Roman Domestic Politics in the Late Republic - 100-44 B.C.

The Civil War

When Antonius and Cassius arrived at Caesar's camp and explained the situation, Caesar decided not to wait for reinforcements from Gaul and crossed the river Rubicon into Italy declaring, "The die is cast". Despite only having one legion and some Gallic and German cavalry, Caesar made speedy progress through Italy and defeated Domitius Ahenobarbus at the city of Corfinum. Pompeius was in a risky position, as the only experienced legions he had had just been serving with Caesar in Gaul, thus making their loyalty suspect. Pompeius and the optimates in the senate soon deserted Italy with the forces they had, and Pompeius hoped to use the massive advantage he had in naval forces to blockade Rome's grain supply and starve Caesar in to submission. Furthermore, Pompeius had most of the resouces of the eastern provinces at his disposal, by virtue of his settlement of the east in the 60's and the clients he had accrued there. Caesar, on his way to Rome, attempted to bring Cicero over to his own side; Cicero had other ideas.

Caesar meanwhile was now in control at Rome, and had recalled those senators still in Italy to reorganise what was left of the government. Given control of the state for a period of six months in 49, Caesar put M. Aemilius Lepidus in charge of Rome, gave M. Antonius control of the armed forces and sent out Curio, Dolabella and Gaius Antonius (brother of Marcus) to ensure that there was a grain supply to Rome and that Pompeius did not blockade Italy. Caesar himself made sure he was elected as a consul for 48, together with the neutral senator P. Servilius Isauricus, and then set out to face the forces of Pompeius that remained in Spain. The final months of 49 were thus spent mopping up the enemy in Spain.

Pompeius meanwhile was building a massive force in Greece. He had nine legions in training, with two on the way from Syria, as well as archers, slingers and cavalry from the east and many warships and troop transports. Pompeius would have been surprised, however, when Caesar set out for Greece in January 48 (the middle of winter!) with a force of seven legions. The opposing forces raced to occupy the strategic port of Dyrracium, and when Pompeius' forces won the race, Caesar's old enemy Calpurnius Bibulus managed to destroy Caesar's troop transports, preventing him from getting reinforcements from M. Antonius. Caesar was thus forced to retreat from besieging Pompeius at Dyrracium, and moved his troops in to Thessaly. Pompeius, instead of using this advantage to reinvade Italy, set out inland after Caesar without any naval advantage. Thus it was that at the Battle of Pharsalus, Caesar's forces managed to break Pompeius' lines despite being heavily outnumbered. Pompeius fled to Egypt, where the opportunistic new young king Ptolemy XIV had him murdered (It was during the ensuing visit to Egypt by Caesar that the young Queen Cleopatra persuaded him to install her as Egypt's ruler.) Caesar now had no serious rival to his dominance, and spent the rest of 48 campaigning against Pharnaces, the son of Rome's old enemy Mithridates VI of Pontus, and returned to Rome in 47.

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McKeown, J., "Roman Domestic Politics in the Late Republic - 100-44 B.C.," http://
, 21 October 2004.

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