Blitzkrieg the Italian campaign January March

The suddenness of Caesar's advance surprised and unnerved his opponents, just as he had intended. Pompey left Rome in the second half of January, declaring that it could not be defended. He was followed by most of the magistrates, including the consuls, who left in such haste that it suggested panic. Many Romans were still uncertain about just how firmly committed each side was to fighting, and this open admission of military weakness made many wonder whether Pompey could really be relied on to defend the Republic.

The first clash came at Corfinum, where Domitius Ahenobarbus had mustered some 30 cohorts of new recruits and planned to hold the city. This was in spite of Pompey's repeated pleas for Domitius to bring his men south to join his two legions (I and XV) at Capua. It was the first sign of the great divisions between the commanders opposing Caesar. Caesar's army now mustered two

Campaign Caesar Rubicon










Brundisium Q


Caesar's route


The Italian peninsula and Caesar's advance legions, for he had been joined by the XII, plus some Gallic cavalry, although some detachments from these units were probably still scattered as garrisons in the towns already occupied. In February Corfinum was surrounded and Ahenobarbus learned that Pompey had no intention of coming to his aid. Caesar tells us that Ahenobarbus then panicked and planned to slip out of the city and escape, abandoning his soldiers to their fate. Hearing of this, the garrison mutinied and surrendered themselves and the town. Ahenobarbus and the other senators were brought before Caesar, who made a great display of formally telling them of the grievances that had prompted him to march into Italy, and then allowing all who wished to, to go free. This was the first important display of Caesar's clemency (dementia), a policy to which he would adhere throughout the conflict, in marked contrast to his opponents, who employed the more brutal methods normal in past civil wars. The ordinary soldiers and most of their officers took an oath of allegiance to Caesar and were taken into his own army.

Pompey had probably already decided to abandon Italy altogether and cross the Adriatic to Greece. In the eastern provinces he had many clients and allies who could provide him with soldiers. The only properly trained troops in Italy had until recently been serving under Caesar, and Pompey was reluctant to test their loyalty so soon by advancing on the enemy. With Domitius's army gone, he was in any case outnumbered. He would go east, recruit and train a vast army and fleet and deal with Caesar in due course, returning to invade Italy by sea. Often he is supposed to have declared that 'Sulla did it, why shouldn't I?', referring to the dictator's successful return from the east in 83. Militarily this plan made perfect sense, but politically it was very damaging. Many Romans felt abandoned, and one senator sarcastically reminded Pompey that if he was short of soldiers to fight Caesar then perhaps he ought to start stamping his feet.

Pompey retreated south to Brundisium. Caesar followed in pursuit as quickly as he could, but a large number of recruits and senators had already been shipped across the Adriatic before he arrived outside the city. Pompey remained with about two legions, waiting for the ships to return and complete the evacuation. Caesar's engineers began to supervise the construction of a huge mole, intended to block access to the harbour. At first a solid breakwater was built out from the shore, but in deeper water this was continually swept away, so instead they began adding large rafts to the structure. Pompey used merchant vessels mounting hastily constructed three-storey towers and equipped with light artillery to attack and hinder construction. Pompey's fleet returned before the mole was complete and were able to enter the harbour and embark the garrison. The city's gates were blocked and a small force left as rearguard to allow a smooth evacuation, but the citizens of Brundisium, either through hostility towards Pompey or fear of Caesar's men, helped the attackers in and the retreat became more hasty than planned.

In less than two months Caesar had seized control in Italy. Pompey had escaped, with the best of his soldiers, and many leading senators. At present Caesar lacked a fleet and was in no position to follow him. On 18 March he was back in Rome, trying to persuade as many senators as possible to convene. His clemency had surprised and relieved many who were neutral or wavering, though some were still convinced that this was simply a ploy and that, in time, Caesar's own cruel nature or that of his disreputable followers would prevail. When he led his soldiers to seize the state Treasury held in the

RIGHT This early 2nd century AD relief shows a Roman soldier leading a chained Germanic captive. During the Gallic campaigns Caesar enslaved an enormous number of prisoners.The profits from these sales not only paid off his debts but made him an extremely wealthy man. (Author's collection)

FOLLOWING PAGES There was some naval fighting during the Civil War but the most decisive encounters occurred on land. However sea battles would figure prominently in the fighting after Caesar's death. (AKG Berlin)

Neter EgyptMetellus Tribune

Temple of Saturn, and Caesar threatened to execute the tribune Metellus who stood in his way, such fears seemed confirmed.

Curio was sent with two legions to secure Sardinia and then Africa. Caesar himself decided to set out for Spain overland and defeat Pompey's legions there. These were the best of the enemy troops then in existence, but their strategic role was unclear now that Pompey had shifted his main focus to the eastern Mediterranean. Caesar is supposed to have claimed that he went first to fight an army without a leader, before going to fight a leader without an army.

Was this article helpful?

+1 0

Post a comment