‘No one reports that Caesar has left Alexandria, and it is known that no one at all has left there since 15th March, and that he has sent no letters since 13th December.’ - Cicero, 14 June 47 BC.1

‘“For if,” said he [Cato], “I were willing to be saved by grace of Caesar, I ought to go to him in person and see him alone; but I am unwilling to be under obligation to the tyrant for his illegal acts. And he acts illegally in saving, as if their master, those over whom he has no right at all to be their lord.”’ - Plutarch, early second century AD.2

Caesar reached Italy near the end of September. It was twenty months since he had left to begin the Macedonian campaign and more than a year since his victory at Pharsalus. For most of 48 BC he remained in regular contact with his deputies and other prominent men, although according to Dio he sent no official despatch back to Rome to report Pompey’s defeat, feeling that this would have been in poor taste. During the Alexandrian campaign his normal flood of correspondence ceased altogether. At first this was due to the blockade imposed by the enemy, but even when this had been broken he remained silent for some time. In June 47 BC Cicero wrote that nothing had been heard from Caesar for six months. It was uncharacteristic behaviour and adds to the impression that fatigue had taken its toll on him. There is no doubt that the lengthy stay in Egypt caused Caesar great problems, giving his enemies time to regroup and creating a dangerous mood of uncertainty in Rome and Italy. Caesar’s supporters had little to unite them apart from their loyalty to him, which was often reliant mainly on gratitude for past favours and lively expectation of more in the future. As the Macedonian campaign went on, few could be sure who would win, for they were aware of the odds against Caesar.

Cicero’s lively correspondent Caelius Rufus had quite cynically joined the side with the better army at the start of the Civil War. Caesar rewarded him with a praetorship in 48 BC, but Caelius was annoyed when the most senior post of urban praetor was given to someone else, the Legate Trebonius who had taken Massilia the year before. Disaffected, Caelius tried to rally support for himself by declaring plans to abolish all existing debts. This was a radical measure intended to appeal to those who felt that Caesar’s moderate law had not gone far enough. With a gang of followers he led riots against both Trebonius and Caesar’s consular colleague Servilius. The Senate promptly passed the senatus consultum ultimum and, in spite of vetoes by two tribunes, the consul diverted a draft of soldiers on their way to Brundisium and brought them into Rome. Caelius was driven from the city For a while he hoped to join up with Milo, who had returned to Italy from his exile in Massilia in spite of Caesar’s refusal to pardon him. Now he tried to raise rebellion in Pompey’s name, backing the man who had ensured that he went into exile in the first place. He did not make much headway and was soon defeated and killed before Caelius could reach him. The praetor met a similar fate shortly afterwards. The use of the senatus consultum ultimum was ironic, though it should be said that Caesar had never challenged its validity, merely the appropriateness of its use against him.3

In October 48 BC Caesar was appointed dictator again, but unlike the first time this was not simply to permit him to oversee elections. No consuls or other magistrates apart from the tribunes of the plebs were elected for the following year. Probably this was because Caesar was unable to return and did not wish to delegate the task of overseeing the elections to anyone else. The dictatorship traditionally lasted for only six months. Sulla had ignored this and held the office until he chose to lay it down. While Caesar did not wish to be seen to be aping the author of the proscriptions, he needed official power. The consul Servilius named him dictator for a year, thereby imposing some limit on his power, even if this was to last for double the normal term. A dictator had a subordinate rather than a colleague and this officer was titled the Master of Horse (Magister Equitum) - when originally created it had been considered important for the dictator to stay with the heavy infantry of the legions and so his deputy was given the task of leading the aristocratic cavalry. Mark Antony was named as Caesar’s Master of Horse. For a while the priestly college of augurs, of which Antony himself was a member, protested that it was improper for a Master of Horse to remain in the post for more than six months, but this rather bizarre objection was soon withdrawn. Antony returned to Italy after Pharsalus and was effectively the supreme authority there from January 47 BC until Caesar’s return in the autumn. He was a gifted subordinate, but his behaviour became less and less restrained during these months when he was largely left to his own devices. He feasted often, both lavishly and very publicly His drinking was on a staggering scale - later in life he wrote a book on the subject, which seems to have contained many boasts about his prowess - and he is supposed to have conducted much public business while only partly sober or at the very least suffering from a hangover. On at least one occasion he had to interrupt a meeting in the Forum in order to vomit in sight of all. At times he processed around the country in a great caravan, riding himself in a Gallic - presumably British - chariot, followed by carriages containing a famous actress who was currently his mistress, while another carried his mother. The whole column was incongruously preceded by his lictors. Apart from dressing up as Hercules, some sources even claim that he experimented with a chariot pulled by a team of lions. Apart from this mistress, he had a number of scandalously public affairs with senators’ wives. Mark Antony revelled in power, and his conduct was scarcely likely to convince moderate opinion that Caesar’s victory would bring anything other than tyranny in the long run.4

Antony did not deal well with the problems that confronted him in 47 BC, which were considerable and all directly or indirectly caused by Caesar’s long absence. The reports of Pompey’s death were not generally believed until his signet ring was sent back to Rome and displayed. Many Pompeians had surrendered at Pharsalus, and others in the weeks that followed. Cicero had not been at the battle, but immediately decided that the war was lost. He turned down the offer of supreme command made to him by Cato, who then had to restrain Pompey’s son Cnaeus from killing the orator on the spot. Cicero returned to Italy, but was informed by Antony that he could not be pardoned and allowed to return to Rome without specific instructions from Caesar. Yet for months there was no word from Caesar, and indeed no assurance that he would prevail and survive the war in Egypt. In the meantime Cato had taken the garrison of Dyrrachium by sea to Cyrenaica, and then overland to the province of Africa, where he joined up with Metellus Scipio, Labienus, Afranius, Petreius and many other die-hard Pompeians, all determined to continue the war. They were backed by the Numidian King Juba - the man whose beard Caesar had once pulled during a court case and who more recently had played the key role in the defeat of Curio. As time passed their strength grew, and by the summer there were fears that they might be able to attack Sicily or Sardinia, and even Italy itself. It was a nervous time for men like Cicero, who began to wonder if they had surrendered too soon and remembered the bitter hostility of many leading Pompeians even to those who had remained neutral. All the orator hoped for was a return to some semblance of normal public life, and his nervousness fuelled his anger at Caesar for not finishing the war off more quickly Caesar’s veteran troops were equally frustrated, for most of the experienced legions, including the Ninth and Tenth, had been sent back to Italy after Pharsalus. There they waited, with little to do for month after month except think of their grievances. There were still time-expired soldiers wishing for discharge, and all recalled the promises of bounties and land grants that Caesar had made to them during the last few years. Led by some of their centurions and tribunes the legions were soon in a mutinous state and stoned the officers sent to restore order. Antony himself was forced to go to the camp, but failed to resolve the situation and restore order. While he was away from Rome, there was trouble instigated by some of the tribunes of the plebs. One of these was Cicero’s son-in-law Dolabella, who now renewed Caelius’ cry of the abolition of debt. There was rioting in the Forum once more as a number of men scented the chance to carve out a stronger personal position at this time of uncertainty. Eventually Antony returned with some troops who had not joined the mutiny and used force to restore order, backed by a Senate that had once again passed its ultimate decree. He did this efficiently, but this action only reinforced the perception of a regime based solely on military might. His dislike of Dolabella was intense and reciprocated. It doubtless did not help that Antony believed that the tribune was having an affair with his wife, whom he divorced soon afterwards.5


Caesar met Cicero on his way from Brundisium and the nervous orator was relieved and gratified by the warmth of his greeting, which was followed by an immediate pardon and encouragement to return to Rome. In the dictator’s absence he had been awarded the right to deal with his enemies as he saw fit, granting some formal legitimacy to what he had been doing since the start of the Civil War. Similarly, he was awarded the power to declare peace and war, and also to preside over - indeed virtually control - elections to all the senior magistracies. Although Caesar did not get back to Rome until the beginning of October, he decided to make use of this last right and appoint magistrates for the remaining weeks of the year. As consuls he chose Quintus Fufius Calenus and Publius Vatinius - the man who as tribune in 59 BC had secured him the Gallic command. Both men had served as his legates. The other magistracies, as well as a number of priesthoods made vacant by the casualties of the last few years, similarly went to his supporters. It is doubtful that the new magistrates had much time to do anything, but there were many men to reward for their loyalty and Caesar did not wish to lose any of his reputation for generosity. For the next year he created ten praetors instead of the usual eight. For the moment he chose not to continue as dictator and was instead elected consul for the third time - another of the honours voted by the Senate during his absence was the right to hold the supreme magistracy for five consecutive years. As colleague he chose Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, a man who seems to have been more notable for his loyalty and reliability than any great talent or imagination. It is tempting to see the choice as an indication that Mark Antony had fallen from favour following his behaviour in the last year. There may be some truth in this, but it should be noted that Caesar had other men to reward and may have been reluctant to seem to mark out any one individual as a permanent second-in-command.6

The mutiny in the army had not been calmed by news of Caesar’s return to Italy, for the resentment had had too long to fester. He sent Sallust - the future historian and recently made praetor for the following year - to confront the troops, but he was attacked by a mob and barely escaped with his life. The mutineers began to march from their camp in Campania towards Rome itself. By this time the tribunes and centurions who were the ringleaders seem to have aimed at gaining some concessions and promises of even greater rewards in future. They were aware that Caesar was soon to go to Africa to confront the Pompeians and felt that his need for his best soldiers would make him more pliant. It seems doubtful that the bulk of the troops, and indeed most of their officers, had any such clear aims, but simply a strong, if unfocused, sense of grievance. Caesar made some preparations to defend Rome if the worst came to the worst, but outwardly remained calm and, in spite of the advice of some of his staff, went in person to meet the legions. The latter had camped on the outskirts of Rome, when without warning Caesar quietly rode into their lines and climbed up onto the podium that was usually constructed near the headquarters. As news of his arrival spread the soldiers clustered around to hear what he had to say. He asked them what they wanted and they replied, recounting their long and difficult service and reminding him of the promises he had made to them over the years. Finally they demanded that they all be discharged, which seems to have been intended to remind him that he wanted them for his new campaign, but could not take their loyalty for granted. Caesar’s reply began calmly, which made it all the more shocking. In the past the soldiers had always been his ‘comrades’, but now he addressed them as ‘citizens’ (Quirites), and told these mere civilians that he willingly released them from service since that was what they wanted. The soldiers were stunned by this casual dismissal and their commander’s gentle reassurance that he would in time give them all the rewards that he had promised.

Just as on campaign, Caesar had seized back the initiative and now it was his soldiers who struggled to regain their confidence and determination. Men began calling out that they volunteered for further service with him, and then one of the leaders of the mutiny repeated this request more formally. Caesar declined the offer, but then repeated his promise to assign land and the promised gifts of money to all of them - by this time it seems he had adopted a tone of gentle reproach, as though he was saddened that his own men had doubted the truth of his promises. Perhaps at this point he turned to leave, making the mutineers even more desperate as they begged him to take them back and lead them to Africa, assuring him that they would win the war for him without any need for other troops. Now Caesar relented, but in a complete reversal of his speech at Vesontio in 58 BC, he said that he would take all of them except for the Tenth Legion. He reminded the veterans of the Tenth of all his past favours, and said that for their ingratitude he would now discharge them, but that each man would still get all that he had been promised after his victory in Africa. Their immense pride in their unit challenged, and their devotion to their old commander reignited, the legionaries of the Tenth begged Caesar to decimate them as long as he took them back. Gradually, and with feigned reluctance, he allowed himself to be persuaded and announced that this time there would be no executions. However, he had made a note of the tribunes and centurions who had provoked the outbreak and is said to have arranged for most of them to be placed in the most exposed and dangerous positions during the coming campaign.7

Caesar had emphasised to his soldiers that he would not follow Sulla’s example of seizing land throughout Italy to give to his veterans. Instead he would provide for them from publicly owned or publicly purchased land. This, and the continuing cost of the war, added to his already massive financial burden, and much of his effort during the autumn of 47 BC was devoted to meeting these costs. He took loans - supposedly voluntary, but no community was likely to risk disappointing him - from the towns of Italy and clearly had no intention of repaying them, at least in the short term. After the defeat of Pompey he had often been sent crowns and wreaths of gold or silver by the inhabitants of the eastern provinces, both as a sign of victory and a donation to his expenses. The same gesture was now encouraged in Italy. The activities of Caelius and Dolabella had made it clear that there was still much discontent amongst the many debtors. Caesar now relented a little, copying one of the latter’s laws by setting a relatively low limit on the rent due to landlords for the current year. However, he still refused to abolish all existing debts, saying now that he could not consider this since he had recently taken out so many loans himself and therefore would be the chief beneficiary. Some property owned by leading Pompeians who were either dead or still fighting against him was auctioned off. Antony bought Pompey’s great house in Rome, anticipating that he would have to pay only a fraction of its worth. Sulla had allowed many of his partisans - Crassus, Pompey and Lucullus chief amongst them - to acquire valuable estates and houses in this way, and clearly many of Caesar’s men expected to benefit in a similar fashion. If so, then they were rudely disappointed, for Caesar insisted that the full value, assessed at pre-war market rates, must be paid for everything. In part this was doubtless to lessen comparison with Sulla, but at root it was simply a reflection of the massive financial burden he faced. Only a few people got bargains. One was Servilia, his long-time lover. Caesar clearly still had a deep affection for her, although we have no idea whether or not their relationship remained a physical one. Around about this time he also had an affair with one of her daughters, Tertia or ‘Third’, without this seeming to weaken the bond between them. The gossip even claimed that she had arranged the liaison. In addition she was the mother of Brutus, one of the most distinguished - and certainly one of the most widely respected - of the Pompeians to defect to Caesar after Pharsalus. Servilia was now able to purchase some valuable estates at a fraction of their true price. Cicero joked that people did not realise how much of a bargain this really was, for there was a ‘Third’ taken off the price.8


Caesar remained in Rome for only as long as was essential to restore order and prepare for an attack on the Pompeians in Africa. Troops and supplies were ordered to concentrate at the port of Lilybaeum in Sicily, where the invasion force was being prepared. There were still serious shortages of ships, especially transport ships, and once again it would prove impossible to carry the entire army in one go. It was also now winter, which meant bad weather and all the problems of supply familiar to the Macedonian campaign. The diviners who accompanied the army declared that the omens were unfavourable for launching a campaign in the near future, but Caesar had never been too concerned about such things and ignored them. He was impatient to set off, hoping that defeat of the enemy in Africa would finally bring the war to an end. When he arrived at Lilybaeum on 17 December 47 BC, he had his own tent pitched almost on the beach itself, as a gesture to convey his sense of urgency, warning his men to be ready to move ‘at any day or hour’. The apparent lethargy of Egypt had long gone and his familiar energy returned, perhaps sharpened with an even greater edge of impatience. Caesar had brought only a single legion with him, but during the next week five more arrived. Only one was a veteran unit, the Fifth Alaudae, which he had raised in Transalpine Gaul and given citizenship. The other five legions - the Twenty-Fifth, Twenty-Sixth, Twenty-Eighth, Twenty-Ninth and Thirtieth - had all been raised during the war, and most likely all contained many men who had originally been levied by the Pompeians.

As it arrived each unit was embarked and crammed into the waiting transport ships. Strict orders were issued that no one was to take any baggage or equipment that was not absolutely essential. The legions were accompanied by 2,000 cavalrymen and their mounts, but there was little room to carry substantial supplies of food and fodder, or for the pack and draught animals to transport them after the landing. Caesar trusted that he would be able to obtain all of these things in sufficient quantities once he arrived in Africa. On 25 December he set sail, but the operation was not well planned. In the past, it had been his custom to issue sealed orders that would be opened at a set time and provided such essential details as where to land on the hostile shore. This time he had insufficient information to know where the army could land and simply trusted that a suitable spot would be discovered once the fleet arrived off the coast of Africa. Strong winds added to the confusion and the convoys of ships became scattered, straggling along individually or in small groups. Only a small fraction of the fleet was with Caesar when he sighted land on 28 December. For a while he sailed parallel to the coast, looking for a good landing spot and also hoping that more ships would catch up with him. He eventually landed near the enemy-held port of Hadrumentum. He had only 3,500 legionaries and 150 cavalry with him. It is said that when he disembarked he stumbled and fell on the beach, but those around him were able to laugh off the bad omen when he grabbed two handfuls of shingle and declared, ‘I have hold of you, Africa!’9

The forces arrayed against him were considerable. Before leaving Sicily reports had reached him claiming that Scipio led no less than ten legions - doubtless under strength and inexperienced, but the same was true of a large part of his own army - backed by a strong cavalry force, as well as the troops of King Juba, which now included four ‘legions’, organised, trained and equipped in Roman style. The Numidians were famous for their numerous light cavalry and infantry skirmishers - the horsemen having an especially high reputation - and Juba fielded very many of these. There were also no less than 120 war elephants, which were something of a rarity by this period. Elephants were frightening, but were dangerous to both sides as they were liable to panic and stampede through friendly troops. Later in the campaign Metellus Scipio took some care to try and train his animals to cope with the chaos and noise of battle. Caesar was hugely outnumbered, and would remain so even when over the following days he was joined by most of the rest of his ships. This was not achieved without considerable effort, officers being despatched with small squadrons of warships to hunt for the scattered parts of the convoy. At one point Caesar himself had secretly left the army to look for the lost ships, but they appeared before he was actually under way Yet, as in Macedonia in 48 BC, he did enjoy the great advantage of surprise, for once again the enemy had not expected him to move so soon and to arrive in winter. Their forces were widely dispersed and it would take them some time to gather in sufficient numbers to overwhelm him. In the meantime he sent his fleet back to Sicily with orders to return as soon as possible with more troops, but the Pompeians still possessed a strong navy and as in the earlier campaign there was no guarantee that later convoys would reach him. For the moment his main priority was to secure sufficient supplies to support his forces in the meantime. He could not go too far afield in his search for these, since not only would the enemy seek to hinder him, but it was vital that he stay near the coast if there was to be any chance of reinforcement. The Pompeians had already gathered up much of the available food. In addition, the widespread conscription of local farm labourers to serve in their forces had seriously disrupted the agriculture of the region. In the opening weeks of the campaign Caesar’s main concern was supply, and orders were despatched to other provinces, including Sardinia, to gather supplies of grain and send them to him with all urgency.10

Soon after landing an unsuccessful attempt was made to persuade the garrison commander at Hadrumentum to surrender. Caesar was in no position to begin a siege and so moved on, establishing his main base at Ruspina. On 1 January 46 BC he reached the town of Leptis, which welcomed him. As at Corfinium he took the precaution of posting guards to prevent any of his men from entering the town and looting it. Six cohorts were left to garrison the town when he returned next day to Ruspina. On 4 January he decided to mount a large-scale foraging expedition, taking out thirty cohorts. Just 3 miles out from the camp an enemy force was spotted, so Caesar sent orders to bring up the small force of 400 cavalry and 150 archers, which were all that were then available. In person he went out with a patrol to reconnoitre, leaving the column of legionaries to follow. The Pompeian force was led by Labienus and included 8,000 Numidian cavalry, 1,600 Gaulish and German horsemen, as well as numerous infantry. However, he had formed them in a dense line, far closer together than horsemen would normally deploy, and from a distance Caesar mistook them for a conventional battle line of close order infantry. Acting on this mistaken premise, he brought up his troops and formed them into a single line of cohorts. It was rare for the Romans to deploy in this way, for normally at least a second line was employed, but the legionaries were badly outnumbered and he decided that it was better to match the length of the enemy line rather than risk being outflanked. His small force of cavalry - many had not yet disembarked - were divided between his wings and his few archers sent out to skirmish in front of the line. He was ready, but did not choose to attack the enemy line, since he had no wish to provoke a fight unless it was necessary. Suddenly Labienus began to move and ordered his cavalry to extend on both flanks. Numidian light infantrymen swarmed forward from the main line as Caesar’s legionaries advanced to meet it. So far in the campaign there had only been some small- scale actions and this was the first time that the Caesareans encountered the characteristic tactics of the local troops. Sheer weight of numbers forced their cavalry back, but in the centre the legionaries struggled to cope with an enemy that fled before they could come to grips, but quickly rallied and came back, all the while harassing them with a hail of javelins. They were especially vulnerable to missiles aimed at their unshielded right side. It was dangerous to pursue too far, for the agile enemy could easily overwhelm any individuals or small group that became separated from support. Caesar sent orders along the line that no one was to go more than four paces away from the main line occupied by his cohort.11

The pressure was great, with probably more wounds being inflicted than fatalities. Caesar’s men found themselves surrounded and unable to strike back at an enemy who slowly whittled them down. Most of the legionaries were inexperienced and nervousness spread throughout the army. Caesar as usual took care to remain calm and to encourage them. It was probably during this action that he had more success dealing with a standard-bearer who was about to flee. Caesar grabbed the man, physically turned him around, and said, ‘Look, that’s where the enemy are!’ As he strove to steady his wavering men, Labienus was haranguing them from just behind the enemy front line. The author of the African War describes how:

Labienus was riding about bare headed in the front line, urging on his own men, and sometimes calling out to Caesar’s legionaries: ‘What are you up to, you raw recruit? Really ferocious aren’t you? Are you another of those taken in by “his” fine words. He’s taken you into a tough spot. I feel really sorry for you.’ Then one of our soldiers said, ‘I’m no recruit, Labienus, but a veteran of the Tenth Legion.’ ‘I don’t see the insignia of the Tenth,’ said Labienus. Then the soldier retorted, ‘You will soon know what sort of man I am.’ At the same moment he pulled off his helmet, so that the other would recognise him, and threw his pilum with all his might, aimed square at Labienus, struck deep into the chest of his horse, and said, ‘That will show you, Labienus, that it’s a soldier of the Tenth attacking you.’12

Yet overall there were few veterans with the force, and the many recruits were struggling to cope with the pressure. As at the Sambre more than a decade before, the nervous troops were tending to bunch together, restricting their own ability to fight and making themselves a better target. Caesar ordered the line to extend, and then had alternate cohorts face about, so that half now confronted the cavalry that had surrounded his rear, and the rest the infantry and skirmishers to the front. Once this was done, the cohorts charged simultaneously, hurling a concentrated volley of pila. It was enough to drive the enemy back for a while, and Caesar quickly halted the pursuit and began to withdraw back to his camp. Around the same time the enemy was reinforced by Petreius who brought with him 1,600 more cavalry and a large number of infantry. Their enthusiasm revived, the Pompeians began to harry Caesar’s men as they retreated. After only a short distance he was once again forced to turn into battle order and face them. Caesar’s legionaries were tired, and the mounts of his cavalry - not fully recovered from the voyage and now wearied by prolonged manoeuvring and in some cases wounds - were close to exhaustion. Yet most of the enemy were also far from fresh as it was nearing the end of a long day of fighting. Caesar urged his men to make one last effort and then, waiting for the enemy pressure to slacken a little, he launched one last determined counter-attack and drove them back over and past some high ground. Petreius was wounded and Labienus may well have been carried from the field after falling from his wounded horse, so it is possible that the enemy for a while lacked their most aggressive and experienced leaders. Whatever the precise cause, this success was enough to permit Caesar to withdraw the rest of the way unmolested. The action outside Ruspina - it is sometimes described as a battle - was without doubt a defeat for Caesar, who had been prevented from his aim of gathering the supplies that his army required. Yet the outcome could have been far worse, and he had managed to fight his way to safety. On balance it was a setback, but certainly not a decisive one. Curio’s army had been destroyed by an enemy fighting in much the same style and Caesar had managed to escape the same fate.13

In the aftermath Caesar heavily fortified the camp at Ruspina and took sailors from the fleet to serve as light infantry on land, while craftsmen in the army were set to manufacturing sling bullets and javelins of various sorts. More despatches went off ordering grain and other supplies to be gathered and brought to him. In the meantime some soldiers were very imaginative in finding substitutes for the things so desperately needed. Some of the veterans gathered seaweed, which was washed in fresh water, dried and then fed to the horses, keeping them alive if not in the best of health or condition. Metellus Scipio had brought his forces to support the Pompeians, and the combined army camped 3 miles away from Caesar’s position. King Juba was also on his way to join them, but was forced to turn back when his lands came under attack from the forces of his rival, Bocchus of Mauretania, whose troops were led by a Roman mercenary, Publius Sittius. The latter had fled to Africa after being implicated in Catiline’s rising. Caesar had not arranged for Bocchus to open a second front in this way, and it was extremely fortuitous that he and Sittius acted so effectively on their own initiative. It was obviously attractive for the king to ally with the enemy of his own great enemy Juba, for the support of the Pompeians had increased the latter’s power. Caesar made great use of this in his propaganda, announcing that the Pompeians were behaving shamefully for Roman senators in allowing themselves to side with and serve under a foreign monarch. In the African War it is claimed that when the enemy forces finally did combine, Metellus Scipio stopped wearing his general’s cloak because it displeased Juba. It was also claimed that the Pompeians had alienated most of the province by their brutal rule. As the word spread that Caesar himself, and not simply one of his legates, had come to the region, there were a few defections from local communities. Some are said to have remembered their obligation to his uncle Marius, whose name still provoked great loyalty in the region sixty years after his victory in Numidia. There was a steady stream of deserters coming across from the Pompeian lines, but none of Caesar’s soldiers went over to the enemy. From the beginning of the campaign the Pompeians regularly executed prisoners, although in one case this was after the centurion in charge had refused to change sides and join them. Neither side made any serious attempt to end the war by negotiation. The Pompeians still fighting loathed Caesar bitterly. In turn he despised them. When the rumour had spread that the family of the Scipiones would always be victorious in Africa, Caesar attached to his staff an obscure member of the line named Scipio Salvito or Salutio, who was generally felt to be worthless in every respect save for his famous name.14

Outside Ruspina the two armies continually probed and skirmished with each other, the Pompeians frequently attempting to ambush any enemy detachments that strayed too far from Caesar’s camp. Metellus Scipio often deployed in battle order just outside his camp, and when after several days Caesar made no move to match this, he ordered them to advance closer to the enemy. Even then he was not confident enough to launch an all-out attack. Caesar sent orders to withdraw any patrols or foraging parties that might find themselves exposed, and told his outlying pickets to pull back only if pressed. All this was done with great nonchalance, for he did not bother to go up onto the rampart of the camp and observe the enemy, but was content to remain in his headquarters tent, calmly receiving reports and issuing appropriate orders, ‘so remarkable was his expertise in and knowledge of warfare’. His estimation of his opponent’s caution proved accurate, for Scipio did not launch an attack, deterred by the formidable defences of the camp, the ramparts and towers well manned and mounting artillery In addition the Pompeians found the enemy inactivity unnerving and worried that Caesar was trying to lure them into a trap. However, Scipio was able to encourage his men by claiming that Caesar was afraid to fight them. Shortly afterwards a convoy arrived from Sicily, bringing the Thirteenth and Fourteenth legions, along with 800 Gaulish cavalry and 1,000 light infantrymen. In addition to these experienced troops the ships also carried enough grain to relieve Caesar’s immediate concerns over food. Defections and desertions from the enemy continued, and on the night of 25 January, Caesar suddenly moved onto the offensive, leading out his main force from the camp. At first they marched away from the enemy, back past the town of Ruspina, but then they swung round and moved to seize a line of hills, occupation of which threatened the lines of the Pompeians. There was some fighting to secure these, and the next day a larger cavalry combat, which Caesar’s men won. Most of Labeinus’ Numidians escaped, but their retreat exposed the German and Gallic warriors serving with him and many of these were killed. The sight of the fleeing horsemen demoralised the rest of the army The next day Caesar advanced on the town of Uzitta, the main water source for the Pompeians at this time. Metellus Scipio responded by advancing in battle order to confront him, but neither side chose to press the issue and force a battle.15


Metellus Scipio had also been reinforced by this time, for Juba had left one of his officers and a strong force to contain Sittius and had brought three of his ‘legions’, 800 heavy cavalry and large numbers of Numidian horsemen and light infantry to join up with the Pompeians. Rumours of the king’s arrival had spread throughout Caesar’s camp, with the numbers and formidable fighting power of his men growing with each telling of the tale. Suetonius tells us that Caesar decided to address the men, in a matter of fact way, saying:

Let me tell you that in a couple of days the king will be here with ten legions, 30,000 horsemen, 100,000 skirmishers, plus 300 elephants. Right then, some of you can now stop asking questions or guessing and can believe me, because I know all about it. If not, then you can be sure that I will order them put on some old hulk of a ship and blown away to whichever land the wind takes them.

The tone was similar to Vesontio, with a combination of utter self-confidence and mild annoyance that their faith in him and their respect for discipline had wavered. It may also have helped that he exaggerated the numbers of royal troops, so that when the real size of the enemy reinforcement became known it probably came as a relief. There followed a period of manoeuvring around Uzitta. Both sides contested some high ground between their positions, but an attempt by Labienus to ambush Caesar’s vanguard failed because of the poor discipline of some of his troops who refused to wait patiently for the enemy to arrive. The Caesareans easily routed them and constructed a camp on the hill. When the main force withdrew back to camp at dusk, the Pompeians launched a sudden cavalry attack, but this was beaten off. Skirmishing continued, and Caesar’s men began work on lines of fortification designed both to restrict the enemy’s freedom of movement and to threaten the town.

Shortly afterwards news arrived that another convoy of reinforcements had been sighted approaching Ruspina. There was a delay of several days, because they mistook some Caesarean warships waiting to escort them for an enemy force, but eventually the confusion was sorted out and the Ninth and Tenth legions disembarked. Remembering the latter’s role in the mutiny in Italy, Caesar saw the opportunity of making an example of some of the ringleaders. One of these, the tribune Avienus, had selfishly insisted on filling an entire ship with his personal household and baggage - an especially crass act when space was needed for fighting men and vital supplies. He was now dismissed from the service and sent home in disgrace, along with another tribune and several centurions who had been guilty of similar misbehaviour. Each man was permitted only one slave to accompany him. Caesar now had ten legions, half of which were veteran formations. There were more desertions to him, and he was able to persuade some Gaetulian leaders to rebel against King Juba, who was then forced to detach some more of his troops to oppose them.16

The fortifications facing Uzitta were now complete, but although a few days later both sides formed up in battle order with their front lines little more than a quarter of a mile apart, neither chose to force the issue. There was a skirmish between the cavalry and light troops, in which the Pompeians gained the advantage. The armies continued to face each other outside the town and Caesar set his men to extending the lines of fortification. A third convoy of reinforcements was now reported to be approaching Africa, but this time the Pompeians had warning of its approach and captured or destroyed some of Caesar’s warships, which had been sent to escort the transports on the last part of their journey. Hearing of this Caesar left the army at Uzitta and galloped with all haste the 6 miles to the coast at Leptis. Taking charge of one of his own naval squadrons he chased down and defeated the enemy warships. Although this is not made clear, the original rumour may have been false and the Seventh and Eighth legions may not have reached Caesar before the campaign was decided.

Securing enough food for the army continued to be a great problem. Learning that it was the local custom to bury food stores, Caesar led out two legions on an expedition to find as many of these hidden sites as possible. He had also learned from deserters that Labenius was planning an ambush, so over the course of a few days he sent out other parties to hunt for food along the same routes, in order to make Labenius complacent. Then one morning before dawn he sent out three veteran legions supported by cavalry to hunt down the ambushers. The enemy was checked, but the supply problem had not eased. The successive reinforcements had greatly strengthened Caesar’s army, but had also inevitably added to the number of mouths needing to be fed. He had been unable to force the Pompeians to fight a battle in circumstances of his choosing, and there was no immediate prospect of taking Uzitta and depriving the enemy of their main water supply. Caesar decided that there was nothing to be gained by remaining where he was. Having set fire to their own camp, his army marched away in the early hours of the morning, halting near the town of Aggar, where he sent out numerous foraging parties who managed to bring in considerable quantities of grain - though mostly barley rather than wheat - and other types of food.17

Battle of Thapsus

An attempt was then made to surprise an enemy foraging party - the Pompeians were also finding it difficult to feed such a large concentration of troops - but Caesar withdrew when he saw that enemy reinforcements were already approaching. As Caesar’s army continued its march it was constantly harassed by Numidian horse, so that it was often necessary to halt and repulse them. These attacks were wearying and seriously impeded the march. At one point the column was only able to cover 100 paces (about 33 yards) in four hours. Caesar withdrew most of his cavalry behind his infantry, and found that the legions were able to make steadier progress since the enemy cavalry would always withdraw when they came too close. He pressed on, but even so only managed to reach a suitable camp site after night had fallen. Over the following days he gave thought to training his men and developing new drills to cope with this style of fighting. In spite of his withdrawal, towns were still defecting to him, although in one case Juba learned of this and had stormed the place and massacred the inhabitants before Caesar could send a garrison. On 21 March Caesar’s army carried out a lustratio, the ceremony of ritual purification that the army performed each year, which the author of the African War chose to mention, unlike Caesar himself in the Commentaries. The day after this he offered battle, but this was declined, so he continued on his march.

As part of his new standing orders Caesar instructed each legion to keep 300 men moving in battle order ready to act as close support for the cavalry, and these troops helped to fend off the Numidian horsemen who pursued them. He reached the town of Sarsura and stormed it, capturing considerable stocks of grain that had been gathered there by the enemy Scipio made no effort to hinder him. The next enemy-held town was too strong to be taken without a formal siege, so Caesar swung back and camped again near Aggar, winning a cavalry action in spite of the fact that his men were heavily outnumbered. Again he offered battle, but the Pompeians refused to come down from the high ground they occupied and Caesar was not willing to place his men at a disadvantage by attacking them in this position. On 4 April he once again set out in the early hours and was able to cover the 16 miles that brought him to the coastal town of Thapsus and began to besiege it. Scipio followed and divided his force between two camps some 8 miles from the town. With the sea on one side and a large salt water lagoon on another, the two main approaches to the town were narrow. Anticipating the enemy, Caesar had already placed a fort to block the most obvious route. Thwarted, Scipio led his men on a wide night march around the lake to approach the town from the other side, using a narrow spit of land no more than a mile and a half wide. He arrived on the morning of 6 April. Juba and Afranius seem to have remained in camp with their forces to keep Caesar boxed in.18

Caesar left two legions of recruits in his siege lines and led out the rest to form in normal triplex acies battle order facing Scipio. He placed veteran formations supported by archers and slingers on the flanks - the Tenth and Ninth on the right and the Thirteenth and Fourteenth on the left. As added protection, especially against the enemy war elephants, he divided the Fifth Alaudae into two and used them to make an additional fourth line of five cohorts behind each of his wings. Three of the less experienced legions - we are not told which ones - formed the centre. The cavalry were as usual on the wings, although in this narrow spit of land there was little room to manoeuvre. This was a greater restriction on the Pompeians whose horsemen were more numerous, although presumably the bulk of the Numidians had remained with Juba. In a rather unusual move, Caesar gave instructions for some of his warships to use the channel to threaten the rear of the enemy army once the battle had begun. Our sources give few details for the Pompeian deployment, nor any reliable figure for the number of troops with Scipio, as opposed to those left behind with Juba and Afranius. Probably the deployment was conventional, with the cavalry on the wings, legions in three lines and the elephants in advance, presumably massed on each flank. It was a good opportunity for Caesar. The Pompeians had divided their forces, and chosen to take station on terrain that would only permit a simple head-to-head encounter in which his more experienced troops were likely to prevail. His legionaries were keen to attack and confident of victory. Most of his officers urged him to give the signal to advance straightaway. Caesar could see their enthusiasm as he went along the line to urge them on. Even so, the author of the African War tells us that:

Caesar was doubtful, resisting their eagerness and enthusiasm, yelling out that he did not approve of fighting by a reckless onslaught, and holding back the line again and again, when suddenly on the right wing a tubicen [trumpeter], without orders from Caesar, but encouraged by the soldiers, began to sound his instrument. This was repeated by all the cohorts, the line began to advance against the enemy, although the centurions placed themselves in front and vainly tried to restrain the soldiers by force and stop them attacking without orders from the general.

When Caesar perceived that it was impossible to restrain the soldiers’ roused spirits, he gave the watchword ‘Good Luck’ [Felicitas], and spurred his horse at the enemy front ranks.19

The confidence of the army proved justified, for the Pompeians failed to cope with this sudden attack and were quickly routed. Plutarch presents another version of the story in which he claimed that as the battle was about to begin Caesar felt an epileptic fit coming on and had to be taken away to shelter, hence the confused start to the advance. There are very few stories of specific epileptic attacks suffered by Caesar, and this is the only one that claims that his epilepsy interfered with his ability to command.20

The elephants attacking Caesar’s right flank were panicked by the hail of missiles from his skirmishers and stampeded back through their own lines. The whole Pompeian left wing soon collapsed and all attempts at rallying the army failed in the face of a ferocious pursuit. Caesar’s legionaries were in a grim mood and killed more freely than they had done after Pharsalus. They wanted the war over and had no wish to see men being pardoned and let free to fight them again. Caesar himself had already ordered the execution of one Pompeian whom he had pardoned during the surrender in Spain in 49 BC, but who had now been captured for a second time. This was his normal policy, forgiving a man once but killing him if he had chosen to continue fighting in spite of this pardon. At Thapsus his soldiers had no concern for such distinctions and many Pompeians died as they tried to surrender. The legionaries even cut down several of Caesar’s own officers when they tried to stop the killing. By the end of the day 10,000 Pompeians had been killed for little more than fifty casualties on Caesar’s side. The main enemy leaders escaped, but most would die in the following weeks. Afranius and Sulla’s son Faustus were captured by Sittius and handed over to Caesar, who then had them executed, in response to the clamour of his soldiers. A few other prisoners were executed but in some cases - for instance, that of Lucius Caesar, the son of his cousin and legate - it is unclear whether he ordered the deaths or whether the decision was taken by his subordinates. Petreius and King Juba arranged a somewhat bizarre suicide pact, fighting a duel to the death. The versions of the outcome vary from source to source, but the most likely seems to have been that the Roman killed the Numidian, and then with the help of a slave ran himself through. Metellus Scipio escaped by sea, but killed himself when his ships were intercepted by a pursuing Caesarean squadron. Of the few who escaped, Labienus managed to make his way to Spain where he joined up with Pompey’s sons Cnaeus and Sextus.21

Cato was in command of the city of Utica throughout the African campaign and so had not been present at the defeat. Indeed it is striking how minor a role he played in the military operations in the entire Civil War. Fugitives soon brought news of the disaster and word that Caesar’s men would soon arrive. Cato consulted with the Romans in the city, three hundred of whom he had formed into a council, but realised that whatever their resolve there was little prospect of continuing to fight. The choice then became either to flee, to surrender or to commit suicide. After dinner, which since Pharsalus he had refused to eat reclining in the proper manner and so had taken sitting down, he retired to his chamber. (It was not the first such gesture he had made, for he is supposed to have refused to be shaved or have his hair cut once the Civil War began.) He complained when he noticed that his son and servants had removed his sword, and insisted that they return it, but then went back to his reading. His choice of work was significant, Plato’s Phaedo, a discussion of the immortality of the soul, but throughout his life he had pursued the study of philosophy. Finally, without warning, he stopped reading, took up his sword and stabbed himself in the stomach. The wound was bad, but not immediately mortal, and once they heard the commotion his son and slaves rushed to him. A doctor was brought and Cato’s wound cleaned and bound up. However, he had never lacked determination or courage, and once they had gone the forty-eight-year-old tore open the stitches and began ripping out his own entrails. He was dead before they could restrain him. When Caesar heard the news he said that he bitterly begrudged the opportunity of pardoning his most determined opponent, but to a great extent Cato had acted out of a desire to avoid his enemy’s mercy.

Less than three and a half years after crossing the Rubicon most of the leading men who had forced Caesar to take that step were dead, and of the survivors nearly all had given up the fight. The bloodshed was not quite over, for a year later there would be another campaign in Spain, fought with even greater savagery When the Civil War began his opponents had been wrong to think that Caesar would not fight, and then mistaken to believe that the greater resources under their control meant that their victory was assured. Against the odds, Caesar had won the Civil War and it now remained to be seen whether or not he could win the peace and create a lasting settlement. That was the priority, but first, as in Asia, he had to settle the region. As usual communities that had supported the Pompeians were subject to punitive fines, while those who had supported him were rewarded. It was probably around this time that he had an affair with Eunoe, the wife of the Moorish King Bogudes. It was not until June that he left Africa, almost five and a half months after he had landed.22

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