Foundation of Caesarism
The twenty years following Sulla’s death saw the rise of three men who, if Rome’s founders were truly suckled by a she-wolf, surely had within them the stuff of wolves.
The three were Marcus Licinius Crassus (d. 53 BC), one of Rome’s richest men ever. Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (106-48 BC), known as Pompey the Great, perhaps the greatest military talent of his time, and Gaius Julius Caesar (102-44 BC), arguably the most famous Roman of all times.
A fourth man was Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), is generally understood to have been the greatest orator in the entire history of the Roman Empire. All four were stabbed to death within ten years of each other.
The Rise of Crassus and Pompey
Two men had risen to prominence as supporters of Sulla. One was Publius Licinius Crassus (117-53 BC), who had played a major part in the victory of the Colline Gate for Sulla. The other, Gnaeus Pompeius (106-48 BC), known to the modern historians as Pompey, was a youthful commander of remarkable military talents. Such talents in fact that Sulla had entrusted him with the suppression of the Marians (the supporters of Marius) in Africa. This command he had fulfilled so satisfactorily that it had earned him the complimentary title ‘Magnus’ (‘the Great’) from the dictator. Crassus had no little ability, but he chose to concentrate it on the acquisition of wealth.
Sulla was hardly dead, when the inevitable attempt to overturn his constitution was made by the consul Lepidus, the champion of the popular party. when he took up arms however, he was easily crushed (77 BC).
In one quarter, the Marians had not yet been suppressed. The Marian Sertorius had retreated to Spain when Sulla returned to Italy, and there he had been making himself a formidable power, partly by rallying the Spanish tribes to join him as their leader.
He was very much more than a mere match for the Roman forces sent to deal with him. Pompey, charged with the business of dealing with him in 77 BC, fared not much better than his predecessors.
More worryingly the menacing king Mithridates of Pontus, no longer in awe of Sulla, was negotiating with Sertorius with the intention of renewing the war in 74 BC.
But this alliance came to nothing as Sertorius was assassinated in 72 BC. With Sertorius” death the defeat of the Marians in Spain posed no great difficulty to Pompey anymore.
Pompey could now return home to Rome to claim and receive credit, scarcely deserved, for having succeeded were others had failed.
Third Slave War
Slaves were trained as gladiators, and in 73 BC such a slave, a Thracian named Spartacus, broke out of a gladiator training camp at Capua and took refuge in the hills. The number of his band swelled rapidly and he kept his men well in hand and under strict discipline and routed two commanders who were sent to capture him. In 72 BC Spartacus had so formidable force behind him, that two consular armies were sent against him, both of which he destroyed.
Pompey was in the west, Lucullus in the east. It was Crassus who at the head of six legions at last brought Spartacus to bay, shattered his army, and slew him on the field (71 BC).
Five thousand of Spartacus’ men cut their way through the lines and escaped but only to end up in the very path of Pompey’s army returning from Spain.
Pompey claimed the victory of quelling the Slave war for himself, adding to his questionable glories gained in Spain. Crassus, seeing that the popular soldier might be useful to him, did not quarrel.
Crassus and Pompey joint Consuls
So powerful were the positions of the two leaders, that they felt secure enough to challenge Sulla’s constitution. Both by the terms of Sulla’s laws were barred from standing for the consulship. Pompey was too young and Crassus was required to let a year pass between his position as praetor before he could stand for election.
But both men stood and both were elected.
As consuls, during 70 BC, they procured the annulment of the restrictions imposed on the office of Tribune of the People. Thereby they restored the lost powers of the tribal assembly. The senate dared not refuse their demands, knowing an army behind each of them.
Third Mithridatic War
In 74 BC king Nicomedes of Bithynia died without heirs. Following the example of Attalus of Pergamum he left his kingdom to the Roman people. But with Sulla dead, king Mithridates of Pontus clearly felt his most fearsome enemy had vanished from the scene and revived his dreams of creating his own empire. Nicomedes’ death provided him with an excuse to start a war. He supported a false pretender to the throne of Bithynia on whose behalf he then invaded Bithynia.
At first the consul Cotta failed to make any significant gains against the king, but Lucius Lucullus, formerly the lieutenant of Sulla in the east, was soon dispatched to be governor of Cilicia to deal with Mithridates.
Though provided only with a comparatively small and undisciplined force, Lucullus conducted his operations with such skill that within a year he had broken up the army of Mithridates without having had to fight a pitched battle. Mithridates was driven back into his own territory in Pontus. Following a series of campaigns in the following years Mithridates was forced to flee to king Tigranes of Armenia.
Lucullus’ troops had subjugated Pontus by 70 BC. Meanwhile however Lucullus, trying to sort out matters in the east realized that the cites of the province of Asia were being strangled by the punitive tributes they had to pay to Rome. In fact they had to borrow money to be able to pay them, leading to an ever growing spiral of debt.
In order to alleviate this burden and to return the province back to prosperity he scaled down their debts to Rome from the huge total of 120’000 talents to 40’000.
This inevitably earned him the enduring gratitude of the cities of Asia, but it also drew upon him the undying resentment of the Roman moneylenders who had until profiteered from the plight of the Asiatic cities.
In 69 BC Lucullus, having decided that until Mithridates was captured the conflict in the east could not be resolved, advanced into Armenia and captured the capital Tigranocerta. In the next year he routed the forces of the Armenian king Tigranes. but in 68 BC, paralysed by the mutinous spirit of his depleted troops he was forced to withdraw to Pontus.
Pompey defeats the Pirates
In 74 BC Marcus Antonius, father of the famous Mark Antony, had been given special powers to suppress the large-scale piracy in the Mediterranean. But his attempts had ended in dismal failure. After Antonius’ death, the consul Quintus Metellus was set upon the same task in 69 BC. Matters indeed did improve, but Metellus’ role should be cut shorts, as Pompey in 67 BC decided he wanted the position. Thanks to no small part to the support of Julius Caesar, Pompey was given the task, despite opposition by the senate.
A commander free to do as he wished and with nearly unlimited resources, Pompey accomplished in only three months what no one else had managed. Spreading his fleet systematically across the Mediterranean, Pompey swept the sea clean from end to end. The pirates were destroyed.
Pompey against Mithridates
By popular acclaim, fresh from his brilliant triumph over the pirates, Pompey was given supreme and unlimited authority over the whole east. His powers were to be in his hands until he himself should be satisfied with the completeness of the settlement he might effect.
No Roman, other than Sulla, had ever been given such powers. From 66 to 62 BC Pompey should remain in the east.
In his first campaign Pompey forced Mithridates to fight him, and routed his forces on the eastern border of Pontus. Mithridates fled, but was refused asylum by Tigranes of Armenia who, after the onslaught by Lucullus, evidently feared Roman troops. Instead Mithridates fled to the northern shores of the Black Sea. There, beyond reach of the Roman forces, he began to form plans of leading the barbarian tribes of eastern Europe against Rome. That ambitious project, however, was brought to an end as his own son Pharnaces. In 63 BC, a broken old man, Mithridates killed himself.
Meanwhile Tigranes, eager to come to an arrangement with Rome, had already withdrawn his support for Mithridates and had pulled back his troops based in Syria. when Pompey marched into Armenia, Tigranes submitted to Roman power. Pompey seeing his task completed, saw no reason to occupy Armenia itself. Far more he left Tigranes in power and returned to Asia Minor (Turkey), where he began the organization of the new Roman territories.
Bithynia and Pontus were formed into one province, and the province of Cilicia was enlarged. meanwhile the minor territories on the border, Cappadocia, Galatia and Commagene were recognized as being under Roman protection.
Pompey annexes Syria
When in 64 BC Pompey descended from Cappadocia into northern Syria he needed little more than assume sovereignty on behalf of Rome. Ever since the collapse of the kingdom of the Seleucids sixty years previously, Syria had been ruled by chaos. Roman order was hence welcomed. The acquisition of Syria brought the eastern borders of the empire to the river Euphrates, which should hence traditionally be understood as the boundary between the two great empires of Rome and Parthia.
In Syria itself Pompey is said to have founded or restored as many as forty cities, settling them with the many refugees of the recent wars.
Pompey in Judaea
However, to the south things were different. The princes of Judaea had been allies of Rome for half a century.
But Judaea was suffering a civil war between the two brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. Pompey was hence asked to help quell their quarrels and help decide the matter of rule over Judaea (63 BC).
Pompey advised in favour of Hyrcanus. Aristobulus gave way to his brother. But his followers refused to accept and locked themselves up in the city of Jerusalem. Pompey hence besieged the city, conquered it after three months and left it to Hyrcanus. But his troops having effectively put Hyrcanus in power, Pompey left Judaea no longer an ally but a protectorate, which paid a tribute to Rome.
The Cataline Conspiracy
During the five years of Pompey’s absence in the east Roman politics were as lively as ever.
Julius Caesar, the nephew of Marius and son-in-law of Cinna, was courting popularity and steadily rising in power and influence.
However, among the hot-heads of the anti-senatorial party was Lucius Sergius Catalina (ca. 106 – 62 BC) a patrician who was at least reputed to have no scruples in such matters as assassination.
On the other side the ranks of the senatorial party were joined by the most brilliant orator of the day, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 BC).
In 64 BC Catalina stood as a candidate for the consulship, having just been barely acquitted in the courts on a charge of treasonable conspiracy.
Though Cicero was not popular with the upper class senators of the old families, his party nominated him as their candidate – if only to prevent Catalina from winning the seat. Cicero’s rhetoric won day and secured him the post of consul.
But Catalina was not a man to take defeat easily.
While Caesar continue to court popularity, managing even to secure election to the dignified office of pontifex maximus ahead of the most eminent senatorial candidates, Catalina began to plot.
The intrigue was afoot in 63 BC, and yet Catalina did not intend to move until he had attained the consulship. He also didn’t feel sufficiently ready to strike yet.
But all should come to nothing as some information about his plans was passed on to Cicero. Cicero went to the senate and presented what evidence he had, of plans being afoot.
Catalina escaped to the north to head the intended rebellion in the provinces, leaving his accomplices to carry out the programme arranged for the city.
Cicero, by now having been granted emergency powers by the senate, obtained correspondence between Catalina and the Gallic tribe of the Allobroges. The principal conspirators named in the letter were arrested and condemned to death without trial.
Cicero told the whole story to the people gathered in the forum amid frantic applause. In the city of Rome the rebellion had been quashed without a fight.
But in the country Catalina fell fighting indomitably in early 62 BC at the head of the troops he had succeeded in raising.
For the moment at least civil war had been averted.
The first Triumvirate
With Pompey about to return to Rome, no one knew what the conqueror of the east intended to do. Both Cicero and Caesar wanted his alliance. But Caesar knew how to wait and turn events in his favour. At present Crassus with his gold was more important then Pompey with his men. The money of Crassus enabled Caesar to take up the praetorship in Spain, soon after Pompey’s landing at Brundisium (Brindisi).
However, many people took comfort when Pompey instead of remaining at the head of his army dismissed his troops. He was not minded to play the part of dictator.
Then in 60 BC Caesar returned from Spain, enriched by the spoils of successful military campaigns against rebellious tribes. He found Pompey showing little interest in any alliance with Cicero and the senatorial party. Instead an alliance was forged between the popular politician, the victorious general and the richest man in Rome – the so-called first triumvirate – between Caesar, Pompey and Crassus.
The reason for the ‘first triumvirate is to be found in the hostility the populists Crassus Pompey and Caesar faced in the senate, in particularly by the likes of Cato the Younger, Cato the Elder’s great-grandson. Perhaps his famous namesake before him Cato the Younger was a (self-)righteous, but talented politician. A fatal mix, if surrounded by wolves of the caliber of Crassus, Pompey and Caesar. He became one of the leaders in the senate, where he particularly rounded on Crassus, Pompey and Caesar. Alas, he even fell out with Cicero, the greatest speaker of the house by far.
The ‘first triumvirate was, rather than a constitutional office or a dictatorship imposed by force, an alliance of the three main popular politicians; Crassus, Pompey and Caesar.
They helped each other along, guarding each other’s backs from Cato the Younger and his attacks in the senate.
With Pompey and Crassus supporting him Caesar was triumphantly elected consul.
The partnership with Pompey was to be sealed in the following year by the marriage between Pompey and Caesar’s daughter Julia.
The first Consulate of Julius Caesar
Caesar used his year as consul (59 BC) to further establish his position. A popular agrarian law, As his first act in office Caesar brought proposed a new agrarian law which gave lands to the veteran soldiers of Pompey and poor citizens in Campania.. Though opposed by the senate, but supported by Pompey as Crassus, the law was passed in the tribal assembly, after a detachment of Pompey’s veterans had by physical force swept away any possible constitutional opposition. The populace were gratified and the three triumvirs now had a body of loyal and grateful veteran soldiers to call on in case of trouble.
Pompey’s organization of the east was finally confirmed, having been in doubt until then. And finally Caesar secured for himself an unprecedented term of five years for the proconsulship of Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum. The senate, hoping to be well rid of him, added to his territories Transalpine Gaul (Gallia Narbonensis) where serious trouble was brewing.
Before his departure though Caesar saw to it that the political opposition lay in tatters. The austere and uncompromising Cato the Younger (95-46 BC) was dispatched to secure the annexation of Cyprus. Meanwhile the arch-enemy of Cicero, Publius Claudius (known as Clodius), was aided in obtaining the position of Tribune of the People, whilst Cicero himself was forced into exile in Greece for having illegally killed without trial the accomplices of Catalina during the Cataline Conspiracy.
Caesar defeats the Helvetii, the Germans and the Nervii
In the first year of his governorship of Gaul 58 BC, Caesar’s presence was urgently required in Transalpine Gaul (Gallia Narbonensis) because of the movement among the Teutonic tribes which was displacing the Helvetic (Swiss) Celts and forcing them into Roman territory. the year 58 BC was therefore first occupied with a campaign in which the invaders were split in two and their forces so heavily defeated that they had to retire to their own mountains.
But no sooner was this menace dealt with another loomed on the horizon. The fierce Germans tribes (Sueves and Swabians) were crossing the Rhine and threatening to overthrow the Aedui, the Gallic allies of Rome on the northern borders of the Roman province of Transalpine Gaul.
The German chief, Ariovistus, apparently envisaged the conquest of entire Gaul and its partition between himself and the Romans.
Caesar led his legions to the help of the Aedui and utterly defeated the German force, with Ariovistus barely escaping across the Rhine with what was left of his forces.
With the Germans driven back, fear was aroused in Gaul of a general Roman conquest. The Nervii, who were the leading tribe of the warlike Belgae in the north-east of Gaul prepared an attack on Rome’s forces. But Caesar received warning from friends in Gaul and decided to attack first, invading Nervian territory in 57 BC.
The Nervii fought heroically and for some time the outcome of the decisive battle uncertain, but eventually Caesar’s victory proved overwhelming. It was followed by a general submission of all the tribes between the river Aisne and the Rhine.
Disorder in Rome under Clodius
With Julius Caesar campaigning in Gaul, Clodius exercised his powers as the virtual king of Rome with neither Pompey nor Crassus interfering. Among his measures was a law which distributed corn no longer at half price but for free to the citizens of Rome.
But his conduct was generally reckless and violent, as he employed a large gang of thugs and troublemakers to enforce his will. So much so, that it aroused the anger of Pompey who the following year (57 BC) used his influence to enable the return of Cicero to Rome. Did the supporters of Clodius protest in a violent riot then this was met with equal brute force by Pompey, who organized his own band of thugs, made up partially of veterans of his army, which under the guidance of the tribune T. Annius Milo took to the streets and beet Clodius’ ruffians at their own game.
Cicero, finding himself still very popular on his return to Rome, proposed – perhaps feeling indebted – that Pompey should be granted dictatorial powers for the restoration of order. But only partial, not total power was conveyed upon Pompey, who himself seemed little tempted in acting as a policeman in Rome.
Conference of the Triumvirs in Luca
With Clodius reduced in power and influence, the senate was stirring again, seeking to gain back some power from the three triumvirs. So in 56 BC a meeting was held at Luca in Cisalpine Gaul by the three men, determined to hold onto their privileged position.
The result of the meeting was that Pompey and Crassus stood for the consulship again and were elected – largely due to the fact that Crassus’ son, who had been serving brilliantly under Caesar, was at no great distance from Rome with a returning legion.
Did Pompey and Crassus gain office in such way, then Caesar’s part of the bargain was that the two new consuls extended his term in office in Gaul by another five years (until 49 BC).
Caesar’s expeditions into Germany and Britain
Caesar went on, after the the conference of Luca to reduce the whole of Gaul to submission in the course of three campaigns – justified by initial aggression from the barbarians.
The two following years were occupied with expeditions and campaigns of an experimental kind. In 55 BC a fresh invasion of Germans across the Rhine was completely shattered in the neighbourhood of modern Koblenz and the victory was followed by a great raid over the river into German territory, which made Caesar decide that the Rhine should remain the boundary.
Gaul conquered and the Germans crushed, Caesar turned his attention to Britain. In 55 BC he led his first expedition to Britain, a land so far known only by the reports of traders.
The following year, 54 BC, Caesar led his second expedition, and reduced the south-east of the island to submission. But he decided that real conquest was not worth undertaking.
During that winter and the following year 53 BC, the year of the disaster of Carrhae, Caesar was kept occupied with various revolts in north-eastern Gaul.
Pompey sole consul in Rome
In 54 BC Pompey’s young wife had died and with her death had disappeared the personal link between him and his father-in-law Caesar.
Crassus had started for the east to take up governorship of Syria. Meanwhile Pompey did little. He simply watched with growing jealousy the successive triumphs of Caesar in Gaul.
In 52 BC things in Rome reached another point of crisis. During the previous two years the city had remained in a state of near anarchy.
Clodius, still the leader of the popular extremists, was killed in an violent brawl with the followers of Milo, the leader of the senatorial extremists. Pompey, was elected sole consul and was commissioned to restore order in the ever more riotous city of Rome.
In effect Pompey was left virtual dictator of Rome. A dangerous situation, considering Caesar’s presence in Gaul with several battle-hardened legions.
Pompey himself achieved a five year extension for his own position of proconsul of Spain, but – very controversially – he had a law passed by which Caesar’s term in Gaul would be cut short by almost a year (ending in March 49 instead of January 48 BC).
A reaction of Caesar’s was inevitable to such provocation, but he could not respond immediately, as a large scale revolt in Gaul demanded his full attention.
Disaster at Carrhae
In 55 BC Crassus had, during his consulship, in the aftermath of the conference at Luca, managed to secure himself the governorship of Syria. Phenomenally rich and renowned for greed, people saw this as yet another example of his appetite for money. The east was rich, and a governor of Syria could hope to be much the richer on his return to Rome.
But Crassus was for once, it appears, seeking more than mere wealth, although the promise of gold no doubt played a major part in his seeking the governorship of Syria. With Pompey and Caesar having covered themselves in military glory, Crassus craved for similar recognition.
Had his money bought him his power and influence so far, as a politician he had always been the poor relation to his partners in the triumvirate. There was only one way by which to equal their popularity and that was by equalling their military exploits.
Relations with the Parthians had never been good and now Crassus set out on a war against them. First he raided Mesopotamia, before spending the winter of 54/53 BC in Syria, when he did little to make himself popular by requisitioning from the Great Temple of Jerusalem and other temples and sanctuaries.
Then, in 53 BC, Crassus crossed the Euphrates with 35’000 men with the intention of marching on Seleucia-ad-Tigris, the commercial capital of ancient Babylonia. Large though Crassus’ army was, it consisted almost entirely of legionary infantry.
But for the Gallic horseman under the command of his son, he possessed no cavalry. An arrangement with the king of Armenia to supply additional cavalry had fallen foul, and Crassus was no longer prepared to delay any further.
He marched into absolute disaster against an army of 10’000 horsemen of the Parthian king Orodes II. The place where the two armies met, the wide open spaces of the low lying land of Mesopotamia around the city of Carrhae, offered ideal terrain for cavalry manoeuvres.
The Parthian horse archers could move at liberty, staying at a safe distance while taking shots at the helpless Roman infantry from a safe range. 25’000 men fell or were captured by the Parthians, the remaining 10’000 managed to escape back to Roman territory.
Crassus himself was killed trying to negotiate terms for surrender.
The Rebellion of Vercingetorix in Gaul
In 52 BC, just as Pompey’s jealousies reached their height, a great rebellion was organized in the very heart of Gaul by the heroic Arvernian chief Vercingetorix. So stubborn and so able was the Gallic chief that all Caesar’s energies were required for the campaign. On an attack on Gergovia Caesar even suffered a defeat, dispelling the general myth of his invincibility.
Taking heart from this, all Gallic tribes, except for three broke out in open rebellion against Rome. Even the allied Aedui joined the ranks of the rebels. But a battle near Dijon turned the odds back in favour of Caesar, who drove Vercingetorix into the hill-top city of Alesia and laid siege to him.
All efforts of the Gauls to relieve the siege were in vain. At Alesia the Gallic resistance was broken and Vercingetorix was captured. Gaul was conquered for good.
The whole of 51 BC was taken up by the organization of the conquered land and the establishment of garrisons to retain its control.
Caesar’s breach with Pompey
Meanwhile the party in Rome most hostile toward him was straining itself to the utmost to effect his ruin between the termination of his present appointment and his entry into a new post.
Caesar would be secure from attack if he passed straight from his position of proconsul of Gaul and Illyricum into the office of consul back in Rome. He was sure to win an election to that office, but the rules prohibited him from entering such a position till 48 BC (the rules stated that he had to wait for ten years after holding the office of consul in 59 BC !). If he could be deprived of his troops before that date, he could be attacked through the law courts for his questionable proceedings in Gaul and his fate would be sealed, while Pompey would still enjoy command over his own troops in Spain.
So far Caesar’s supporters in Rome delayed a decree which would have displaced Caesar from office in March 49 BC. But the problem was only delayed, not resolved. Meanwhile in 51 BC, two legions were detached from Caesar’s command and moved to Italy, to be ready for service against the Parthians in the east.
In 50 BC the question of redistributing the provinces came up for settlement. Caesar’s agents in Rome proposed compromises, suggesting that Caesar and Pompey should resign simultaneously from their positions as provincial governors, or that Caesar should only retain one of his three provinces.
Pompey refused, but proposed that Caesar should not resign until November 49 BC (which would still have left two months for his prosecution !). Caesar naturally refused. Having completed the organization of Gaul, he had now returned to Cisalpine Gaul in northern Italy with one veteran legion. Pompey, commissioned by a suspicious senate, left Rome to raise more troops in Italy.
In January 49 BC Caesar repeated his offer of a joint resignation. The senate rejected the offer and decreed that their current consuls should enjoy a completely free hand ‘in defence of the Republic’. Evidently they had resigned themselves to the fact that there was going to be a civil war.
Caesar was still in his province, of which the boundary to Italy was the river Rubicon. The momentous choice lay before him. Was he to submit and let his enemies utterly destroy him or was he to take power by force. He made his choice. At the head of one of his one legion, on the night of January 6, 49 BC, he crossed the Rubicon. Caesar was now at war with Rome.
Showdown between Casesar and Pompey
Pompey was not prepared for the sudden swiftness of his adversary. Without waiting for the reinforcements he had summoned from Gaul, Caesar swooped on Umbria and Picenum, which were not prepared to resist. Town after town surrendered and was won over to his side by the show of clemency and the firm control which Caesar held over his soldiers.
In six weeks he was joined by another legion from Gaul. Corfinium was surrendered to him and he sped south in pursuit of Pompey.
The legions Pompey had ready were the very legions which Caesar had led to victory in Gaul. Pompey hence could not rely on the loyalty of his troops. Instead he decided to move south to the port of Brundisium where he embarked with his troops and sailed east, hoping to raise troops there with which he could return to drive the rebel out of of Italy. His leaving words are said to have been “Sulla did it, why not I ?”
Caesar, with no enemy left to fight in Italy, was in Rome no longer than three months after he had crossed the river Rubicon.
He immediately secured the treasury and then, rather than pursuing Pompey, he turned west to deal with the legions in Spain who were loyal to Pompey.
The campaign in Spain was not a series of battles, but a sequence of skillful manouvers by both sides – during which Caesar, by his own admission, was at times outgeneraled by his opposition. But Caesar remained the winner as within six months most of the Spanish troops had joined his side.
Returning to Rome he became dictator, passed popular laws, and then prepared for the decisive contest in the east, where a large force was now collecting under Pompey.
Pompey also controlled the seas, as most of the fleet had joined with him. Caesar therefore managed only with great difficulty to set across to Epirus with his first army. There he was shut up, unable to manoeuvre, by the much larger army of Pompey. With even more difficulty his lieutenant, Mark Antony, joined him with the second army in the spring of 48 BC.
Some months of manoeuvring following Pompey, though his forces outnumbered Caesar’s, knew well that his eastern soldiers were not to be matched against Caesar’s veterans. Hence he wished to avoid a pitched battle. Many of the senators though, who had fled Italy together with Pompey, scoffed at his indecision and clamoured for battle.
Until at last, in midsummer, Pompey was goaded into delivering an attack on the plain of Pharsalus in Thessaly.
The fight hung long in balance, but eventually ended in the complete rout of Pompey’s army, with immense slaughter. Most of the Romans on Pompey’s side though were persuaded by Caesar’s promises of clemency to surrender once they realized the battle lost.
Pompey himself escaped to the coast, took a ship with a few loyal comrades and made his way to Egypt, where he found awaiting him not the asylum he sought, but the dagger of an assassin commissioned by the Egyptian government.
Caesar in Egypt – The ‘Alexandrian War’
After Caesar’s great victory at Pharsalus, all was not yet won. The Pompeians still controlled the seas, Africa was in their hands and Juba of Numidia was siding with them. Caesar was not yet master of the empire.
Therefore, at the first possible moment, Caesar had set out with a small force after Pompey and, evading the enemy fleets, tracked him all the way to Egypt, where the Egyptian government’s envoys received him, not with his dead rival’s head.
But rather than being able to swiftly move on ad deal with the remaining Pompeians, Caesar became entangled in Egyptian politics. He was asked to help settle a dispute between the young king Ptolemy XII and his fascinating sister Cleopatra.
Though the arrangements Caesar suggested for the dynasty gave such offence to Ptolemy and his ministers that they set the royal army upon him and kept him and his small force blockaded in the palace quarter of Alexandria through the winter of 48/47 BC.
With his force of no more than 3000 men Caesar became involved in desperate rounds of street-fighting against the Ptolemaic royal troops.
Meanwhile, the Pompeians seeing their chance to rid themselves of their foe, used their fleets to prevent any reinforcements reaching him.
Alas, a makeshift force swept together jointly in Cilicia and Syria by a wealthy citizen of Pergamum, known as Mithridates of Pergamum, and by Antipater, a Judaean government minister, managed to land and help Caesar out of Alexandria.
A few days later the ‘Alexandrian War’ was ended in a pitched battle on the Nile delta, in which both the king Ptolemy XII and the true power behind the throne, his chief-minister Achillas, met their death.
The late king’s crown was transferred by Caesar to his younger brother Ptolemy XIII. But the effective ruler of Egypt henceforth was Cleopatra whom Caesar invested a co-regent.
Wether true or not is unclear, but Caesar is said to have spent up to two months with Cleopatra on a holiday tour up the Nile.
Caesar defeats Pharnaces of Pontus
In the summer of 47 BC Caesar began his way home. While passing through Judaea he rewarded the intervention of Antipater at Alexandria with a reduction of the tribute the Jewish people had to pay to Rome.
But more serious matters were still to be taken care of. Pharnaces, the son of Mithridates, had seized his opportunity to recover power in Pontus, whilst the Romans were tied up in their civil war.
In a lightning campaign Caesar shattered the power of Pharnaces. It was at the occasion of that victory on which Caesar dispatched the words back to Rome ‘veni, vidi, vici’ (‘I came, I saw, I conquered’).
Caesar’s final Victory over the Pompeians
By July 47 BC Caesar was back in Rome, and was formally appointed dictator for the second time.
In Spain the legions were in mutiny. And in Africa the Pompeians were scoring victories.
He also found the legions in Campania in mutiny, demanding to be discharged. But what they really wanted was not a discharge, but more pay.
Caesar coolly complied with their demand, granting them their discharge together with a message of his contempt. Whereupon the distraught troops begged to be reinstated again, whatever his terms may be. A triumphant Caesar granted them their will and re-employed them.
Next Caesar carried a force to Africa, but was unable to strike a decisive blow until in February 46 BC he shattered the Pompeian forces at Thapsus. The senatorial leaders either fled to Spain or killed themselves, including Juba, king of Numidia who had sided with them. Numidia in turn was annexed and made a new Roman province.
Caesar returned to Rome and celebrated a series of triumphs. Having reconciliation in mind, he celebrated not his victories over other Romans, but those over the Gauls, Egypt, Pharnaces and Juba.
But more so he astonished the world by declaring a complete amnesty, taking no sort of revenge on any of his past enemies.
Confirmed as dictator for the third time, Caesar occupied himself with reorganizing the imperial system, legislating and planning and starting public works.
Then, for a last time, Caesar was called to deal with a Pompeian force. Two sons of Pompey, Gnaeus and Sextus, had, after fleeing from Africa been able to raise an army in Spain. Once in Spain, sickness kept Caesar inactive until the end of the year. But by 46 BC he moved on the Pompeians once more, and at the battle of Munda on 17 March 45 BC he finally crushed them, in his most desperately fought battle.
For six more months Caesar was occupied in the settlement of Spanish affairs, before in October 45 BC he returned to Rome.
Into the few months of his remaining regime Caesar compressed a surprising amount of social and economic legislation, most of all the granting of full Roman citizenship to all Italians.
It was in his many reforms and projects that it showed that Caesar was not merely a conqueror and destroyer. Caesar was a builder, a visionary statesman the likes of which, the world rarely gets to see.
He established order, begun measures to reduce congestion in Rome, draining large tracts of marshy lands, revised the tax laws of Asia and Sicily, resettled many Romans in new homes in the Roman provinces and reformed the calendar, which, with one slight adjustment, is the one in use today.
The Murder of Caesar
A notable situation occurred when, at the festival of the Lupercalia in February 44 BC, Mark Antony offered Caesar the crown as king of Rome. He rejected the offer dramatically, but with obvious reluctance. The idea of a king still remained intolerable to the Romans.
Many senators though suspected it only a matter of time until Caesar should accept such an offer, or that he simply would choose to rule as dictator forever as a quasi-king of Rome.
They saw their suspicions confirmed at hearing that a suggestion was to be put to the senate that Caesar should adopt the title of king for use outside of Italy. More so support for the idea was growing, if not in Rome itself, then with the people of Italy.
And with the appointment of new senators by Caesar, the senate as a whole was becoming more and more am instrument of Caesar’s will. A conspiracy was formed by a group which included senators of the highest influence, some of them even Caesar’s personal friends.
The organizers of the plot was Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus were pardoned Pompeians, but the majority of their accomplices were former officers of Caesar.
Caesar never took precautions for his personal safety. At a meeting of the senate on the Ides of March (15th March) 44 BC, they gathered round him on the pretext of urging a petition and then stabbed him to death.