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Bill Thayer

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Chapters 34‑41

This webpage reproduces part of
The Alexandrian War

probably by Hirtius, 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 48‑64

Alexandrian War

 p77  [Chapters 42‑47]

42 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Round about the same time a set‑back was sustained in Illyricum, a province which during the previous months had been firmly held not merely without incurring disgrace but even with distinction. To this province there had been sent out in the summer a quaestor of Caesar's, Q. Cornificius, as pro‑praetor; and although the province was not at all abundantly stocked for supporting armies and was exhausted and wasted by war upon its borders and by rebellions,​1 yet by his far‑sighted and careful policy, taking great pains not to make an ill‑considered advance in any quarter, he recovered and defended it. For example, he successfully stormed several mountain strongholds, the commanding position of which prompted their occupants to carry on a predatory warfare, and presented his troops with the resulting  p79 booty; which, paltry though it was, was none the less welcome — considering the very meagre prospects of the province — especially since it was the prize of valour. Again, when in the course of his flight from the battle of Pharsalia Octavius took refuge with a large fleet upon that coast, Cornificius, with the aid of a few ships of the men of Iadera — those devoted supporters of the commonwealth, who were unsurpassed in their constant loyalty — made himself master of Octavius' scattered ships, and was accordingly enabled by the addition of these vessels to those of his allies to go into action with something like a fleet. And when in quite a different quarter of the globe Caesar was victoriously pursuing Cn. Pompeius, and heard that several of his opponents had collected the remnants of the fugitives and taken refuge in Illyricum on account of its proximity to Macedonia, he sent despatches to Gabinius,​2 bidding him set out for Illyricum with the legions of recruits which had recently been raised: there he was to join forces with Q. Cornificius and repulse any dangerous move that might be made against the province: if on the other hand no large forces were needed to ensure the safety of the province, he was to lead his legions into Macedonia. It was in fact his belief that the whole of that neighbourhood and area would revive the war, so long as Cn. Pompeius was alive.

43 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] When Gabinius came to Illyricum in the difficult winter season, — whether it was he thought the province was more abundantly supplied, or whether he set great store by Caesar's winning luck, or whether he trusted in his own courage and skill, which had many a time enabled him, when surrounded  p81 by the hazards of war, to score great successes by his personal leader­ship and initiative — anyway he derived no support from the resources of the province, bled white as it partly was, and partly disloyal, nor could supplies be conveyed to him by ship, since stormy weather had interrupted navigation. As a result of these considerable difficulties he was forced to conduct the campaign, not as he wished, but as necessity dictated. And so, as lack of supplies forced him to storm towns or strongholds in very adverse weather, he frequently sustained reverses, and was held by the natives in such contempt that, while retreating on Salona, a coastal town occupied by very gallant and loyal Roman citizens, he was forced to fight an action on the march. In this battle he lost more than two thousand soldiers, thirty-eight centurions and four tribunes: with what was left of his forces he retired to Salona, where, under the stress of overwhelming difficulties of every kind, he fell sick and died within a few months. His chequered fortune while alive and his sudden death inspired Octavius with high hopes of securing possession of the province; luck, however, which is a very potent factor in war, as well as the carefulness of Cornificius and the courage of Vatinius, did not allow Octavius to pursue his successful career much longer.

44 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] When Vatinius was at Brundisium he learned of what had been going on in Illyricum; moreover, frequent despatches from Cornificius kept summoning him to bring aid to the province, and he heard that M. Octavius had concluded treaties with the natives and in several places was attacking the garrisons of our troops, in some cases in person with his fleet, in others with land forces, employing  p83 native troops. So, although he was afflicted by a serious illness and his bodily strength barely enabled him to obey his will, yet by courage he overcame his physical handicap, as well as the difficulties both of winter and the sudden mobilisation. Thus, as he himself had few warships in harbour, he sent despatches to Q. Calenus in Achaia, requesting him to send him a fleet; but as this proved too slow a business — our troops were in no position to withstand Octavius' attack, and their critical situation urgently demanded something speedier — he fitted beaks to some fast boats, of which he had a sufficient number, though their size was by no means adequate for fighting purposes. With these added to his warships, and his fleet thereby numerically increased, he put on board some veteran troops, of which he had an abundant supply from all the legions — they had been on the sick list and had been left behind at Brundisium when the army was being shipped to Greece — and so set out for Illyricum. Now there were not a few coastal communities there which had revolted and surrendered to Octavius: some of these he recovered, others he by‑passed when they remained steadfast to their policy; nor would he allow anything, however pressing, to embarrass or delay him from pursuing Octavius himself with all the speed of which he was capable. While the latter was assaulting Epidaurus by land and sea, where there was a garrison of ours, Vatinius forced him by his approach to abandon his assault, and so relieved our garrison.

45 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] When Octavius learned that Vatinius had a fleet which was in the main made up of small, fast boats, having full confidence in his own fleet he hove to off the island of Tauris. In this area Vatinius was  p85 cruising in pursuit, not from any knowledge that Octavius had hove to there, but because the latter had gained a fairly good start, and he had resolved to pursue him. On approaching closer to Tauris with his ships strung out, since the weather was rough and he had no suspicion of the enemy, he suddenly observed a ship bearing down upon him, its yard-arms lowered to mid‑mast, and manned with combat troops. When he saw this, he promptly ordered the sails to be reefed, the yard-arms lowered, and the troops to stand to; and then, by hoisting the pennant, which was his method of giving the signal for action, he signalled the leading ships astern of him to do the same. The Vatinians being thus suddenly taken unawares proceeded to man ship: the Octavians, their ships already manned, came sailing out of the harbour one after another. Line of battle was formed on either side, that of Octavius being superior in formation, that of Vatinius in the morale of the troops.

46 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] When Vatinius observed that neither in the size nor the number of his ships was he a match for a chance engagement, he chose rather to trust to luck. And so he attacked first, charging with his own quinquereme the quadrireme which was the flagship of Octavius. The latter rowed forward against him with the utmost speed and bravery, and the two ships ran together with their beaks head‑on so violently that Octavius' ship had its beak smashed away and was locked to the other by its timbers. Elsewhere a fierce engagement took place, with particularly sharp fighting near the leaders; for with each individual captain trying to support his own leader, a great battle developed at close  p87 range in the narrow sea. The more closely interlocked the ships — whenever the opportunity was afforded for such fighting — the more marked was the superiority of the Vatinians; for they displayed admirable courage in leaping without hesitation from their own ships on to those of the enemy, and where the fighting was on equal terms their markedly superior courage brought them success. Octavius' own quadrireme was sunk, and many besides were either captured or else rammed, holed and sunk: some of his combat troops were cut down on the ships, others dived overboard. Octavius himself took refuge in a pinnace; and when too many others sought safety in it and it capsized, wounded as he was he swam to his own light galley. There he was taken safely aboard and, when night put an end to the action, took to flight, sailing in a stiff squall. He was followed by not a few of his own ships, which chance had delivered from that hazard.

47 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Vatinius, on the other hand, rounded off this success by sounding the retreat and withdrew triumphantly with his entire force intact to the harbour from which Octavius' fleet had advanced to do battle. As a result of that action he captured one quinquereme, two triremes, eight two‑banked galleys and a large number of Octavius' rowers. The next day he spent there in refitting his own and the captured vessels; and on the day following he hastened to the island of Issa, in the belief that Octavius had taken refuge there in the course of his flight. In it there was a town — the best known one in those parts, and one which was on the most friendly terms with Octavius. On the arrival of Vatinius there the townsfolk threw themselves upon  p89 his mercy, and he learned that Octavius himself with a few small vessels had set course with a following wind in the direction of Greece, intending to make for Sicily next and then Africa. Thus in a short space of time Vatinius had achieved a most notable success, recovering the province and restoring it to Cornificius, and driving his opponents' fleet away from the whole of that coast. Whereupon he withdrew in triumph to Brundisium with his army and fleet unharmed.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The Roman residents consistently supported Caesar, but the natives sided with Pompey. The heavy fighting at Dyrrhachium was just south of the border of the province.

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2 See ch. 3. Caesar had recalled him from exile.

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Page updated: 13 Feb 13