Egypt September 48August

Caesar rested only for a very short time after the victory. Mark Antony was sent back to

This iron helmet, known to modern scholars as the Agen type, was one of several Gallic designs adopted and developed by the Roman army. Such helmets were certainly in use with many of the Gallic auxilianes in the Civil War and may also have been worm by some legionanes. especially in Caesar's legions, which had been serving in Gaul for some years. (Schweisz Landesmuseum. Zunch)

Italy, while Domitius Calvinus went with three legions, mainly consisting of former Pompeians, to Syria. Caesar himself took Legio VI, now reduced to a mere 1,000 men, another legion mustering some 1,400 men, and 800 cavalry and rushed in pursuit of Pompey; until he had been taken or killed there could be no end to the war. News arrived that Pompey had gone to Rhodes and then taken ship for Egypt, hoping to receive aid in rebuilding an army.

Egypt was wracked by its own civil war at this time, for the old King Ptolemy XI Auletes (or flute-player) had left the throne jointly to his son Ptolemy XII - a boy of about 14 - and his eldest daughter Cleopatra. The boy king was dominated by his advisers, Pothinus the eunuch and Achillas the commander of his army, a force that effectively included two Roman legions which had been in the province since 55 and had largely 'gone native'. Pompey's ship arrived on the coast near Ptolemy's camp and he appealed to the young king for aid. Since the king was unwilling to support a loser and eager to win favour with the victor, Pompey was lured ashore and murdered, the first blow being struck by a centurion who had served under him during his Asian campaigns.

Caesar landed at Alexandria on 2 October 48, and was met by a deputation

This coin is believed to be a portrait of Cleopatra VII, queen of Egypt and in turn the mistress of Caesar and Mark Antony. Our sources descnbe her as not classically beautiful but with a fascinating personality. She was certainly intelligent and highly educated in the Hellenistic tradition. (British Museum/AKG Berlin)

from Ptolemy that presented him with Pompey's head and signet ring. Caesar is supposed to have wept, distraught at the loss of his former friend and missing the opportunity of pardoning him. This emotion may have been genuine, as indeed may his alleged desire to spare Pompey, but it is equally possible that he simply wished to distance himself from the cruelty of an act from which he derived political benefit. Nevertheless he gave honourable burial to Pompey's remains, the tomb surviving to be desecrated by Jewish rebels in the second century AD. Preceded by his lictors - the attendants carrying the fasces, the bundle of rods and an axe that symbolised the power of Roman magistrates - Caesar marched in great pomp to the palace. This display enraged the volatile Alexandrians and provoked some rioting. Caesar's soldiers responded with force and, since the late king had recommended his children to Rome, declared that both sides in the Civil War should disarm and submit to his arbitration. Some time in the next few days Cleopatra visited Caesar. The most famous story is that she was wrapped up in a carpet or blanket and carried secretly into the palace by a faithful Greek attendant, before being unrolled in front of a mesmerised Caesar. Cleopatra was 21 - more than 30 years younger than Caesar - exceptionally attractive if not quite flawlessly beautiful, highly educated, intelligent, and with a fascinating personality. Thus began one of the most famous romances in history.

It was not long before Ptolemy's advisers felt that their cause could not compete with his sister's for Caesar's favour. Leading their army to support the mob of Alexandria, they besieged the palace, blockading Caesar's men for six months. His soldiers were close to panic when the water supply was cut off, but new wells were dug inside the compound and the crisis averted. Reinforced by l.egio XXXVII, composed of former Pompeians, Caesar became bolder and attempted to seize the whole of the Pharos Island, on which the great lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was built.

The skill of his Rhodian captains and sailors prevailed in a naval action fought within the Great Harbour, and allowed Caesar to land troops on the mole joining the Island. However, things began to go wrong as the enemy rushed reserves to the spot. Panic began with the crews of some ships who had landed to plunder and then spread to the legionaries. The boat carrying Caesar away was swamped by fugitives, forcing him to dive into the water and swim to safety, at the cost of abandoning his general's cloak.

Ptolemy had been held hostage by Caesar from early in the siege, and after this reverse Caesar decided to release him. The lad claimed to be reluctant to go, then promised to end the war, but, once he joined the army, promptly led it back to fight the Romans. The balance of power had shifted in his court by this time; Pothinus, assisted by Ptolemy's other sister Arsinoe, had murdered Achillas and these two were the real powers behind the throne. In the meantime an army led by Caesar's ally, King Mithridates of Pergamum, had marched overland from Asia Minor to Egypt. Leaving only a small garrison, Caesar took the bulk of his 5,000 or so men, and sailed out of Alexandria's harbour to join his ally. Ptolemy's forces heard of this and attempted to prevent their juncture, but failed. In open manoeuvring, Caesar showed the superiority of his men over the enemy and in a rapid campaign trounced the Egyptian army. Ptolemy fled but drowned when the boat carrying him to safety capsized. Arsinoe was exiled to Italy. Caesar returned to relieve Alexandria.

The war in Egypt was over, but for more than half a year Caesar had been out of contact with the rest of the world. The surviving Pompeians had had time to regroup and the Civil War would drag on. Yet, even though the war in Egypt was now complete, Caesar remained there for two months, allegedly spending his time feasting with Cleopatra. At one stage the Queen is supposed to have taken him on a luxurious cruise down the Nile. Militarily and politically, Caesar's inaction for this long period makes no sense. Perhaps he had never had a clear plan for what he should do once he had won the Civil War, or perhaps he was simply exhausted and could not resist a time of rest in fascinating company.

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