Africa December 47April

Although the eastern Mediterranean was now settled, many problems had developed elsewhere during Caesar's absence. Cassius's behaviour in Spain had provoked rebellion, while in Africa, Scipio, Afranius, Labienus, Cato and many other die-hard senators had raised an enormous army supported by King Juba. There were also difficulties in Italy, made worse by the lack of communication from Caesar while he was in Egypt. Several of his supporters, notably the tribune Publius Cornelius Dolabella and Cicero's friend

Caelius Rufus, had tried to rally support by advocating the abolition of debt and had had to be suppressed by Mark Antony, who was suspected of having acted too harshly and was replaced as the dictator's subordinate or Master of Horse (Magister Equiturn) by Marcus Lepidus.

There was also another mutiny among Caesar's veterans, news made all the more bitter because the ringleaders this time came from his own favourite, Legio X. The older soldiers wanted to be discharged and others complained that they had not received the rewards promised once their labours were at an end. These were their public grievances, but boredom may have played as big a part in provoking the outbreak, for throughout history armies have been more prone to mutiny when they are inactive. Caesar arrived back in Italy just as the mutineers were gearing themselves up to march on Rome. His behaviour amazed them when he rode into their camp and addressed them and asked what they wanted. When they shouted out that they wished to be demobilised, Caesar declared that they were discharged and informed them that he would let them have all that he had promised once he had won the war in Africa with other troops. Already stunned, the veterans were horrified when he addressed them as Quirites - civilians rather than soldiers - instead of comrades. It was an incredible display of Caesar's charisma and self-assurance, for soon the legionaries and especially Legio X were begging him to decimate them and take them back into his service.

Caesar was impatient to embark on the African campaign, and spent the bare minimum of time in Rome before hurrying across to Sicily. Reaching the port of Lilybaeum with just one legion, only bad weather prevented him immediately embarking for Africa. Frustrated, he ordered his tent to be pitched on the beach as a public demonstration of his eagerness and confidence. This was in spite of reliable reports stating that Scipio had formed ten legions, supported by four of Juba's as well as many auxiliaries and 120 war elephants. Even when he finally did set sail on 25 December 47, Caesar still had only six legions and 2,000 cavalry. The operation was not well planned, the ships' captains not having been briefed as to where they should land, and this, combined with unfavourable winds, resulted in the fleet becoming scattered. When Caesar disembarked near Hadrumentum, he had only 3,000 legionaries and 150 horsemen. Perhaps his instinctive -and characteristically Roman - boldness was now verging on recklessness, or maybe the stress and exhaustion of so many years of command were taking their toll.

Yet Caesar proved just as capable at improvisation as he always had in the past. Messengers went back to Sicily and Sardinia and soon he had gathered most of his troops. On 3 January 46 he shifted the army's main camp to Ruspina, deposited his baggage there under guard and sent the rest of the troops out foraging. A few days later he led another similar expedition to gather food, taking 30 cohorts, 400 cavalry and 150 archers. The legionaries marched expedita, that is, without packs and ready for battle, although the term is often mistranslated as 'lightly armed'. This time they were intercepted by a strong force of enemy cavalry and light infantry led by Labienus, which was later joined by another force under Petreius. Time and again the Numidian light cavalry swooped down on Caesar's line, throwing javelins before they swung round and retired. The legionaries charged forward to catch their attackers, but the Numidians easily evaded the men on foot. Whenever a cohort attacked it was exposed to more missiles from the infantry skirmishers, especially against the men's unshielded right flank. Casualties slowly mounted and progress was slow as the column moved across the open plain. Worse was the effect on the morale of the mostly young soldiers in the army. Their enemy was wearing them down and they were unable to strike back; some began to lose heart. One story, which probably refers to this fight, tells of Caesar grabbing hold of a standard bearer who was beginning to run, turning him around, and saying: 'Look, that's where the enemy are!'

In the meantime Labienus was riding up and down along the line, hurling abuse at Caesar's soldiers in the rough jargon of the camp. An experienced soldier, who had once served with Legio X but was now with another unit, managed to bring down Labienus's horse with his pilum, and Caesar's old subordinate was carried from the field. The situation remained desperate. Now surrounded, Caesar stretched his cohorts out into a single line - a rare formation for a

War elephants were used by Pompeians in the African campaign.They were most probably of the African species rather than the Indian elephant shown here. A: Thapsus one legionary ofVI Alaudae won fame when he cut off the the trunk of an elephant which had seized a camp follower (AKG Berlin)

Caesar Africa

Roman army - and had alternate units face about, so that they could throw missiles or charge in either direction. They then charged and drove the enemy back for some distance. Quickly disengaging, the Caesareans used this temporary advantage to march on towards Ruspina, until they were again attacked by a new force of the enemy. Going round the line, Caesar urged his men to a last effort. As darkness was falling they launched an attack against an enemy-held hill blocking their line of march, driving the Numidians off and giving the whole army time to withdraw. Another version claims that Petreius withdrew because he wanted his commander-in-chief Scipio to gain the glory of defeating Caesar.

Caesar became more cautious after this display of enemy strength, sending to Italy and Sicily for supplies and reinforcements. Later in January two legions, XIII and XIV, arrived, along with 800 Gallic cavalry and 1,000 archers and slingers.

Caesar now moved forward to besiege Uzitta, forcing Scipio to come to its support. In spite of Pompeian naval activity, two more legions - VIII and X - arrived and Caesar felt confident enough to offer battle outside the town, although the enemy declined. He also took the opportunity of making an example of one of the tribunes of Legio X who had been heavily involved in last year's mutiny. This man, Avienus, had brought so many servants and horses, along with copious amounts of personal baggage, that he had required an entire ship simply to transport his household. Such extravagance was shocking at a time when Caesar needed every transport to be crammed with soldiers or supplies, and so he publicly rebuked Avienus and dismissed him from the army, along with another tribune and several centurions who were known to have been ringleaders in the mutiny.

Caesar was still having supply difficulties and sent out several expeditions, one of which provoked a large-scale cavalry action in which Labienus was again defeated. The enemy was also sending out detachments to gather food, and Caesar attempted to intercept two legions isolated from the rest. The operation failed and as it retired his army was, harassed by Labienus and a strong force of Numidian light cavalry and infantry skirmishers. Once again his own shortage of cavalry and light infantry made it difficult for Caesar to deal with such attacks. He gave orders that in future 300 soldiers in each legion should march expedita, without their packs and ready for action. These troops operated in close support of the cavalry, forming a dense block behind which the horsemen could rally, rest and reform after a charge and so prepare to advance again. This tactic surprised the enemy and caused them to become more cautious. After a period of manoeuvring failed to provoke the enemy to battle and left Caesar camped in an area without an adequate supply of water, on the night of 4 April he led his army out and marched back to Thapsus. The town was still held by the enemy, and the threat prompted Scipio to come to their support, dividing his army into two camps some eight miles from the town.

Thapsus was not easy for an enemy to approach because a wide salt lake permitted access only across a relatively narrow plain from the west or south. Such restricted battlefields offered an effective counter to the numerous and fast-moving Numidian cavalry which might otherwise slip round the flanks of Caesar's army. Even so, when Caesar observed that Scipio had deployed his army with elephants in front of each wing, he took care to strengthen his own flanks. The legions deployed in the usual three lines, with the veteran II and X on the right and equally experienced VIII and IX on the left. He then divided Legio V Alaudae (or 'Larks'), the legion recruited from Gauls, into two sections of five cohorts apiece and stationed each group in a fourth line behind the flanks. His cavalry and light troops were divided into two and stationed on the wings.

The enemy advance was sudden, and Caesar busily rode around marshalling his army and encouraging the soldiers. They could see that the enemy army appeared confused, and the more experienced soldiers urged Caesar to attack immediately, confident that the Pompeians would not stand. Reluctant to enter a battle before his army was ready, Caesar rebuked them for their impertinence and tried to finish drawing up the lines. However, a trumpeter on the right with the veteran legions gave in to the soldiers and sounded the advance. The call was quickly taken up by the musicians in the other cohorts and the whole line began to surge forward. Centurions desperately turned about and tried to restrain the legionaries, but Caesar quickly realised that it was now too late, so he gave the watchword for the day - 'Good Luck' (Felicitas) - and spurred his horse towards the enemy. This at least is the version presented by whichever of Caesar's officers wrote the African War. Another tradition claims that Caesar began to suffer an epileptic fit and this was the reason why the battle started in such a disorganised way.

However the battle began, it proved to be one of the swiftest of Caesar's victories. The enemy elephants were specially targeted by his archers and slingers, panicking the animals who fled, trampling their own troops. Elsewhere the Pompeian legions gave way with very little fighting. The attack of the Caesarean legionaries was ferocious and they mercilessly cut down even those enemies who tried to surrender. The veterans seemed determined to end the war once and for all. Caesar's casualties were very slight, compared to an enemy loss of many thousands. Cato committed suicide, as did Juba after he had fought a gladiatorial bout with and killed Petreius in a strange suicide pact. Scipio fled by sea, but drowned when his ship sank. Afranius, pardoned once before, this time was captured and executed. However, Labienus and Pompey's two sons escaped to Spain to continue the struggle.

Caesar went back to Rome. In the past he had held the dictatorship for long enough to hold consular elections, but now the Senate voted him into the office for ten years. He held four triumphs over the Gauls, Egyptians, Pharnaces and Juba respectively. Yet, in November 46, he had to leave for Spain to fight the final campaign of the Civil War.

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