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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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please let me know!

Civil Wars

 p. vii  Introduction

The history of the years 49 and 48 B.C., the period covered by this book, centres round two striking personalities — Gaius Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompeius. Caesar, associated with Pompeius and Crassus in the powerful Triumvirate of 60, had further increased his influence and popularity by his vigorous administration of the Consulship in 59. In this year the lex Vatinia conferred on him for five years from March 1, 59, the governor­ship of Gallia Cisalpina and Illyricum, to which the Senate subsequently added Gallia Narbonensis. This office was renewed in 55 by the lex Trebonia for another five years, from March 54 to March 49. During this period he subjugated Gaul by a series of brilliant campaigns, the details of which are familiar to all readers of the Gallic War. At the conclusion of this war keen observers began to recognize that the Roman world possessed a man of military capacity equal to that of Pompeius, and of personal qualities that outshone those of his rival. His daring exploits, his profuse liberality, his attractive humanity, and the extraordinary versatility of his genius, in which he may be compared with the first Napoleon, made him subsequently the most striking figure in the world of his day. Pompeius, his son-in‑law, was a great and successful soldier who, having subdued the Far East, crushed the power of the pirates, and quelled a  p. viii dangerous revolt in Spain, undoubtedly aspired to the supremacy once held by Sulla. He had been three times Consul — on the third occasion in 52, for some months without a colleague — yet notwithstanding his apparent power he seems to have had no firm hold on the mass of his countrymen; his stiff formality stirred no enthusiasm, his political vacillation made him generally mistrusted. Between two such men, each at the head of a veteran army, one the popular democratic leader, the other, nominally at any rate, the champion of the senatorial order and of all who upheld the constitutional republic, an open rupture was inevitable. The severance came slowly. In 54 Pompeius lost his wife Julia, Caesar's daughter; and in 53 M. Crassus, who, as one of the Triumvirate, had also served as a connecting link, was killed in battle with the Parthians. Pompeius, as sole Consul in 52, had a unique opportunity of consolidating his position and arming himself against his great rival by various measures passed in his own interests. He posed as the defender of the republic and the restorer of social order. He obtained a prolongation of his administration in Spain for another five years, by which he secured the continued control of a powerful army. The divergence of aim and policy was further accentuated by the acrimonious discussions that began in 52 about Caesar's candidature for the Consulship of 48, and the difficulty of adjusting the conflicting claims of provincial governor­ship and personal canvass at Rome. Caesar's provincial administration terminated strictly on March 1, 49, but he wished to be allowed to retain his proconsular command till the commencement of his Consulship and the arrival of his successor in January 48, knowing that if he appeared in Rome as a private person  p. ix he would be liable to impeachment. We need not enter now into the merits of this dispute which involved legal technicalities and was hotly debated by the constitutional lawyers on each side. It is sufficient to say that towards the end of 50 matters reached a deadlock. Caesar, who had entered Cisalpine Gaul to watch events, sent overtures to Rome with the desire, if we may believe his statements, of promoting a peaceable settlement; but, finding his efforts unavailing, he sent an ultimatum to the Senate on January 1, 49, by the hand of G. Curio, whose adherence he had bought for an immense sum of money, offering to disband his army if Pompeius would do the same. The Pompeian party in the Senate strongly resisted this proposal, and a vote was passed that Caesar should disband his army by a fixed date. The tribunes, M. Antonius and Q. Cassius, interposed their veto, which led to considerable disorder. At last, after a prolonged debate, the Senate passed the summary decree, adopted only in times of supreme peril, that all magistrates should take measures to protect the state from harm. This decree, by removing all constitutional checks, was equivalent to a proclamation of martial law. The tribunes fled to Caesar at Ravenna, and he at once crossed the Rubicon. The great war had now begun. The three books of the Bellum Civile narrate the fortunes of the war from its outbreak to the decisive battle of Pharsalus in June 48, with a brief sketch of the subsequent events leading up to the Alexandrian war.

The narrative may be regarded as in the main trustworthy, though it is evidently intended by Caesar to justify his political action in the eyes of his countrymen, and sometimes he appears to misstate  p. x the political situation or understate a military reverse. Caesar's style is singularly clear, simple, and restrained, enlivened now and then by a touch of vivacity, emotion, or sarcasm. Perhaps its most prominent characteristic is his constant use of the present tense, due, I suppose, to his vivid realization of the scenes that he describes. He sees as it were the past event unfolding itself before his eyes. This peculiarity, though not generally acceptable in English, I have thought fit to preserve to some extent in my translation.

Like all ancient historians, Caesar omits much that we should be glad to know. It probably never occurred to him that in future ages his campaigns would be closely investigated by students, military and civilian, who would be distracted by the paucity of chronological and topographical information that he vouchsafes. One wishes he could have known that eighteen centuries and a half after his death the greatest conqueror in the history of the world, as ruler of the Gaul that he had subdued, would compile a Précis des guerres de Jules César, and that a later Emperor of the French would organize, and himself contribute to, an elaborate Histoire de Jules Cesar, to be completed at a later date by a distinguished soldier and scholar, Baron Stoffel.

The perplexities of the modern editor are increased by the defects of the MSS. In two or three places whole passages have been lost, and in many others the readings are so various and uncertain that one cannot be sure of the proper interpretation. The MSS. date mostly from the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries. They fall roughly into three groups, which may be represented by the following scheme, in which X represents the archetype  p. xi and α, β, γ, δ, ε, certain supposed links in the series.

[image ALT: A stemma of manuscripts of Caesar's 'Civil Wars' as discussed in the text of this page.]

In this scheme

S = Laurentianus Ashburnhamiensis
E = Lovaniensis
W = Mediceus Laurentianus I
Y = Mediceus Laurentianus II
h = Ursinianus
l = Riccardianus
a = Thuaneus
f = Vindobonensis.

The editio princeps was published in Rome in 1469.

I have noted variations of reading here and there and sundry plausible corrections, restricting myself mainly to such as seemed of interest or importance. It may be worth mentioning that the tabula coniecturarum in Heinrich Meusel's great lexicon occupies, for the Bellum Civile alone, about fifty-six two-columned pages.

Anything in the way of commentary on the subject- p. xii matter is excluded by the scope of the Loeb Library, and I have only added a few explanatory notes here and there, though there is scarcely a chapter in the book that does not give occasion for lengthy comment in the sphere of political or military history, antiquities, and topography. My own Pitt Press edition of the Third Book (1900) contains one hundred pages of notes few of which, I think, are wholly superfluous. The reader, if he wishes for a thorough understanding of Caesar's narrative, should have for reference some comprehensive history of Rome, such as Mommsen, Drumann, Ferrero, or Heitland; a good recent manual of antiquities, especially the Companion to Latin Studies; and above all the great work of Baron Stoffel, Guerre civile de J. César (2 vols.), with its admirable atlas, from which I have taken some maps and plans for this edition. For the constitutional questions involved in Caesar's candidature for the Consulship the student should consult Mommsen, Die Rechtsfrage zwischen Caesar und dem Senat, and Nissen, Über den Ausbruch des Bürgerkrieges, to mention only two among the numerous books, pamphlets, or articles in periodicals, British or foreign, dealing with the constitutional history of the period. The best recent edition of the Civil War that I am acquainted with is that of F. Kraner and F. Hofmann, revised by H. Meusel (1906), in the Weidmann Series.

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Page updated: 7 Feb 13