4 – Battle of Thapsus – (46 BC)
Much to Caesar’s chagrin, Pompey was assassinated in Egypt by the men of Pharaoh Ptolemy XII. The remaining Optimates refused to give in however and assembled a resistance in the African provinces led by Caecilius Metellus Scipio and Marcus Cato (also known as Cato the Younger). Caesar chased his enemies to Africa and landed at Hadrumetum in modern-day Tunisia in December 47 BC. The Optimates had a powerful army and were apparently able to field 72,000 soldiers at Thapsus, Tunisia. Caesar besieged the city and forced Scipio into battle.
Caesar had at least 50,000 men and 5,000 cavalries and blocked the southern side of Thapsus. Scipio was forced to circle the city to approach it from the north. He expected Caesar to approach and stayed in tight battle order with 60 elephants. Caesar adopted his usual strategy; he commanded the right side with the archers and cavalry flanked. The Roman leader also reinforced the cavalry with several cohorts to deal with the additional threat of the elephants.
The danger of using elephants in battle was brutally exposed when Caesar’s archers attacked them. The elephants panicked and trampled Scipio’s men. Nonetheless, elephants charged at the center of enemy lines but were repelled by Legio V Alaudae. The tide of the battle turned with the loss of the elephants, and Caesar’s cavalry outflanked the enemy and forced a retreat. An estimated 10,000 men wanted to surrender but were massacred instead. This was unusual for Caesar who was known to be somewhat merciful in victory. Plutarch claims the Roman commander suffered an epileptic seizure during the battle and was not present for the slaughter.
Caesar was free to renew his siege on Thapsus, and the city fell quickly. Scipio escaped the battle only to commit suicide several months later. Caesar moved on to Utica where Cato the Younger was located. Cato committed suicide once he learned of the events at Thapsus as he would rather die than surrender. Although it was yet another important win for Caesar, the civil war was not yet over.