FAMOUS ROMAN BATTLES IN THE REPUBLICAN ERA AND PUNIC WARS

BATTLES BETWEEN CELTS AND ROMANS


Gauls in Rome

The Celts (Senones) attacked and captured Rome in 390 B.C. after the Battle of the Allia, fought at the confluence of the Tiber and Allia rivers 16 kilometers north of Rome. The Romans were routed and Rome was sacked but the Celts were unable to take the center of the city, at Campidoglio, the legend goes, because, a group of honking geese alerted the Roman of the nighttime Celtic attack.

The Celts lost a crucial battle to the Romans at Telamon, Italy in 225 B.C. Even though the Celts captured a Roman consul and waved his head on stake, their courageous but unruly hand-to-hand tactics were no match against the spears and disciplined ranks of the Romans.

To protect his army of 40,000 men from the Gauls in the 1st century B.C., Julius Caesar erected a fortress with a circumference of 20 kilometers. The fort was protected by hidden pits with upward-pointing sticks, logs spiked with iron hooks, walls fashioned from forked timbers and double ditches. The Celts hurled themselves bravely and foolishly at the fortress and were routed after the Roman cavalry charged down from a hill at a strategic time.

The confrontation between Caesar and the Gauls pitted 55,000 Romans against 250,000 Celts. In his eight-year campaign against the Celts in Gaul Caesar wrote he took 800 towns and killed 1,192,00 men, women and children in 30 battles. In one battle alone he reported his army slaughtered over 250,000 Helveteii, a tribe from present-day Switzerland.

Vercingetorix, the leader of the Celtic forces, surrendered himself at the feet the feet of Caesar who sent him to Rome where the Gaulic leader was imprisoned for six years and ultimately paraded through the streets and strangled in the Forum.

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Sacking of Rome by the Gauls (390 B.C.)

The Gauls (Celts, Senones) attacked and captured Rome in 390 B.C. after the Battle of the Allia, fought at the confluence of the Tiber and Allia rivers 16 kilometers north of Rome. The Romans were routed and Rome was sacked but the Celts were unable to take the center of the city, at Campidoglio, the legend goes, because, a group of honking geese alerted the Roman of the nighttime Gaulic attack.

If the capture of Veii was the greatest victory which the Romans had ever achieved, we now approach one of the greatest disasters which they ever suffered. One reason why Rome was able to capture Veii was the fact that the great body of the Etruscans were obliged to face a new enemy on the northern frontier, an enemy whom they feared more than the Romans on the south. This enemy was the Gauls, the barbarous nation which held the valley of the Po, and which now swept south across the Apennines like a hurricane. News of this invasion reached Rome, and it was resolved to aid the Etruscans in repelling the common foe. The Roman army met the Gauls near the little river Allia, about eleven miles north of Rome, and suffered a terrible defeat. The Gauls pressed on to Rome. They entered, plundered, and burned the city. Only the Capitol remained. This was besieged for seven months, and, according to the legend, was at one time saved by M. Manlius, who was aroused by the cackling of the sacred geese just in time to resist a night assault. At last the Gauls, sated with plunder, and induced by a large bribe, retreated unmolested or, as one legend says, were driven from the city by Camillus, the hero of the Veientine war. The destruction of Rome by the Gauls was a great disaster, not only to Rome, but to all the world; because in it the records of the ancient city perished, leaving many things in the early history of ancient Rome dark and obscure. \~\

The Restoration of Rome: Such a disastrous event as the Gallic invasion would have disheartened almost any other people; but Rome bent before the storm and soon recovered after the tempest was past. Many of the people desired to abandon the city of ashes, and transfer their homes to the vacant town of Veii. But it was decided that Rome was the place for Romans. The city rose so quickly from its ruins that little care was taken in the work of rebuilding, so that the new streets were often narrow and irregular. \~\

The Romans seemed to be in haste to resume the work of extending their power, which had been so favorably begun with the conquest of Veii, but which had been interrupted by the defeat on the Allia. Rome raised new armies and quickly defeated her old enemies, the Volscians, Aequians, and Etruscans, who tried to take advantage of her present distress. The hero Camillus added fresh laurels to his fame. The southern part of Etruria was recovered, and its towns garrisoned by military colonies. Many towns of Latium also were brought into subjection, and they afforded homes for the poor people. Rome seemed almost ready to enter upon a career of conquest; but the recurrence of poverty and distress demanded the attention of the government, and showed the need of further reforms. \~\

War with Pyrrhus (280-275 B.C.)


Pyrrhus and his Elephants

Pyrrhus (319/318–272 BC) was a Greek general and statesman of the Hellenistic period. He was king of the Greek tribe of Molossians, of the royal Aeacid house (from c. 297 BC), and later he became king of Epirus (r. 306–302, 297–272 BC). He was one of the strongest opponents of early Rome. His battles, though victorious, caused him heavy losses, from which the term Pyrrhic victory was coined. He is the subject of one of Plutarch's Parallel Lives. [Source: Wikipedia]

Pyrrhus lands in Italy: Pyrrhus landed in Italy, bringing with him a mercenary army raised in different parts of Greece, consisting of twenty-five thousand men and twenty elephants. Tarentum was placed under the strictest military discipline. Rome, on her part, made the greatest preparations to meet the invader. Her garrisons were strengthened. One army was sent into Etruria, to prevent an uprising in the north; and the main army, under the consul Valerius Laevinus, was sent to southern Italy. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\]

Battle of Heraclea (280 B.C.): The first battle between the Italian and Greek soldiers occurred at Heraclea, not far from Tarentum. It was here that the Roman legion first came into contact with the Macedonian phalanx. The legion was drawn up in three separate lines, in open order; and the soldiers, after hurling the javelins, fought at close quarters with the sword. The phalanx, on the other hand, was a solid mass of soldiers in close order, with their shields touching, and twenty or thirty ranks deep. Its weapon was a long spear, so long that the points of the first five ranks all projected in front of the first rank. Pyrrhus selected his ground on the open plain. Seven times the Roman legions charged against his unbroken phalanxes. After the Roman attack was exhausted, Pyrrhus turned his elephants upon the Roman cavalry, which fled in confusion, followed by the rest of the Roman army. The Romans, though defeated in this battle, displayed wonderful courage and discipline, so that Pyrrhus exclaimed, “With such an army I could conquer the world!”

Embassy of Cineas: The great losses which Pyrrhus suffered convinced him that the Romans could not be conquered with the forces which he had under his command; and that he had better turn his attention to the Carthaginians in Sicily. He therefore resolved to use his victory as a means of obtaining an honorable peace with the Romans. His most trusted minister, Cineas, who is said to have conquered more nations with his tongue than Pyrrhus had with his sword, was sent to Rome with the proposal to make peace, on condition that the Romans should relinquish their conquests in southern Italy. So persuasive were the words of Cineas, that the Roman senate seemed ready to consider his offer. But the charm of his speech was broken by the stern eloquence of Appius Claudius, the blind old censor, who called upon the senate never to make peace with an enemy on Roman soil. Failing in his mission, Cineas returned to his master with the report that the Roman senate was “an assembly of kings.” To give force to the claims of Cineas, Pyrrhus had pushed his army into Campania, and even into Latium; but finding the cities loyal to Rome, he withdrew again to Tarentum. \~\

Battle of Asculum (279 B.C.): In southern Italy, Pyrrhus received the support of the Greek cities, of the Bruttians, the Lucanians, and even the Samnites. In the next year he marched into Apulia, in the direction of the Roman stronghold Luceria. The hostile armies met at Asculum, a few miles south of Luceria. The battle of Asculum was a repetition of Heraclea. The Roman legions charged in vain against the Greek phalanxes; and were then routed by the elephants, which they could not withstand. But again, although the Romans were defeated, the great losses of Pyrrhus prevented him from following up his victory. \~\

Pyrrhus in Sicily (278-276 B.C.): Pyrrhus resolved to turn his back upon Italy, where his victories had been so barren, and go to the rescue of the Greek cities in Sicily, which were subject to Carthage. Leaving his general, Milo, at Tarentum, he crossed over to Syracuse, and gained many victories over the Carthaginians. He drove them to their stronghold in Lilybaeum, at the western extremity of the island; but this city he failed to capture. He then called upon the people of Sicily to build a fleet, but they murmured at his severe command. Believing that such a people was unworthy of his aid, he returned to Tarentum. In the meantime the Romans had recovered nearly all their lost ground in southern Italy. \~\

Battle of Beneventum and Departure of Pyrrhus (275 B.C.): Before abandoning Italy, Pyrrhus determined once more to try the fortunes of war. One of the consular armies, under Curius Dentatus, lay in a strong position near Beneventum in the hilly regions of Samnium. Pyrrhus resolved to attack this army before it could be reënforced. He stormed the Roman position, and was repulsed. The Roman consul then pursued him to the plains and gained a complete victory. Baffled and disappointed, Pyrrhus retreated to Tarentum; and leaving a garrison in that city under his lieutenant, Milo, he led the remnants of his army back to Greece. \~\


Hannibal crossing the Alps with his elephants


Hannibal’s Invades of Italy and Defeats the Romans in the Second Punic War

Hannibal finally reached the valley of the Po, with only twenty thousand foot and six thousand horse. Here he recruited his ranks from the Gauls, who eagerly joined his cause against the Romans. When the Romans were aware that Hannibal was really in Italy, they made preparations to meet and to destroy him. Sempronius was recalled with the army originally intended for Africa; and Scipio, who had returned from Massilia, gathered together the scattered forces in northern Italy and took up his station at Placentia on the Po. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\]

Hannibal won three battles in Italy but lost the forth. Early Carthaginian victories left 15,000 Romans dead in one place and 20,000 in another. With their superior cavalry and what became textbook usage of bottlenecking tactics, Hannibal's forces defeated the Roman force of Flamininius in 217 B.C. at Lake Trasimene. Next he humiliated the Romans, by coldly coordinating his infantry and cavalry attacks, at Cannae in northern Italy, where 60,000 Romans were killed. This victory drew the north of Italy from Rome's sphere for some time.

These victories were followed by a massacre of 50,000 legionnaires (from an army of 75,000) at the Trebia River. Here the Roman were surrounded by flanking movements on both sides. Hannibal's genius killed 6000 legionnaires in minutes. After the stunning defeats, one Roman army was annihilated and Rome was nearly destroyed. The Romans were worried that Hannibal would take his revenge in most awful way. The statesmen Quintus Fabius Maximus was put in charge of the Roman army.

Battle at the Trebia River (218 B.C.)

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Hannibal's first major test in Italy was the battle at the Trebia river (218 B.C.). The Carthaginian general used a small contingent of his best cavalry, the Numidian riders, to lure the Romans out of their camp and into a crossing of the river, for which they were ill prepared. When battle was joined on the other side, the Carthaginian cavalry had a decisive influence, opening the flanks of the Roman legions to an oblique attack, whereupon a further contingent of horsemen hidden to the rear of the Roman forces completed the encirclement. In winning this great victory Hannibal is said to have lost all but one of his elephants; more important than the number of Roman dead was the support gained for his cause among the Cisalpine Gauls. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]



The cavalry of the two armies first met in a skirmish on the north side of the Po, near the little stream Ticinus. The Romans were defeated, and Scipio himself was severely wounded. Hannibal then crossed to the south of the Po. To prevent his advance, Scipio took up a strong position on the bank of the river Trebia. Scipio was soon joined by his colleague Sempronius, who came to him from Ariminum on the Adriatic coast. The two hostile armies were now separated by the river Trebia. Here again Hannibal showed his great skill as a general. By a feigned attack he drew the Romans over to his own side of the river. He then attacked them in front, upon the flank, and in the rear; and the Roman army was nearly annihilated. The remnant of the army fled to Placentia. This great disaster did not discourage the Romans. They soon raised new armies with which to resist the invaders. \~\

Cornelius Nepos wrote in “De Viribus Illustris”: “He had already fought at the Rhone with Publius Cornelius Scipio, the consul, and routed him; with the same man he engaged at Clastidium on the Po River, wounded him, and drove him from the field. A third time that same Scipio, with his colleague Tiberius Longus, opposed him at the Trebia. With those two he joined battle and routed them both. Then he passed through the country of the Ligurians over the Apennines, on his way to Etruria. In the course of that march he contracted such a severe eye trouble that he never afterwards had equally good use of his right eye. While he was still suffering from that complaint and was carried in a litter, he ambushed the consul Gaius Flaminius with his army at Trasumenus and slew him; and not long afterwards Gaius Centenius, the praetor, who was holding a pass with a body of picked men, met the same fate. Next, he arrived in Apulia. There he was opposed by two consuls, Gaius Terentius and Lucius Aemilius, both of whose armies he put to flight in a single battle; the consul Paulus was slain, besides several ex-consuls, including Gnaeus Servilius Geminus, who had been consul the year before.” [Source: Cornelius Nepos (c.99-c.24 B.C.), “Hannibal, from “De Viribus Illustris,” translated by J. Thomas, 1995, Iowa State]

Battle of Lake Trasumenus (217 B.C.)

In the spring of 217 B.C., the new consul, Flaminius, placed his own army at Arretium, in Etruria, and his colleague’s army at Ariminum, to guard the only roads upon which it seemed possible that Hannibal could move, in order to reach Rome. But Hannibal, instead of going by either of these roads on which he was expected to go, crossed the Apennines and pushed on toward Rome through the marshy regions of Etruria. He thus got between the Roman armies and the Roman capital. He knew that Flaminius would be obliged to hasten to Rome to protect the city. He also knew by what road Flaminius must go, and he determined to destroy the Roman army on its way. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\]

He posted his army on the heights near the northern shore of Lake Trasumenus (Trasimene), overlooking a defile through which the Roman army must pass. The Romans approached this defile and entered it, not suspecting the terrible fate which awaited them. At a given signal, the soldiers of Hannibal rushed to the attack. The Romans were overwhelmed on every side, and those who escaped the fierce Gauls and the dreaded cavalry of Numidia were buried in the waters of the lake. Fifteen thousand Romans and Italians fell on that fatal field, with Flaminius, their leader. The Roman army was practically destroyed. Northern Italy was now at the mercy of Hannibal, and Rome seemed an easy prey to the victorious Carthaginian. \~\


Battle of Lake Trasumenus


Fabius Maximus, Dictator: “We have lost a great battle, our army is destroyed, Flaminius is killed!” was the simple announcement which the praetor made, after the frightful disaster at Lake Trasumenus. But this simple announcement brought consternation to the Roman people. They recalled the days of the Gauls and the battle on the Allia. But they were still determined to defend their country. The times seemed to demand a dictator, and Q. Fabius Maximus was appointed. He was a member of that Fabian gens which had before proved its devotion to the country; and he was also that ambassador who had offered to Carthage the choice between peace and war. He ordered new armies to be raised, and the city to be put in a state of defense.” \~\

Battle of Cannae (216 B.C.)

At Cannae in northern Italy, Hannibal humiliated the Romans, by coldly coordinating his infantry and cavalry attacks, killing 60,000 Romans and drawing the north of Italy from Rome's sphere of influence for some time.

The cautious strategy of Fabius soon became unpopular; and the escape of Hannibal from Campania especially excited the dissatisfaction of the people. Two new consuls were therefore chosen, who were expected to pursue a more vigorous policy. These were Terentius Varro and Aemilius Paullus. Hannibal’s army was now in Apulia, near the little town of Cannae on the Aufidus River. To this place the consuls led their new forces, consisting of eighty thousand infantry and six thousand cavalry,—the largest army that the Romans had, up to that time, ever gathered on a single battlefield; Hannibal’s army consisted of forty thousand infantry and ten thousand cavalry. But the brain of Hannibal was more than a match for the forty thousand extra Romans, under the command of less able generals. The Roman consuls took command on alternate days. Paullus was cautious; but Varro was impetuous and determined to fight Hannibal at the first opportunity. As this was Hannibal’s greatest battle, we may learn something of his wonderful skill by looking at, its plan. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\]

The Romans drew up their heavy infantry in solid columns, facing to the south, to attack the center of Hannibal’s line. In front of the heavy-armed troops were the light-armed soldiers, to act as skirmishers. On the Roman right, near the river, were two thousand of the Roman cavalry, and on the left wing were four thousand cavalry of the allies. With their army thus arranged, the Romans hoped to defeat Hannibal. But Hannibal laid his plan not simply to defeat the Roman army, but to draw it into such a position that it could be entirely destroyed. He therefore placed his weakest troops, the Spanish and Gallic infantry, in the center opposite the heavy infantry of the Romans, and pushed them forward in the form of a crescent, with the expectation that they would be driven back and pursued by the Romans. On either flank he placed an invincible body of African troops, his best and most trusted soldiers, drawn back in long, solid columns, so that they could fall upon the Romans when the center had been driven in. On his left wing, next to the river, were placed four thousand Spanish and Gallic cavalry, and on the right wing his superb body of six thousand Numidian cavalry, which was to swing around and attack the Roman army in the rear, when it had become engaged with the African troops upon the right and left. \~\

The description of this plan is almost a description of the battle itself. When the Romans had pressed back the weak center of Hannibal’s line, they found themselves ingulfed in the midst of the Carthaginian forces. Attacked on all sides, the Roman army became a confused mass of struggling men, and the battle became a butchery. The army was annihilated; seventy thousand Roman soldiers are said to have been slain, among whom were eighty senators and the consul Aemilius. The small remnant of survivors fled to the neighboring towns, and Varro, with seventy horsemen, took refuge in the city of Venusia. This was the most terrible day that Rome had seen since the destruction of the city by the Gauls, nearly two centuries before. Every house in Rome was in mourning. \~\


Hannibal ay Cannae


Preparations Before the Battle of Cannae

On The Battle of Cannae (216 B.C), the Roman historian Polybius (c.200-after 118 B.C.) wrote in “History, Book III.107-109: “Through all that winter and spring the two armies remained encamped facing each other. But when the season for the new harvest was come, Hannibal began to move from the camp at Geronium; and making up his mind that it would be to his advantage to force the enemy by any possible means to give him battle, he occupied the citadel of a town called Cannae, into which the corn and other supplies from the district round Canusium were collected by the Romans, and conveyed thence to the camp as occasion required. The town itself, indeed, had been reduced to ruins the year before: but the capture of its citadel and the material of war contained in it, caused great commotion in the Roman army; for it was not only the loss of the place and the stores in it that distressed them, but the fact also that it commanded the surrounding district. They therefore sent frequent messages to Rome asking for instructions: for if they approached the enemy they would not be able to avoid an engagement, in view of the fact that the country was being plundered, and the allies all in a state of excitement. The Senate passed a resolution that they should give the enemy battle: they, however, bade Gnaeus Servilius wait, and despatched the Consuls to the seat of war. [Source: Polybius, “The Histories of Polybius”, 2 Vols., translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (London: Macmillan, 1889), I. 264-275]

“It was to Aemilius [L. Aemilius Paullus, Consul for 216 B.C.] that all eyes turned, and on him the most confident hopes were fixed; for his life had been a noble one, and he was thought to have managed the recent Illyrian war with advantage to the state. The Senate determined to bring eight legions into the field, which had never been done at Rome before, each legion consisting of five thousand men besides allies. For the Romans, as I have state before, habitually enroll four legions per year, each consisting of about four thousand foot and two hundred horse; and when any unusual necessity arises, they raise the number of foot to five thousand and of the horse to three hundred. Of allies, the number in each legion is the same as that of the citizens, but of the horse three times as great. Of the four legions thus composed, they assign two to each of the Consuls for whatever service is going on. Most of their wars are decided by one Consul and two legions, with their quota of allies [thus two citizen legions and two allied legions combined]; and they rarely employ all four at one time and on one service. But on this occasion, so great was the alarm and terror of what would happen, they resolved to bring not only four but eight legions into the field [thus eight citizen legions and eight allied legions combined--about 90,000 men].

“With earnest words of exhortations, therefore, to Aemilius, putting before him the gravity in every point of view of the result of the battle, they despatched him with instructions to seek a favorable opportunity to fight a decisive battle with a courage worthy of Rome. Having arrived at the camp and united their forces, they made known the will of the Senate to the soldiers, and Aemilius exhorted them to do their duty in terms which evidently came from his heart. He addressed himself especially to explain and excuse the reverses which they had lately experienced; for it was on this point particularly that the soldiers were depressed and stood in need of encouragement. AThe causes," he argued, Aof their defeats in former battles were many, and could not be reduced to one or two. But those causes were at an end; and no excuse existed now, if they only showed themselves to be men of courage, for not conquering their enemies. Up to that time both Consuls had never been engaged together, or employed thoroughly trained soldiers: the combatants on the contrary had been raw levies, entirely inexperienced in danger; and what was most important of all, they had been entirely ignorant of their opponents, that they had been brought into the field, and engaged in a pitched battle with an enemy that they had never once set eyes upon. Those who had been defeated on the Trebia were drawn up on the field at daybreak, on the very next morning after their arrival from Sicily; while those who had fought in Etruria [Source: the defeat at Lake Trasimene], not only had never seen the enemy before, but did not do so even during the very battle itself, owing to the unfortunate state of the atmosphere.

“But now the conditions were quite different. For in the first place both Consuls were with the army: and were not only prepared to share the danger themselves, but had also induced the Consuls of the previous year to remain and take part in the struggle. While the men had not only seen the arms, order, and numbers of the enemy, but had been engaged in almost daily fights with them for the last two years. The conditions therefore under which the two former battles were fought being quite different, it was but natural that the result of the coming struggle should be different too. For it would be strange or rather impossible that those who in various skirmishes, where the numbers of either side were equal, had for the most part come off victorious, should, when drawn up altogether, and nearly double of the enemy in number, be defeated.

“"Wherefore, men of the army," he continued, "seeing that we have every advantage on our side for securing a victory, there is only one thing necessary---your determination, your zeal! And I do not think I need say more to you on that point. To men serving others for pay, or to those who fight as allies on behalf of others, who have no greater danger to expect than meets them on the field, and for whom the issues at stake are of little importance---such men may need words of exhortation. But men who, like you, are fighting not for others, but themselves---for country, wives, and children; and for whom the issue is of far more momentous consequence than the mere danger of the hour, need only to be reminded: require no exhortation. For who is there among you who would not wish if possible to be victorious; and next, if that may not be, to die with arms in his hands, rather than to live and see the outrage and death of those dear objects which I have named?

"Wherefore, men of the army, apart from any words of mine, place before your eyes the momentous difference to you between victory and defeat, and all their consequences. Enter upon this battle with the full conviction, that in it your country is not risking a certain number of legions, but her bare existence. For she has nothing to add to such an army as this, to give her victory, if the day now goes against us. All she has of confidence and strength rests on you; all her hopes of safety are in your hands. Do not frustrate those hopes: but pay back to your country the gratitude you owe her; and make it clear to all the world that the former reverses occurred, not because the Romans are worse men than the Carthaginians, but from the lack of experience on the part of those who were then fighting, and through a combination of adverse circumstances." With such words Aemilius dismissed the troops.”



Romans Advances Towards Hannibal at Cannae

On The Battle of Cannae, Polybius wrote in “History, Book III. 110-111: “ Next morning the two Consuls broke up their camp, and advanced to where they heard that the enemy were entrenched. On the second day they arrived within sight of them, and pitched their camp at about fifty stadia distance. But when Aemilius observed that the ground was flat and bare for some distance round, he said that they must not engage there with an enemy superior to them in cavalry; but that they must rather try to draw him off, and lead him to ground on which the battle would be more in the hands of the infantry. But Caius Terentius [C. Terentius Varro, Consul for 216 B.C.] being, from inexperience, of a contrary opinion, there was a dispute and misunderstanding between the two leaders, which of all things is the most dangerous. It is the custom, when the two Consuls are present, that they should take the chief command on alternate days; and the next day happening to be the turn of Terentius, he ordered an advance with a view of approaching the enemy, in spite of the protests and active opposition of his colleague. Hannibal set his light-armed troops and cavalry in motion to meet him, and charging the Romans while they were still marching, took them by surprise and caused a great confusion in their ranks. The Romans repulsed the first charge by putting some of their heavy-armed in front; and then sending forward their light-armed and cavalry, began to get the best of the fight all along the line: the Carthaginians having no reserves of any importance, while certain companies of the legionaries were mixed with the Roman light-armed, and helped to sustain the battle. Nightfall for the present put an end to a struggle which had not at all answered to the hopes of the Carthaginians. [Source: Polybius, “The Histories of Polybius”, 2 Vols., translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (London: Macmillan, 1889), I. 264-275]

“But next day Aemilius, not thinking it right to engage, and yet being unable any longer to lead off his army, encamped with two-thirds of it on the banks of the Apennines---that chain of mountains which forms the watershed of all Italian rivers, which flow either west to the Tuscan sea, or east to the Hadriatic. This chain is, I say, pierced by the Aufidus, which rises on the side of Italy nearest the Tuscan Sea, and is discharged into the Hadriatic. For the other third of his army he caused a camp to be made across the river, to the east of the ford, about ten stades from his own lines, and a little more from those of the enemy; that these men, being on the other side of the river, might protect his own foraging parties, and threaten those of the enemy.

“Then Hannibal, seeing that his circumstances called for a battle with the enemy, being anxious lest his troops should be depressed by their previous reverse, and believing that it was an occasion which required some encouraging words, summoned a general meeting of his soldiers. When they were assembled, he bid them all look round upon the country, and asked them "What better fortune they could have asked from the gods, if they had had the choice, than to fight in such ground as they saw there, with the vast superiority of cavalry on their side?" And when all signified their acquiescence in such an evident truth, he added: "First, then, give thanks to the gods: for they have brought the enemy into this country, because they designed the victory for us. And, next to me, for having compelled the enemy to fight---for they cannot avoid it any longer---and to fight in a place so full of advantages for us. But I do not think it becoming in me now to use many words in exhorting you to be brave and forward in this battle. When you had had no experience of fighting the Romans this was necessary. and I did not then suggest many arguments and examples to you. But now seeing that you have undeniably beaten the Romans in three successive battles of such magnitude, what arguments could have greater influence with you in confirming your courage than the actual facts? Now, by your previous battles you have got possession of the country and all its wealth, in accordance with my promises: for I have been absolutely true in everything I have ever said to you. But the present contest is for the cities and the wealth in them; and if you win it, all Italy will at once be in your power; and freed from your present hard toils, and masters of the wealth of Rome, you will by this battle become the leaders and lords of the world. This, then, is a time for deeds, not words: for by God's blessing I am persuaded that I shall carry out my promises to you forthwith." His words were received with approving shouts, which he acknowledged with gratitude for their zeal; and having dismissed the assembly, he at once formed a camp on the same bank of the river as that on which was the larger camp of the Romans.”

Fighting at Cannae

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “There is some dispute about the topography of the battle: was it on the north or south bank of the river? Were the Romans facing east (towards the sea) or west (towards the land)? Best to follow Kromayer (Schlachtfelder): the battle was on the south bank, with the Romans facing west (contra Polybius 3. 116). The Romans had a numerical advantage, but this was squandered by concentrating their troops in the center for a massed attack. The lesson of the Trebia had not been learned. Hannibal's troops were arranged in a crescent formation, the wings curving away from the Roman lines; while the Carthaginian center fell back, luring the Romans forward, again Hannibal's cavalry was victorious on the wings, and the crescent then turned inside-out to complete the encirclement.” [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class]



Polybius wrote in “History, Book III.112-115: “Next day he gave orders that all should employ themselves in making preparations and getting themselves into a fit state of body. On the day after that he drew out his men along the bank of the river, and showed that he was eager to give the enemy battle. But Aemilius, dissatisfied with his position, and seeing that the Carthaginians would soon be obliged to shift their quarters for the sake of supplies, kept quiet in his camps, strengthening both with extra guards. After waiting a considerable time, when no one came out to attack him, Hannibal put the rest of the army into camp again, but sent out his Numidian horse to attack the enemy's water parties from the lesser camp. These horsemen riding right up to the lines and preventing the watering, Caius Terentius became more than ever inflamed with the desire of fighting, and the soldiers were eager for a battle, and chafed at the delay. For there is nothing more intolerable to mankind than suspense; when a thing is once decided, men can but endure whatever out of their catalogue of evils it is their misfortune to undergo. [Source: Polybius, “The Histories of Polybius”, 2 Vols., translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (London: Macmillan, 1889), I. 264-275]

“But when the news arrived at Rome that the two armies were face to face, and that skirmishes between advanced parties of both sides were daily taking place, the city was in a state of high excitement and uneasiness; the people dreading the result, owing to the disasters which had now befallen them on more than one occasion; and foreseeing and anticipating in their imaginations what would happen if they were utterly defeated. All the oracles preserved at Rome were in everybody's mouth; and every temple and house was full of prodigies and miracles: in consequence of which the city was one scene of vows, sacrifices, supplicatory processions, and prayers. For the Romans in time of danger take extraordinary pains to appease gods and men, and look upon no ceremony of that kind in such times as unbecoming or beneath their dignity.

“When he took over the command on the following day, as soon as the sun was above the horizon, Caius Terentius got the army in motion from both the camps. Those from the larger camp he drew up in order of battle, as soon as he had got them across the river, and bringing up those of the smaller camp he placed them all in the same line, selecting the south as the aspect of the whole. The Roman horse he stationed on the right wing along the river, and their foot next to them in the same line, placing the maniples, however, closer together than usual, and making the depth of each maniple several times greater than its front. The cavalry of the allies he stationed on the left wing, and the light-armed troops he placed slightly in advance of the whole army, which amounted with its allies to eighty thousand infantry and a little more than six thousand horse. At the same time Hannibal brought his Balearic slingers and spearmen across the river, and stationed them in advance of his main body; which he led out of their camp, and, getting them across the river at two spots, drew them up opposite the enemy. On his left wing, close to the river, he stationed the Iberian and Celtic horse opposite the Roman cavalry; and next to them half the Libyan heavy-armed foot; and next to them the Iberian and Celtic foot; next, the other half of the Libyans, and, on the right wing, the Numidian horse. Having now got them all into line he advanced with the central companies of the Iberians and Celts; and so arranged the other companies next these in regular gradations, that the whole line became crescent-shaped, diminishing in depth towards its extremities: his object being to have his Libyans as a reserve in the battle, and to commence the action with his Iberians and Celts.

“The armor of the Libyans was Roman, for Hannibal had armed them with a selection of the spoils taken in previous battles. The shield of the Iberians and Celts was about the same size, but their swords were quite different. For that of the Roman can thrust with as deadly effects as it can cut, while the Gallic sword can only cut, and that requires some room. And the companies coming alternately---the naked Celts, and the Iberians with their short linen tunics bordered with purple stripes, the whole appearance of the line was strange and terrifying. The whole strength of the Carthaginian cavalry was ten thousand, but that of their foot was not more than forty thousand, including the Celts. Aemilius commanded on the Roman right, Caius Terentius on the left, Marcus Atilius and Gnaeus Servilius, the consuls of the previous year, on the center. The left of the Carthaginians was commanded by Hasdrubal, the right by Hanno, the center by Hannibal in person, attended by his brother Mago. And as the Roman line faced the south, as I said before, and the Carthaginian the north, the rays of the rising sun did not inconvenience either of them.


Death of Paulus Aemilus at Cannae


“The battle was begun by an engagement between the advanced guard of the two armies; and at first the affair between these light-armed troops was indecisive. But as soon as the Iberian and Celtic cavalry got at the Romans, the battle began in earnest, and in the true barbaric fashion: for there was none of the usual formal advance and retreat; but when they once got to close quarters, they grappled man to man, and, dismounting from their horses, fought on foot. But when the Carthaginians had got the upper hand in this encounter and killed most of their opponents on the ground---because the Romans all maintained the fight with spirit and determination---and began chasing the remainder along the river, slaying as they went along and giving no quarter; then the legionaries took the place of the light-armed and closed with the enemy. For a short time the Iberian and Celtic lines stood their ground and fought gallantly; but, presently overpowered by the weight of the heavy-armed lines, they gave way and retired to the rear, thus breaking up the crescent. The Roman maniples followed with spirit, and easily cut their way through the enemy's line; since the Celts had been drawn up in a thin line, while the Romans had closed up from the wings towards the center and the point of danger. For the two wings did not come into action at the same time as the center: but the center was first engaged, because the Gauls, having been stationed on the arc of the crescent, had come into contact with the enemy long before the wings, the convex of the crescent being towards the enemy.”

Hannibal Defeats the Romans at Cannae

Polybius wrote in “History, Book III.115-116: “The Romans, however, going in pursuit of these troops, and hastily closing in towards the center and the part of the enemy which was giving ground, advanced so far that the Libyan heavy-armed troops on either wing got on their flanks. Those on the right, facing to the left, charged from the right upon the Roman flank; while those who were on the left wing faced to the right, and, dressing by the left, charged their right flank, the exigency of the moment suggesting to them what they ought to do. Thus it came about, as Hannibal had planned, that the Romans were caught between two hostile lines of Libyans---thanks to their impetuous pursuit of the Celts. Still they fought, though no longer in line, yet singly, or in maniples, which faced to meet those who charged them on the flanks. [Source: Polybius, “The Histories of Polybius”, 2 Vols., translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (London: Macmillan, 1889), I. 264-275]

“Though he had been from the first on the right wing, and had taken part in the cavalry engagement, Lucius Aemilius still survived. Determined to act up to his own exhortatory speech, and seeing that the decision of the battle rested mainly on the legionaries, riding up to the center of the line he led the charge himself, and personally grappled with the enemy, at the same time cheering on and exhorting his soldiers to the charge. Hannibal, on the other side, did the same, for he too had taken his place on the center from the commencement. The Numidian horse on the Carthaginian right were meanwhile charging through the cavalry on the Roman left; and though, from the peculiar nature of their mode of fighting, they neither inflicted nor received much harm, they yet rendered the enemy's horse useless by keeping them occupied, and charging them first on one side and then another. But when Hasdrubal, after all but annihilating the cavalry by the river, came from the left to the support of the Numidians, the Roman allied cavalry, seeing his charge approaching, broke and fled. At that point Hasdrubal appears to have acted with great skill and discretion. Seeing the Numidians to be strong in numbers, and more effective and formidable to troops that had once been forced from their ground, he left the pursuit to them; while he himself hastened to the part of the field where the infantry were engaged, and brought his men up to support the Libyans. Then, by charging the Roman legions on the rear, and harassing them by hurling squadron after squadron upon them at many points at once, he raised the spirits of the Libyans, and dismayed and depressed that of the Romans.

“It was at this point that Lucius Aemilius fell, in the thick of the fight, covered with wounds: a man who did his duty to his country at that last hour of his life, as he had throughout its previous years, if any man ever did. As long as the Romans could keep an unbroken front, to turn first in one direction and then in another to meet the assaults of the enemy, they held out; but the outer files of the circle continually falling, and the circle becoming more and more contracted, they at last were all killed on the field; and among them Marcus Atilius and Gnaeus Servilius, the Consuls of the previous year, who had shown themselves brave men and worthy of Rome in the battle. While this struggle and carnage were going on, the Numidian horse were pursuing the fugitives, most of whom they cut down or hurled from their horses; but some few escaped into Venusia, among whom was Caius Terentius, the Consul, who thus sought a flight, as disgraceful to himself, as his conduct in office had been disastrous to his country.”



Battle of the Metaurus (207 B.C.)

Hasdrubal (Hannibal's brother) had been kept in Spain by the vigorous campaign which the Romans had conducted in that peninsula under the two Scipios. Upon the death of these generals, the young Publius Cornelius Scipio was sent to Spain and earned a great name by his victories. But Hasdrubal was determined to go to the rescue of his brother in Italy. He followed Hannibal’s path over the Alps into the valley of the Po. Hannibal had moved northward into Apulia, and was awaiting news from Hasdrubal. There were now two enemies in Italy, instead of one. One Roman army under Claudius Nero was, therefore, sent to oppose Hannibal in Apulia; and another army under Livius Salinator was sent to meet Hasdrubal, who had just crossed the river Metaurus, in Umbria. \~\

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “In 207 Hasdrubal finally managed to cross the Alps with 30,000 troops. The plan was for the brothers to link up in Apulia, but this design was thwarted by the bold action of the consul C. Claudius Nero. Nero left Hannibal unopposed in Apulia and raced north to intercept Hasdrubal, whom he met at the battle of the Metaurus River (207 B.C.). This time the Roman numerical advantage (both consular armies had combined for the occasion) was put to better use, and Nero was able to outflank Hasdrubal, who died on the field. Another attempt to reinforce Hannibal followed, with Mago landing at Genoa in Cisalpine Gaul; but he was turned back at Ariminium, and Hannibal simply hung on in the south, losing one town after another. Finally in 203, after 15 years on Italian soil, Hannibal returned to Africa to face the younger Scipio (later to be called Africanus). [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

It was necessary that Hasdrubal should be crushed before Hannibal was informed of his arrival in Italy. The consul Claudius Nero therefore left his main army in Apulia, and with eight thousand picked soldiers hurried to the aid of his colleague in Umbria. The battle which took place at the Metaurus was decisive; and really determined the issue of the second Punic war. The army of Hasdrubal was entirely destroyed, and he himself was slain. The first news which Hannibal received of this disaster was from the lifeless lips of his own brother, whose head was thrown by the Romans into the Carthaginian camp. Hannibal saw that the death of his brother was the doom of Carthage; and he sadly exclaimed, “O Carthage, I see thy fate!” Hannibal retired into Bruttium; and the Roman consuls received the first triumph that had been given since the beginning of this disastrous war. By 205 Scipio had subdued all of Spain, and returned to Rome in triumph to be elected consul. \~\


Battle of Zama


Battle of Zama

The Second Punic War ended when Hannibal was defeated by the Roman general Scipio who counterattacked in Northern Africa and routed the Carthaginian army at the Battle of Zama in 202 B.C. in Tunisia where the Romans employed a checkerboard formation to absorb an elephant charge and then counter-attacked. This was Hannibal's Waterloo.

At Zama, Hannibal fought at a great disadvantage. His own veterans were reduced greatly in number, and the new armies of Carthage could not be depended upon. Scipio changed the order of the legions, leaving spaces in his line, through which the elephants of Hannibal might pass without being opposed. In this battle Hannibal was defeated, and the Carthaginian army was annihilated. It is said that twenty thousand men were slain, and as many more taken prisoners.

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “For the battle at Zama there are two competing accounts, one reflected by both Appian and Dio Cassius, the other by Polybius (15. 9-14) and Livy (30. 32-35). As frequently, the latter is more coherent. Scipio thwarted the elephantine threat by leaving lanes in his ranks through which the beasts might pass, while Hannibal tried to guard against encirclement by keeping his best troops (the veterans from Italy) to the rear. According to Polybius many of the elephants panicked at the outset and charged back into Hannibal's lines; this probably has at least a grain of truth, but it also looks like the product of the popular superstition about Scipio' special favor in the eyes of the gods. The decisive move occurred late in the battle when the Numidian horse left off chasing the remnants of Hannibal's mounted troops (most of them also Numidians) and attacked his rear. After this decisive defeat on African soil Carthage was compelled to accept terms, which were substantially the same as the treaty of 204, except that now the indemnity was doubled to 10,000 talents (payable over 50 years), and the Carthaginians agreed not to wage war outside of Africa. Even within Africa they were to undertake campaigns only with the prior approval of the Senate and people of Rome. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“The lasting effect which Hannibal's sojourn in Italy had upon the collective memory of the Romans may be inferred from the prophetic words, woven by Virgil in the early years of Augustus' principate, which the angry Dido shouts as a curse at the fleeing Aeneas (Aeneid 4. 625-629):
May some avenger arise from my bones,
To harass the Dardan settlers with fire and sword,
Now or in future, whenever the resources are there;
I pray, may our shores oppose their shores, our waves
Their waves, our arms their arms. May future generations
carry on the fight. ^*^

Battle of Alesia: Caesar Victory Over Vercingetorix

In 52 B.C., he put down the last great Gallic-Celtic uprising. Vercingetorix, the leader of the Gallic-Celtic forces, surrendered himself at the feet of Caesar who sent him to Rome where the Gallic leader was imprisoned for six years and then paraded through the streets and strangled in the Forum.

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “In 52 B.C. Caesar faced his most formidable Gallic opponent in Vercingetorix, a resourceful general whose initial successes induced almost all of the Gallic tribes to align themselves with him. The decisive victory came with the fall of the Gallic stronghold at Alesia (near modern Troyes; cf. Plut. Caes. 27) in 51, just in time to allow Caesar to turn his attentions to domestic affairs. By now the number of legions under Caesar's command had risen to 10, augmented by large contingents of Gallic auxiliaries (light-armed) and cavalry. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]


Siege of Alesia


With the defeat of Vercingetorix, the conquest of Gaul was then completed. A large part of the population had been either slain in war or reduced to slavery. The new territory was pacified by bestowing honors upon the Gallic chiefs, and self-government upon the surviving tribes. The Roman legions were distributed through the territory; but Caesar established no military colonies like those of Sulla. The Roman arts and manners were encouraged; and Gaul was brought within the pale of civilization. \~\

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: “He having disposed his army in several bodies, and set officers over them, drew over to him all the country round about as far as those that lie upon the Arar, and having intelligence of the opposition which Caesar now experienced at Rome, thought to engage all Gaul in the war. Which if he had done a little later, when Caesar was taken up with the civil wars, Italy had been put into as great a terror as before it was by the Cimbri. But Caesar, who above all men was gifted with the faculty of making the right use of everything in war, and most especially of seizing the right moment, as soon as he heard of the revolt, returned immediately the same way he went, and showed the barbarians, by the quickness of his march in such a severe season, that an army was advancing against them which was invincible. For in the time that one would have thought it scarce credible that a courier or express should have come with a message from him, he himself appeared with all his army, ravaging the country, reducing their posts, subduing their towns, receiving into his protection those who declared for him. Till at last the Edui, who hitherto had styled themselves brethren to the Romans, and had been much honoured by them, declared against him, and joined the rebels, to the great discouragement of his army. Accordingly he removed thence, and passed the country of the Ligones, desiring to reach the territories of the Sequani, who were his friends, and who lay like a bulwark in front of Italy against the other tribes of Gaul. There the enemy came upon him, and surrounded him with many myriads, whom he also was eager to engage; and at last, after some time and with much slaughter, gained on the whole a complete victory; though at first he appears to have met with some reverse, and the Aruveni show you a small sword hanging up in a temple, which they say was taken from Caesar. Caesar saw this afterwards himself, and smiled, and when his friends advised it should be taken down, would not permit it, because he looked upon it as consecrated. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

“After the defeat, a great part of those who had escaped fled with their king into a town called Alesia, which Caesar besieged, though the height of the walls, and number of those who defended them, made it appear impregnable; and meantime, from without the walls, he was assailed by a greater danger than can be expressed. For the choice men of Gaul, picked out of each nation, and well armed, came to relieve Alesia, to the number of three hundred thousand; nor were there in the town less than one hundred and seventy thousand. So that Caesar being shut up betwixt two such forces, was compelled to protect himself by two walls, one towards the town, the other against the relieving army, as knowing if these forces should join, his affairs would be entirely ruined. The danger that he underwent before Alesia justly gained him great honour on many accounts, and gave him an opportunity of showing greater instances of his valour and conduct than any other contest had done. One wonders much how he should be able to engage and defeat so many thousands of men without the town, and not be perceived by those within, but yet more, that the Romans themselves, who guarded their wall which was next to the town, should be strangers to it. For even they knew nothing of the victory, till they heard the cries of the men and lamentations of the women who were in the town, and had from thence seen the Romans at a distance carrying into their camp a great quantity of bucklers, adorned with gold and silver, many breastplates stained with blood, besides cups and tents made in the Gallic fashion. So soon did so vast an army dissolve and vanish like a ghost or dream, the greatest part of them being killed upon the spot. Those who were in Alesia, having given themselves and Caesar much trouble, surrendered at last; and Vergentorix, who was the chief spring of all the war, putting his best armour on, and adorning his horse, rode out of the gates, and made a turn about Caesar as he was sitting, then quitting his horse, threw off his armour, and remained quietly sitting at Caesar's feet until he was led away to be reserved for the triumph.”

Caesar Defeats Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus in Greece

In 48 B.C., Caesar pursued Pompey across the Adriatic and decisively defeats him at the Battle of Pharsalus in in southern Thessaly, in Greece. Although Pompey's army outnumbered Caesar's — when commanded about 20,000 men compared to 40,000 for Pompey — Caesar's army was more experienced. The senate pressured Pompey to attack first, Pompey reluctantly did so. After the loss, Pompey fled to Egypt where he was assassinated.



In the beginning of 48 B.C., with the few ships that he had collected, he transported his troops from Brundisium across the Adriatic to meet the army of Pompey. In the first conflict, at Dyrrachium, he was defeated. He then retreated across the peninsula in the direction of Pharsalus in order to draw Pompey away from his supplies on the seacoast. Suetonius wrote: Caesar blockaded Pompey for almost four months behind mighty ramparts, finally routed him”[Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\]

Plutarch wrote: “When the two armies were come into Pharsalia (Pharsalus), and both encamped there, Pompey’s thoughts ran the same way as they had done before, against fighting, and the more because of some unlucky presages, and a vision he had in a dream.† But those who were about him were so confident of success, that Domitius, and Spinther, and Scipio, as if they had already conquered, quarrelled which should succeed Cæsar in the pontificate. And many sent to Rome to take houses fit to accommodate consuls and prætors, as being sure of entering upon those offices, as soon as the battle was over. The cavalry especially were obstinate for fighting, being splendidly armed and bravely mounted, and valuing themselves upon the fine horses they kept, and upon their own handsome persons; as also upon the advantage of their numbers, for they were five thousand against one thousand of Cæsar’s. Nor were the numbers of the infantry less disproportionate, there being forty-five thousand of Pompey’s, against twenty-two thousand of the enemy. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

“Cæsar, collecting his soldiers together, told them that Corfinius* was coming up to them with two legions, and that fifteen cohorts more under Calenus were posted at Megara and Athens; he then asked them whether they would stay till these joined them, or would hazard the battle by themselves. They all cried out to him not to wait, but on the contrary to do whatever he could to bring about an engagement as soon as possible. When he sacrificed to the gods for the lustration of his army, upon the death of the first victim, the augur told him, within three days he should come to a decisive action. Cæsar asked him whether he saw any thing in the entrails, which promised an happy event. “That,” said the priest, “you can best answer yourself; for the gods signify a great alteration from the present posture of affairs. If, therefore, you think yourself well off now, expect worse fortune; if unhappy, hope for better.” The night before the battle, as he walked the rounds about midnight, there was a light seen in the heaven, very bright and flaming, which seemed to pass over Cæsar’s camp, and fall into Pompey’s. And when Cæsar’s soldiers came to relieve the watch in the morning, they perceived a panic disorder among the enemies. However, he did not expect to fight that day, but set about raising his camp with the intention of marching towards Scotussa.

“But when the tents were now taken down, his scouts rode up to him, and told him the enemy would give him battle. With this news he was extremely pleased, and having performed his devotions to the gods, set his army in battle array, dividing them into three bodies. Over the middlemost he placed Domitius Calvinus; Antony commanded the left wing, and he himself the right, being resolved to fight at the head of the tenth legion. But when he saw the enemies’ cavalry taking position against him, being struck with their fine appearance and their number, he gave private orders that six cohorts from the rear of the army should come round and join him, whom he posted behind the right wing, and instructed them what they should do, when the enemy’s horse came to charge. On the other side, Pompey commanded the right wing, Domitius the left, and Scipio, Pompey’s father-in-law, the centre. The whole weight of the cavalry was collected on the left wing, with the intent that they should outflank the right wing of the enemy, and rout that part where the general himself commanded. For they thought no phalanx of infantry could be solid enough to sustain such a shock, but that they must necessarily be broken and shattered all to pieces upon the onset of so immense a force of cavalry.


Caesar receiving the head of Pompey


"When they were ready on both sides to give the signal for battle, Pompey commanded his foot who were in the front, to stand their ground, and without breaking their order, receive quietly the enemy’s first attack, till they came within javelin’s cast. Cæsar, in this respect, also, blames Pompey’s generalship, as if he had not been aware how the first encounter, when made with an impetus and upon the run, gives weight and force to the strokes, and fires the men’s spirits into a flame, which the general concurrence fans to full heat. He himself was just putting the troops into motion and advancing to the action, when he found one of his captains, a trusty and experienced soldier, encouraging his men to exert their utmost. Cæsar called him by his name, and said, “What hopes, Caius Crassinius, and what grounds for encouragement?” Crassinius stretched out his hand, and cried in a loud voice, “We shall conquer nobly, Cæsar; and I this day will deserve your praises, either alive or dead.” So he said, and was the first man to run in upon the enemy, followed by the hundred and twenty soldiers about him, and breaking through the first rank, still pressed on forwards with much slaughter of the enemy, till at last he was struck back by the wound of a sword, which went in at his mouth with such force that it came out at his neck behind.

“Whilst the foot was thus sharply engaged in the main battle, on the flank Pompey’s horse rode up confidently, and opened their ranks very wide, that they might surround the right wing of Cæsar. But before they engaged, Cæsar’s cohorts rushed out and attacked them, and did not dart their javelins at a distance, nor strike at the thighs and legs, as they usually did in close battle, but aimed at their faces. For thus Cæsar had instructed them, in hopes that young gentlemen, who had not known much of battles and wounds, but came wearing their hair long, in the flower of their age and height of their beauty, would be more apprehensive of such blows, and not care for hazarding both a danger at present and a blemish for the future. And so it proved, for they were so far from bearing the stroke of the javelins, that they could not stand the sight of them, but turned about, and covered their faces to secure them. Once in disorder, presently they turned about to fly; and so most shamefully ruined all. For those who had beat them back, at once outflanked the infantry, and falling on their rear, cut them to pieces. Pompey, who commanded the other wing of the army, when he saw his cavalry thus broken and flying, was no longer himself, nor did he now remember that he was Pompey the Great, but like one whom some god had deprived of his senses, retired to his tent without speaking a word, and there sat to expect the event, till the whole army was routed, and the enemy appeared upon the works which were thrown up before the camp, where they closely engaged with his men, who were posted there to defend it. Then first he seemed to have recovered his senses, and uttering, it is said, only these words, “What, into the camp too?” he laid aside his general’s habit, and putting on such clothes as might best favor his flight, stole off. What fortune he met with afterwards, how he took shelter in Egypt, and was murdered there, we tell you in his Life.

“Cæsar, when he came to view Pompey’s camp, and saw some of his opponents dead upon the ground, others dying, said, with a groan, “This they would have; they brought me to this necessity. I, Caius Cæsar, after succeeding in so many wars, had been condemned, had I dismissed my army.”* These words, Pollio says, Cæsar spoke in Latin at that time, and that he himself wrote them in Greek; adding, that those who were killed at the taking of the camp, were most of them servants; and that not above six thousand soldiers fell. Cæsar incorporated most of the foot whom he took prisoners, with his own legions, and gave a free pardon to many of the distinguished persons, and amongst the rest, to Brutus, who afterwards killed him. He did not immediately appear after the battle was over, which put Cæsar, it is said, into great anxiety for him; nor was his pleasure less when he saw him present himself alive.

“There were many prodigies that foreshowed this victory, but the most remarkable that we are told of, was that at Tralles. In the temple of Victory stood Cæsar’s statue. The ground on which it stood was naturally hard and solid, and the stone with which it was paved still harder; yet it is said that a palm-tree shot itself up near the pedestal of this statue. In the city of Padua, one Caius Cornelius, who had the character of a good augur, the fellow-citizen and acquaintance of Livy, the historian, happened to be making some augural observations that very day when the battle was fought. And first, as Livy tells us, he pointed out the time of the fight, and said to those who were by him, that just then the battle was begun, and the men engaged. When he looked a second time, and observed the omens, he leaped up as if he had been inspired, and cried out, “Cæsar, you are victorious.” This much surprised the standers by, but he took the garland which he had on from his head, and swore he would never wear it again till the event should give authority to his art. This Livy positively states for a truth.”


victorious Marc Antony


Battle of Philippi (42 B.C.): Defeat of Brutus and Cassius

The Triumvirate battled Cassius and Brutus, the murderers of Caesar, for control of Rome during a of civil war. In 42 B.C. Antony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius, in two battles at Philippi in Macedonia; the credit went to Antony because Octavian was ill during the fighting. On the ostensibly Republican side, only Sextus Pompey survived with a fleet, and Domitius Ahenobarbus with the fleet of Brutus and Cassius. After the Battle of Phillipi Lepidus was stripped of his power and Octavian and Marc Antony divided the empire, with Octavian getting Italy and the west and Antony getting the east.

After Cicero and other enemies were murdered at home, the triumvirs set their sights on were now prepared to crush their enemies abroad. There were three of these enemies whom they were obliged to meet—Brutus and Cassius, who had united their forces in the East; and Sextus Pompeius, who had got possession of the island of Sicily, and had under his command a powerful fleet. While Lepidus remained at Rome, Antony and Octavian invaded Greece with an army of one hundred and twenty thousand men. Against them the two liberators, Brutus and Cassius, collected an army of eighty thousand men. The hostile forces met near Philippi (42 B.C.), a town in Macedonia on the northern coast of the Aegean Sea. Octavian was opposed to Brutus, and Antony to Cassius. Octavian was driven back by Brutus, while Antony, more fortunate, drove back the wing commanded by Cassius. As Cassius saw his flying legions, he thought that all was lost, and stabbed himself with the same dagger, it is said, with which he struck Caesar. This left Brutus in sole command of the opposing army; but he also was defeated in a second battle, and, following the example of Cassius, committed suicide. The double battle at Philippi decided the fate of the republic. As Cicero was its last political champion, Brutus and Cassius were its last military defenders; and with their death we may say that the republic was at an end. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\]

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “In Asia Brutus and Cassius had joined up, using the force of their erstwhile imperium to extort money from the provinces, and (after they were outlawed) declaring themselves a sort of government in exile (marked by their minting of coins). In 42 Antony and Octavian met Brutus and Cassius at Philippi in Macedonia; in the first battle, Antony defeated Cassius while Octavian's wing suffered at the hands of Brutus; but a few weeks later Brutus too was rolled up. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“Antony was able to gather his strength, drawing support from former Caesarian governors in Gaul and Spain. He descended upon Decimus Brutus a second time and destroyed him without even having to fight a battle (Decimus' troops, like those of the western provincial armies, tended to be loyal to Caesar's name). The extent to which resistance to Octavian in the senate had collapsed may be gauged by the fact that now it was the turn of Brutus and Cassius to be outlawed (App. 3. 14. 95). This was Rome as the Republic crumbled: one month you were granted a major command, the next you were public enemy number one. Octavian's next move was to meet Antony and Lepidus. The idea that the three had already struck some sort of deal is belied by the fact that all brought their legions to the meeting, which took place on a small island, i.e. a place where an ambush was impossible. ^*^

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: “However, after they had crossed the sea and engaged in operations of war, encamping in front of the enemy, Antony opposite Cassius, and Caesar opposite Brutus, Caesar did nothing worth relating, and all the success and victory were Antony's. In the first battle, Caesar was completely routed by Brutus, his camp taken, he himself very narrowly escaping by flight. As he himself writes in his Memoirs, he retired before the battle, on account of a dream which one of his friends had. But Antony, on the other hand, defeated Cassius; though some have written that he was not actually present in the engagement, and only joined afterwards in the pursuit. Cassius was killed, at his own entreaty and order, by one of his most trusted freedmen, Pindarus, not being aware of Brutus's victory. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120): Life of Anthony (82-30 B.C.) For “Lives,” written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden MIT]

“After a few days' interval, they fought another battle, in which Brutus lost the day, and slew himself; and Caesar being sick, Antony had almost all the honour of the victory. Standing over Brutus's dead body, he uttered a few words of reproach upon him for the death of his brother Caius, who had been executed by Brutus's order in Macedonia in revenge of Cicero; but, saying presently that Hortensius was most to blame for it, he gave order for his being slain upon his brother's tomb, and, throwing his own scarlet mantle, which was of great value, upon the body of Brutus, he gave charge to one of his own freedmen to take care of his funeral. This man, as Antony came to understand, did not leave the mantle with the corpse, but kept both it and a good part of the money that should have been spent in the funeral for himself; for which he had him put to death.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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