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This webpage reproduces part of
Civil Wars

Julius Caesar

Loeb Classical Library

The text is in the public domain.

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Civil Wars

Book III (chapters 31‑55)

 p239  31 About this time Scipio, having incurred some losses near Mount Amanus, had styled himself Imperator. After doing this he had requisitioned large sums of money from the communities and the despots, and had also exacted from the tax-farmers of his province the amount owing for two years, and had  p241 borrowed in advance from the same persons the amount due for the following year, and had levied horsemen from the whole province. When these were collected, leaving in his rear the neighbouring Parthian enemy who a little before had slain the commander, M. Crassus, and had kept M. Bibulus closely invested, he had withdrawn his legions and cavalry from Syria. And as the province had fallen into a state of great anxiety and fear about a Parthian war, and remarks were heard from the soldiers that if they were being led against an enemy they would go, but that against a citizen and a consul they would not bear arms, he conducted his legions to Pergamum and the richest cities for winter quarters and bestowed on them very large bounties, and with the object of encouraging the men, allowed them to plunder the towns.

32 Meanwhile sums of money, requisitioned with the utmost harshness, were being exacted throughout the province. Many kinds of extortion, moreover, were specially devised to glut their avarice. A tribute was imposed on every head of slaves and children; pillar-taxes,1 door-taxes, corn,º soldiers, arms, rowers, freightage, were requisitioned; any mode of exaction, provided a name could be found for it, was deemed a sufficient excuse for compelling contributions. Men armed with military power were set not merely over cities but almost over every hamlet and stronghold. Among these he who had acted with the greatest harshness and cruelty was accounted the best of men and the best of citizens. The province was full of lictors and military authorities, crammed with prefects and extortioners, who apart from the moneys requisitioned had an eye also to their own private gain; for they gave out that,  p243 having been driven from home and country, they were in need of all necessaries so that by a respectable plea they might cover up the foulest action. Added to this there was the heaviest usury, as usually happens in war, money being exacted from the whole population; and in these proceedings a postponement of the day of payment was termed a free gift. Consequently, in these two years the debt of the province was multiplied. Yet none the less on that account were fixed sums of money exacted from the Roman citizens of the province, not individually, but by separate corporations and communities, and they tried to make out that these sums were being taken as loans in accordance with a decree of the senate; from the tax-farmers they demanded the tax of the following year as an advance loan, as they had done in Syria.

33 Moreover, at Ephesus Scipio gave orders that sums of money deposited there in former times should be removed from the temple of Diana. And a certain date having been appointed for this transaction, when they had come to the shrine and with them a number of men of the senatorial order whom Scipio had invited, a dispatch is handed him from Pompeius stating that Caesar had crossed the sea with his legions, that Scipio was to make haste to come to him with his army and to put everything else aside. On receipt of this dispatch he dismisses those whom he had invited, and himself begins to prepare for his journey into Macedonia, and a few days later he set out. This circumstance secured the safety of the money at Ephesus.

34 Caesar, after his junction with the army of Antonius, removing from Oricum the legion which he had stationed there to protect the sea-coast, thought that  p245 he ought to try to win over the provinces and to make a further advance. On the arrival of envoys from Thessaly and Aetolia to promise that if he sent a garrison the townships of these nations would do his bidding, he sent into Thessaly L. Cassius Longinus with the legion of recruits, called the Twenty-seventh, and two hundred horse; into Aetolia, G. Calvisius Sabinus with five cohorts and a few horsemen; and he gave them special instructions, as the districts were close at hand, to provide for the corn supply. He ordered Gn. Domitius Calvinus to go into Macedonia with two legions, the Eleventh and Twelfth, and five hundred horsemen; and in that part of this province which was called Free, Menedemus, the leading man of those districts, being sent as an envoy announced a remarkable enthusiasm on the part of all his countrymen.

35 Of these officers Calvisius was received on his arrival with the utmost goodwill of all the Aetolians, and having expelled the garrisons of the foe from Calydon and Naupactus gained possession of the whole of Aetolia. Cassius arrived with his legion in Thessaly; here, since there were two factions, he met with a divergence of feeling among the towns: Hegesaretos, a man of long-established influence, favoured the cause of Pompeius; Petraeus, a youth of the highest rank, energetically supported Caesar with his own and his people's resources.

36 And at the same time Domitius comes into Macedonia; and when crowded embassies from the townships had begun to gather together to meet him, the news was brought that Scipio was close at hand with his legions, arousing much expectation and rumour among the people generally; for in a novel conjuncture rumour usually outstrips truth. Scipio, lingering  p247 nowhere in Macedonia, made his way to Domitius with great speed, and when twenty miles off suddenly turned aside to Thessaly to Cassius Longinus. This he did so hastily that news of his presence and of his coming was brought simultaneously, and in order that he might march with the greater expedition he left M. Favonius at the River Aliacmon, which divides Macedonia from Thessaly, with eight cohorts to protect the baggage of the legions, and ordered a stronghold to be fortified there. At the same time the cavalry of King Cotys, which had been in the habit of frequenting the borders of Thessaly, sped to the camp of Cassius. Then Cassius, smitten with fear when he learnt of the approach of Scipio and saw the horsemen whom he supposed to be Scipio's, turned towards the mountains which enclose Thessaly, and from these parts began to direct his course towards Ambracia. But Scipio, hurrying in pursuit, was followed by letters from M. Favonius saying that Domitius was close by with his legions, and that he could not hold the post in which he had been stationed without the aid of Scipio. Receiving this dispatch, Scipio changes his purpose and his route: he ceases to follow Cassius and hastens to bear aid to Favonius. And so, continuing his march by day and night, he reached him at so opportune a moment that at the very same time the dust of the Domitian army was seen and the first advance guard of Scipio appeared in view. Thus the energy of Domitius brought safety to Cassius, and the speed of Scipio to Favonius.

37 Scipio, after halting for two days in his permanent camp by the River Aliacmon, which flowed between him and the camp of Domitius, on the third day at early dawn takes his army across by the ford, and  p249 after pitching a camp, on the morning of the next day draws up his forces before the front of the camp. Then Domitius also thought it his duty not to hesitate to advance his legions and fight a pitched battle. But, though there was a plain about two miles broad between the two camps, Domitius pushed forward his line close under Scipio's camp, but Scipio persisted in not moving away from his rampart. And yet, though the troops of Domitius were with difficulty held in, a pitched battle was avoided, and mainly because a stream with difficult banks situated just under Scipio's camp hindered the advance of our men. When Scipio perceived their zeal and keenness for fighting, suspecting that on the next day he would either be compelled to fight against his will or would confine himself to his camp with great discredit after the great expectation that his coming had aroused, his rash advance came to an ignominious end. Without even the proclamation for breaking up camp, he crossed the river by night and returned to the same part from which he had come and there pitched his camp on a natural elevation near the river. After the interval of a few days, he posted a cavalry ambuscade by night in the place in which our men on previous days had been in the habit of collecting fodder; and when Q. Varus, prefect of cavalry under Domitius, had come according to his daily practice, they suddenly rose up from their ambuscade. But our men stoutly withstood their attack, and, each quickly returning to his own rank, the whole body then took the aggressive and charged the enemy. After killing about eighty of them and putting the rest to flight, they returned to the camp with the loss of two men.

 p251  38 After these events Domitius, hoping that Scipio could be enticed out to fight, pretended to be shifting his camp under the stress of want of provisions, and when the order to strike camp had been proclaimed according to military custom, he advanced three miles and stationed his whole army and cavalry in a suitable and secret spot. Scipio, fully prepared for pursuit, sent forward a great part of his horse to explore the route of Domitius and discover his position. And when they had advanced and the first squadrons had entered the ambuscade, the neighing of the horses having caused suspicion, they began to retire to their own men; and those who were following them, seeing their hasty retirement, halted. Our men, when their ambush was discovered, that they might not have to wait in vain for the rest, caught and cut off two squadrons. Among these was M. Opimius, prefect of horse; all the rest of the men they either slew or led captive to Domitius.

39 Having removed the garrisons from the sea-shore, as explained above, Caesar left three cohorts at Oricum to protect the town, entrusting to them the custody of the warships which he had brought over from Italy. The legate Acilius Caninus was placed in charge of this duty and of the town. He withdrew our ships into the inner port behind the town, moored them to the shore, and sank a merchant-ship to block the mouth of the port and attached to it another ship, on which he constructed a tower, setting it just opposite the entrance of the harbour. This he filled with soldiers, and gave it them to hold against all unforeseen risks.

40 On learning of these proceedings the young Gn. Pompeius, who was in command of the Egyptian fleet, came to Oricum and by great efforts drew off  p253 the submerged ship with a windlass and a number of ropes; and attacking the second ship, which had been stationed by Acilius to guard it, with a number of vessels on which he had constructed towers of equal height, fighting as he was from a higher position and always sending up fresh combatants in place of the exhausted, and in other directions assailing the walls of the town at once by ladders from the land and with his fleet, so as to keep apart the forces of the foe, he thus overcame our men by sheer hard work and overwhelming showers of missiles. And having driven off the fighting men, who were all picked up by boats and escaped, he took the ship by assault, and at the same time gained possession in the other direction of the projecting natural breakwater which had almost made an island of the town, and drew across into the inner harbour four biremes, placing rollers under them and propelling them by crowbars. And so attacking from either side the warships which were empty and fastened to the shore, he drew off four of them and burned the rest. Having finished this business, he left behind D. Laelius, whom he had taken from the Asiatic fleet. This officer proceeded to prevent stores from Byllis and Amantia from being imported into the town. He himself went to Lissus and attacked thirty merchant-vessels which had been left by M. Antonius within the port and burned them all. He attempted to storm Lissus, which was defended by the Roman citizens belonging to that corporation and by the soldiers whom Caesar had sent there as a garrison, and after staying for three days and having lost a few men in the siege, he left the district without effecting anything.

41 Caesar as soon as he knew that Pompeius was at  p255 Asparagium set out to the same place with his army, and after storming on the way the town of the Parthini in which Pompeius had a garrison, reached Pompeius on the third day, and pitched his camp close to him, and on the following day, leading out all his forces, drew them up in battle array and gave Pompeius the chance of fighting a pitched battle. On observing that he kept in his position, he withdrew his army to the camp, considering it necessary to form a different plan. So on the next day he set out in full force for Dyrrachium, taking a wide circuit by a difficult and narrow route, in the hope that Pompeius could be either driven to Dyrrachium or cut off from it, because he had collected there all his provisions and his whole war equipment. And so it happened. For Pompeius, at first failing to understand his plan, because he saw him setting out by a route that led away from that district, thought that he had gone away because he had been compelled to do so by scarcity of food supply. Afterwards receiving information through his scouts, he shifted his camp the next day, hoping to be able to confront him by a shorter route. Caesar, suspecting that this would happen and having exhorted his men to bear their toil with an equal mind, staying his march only for a short period during the night, arrived in the morning at Dyrrachium, when for the first time the line of Pompeius was seen afar off, and there pitched his camp.2

42 Pompeius, being cut off from Dyrrachium, on failing to gain his purpose adopts the next best plan and entrenches a camp on a lofty spot called Petra, which allows a moderately good approach for ships and protects them from certain winds. He gives orders for some of his warships to meet there, and for corn  p257 and stores to be brought in from Asia and from all the districts that he held. Caesar thinking that the war was going to be unduly prolonged, and despairing of his supplies from Italy, because all the shores were being held with such vigilance by the Pompeians, and his own fleets which he had constructed in the winter in Sicily, Gaul, and Italy were slow in coming, sent Q. Tillius and the legate L. Canuleius into Epirus in order to get provisions, and because these districts were some distance off he established granaries in certain places and apportioned to the neighbouring communities their respective shares in the carriage of corn. He also gave orders that all the corn that there was should be sought and collected at Lissus, among the Parthini, and in all the fortified posts. This was of very small amount, partly from the nature of the land, because the district is rugged and hilly and the people generally use imported corn, and also because Pompeius had foreseen this and had at an earlier date treated the Parthini as spoils of war, and, hunting for all their corn by ransacking and digging up their houses, had carried it off by means of his horsemen to Petra.

43 On learning of these things, Caesar forms a plan to suit the nature of the ground. Round Pompeius' camp there were very many lofty and rugged hills. These he first occupied with garrisons and erected strong forts on them. Then, according to the indications afforded by the nature of each locality, by drawing a line of works from fort to fort he proceeded to invest Pompeius, with these objects in view: first, that as he had a scanty supply of provisions and Pompeius had a large preponderance of cavalry, he might be able to bring in for his army corn and stores from any direction at less risk; and also that he might  p259 prevent Pompeius from foraging and might make his cavalry useless for active operations; and, thirdly that he might diminish the moral influence on which Pompeius seemed chiefly to rely among foreign nations when the report should have spread throughout the world that he was being beleaguered by Caesar and did not dare to fight a pitched battle.

44 Pompeius was unwilling to go far from the sea and Dyrrachium because he had placed there his whole war material, pikes, armour, catapults, and was bringing up, by sea, corn for his army, nor could he put a stop to Caesar's works except by choosing to fight a pitched battle, which he had decided should not be done at that time. The only remaining course was to adopt a desperate method of warfare by occupying as many hills as possible, by holding with garrisons the widest extent of land possible, and by keeping Caesar's forces as far extended as he could; and this was done. By making twenty-four redoubts he embraced a circuit of fifteen miles, and within this he foraged; and in this district there were a number of hand-sown crops with which he could meanwhile feed his animals. And just as our men by a continuous line of fortifications took measures to prevent the Pompeians from breaking out anywhere and attacking us in the rear, so the enemy made an unbroken line of defence in the interior of the space so that our men should not be able to enter any part of it and surround them from the rear. They, however, outstripped us in the work, being superior in numbers and having a shorter  p261 interior circuit to complete. Whenever Caesar had to occupy any spot, although Pompeius had decided not to try to prevent it with his whole armed force and fight a pitched battle, yet he kept sending up, in suitable positions, archers and slingers, of whom he had a great number, and many of our men were wounded. A great dread of the arrows fell on them, and to avoid the missiles nearly all the soldiers had made themselves jerkins or other protections out of felt, quilt, or hide.

45 In occupying positions each strove with the utmost energy: Caesar to confine Pompeius within the narrowest limits, Pompeius to occupy as many hills as he could in the widest possible circuit; and for this reason frequent skirmishes took place. In one of these, when Caesar's Ninth Legion had occupied a certain post and had begun to fortify it, Pompeius occupied a hill near and opposite to it and began to hinder our men in their work; and since on one side Caesar's position admitted of an almost level approach, he first of all threw round a force of archers and slingers, and then, sending up a great multitude of light-armed men and putting forward his engines, he began to hinder the works; nor was it easy for our men at one and the same time to stand on the defensive and to fortify. Caesar, on seeing that in every direction his men were being wounded, ordered them to retire and to quit the position. The way of retreat lay down a slope. The enemy, however, pressed on all the more keenly, and did not allow our men to retire, because they appeared to be abandoning the position under the influence of fear. It was at this time that Pompeius is said to have made the boastful remark to his friends that he did not object to be considered a worthless commander if Caesar's legions should  p263 succeed in retiring, without the most serious loss, from the place to which they had rashly advanced.

46 Caesar, fearing for the retreat of his men, ordered hurdles to be carried to the furthest point of the hill3 and to be set up fronting the foe to bar their way, and within these a ditch of moderate width to be drawn athwart their path, the men being under cover, and the place to be made as difficult as possible in every direction. He himself drew up his slingers in suitable places to serve as a protection to our men in their retreat. When these arrangements were finished he ordered the legion to be withdrawn. The Pompeians then began with all the more insolence and audacity to press and close in on our men, and in order to cross the ditches overthrew the hurdles that had been set up as a defence against them. And Caesar, on observing this, fearing lest his men should appear to have been flung back rather than withdrawn and a more serious loss should be incurred, exhorted his men about midway down the slope, by the mouth of Antonius, who was in command of that legion, and ordered the signal to be given with the clarion and the enemy to be charged. The men of the Ninth with prompt and unanimous resolution hurled their pikes and, breaking into a run from the lower ground and charging up the hill, drove the Pompeians headlong and compelled them to turn their backs in flight; the overturned hurdles and the uprights planted in their way and the ditches that had been drawn across proved a great hindrance to them in their retreat. But our men, who considered it sufficient to depart without disaster, when several of the enemy had been killed and five in all of their own comrades lost, retired with  p265 the utmost quietness and, halting a little on this side of that spot, included in their lines some other hills and completed their defensive works.

47 The method of warfare was new and unprecedented both on account of the large number of redoubts, the wide space covered, the great defensive works, and the whole system of blockade, as well as in other respects. For whenever one army has attempted to blockade another, it is when they have attacked a discomfited and weakened foe, overcome in battle or demoralized by some reverse, and have thus hemmed them in, being themselves superior in number of horse and foot; while the motive of the blockade has usually been to prevent the foe from getting supplies. But on this occasion Caesar with an inferior number of men was hemming in fresh and uninjured forces, the enemy having an abundant supply of all necessaries. For every day a large number of ships was gathering from every quarter to bring up stores, nor could any wind blow without their having a favourable course from some direction. But Caesar himself was in extreme straits, all the corn far and wide having been used up. Nevertheless the men bore these hardships with exemplary patience. For they bore in mind that they had endured these same hardships the year before in Spain and by their toil and patience had concluded a very serious war. They remembered that at Alesia they had endured great privation, still greater at Avaricum, and had come off victors over very important nations. When barley was offered them they did not refuse it, or vegetables; whereas meat, of which there was a very large supply from Epirus, they held in high favour.

48 Some of the men who had been unemployed found  p267 also a kind of root called "chara," which, when mixed with milk, greatly assuaged their need. They made this up into something resembling bread, and there was a large supply of it. When the Pompeians in conversation taunted our men with hunger they used to throw at them loaves made of this, to reduce their expectations.

49 Now the corn was already beginning to ripen and the mere hope served to lighten the pinch, because they were confident that they would soon have abundance; and remarks were frequently heard from the men in their talks while on sentry duty that they would feed on bark from the trees before they would let Pompeius slip from their hands. Moreover, they were glad to learn from deserters that though the cavalry horses of the enemy were being kept alive, the rest of their animals had perished, and that the men themselves were experiencing bad health, both by reason of the cramped space and the foul stench from the multitude of corpses and their daily toils, as they were unaccustomed to work, and were also troubled by an extreme scarcity of water. For all the streams and all the rivulets which ran to the sea Caesar had either diverted or blocked by great works; and as the district was hilly and rugged he had dammed the narrow defiles by sinking piles into the ground and heaping up the earth, so as to keep in the water. So the foe were necessarily compelled to keep to the low and marshy ground and to dig wells, and this labour was an addition to their daily work. These springs, however, were at a considerable distance from some of the forts and quickly dried up in the hot weather. On the other hand, Caesar's army enjoyed excellent health and an abundant supply of water, and abounded with every kind of  p269 provision except grain, and for this they saw a better season daily approaching and a greater hope set before them through the ripening of the corn.

50 In a novel kind of warfare novel methods of waging it were invented by each side. When the enemy had observed from the fires that our cohorts were lying out at night by the earthworks, silently advancing in a body they used to discharge arrows within the crowded mass and then hastily retire to their comrades. Our men, taught by experience, discovered the following remedies for these emergencies, to light fires in one place . . .

51 Meanwhile P. Sulla, whom Caesar at his departure had put in charge of his camp, being informed of this came to the support of the cohort with two legions; and by his arrival the Pompeians were easily repulsed. In fact, they could not endure the sight or the onset of our men, and when the first of them had been overthrown the rest turned to flight and abandoned the position. But when our men followed, Sulla recalled them lest they should go too far in pursuit. Many people, however, think that if he had chosen to pursue more vigorously the war might have been finished that day. But his policy does not seem deserving of censure. For the duties of a legate and of a commander are different: the one ought to do everything under direction, the other should take measures freely in the general interest. Sulla, having been left by Caesar in charge of the camp, was contented with the liberation of his men, and did not choose to fight a pitched battle, a course which in any case admitted possibly of some reverse,  p271 in order that he might not be thought to have taken on himself the duties of a commander. As to the Pompeians, their situation caused them great difficulty in retreating; for, having advanced from unfavourable ground, they had halted on the top: if they were to withdraw by the slope they feared the pursuit of our men from the higher ground, nor was there much time left before sunset, since in the hope of finishing the business they had prolonged the action almost till nightfall. So Pompeius, of necessity and adapting his plans to the emergency, occupied a certain hill which was so far removed from our fort that a missile discharged from a catapult could not reach it. In this place he sat down and entrenched it, and kept all his forces confined there.

52 At the same time there was fighting in two other places besides, for Pompeius had made attempts on several redoubts with the object of keeping our force equally scattered, so that succour might not be brought from the nearest garrisons. In one place Volcatius Tullus sustained with three cohorts the attack of a legion and drove it from its position; in the other the Germans went out of our lines, and after killing a number of men retired in safety to their comrades.

53 Thus six battles having taken place in one day, three at Dyrrachium and three at the outworks, when account was taken of them all we found that about two thousand in number of the Pompeians had fallen, and very many reservists and centurions — among them was Valerius Flaccus, son of the Lucius who had governed Asia as praetor — and that six military standards had been brought in. Of our men not more than twenty were lost in all the battles.  p273 But in the redoubt there was not a single one of the men who was not wounded and four centurions out of one cohort lost their eyes. Wishing to produce a proof of their labour and peril, they counted out to Caesar about thirty thousand arrows which had been discharged at the redoubt, and when the shield of the centurion Scaeva was brought to him one hundred and twenty holes were found in it. For his services to himself and to the republic Caesar, having presented him with two hundred thousand sesterces and eulogized him, announced that he transferred him from the eighth cohort to the post of first centurion of the first cohort, for it was certain that the redoubt had been to a great extent preserved by his aid, and he afterwards presented the cohort in amplest measure with double pay, grain, clothing, bounties, and military gifts.

54 Pompeius, having added strong defences by night, erected towers on the following days, and having carried his works to a height of fifteen feet, protected that part of his camp with mantlets; and after a lapse of five days, chancing on a second dark night, he blocked all the gates of the camp, setting obstacles to hinder the foe, and at the beginning of the third watch led his army out in silence and betook himself to his old entrenchments.

55 On every day in succession Caesar led out his army to level ground in battle array so as to bring his legions almost close up to the camp of Pompeius, in case he should choose to fight a pitched battle; and his front rank was only so far from the rampart that a weapon could not be cast at it from a catapult. Pompeius however, in order to maintain his credit  p275 and reputation, arranged his army in front of his camp, but in such a way that his third line rested on the rampart, while the whole army when drawn up could be protected by javelins thrown from the rampart.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Taxes on pillars or columns.

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2 See map of Dyrrachium and district.

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 map of the battle of Dyrrachium between Caesar and Pompey.]
[decorative delimiter]

3 The Pompeians were storming Caesar's position, and he was now retiring before them down the further side of the hill. Here he made a successful stand, and finally drove the foe back in confusion over the hill.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 28 Oct 13