Review by Alistair Forrest
Crossing the Rubicon, when warfare was about to supersede Roman politics, opens one of the most fascinating periods of Roman history with bloody battles fought in the Balkans, North Africa and Spain.
I have been an addict since living at (what may have been) the site of Caesar’s last battle, Munda in Spain, and researching and writing my first novel around the momentous events of 49-44 BCE. I had to have this issue of Ancient Warfare and devoured it in one session, then revisited time and again for the fresh insights and superb battle maps and graphics.
This time the memories of Sulla as Dictator were far more justified. Seán Hußmann, a young lecturer at the University of Bonn, writes an informed article revealing Caesar’s bias in omitting the political reasoning behind his action, in his Bellum Civile. The tensions continue to swell in a climate of threat and oppression, and Caesar continues his propaganda while loosening his sword in its scabbard. He is the Republic’s saviour, he tells his legion. No he is not, says Cicero. And the die, as Suetonius puts it, is cast.
Now we come to the nitty gritty as you would expect from a publication of Ancient Warfare’s stature. Cicero had warned that Caesar was well prepared and capable, and so he proved to be when “doing what they least expect”. He forced Pompey’s hand, says regular contributor Murray Dahm, by force-marching south, capturing towns as he homed in on Brundisium, forcing Pompey’s evacuation to the Balkans. Instead of following, Caesar consolidated in Spain, Sicily and Sardinia.
In 48 and having been declared Dictator, he crossed the Adriatic where Pompey had nine legions, a fleet and enormous wealth. That’s 45,000 men prepared and ready for Caesar’s 20,000 (under-strength legions and a shortage of transport). But true to form, Caesar moved fast. How he crossed and landed against these odds, took towns in Epirus (they submitted willingly) on his way to Dyrrachium, and then hooked up with Mark Antony’s veterans including much-needed cavalry. Pompey, boxed in by a smaller force, eventually broke through and “bested” Caesar’s men, says Dahm. There follows a detailed account of the Dyrrachium campaign by Paul McDonnell-Staff, with a detailed maps showing the siege lines and movements of the forces.
That was a painful setback for Caesar but only the prelude to the memorable battle of Pharsalus. This is admirably covered by author Lyndsay Powell and supported by a superb centre-spread 3D graphic of the positions and line of attack. There are supporting maps of the phases of the battle and poetic commentary from Lucan’s Pharsalia. You know the story – Caesar’s clever tactics and Pompey’s uncharacteristic resignation, riding back to his camp where the victory feast had been laid out before hand, only to be left for Caesar’s astonished captains.
Why did Pompey lose? There were significant differences in the armies and tactics and Caesar’s unpredictability coupled with his legions’ experience over the inexperience of Pompey’s superior numbers, are the chief reasons given by student Ben Angell. From here it’s back to the politics – Pompey was shackled to the corpse of a less-than-formidable senate. After this defeat, the senate that had been held together by Pompey “melted away” – Cato and Scipio to Africa while others either fled or surrendered. The next instalment can’t come soon enough – the assassination of Pompey on Egypt’s shores, the war in Africa and its culmination in Spain where Pompey’s sons and Titus Labienus were defeated by an inspired Caesar at Munda.
There are further informative articles covering further reading, Roman cavalry and the art of the ambush – but by now you’ll be exhausted after that incredible battle brought back to life by Ancient Warfare. A subscription is highly recommended!
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- Great Battles of the Classical Greek World by Owen Rees
- The Roman Soldier by G. R. Watson
Ancient Warfare is a unique publication focused exclusively on soldiers, battles, and tactics, all before 600 AD. Starting with ancient Egypt and Persia and continuing to the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Ancient Warfare examines the military history of cultures throughout Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia and Africa. Ancient Greece and Rome receive the most frequent coverage, due both to the wealth of contemporary sources and the modern fascination with these two great civilizations. Subject-matter ranges from the familiar to the more obscure: while Alexander the Great, the Persian Wars and Caesar’s Gallic campaigns all receive regular coverage, Ancient Warfare also looks at some of the less common parts of ancient military history, from chariots as battle taxis to PTSD in antiquity.
Alistair Forrest decided to be a writer on the day his English teacher ticked him off in front of his classmates for being too descriptive in his essay on Macbeth. Forrest and his wife Lynda have five children between them. For six years they lived in the very same upland valley in Spain where Julius Caesar marched eight crack legions towards the town of Munda (now Monda) to fight the sons of Pompey who had arrayed 13 legions against him. It was to be the last, bloody battle in Caesar’s civil war, just a year before he was assassinated. Inspired by the eagles that hunt in the surrounding olive groves, Forrest began to write Libertas.
Book Review of Ancient Warfare Magazine - Roman Against Roman – Caesar and Pompey in the Balkans - Related Topic: Caesar's Civil War