Who won the battle of Thapsus?

Who won the battle of Thapsus?

6 April 46 BC – Battle of Thapsus

“Cato, I must grudge you your death, as you grudged me the honor of saving your life.”

In early 46 BC, the beleaguered Roman Republic was in the midst of the latest in a line of traumatic civil wars. For almost half a century legion had fought legion, first with the eruption of the Social War after the devastating invasion of the Cimbri and Teutones, then the wars of Marius and Sulla, and then the implosion of the First Triumvirate after the death of Marcus Crassus at Carrhae. Gaius Julius Caesar had crossed the Rubicon River which marked the boundary between Roman Italy and Cisalpine Gaul, forcing Gnaeus Pompey Magnus and his supporters in the sycophantic Senate to flee to Greece.

First the legions of Pompey in Iberia had been swiftly crushed at the Battle of Ilerda, before Caesar gave chase across the Adriatic. What followed was the debacle of Dyrrhachium, in which a defeated Caesar fled to the Greek interior, only to turn and crush the pursuing army of Pompey at Pharsalus. His pursuit to Egypt only to find his adversary executed saw Caesar join a civil war to install Cleopatra as Pharaoh, fathering a son with her while there and crushing her brother Ptolemy XIII, who would be the last male ruler of the line of Alexander the Great’s general when he died at the Battle of the Nile in 47 BC. Further violence in Pontus saw Caesar crush the Greek kingdom on the Euxine (Black) Sea at Zela, famously declaring:

“Veni, Vidi, Vici ” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”)

Caesar’s dalliance in Egypt, where he spent a lazy summer on Cleopatra’s royal barge touring the Nile, coupled with his subsequent Pontic campaign, gave time for his enemy to gather strength. The general whose hallmark was swift and decisive action, even to the point of near disaster such as the premature attack on Dyrrhachium, took a hiatus at an inopportune moment – and it was not an opportunity his enemies would miss. His enemies amassed 14 legions in Africa province (modern Tunisia). While Caesar faced revolt from legions demanding to be demobilized. Moreover, whose backpay he could scarcely afford. Much less meet the cost of a fresh campaign. With typical flamboyance, Caesar returned from Pontus to address these legionaries as “citizens’. Rather than “brothers’ ‘, shaming them into begging to be re-enlisted for the African campaign. And winning four veteran legions with 15 years of service.

Scheme of the battle: 17th-century engraving after Palladio. The elephants are individually depicted. Who won the battle of Thapsus?

Cato the Younger had long been a vocal opponent of Caesar.

And arrived in Africa while Pompey was in Greece to establish a second base of resistance, even seeing a force Caesar sent against him defeated. The various forces of opposition who survived and escaped Greece, including Pompey’s sons Sextus and Gneaus, Caesar’s former general Labienus, and the senator Scipio had all gathered in Africa. The latter was particularly important. For while not distinguished himself. He descended from the great line that had seen Rome triumph in the Second and Third Punic Wars. Giving rise to the idiom that Roman armies needed to be commanded by a Scipio. To win in Africa. Caesar returned from gathering an invasion force in Sicily.

He set sail without enough ships to carry his six legions, though a storm scattered his fleet and he landed with less than one legion. After falling on the beach – a bad omen – Caesar won over his superstitious officers when he declared:

“I have hold of you, Africa!”

Clutching a handful of sand. Caesar began to amass some of his troops and had around two legions when he encountered his enemy. Bunching their cavalry close together, they deceived Caesar into thinking they were infantry. Labienus spread his cavalry to envelop Caesar’s force, having the formidable horsemen of Numidia (modern Algeria) after aligning with their King Juba.

They peppered Caesar’s men with javelins, and as the frustrated legionaries bunched closer together, they became easier targets. Labienus himself rode close to the legionaries; a man of the Tenth, who had formerly served under him, threw his javelin, killing Labienus’ horse.

“That’ll teach you Labienus, that a soldier of the Tenth is attacking you,”

He shouted, though some of his colleagues were beginning to flee as they became encircled. Caesar grabbed one of his fleeing standard bearers and spun him around, shouting:

“The enemy are over there!”

Caesar extended his line and advanced, his men scattering the enemy cavalry and light infantry with a shower of javelins. As they advanced, however, fresh enemy troops arrived, forcing Caesar’s men to fall back. The Battle of Ruspina was a rare defeat for the general, though his army was largely intact. Both sides were still pulling together their full force and built camps just three miles apart by the city of Thapsus.

Caesar now faced an enemy host around 72,000 men-strong, with 14 legions, 14,500 cavalry, and 60 war elephants.

Scipio moved to the north side of the city in a tight formation, while Caesar commanded the right of his force and added cohorts to his cavalry flanks to protect against the elephants. His archers attacked the elephants, causing some to panic and trample their own lines. The rest of the elephants then charged directly into the Fifth Legion at Caesar’s center, which performed so bravely in absorbing the charge that they subsequently adopted the elephant as their emblem.

With the loss of the elephants, Scipio began to lose ground, and Caesar’s cavalry outmaneuvered the Optimates to destroy one of their camps. King Juba’s allied troops then abandoned the field. As a result, the battle was decided. With the rout beginning. Caesar was unable to appeal to his soldiers to show leniency. Leading to around 10,000 of the enemy legionaries being butchered.

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Scipio escaped from the battle, but months later committed suicide at sea when. Caesar besieged and captured Thapsus, leading to Cato to flee to Utica, where he also committed suicide, sawing open his stomach to pull out his own intestines to become a stoic martyr by refusing to wait for Caesar’s clemency. Cato posthumously took the cognomen “Uticensis” from the town in which he died. Far from holding great political purges like Marius and Sulla. Caesar was renowned for being forgiving of his enemies. And allowing them back into the fold having defeated them. These suicides thus maintained the pride of both men in preventing them from having to accept such forgiveness from Caesar, but also denied him the opportunity to again display his magnanimity. Caesar remarked after hearing of Cato’s death:

“Cato, I must grudge you your death, as you grudged me the honor of saving your life.”

The Battle of Thapsus represents the last time war elephants were used in battle. Moreover, on a large scale in the western world. Caesar returned to Rome, though Labienus and Pompey’s sons had both escaped to Hispania. The Senate extended Caesar’s dictatorship for a decade, and he began raising the force he needed to subdue the last of the resistance in Hispania. Two of Pompey’s legions which Caesar had left in Hispania now declared for Gnaeus Pompey, and expelled Caesar’s Proconsul from the province. They were then joined by the remnants of the Thapsus army. Under the command of Labienus,. They raised a further three legions, two veterans and one of fresh recruits, seizing control of Hispania. Caesar would confront this force the following March, finally bringing his civil war to a close with victory at the Battle of Munda.

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Caesar looked forward to reshaping the Roman Republic to his will and lead a war against Parthia to avenge the defeat of Crassus at Carrhae. He may have vanquished his enemies on the battlefield, but a new generation of leaders began to form a conspiracy that could complete in the shadows what their predecessors had failed to do in war.

Caesar’s grand plans for a Persian campaign would never be realized. For within a year of Munda he would be dead. And lastly, the competing factions to both his legacy and that of the republic would again plunge the Roman Republic into its bloody, and final, civil war.

Who won the battle of Thapsus? Written by Jack Tappin

Who won the battle of Thapsus? Written by Jack Tappin

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Who won the battle of Thapsus?