previous next


Speeches of the Commanders -- Preparations for Battle -- Battle of Pharsalus -- Total defeat of the Pompeians Flight of Pompey -- Losses on both sides

[72] Then each of the commanders assembled his soldiers and made an appeal to them. Pompey spoke as follows: "You, my fellow soldiers, are the leaders in this task rather than the led, for while I was still desirous of wearing Cæsar out by hunger you urged on this engagement. Since, therefore, you are the arbiters of the battle, conduct yourselves like those who are greatly superior in numbers. Despise the enemy as victors do the vanquished, as young men do the old, as fresh troops do those who are wearied with many toils. Fight like those who have the power and the means, and the consciousness of a good cause. We are contending for liberty and country. On our side are the laws and honorable fame, and this great number of senators and knights, against one man who has seized the government by robbery.1 Go forward then, as you have determined to do, with good hope, keeping in vision the flight of the enemy at Dyrrachium, and the great number of their standards that we captured in one day when we defeated them there." Such was Pompey's speech.

[73] Cæsar addressed his men as follows: "My friends, we have already overcome our most formidable enemies, and are now about to encounter not hunger and want, but men. This day will decide everything. Remember what you promised me at Dyrrachium. Remember how you swore to each other in my presence that you would never leave the field except as conquerors. These men, fellow-soldiers, are the same that we met at the Pillars of Hercules, the same that we drove out of Italy. They are the same who sought to disband us without honors, without a triumph, without rewards, after the toils and struggles of ten years, after we had finished those great wars, after innumerable victories, and after we had added 400 nations in Spain, Gaul, and Britain to our country's sway. I have not been able to prevail upon them by offering fair terms, nor to win them by benefits. You know that I dismissed them unharmed, hoping that we should obtain justice from them. Recall all these facts to your minds to-day, and if you have had any experience of me recall also my care for you, my good faith, and the generosity of my gifts to you.

74 "Nor is it difficult for hardy and veteran soldiers to overcome new recruits who are without experience in war, and who, moreover, like boys, spurn the rules of discipline and of obedience to their commander. I learn that he was afraid and unwilling to come to an engagement. His star has already passed its zenith; he has become slow and hesitating in all his acts, and no longer commands, but obeys the orders of others. I say these things of his Italian forces only. As for his allies, do not think about them, pay no attention to them, do not fight with them at all. They are Syrian, Phrygian, and Lydian slaves, always ready for flight or servitude. I know very well, and you will presently see, that Pompey himself will not assign them any place in his line of battle. Give your attention to the Italians only, even though these allies come running around you like dogs trying to frighten you. When you have put the enemy to flight let us spare the Italians as being our own kindred, but slaughter the allies in order to strike terror into the others. Before all else, in order that I may know that you are mindful of your promise to choose victory or death, throw down the walls of your camp as you go out to battle and fill up the ditch, so that we may have no place of refuge if we do not conquer, and so that the enemy may see that we have no camp and know that we are compelled to occupy theirs."2

[75] Nevertheless, after he had thus spoken Cæsar detailed 2000 of his oldest men to guard the tents. The rest, as they passed out, demolished their fortification in the profoundest silence and filled up the ditch with the debris. When Pompey saw this, although some of his friends thought that it was a preparation for flight, he knew it was an exhibition of daring and groaned in spirit, that although they had with them famine, the most appropriate cure for such wild beasts, he must now meet these creatures in a hand-to-hand contest. But there was no drawing back now, his affairs being on the razor's edge.3 Wherefore, leaving 4000 of his Italian troops to guard his camp, Pompey drew up the remainder between the city of Pharsalus and the river Enipeus opposite the place where Cæsar was marshalling his forces. Each of them ranged his Italians in front, divided into three lines with a moderate space between them, and placed his cavalry on the wings of each division. Archers and slingers were mingled among all. Thus were the Italian troops disposed, on which each commander placed his chief reliance. The allied forces were marshalled by themselves rather for show than for use. There was great clamor and confusion of tongues among Pompey's auxiliaries. Pompey stationed the Macedonians, Peloponnesians, Bœotians, and Athenians near the Italian legions, as he approved of their good order and quiet behavior. The rest, as Cæsar had anticipated, he ordered to lie in wait by tribes outside of the line of battle, and when the engagement should become close to surround the enemy, to pursue, to do what damage they could, and to plunder Cæsar's camp, which was without defences.

[76] The centre of Pompey's formation was commanded by his father-in-law, Scipio, the left wing by Domitius Ahenobarbus, and the right by Lentulus. Afranius and Pompey guarded the camp.4 On Cæsar's side the commanders were P. Sulla, Antony, and Cn. Domitius. Cæsar took a convenient place in the tenth legion, as was his custom. When the enemy saw this they transferred, to face that legion, the best of their horse, in order to surround it if they could, by their superiority of numbers. When Cæsar perceived this movement he placed 3000 of his bravest foot-soldiers in ambush and ordered them, when they should see the enemy trying to flank him, to rise, dart forward, and thrust their spears directly in the faces of the men because, as they were fresh and inexperienced and still in the bloom of youth, they could not endure injury to their faces.5 Thus they laid their plans against each other, and each commander passed through the ranks of his own troops, attending to what was needful, exhorting his men to courage, and giving them the watchword, which on Cæsar's side was "Venus the Victorious," and on Pompey's "Hercules the Invincible."

[77] When all was in readiness on both sides they waited for some time in profound silence, hesitating, looking steadfastly at each other, each expecting the other to begin the battle. They were stricken with sorrow for the great host, for never before had such large Roman armies confronted the same danger together. They had pity for the valor of these men (the elite of both parties), especially because they saw Romans embattled against Romans. As the danger came nearer, the ambition that had inflamed and blinded them was extinguished, and gave place to fear. Reason purged the mad passion for glory, estimated the peril, and exposed the cause of the war, showing how two men contending with each other for supremacy had put themselves in a position where the one who should be vanquished could no longer hold even the humblest place, and how so great a number of the nobility were incurring the same risk on their account. The leaders reflected also that they, who had lately been friends and relatives by marriage, and had coöperated with each other in many ways to gain rank and power, had now drawn the sword for mutual slaughter and were leading to the same impiety those serving under them, men of the same city, of the same tribe, blood relations, and in some cases brothers against brothers. Even these circumstances were not wanting in this battle; because many unexpected things must happen when thousands of the same nation come together in the clash of arms. Reflecting on these things each of them was seized with unavailing repentance, and since this day was to decide for each whether he should be the highest or the lowest of the human race, they hesitated to begin the fight. It is said that both of them shed tears.6

[78] While they were waiting and looking at each other the day was advancing. All the Italian troops stood motionless in their places, but when Pompey saw that his allied forces were falling into confusion by reason of the delay he feared lest the disorder should spread from them before the beginning of the battle. So he gave the signal first and Cæsar reëchoed it. Straightway the trumpets, of which there were many distributed among so great a host, aroused the soldiers with their inspiring blasts, and the standard-bearers and officers put themselves in motion and exhorted their men. The latter advanced confidently to the encounter, but with stolidity and absolute silence, like men who had had experience in many similar engagements. And now, as they came nearer together, there was first a discharge of arrows and stones. Then as the cavalry were a little in advance of the infantry they charged each other. Those of Pompey prevailed and began to flank the tenth legion. Cæsar then gave the signal to the cohorts in ambush and these, starting up suddenly, advanced to meet the cavalry, and with spears elevated aimed at the faces of the riders. The latter could not endure the enemy's savagery, nor the blows on their mouths and eyes, but fled in disorder. Thereupon Cæsar's men,7 who had just now been afraid of being surrounded, fell upon the flank of Pompey's infantry which was denuded of its cavalry supports.

[79] When Pompey learned this he ordered his infantry not to advance farther, not to break the line of formation, and not to hurl the javelin, but to bring their spears to a rest and ward off the onset of the enemy. Some persons praise this order of Pompey as the best in a case where one is attacked in flank, but Cæsar criticises it in his letters.8 He says that the blows are delivered with more force, and that the spirits of the men are raised, by running, while those who stand still lose courage by reason of their immobility and become excellent targets for those charging against them. So, he says, it proved in this case, for the tenth legion, with Cæsar himself, surrounded Pompey's left wing, now deprived of cavalry, and assailed it with javelins in flank, where it stood immovable; until, finally, the assailants threw it into disorder, routed it, and this was the beginning of the victory. In the rest of the field killing and wounding of all kinds were going on, but no cry came from the scene of carnage, no lamentation from the wounded or the dying, only sighs and groans from those who were falling honorably in their tracks. The allies, who were looking at the battle as at a game, were astonished at the discipline of the combatants. So dumfounded were they that they did not dare attack Cæsar's tents, although they were guarded only by a few old men. Nor did they accomplish anything else, but stood in a kind of stupor.

[80] As Pompey's left wing began to give way his men even still retired step by step and in perfect order, but the allies who had not been in the fight, fled with headlong speed, shouting, "we are vanquished," dashed upon their own tents and fortifications as though they had been the enemy's, and pulled down and plundered whatever they could carry away in their flight. Now the rest of Pompey's legions, perceiving the disaster to the left wing, retired slowly at first, in good order, and still resisting as well as they could; but when the enemy, flushed with victory, pressed upon them they turned in flight. Then, in order that they might not rally, and that this might be the end of the whole war and not of one battle merely, Cæsar, with the greatest prudence, sent heralds everywhere among the ranks to order the victors to spare their own countrymen and to smite only the auxiliaries. The heralds drew near to the retreating enemy and told them to stand still without fear. As this proclamation was passed from man to man they halted, and the phrase "stand without fear" began to be passed as a sort of watchword among Pompey's soldiers; for, being Italians, they were clad in the same style as Cæsar's men and spoke the same language. Accordingly, the latter passed by them and fell upon the auxiliaries, who were not able to resist, and made a very great slaughter among them.9

[81] When Pompey saw the retreat of his men he became dazed and retired slowly to his camp, and when he reached his tent he sat down speechless,10 resembling Ajax, the son of Telamon, who, they say, suffered in like manner in the midst of his enemies at Troy, being deprived of his senses by a god. Very few of the rest returned to the camp, for Cæsar's proclamation caused them to remain unharmed, and as their enemies had passed beyond them they dispersed in groups. As the day was declining Cæsar ran hither and thither among his troops and besought them to continue their exertions till they should capture Pompey's JULIUS CÆSAR AS IMPERATOR In the Palace of the Conservators, Rome

camp, telling them that if they allowed the enemy to rally they would be the victors for only a single day, whereas if they should take the enemy's camp they would finish the war with this one blow. He stretched out his hands to them and took the lead in person. Although they were weary in body, the words and example of their commander lightened their spirits. Their success so far, and the hope of capturing the enemy's camp and the contents thereof, excited them; for in the midst of hope and prosperity men feel fatigue least. So they fell upon the camp and assaulted it with the utmost disdain for the defenders. When Pompey learned this he started up from his strange silence, exclaiming, "What! in our very camp?" Having spoken thus he changed his clothing, mounted a horse, and fled with four friends, and did not draw rein until he reached Larissa early the next morning. So Cæsar established himself in Pompey's camp as he had promised to do when he was preparing for the battle, and ate Pompey's supper, and the whole army feasted at the enemy's expense.11

[82] The losses of Italians on each side -- for there was no report of the losses of auxiliaries, either because of their multitude or because they were despised -- were as follows: in Cæsar's army. thirty centurions and 200 legionaries, or, as some authorities have it, 1200; on Pompey's side ten senators, among whom was Lucius Domitius, the same who had been sent to succeed Cæsar himself in Gaul, and about forty distinguished knights. Some exaggerating writers put the loss in the remainder of his forces at 25,000, but Asinius Pollio, who was one of Cæsar's officers in this battle, records the number of dead Pompeians found as 6000.12 Such was the result of the famous battle of Pharsalus. Cæsar himself carries off the palm for first and second place by common consent, and with him the tenth legion. The third place is taken by the centurion Crastinus, whom Cæsar asked at the beginning of the battle what result he anticipated, and who responded proudly, "We shall conquer, O Cæsar, and you will thank me either living or dead." The whole army testifies that he darted through the ranks like one possessed and did many brilliant deeds. When sought for he was found among the dead, and Cæsar bestowed military honors on his body and buried it, and erected a special tomb for him near the common burial-place of the others.13

1 Πρὸς ἄνδρα ἕνα λῃστεύοντα τὴν ἡγεμονίαν. This might be translated in the words of Hamlet: "The cutpurse of the empire and the rule."

2 Cæsar's speech, as given in his own Commentaries, bears no resemblance to this. " He exhorted the army to battle," he says, " according to the military custom, and spoke of the kindness he had shown them at all times, and especially reminded them, as the soldiers themselves could bear witness, with what earnestness he had sought for peace, what efforts he had made in his conference with Vatinius, what he had endeavored to do in the negotiation with Scipio through Aulus Claudius, and how he had labored with Libo at Oricum for the privilege of sending legates. He said that he never willingly shed the blood of his soldiers, and that it was not his wish that the republic should lose one of its armies. Having spoken thus he gave the signal by trumpet to the soldiers, who were eagerly awaiting it and burning with zeal for the battle." (iii. go.) Suetonius, Florus, and Lucan mention Cæsar's appeal to his soldiers to spare their fellow-citizens in the pursuit, but Florus says it was intended only for effect. Lucan refers to Cæsar's order to demolish the fortifications of his camp before the battle. (Pharsalia, vii. 326.)

3 This is a Greek proverb found in Homer, Herodotus, and several other authors, cited by Combes-Dounous, and also in Liddell and Scott's lexicon under ξυρόν.

4 This is a strange blunder, and is inconsistent with the author's own account of Pompey's subsequent movements. A few lines below he says that after the line of battle was formed each commander moved about among the ranks encouraging his men, and in Sec. 81 he says that when Pompey saw the flight of his men he slowly retired to his camp. Cæsar says that Pompey commanded the left wing of his army in person. Plutarch says he commanded the right wing. Of course Cæsar's testimony is to be preferred.

5 Cæsar's account of this manœuvre is as follows: " Fearing lest his right wing should be surrounded by the greater number of the enemy's horse he rapidly withdrew from the third line one cohort from each legion, and from these formed a fourth line and ranged them in opposition to the enemy's cavalry and explained what he wished them to do and admonished them that the success of this day depended on their valor." (iii. 89.) He says nothing about aiming at the faces of the enemy. It is mentioned by Plutarch, by Lucan, and by Florus, but is probably a fable.

6 This is a chapter of moralizing quite unusual in the writings of Appian. The view which he takes of this war, that it was merely a contest between two ambitious chieftains, instead of being one incident in a long struggle between a corrupt oligarchy and a debased democracy, was commonly held by men of letters until comparatively recent times.

7 The text says "Cæsar's horse," but Schweighäuser considers this a manifest error since Appian, in Sec. 79, says that it was the tenth legion that struck Pompey's left flank. Cæsar himself says that the six cohorts in reserve executed this decisive movement. At all events it could not have been Cæsar's horse.

8 There is some confusion here. Cæsar says (iii. 93) that at the beginning of the battle (not after the repulse of his cavalry) Pompey ordered his soldiers not to move from their places but to await the attack and not allow their line to be broken, thinking that the space between the two armies was so great that Cæsar's men if they charged across it would come up blown. "This," he continues, "seems to me to have been an error on Pompey's part, because there is a certain ardor and eagerness of spirit inborn in mankind, which is excited in the heat of battle, and which commanders ought to encourage, not repress."

9 Cæsar says that the Pompeians fled to their fortified camp, and that, although it was now midday and the heat was excessive, he exhorted his soldiers to make use of their good fortune and storm the enemy's entrenchments, and that they obeyed cheerfully. After a short engagement here the Pompeians again fled and took refuge in the high mountains adjacent. (iii. 95.)

10 There is a striking similarity here both in language and narrative, between Appian and Plutarch. The former says: “ Πομπήϊος ἀπῄει βάδην ἐς τὸ στρατόπεδον καὶ παρελθὼν ἐς τὴν σκηνὴν ἐκαθέζετο ἄναυδος. ” The latter (Life of Pompey, 72) says: “ ἀπῄει βάδην εἰς τὸν χάρακα . . . εἰς τὴν σκηνὴν παρελθὼν ἄφθογγος καθῆστο. ” Here is fresh confirmation of the belief that both Appian and Plutarch drew from a Greek, not from a Latin, source, for if they had translated from Latin it is most improbable that they would have used the same Greek words, in the same, or very nearly the same, order. Moreover, both of them make reference here to the Iliad xi. 543, where Ajax Telamon is smitten with panic by Zeus in the midst of battle. Plutarch quotes the passage itself.

11 Plutarch's account of Pompey's flight is in nearly the same words, viz: "He sat in silence until some of those who were pursuing the fugitives rushed in with them, when he uttered the single sentence: 'What! in our very camp ?' He spoke not another word, but put on clothing suited to his present fortune and stole away." (Life of Pompey, 72.) Cæsar says: " When our men forced their way into his intrenchment Pompey threw off his general's uniform, mounted a horse, went out by the rear gate of his camp and urged his horse with all speed to Larissa. Nor did he stop there, but with the same speed, having collected a few of his scattered soldiers, still travelling by night, with a company of thirty horsemen, he pushed on to the sea where he embarked on a supply ship," etc. (iii. 96.)

12 Cæsar puts his own loss at thirty centurions and 200 private soldiers, and Pompey's at 15,000 killed and 24,000 prisoners. We must infer that Appian was not acquainted with Cæsar's Commentaries, for if he had been he would most probably have quoted him here instead of referring in a loose way to " exaggerating writers."

13 The affair of Crastinus is mentioned by Cæsar, by Florus, and by Plutarch in his life of Pompey and again in his life of Cæsar. The reference here made to Asinius Pollio has led to much discussion in the learned world, touching the sources from which Appian and Plutarch drew. The words used by Crastinus are almost identical in the three passages (one of Appian and two of Plutarch), and this leads Wynne, Hulleman, and Hermann Peter to believe that both authors borrowed from Pollio's history. Vollgraff on the other hand contends that as Pollio wrote in Latin it would have been little less than miraculous if both of them had used the same Greek words in translating it. He considers it remarkable also that the only reference made to Pollio's writings by either of them should have been here, and that both of them mentioned incidentally the fact that Pollio himself took part in the engagement. All of these coincidences may be explained if we suppose that both Plutarch and Appian took the facts from a common Greek source; that is, from some author who took them from Pollio. (See Vollgraff's Greek Writers of Roman History, Leyden, 1880.)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Greek (L. Mendelssohn, 1879)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1880 AD (1)
1200 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: