The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins. — H. L. Mencken

Julius Caesar - Ada Russell




The Civil War in Spain and Africa

Caesar set out for Spain by way of the south Gallic provinces on the 6th April 49. Domitius Ahenobarbus, recovered from his disgrace at Corfinium, had been sent by Pompey to win over the old Greek colony of Massilia (Marseilles), and Caesar left Decimus Brutus and Trebonius to besiege this famous and important city, while he went on over the Pyrenees. He had already sent Fabius to seize the passes and start the campaign. Fabius found that the Pompeian lieutenants, Afranius and Petreius, had taken up their position at Ilerda (Lerida), a strongly placed town on the right bank of the Segre, a tributary of the Ebro, to block his way to the south. To-day Lerida, with its narrow Moorish streets, is one of the most picturesque old towns of Catalonia, and its magnificent medieval cathedral may be seen for miles. Toward its predecessor Fabius descended the Segre valley from the Pyrenees, and constructed two wooden bridges over the river in order that he might be able to cross over to the east side of the stream to forage, as he soon consumed all that the Pompeians had left on the west side of the river. Caesar arrived shortly afterward, late in June by the Roman calendar, but in the mid-glory of a Spanish spring gay with flowers, and under a cloudless blue sky. When Caesar joined Fabius he at once changed the position of the camp so as effectually to cut off the defenders of the citadel from the north. He saw at once that he could not storm the city; many armies in the course of later history have attacked and retreated in despair from the great rock of Lerida. His troops were at first placed at a disadvantage by the methods of guerilla warfare which the Pompeians had learned in Spain. Their force was composed of the legions which had been here for a long time before the beginning of the Civil War, waiting for the coming of Pompey as proconsul. The warmth of the weather, too, came to the aid of the foe, for the Segre swelled to a great height through the addition of the melted snow from the mountains. Then a terrible storm swept away both the wooden bridges. The foragers could not return, and supplies on their way from Italy and Gaul could not arrive in the camp. The harvests of Spain were stacked in Ilerda long before their coming, and the natives had driven the cattle to a distance for safety. If Caesar sent soldiers out to forage, they were followed by light-armed Spanish troops from the enemy's camp, with skins which they blew out to serve as boats for crossing the waters. Afranius, too, held the stone bridge over the Segre, close to his fortress. Caesar sought to build another wooden one, but the floods were too high and the banks were lined with the enemy.

Famine and fear were beginning to reign in his camp, and the strength of the soldiers decreased every day. Congratulations poured in on the Pompeians, and many Romans who had been waiting to see which side would win now took their stand definitely with Pompey. Caesar kept his usual immovable calm. He caused osier coracles (small boats), lined with hides, like those used by the Britons, to be made and carried by night twenty-two miles farther up the Segre; his troops crossed, occupied a hill on the other side, and fortified it before the Pompeians knew anything of their proceedings; then, acting from both sides of the stream, a bridge was built in two days' time. At the same moment Caesar had news of a brilliant naval battle won by Decimus Brutus before Marseilles; nine of the war-ships of Domitius and the Massilliots were either taken or sunk, and great loss was inflicted. Thus Fortune had declared for him again. The troops of Afranius began to fear his cavalry, and even, when out foraging, to throw down their supplies and fly at its appearance. Spanish tribes sought Caesar's alliance, and sent him corn and cattle, and desertions to his camp began. Finding it inconvenient to send his cavalry as far as the bridge, he now made trenches to lower the waters of the Segre, and thus found a ford near his camp. This determined Afranius and Petreius, who were afraid of having their supplies cut off, to leave Ilerda and transfer the war to the south of the Ebro, where Pompey was greatly revered and Caesar unknown. They therefore ordered ships to be brought up the Ebro to Octogesa, a town at the confluence of the Ebro and Segre, and sent on two legions to make a camp for their reception.

Caesar's scouts brought him news of this movement at the very time that he discovered the ford. His men had been working day and night at the trenches, and now the cavalry could ride through the river at the ford, although with difficulty. The infantry, it was thought, could not get over, as the water, besides reaching to their shoulders, was too rapid. All he could do was to send the cavalry to ride through after the enemy and harass it in its march; and at dawn his scouts, looking from the heights adjoining the camp, saw with excitement their own horse attacking the Pompeian rear and forcing it to stand and charge, then retreating, and galloping up again to attack when the march was resumed. Throughout the camp the foot soldiers, gathered together in groups, were grieving that the enemy had slipped through their fingers. At last they begged their officers to go and tell the general that they could cross at the ford quite well; and their eagerness decided Caesar, who was far more eager than they could be, to take the risk. He left behind with a guard those he thought unfit for the effort, and, placing a large number of cattle in the stream to break the force of the water, led the army safely across. Then he hastened south toward the Ebro, overtook the Pompeians in nine hours from their time of starting, and forced them to encamp where they were, though five miles farther on they would have been in a wild, hilly country easy to hold against his advance from below, and difficult for his cavalry to tread. A few detached troops could have kept Caesar back while the rest crossed the Ebro. They were weary, however, with the long day's march and the continual conflict with the cavalry, and could neither fight nor march farther. In the middle of the night, having rested, they sought to depart, but found Caesar too watchful. On the following day the latter discovered that the plain ended five miles to the south in mountains, and that he who first seized the passes could keep the other back, and it became a case of a race to the hills.

The Pompeians could not decide as to whether they should set off on the following night and seize the defiles before Caesar suspected or wait for dawn, and in the end made up their minds to wait for dawn, as they did not like to risk a battle by night. It was impossible for Caesar to proceed, for the enemy had a camp at Octogesa, and he could not risk being enclosed between two forces; and so, although it was almost as desperate an attempt, he determined to leave the beaten way and circumvent the enemy. He left his cavalry to retard the foe, set out with his infantry by a route which led for a while northward, and then swept round toward the hills, and Afranius and Petreius thought that he had gone back to Ilerda. Their joy was changed to consternation when what seemed a return march was converted into a dash for the mountains; they at once fled to arms, gave the signal, and started on the straight route to the Ebro. He, meanwhile, was climbing up rough mountain valleys blocked by boulders, with his foot-soldiers, who were helping each other up the more difficult places; and he came in first, found a level spot and drew up his line of battle.

The Pompeian had now only two alternatives of action; they could not get to the Ebro, but might return to Ilerda or go across country to Tarragona on the coast north of the Ebro. Meanwhile they were obliged to construct ramparts from their camp to the Segre, as Caesar's cavalry prevented them getting water. While their two commanders were away at the works, the soldiers left in the camp began to hold communication with Caesar's troops, encamped close by, and all arrangements had been made for surrender, the soldiers exacting an oath that their commanders should not be harmed, when Petreius found out what was going on. Afranius was ready to acquiesce in the will of the army, but Petreius hastened from the rampart to the camp, slew all the Caesarian soldiers he found there, and in tears went round the maniples beseeching the troops to remain constant. He made every officer and man take a new oath to the Pompeian cause. It was then decided to return to Ilerda, as the troops, in great want, having being obliged to leave their baggage behind, were deserting to Caesar every day. A terrible return march began, with Caesar, ever attacking but ever avoiding a battle, in the rear. At last, on the 2nd of August (the 9th of June according to our calendar), the fourth day of absolute want of food, water, firewood, and every other necessary dawned for the Pompeians, and they sent to ask for terms of surrender. Caesar overwhelmed the leaders with reproaches, but said that he was not going to take advantage of their abasement or punish them for the cruel slaughter of his men when they had gone to parley. He simply ordered them to dismiss their army, kept by Pompey in Spain for so many years with the single idea of using it against him. The defeated soldiers rejoiced at this announcement; and when Afranius and Petreius began to discuss as to when and where the army should be disbanded, they called out and made signs from the rampart, where they had gathered to listen to the parley, that they wished to be dismissed immediately. Those who dwelt in Spain, therefore, were at once discharged, the rest led to the River Var, the boundary between Transalpine and Cisalpine Gaul, Caesar protecting their march and furnishing provisions. At the Var the remains of this army melted away and Hither Spain was his.

The great Roman scholar Varro was holding Gades (Cadiz) in Farther Spain for Pompey. He had been shaken in his loyalty to Pompey by his abandonment of Italy, for Varro loved Rome and detested the provinces as much as Cicero did, but he had accepted the command of this Spanish province under him, and when Caesar was in such great straits at Ilerda he had become quite devoted again. He raised a levy in his province, and sent corn to the Pompeians at Massilia and Ilerda, ordered long-ships to be built at Gades and Hispalis, and carried all his treasure into the former place, which he garrisoned strongly. He then placed Pompeian garrisons in all the towns which he thought favoured Caesar, and started proscriptions on a small scale. He heard of the defeat of Afranius and Petreius with dismay, and shut himself up, with two legions, in Gades. Caesar, who was anxious to quell the Spanish opposition thoroughly, marched to Cordova and ordered the magistrates and chiefs of every tribe to meet him there. Not a single tribe failed to do so, and not a Roman citizen of note (chiefly merchants) in the province was absent on the appointed day. Cordova declared for him of its own accord, and even the Spanish in Gades sent to offer aid in delivering up their town. One of the legions marched out of the town under Varro's eye, and he could then do nothing else than send an offer of surrender to Caesar.

Caesar stayed for two days at Cordova, interviewing and rewarding all who had helped him; then he went to Gades and took ship for Tarragona, where he held a great assembly of the magnates of the Hither province. Thence he marched by land to Narbo and Massilia, where he received from Rome the appointment of dictator, being so nominated by Marcus Lepidus the praetor. This method of appointment was at least unusual, and probably unconstitutional, but that was of little importance. The office itself was obsolete until Sulla revived it and he had given it associations with his proscriptions; and so the Romans were little concerned with the method of the appointment, but much with the fact.

While Caesar sat before Berda, his lieutenant Trebonius had been constructing huge works for the siege of Massilia, interrupted by frequent sallies of the defenders. The Massiliot fleet had been increased by sixteen war-ships sent by Pompey under Nasidius, and the citizens were busy again in their dockyards, and had even fitted out fishing smacks so that they might join in a new naval battle. Brutus, on Caesar's side, repaired six of the ships which the Massiliots had lost in the last naval engagement, and added them to his fleet. When Nasidius arrived, the defenders determined to fight another battle at sea. They sailed out of their harbour to join him, their old men and women urging them to fight valiantly for their city, and the non-combatants and young men left in the town flocked to the walls and every point where there was an outlook, or else beset the temples and prayed to the gods for their success. They were a good deal superior to the Romans in seamanship, and for some time this told, but the failure of a daring stratagem had a fatal effect. Two Massiliot ships made a simultaneous dash from opposite quarters at the ship of Brutus. He drove his ship ahead, and escaped by a hairsbreadth; the two ships crashed into each other athwart his poop, and the Caesarians sank them both before they could right themselves again. Nasidius left the battle when he saw that the issue of the day was dubious, as he was afraid of losing his ships. Of the Massiliot fleet five ships were sunk and four taken; one had fled with Nasidius, and the rest sailed back into harbour. The news was received with as great lamentations as if the city had been taken, for its best men had manned the ships.

Trebonius, who had charge of the siege on the land side, now set up some new works, which the skillful Caesarian soldiers seem to have invented. They built a large brick redoubt of six storeys and most ingenious contrivance, to protect themselves from the missiles of the besieged, and made a covered gallery sixty feet long from the redoubt to the town fortifications. When this gallery was placed in position and the besieged realized that their works were in danger of being sapped, they were seized with fear, and threw down great rocks, which they could only raise with levers, on to the gallery; but it withstood them. They then rolled down casks full of burning pine and pitch; but the gallery had been constructed to withstand fire, and the casks, rolling off its sides, were seized by the Caesarians with long pitchforks and conveyed to a distance. Meanwhile men within the gallery were destroying a tower against which the gallery abutted, while artillery was discharged from the brick redoubt in order to defend the gallery. The enemy were driven from their wall and towers, and the tower which was being undermined soon fell to the earth in two great crashes. The Massiliots, fearing the immediate seizure and sack of their city, thereupon rushed out at the gate, unarmed and wearing the fillet of peace, and stretched out their hands in the way of suppliants. The eloquent Greeks successfully persuaded the besiegers not to enter their city until Caesar's arrival, promising to make no farther attempt at defense. Trebonius was afraid that he could not keep the soldiers from sacking the town if he entered it, and, moreover, there arrived Caesar's commands for the town not to be taken until his arrival, as he did not wish it to be sacked.

The Massiliots soon broke the armistice, and in a sudden sally at noon one day set fire to the rampart, mantlets, sappers' huts, tower, and artillery of Trebonius. The Caesarians seized what arms lay to hand, but the defenders got back into the town under cover of showers of missiles. Trebonius then started to restore all his siege works, and his soldiers, full of rage, worked as if they were possessed. All the timber in the neighbourhood had long since been felled, but they made a rampart of brick—an unheard-of thing—and in a few days' time the works were as they had been before. The Massiliots, in despair, again sought peace, and were allowed the same terms as before.

When Caesar appeared, the besieged, wearied with all their misfortunes, and now suffering from famine and pestilence brought on by the long siege, and having lost all hope of help from without, determined on a genuine surrender. Domitius Ahenobarbus, however, appeared suddenly with three ships, and they could not refrain from sending out their own fleet for one more effort. It was as unfortunate as the rest of their valiant resistance. The ships of Brutus took two of the new-come ships, while one escaped, owing to the storm, and Caesar entered the town. The inhabitants fully expected that he would punish its stubborn resistance, but it was spared on account of its name and fame. He left two legions in it as a garrison, and then went on to Rome. He had received news of a serious mutiny of the troops encamped at Placentia.

At Placentia (Piacenza), a fair city on the right bank of the Po, the troops were demanding discharge and their promised rewards from their officers, and Caesar, hastening to the spot, reproached them for demanding these things before the war was over. As a punishment, he said, every tenth man in the Ninth legion, where the outcry began, should be slain, as the Roman law decreed in cases of mutiny. The officers of that legion threw themselves at his feet to beg for mercy for their troops, and he was moved to accept fewer scapegoats. One hundred and twenty of the ringleaders were selected by the centurions and twelve of their number chosen by lot; and as one of the twelve proved that he was not in the camp at the time, the centurion who had accused him was put to death in his place, by order of the stern and just Caesar.

Meanwhile Curio, who, as we have seen, had driven Cato from Sicily, had crossed to the African promontory which approaches so close to Sicily, and, establishing his command of the sea, placed himself near Utica, which was the headquarters of the Pompeians. Utica, soon to become famous as the place where Cato died, stood a little to the west of the bay once filled with the ships of Carthage, and north of the mouth of the river Bagradas. The town was too strong to be stormed, and the Roman camp under its wall offered little hope to Curio, for it was a Roman axiom that a camp could rarely be stormed until after the foe had been defeated in battle. He had various skirmishes with the enemy in the surrounding country, and won such successes that he became most confident, and one day drove back the Pompeian commander with great shame and loss. It was the coming of the Numidian King Juba to the aid which changed all this. Hearing of his approach, Curio retired to the old camp of Scipio Africanus, on the east bank of the river mouth, on a straight ridge projecting over the sea, and difficult to ascend on every side. It would be easy to escape from it by sea, he thought, and it had fresh water and saltpans. Then came false news that Juba had returned home and sent on his lieutenant Saburra with a very small force. On the strength of this news, Curio unfortunately abandoned his plan for staying in his camp. He sent out his cavalry to attack Saburra, and, finding the Numidians scattered on the bank of the Bagradas in sleep, in the careless manner of barbarians, they slew or captured a great number of them. This piece of good luck was their ruin. Returning, they met Curio with his whole force (except five cohorts left on guard in the camp), and showed so much spoil that the infantry dashed along under Curio to attack the Numidians in their turn. The horse-soldiers were bidden to follow, but they were wearied out with their night expedition, and one by one sank down on the ground in sleep, securing their jaded steeds beside them.

Contrary to the report the terrible Juba was not far behind Saburra. He had heard of the attack, and had sent 2000 Spanish and Gallic cavalry and a picked body of infantry to Saburra's aid, while he himself came slowly up with the rest of his large force and sixty elephants. Saburra guessed that the cavalry's good fortune would lure Curio to a battle, and soon he saw the Roman infantry and a few tired horse-soldiers approaching. He retreated to draw them on, and sent his cavalry to surround them. When the Romans saw the enemy's horse on their flanks and rear, they detached cohorts to repel them, and these cohorts found it impossible to get back into their ranks again. Soon Curio's army was in the most dreadful position in which an army can be placed, surrounded and trampled on from all sides. As a last hope he gave the order for escaping with the standards, but Saburra had already occupied the neighbouring heights, and in despair the Caesarians began to desert the standards. Even solitary flight, however, was forbidden to the foot-soldiers. Some were slain, the rest sank on the ground with fatigue. While the foe had been constantly relieved, they had had to keep their places throughout the battle. The prefect of the cavalry, about to lead his small force away from the lost field, besought Curio to ride away with him, but he refused. He had lost the army entrusted to him by Caesar, he said, and he could never face his general again. Very soon he was added to the heap of the slain. He had no very good reputation in Rome, but he was faithful to Caesar, he was a brave and skillful soldier, and he died as a Roman was proud to die.

The cavalry that managed to escape from the field woke the sleepers on the route, and together they fled back to the camp with the awful news. The Nurnidians, they imagined, were behind them, and they crowded into the ships in such panic that most of them were drowned. Some of them had self-control but folly enough to give up the idea of sailing and present themselves at Utica to surrender. Juba claimed them as his booty, and slew most of them (in August or September 49).