Civil War — Pompey versus Caesar

In 52, while Caesar was busy in Gaul, a reluctant Senate had given Pompey a third consulship with the purpose of his quelling the eternal political street fighting, but without a colleague to hinder him. This virtual dictatorship was more than the Lucca Conference had allowed for between the triumvirs, and left Caesar with the suspicion that Pompey was conspiring against him.
Caesar needed to be elected consul
while still propraetor of Gaul, thus
continuing his imperium and its
automatic immunity to legal prosecution
for any illegal acts he may have carried
out in his province – of which, according
to his political enemies, there were

The Senate – ever distrustful of Caesar’s
naked ambition – insisted on the statutes,
that he enter Rome as a private citizen
(privatus) to canvas for the election, thus
leaving him vulnerable to lawsuits from
his numerous enemies. Although Pompey
agreed to use his position to waive the
regulations, Caesar no longer trusted
him, or he may have not believed that
Pompey could carry the Senate with him.
In any event, Caesar invaded Italy at the
beginning of 49 at the head of his
devoted legions, and occupied Ariminum.
He seems to have striven for a peaceful
situation, if one was possible on his own
terms. One source tells how he pondered
the alternatives: ‘To refrain from crossing
[the Rubicon, although Caesar never named
the river] will bring me misfortune; but to
cross will bring misfortune to all men.’
But he would not lose the initiative
through caution, and it was clear he had taken his erstwhile triumvir completely by surprise. Pompey chose not to face him, and instead withdrew across the Adriatic to begin marshalling in the Balkans the armies he had commanded in the East.

Rome and all Italy fell to Caesar with scarcely any fighting, but the city had been emptied of most of its magistrates. His first task, therefore, was to provide some sort of government. The first act of the civil war took place in Spain, where Pompey still had a powerful army. Hoping to deal with this before Pompey had time to raise a second army in the Balkans, Caesar dashed overland to Spain. In his brief absence Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony), who as a young military tribune (tribunus militum) had won his favour in Gaul, was appointed Caesar’s master of the horse (magister equitum) – a post traditionally only held by an elected dictator’s second-in-command, signalling Caeasar’s political intention. Left in command of Italy, Antony quickly ensured that the compliant Senate named Caesar dictator.

In Spain, Pompey’s cause fell rapidly in the hands of his poorly chosen generals, Lucius Afranius and Marcus Petreius. They surrendered in return for a pardon and the disbandment of the Pompeian legions. Caesar hurried back to Rome, where he was elected consul for a second time, to begin a round of diplomatic missions to help restore proper government. And then, at the end of a very hectic 49 BC, he set off to confront the Republicans.

After failing to dislodge Pompey’s well-entrenched forces at Dyrrachium, Caesar marched into Thessaly to intercept Metellus Scipio, the proconsular governor of Syria, who was coming overland to join the Pompeian army. Pompey followed Caesar, and the three forces finally clashed in the summer of 48 at Pharsalus, in northern Greece. Despite being outnumbered two to one, Caesar’s foot soldiers broke the massed Pompeian cavalry and then pressed the infantry to the point of routing it completely.

Pompey fled to Egypt in the hope that the children of King Ptolemy Auletes, Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII, would remember that when he was alive their father owed his throne to Pompey's patronage and support over the dynastic squabbles that beset Egypt betwen 80 and 51 BC. The ungrateful children did not – perhaps they feared Caesar more. When he landed, Pompeius Magnus was treacherously murdered on the beach, and his pickled head handed to a horrified Caesar on his arrival in Alexandria early in 47.

Early Rome, 700­218 BC
Click map for larger, downloadable image

Gaul at the time of Caesar's conquest,
58—52 BC
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Pompey the Great bit off more than he could chew when he confronted his former son-in-law Julius Caesar. He fell victim to Egyptian dynastic ambitions when the chamberlain to the young Ptolemy XIII persuaded the pharaoh to execute the Roman general on his arrival at Akexandria after fleeing the battlefield of Pharsalus. The deed was intended to curry favour with Caesar, but had the opposite effect. Caesar sided with Ptolemy's sister, Cleopatra, and had the king killed.

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