Story of the Romans - Helene Guerber

The Battle of Pharsalia

When Cæsar reached the port of Brundisium he found that there were not vessels enough to carry all his army across the sea. He therefore set out with one part, leaving the other at Brundisium, under the command of his friend Mark Antony, who had orders to follow him as quickly as possible.

Instead of obeying promptly, Mark Antony waited so long that Cæsar secretly embarked on a fisherman's vessel to return to Italy and find out the cause of the delay. This boat was a small open craft, and when a tempest arose the fishermen wanted to turn back.

Cæsar then tried to persuade them to sail on, and proudly said: "Go on boldly, and fear nothing, for you bear Cæsar and his fortunes." The men would willingly have obeyed the great man, but the tempest soon broke out with such fury that they were forced to return to the port whence they had sailed.

Julius Caesar
Bust of Cæsar.

Shortly after this, Mark Antony made up his mind to cross the sea, and joined Cæsar, who was then besieging Pompey in the town of Dyrrachium, in Illyria. To drive the enemy away as soon as possible, Pompey had destroyed all the provisions in the neighborhood. Cæsar's men suffered from hunger, but they were too loyal to desert him. To convince Pompey that the means he had used were of no avail, they flung their few remaining loaves into the enemy's camp, shouting that they would live on grass rather than give up their purpose.

Cæsar, however, saw that his men were growing ill for want of proper food, so he led them away from Dyrrachium into Thessaly, where they found plenty to eat, and where Pompey pursued them. Here, on the plain of Pharsalia, the two greatest Roman generals at last met in a pitched battle; and Pompey was so sure of winning the victory that he bade the soldiers make ready a great feast, which they would enjoy as soon as the fight was over.

Pompey's soldiers were mostly young nobles, proud of their fine armor and good looks, while Cæsar's were hardened veterans, who had followed him all through his long career of almost constant warfare. Cæsar, aware of the vanity of the Roman youths, bade his men aim their blows at the enemies' faces, and to seek to disfigure rather than to disable the foe.

The battle began and raged with great fury. Faithful to their general's orders, Cæsar's troops aimed their weapons at the faces of their foes, who fled rather than be disfigured for life. Pompey soon saw that the battle was lost, and fled in disguise, while Cæsar's men greatly enjoyed the rich banquet which their foes had prepared.

Unlike the other Romans of his time, Cæsar was always generous to the vanquished. He therefore soon set free all the prisoners he had made at Pharsalia. Then, instead of prying into Pompey's papers, as a mean man would have done, he burned them all without even glancing at them. This mercy and honesty pleased Brutus so greatly that he became Cæsar's firm friend.

Pompey, in the mean while, was fleeing to the sea. He had been surnamed the Great on account of his many victories; but the defeat at Pharsalia was so crushing that he was afraid to stay in Greece. He therefore embarked with his new wife, Cornelia, and with his son Sextus, upon a vessel bound for Egypt.

As he intended to ask the aid and protection of Ptolemy XII., the Egyptian king, he composed an eloquent speech while on the way to Africa. The vessel finally came to anchor at a short distance from the shore, and Pompey embarked alone on the little boat in which he was to land.

Cornelia staid on the deck of the large vessel, anxiously watching her husband's departure. Imagine her horror, therefore, when she saw him murdered, as soon as he had set one foot ashore. The crime was committed by the messengers of the cowardly Egyptian king, who hoped to win Cæsar's favor by killing his rival.

Pompey's head was cut off, to be offered as a present to Cæsar, who was expected in Egypt also. The body would have remained on the shore, unburied, but for the care of a freedman. This faithful attendant collected driftwood, and sorrowfully built a funeral pyre, upon which his beloved master's remains were burned.


Front Matter

The First Settlers
Escape from the Burning City
The Clever Trick
The Boards Are Eaten
The Wolf and the Twins
Romulus Builds Rome
The Maidens Carried Off
Union of Sabines and Romans
Death of Romulus
Strange Signs of the Romans
The Quarrel with Alba
The Horatii and Curiatii
Tarquin and the Eagle
The Roman Youths
The King Outwitted
The Murder of Tarquin
The Ungrateful Children
The Mysterious Books
Tarquin's Poppies
The Oracle of Delphi
The Death of Lucretia
The Stern Father
A Roman Triumph
A Roman Triumph (Cont.)
Defense of the Bridge
The Burnt Hand
The Twin Gods
The Wrongs of the Poor
Fable of the Stomach
The Story of Coriolanus
The Farmer Hero
The New Laws
Death of Virginia
Plans of a Traitor
A School-Teacher Punished
Invasion of the Gauls
The Sacred Geese
Two Heroes of Rome
Disaster at Caudine Forks
Pyrrhus and His Elephants
The Elephants Routed
Ancient Ships
Regulus and the Snake
Hannibal Crosses the Alps
The Romans Defeated
The Inventor Archimedes
The Roman Conquests
Destruction of Carthage
Roman Amusements
The Jewels of Cornelia
Death of Tiberius Gracchus
Caius Gracchus
Jugurtha, King of Numidia
The Barbarians
The Social War
The Flight of Marius
The Proscription Lists
Sertorius and His Doe
Revolt of the Slaves
Pompey's Conquests
Conspiracy of Catiline
Caesar's Conquests
Crossing of the Rubicon
Battle of Pharsalia
The Death of Caesar
The Second Triumvirate
The Vision of Brutus
Antony and Cleopatra
The Poisonous Snake
The Augustan Age
Death of Augustus
Varus Avenged
Death of Germanicus
Tiberius Smothered
The Wild Caligula
Wicked Wives of Claudius
Nero's First Crimes
Christians Persecuted
Nero's Cruelty
Two Short Reigns
The Siege of Jerusalem
The Buried Cities
The Terrible Banquet
The Emperor's Tablets
The Good Trajan
Trajan's Column
The Great Wall
Hadrian's Death
Antoninus Pius
The Model Pagan
Another Cruel Emperor
An Unnatural Son
The Senate of Women
The Gigantic Emperor
Invasion of the Goths
Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra
A Prophecy Fulfulled
First Christian Emperor
Roman Empire Divided
An Emperor's Penance
Sieges of Rome
End of the Western Empire