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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces part of
The African War

by an unknown writer, attached to the name of
Julius Caesar

Loeb Classical Library

The text is in the public domain.

This text has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapters 7‑36

African War

 p147  [Chapters 1‑6]

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

[image ALT: A map of 'Africa' (a small portion of what is now the Tunisian coast) in the time of Caesar's civil wars.]

Map 3: Africa

1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] After completing a series of full day's marches​1 without pausing for a single day, Caesar arrived at Lilybaeum on December 17,​2 and shewed himself desirous of embarking forthwith, although he had no more than a single legion of recruits and barely six hundred cavalry. He had his tent pitched alongside the actual beach so that the waves all but beat upon it: his purpose in so doing was to prevent anyone from hoping he would enjoy any respite, and to ensure that everyone was in a state of daily and hourly readiness. During this time he was unlucky with the weather, which was unsuitable for sailing; but for all that he still kept his rowers and troops aboard the ships and let slip no opportunity for setting forth, despite, above all, the reports which were coming in from the local provincials about the forces of the enemy — innumerable cavalry, four royal legions, a great quantity of light-armed troops, ten legions under command of Scipio, a hundred‑and-twenty elephants and several fleets: yet even so he was not deterred, but remained resolute and optimistic. Meanwhile every day saw an increase in the number of his warships, and numerous transports also  p149 assembled there: four legions of recruits, the veteran Fifth​3 legion, and some two thousand cavalry also joined the muster.

2 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Six legions and two thousand cavalry had now been mustered. Each legion, as soon as it arrived, was embarked on the warships, while the cavalry were shipped aboard the transports. Accordingly, he ordered the greater part of the fleet to sail on ahead and make for the island of Aponiana, which is ten miles distant from Lilybaeum: he himself stayed behind there for a few days and sold up the property of a few persons for the profit of the state, and then gave full instructions to the praetor Alienus, who was governor of Sicily, in particular about the prompt embarkation of the rest of the army. Having given these instructions, he himself embarked on December 25 and immediately caught up with the remainder of his fleet. And so, sailing in a fast ship with a steady wind, three days later with a few warships he came into sight of Africa;​4 for his transports, which comprised the rest of his fleet, had, with a few exceptions, been scattered by the wind and, losing their course, made for various points along the coast. He sailed on past Clupea with his fleet, and then past Neapolis; and besides these places he passed by quite a number of strongholds and towns not far from the sea.

3 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] When Caesar reached Hadrumetum, where his opponents had a garrison commanded by C. Considius,  p151 Cn. Piso made his appearance there with approximately three thousand Moorish troops, approaching Hadrumetum with his cavalry along the sea coast from Clupea; whereupon Caesar paused for a little while in front of the port, waiting for the rest of his ships to assemble, and then landed his army, which numbered at present three thousand infantry and a hundred-and‑fifty cavalry. He then pitched camp in front of the town and established himself without molesting anyone, looting being universally forbidden. Meanwhile the occupants of the town manned their battlements with armed troops, and massed in front of the gate to defend themselves: their numbers amounted to the equivalent of two legions. Caesar rode round the town carefully observing the lie of the land, and then returned to camp. Some blamed him for lack of foresight because he had not originally briefed his pilots and captains about what points on the coast they were to make for, and had not, as had been his own habitual practice on previous occasions, issued sealed instructions to be read at a specified time, so that they could all make for a given rendezvous together. But this was by no means an oversight on Caesar's part; in fact, he surmised that there was no port on African soil where his fleet could run ashore and which he could count on as immune from the enemy's protection; and failing that, he was on the watch for luck to present him with an opportunity to land.

4 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Meanwhile one of his lieutenants, L. Plancus, asked Caesar to give him authority to treat with Considius, if by any means he could be brought to see reason. Permission being granted, he accordingly wrote a letter, which he gave to a prisoner to take to  p153 Considius in the town. As soon as the prisoner had arrived there, and when he was in the very act of handing Considius the letter in accordance with his instructions, 'Where did you get this?' Whereupon the prisoner replied, 'From the commander-in‑chief, Caesar.' Then Considius retorted: 'There is but one commander-in‑chief of the Roman people at the moment, namely Scipio.' He then ordered the prisoner to be executed forthwith in his presence, and gave the letter — still unread and with its seals intact — to a reliable messenger to take to Scipio.

5 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] A night and a day​5 were spent under the walls of the town without any reply being given by Considius: moreover, the rest of Caesar's forces failed to arrive to reinforce him; he had no abundance of cavalry and insufficient forces to assault the town, and those he had were mere recruits; he was loath to let his army suffer heavy casualties immediately on its arrival; the defences of the town were remarkably strong, its lofty position rendering it difficult to attack; and reports were coming in that large reinforcements of cavalry were on their way to aid the occupants of the town. For these reasons there seemed no point in staying for the purpose of attacking the town, lest, while engaged in that task, Caesar might be surrounded in the rear by the enemy cavalry and so find himself in difficulties.

6 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Caesar therefore was minded to strike camp; and while he was doing so a large body of men suddenly sallied forth from the town, and were reinforced simultaneously, as it chanced, by some cavalry sent by Juba to collect their pay: they seized Caesar's camp, which he had just quitted to begin his march,  p155 and began to pursue his rearguard. On seeing this the legionary troops came to an abrupt halt, while the cavalry, few as they were, nevertheless displayed the utmost gallantry in charging against such vast numbers. An incredible thing took place: less than thirty Gallic cavalry dislodged two thousand Moorish cavalry and drove them to take refuge in the town. After they had been repulsed and hurled back within their fortifications, Caesar made haste to proceed with his projected march. But as the enemy repeated these tactics all too frequently — now following in pursuit, now once again driven back into the town by the cavalry — Caesar posted in the rear of his column a few cohorts of the veteran troops which he had with him, as well as part of his cavalry, and so proceeded to march at a slow pace with the remainder of his force. In this way the further they withdrew from the town, the slower were the Numidians to pursue them. Meanwhile in the course of his march deputations arrived from towns and strongholds with promises of cornº and assurances of their readiness to carry out any orders he might give them. And so on that day he pitched camp near the town of Ruspina.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 It is not quite clear whether this means the complete journey from Rome (over 600 miles, via Rhegium and Messana), or merely the last stage from Messana (some 200 miles). But as it seems likely that he was not accompanied by any large number of troops — the legion of recruits may have been one already stationed at Lilybaeum — most commentators appear to assume that the reference is to the whole journey.

[decorative delimiter]

2 = October 23rd, 47, if Le Verrier's rectified system be followed: October 1, according to Groebe's system. All the dates given in the text are according to the unreformed calendar, which was now some two months ahead owing to the failure of the pontifices to insert the necessary intercalary months.

[decorative delimiter]

3 Probably the Fifth called Alaudae, formed in Gaul in 51 B.C. There is much difficulty in identifying this veteran Fifth legion with the Fifth raised by Cassius in Spain (Bell. Alex. ch. 50).

[decorative delimiter]

4 This apparently means Hadrumetum, and not Cape Bon; for he must have landed at Hadrumetum on the 28th, and 3‑4 days' sail in a fast ship seems unduly long for the passage of less than 100 miles (cf. ch. 34, where his second convoy makes Ruspina on the fourth day). Other apparent inconsistencies are the embarkation of all the legions aboard the warships and the capriciousness of the wind, which favoured the warships but scattered the transports.

[decorative delimiter]

5 This appears to mean the night of December 28th/29th and (most of) the 29th; for the fighting withdrawal to Ruspina apparently took place on the 29th (the last day of the official year, according to the unreformed calendar). Bouvet adopts R. Schneider's insertion of parte before die; but with a writer like the present, whose accuracy is not always pedantic, the MSS. reading may perhaps be retained.

Page updated: 26 Oct 18