Veni vidi vici the Zela campaign

It was not until late May or early June that Caesar finally stirred himself to move. There was bad news from Syria, and he sailed there with Legio VI, leaving the rest of his army to garrison Egypt. After the suicide of Mithridates of Pontus, his son Pharnaces had been left with only a small fraction of the old kingdom of Pontus. Seeing the disorder caused within the empire by the Civil War, Pharnaces decided to seize once more the lost territory, and invaded the old heartland of Pontus. Caesar's legate Domitius Calvinus had marched to oppose him, but suffered defeat. Pharnaces celebrated his victory in brutal manner, torturing and executing his prisoners, and castrating large numbers of young Romans who fell into his hands.

The forces at Caesar's disposal were small, consisting of the greatly reduced but veteran Legio VI, along with the survivors of Domitius's army. These included a legion of Deiotarus's Galatians which had fled before contact, another raised in Pontus, and Legio XXXVI which, although composed of former Pompeians, had fought well. Though outnumbered, Caesar characteristically chose to advance on Pharnaces, stopping five miles away from the enemy camp outside the town of Zela. In the night Caesar suddenly marched out and began to build a new camp on the opposite side of a valley to the Pontic army. On the next morning, 2 August 47, Pharnaces drew up his army in battle order. However, because the ravine separating them was steep, offering very bad going to any attacker trying to climb it, Caesar thought that this was simply a gesture of confidence, of the type commonly made by armies in this period, and so allowed his men to continue constructing the camp. He was amazed when Pharnaces led his troops down

Another scene from the monument at Adamklissi in Romania shows a legionary slashing with his gladius. Although the Roman army's training emphasised the use of the point rather than the edged of the sword, the gladius was in fact a very well balanced weapon that could be used effectively to cut or thrust. (Author's collection)

across the valley in a full-scale attack. The Romans were unprepared and hastily tried to put together a fighting line. Scythed chariots - all but useless against steady and properly formed troops - caused some losses among the dispersed Romans, before their teams were shot down with missiles. The fighting was long and bitter, but eventually Legio VI on the right flank punched through the enemy line and exploited the success to threaten the remainder of their army in the flank. Finally, the Pontic army dissolved into rout and the fleeing men were massacred by the vengeful Romans. The legionaries were so exhilarated that they crossed the valley and stormed the enemy camp, in spite of the resistance of its garrison.

Although the battle of Zela proved hard-fought, it decided the war within days of the beginning of the campaign. Caesar is said to have commented on how lucky Pompey had been to make his reputation as a commander fighting such opponents. Later, when he celebrated his triumph over Pontus, the procession included placards bearing just three Latin words: ' Veni, vidi, vici' (T came, I saw, I conquered').

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