about a hundred and twenty of them had been killed the rest retreated towards the town to their camp. Meanwhile on the approach of the warships Curio bids proclamation be made to the merchant-vessels that were stationed at Utica to the number of about two hundred that he would treat anyone as an enemy who did not forthwith transfer his ships to the Cornelian Camp. On the issue of this proclamation they all immediately weigh anchor, leave Utica, and cross over whither they are bidden. This supplied the army with an abundance of all necessaries.

26 After these achievements Curio withdraws to the camp by the Bagrada and is saluted as "Imperator"2 by the acclamations of the whole army, and on the next day leads his army to Utica and pitches his camp near the town. Before the work of entrenching was completed horsemen on picket duty bring word that large reinforcements of cavalry and infantry sent by the king are on their way to Utica, and at the same time a great mass of dust was seen and forthwith the van appeared in sight. Curio, disturbed by the unexpected event, sends forward horsemen to meet and check the first onset, and himself, hastily withdrawing his legions from their work, draws up his line of battle. The cavalry engage, and before the legions could be fully deployed and take up their  p165 positions, they threw all the king's reinforcements into confusion and panic, since they had been marching in no order and without fear and routed them; and though the cavalry sustained scarcely any loss, owing to their retiring quickly along the coast to the town, they slew a great number of the infantry.

27 On the following night two Marsic centurions from Curio's camp, with twenty-two of their men, desert to Attius Varus. Whether they convey to him the opinion that they really held, or whether they only flatter his ears — for what we desire we gladly believe, and what we ourselves feel we hope that others feel too — at any rate they assure him that the hearts of the whole army are estranged from Curio, and that it is highly necessary that he should come within sight of the army and afford an opportunity of conference. Varus, influenced by this judgment, leads his legions out of camp early the next day. Curio does the same, and each draws up his forces with only one small valley between them.

28 In the army of Varus was Sex. Quintilius Varus, who, as explained above, had been at Corfinium. Dismissed by Caesar, he had come to Africa, and Curio had brought across the legions which Caesar had at an earlier period recovered from Corfinium, without altering the establishment of officers and men, though a few centurions were changed. Having this excuse for appealing to them, Quintilius began to go the round of Curio's force and beseech the soldiers not to lay aside their early memory of the oath that they had sworn before Domitius and before himself as quaestor, nor bear arms against those who had experienced the same fortune and suffered the same hardships in the siege,  p167 nor fight for those by whom they were insultingly styled deserters. To this he adds a few words to arouse hope of bounty — such rewards as they were bound to expect from his liberality if they should follow himself and Attius. On the delivery of this speech no sign is made either way by Curio's army, and so each commander leads back his forces.

29 But in Curio's camp great alarm took possession of the minds of all, and this alarm is quickly increased by various popular rumours. For each person invented imaginary views and added something of his own fear to whatever he had heard from another. When the story had spread from the first who vouched for it to a number of others, each handing it on to his fellow, there appeared at last to be several who could vouch for its truth. It was a civil war, they said; the men were of a class which was permitted to do freely what it liked and to follow its bent; the legions were those which a little while before had been in the hands of their foes, for the custom of constantly offering gifts had depreciated even the bounty of Caesar; the municipal communities, too, were attached to different sides, for men came equally from the Marsi and the Peligni, as, for instance, those who had deserted the night before. In the tents some of the soldiers proposed strong measures. Doubtful speeches on the part of the men were harshly interpreted; some reports were even invented by those who wished to seem more zealous than their fellows.

30 For these reasons a council is summoned, and Curio opens a discussion on the general position. Opinions were delivered expressing the view that a  p169 bold attempt should by all means be made and the camp of Varus attacked, because in the present temper of the soldiery they thought inaction particularly inopportune; lastly, they said that it was better to tempt the fortune of war by valour in battle than, deserted and cheated by their comrades, to undergo the severest penalties. Some there were who proposed a retirement at the third watch to the Cornelian Camp, so that by the interposition of a longer interval of time the minds of the troops might be restored to sanity, and that, at the same time, if anything serious should occur, a withdrawal to Sicily might be more safely and easily secured owing to the great number of ships.

31 Curio, disapproving of each plan, remarked that in proportion as the one lacked spirit the other had too much of it; the one party had in view an utterly disgraceful flight, the other were thinking that they should fight even in an unfavourable position. "Pray on what grounds of assurance are we confident," said he, "that a camp so strongly fortified both by works and by the nature of the position can be taken by storm? Or indeed what do we gain if after sustaining serious losses we abandon the siege of the camp? As if it were not success in action that brought a commander the goodwill, and reverses that brought him the hatred, of his army! What does a change of camp imply but a discreditable flight and general despair and the estrangement of the army? For the honourable ought not to suspect that they are insufficiently trusted, nor the dishonest know that they are feared, because fear on our part increases the licence of the latter and diminishes the zeal of the former. Now if," he continues, "we have full assurance of the statements that are made  p171 about the estrangement of the army, which for my part I am confident are either altogether false or at any rate are less true than is supposed, how much better would it be for these rumours to be ignored and kept hidden than to be confirmed through our action? Is it not true that reverses of an army, like wounds of the body, should be concealed, that we may not increase the hopes of our adversaries? Why, they even add that we should set out at midnight, to give greater licence, I suppose, to those who are striving to do wrong! For misdeeds of this kind are kept in check either by shame or by fear, and to such checks night is in the highest degree unfavourable. Wherefore I am neither a man of such courage as to think that the camp should be attacked without hope of success, nor of such timidity as to be without hope, and so I think that every expedient should be tried before this, and I am confident that in the main you and I together will form a decision on the point at issue."

32 On the dismissal of the council he calls a meeting of the soldiers. He reminds them how zealous Caesar had found them at Corfinium, how it was, thanks to them and their powerful aid, he made a great part of Italy his own. "All the municipal towns in turn," he said, "followed you and your action, and it was not without reason that Caesar formed the friendliest opinion of you, and the enemy the harshest. For Pompeius, though not beaten in any battle, was thrust away by the predetermining effect of your action and quitted Italy; while Caesar entrusted to your loyalty me, whom he held most dear, and the province of Sicily and Africa, without which he cannot protect the capital and Italy. Yet there are people who urge you to fall apart from us. Why,  p173 what do our opponents pray for more than at one and the same time to take us in their toils and to entrammel you by a nefarious crime? Or what harsher idea of you can they form in their anger than that you should betray those who judge that they owe everything to you, and pass under the control of those who think that they were ruined by you? Have you really not heard of Caesar's exploits in Spain — two armies routed, two generals overcome, two provinces recovered — these successes gained within forty days after Caesar came within sight of the enemy? Should those who could not resist when they were unharmed resist now that they are ruined? Again, should you, who followed Caesar when victory was uncertain, now, when the fortune of war is once for all decided, follow the conquered when you ought to be reaping the rewards of your dutiful allegiance? They say in reply that they were deserted and betrayed by you, and they make mention of your former oath. I ask, did you desert L. Domitius, or did Domitius desert you? Did he not cast you off when you were ready to endure the extremity of fortune? Did he not without your knowledge seek safety for himself in flight? When betrayed by him, was it not by Caesar's kindness that you have been preserved? As for the oath, how could he hold you bound by it when, flinging aside his fasces and laying down his military command, he had himself passed, a private person and a captive into the control of another? A novel obligation is left you, to disregard the oath by which you are bound and look back to that which has been cancelled by the surrender of the general and his civil degradation. But, I suppose, even if you approve of Caesar, you stumble at me. I am not going to talk of my services  p175 towards you; at present they are slighter than I could wish or you expect; but still, soldiers have always sought the rewards of their labour by the issue of the war, and what that will be, you, too, have no doubt. As for your diligence — or, so far as things have gone at present, our fortune — why should I pass them over? Are you dissatisfied with my having transported the army safe and sound without the loss of a single ship? With my having scattered the fleet of the enemy on my arrival at the first onset? At my having twice in two days won in a cavalry engagement? At my having taken off two hundred loaded vessels from the recesses of the enemy's harbour, and having driven the foe to such straits that they cannot be replenished with provisions either by a land route or by sea? Repudiating such fortune, such leaders, you follow the disgrace of Corfinium, the flight of Italy, the surrender of the Spains, events which forecast the issue of the African war! I, for my part, wished to be called a soldier of Caesar: you have addressed me by the title of Imperator. If you regret this, I give you back your bounty; restore me my proper name, lest you should seem to have given me an honour only as an insult."

33 Moved by this speech, the men interrupted him even while speaking, making it evident that they endured with great indignation the suspicion of disloyalty; but on his leaving the assembly they exhort him in a body to be of good courage and on no occasion to hesitate to join battle and test their loyalty and valour. When by this action the feelings and thoughts of the men had been completely changed, Curio determines with their unanimous consent to commit the issue to battle as soon as opportunity is offered, and on the next day he leads them out and arranges them in order of battle in the same  p177 place in which he had taken up his position on the previous days. Nor does Varus hesitate to lead out his forces that he may not let slip an opportunity if chance is given him, either of tampering with Curio's men or of fighting in a favourable position.

34 Between the two lines there was, as explained above, a valley, not very large, but with a difficult and steep ascent. Each commander was waiting to see whether the enemy's forces would attempt to cross this, in order that he might join battle on more level ground. At the same time on the left wing the whole cavalry force of P. Attius and a number of light-armed troops placed among them were seen while descending into the valley. Against them Curio sends his cavalry and two cohorts of the Marrucini. Their first charge the enemy's horse failed to withstand, but fled back at a gallop to their comrades. The light-armed men who had advanced with them, being abandoned by them were surrounded and slain by our men. The whole of Varus' array turned and saw their men being cut down in flight. Then Rebilus, Caesar's legate, whom Curio had brought with him from Sicily, knowing him to be possessed of great experience in warfare, said: "You see the enemy panic-stricken. Curio: why do you hesitate to use the opportunity of the moment?" Curio, merely exclaiming that the troops should bear in mind the assurances that they had given him the day before, bids them follow him and hurries ahead of them all. Now the valley was so difficult that the front men could not easily win their way up unless assisted by their comrades. But the minds of the Attian soldiers, preoccupied by their fear and the flight and slaughter of their comrades, never gave a thought to resistance, and they all imagined  p179 that they were being already surrounded by cavalry. And so before a weapon could be cast or our men could approach nearer, the whole of Varus' line turned to flight and withdrew to the camp.

35 In this flight one Fabius, a Pelignian, of the lowest rank of centurions in Curio's army, being the first man to overtake the fugitive column, kept looking for Varus, calling him with a loud voice by name, so as to seem to be one of his men and to be wishing to make some suggestion and statement. When Varus on being frequently addressed stopped and looked at him and asked who he was or what he wanted, he struck at his exposed shoulder with a sword and came within a little of killing Varus, who avoided the peril by raising his shield to meet the attempted stroke. Fabius is surrounded and killed by the nearest soldiers. The gates of the camp are beset by this throng and turmoil of fugitives and the road blocked, and more perish in this spot without wounds than in the battle or the flight; they were indeed very near being driven even out of the camp, and some, without checking their course, hurried straight into the town. But not only did the nature of the ground and the defences of the camp prohibit access, but also the fact that Curio's men, having marched out for a battle, lacked the appliances that were required for the siege of a camp. And so Curio brings back his army into camp with all his men safe except Fabius, while of the number of the foe about six hundred were slain and a thousand wounded. And on Curio's departure all these, and many others feigning wounds, retreat from the camp into the town by reason of their fear. And observing this and aware of the terror of his army, Varus, leaving a trumpeter in his camp and a few tents for the sake of appearance, silently  p181 leads his army into the town about the third watch.

36 On the next day Curio sets himself to blockade Utica and invest it with an earthwork. In the town there was a multitude of people unaccustomed to war owing to the long continuance of peace; there were the inhabitants of Utica who were most friendly to Caesar on account of certain benefits that he had conferred on them; there was the Roman burgess‑body, consisting of various classes, and there was also great alarm in consequence of the previous battles. And so all now began to speak openly about surrender and to plead with P. Attius that he should not allow the fortunes of all to be upset by his own obstinacy. While this was going on some messengers sent on by King Juba arrived to say that he was close at hand with large forces and to exhort them to guard and defend the city. This strengthened their panic-stricken spirits.

37 The same news was conveyed to Curio, but for some time he could not be induced to believe it, such confidence had he in his own fortunes. By now, too, news of Caesar's successes in Spain was being brought by messengers and dispatches to Africa. Elated by all this, he imagined that the king would attempt nothing against him. But when he found out on sure authority that his forces were twenty-four miles from Utica, he left his defences and withdrew to the Cornelian Camp. Here he began to bring together corn,º to entrench a camp, to collect timber, and at once sent word to Sicily that two legions and the rest of the cavalry should be sent to him. The camp was most suitable for carrying on a prolonged war both from the nature of the site and from its defensive works, and also on account of the nearness  p183 of the sea, and the abundance of water and of salt, a great quantity of which had already been stored there from neighbouring salt-works. Timber could not fail from the multitude of the trees nor corn, of which the fields were unusually full. And so, with the approval of all his men, Curio prepared to wait for the rest of his forces and to wage a protracted war.

38 When these arrangements had been made and his measures approved, he learns from some deserting townsmen that Juba, recalled by a neighbouring war and by quarrels with the people of Leptis, had stayed behind in his kingdom, and that his prefect Saburra, who had been sent on with a moderate force, was approaching Utica. Rashly believing their word, he changes his purpose and determines to commit the issue to battle. In his approval of this measure he is greatly aided by his youth, his high spirits, the results of the earlier period, his confidence of success. Urged on by such considerations, he sends all his cavalry at nightfall to the enemy's camp at the River Bagrada. Saburra, of whom he had previously heard, was in command of this camp, but the king was following on with all his forces and had taken up a position at a distance of six miles from Saburra. The cavalry whom Curio sent complete their journey by night and attack the enemy taken off their guard and unawares. For the Numidians, according to some barbarous custom of their own, had taken up their position here and there and in no set order. Attacking them when overcome by sleep and dispersed, they kill a great number of them; many fly panic-stricken. Having achieved this, the cavalry return to Curio and bring him back their captives.

 p185  39 Curio had gone out at the fourth watch with all his forces, leaving five cohorts to guard the camp. When he had marched six miles he met the cavalry and learnt of their success. He inquires of the captives who is in command of the camp at the Bagrada. They reply, "Saburra." In his zeal to complete his march he omits other questions, and looking to the nearest colours, he says: "Do you see, my men, that the story of the captives agrees with that of the deserters — that the king is absent, that scanty forces have been dispatched, insufficient to cope with a few horsemen? Hasten on then to plunder and to glory, that we may at last begin to take thought of your rewards and of the gratitude that is your due." The exploits of the horsemen were in fact considerable, especially when their small number is compared with the great multitude of the Numidians. But they were related in a somewhat inflated style by the men themselves, with the usual delight that men take in proclaiming their own merits. Moreover, many spoils were displayed, captured men and horses were produced, so that all delay that might occur seemed to be a postponement of the victory. So far was the zeal of the troops from falling short of Curio's expectations. He bids the horsemen follow him and hastens his march that he might attack the foe just when most disordered by flight. But his men, worn out by the whole night's march, could not maintain the pursuit, and kept stopping, one here and another there. Even this did not check Curio in his aspirations.

40 Juba, having been informed by Saburra of the night battle, sends to his relief two thousand Spanish and Gallic cavalry which he had been wont to keep round his person as a bodyguard, and that part of  p187 the infantry on which he most relied, and himself follows more slowly with the rest of his forces and sixty elephants. Saburra, suspecting that after sending forward the cavalry Curio would himself approach, draws up his forces, horse and foot, and orders them to feign fear and to give ground gradually and retire, saying that he himself would give the signal of battle when necessary and issue such orders as he might judge the situation to require. Curio, having the general opinion of the moment to confirm his former hopes, and thinking that the enemy was in flight, leads down his forces from the higher ground towards the plain.

41 When he had gone a considerable distance from this place, his army being now worn out by toil, he halted after covering twelve miles. Saburra gives his men the signal, draws up his line of battle, and starts going up and down the ranks and exhorting the men. But he uses his infantry merely to make a show a little way off and hurls his horse on the line. Curio is equal to the emergency and encourages his men, bidding them place all their hopes on valour. Nor did zeal for the fight or valour fail either the infantry, weary as they were, or the cavalry, though they were few and exhausted by toil. But these were only two hundred in number; the rest had stopped on the route. They compelled the enemy to give way at whatever point they charged, but they could neither follow them when they fled to a distance nor urge their horses to more strenuous effort. But the enemy's cavalry begins to surround our force on either wing and to trample them down from the rear. Whenever cohorts left the main body and charged, the Numidians by their swiftness fled unscathed from the assault of our  p189 men and betaking themselves to their own ranks again, began to surround them and to cut them off from the main body. Thus it seemed unsafe either to keep their ground and maintain their ranks or to charge and risk the chance of conflict. As the king sent up reinforcements the forces of the enemy were constantly increasing, while fatigue kept diminishing the strength of our men, and those who had received wounds could neither quit the line nor be carried to a safe place because the whole force was surrounded and closed in by the enemy's horse. These men, despairing of their safety, after the manner of men in the extreme crisis of life, were either bewailing their own death or commending their parents to such as fortune might be able to rescue from the peril. The whole place was full of terror and lamentation.

42 When all were panic-stricken and Curio understood that neither his exhortations nor his entreaties were listened to, considering that in such pitiable plight only one hope of safety remained, he ordered them in a body to occupy the nearest hills and the colours to be transferred thither. These, too, were outstripped by the cavalry sent by Saburra. Then indeed our men touch the extremity of despair, and some are slain as they fly from the cavalry, others fall to the ground unwounded. Gn. Domitius, prefect of the horse, surrounding Curio with a few horsemen, begs him to seek safety in flight and hurry to the camp, promising not to leave him. But Curio declares that he will never present himself again before the eyes of Caesar after losing the army that he has received from him on trust, and so dies fighting. Very few horsemen come safe out of the battle, but those who, as was explained, halted in the extreme rear for the purpose of refreshing their horses,  p191 observing from a distance the flight of the whole army, retreat to the camp unhurt. The foot-soldiers are slain to a man.

43 On learning of these events Marcius Rufus, the quaestor, who had been left in the camp by Curio, exhorts his men not to lose heart. They beg and beseech him to transport them back by sea to Sicily. Promising to do so, he bids the captains of the ships have all their boats drawn up on shore by the early evening. But so great was the general terror that some declared that the forces of Juba were close at hand, others that Varus was upon them with his legions and that already they saw the dust of their approach, though in reality nothing of the kind had happened; others suspected that the enemy's fleet would quickly hurry up to the attack. And so, amid the universal panic, each took counsel for himself. Those who were in the fleet hastened to depart. Their flight instigated the captains of the merchant-ships; only a few boats gathered at the call of duty and the word of command. But on the closely packed shores so great was the struggle to be the first out of the multitude to embark that some of the boats were sunk by the weight of the crowd, and the rest in fear of this hesitated to approach nearer.

44 Thus it fell out that only a few soldiers and fathers of families, who prevailed either by influence or by exciting compassion, or who could swim to the ships, were received on board and reached Sicily in safety. The rest of the forces sent centurions by night to Varus in the capacity of ambassadors and surrendered themselves to him. And Juba, seeing the men of these cohorts next day in front of the town, declaring that they were his booty, ordered a great part of them to be slain and sent back  p193 a few picked men to his kingdom, Varus the while complaining that his own honour was being injured by Juba, but not venturing to resist. Juba, himself riding into the town with an escort of several senators, among them Ser. Sulpicius and Licinius Damasippus, briefly arranged and ordered what he wanted to be done at Utica, and a few days afterwards withdrew with all his forces to his own kingdom.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 See map of Curio's campaign in Africa.

Thayer's Note: The map is from the end of the volume, to which I've added the Google map of the area today (slightly different scale).

[image ALT: A relief map of northern Tunisia, showing Tunis, Utica, Carthage, Hadrumetum, and several places mentioned in the text as involved in the Roman civil wars of Caesar.]
[decorative delimiter]

2 It was customary for troops after a victory to salute their commander as Imperator.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 28 Oct 13