The struggle between Gaius Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompey

During 53 BC, the consuls in Roman Republic were not chosen because there were real battles between Clodius groups (Plebs and slaves) and Titus Annius Milo’s groups over the election of the consuls. In 52 BC, two groups met near Rome, at the Appian Way. They started to quarrel and fight. In this quarrel and fighting Milo’s men killed Clodius. The crowd was spurred by the speeches of the tribune and they carried Clodius corpse in a formal way all the way to the forum, in Curia Hostilia (where the Senate was in session). People demand revenge for the Clodius the death, and in the Rome came to a situation which was very dangerous for the ruling class.

Senate gave all the power to Gnaeus Pompey so that he can restore order in Rome. In 52 BC, Pompey was elected as a consul without Julius Caesar. From that moment Pompey became much closer with Optimates which very soon led to determination of alliance with the Caesar. Pompey implemented strict Laws against those which were responsible for the violence and bribery. The lists of judges were revised. Titus Annius Milo was exiled from the Rome.

Caesar was neither sure nor safe, whether he should come to Rome and run for consul. The biggest speeches against Caesar were held by the Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger. The first triumvirate had fallen apart long time ago. This happened when Crassus was killed while Pompey and Caesar did not have good communication.

In 51 BC, Caesar’s troops were settled in Transalpine Gaul. In same time Caesar personally was with one legion in Cisalpine Gaul, because he wanted to show that he was against the civil war. First, he proposed to the Senate that they give him two legions and also Cisalpine province with Illyricum. Since Caesar proposal was refused he agreed to disband his army, but under condition that Pompey does the same. In January, 49 BC at the Senate session Cicero, who had just returned from Cilicia, where he was proconsul (governor) he tried to find ways to reconcile them. In the end, Optimates won and Senate’s decision was that Caesar time as a governor was finished. Tribune Marcus Antonius and Quintus Cassius Longinus put their veto on the decision of the Senate, but soon after that they were forced to flee to Caesar.

Caesar’s crossing over the Rubicon River

In January 10, 49 BC Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with one legion. According to Suetonius (Roman historian who wrote The Life of the Caesars), Caesar uttered the phrase alea iacta est (“the die has been cast”). Rubicon River divided Gaul provinces from Italy. This act triggered civil war in Roman Republic since the appearance of the proconsul with the army in Italy was illegal. Caesar motivated his actions with the revenge for the violation of Tribune rights, by trying to shift the responsibility for the war on his enemies.

Caesar’s appearance in Italy was totally unexpected for his rivals. The main Pompey’s military forces have remained in Spain. He, along with large part of the senators, decided to flee from Rome and he went to Brindisi in Greece. Caesar failed to prevent the Pompey escape. Pompey’s troops, which remained in Italy, decided to move to the Caesar’s side. After this he decided to move towards Rome. Tribunes decided to stay in Rome with some senators. When Caesar entered Rome, he was very mild towards rivals.

Battle of Ilerda

Caesar remained briefly in Rome. Caesar wanted with an unexpected attack on Pompey’s troops in Spain to set back their eventual offensive. In the beginning Caesar had no success, but when reinforcements from Gaul arrived, he managed to defeat Pompey’s troops at Ilerda 49 BC. After returning from Spain, Caesar was appointed  as dictator, but he remained at this position for only 11 days. He returned the rights to everyone, which Lucius Cornelius Sulla expelled during the proscriptions. Caesar conducted elections for consuls and he returned dictatorial powers. At the end of 49 BC, Caesar moved towards Greece and he landed in Epirus.

Battle of Pharsalus and its significance

The movement of Caesar's army after the Battle of Ilerda
The movement of Caesar’s army after the Battle of Ilerda

In the 49 BC, Pompey had an advantage because he had a huge number of well-armed and food supplied troops as well as strong fleet. Caesar’s army on the other hand was very well disciplined. The first clashes between Caesar and Pompey took place at Dyrrhachium in Epirus, during which Caesar suffered considerable losses. Caesar retreated to Thessaly, where he disbanded his troops near the town of Pharsalus. Optimates were together with Pompey and they argued about who will be elected for Caesar’s heir. Optimates confidence made Pompey very confident so that he decided to fight against Caesar through an open battle. Pompey’s plan was to break the Caesar’s cavalry using extraordinary forces of his cavalry and to strike at Caesar’s right wing. Caesar predicted intentions of Pompey and he concentrated 2.000 his best legionaries at the right wing. Pompey horsemen suppressed Caesar and in that way they started to suppress Caesar troops on the right wing. However, Caesar brought into combat his reserves, which exceed a counter attack on Pompey’s troops which were demoralized and Caesar conquered their camp.

In 6 June 48 BC in the Battle of Pharsalus, Pompey fled from the battlefield. The remains of his army were surrendered to Caesar. Pompey fled first on the island Lesbos, and then he fled to Egypt, where he hoped to receive help from the young pharaoh Ptolemy, which use to provide protection to him. However, Pompey was treacherously killed while he landed on shore. Ptolemy ordered his assignation.

Alexandrian war and Caesar’s victory over Pharnaches

Caesar arrived in Alexandria 3 days after Pompey’s death, during dynastic struggle in Egypt between Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII, which according to the will of Ptolemy XII Auletes had to rule together. An open war broke out and Cleopatra was exiled from Alexandria. When Caesar arrived in Egypt, he required huge amount of money which Ptolemy Auletes owed to him and he also seek for arbitration over succession to the throne. Cleopatra managed to secretly approach him.

Caesar was delighted by Cleopatra, because she had mind and education. Cleopatra needed support from Caesar’s army. Caesar appointed the Ptolemy and Cleopatra to be an Egyptian king and queen. In Alexandria, the revolt broke out, which endangered even Caesar’s life. Caesar made an order to burn the own fleet which was in the Alexandrian port, since he was so afraid that the fleet can move to the side of the rebellions. In that fire, one part of Alexandrian library also burned in the fire. Roman reinforcements from Syria arrived just in time to save Caesar from a defeat in Egypt. Romans won in the Battle of the Nile. Caesar returned to Alexandria as the conqueror.

During this time Caesar’s enemies gather strength. Pharnaces – son of Mithridates VI Eupator occupied kingdom allies of Rome even Bithynia, which belonged to Rome. Caesar came from Egypt to Asia with an incredible speed, and he conquered Pharnaces without much hassle. He laconically reported to Rome his victory – Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered).