Julius Caesar - Ada Russell

Thapsus and Munda

After Pharsalus Cato, Scipio, Cnaeus and Sextus Pompeius, Labienus, Afranius, Petreius and others had sailed to the Roman province of Africa or to Spain, while Lentulus, following Pompey to Egypt, had been murdered there in his turn—Lentulus, who had promised himself a suburban villa of Caesar's! They had over a year in which to prepare another large army in these rich provinces before Caesar appeared, and they had collected a fine force, increased with the cavalry, light-armed troops and elephants of Juba of Numidia, and a fine fleet, and had had time to instruct the soldiers in new ways of fighting, learned from the warlike races of North Africa. They were inspirited, too, by their destruction of Curio's army in 49, and, strange as such a superstition may seem to us, by the presence of a Scipio on their side. He was a Scipio very different from the earlier great men of his name, and the most experienced of the republican party had wished to make Cato commander-in-chief after Pompey's death. Cato, however, was only a propraetor, while Scipio was of proconsular rank, and Cato, a pedantic stickler as to constitutional points, refused to take rank above him; so the worse general was chosen. When Caesar left for Africa, in December 47, Cato was at Utica with a garrison and fleet and the 300 persons who formed the republican council of war and called themselves the Roman Senate. The main army was at Adrumetum, a town to the south of Carthage.

On the 1st of January, 46, Caesar landed in Africa and placed his camp before Adrumetum. One of his officers obtained permission to send a messenger to negotiate with the Pompeian commander in the town, as he was an old acquaintance. The messenger was asked from whom he was bringing the dispatch, and answered, "From Caesar, imperator."  "There is no imperator  of the Roman people but Scipio," he was told, and they slew him. Caesar placed his camp at Ruspina, and before Scipio came up had several engagements with his old lieutenant Labienus (who now hated him more than anything else on earth, no one has ever known why) and Petreius, his old Spanish foe. At the head of enormous forces of cavalry, archers, and slingers, including the brilliant Numidians and famous German and Gallic horse gathered by Pompey, Labienus drove the Caesarians into several serious predicaments; and one day, riding at the front of his men with his head bare, he called out from some distance to one of Caesar's legionaries in a band which he had surrounded:

"What is the matter with you, young soldier? Why are you so fierce? Has he won you all over with words? He is leading you into great danger, and I am sorry for you."

"I am no young soldier, Labienus," replied the man, "but a veteran of the Tenth legion."

"I do not recognize the standards of the Tenth legion," called back Labienus; whereupon the soldier answered: "Now shall you know who I am!" and pulling off his helmet, hurled his javelin with all his strength. It wounded his interlocutor's horse, and he cried: "Labienus, know that the soldier who strikes you belongs to the Tenth legion!

Caesar always extricated his troops. He fortified himself strongly, and many citizens fled to his camp from neighbouring towns and complained of the harshness of the republicans, who had laid waste the whole countryside so that the Caesarians should not be able to find provisions. He had meant to wait until the summer to fight a battle, hut changed his mind and sent word to the praetors in Sicily that no excuse of winter or the winds was to prevent their sending the rest of the army over at once. The day after his messengers had gone he complained of the delay, and never ceased to scan the sea for a sail. Farms were being burned, fields wasted, cattle slaughtered, towns and forts pillaged, and hostages seized by the enemy, while he had so few soldiers that he could make no reply to the prayers for aid. Scipio had arrived, and once approached Caesar's camp with all his troops, but Caesar dared not accept battle. With that great force menacing his camp, however, he did not roam anxiously round the ramparts as another general would have done, but sat calmly in the praetorium  issuing directions from the reports brought in, as if he had been on the spot. Not only would any enemy hesitate before trying to storm a camp as strong as his, but he had won so many victories that his very name was dreaded. He received, too, large numbers of Numidian and other African deserters from Scipio's camp, as he had managed to let them know in some way his kinship to Marius, who had left such a great name in Africa. He obtained elephants and accustomed his horses to their smell, so that the elephants of the enemy would not terrify them, and he taught his soldiers at which parts of these beasts they should aim their javelins.

Then large reinforcements came from Sicily, and it was now his turn to offer battle, and a time of great hardship followed for the army. Caesar had forbidden the soldiers to bring from Sicily anything but their armour, as he had not many transport ships; and now, continually changing camps, they could not gather round them any comforts for the wintry weather. Very few had skins for tents, and most of them made miserable erections of their clothing or of woven reeds or branches. One night "after the Pleiades had set," a great hail-storm took place; the tents were washed away, the camp fires extinguished, and all the food spoiled, while the soldiers wandered about in their quarters holding their shields over their heads. Every day in Rome the more serious people, like Cicero (who had made it up with Caesar after a brief stay in Pompey's camp in Greece), anxiously looked out for news of some great battle, and seem to have dreaded the success of the republicans. The republicans were still the 'Good' to Cicero, but he confessed that he was afraid of the revenge they might take if they were successful. Others had returned to the normal life of the capital, and forgotten that the fate of the Empire hung on a hair that was about to be cut; and Cicero speaks of their feasting and merry-making, and "Balbus building while Rome falls."

The decisive battle did not take place until the 6th of April. Caesar had begun to invest Thapsus, a town on the coast, and Scipio hastened there and placed two camps on the neighbouring heights, but, failing to get relief into the town, was forced to offer battle. Caesar drew up his army opposite his and went the round, talking to his troops of victories past. As he did so he noticed a remarkable thing: the enemy were showing fear and moving about in confusion. His men noticed the same thing, and the officers begged him to give the signal for attack, as the Immortal Gods were offering him the victory. Caesar was not pleased with a presumption that he was henceforth to have to reckon with, and was hesitating; but without his order a trumpeter on his right, compelled by those who stood round him, gave the signal. The cohorts sprang forward and the standards were advanced, despite the efforts of the centurions. Caesar could do nothing but fall in, and, giving as the battle-cry 'Felicitas'  (Good Fortune), darted forward.

The archers and slingers on his right hurled their missiles against the elephants on Scipio's left, and the noise and pain caused by such quantities of stones, bullets, arrows, and javelins so terrified the beasts that they turned and began to trample down the soldiers on their own side—a danger always to be faced when these animals were used—and fled out of the battle to their camp, where they began to trample down the gates; and the Moorish cavalry, placed to fight with the elephants, followed their example of flight. The victorious legions on Caesar's right marched round and seized Scipio's camp, those of the defenders that were not slain flying to their camp of the day before. One of the soldiers, lifted by an elephant with its trunk, hacked at it with his sword until it flung him down and with a loud, shrill cry followed the other elephants. The Caesarians, everywhere victorious, could not this time be induced to spare the foe, even by their general.

Leaving a lieutenant and three legions to continue the siege of Thapsus, Caesar went on to Utica. Two of the largest armies the Romans had ever got together had been destroyed, and the republicans began to talk of 'Caesar's fortune.' Cato, who by his virtue and valour had always been the most respected of all the republican leaders, won for himself the title of 'the Utican,' by his old Roman death there. He tried in vain to organize some defense of the city. After the news of Thapsus came, brought by bands of fugitives, nearly all were in panic, and the townspeople were hostile to their cause. He determined, therefore, to save as many of his party as he could, for, strange to say, Cato, almost alone in his party, had shown a sense of the value of human life, even that of the Roman citizens on Caesar's side. Having provided ships to take away all who wished to leave the country and arranged for his children's welfare, he read Plato's account of the Soul, as a Christian might read the promises of the New Testament, and then slew himself like an old Stoic. Utica threw open its gates to Caesar as he came up by torch-light, and on the morrow he entered and accepted its submission.

Petreius had fled with King Juba from the fatal field of Thapsus to Numidia, but Juba's subjects would not receive him into his capital. They feared Caesar, but, still more, Juba himself, for he had declared that if he were defeated he would burn them, himself, his wives, children and treasure in one great funeral pyre. He and Petreius, therefore, fought a duel in order to win death that way, and the survivor called in a slave to kill him. Numidia was then made into a Roman province. Faustus Sulla and Afranius, Caesar's Spanish opponent, were making for Spain, but were intercepted and slain, the soldiers, enraged at the continued resistance of the republicans, apparently killing at their own discretion. Scipio, after saying good-bye to Cato, had taken ship for Spain. He was cast back to Hippo by a storm, and perished by his own hand like so many of his party. Those who did not slay themselves were eternally wondering if it would not be nobler to do so.

Late in July Caesar returned to Rome and stayed there until November. He received the dictatorship for ten years, and celebrated three Triumphs at one time—for his Gallic conquest, his defeat of Pharnaces, and his conquest of Numidia, but none for his victories over Roman citizens. The veterans received lands and splendid rewards, and large doles were made to the citizens. The poor were let off a year's rent. Magnificent public feasts were given and spectacles of every kind, from gladiatorial contests, fights between wild beasts, and mock battles, to stage plays. The circus was lengthened for the races; a canal was dug round it, and a great pool was made for a mimic naval battle. Such was the concourse to the capital that strangers were forced to lodge in tents in the streets, and two senators, among others, were crushed to death.

[Illustration] from Julius Caesar by Ada Russell


Having done all he could to make his government popular, Caesar started to carry out reforms that had never been possible before. He altered the calendar, abandoning the lunar for the solar year. In future the year was to consist of 365 days 6 hours, instead of 355 days, and one day was to be added every fourth year. By this arrangement the calendar year was little more than eleven minutes longer than the solar year, and this came to only one day wrong in 128 years. Caesar's calendar, modified by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, has answered the needs of every modern nation of the Western world. He enacted that in future, too, the year was to begin on the 1st of January instead of in March, when the year began in most countries, with the spring. This was simply because the Roman magistrates entered on office in January, and several nations which adopted the Julian calendar continued to keep New Year's Day at the spring equinox. The English year, for instance, began in March until 1752. He filled up the vacancies in the Senate, made new patricians, and added to the number of praetors and other magistrates, of whom Rome had too few for orderly administration. He reduced the number of those who received free corn from 320,000 to 150,000. The population had been greatly thinned by war and by his sending out colonies, and he therefore placed restrictions on leaving Italy. He declared all doctors and scholars living in Rome free men, thus adding a respectable element to the electorate and attracting a desirable class to the capital, besides performing an enlightened act from our modern point of view.

To restore the yeomanry of Italy, he enacted that not less than one-third of the labourers employed on farms should be free men. He enfranchized all the Transpadanes, and it is said that he opened the Senate to the provincials. The world was no longer to be exploited for the benefit of a few hundred Roman aristocrats. In abolishing the old free constitution Caesar, in a sense, betrayed the democratic party, but he carried out democratic reforms to which the selfish Roman people, if he had raised it to supreme power, would never have consented. Nor is a rule of the people thinkable in a State which had not invented representation. Rome at this time was not called upon to choose a wise absolutism, a virtuous aristocratic rule, or an ideal democracy. It is not unfair to put it that she was called upon to choose a wise absolutism, a corrupt oligarchy, or the mob. The absolutism was imposed upon her, and the other two elements in the constitution were deliberately deprived of power by the new autocrat. All but the most ancient guilds were abolished, as they had long been secret political societies, and, although Caesar did nothing to punish it, nobody felt free to talk about politics.

At the same time everybody must have felt that the new ruler had the good of Rome at heart. His lessening of the corn dole showed that he wished to turn the 'proletariat' into workers. The criminal code was made more severe and administered with old Roman strictness. He tried, too, to rouse in the depraved citizens the old Roman ideal of private simplicity and public greatness, and he started the work which Augustus completed of making the State something which its citizens could respect and care for. Party feeling in Rome had ended in the destruction of all love for the State; the feeling of reverence on which government depends was felt nowhere in his time but in the army, and then it was only for the general. The general, in fact, was a monarch. To restrain the luxury of the age Caesar made sumptuary laws, bound to fail and perhaps harmful, forbidding the use of litters, or of scarlet robes or pearls to those who had not the legal right to wear them; and his lictors appeared in the market-place and even in private houses to see that no forbidden delicacies were being obtained for the table. At the same time, nothing could exceed his public magnificence, and he constructed colossal public works in Rome and in the provinces.

In all this legislation he acted as an absolute ruler, although he pretended to maintain a republic, but people like Cicero still hoped that, like Sulla, he would soon restore the free State. Cicero was even expecting an invitation to assist in this restoration. As it was, Caesar held meetings of the Senate in his own house, and, if he chose, put down the name of an absent senator as endorsing his decrees. "I have had letters," wrote Cicero, in bitter jest, "from far away kings, thanking me because they enjoy their title through my support, whereas I did not know that they were kings or even that they were born." In August he wrote cynically and sadly to a friend, "Now I have cast away all my care for the republic, all my meditations of speeches for the Senate, all cogitations as to lawsuits. I have thrown myself into the camp of my old enemy Epicurus . . .You must forget all about your simple salads and home-made cakes. I am so skilled at present in the art of dining that I often invite Verrius and Camillus, faddists and fops as they are. But the climax of my audacity is that I have dined Hirtius. I could not venture on a peacock, and, in fact, nothing in my dinner came up to his but a hot sauce. This is my life now: I receive in the morning at home, and sad loyalists and exultant Caesarians visit me, and all show me the utmost respect and liking. Then I bury myself in literature, either writing or reading. Some who come listen to me as if I were a learned man, because I am a little better read than themselves. Then I give myself up to the things of the flesh. I have mourned for my country more deeply and longer than any mother for her only son."

As time went on Cicero became more and more bitter, and the spirit in which he mourned for his country was spreading. Still he said that "Caesar was the most hopeful element in the situation," and was delighted when Caesar asked his courtiers—for we may talk of courtiers now—what witty thing Cicero had said lately. In this year Cicero dared to write his Cato, a panegyric on the republican hero, and despite republican complaints of lost liberty, Caesar made no attempt to suppress the volume. He simply wrote two Anti-Catos, as a private citizen might have done. Again, Cicero constituted himself the advocate with Caesar for the return to Rome of Pompeians living in exile and not daring to come back without the Dictator's express permission. Of one of these exiles for whom Cicero had prepared a speech to be delivered in the Senate, Caesar said, "Of course it is well known that he is a villain and a traitor, but why should we not have the pleasure of a speech from Cicero?" The speech that Cicero delivered was so moving and charming that Caesar's colour often changed as it proceeded, and it was clear that he was deeply touched. At last the orator began to talk in his magic way of Pharsalus; the hard dictator let papers fall from hands that trembled, and at the close of the oration he gave leave for the recall of the exile.

Before the year ended Caesar was drawn away to Spain, where Cnaeus and Sextus Pompeius, the sons of Pompey the Great, Labienus and other desperate souls had gathered for the last struggle against him. His parting acts in Rome were to cause himself to be chosen sole consul for 45, and to appoint the tribunes and aediles for that year, while prefects were to carry on the government in his absence. The republicans fumed, and yet they hoped that he, not the Pompeians, would be victorious in Spain. "I swear I am most anxious," wrote Cicero to a friend at the beginning of 45, "and prefer to keep our old and merciful lord rather than submit to a new, cruel one. You know how foolish Cnaeus is; you know what a virtue he thinks cruelty is; and you know how he always thinks that we are smiling at him. I fear that he will take his revenge on us with a sword-stroke, like a clown." We shall not have space to quote much more from Cicero's vast body of correspondence, and may say here that his letters are like a torch in the dark years of the fall of the Roman republic; he shows us men whom we might have thought perfect heroes or unmitigated villains in their natural colours.

The sons of Pompey were showing themselves cruel indeed in Spain, and band after band of Spaniards and Romans fled into Caesar's camp when he appeared. His object was to take Cordova, and the war was carried on in that district, the decisive battle taking place at Munda, to the south of Cordova, on the 17th of March 45. He was about to leave Munda, where he was encamped, when his scouts brought news that Cnaeus Pompey had been in battle array since dawn. He straightway ordered the red flag to be placed on his tent as a signal for battle, and advanced toward Pompey along the plain, about five miles long, between the two armies. Pompey did not quite descend to the level ground, and kept the advantage of position when the battle began. Caesar had many new recruits in his army, and they were seized with panic at the sight of the Pompeians, who were mostly skilled veterans. He called on all the gods for aid and harangued in vain, taking off his helmet so that the soldiers might see his face. They stood like mules, and finally he seized a shield from a soldier standing near, and shouted desperately to his troops: "This will be the last day of my life and of your wars." Then he dashed forward alone until he was within ten feet of the foe. Two hundred missiles were hurled at him, but he stood uninjured, and his military tribunes sprang forward to his side. Then the whole army, ashamed and at the same time inspired, followed and fought most valiantly. He said afterward that he had often fought to conquer, but this time he had fought for life. It was the fiercest of all the battles of the Civil War, and the crowning victory; and not one of the Pompeians could have escaped if they had not had a town near to fall back upon. Thirty thousand or more of them were slain, among them Labienus and 3000 Roman knights; while thirteen eagles and many other standards and fasces  were taken. Caesar then went on to take Munda, and his soldiers, in a fit of Roman inhumanity, circumvallated the town with the dead bodies of their enemies. Cordova, where 22,000 more were slain, then fell into their hands. Cnaeus Pompeius, who had fled from Munda to the coast, was hunted down, and his head was brought to Caesar at Gades on the 12th of April; his younger brother Sextus, who had fled from Cordova at Caesar's approach, gathered together the scattered members of his party, and they lived among the mountains like brigands until Caesar was dead.

The last of Caesar's battles was over, and he retired to spend the few remaining months of his life in Rome.