Sunday, April 27, 2014

Historical Campaign Essays Caesar vs. Pompey

Strategy and Leadership at Pharsalus 48 BC

On the morning of August 9, 48 BC two great armies faced each other on the narrow plain north of the river Enipeus in Tessaly, Greece. The battle which followed was named after the ancient city of Palaepharsalus, and called Pharsalus. It became the culmination of a political process, in which two of Rome's greatest warlords were fighting each other for the ultimate leadership of the Roman empire. Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, other wise known as Pompey the Great, had returned to Italy from his victories in the East and became a prominent politician in Rome, having gained fame and prestige through his military conquests in the Asia and Africa and with his powerful image as a soldier, he became the leading politician in the Capital. But meanwhile, Gaius Julius Caesar was also rapidly gaining power and influence in Rome. He had held the offices of military tribune, Quaestor, aedile, Pontifex Maximus, and praetor. Then as Propraetor, or Governor, actually holding a general's rank, he had been sent to Spain, where he laid the basis of his military fame. beginning to feel his power, and was not the man to put up with petty annoyances. He accordingly entered into a coalition with Pompey, to which Marcus Licinius Crassus, a man of great wealth, was also admitted. It was formed for the purpose of opposing the senatorial party, and of advancing the personal designs of its members Crassus was to have an opportunity to increase his fortune; and Caesar was to have the consulship, and afterward a command in Gaul ( Modern France ). Pompey was ostensibly at the head of the league, but Caesar was its ruling spirit. Within eight years Ceasar brought under his power all the territory bounded by the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Rhine, and the Atlantic Ocean, or about what corresponds to the modern countries of France, Belgium, and Holland, which made him not only a very rich man, but one of the most powerful figures in Rome. It soon became inevitable, that while absent in Gaul, the ties which bound the three leaders together were becoming weaker and weaker. The position of Crassus tended somewhat, as long as he was alive, to allay the growing suspicion between the two great rivals. But after Crassus departed for the East to take control of his province in Syria, he invaded Parthia, was badly defeated, lost the Roman standards, and was himself killed. The death of Crassus practically dissolved the triumvirate. Naturally, the relation between the two remaining leaders was now no longer one of friendly support, but one of mutual distrust, virtual sole dictatorship within reach for each of the highly ambitious political warriors.

Caesar's Dilemma and Dramatic Decision to Act

The growing estrangement between Pompey and Caesar was increased when the senate appointed Pompey “sole consul.” This was not intended by the senate as an affront to Caesar, but was evidently demanded to meet a real emergency, which broke out in the Capital, when street fights among armed bands caused total chaos and urgently needed a strongman to restore order: Pompey's military prestige made him the natural candidate for the job. Pompey soon restored order to the state, and was rightly looked upon as “the savior of society.” He became more and more closely bound to the cause of the senate; and the senate recognized its obligations to him by prolonging his command in Spain for five years.

These matters did not escape Caesar in Gaul and considerably raised his suspicion over Pompey's real intention- to become the sole leader of the Roman empire.
It was a part of the agreement made by the senate, that Caesar was to receive the consulship at the close of his command term in Gaul. He naturally wished to retain the control of his army until he had been elected to his new office. But the senate was determined that he should not, but should present himself at Rome as a private citizen before his election, as was the law. Caesar was highly suspicious that he would be helpless, without the power of his loyal legions, once he presented himself in Rome, at mercy against his many enemies, including Pompey, who would regard the victor of the West, now as political rival in his political ambitions. Caesar, perfectly aware of the situation he found himself in, suggested a compromise: He would give up his army, if Pompey did the same, which the latter refused outright. The choice remained now between humiliation or an act of war against the state. Caesar's dilemma left him ineluctably little choice but act decisively to maintain his power, which brought about the unprecedented contest between the two greatest soldiers which Rome had ever produced.

Caesar's Ultimate Bold Action: Crossing the Rubicon Becoming State's Enemy

The year is 53 BC. Fresh from his victories in Gaul Caesar is fully aware of what is at stake now. Should he cross the Rubicon River, which marks the official border between Rome's Italy and Cisalpine Gaul province, he would violate the sacred Cornelia Majestatis law of Rome, will be regarded as enemy of the State and condemned to death. Armed conflict thus became inevitable. As he stood on the banks of the river, itself an insignificant waterway of little obstacle, crossing it against the Roman law was no small matter, even to a brilliant warrior like Caesar, himself, from birth a loyal citizen of Rome abiding to its laws. But the senate obviously backed by Pompey left him no choice but to act and do so as fast as he could. Although he had only a single legion, the 13th stationed in Cisalpine, men of the 12 Legion were on their way and the 8th not far behind. Any other general, but Caesar would decide to wait for them to assemble, but not Caesar, he knew the value of time in war, his brilliant mobile war of movement taught him repeatedly, that well prepared daring warfare paid of even when the odds were negative. Thus when he decided to cross the Rubicon and invade Italy, even with a single legion that he had at the time he would drive in "Blitzkrieg fashion" into the Roman territory, gained his objectives in full surprise and dictate the scale of response that his enemies could throw at him. Although he had only a single legion, the 13th stationed in Cisalpine, men of the 12 Legion were on their way and the 8th not far behind. Any other general, but Caesar would decide to wait for them to assemble and be able to strike south with three first class trained legions, but not Caesar- he decided to use ultra-rapid driving exploiting full surprise as his trump card, and as we shall see it worked with unprecedented zeal.

In this daring feat, Caesar performed one of his most brilliant moves, which were to change the history of Rome and eventually bring him to the dangerous climax of his career. Daring it was indeed, but Caesar, the fifty two old warrior had made a careful preparation and planned his operation to the finest detail. Sealed orders had been dispatched secretly to the pick of his most loyal commanders.

On the day before he had secretly dispatched a small but elite commando unit led by his loyal tribune (Colonel) Quintus Hortensius. The force was made up from carefully picked men, mainly centurions, from the 13th Legion, personally known by Caesar for many years in his service in Gaul, whom he could trust. The men, wearing farmers cloks, disguising their military uniform and hiding their swords, rode silently through the night and reached the port of Arminum (today's Rimini) on the Adriatic coast. Shortly after dusk, the next morning, Caesar entered a small, covered two-wheeled carriage and drove west, linking up with a squadron of German cavalry, his personal bodyguard, commanded by the tribune Gaius Pollio. Then, still undetected, he and his small entourage crossed the Rubicon and drove into Italy, heading for the Adriatic coastline. The mounted column pounded down the Aemilian coastal and by early morning road met Hortensius' commando, which waited at the city gates of Rimini. Caesar and his commandos quickly took control of the city, before the guards knew what was happening. A courier then galloped north to Ravenna, to summon the 13th Legion to start their invasion into Italy following the Adriatic coastline.

Caesar's Blitzkrieg Invasion Along the Adriatic Coast

As the news reached Rome, total confusion raged, all expected Caesar to reap a bloody revenge as he moved south, deeper into the country. But the unexpected happened again; Caesar's troops moved quickly, virtually unopposed, taking the coastal towns with his limited forces at his disposal but no blood was shed. As he expected and planned, Caesar's rapid advance totally surprised and unnerved his opponents in Rome, panic broke out in the senate. All Pompeian resistance north of Rome was now depending on the stand that General Domitius Ahenobarbus had mustered with some thirty loyal cohorts to defend the city of Confinium, about half way to the port of Brundisium, which soon was to gain strategic role in the ongoing civil war. Once Confinium fell to Caesar, the way to Brundisium would be clear and there was no escape from the mainland. The arrival of Mark Anthony, one of Caesar's most loyal friends, having escaped from Rome to join Caesar at Rimini, enabled him to secure his western flank by sending Anthony with a strong force over the Apennines to secure the town of Amentium, modern Arezzo. With this move, Caesar intentionally avoided going straight to Rome, the capital, which would embroil his limited forces fighting a costly urban war in the city streets.

While Mark Anthony advanced into central Italy, Caesar now reinforced with cohorts and cavalry arriving from Gaul proceeded to push south along the coast, occupying towns in quick succession. All Pompeian resistance collapsed as garrisons joined Caesar, or fled in confusion. All eyes now concentrated on the town of Confinum, in which General Lucius Ahernobarbus with his eighteen thousand men had built a strong defense along the river Aternus. As Caesar's troops approached the river, they met strong resistance for the first time, but the seasoned troops soon seized the bridge and threw a cordon around the city placing it under siege.

Caesar's lightening invasion, covering over a thousand kilometers in just over one month, was an unprecedented achievement in those ancient days, when travel was made on foot or by horse carriages.

The Roman Military Communications Network

In order to understand this magnificent feat, one would be wise to consult over the communications available to both Caesar and Pompey in 49BC. The Romans began their road-making task in 334 BC and by the peak of the empire had built nearly 53,000 miles of road connecting their capital with the frontiers of their far-flung empire. For their strategic control and movement of troops and logistics, a network of no fewer than 29 great military highways ( /Via Militares/) radiated from the capital. The road system served not only for a rapid movement of troops, but also as an excellent messenger or courier service. Speed of transmissions being vital; roads were a crucial means of passing essential information. Messages from the emperor, or his high officials, were delivered by couriers of the Cursus Publicus, the Imperial communication service. This organization spanned the entire Empire utilizing post houses and inns along major routes. Post houses, where a horse could be changed, were sited every ten to fifteen miles. enabled couriers to travel approximately fifty to sixty miles daily. The greatest systematic road builders of the ancient world were the Romans, who were very conscious of the military, economic, and administrative advantages of a good road system. The Romans drew their expertise mainly from the Etruscans particularly in cement technology and street paving. The most famous of these was the Via Appia. Begun in 312 bc, this road eventually followed the Mediterranean coast south to Capua and then turned eastward to Beneventum, where it divided into two branches, both reaching Brundisium (Brindisi). From Brundisium the Via Appia traversed the Adriatic coast to Hydruntum, a total of 410 miles from Rome. As we shall see, both military roads were to become vital communications links for Caesar and Pompey's troop movements and intelligence transmissions, during the first stages of the Civil War.

Pompey's Strategic Decision which Could Have Won Him the Civil War

With such a system available, it took only days for Pompey at Rome to receive notice of Caesars's movement along the Adriatic coastal highway and being himself one of the greatest strategists. He immediately understood and grasped the situation he would soon find himself: Caesar, with his veteran legions would be hammering at the gates of Rome within days. War in and around the city became inevitable and Pompey knew that his forces, including those defending the road forts were no match for Caesar. Pompey made his choice and it was the right one as it soon turned out. He new that time was critical. The bulk of Caesar's forces were still in Gaul but once they joined him, Italy would fall ripe fruit. Pompey was fully aware that the troops he had available were inferior to Caesars seasoned warriors. But he kept a crucial ace up his sleeve. Pompey decided on the rather daring strategy of heading with his forces, and some 200 of the Senators, straight for Brundisium in the south of Italy, where they could embark to Greece to further muster forces from the east. Although this was a controversial strategy, since it left Caesar in possession of Rome, it was not without its strategic advantages. Pompey also had loyal commanders in Spain, and he obviously hoped to invade Italy from the north, using the legions situated in Spain, and himself move back across the Adriatic. Caesar would then find himself cut off from his Gallic reserves, and be squeezed from north and south by much greater forces than he could muster in Italy.

In Greece, just one day's sailing over the Adriatic Pompey kept ten first class legions, while the eastern provinces could at his call, provide several more. Moreover, in Spain, which was still under his full control, with loyal commanders, a strong contingent of Legions stood ready to join Pompey's forces in Greece and tip the scale of battle at its critical climax, should Caesar decide to follow and make war in Greece. As Pompey had full control of the Mediterranean, with a large fleet available, those reinforcements could rech the battle zone within days. By winning the war on Greek soil, Pompey could envisage not only destroying his enemy, but return as victor to Rome to become the sole leader and uncontested ruler of the Roman empire.

These visions would have been Pompey's foresight, but for the moment his situation was quickly becoming critical and there was no time to lose. Quite unprepared that Caesar was actually provoking the senate by crossing the Rubicon and move so rapidly, virtually unopposed towards Rome, Pompey had to take action immediately. His obvious choice was to reach the port of Brundisium at the shortest time, with most of his available troops and cross the Adriatic into Greece. The race was on. Whoever would reach the port would be the winner, but the Pompey had the upper hand in getting there. Caesar, still driving south, taking one town after the other, knew well that he still had a long way to reach Brundisium. Indeed, as he entered the port leading his vanguard, he was just in time to watch Pompey's last convoy to leave the Italian mainland. With no fleet of his own, Caesar was helpless to intervene. Pompey the Great had achieved an evacuation of several legions and senators in a Dunkirk-like operation and was on his way to link up with his eastern legions on Greece unhindered.

While becoming master of Italy, Caesar soon realized that he was now endangered between two hostile forces, Pompey's army in Spain and the armies assembling in Greece, now ready for Pompey to take control. By destroying Pompey's strongest forces in Spain, Caesar, aware that these legions could, by using the abundant shipping space to reinforce Pompey's forces in Greece before Caesar could follow there. His magnificent ability to shift large forces climaxed in his move to Spain, denying Pompey a trump card, which could have decided the later battle at Pharsalus. To win his war, Caesar would have to defeat the Spanish legions first, before they could be united against him. As he had no fleet with which to follow Pompey into Greece, Caesar decided at once to attack the army in Spain. He entered the city peacefully, and dispelled the fear that there might be massacre and revenge among his opponents.

Interlude-Eliminating the Spanish Threat

Caesar, now in possession of Rome, took vigorous and immediate action to prevent encircling strategies being taken against him. By destroying Pompey's strongest forces in Spain, Caesar, aware that these legions could, by using the abundant shipping space to reinforce Pompey's forces in Greece before Caesar could follow there. His magnificent ability to shift large forces climaxed in his move to Spain, denying Pompey a trump card, which could have decided the later battle at Pharsalus. By destroying Pompey's strongest forces in Spain, Caesar, aware that these legions could, by using the abundant shipping space to reinforce Pompey's forces in Greece before Caesar could follow there. His magnificent ability to shift large forces climaxed in his move to Spain, denying Pompey a trump card, which could have decided the later battle at Pharsalus. Taking control of Rome peacefully he broke into the Aerarium, the treasury reserve in Rome, to finance his operations. In a matter of weeks, Caesar had left Aemilius Lepidus in control of Rome and was moving towards Spain with his land forces. Riding hard, accompanied by his loyal bodyguard of mounted German cavalry, Caesar reached southern France in a remarkable record just over a week. In further fourteen days ride over the Pyrenees he linked up with his legions and advanced into eastern Spain, which after fighting in three months against Pompey's legions, by an amazing feat of leadership, he gained full control of the province. By this brilliant strategic move, Caesar had eliminated the danger on his western flank and was now ready to plan and execute his main objective- facing Pompey and his army in Greece for the ultimate battle.

Caesar Invades Greece to fight Pompey for the Ultimate Reign of Rome

Pompey's strategic plan to abandon Rome and Italy to Caesar and rely on his command of the sea and the resources of the East was a sound one, but it depended on his ability to beat Caesar in battle to regain his control of the Roman Empire. Being well aware of the imbalance in the quality of forces, between his Legions and Caesar's veterans, the choice of ground would become crucial. For the moment, Pompey, assembling and training his forces in Greece, held the upper hand, as Caesar, devoid of maritime transport presented no immediate threat. However, things would change dramatically sooner than he thought.

For Caesar, the main target remained beating Pompey in Greece, before he could gather even more strength and train his forces into a fighting pitch. It was far from easy task, as Pompey had concentrated all available shipping, both merchant and naval, including no less than 180 Galleys in Greek ports. But Caesar, determined to invade Greece, even in wintertime, chose twelve of his best legions and cavalry to assemble at an embarkation camp just outside Brundisium port. Having built a small navy of merchant and military vessels in a secret shipyard hidden on the west coast of Italy, he assembled these in Brundisium, ready to embark part of his army for the dangerous crossing over the Adriatic, more so during the harsh wintertime, which made sailing at night highly hazardous. However, on dusk January 4, 48BC, Caesar loaded seven understrength legions and 500 cavalry on his available fleet and managed an undetected landing on the rugged Greek shore on the Epirus. The Pompeyan fleet anchored at the naval base on Corfu was caught napping, but as dawn came and Caesar's ships headed back to pick up the rest of the troops in Italy, they were intercepted and thirty vessels burned into cinder with their crews. Caesar was now virtually cut off from his supplies and reinforcements, having no ships available to replace the losses. Mark Anthony with the rest of Caesar's legions and important logistical support was unable to follow, and several attempts to sail were confounded by Pompey's navy. However Caesar decided to push into the mainland with the force he had, using the rugged mountain tracks, which enabled him to surprise two garrisons on the ay to Dyrrachium bay, which was his objective. At the same time, Pompey and his army was marching some 200 km from the coast, when he received the news of Caesar's unexpected landing, which due to the harsh wintry weather seemed suicidal. Changing course, Pompey accelerated his force to cut off Caesar's advance and jus managed to prevent Caesar from occupying the sea port of Dyrrhachium, from where he expected to receive his reinforcements, still waiting for lack of transport at Brundisium.

The Battle for Dyrrachium where Pompey could have won the War

In February, after a standoff that lasted for several months, Mark Antony finally managed to get to sea with reinforcements, but his fleet of sailing ships was forced north, past both Caesar and Pompey, eventually landing to the north of Dyrrhachium. Pompey attempted to stop the two enemy armies from joining up, but failed, and retreated back to a position in the territory of Dyrrhachium. After another brief standoff here Caesar decided to try and seize Dyrrhachium in a surprise attack. This plan almost succeeded. Caesar's men reached the outskirts of the city first, but Pompey was not far behind. He took up a position a few miles further south down the coast, at a place called Petra, where there was a small anchorage.

Over the next few weeks another rather more elaborate standoff developed. Both commanders build strong field fortifications, until two lines of forts and connecting walls stretched for fifteen miles around Pompey's beachhead.

This was a most unusual siege. Pompey had the larger army and the best access to supplies, which came to him by sea. Caesar had access to the surrounding countryside, but this had been stripped clear of supplies by Pompey's men. Gradually the situation changed. Pompey struggled to get fodder for his horses, but was blocked by Caesar, while all around Caesar the crops began to ripen. The situation worsened until Pompey decided to try and break Caesar's blockade. Several attempts failed and the standoff continued but then, Pompey the shrewd tactician decided to concentrate his superior forces on one part of Caesar's fortifications. Seeking the weakest part of Caesar's line, he sent some of his men, which approached Caesar's camp and offered to change sides and betray the town to him. It seemed an offer which he could not refuse. Taking a detachment of his German cavalry bodyguard Caesar himself rode with them at night to the city gate, where he was to meet his informers. But Pompey had sprung a trap! Caesar's cavalry were ambushed by waiting and disguised troops which forced them to withdraw quickly under pressure, evading capture. But while Caesar and his small entourage was fighting for their lives, Pompey launched an attack by a full legion, supported by a large contingent of archers on one of Caesar's forts. The garrison held out and soon Caesar, having escaped the ambush arrived with reinforcements to counter attack and restore the situation. But Pompey's plan to effect a breakthrough came together , when two major defectors from Caesar's camp arrived, handing him plans of the surrounding fortifications, pointing out the weak points and especially one section which remained incomplete and was weakly defended. It seemed an ideal plan and Pompey acted immediately. At dawn of July 7, Caesar's legionaries manning the western side of the entrenchments, found themselves suddenly under sustained attack by superior forces. Pompey's forces overwhelmed the outnumbered troops, fighting from uncompleted defense lines and within minutes, most of the centurions were killed and panic broke out among the troops. Some reinforcements sent from nearby were beaten off, until, alerted by urgent smoke signals, Caesar hurriedly arrived at the head of a strong contingent. A furious fight followed, while Caesar himself, trying to break the deadlock, broke into a nearby camp, but men of two of his legions became confused in entrenchments. Caesar's cavalry followed in, but at this moment Pompey himself arrived on the battle scene ahead of a strong force fighting to relieve the camp. The arrival of Pompey and his troops threw the entire area into confusion. Caesar's cavalry panicked and tried to struggle out of the entrenchments. Seeing the cavalry retreating, and thousands of Pompey's men storming into the fray, total chaos and panic set in and a wide-eyed flight started. Caesar, standing in the middle of the rout, tried to stop them, but, for the first time they ignored him. Grabbing standards to stem the flood, but their bearers simply let go of them, one man even tried to stab his leader with the pointed pole. The situation became untenable and Caesar had no choice but retreat himself.

At this point Pompey had the golden opportunity to turn a local success into an all out victory. With thousands of Caesar's troops fleeing in wild and leaderless confusion, he could have pursued with his legions and destroy Caesar's force before he could restore some order into the chaos. But strangely as it sounds, Pompey ordered his troops to hold and NOT pursue. Some historians try to explain this by noting that Pompey knew that in all those years, no one ever saw Caesar's troops run from a battle and that he feared it had to be one of Caesar's tactics of a trap into which he would lead Pompey to be destroyed. Yet, by failing to pursue Caesar at the critical moment of his defeat, Pompey threw away the chance to destroy Caesar's much smaller army. As Caesar himself said, "Today the enemy would have won, if they had a commander who was a winner". Nevertheless, Pompey had a second chance to win the final showdown at Pharsalus in August, where he still had a huge advantage in numbers, especially with his cavalry and full backing of logistical support, however, as we shall see, his opponent's brilliant tactics and personal leadership combined with the superior fighting abilities of his veterans led to an astounding victory of historical proportions for Julius Caesar.

Showdown at Pharsalus, Caesar's Masterpiece Victory

After the painful defeat, an experience which Caesar wished to repair and quickly restore the fighting resolve of his troops, he decided to withdraw and move to better locations . where food would be available for his starving men. Sending the baggage trains on ahead, led by an experienced centurion, familiar with the region, Caesar pulled out his main force at dawn. His troops, devoid of the personal road travelled fast and after a forced march hurried east. As soon as his scouts, shadowing Caesar reported his movement, Pompey set off in pursuit. But he was too late. Caesar's light troops travelled fast and made headway. Only a small detachment of riders caught up with Caesar's rearguard, which fought it off after a short pitched battle. Again Caesar had pulled a clever trick up his sleeve. After halting at some towns to replenish with sufficient stores and short rest for hit tired troops, Caesar crossed the Enipeus river east of Metropolis. To the north of the river, on a plain now covered with ripening wheat he made camp. The town of Pharsalus, was nearby on a hill in the distance. The plain was fronted by the foothills of Mount Dogandzis. here Caesar decided to feed his troops and horses and then offer Pompey the ultimate battle. Indeed Pompey, being on the heels of Caesar also reached the area and a few days later, marched into Thessaly, linking up with the forces sent from the eastern provinces, under Scipio. With his two armies now combined, Pompey was confident, that through this superior manpower and excellent logistical support coming from all sides, he could win the battle against Caesar, after his success at Dyrrhachium. Finding Caesar's legions massing on the plain, he could have attacked, while Caesar was still reorganizing his forces, but Pompey opted to avoid open battle and revert to a war of attrition. In this he was opposed by his generals and especially the senators, who urged him to detroy Caesar and thus allow them to return to Rome and regain their status. Most outspoken in his urge, was general Titus Labienus, Caesar's former deputy in Gaul and a brilliant cavalry commander, who changed sides, when Caesar, took Rome against his advice. Labienus' part in the oncoming Battle at Pharsalus was to be of dramatic proportions.

The Opposing Battle Formations

Early August two great Roman armies camped near each other on the plains of Pharsalus, maneuvering and challenging, but no formal move was made by either side to open battle. The pressure on Pompey by his senior commanders and senators grew with each day, while Caesar used all his time making his army stronger with supplies and training his men to a fighting pitch. Then on the morning of August 9 all this changed dramatically. Caesar was preparing to move his camp to another position, closer to find food, when his scouts warned him that Pompey was moving his army from the rampart he had stayed and was forming on the level ground by the river Enipeus. This was the opportunity that Caesar was waiting for. He ordered the march halted and raised the purple flag, signaling "battle". Quick orders were issues for the men to take off their packs and reform into battle formation only with their combat gear. Centurions ordered earthen ramparts to be filled and leveled so that cohorts could deploy into full battle formation. On the other side, Pompey, now under growing pressure was anxious not to lose the confidence of his men and especially General Labienous, leading his ace card with his seven thousand cavalrymen. Considering the superiority of his resources, Pompey should have been fully confident in his winning the battle. But Pompey, had lost some of his "greatness". He fought his last battle a decade ago and had since led a pampered life in political Rome, while Caesar was not only several years younger but fighting fit, fresh from the Spanish campaign, which he had led admirably. And there were other reasons for Pompey's concern. He still retained deep misgivings about the quality of the forces under his command, despite their superiority in numbers.

Moreover, while Caesar remained the uncontested Master of his Household, in spite of the painful reverse he suffered at Dyrrachium, his centurions remained totally loyal and unquestioned in their resolve to fight and win the battle on the plain. This was no simple matter, if one remembers, that for the first time in Rome's history, At Pharsalus Roman s fought Romans!

When Pompey marched out onto the plain forming his battle order, he carefully left several cohorts of older troops guard his camp. The remaining 11 legions, or 110 cohorts, in all 47,000 men he formed in a classic three lines formation, divided vertically under the command of three subordinates. Stationed on the wings and in the center he placed his more reliable legions. General Lucius Afranius, one of Pompey's most loyal soldiers, was charged with the right wing, on which he expected bearing most of the pressure and under his command he placed the best troops from Spain.. The center line was commanded by Metellus Scipius, with his legions from Syria, while on the left wing he placed Domitius Ahernobarbus with two legions, which were formely serving with Caesar and thus not regarded totally loyal to Pompey. He himself stationed himself and his staff at the left flank, from where he would have full view of Labienus' massive cavalry attack, on which he depended to win the battle of the day. Not all Pompey's subordinate commanders were happy with his dispositions, which they regarded as too passive, leaving insufficient initiative to junior leaders. Several had voiced their concern the evening before, lamenting that Pompey placed all his strategy on Labienus's cavalry. While not criticizing Labienus as a veteran commander, some of Pompey's senators and former consuls and generals distrusted the cavalry commander, not trusting his loyalty to Pompey, carefully recalling his long service with Caesar in Gaul. But the main reason for the mood that prevailed on Pompey's camp was their leaders lack of resolution, such as he displayed by failing to pursue Caesar after their decisive victory at Dyrrachium. In fact, there are records of this dispute which indicate that Pompey hesitated to face Caesar on Pharsalus in open battle, preferring to "wear him down" through denying him food and supplies. Even on the morning when he sent his forces to line up in combat formation, he was heard to say, that he saw the ongoing battle with heavy misgivings, about the fighting quality of forces under his command. Historians recalling the battle, claim that this mood can be appreciated by the tactical dispositions he revealed to the astonishment of his subordinates. To them he claimed that Caesar's army would be routed even before the battle lines even met. Pompey insisted that his superior cavalry would turn Caesar's flank and encircle him from the rear, so that the republican infantry would serve merely as the anvil, the Labienus's cavalry as the hammer crushing Caesar's lines between them. It could have worked perfectly in most cases, but at Pharsalus it overlooked the fighting value of Caesar's veterans and especially his long established flexible leadership at the height of a climax in battle. Pompey's plan also failed to consider they staying power of his untried masses of infantry lines, subjected to a protracted trial of strength from Caesar's veterans attacking them. In fact, as strange as it may seem, Pompey's so-called Master plan, held in it the very problem that he tried to avoid, his misgivings about the fighting quality of his forces, against Caesar's veterans. The only commander being fully enthusiatic, was General Labienus who was impatiently waiting to throw his massive cavalry into battle against his former mentor and now mortal enemy.

Meeting Pompey's challenge, Caesar also deployed his troops, although in sheer numbers, he could form only three lines with a total of 22,000 men. However, his troops were nearly all experienced veteran warriors, having fought under him in Gaul and Spain. Pompey's legions, although double in number, were no match for the Caesar's fighting men, and both leaders knew this. Caesar's battle deployment was similar to Pompey's, albeit attenueated manner, his lines being more stretched with nine legions, or 80 cohorts, in all 22,000 men, almost half of what Pompey had deployed to confront them. Caesar's most trusted friend, Mark Anthony, a most experienced commander, who had fought with him in Gaul, was placed to defend the lest wing, leaning on the river bank against any flanking attempt. Under him were two depleted legions, which had been hit hardest during the disaster at Dyrrachium, next in line were the legions commanded by Domitius Calvinus, facing his mortal enemy Scipio and on the right wing, which would always be the hottest fighting scene in any battle, was Caesar's premier legion, the Tenth*, *or elite formation, led by General Publius Sulla, although Caesar himself monitored operations from this vantage point, facing the massing cavalry of Labienus impatiently waiting to charge.

The scene which enfolded that fateful morning along the plain of Pharsalus, must have been a fabulous spectacle. With close to a hundred thousand fighting men and their equipment facing each other, raging to go into mortal combat, it presented an unforgettable stage, on which history would be made. Here, at Pharsalus, the fate of Rome was to be decided by blood, of Romans fighting for their masters, both tremendous warriors, determined to become uncontested dictators of the Roman Empire was then. The next hours would decide, who was to be the ultimate leader of Rome, or die gloriously in battle.

The Roman Fighting Techniques and Tactics

The centurio was the key, middle-ranking officer of the Roman army. Julius Caesar considered the centurion the backbone of his army, and knew many of his centurions by name. Apart from some centurions of Equestrian rank during the reign of Augustus, the imperial centurion was an enlisted man like the legionary, promoted from the ranks. The centurion originally commanded a century of one hundred men (compared to an infantry company). Centurions also commanded maniples company) and cohorts ( Battalion size) of the legion, with each imperial legion having a nominal complement of fifty-nine centurions, across a number of grades. Julius Caesar’s reward for one particular centurion who had pleased him was to promote him eight grades. The centurion could be identified – by friend and foe alike – by a transverse crest on his helmet, metal greaves on his shins, and the fact that, like all Roman officers, he wore his sword on the left, unlike legionaries, who wore their swords on the right.

Centurions often suffered heavy casualties in battle, usually led from the front, normally occupying a position at the front right of the century formation. They also sought to display the skill and courage that may have brought them to their rank in the first place. It is for these reasons that they often suffered a disproportionate number of casualties. The first-rank centurions, or primi ordines, of a legion’s 1st, elite cohort, were the most senior in the legion. Promotion came with time and experience, but many centurions never made it to first-rank status. One first-rank centurion in each legion held the title of primus pilus - literally ‘first spear’. He was chief centurion of the legion, a highly prestigious and well-paid position for which there was always intense competition among centurions ( could be compared to the senior Warrant Officer). The vastly experienced primi pili always received great respect and significant responsibility, not infrequently leading major army detachments. Many combat experienced, or highly decorated for bravery cennturions could serve for decades until retired and specially rewarded.

Roman training

A legionnaire had to go through intense physical, mental, and military drills before being admitted to the unit. The daily regimen of a soldier was grueling: they started their morning with a march to build up endurance; they carried weights in running, walking, or swimming drills to build up strength and stamina; and they needed to endure hunger and thirst to prepare them in times when supplies were cut off.

Roman sword fighting techniques

The Roman army was considered the best of its days, and it heavily used military science to defeat enemies. Compared to the armies of the barbarians, it is an army that knew exactly what to do at any point of the fight. Its complex range of army formations, attack stances, and use of siege weapons made it succeed in many military campaigns and colonize tribes in ancient Europe.
The use of Roman swords was well coordinated. Weapons training required soldiers to get accustomed to the heavy shield, to know how to use the weapon, to predict timing, and to deliver blows without exposing oneself to danger. The use of Roman swords was limited for the legionnaires. The generals put more importance for shielding; a legionnaire must knock off his opponent to the ground while protecting his body with the shield. He can then finish the opponent off with a stab by Roman short sword.

Roman Weapons used at Pharsalus

The Gladius

In combat the gladius could be used for stabbing or slashing, although it was primarily used for stabbing. In the crush of battle that often occurred when two forces pressed against each other the gladius shined. It was ideal for stabbing in these conditions where longer weapons became useless due to the lack of room for long slashing swords and thrusting spears. Roman legionaries constantly practiced with their weapon of choice, learning to make thrusts into vulnerable areas of their enemies such as the groin or neck.

The Pilum

The pilum is the heavy javelin used by the Roman legionnaires. Along with the sword, the pilum was one of the main weapons of the Roman military and provided each man with mobile, short ranged artillery ability. It is perhaps one of the biggest reasons for Roman dominance of the ancient world, along with the full body shield and gladius. A pilum is essentially a heavy javelin featuring a long thin iron shank (neck) and heavy shaft. The relatively thin iron shank, with its barbed tip, gave the pilum its extraordinary ability; it was armor piercing. The weight of the shaft and a weight in the shape of pyramid or ball would then punch the shaft through enemy shields and armor. The 2 foot long (60 mm) shaft was designed to be long enough to punch through a shield and into the man behind it. Even if the shaft didn't connect with the man holding the shield then the pilum had the added benefit of rendering the shield useless due to the large javelin poking through and hanging from the front of it. Roman soldiers typically carried two pilum and they would throw them as they charged their enemies to cause death, discarded shields and confusion among the ranks of their enemies. Modern testing has revealed that a pila (singular for pilum) can be thrown 98 feet but it probably had an effective range of between 50-66 ft. A typical Roman strategy would have been to unleash their second pilum from a distance of only about 15-20ft and then to follow up with their swords, giving their enemy no time to recover. Additionally, the Romans found the pilum to be an effective anti-cavalry weapon. Julius Cesar used this tactic to great effect when he ordered a cohort of his legionnaires to use their pilum to stab at the faces of the cavalry of Pompey during the battle at Pharsalus.

Individual Weapons, Personal Equipment and Haulage

A legionary typically carried around 27 kilograms (60 pounds) of armor, weapons, and equipment. This load consisted of armor, sword, shield, two pila (one heavy, one light) and 15 days' food rations. When battle formations were formed in lines, the heavy equipment was discarded, soldiers went into battle with their combat gear only. A century might be supported by baggage train wagons in the rear, each drawn by 6 mules, and carrying tools, nails, water barrels, extra food and cooking utensils, so that at the first opportunity called for a rest, troops could be provided with hot cooked food.

There were also tools for digging and constructing a castra, the legions' fortified base camp. One writer recreates the following as to Caesar's army in Gaul: Each soldier arranged his heavy pack on a T or Y-shaped rod, borne on his left shoulder. Shields were protected on the march with a hide cover. Each legionnaire carried about 5 days worth of wheat, pulses or chickpeas, a flask of oil and a mess kit with a dish, cup, and utensil. Personal items might include a dyed horsehair crest for the helmet, a semi-water resistant oiled woolen cloak, socks and breeches for cold weather and a blanket. Entrenchment equipment included a shallow wicker basket for moving earth, a spade and/or pick-axe like dolabra, or turf cutter, and two wooden staves to construct the next camp palisade. All these were arranged in the marching pack toted by each infantryman.

Fighters travelled in groups of 8, and each octet was sometimes assigned a mule. The mule carried a variety of equipment and supplies, including a mill for grinding grain, a small clay oven for baking bread, cooking pots, spare weapons, water skin, and tents. A Roman century had a complement of 10 mules, each attended by two non-combatants who handled foraging and water supply.

Deployment of the Triple Battle Order

Under standard deployment, Roman legions were formed in a triple line. The first line would have 2400 men, standing in 4 cohorts, 10 ranks deep. The second and third lines would each have 1800 men. The first rank of the legion would extend about 720 feet whereas a triple line of battle might extend a mile or a mile and a half long. The Roman soldiers in each battle line stood about three feet apart each way. As the first line went into action the second followed closely behind; as the men of the first fell or withdrew exhausted, those of the second pressed forward and took their places; in case of need the third line advanced and in like manner relieved the combined first and second. Sometimes there would be a wedge-shaped column or soldiers would shelter under a tortoise cover of shield called a testudo. The cavalry were used by skirmishing to prevent enemy flank movements, as diversions to allow for repositioning and were used to prevent the escape of enemies who tried to flee.

Tactics and Leadership in The Battle of Pharsalus

As Pompey had planned, the fate of the battle remained in the hands of Labienus's cavalry. But the old warrior made a critical decision, by which he forgone an opportunity to effect a pincer movement, encircling Caesar's entire frontline. He had massed his entire cavalry division on his left flank, only stationing only a small number of his horsemen with light infantry on his right flank, insufficient to attack from both flanks. Caesar, had appreciated his rival's intention the moment he watched Pompey's cavalry massing on his left flank. Fully aware of his overwhelming superiority, about to engage his own inferior horsemen, he immediately took action. Having trained his army for years in combined arms fighting, he had provided a large number of his youngest and most able troops to operate as light and mobile infantry, capable in moving quickly from one critical point to meet an enemy threat. To prepare for what he considered the decisive crisis, namely Labienus' cavalry charge, he quickly detached six cohorts, about 2000 men from his third line, holding his most experienced troops and formed them into a fourth line on his right flank, but at an oblique angle, hidden from view behind his own cavalry screen, but instructed them personally, to spring into action once Pompey's cavalry was charging through their own cavalry screen. It was to become a wise decision, with critical consequences, which eventually won him the battle against much superior forces. Caesar was depending on the fact, that mounted men stood higher than those on foot, which made it possible, actually to hide the light infantry from the charging horsemen. To make their surprise attack even more deadly, Caesar instructed them not to throw their Pila at the distance, but "strike them upwards into the eyes and faces of the enemy cavalrymen". Caesar the veteran knew from long experience, that the maximum effect of Pilum was in addition to its penetrating power, its contortion upon becoming embedded in an enemy shield, which would not halt the speeding riders, while the overwhelming impact of thousands of Pila pointing infantry suddenly advancing on the cavalry charging through the screen at top speed will have disabling effect on the riders and their horses. As we shall see, Caesar's tactic worked beyond expectation.

The Carnage of Labienus' Cavalry Charge

Positioned now in their three lines of battle formation, the heavy infantry faced each other at some five hundred yards, but ironically, given the eagerness with which both sides has sought this confrontation, there was a long moment of hesitation for some time no side made the first move. It was only when Pompey realized that his allied contingents were becoming disorderly impatient by the delay, that he gave the battle signal. At this moment Labienus' cavalry started its charge.

Within moments, the so far silent plan, reverberated to the thunder of thousands of horse hoofs, raising a thick cloud of fog. In response, Caesar's cavalry added their weight to the din of battle as they took the overwhelming shock, behind them their auxiliary light infantry were running after them. On Pompey's side hundreds of archers and slingers dashing after the charging cavalry let loose volleys of arrows that flew over the heads of the galloping horsemen, dropping on Caesar's cavalry. For a short time these held their ground, but taking heavy losses, then on command of Caesar, they began to give way and retreated.

Labienus now saw his chance to execute his planned grand encirclement, but it was a trap and he galloped right into it. As Labienus directed his cavalry to charge round Caesars Tenth Legion flank, he was confident of his victory. Caesar's remaining cavalry retreated in good order in two wings, while Pompey's cavalry charged right through the gap only to be confronted a sudden front of heavy infantry. Caesar barked an order. Trumpets sounded and the hidden reserve cohorts of the fourth line jumped to their feet dashing forward slamming into the unexpecting cavalrymen before they even saw them.

Now Caesar's shock troops went into action. Mingling with the surprised Cavalrymen at close quarters they pumped their javelins as instructed right into the rider's eyes. The horses reeling back in terror, rising up as their riders, trying to evade the strikes and fighting their bridles sheared off and retreated in panic. This spread among the rest of the cavalry, which lost all order and the rout started evening the carnage. Panic spread quickly among the ranks of the following archers and slingers. Those that were not slaughtered, fled in terror into the protecting hills, as did the surviving cavalry. Pompey's trump card, his hammer had failed miserably and been knocked out of the battle. Caesar, watching the carnage from nearby, decided it was time to finish Pompey off. With the order to attack Trumpets blared and Banners went up the end game started its final act.

Caesar's Centurions Become the Key Players of the Day

As Caesar's two lines of heavy infantry commenced their forward march in perfect order towards the Pompey's waiting troops. However, before Caesar's legions had advanced too far, it became obvious to his centurions leading the assault, that something strange was happening here. Pompey's legions did not move to meet them, but remained stationary in lines.

On his orders, Pompey had instructed his legions to let Caesar's charge the entire distance, become physically drained by running with their heavy load, when they finally came to grips with their waiting enemies. Against a lesser trained army, this could have worked, but not with Caesar's battle hardened and highly disciplined soldiers. When his centurions realized what was happening, they individually ordered a halt, a move which was executed all over the charging legions without delay.

Thousands of charging troops stood fast in the middle of the battlefield and caught their breath, redressed their lines before resuming their advance now fully refreshed. Coming within range they hurled their Pila and drew their swords as they crashed into the lines of their enemies with full force. It was a marvelous display of military discipline, performed by Caesar's centurions, which proved them worthy of their leader. But the Pompeians were also up to the task. Standing their line, they took the Pila shower with their shields and responded with their own volley before bodily meeting the full shock of Caesar's legions. With an almighty crash Caesars front line, led by his most experienced centurions, washed onto the the wall created by the Pompeian shields. Despite the impact of the charge, the men stood in their line and held firm. The noise of battle was appalling and the dust had risen above the ranks in such heavy clouds that men and riders appeared out of it like shadows. Men and horses lay dying on the ground made slippery with blood. Now standing toe to toe with their adversaries, both Romans, the outcome of the battle depended on the centurions. Leading right beside their men, they started hacking their way to break into the wall of shields by brute force. Senior centurions were running from cohort to cohort, shouting at the top of their voices urging their troops. Some virtually threw themselves at the enemy shield line, aiming their swords over the top of the shield and strike at the faces.

The hand-t-hand fighting became vicious as men took and gave with relentless determination displaying tremendous courage in face of certain death. After fighting themselves to sheer exhaustion, a moment of stalemate occurred. But then Caesar ordered his reserve cohorts into the fray, as archers and slingers were swinging onto the flank of Pompey's legion. Having deployed all his forces from the start into the lines, Pompey had no reserves to stem this decisive attack on his vulnerable flank, now bare, left vulnerably bare, by the escaping cavalry. Pompey's legion was now fighting on three sides and being cut to pieces. Pompey personally watching the carnage of his cavalry and now the fate of his premier legion, was unable to intervene. Eventually a gradual withdrawal, first orderly, led by centurions, started to move. As Caesar saw this happening he issued another order. His red banner indicating charge dropped and men of his third line, waiting impatiently to join the fray, rushed forward with a loud cheer, crashing with tremendous force into the Pompeians already fighting for their lives. Shocked by the impact of fresh troops, many threw down their shields and fled in terror. Watching this, Pompey realized that he was losing the battle of Pharsalus, but he was helpless to prevent the total rout that started among his depleted lines. Totally shaken by the terrible event, left the battlefield, rode back to his camp, but met only chaos there. He decided it was pointless to remain, and wishing to evade the humiliation of capture, shed his general's cloak and fled with his entourage to the coast embarking for Egypt, where he was eventually murdered by an assassin.

Meanwhile, on the battlefield, with Pompey's riders ruined and now his legions withdrawal turning into an uncontrolled rout, it was every man for himself and soon, somewhere in the distance horns blew and Julius Caesar snapped around in his saddle. It was the the tone for surrender, the great battle of Pharsalus was won and Julius Caesar was on the way to become Rome's first uncontested emperor. The day's exact number of casualties are unclear, but seem appalling, of one remembers that Romans were fighting Romans, many of them former neighbors from the same area. Figures given by historians estimated 24,000 Pompeian prisoners, with another 15,000 killed. Caesar's losses were substantially lower, but the number of centurions killed or wounded were disproportionately high, indicating their personal bravery to lead right beside their men in the thick of battle, the result of long years of training and fighting and most of all unfettered loyalty to their leader Julius Caesar.

Battle Analysis - Leadership and Strategy

1. Pompey achieved a strategic victory by evading Caesar at Brindisi and evacuating his army in a "Dunkirk" style operation, which allowed him over a year to organize, train and supply his Greek Army undisturbed.

2. Caesar demonstrated magnificent strategic foresight, when he made his lightning strike to neutralize Pompey's reserves in Spain, before going to fight him in Greece.

3. At the battle of Dyrrachium, Pompey demonstrated his flair for greatness, when using clever disguise and maneuver, managed to inflict Caesar a humiliating reverse, which could have been decisive, but when Pompey had failed to pursued him, it was his last chance to win the war. 

Caesar demonstrated tremendous leadership, when he managed to rally his troops and reshape them into fist class combat conditions to fight a war against superior odds in relatively short time.

4. Pompey's battle plan for Pharsalus lacked creating a strategic reserve. Despite his superiority in numbers, he placed all his hope on Labienus's cavalry to encircle Caesar's line, when this failed he lost the battle and fled himself to avoid being captured.

5. Despite his inferior numbers and his already stretched lines, Caesar created a masterpiece of late minute improvisation, having observed Pompey's intended movement, when he formed a fourth line based on first class heavy infantry, which defeated Pompey's superior cavalry and won Caesar the war. It was a move which few commanders would have dared under such conditions.

6. Caesar's troops were far more battle hardened and their discipline shone through, allowing them to easily take on twice their number. At the head of a brilliant display of junior leadership, Centurions fought along their troops, taking the brunt of the battle, alas at high personal cost.

7. Pompey's choice of forming the battlefield for was wrong. One flank being secured by the river, it made Pompey's cavalry attack totally predictable As the other flank was closed-Caesar realized the attack was going to come on his right flank and he defeated Pompey's trump card- his cavalry.