Sunday, September 23, 2012

Caesar’s Brilliance on Display Against Pompey Post Dyrrhachium

For this post, we abandon Michael Grant, who has been the source of our history of Caesar’s last years, and move on to the general himself writing in The Civil War, or more specifically Commentarii de Bello Civili. The work has three parts: The Struggle Begins, Securing the West, and the Great Confrontation -- the latter being our focus here. Cicero, never a man to avoid hyperbole, praised the books, saying the sections were “like nude figures, upright and beautiful, stripped of all ornament of style, as if they had removed a garment.”

The starting point for the Great Confrontation is the run up to Dyrrhachium, which we have discussed previously, so we’ll begin with Caesar’s retreat from that inconclusive battle.

Caesar headed south to Apollonia and the Oricum, where he cared for his wounded, paid the troops, and accumulated grain. Suspecting Pompey might follow, Caesar sent the baggage train out each sunset, following at daybreak with his troops unencumbered in case of attack. Pompey attempted pursuit but abandoned the effort after four days in favor of a different tactic.

You can examine the following map to see the movements of Caesar and Pompey as they danced before the final battle.

Caesar’s plan was to hurry to Domitius who was shadowing Scipio in Thessaly. Pompey read Caesar’s mind and began a march to Scipio. Domitius foraging west ran into advance scouts of Pompey who bragged Pompey’s plan to him. Sensing danger to himself, Domitius diverted south to join Caesar at Aeginium.

Pompey had spread the lie of a total victory at Dyrrhachium, endangering Caesar’s march east, because cities would not open their gates to him. Gomphi resisted  and sent word to Scipio saying they were strong enough to hold out until his rescue, but Caesar took the city in a 24 hour siege and plundered it as an example. The next town, Metropolis wisely embraced Caesar as a friend and opened its doors to him.

Meanwhile, Scipio diverted to Larissa and requested that Pompey join him there.
Pompey’s speeches to his troops were so full of confidence his commanders got into arguments about the offices and villas they would commandeer after returning to Rome, following the defeat of Caesar.

Caesar evolved a plan to entice Pompey to battle, not knowing that Pompey’s lieutenants had already pushed him to engage. With Pompey settled in Pharsalus, Caesar employed a moveable camp strategy designed to wear down Pompey if he pursued, but Pompey declined. Then, one day, Caesar noticed Pompey’s lines farther down from the mountain and decided to offer battle.

Success for both armies hinged on the cavalry deployed on Caesar’s right (Pompey’s left). Pompey had a huge advantage in cavalry with some 7,000 available to him, including archers, but Caesar recognized this as a key vulnerability and pulled a cohort from each legion to create a “fourth line” of infantry behind the cavalry.

Caesar, aware of the importance of timing, told his commanders to watch him and expect signals from the waving of his flag. Pompey, acting on the advice of one of his commanders, decided to have his lines hold position rather than move forward, expecting Caesar’s troops to charge the whole distance and tire themselves out. The latter, consisting of the first two lines, closed half the distance and, observing Pompey’s forces in their initial position, stopped to conserve their strength. Then, after recovery, they renewed their charge until the lines were engaged. Pompey’s cavalry moved forward, forcing Caesar’s troops to give ground. Before they could attack the right flank of his infantry, however, Caesar signaled the fourth line to enter the fray. They fought with such vigor, Pompey’s cavalry took to the hills leaving the archers exposed and they were defeated. At that point, Caesar signaled the third line of infantry forward to relieve the weary first and second lines. This created an opening for the fourth line to encircle the left side of Pompey’s infantry and begin the rout. Pompey, now anticipating defeat, returned to camp and tent to await the outcome.

With victory on the battlefield complete, Caesar decided to press his advantage and storm the enemy camp. The camp was taken, but Pompey had escaped by horse to Larissa. His troops attempted to follow but they were intercepted by Caesar and forced to surrender. The Pompeian army of 45,00 yielded 15,000 killed and 24,000 prisoners.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Caesar after Dyrrhachium

History books don’t usually run through the details of Caesar’s life. They only lay out the big stories -- conquest of Gaul, crossing the Rubicon, Cleopatra, and the assassination. Here we have recently discussed the Battle of Dyrrhachium, an under-reported event, so I’m going to carry on a detailed chronology from there.

Here is a map of Caesar's travels from 48-44 B.C.

Caesar was busy the last three years of his life, yet there is mystery embedded in his activities. What was he trying to accomplish? Did he have a plan? How did he intend to solve the problems of the Republic? We don’t have the answers, but it’s interesting to look at the hints he gives us.

Caesar believed he could win the civil war by defeating his friend Pompey. Dyrrhachium had been a draw, but a month later when Caesar prevailed at Pharsalus, Pompey fled to Egypt. The latter was murdered upon his arrival based on the Egyptian’s mistaken notion it would benefit them to demonstrate allegiance to Caesar. When Caesar arrived in Alexandria four days later, following a month of tribute collecting in Anatolia, he was shown Pompey’s head and was not pleased. The Egyptians had ruined his opportunity to humiliate a defeated enemy by taking him back to Rome and, more importantly, crossed the line by murdering a senior Roman leader.

But Caesar still needed money and assumed the role of arbiter over the dispute between Cleopatra and her brother to gain position in the battle for control of the Egyptian treasury. Once Cleopatra became his mistress, Ptolemy and his minions rebelled, were defeated, and the king was killed. The end result was an alliance with Egypt, rather than annexation, because Caesar knew he could not trust any governor to manage an Egyptian province.

Ignoring the unrest in Rome, Caesar decided to seek additional tribute in the east, so he headed north with the goal of reducing Pontus as punishment for the murder of Crassus. Then, after its defeat on August 1, 47 B.C, he headed home via Athens and Tarentum, where he met with Cicero.

By early fall, Caesar realized that a revolt of Pompey loyalists in Africa was underway so he began to plan an invasion of Tunis. Departing on December 25th from Marsala, Sicily, Caesar’s army traveled to Africa. A combination of food shortage and reluctance on the part of the Pompeians to fight delayed the climactic battle until early April of 46 B.C.

By July Caesar had returned to Rome and initiated forty days of triumphs to celebrate the end of the civil war. Included in this extravaganza was the strangulation of Vercingetorix, his old enemy from Gaul, who had been kept in prison for six years waiting for the right moment.

But now Pompey loyalists in Spain began to revolt and something had to be done about them. On November 1, 46 B.C, Caesar left for Spain with his army, for what would become his final campaign. Again, as in Africa, the enemy was elusive and it took until March 17th of 45 B.C. before they were defeated.

In the single year that remained of Caesar’s life, we note three primary activities: attempts at colonization and resettlement of veterans, the making of his will, and the extension of his powers. With regard to the settlements, the Roman army at the end of the civil war consisted of no less than 35 legions, far more than needed and a dangerous risk to the stability of the Republic. The dictator initially proposed resettlement lands for the veterans but there was not enough free land available in Italy so the settlements were moved to occupied lands. Not east, because the Hellenistic world refused to be Romanized, but west to Spain and other parts.

In September Caesar returned to his villa at Lavicum to prepare his will. It left three quarters of the estate to Octavius, grandson of one of his sisters. The boy would also become his adopted son. Here Caesar chose family over colleagues because he had a good candidate. Octavian’s intellect and ruthlessness had impressed his uncle and overcome any concerns about his frail constitution.

What did Caesar intend to do about the Republic? Fix it later or let it be? We don’t know. Perhaps the answer lies in the plans he made in early 44 B.C. to invade Parthia. Battle was certainly something he loved and going to war put off having to deal with political problems he had no answer for.

In February of 44, Caesar had his dictatorship converted into a lifelong office, only a year after he had extended it to ten years. This new definition of dictator was deeply offensive to Roman traditionalists who saw it as an emergency office only. In a weak attempt to show modesty, Caesar refused to be named king when the crown was offered to him by Anthony on February 15, 44 B.C. Somehow he believed that the title was more dangerous than the authority, a frighteningly delusional position.

Once his enemies found out about the Parthian campaign, they decided they couldn’t live with the idea of an absent dictator operating by remote control. The assassination plan came together quickly and Caesar was killed. Unfortunately, those Republicans among the conspirators were as delusional as their victim and leaderless. Brutus decided that Anthony should be spared, so the public could see that the assassination was not a power grab. This foolish idealism would be their undoing. The conspirators had no plan for restoring the Republic or even taking control of the situation. They allowed Anthony to use Caesar’s funeral oration to build hatred for the conspirators, driving them from Rome while elevating himself.

How many times has this story been told in history? Idealists strike at the tyrant as an attempt to turn the clock back, but they fail because they aren't ruthless enough and don’t understand how to take power.

The brilliant fallout of the death of Caesar was the sham perpetrated on the Roman people by Octavian once he had defeated Anthony at Actium. He made the principate look like the Republic and everyone fell for the ruse.