6 – Battle of Pharsalus (48 BC)
The Battle of Pharsalus took place between the two remaining members of the First Triumvirate, Julius Caesar, and Pompey. In 49 BC, Julius Caesar engaged in a Civil War against the Roman Senate after it refused to allow him to run for consul. It began on 10 January when Caesar crossed the Rubicon River which was an action forbidden to a general. Even today, the phrase ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ means going past the point of no return.
Pompey fought for the Senate against his rival and 18 months into the war; Caesar was in a desperate situation. After suffering defeat at the Battle of Dyrrhachium in July 48 BC, Caesar had to march inland in an attempt to find suitable ground to beat his rival. Pompey failed to capitalize on his victory and allowed his opponent to escape. Caesar ended up in Pharsalus, Greece where one of the most famous battles in Roman history took place.
Pompey finally caught up with Caesar and the two armies were on opposite sides of the river. Caesar had 22,000 men and was short on provisions whereas Pompey had a strong army of approximately 45,000. Even so, Pompey wanted to wait because he knew the enemy army would eventually starve. However, he foolishly listened to his officers and senators who pressurized him into destroying Caesar once and for all.
When Pompey attacked, he focused on his rival’s right wing yet Caesar anticipated this tactic and fortified this part of his army with 2,000 of his best legionnaires. When Pompey’s men broke through the first line, they were stunned to find more enemies waiting for them. They panicked and retreated; the Legionnaires then outflanked Pompey’s left wing and Caesar’s Third Division attacked. This onslaught caused Pompey’s forces to disperse, and he fled to Larissa. Approximately 24,000 men surrendered, and Caesar’s army reportedly lost just 250 men in the battle.
Pompey was murdered in Egypt by an officer of King Ptolemy XIII. The Civil War raged on for three more years, and Caesar emerged victorious after the Battle of Munda in 45 BC. He didn’t live long to enjoy his triumph as he was murdered on 15th March 44 BC, the Ides of March. The Roman Republic didn’t last much longer, and a couple of years after the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Octavian became the first leader of the Roman Empire.