Julius Caesar.

Cæsar's Commentaries on the Gallic and civil wars: online

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two fleets were certain flats, separated by very narrow channels,
and which are said to be on the African coast, as being in that
division of Alexandria which belongs to Africa. Both sides
waited which should first pass these shallows, because whoever
entered the narrow channels between them, in case of any mis-
fortune, would be impeded both in retreating and working their
ships to advantage.

CHAP. XV. Euphranor commanded the Rhodian fleet, who
for valor and greatness of mind deserved to be ranked among
our own men rather than the Grecians. The Rhodians had
raised him to the post of admiral, on account of his known
courage and experience. He, perceiving Caesar's design, ad-
dressed him to this effect : " You seem afraid of passing the
shallow first, lest you should be thereby forced to come to an
engagement, before you can bring up th rest of the fleet.
Leave the matter to us ; we will sustain the fight (and we will
not disappoint your expectations), until the whole fleet gets


clear of the shallows. It is both dishonorable and afflicting
that they should so long continue in our sight with an air of
triumph." Caesar, encouraging him in his design, and bestow-
ing many praises upon him, gave the signal for engaging.
Four Rhodian ships having passed the shallows, the Alexan-
drians gathered round and attacked them. They maintained
the fight with great courage, disengaging themselves by their
art and address, and working their ships with so much skill,
that notwithstanding the inequality of number, none of the
enemy were suffered to run alongside, or break their oars.
Meantime the rest of the fleet came up ; when, on account of
the narrowness of the place, art became useless, and the con-
test depended entirely upon valor. Nor was there at Alex-
andria a single Roman or citizen who remained engaged in
the attack or defense, but mounted the tops of the houses and
all the eminences that would give a view of the fight, address-
ing the gods by vows and prayers for victory.

CHAP. XVI. The event of the battle was by no means
equal ; a defeat would have deprived us of all resources either
by land or sea; and even if we were victorious, the future
would be uncertain. The Alexandrians, on the contrary, by a
victory gained every thing ; and if defeated, might yet again
have recourse to fortune. It was likewise a matter of the
highest concern to see the safety of all depend upon a few, of
whom, if any were deficient in resolution and energy, they
would expose their whole party to destruction. This Caesar
had often represented to his troops during the preceding days,
that they might be thereby induced to fight with the more
resolution, when they knew the common safety to depend upon
their bravery. Every man said the same to his comrade, com-
panion, and friend, beseeching him not to disappoint the ex-
pectation of those who had chosen him in preference to others
for the defense of the common interest. Accordingly, they
fought with so much resolution, that neither the art nor ad-
dress of the Egyptians, a maritime and seafaring people, could
avail them, nor the multitude of their ships be of service to
them ; nor the valor of those selected for this engagement be
compared to the determined courage of the Romans. In this
action a quinquereme was taken, and a bireme, with all the
soldiers and mariners on board, besides three sunk, without
any loss on our side. The rest fled toward the town, and


protecting their ships under the iqole and forte, prevented us
from approaching.

CHAP. XVII. To deprive the enemy of this resource for
the future, Caesar thought it by all means necessary to render
himself master of the mole and island ; for having already in
a great measure completed his works within the town, he was
in hopes of being able to defend himself both in the island and
city. This resolution being taken, he put into boats and
small vessels ten cohorts, a select body of light-armed infantry,
and such of the Gallic cavalry as he thought fittest for his
purpose, and sent them against the island ; while, at the same
time, to create a diversion, he attacked it on the other with
his fleet, promising great rewards to those who should first
render themselves masters of it. At first, the enemy firmly
withstood the impetuosity of our men ; for they both annoyed
them from the tops of the houses, and gallantly maintained
their ground along the shore ; to which being steep and
craggy, our men could find no way of approach ; the more
accessible avenues being skillfully defended by small boats, and
five galleys, prudently stationed for that purpose. But when
after examining the approaches, and sounding the shallows, a
few of our men got a footing upon the shore, and were fol-
lowed by others, who pushed the islanders, without intermis-
sion ; the Pharians at last betook themselves to flight. On
their defeat, the rest abandoning the defense of the port, quitted
their ships, and retired into the- town, to provide for the security
of their houses

CHAP. XVIII. But they could not long maintain their
ground there: though, to compare small things with great,
their buildings were not unlike those of Alexandria, and their
towers were high, and joined together so as to form a kind of
wall ; and our men had not come prepared with ladders,
fascines, or any weapons for assault. But fear often deprives
men of intellect and counsel, and weakens their strength, as
happened upon this occasion. Those who had ventured to
oppose us on even ground, terrified by the loss of a few men,
and the general rout, durst not face us from a height of thirty
feet ; but throwing themselves from the mole into the sea, en-
deavored to gain the town, though above eight hundred paces
distant. Many however were slain, and about six hundred


CHAP. XIX. Caesar, giving up the plunder to the soldiers,
ordered the houses to be demolished, but fortified the castle
at the end of the bridge next the island, and placed a garri-
son in it. This the Pharians had abandoned ; but the other,
toward the town, which was considerably stronger, was still
held by the Alexandrians. Caesar attacked it next day ;
because by getting possession of these two forts, he would be
entirely master of the port, and prevent sudden excursions and
piracies. Already he had, by means of his arrows and engines,
forced the garrison to abandon the place, and retire toward
the town. He had also landed three cohorts which was all
the place would contain ; the rest of his troops were stationed
in their ships. This being done, he orders them to fortify
the bridge against the enemy, and to fill with stones and block
up the arch on which the bridge was built, through which
there was egress for the ships. When one of these works was
accomplished so effectually, that no boat could pass out at all,
and when the other was commenced, the Alexandrians sallied,
in crowds from the town, and drew up in an open place, over
against the intrenchment we had cast up at the head of the
bridge. At the same time they stationed at the mole the vessels
which they had been wont to make pass under the bridge, to set
fire to our ships of burden. Our men fought from the bridge
and the mole ; the enemy from the space, opposite to the bridge,
and from their ships, by the side of the mole.

CHAP. XX. While C<esar was engaged in these things,
and in exhorting his troops, a number of rowers and mariners,
quitting their ships, threw themselves upon the mole, partly
out of curiosity, partly to have a share in the action. At first,
with stones and slings, they forced the enemy's ships from the
mole ; and seemed to do still greater execution with their
darts. But when, some time after, a few Alexandrians found
means to land, and attack them in flank, as they had left their
ships without order or discipline, so they soon began to flee,
with precipitation. The Alexandrians, encouraged by this
success, landed in great numbers, and vigorously pressed upon
our men, who were, by this time, in great confusion. Those that
remained in the galleys perceiving this, drew up the ladders
and put off from the shore, to prevent the enemy's boarding
them. Our soldiers who belonged to the three cohorts, which
were at the head of the mole to guard the bridge, astonished


at this disorder, the cries they heard behind them, and the
general rout of their party, unable besides to bear up against
the great number of darts which came pouring upon them, and
fearing to be surrounded, and have their retreat cut off, by the
departure of then- ships, abandoned the fortifications which
they had commenced at the bridge, and ran, with all the speed
they could, toward the galleys : some getting on board the
nearest vessels, overloaded and sank them : part, resisting the
enemy, and uncertain what course to take, were cut to
pieces by the Alexandrians. Others, more fortunate, got to
the ships that rode at anchor ; and a few, supported by their
bucklers, making a determined struggle, swam to the nearest

CHAP. XXI Caesar, endeavoring to re-animate his men, and
lead them back to the defense of the works, was exposed to the
same danger as the rest ; when, finding them universally to
give ground, he retreated to his own galley, whither such a
multitude followed and crowded after him, that it was impossi-
ble either to work or put her off. Foreseeing what must hap-
pen, he flung himself into the sea, and swam to the ships that
lay at some distance. Hence dispatching boats to succor his
men, he, by that means, preserved a small number. His own
ship, being sunk by the multitude that crowded into her, went
down with all that were on board. About four hundred legion-
ary soldiers, and somewhat above that number of sailors and
rowers, were lost in this action. The Alexandrians secured the
fort by strong works, and a great number of engines ; and hav-
ing cleared away the stones with which Caesar had blocked up
the port, enjoyed henceforward a free and open navigation.

CHAP. XXH. Our men were so far from being disheartened
at this loss, that they seemed rather roused and animated by
it. They made continual sallies upon the enemy, to destroy
or check the progress of their works ; fell upon them as often
as they had an opportunity ; and never failed to intercept them,
when they ventured to advance beyond their fortifications. In
short, the legions were so bent upon fighting, that they even
exceeded the orders and exhortations of Caesar. They were
inconsolable for their late disgrace, and impatient to come to
blows with the enemy ; insomuch, that he found it necessary
rather to restrain and check their ardor, than incite them to



CHAP. XXIII. The Alexandrians, perceiving that success
confirmed the Romans, and that adverse fortune only animated
them the more, as they knew of no medium between these on
which to ground any further hopes, resolved, as far as we can
conjecture, either by the advice of the friends of their king who
were in Caesar's quarter, or of their own previous design, inti-
mated to the king by secret emissaries, to send embassadors to
Caesar to request him, " To dismiss their king and suffer him
to rejoin his subjects ; that the people, weary of subjection
to a woman, of living under a precarious government, and
submitting to the cruel laws of the tyrant Granymed, were
ready to execute the orders of the king : and if by his sanction
they should embrace the alliance and protection of Caesar, the
multitude would not be deterred from surrendering by the fear
of danger."

CHAP. XXIV. Though Caesar knew the nation to be false
and perfidious, seldom speaking as they really thought, yet
he judged it best to comply with their desire. He even
flattered himself, that his condescension in sending back their
king at their request, would prevail on them to be faithful ; or,
as was more agreeable to their character, if they only wanted
the king to head their army, at least it would be more for his
honor 1 and credit to have to do with a monarch than with a
band of slaves and fugitives. Accordingly, he exhorted the
king, "To take the government into his own hands, and
consult the welfare of so fair and illustrious a kingdom,
defaced by hideous ruins and conflagrations. To make his
subjects sensible of their duty, preserve them from the destruc-
tion that threatened them, and act with fidelity toward him-
self and the Romans, who put so much confidence in him, as

1 Dion assigns a different motive for Caesar's conduct on this occasion ;
his words are as follows : " Caesar thought that the ^Egyptians had really
changed their minds (for he had heard that they were cowardly and
fickle), and imagined that they were intimidated by their losses. Being
unwilling to appear averse to peace, although they might have treache-
rous intentions, he said that he would comply with their wishes, and then
sent Ptolemy to them, from whom he thought that he had nothing to fear
on account of hia youth and neglected education. He was in hopes also
that the Egyptians would agree to a peace on his own terms, or if they
should not, that he could with more justice defeat and subject them, and
it would also furnish him with a plausible pretext for conferring the sove-
reign power on Cleopatra For he never suspected that he would be
conquered by them, especially after the late increase to his army."


to send him among armed enemies." Then taking him by
the hand, he dismissed the young prince who was fast approach-
ing manhood. But his mind being thoroughly versed in the
art of dissimulation, and no way degenerating from the char-
acter of his nation, he entreated Caesar with tears not to send
him back ; for that his company was to him preferable to a
kingdom. Caesar, moved at his concern, dried up his tears ;
and telling him, if these were his real sentiments, they would
soon meet again, dismissed him. The king, like a wild beast
escaped out of confinement, carried on the war with such
acrimony against Caesar, that the tears he shed at parting
seemed to have been tears of joy. Caesar's lieutenants, friends,
centurions, and soldiers, were delighted that this had happened ;
because his easiness of temper had been, imposed upon by a
child : as if in truth Caesar's behavior on this occasion had
been the effect of easiness of temper, and not of the most con-
summate prudence.

CHAP. XXV. When the Alexandrians found that on the
recovery of their king, neither had they become stronger, nor
the Romans weaker ; that the troops despised the youth and
weakness of their king ; and that their affairs were in no way
bettered by his presence : they were greatly discouraged ; and
a report ran that a large body of troops was marching by land
from Syria and Cilicia to Caesar's assistance (of which he had
not as yet himself received information) ; still they determined
to intercept the convoys that came to him by sea. To this
end, having equipped some ships, they ordered them to cruise
before the Canopic branch of the Nile, by which they thought
it most likely our supplies would arrive. Caesar, who was
informed of it, ordered his fleet to get ready, and gave the
command of it to Tiberius Nero. 1 The Rhodian galleys made
part of this squadron, headed by Euphranor their admiral,
without whom there never was a successful engagement fought.
But fortune, which often reserves the heaviest disasters for
those who have been loaded with her highest favors, en-
countered Euphranor upon this occasion, with an aspect very

1 The Tiberius Nero mentioned here, was the father of the emperor
Tiberius, who succeeded Augustus. He served Caesar most zealously
throughout the whole of this war, and, on account of his meritorious con-
duct, was created Pontifex Maximus in room of Scipio, and commissioned
to conduct several colonies to Gaul, among other places to Narbo and


different from what she had hitherto worn. For when our
ships were arrived at Canopus, and the fleets drawn up on each
side had begun the engagement, Euphranor, according to
custom, having made the first attack, and pierced and sunk one
of the enemy's ships ; as he pursued the next a considerable
way, without being sufficiently supported by those that followed
him, he was surrounded by the Alexandrians. None of the
fleet advanced to his relief, either out of fear for their own
safety, or because they imagined he would easily be able to
extricate himself by his courage and good fortune. Accord-
ingly he alone behaved well in this action, and perished with
his victorious galley.

CHAP. XXVI. About the same time Mithridates 1 of
Pergamus, a man of illustrious descent, distinguished for his
bravery and knowledge of the art of war, and who held a very
high place in the friendship and confidence of Caesar, having
been sent in the beginning of the Alexandrian war, to raise
succors in Syria 3 and Cilicia, arrived by land at the head of a
great body of troops, which his diligence, and the affection of
these two provinces, had enabled him to draw together in a
very short time. He conducted them first to Pelusium, where
Egypt joins Syria. Achillas, who was perfectly well acquainted
with its importance, had seized and put a strong garrison into it-
For Egypt is considered as defended on all sides by strong bar-
riers ; on the side of the sea by the Pharos, and on the side of
Syria by Pelusium, which are accounted the two keys of that
kingdom. He attacked it so briskly with a large body of troops,
fresh men continually succeeding in the place of those that
were fatigued, and urged the assault with so much firmness and
perseverance, that he carried it the same day on which he

1 We learn from Strabo that this Mithridates was born at Pergamus,
and was descended from the tetrarchs of Galatia. "When Mithridates the
Great, king of Pontus, overran Asia, he took with him this man, who from
this circumstance derived his name. He attached himself to Caesar's party
in the civil war, and received as the reward of his services, the tetrarchy of
Galatia, and the sovereignty of the Cimmerian Bosphorus ; the possession
of the latter was disputed by Asander, who then held it. After the death
of Caesar, Mithridates of Pergamus endeavored to establish his claims by
an appeal to arms, but was defeated and put to death.

2 Josephus informs us that a large army was sent to the aid of Caesar
on this occasion, by Hyrcanus, the king of the Jews, under the command
of Antipater, the father of king Herod. These forces contributed largely
to the success of Caesar.


attacked it, and placed a garrison in it. Thence he pursued
his march to Alexandria, reducing all the provinces through
which he passed, and conciliating them to Caesar, by that au-
thority which always accompanies the conqueror.

CHAP. XXVII. Not far from Alexandria lies Delta, the
most celebrated province of Egypt, which derives its name
from the Greek letter so called. For the Nile, dividing into
two channels, which gradually diverge as they approach the
sea, into which they at last discharge themselves, at a con-
siderable distance from one another, leaves an intermediate
space in form of a triangle. The king understanding that
Mithridates was approaching this place, and knowing he must
pass the river, sent a large body of troops against him, sufficient,
as he thought, if not to overwhelm and crush him, at least to
stop his march, for though he earnestly desired to see him
defeated, yet he thought it a great point gained, to hinder his
junction with Caesar. The troops that first passed the river,
and came up with Mithridates, attacked him immediately,
hastening to snatch the honor of victory from the troops that
were marching to their aid. Mithridates at first confined
himself to the defense of his camp, which he had with great
prudence fortified according to the custom of the Romans :
but observing that they advanced insolently and without
caution, he sallied upon them from all parts, and put a great
number of them to the sword ; J insomuch that, but for their
knowledge of the ground, and the neighborhood of the vessels
in which they had passed the river, they must have been all
destroyed. But recovering by degrees from their terror, and
joining the troops that followed them, they again prepared to
attack Mithridates.

CHAP. XXVIII. A messenger was sent by Mithridates to
Caesar, to inform him of what had happened. The king learns
from his followers that the action had taken place. Thus,
much about the same time, Ptolemy set out to crush Mith-

1 Josephus mentions this engagement in the sixteenth chapter of the
fourteenth book of the Jewish War, and informs us that the Jews, under
the command of Antipater, made the first impression on the ^Egyptian
ranks,' and that the place where the action was fought, was called the
" Expedition of the Jews," and that the Jews, who dwelt in that country,
acted as guides to Mithridates and his army, on beholding the letters of
king Hyrcanus.


ridates, and Caesar to relievo him. The king made use of the
more expeditious conveyance of the Nile, where he had a large
fleet in readiness. Caesar declined the navigation of the river,
that he might not be obliged to engage the enemy's fleet ; and
coasting along the African shore, found means to join the vic-
torious troops of Mithridates, before Ptolemy could attack him.
The king had encamped in a place fortified by nature, being an
eminence surrounded on all sides by a plain. Three of its sides
were secured by various defenses. One was washed by the
river Nile, the other was steep and inaccessible, and the third
was defended by a morass.

CHAP. XXIX. Between Ptolemy's camp and Caesar's route
lay a narrow river with very steep banks, which discharged
itself into the Nile. This river was about seven miles from the
king's camp ; who, understanding that Caesar was directing his
march that way, sent all his cavalry, with a choice body of
light-armed foot, to prevent Caesar from crossing, and maintain
an unequal fight from the banks, where courage had no oppor-
tunity to exert itself, and cowardice ran no hazard. Our men,
both horse and foot, were extremely mortified, that the Alex-
andrians should so long maintain their ground against them.
Wherefore, some of the German cavalry, dispersing in quest
of a ford, found means to swim the river where the banks were
lowest ; and the legionaries at the same time cutting down
several large trees, that reached from one bank to another, and
constructing suddenly a mound, by their help got to the other
side. The enemy were so much in dread of their attack, that
they betook themselves to flight ; but in vain : for very few
returned to the king, almost all being cut to pieces in the

CHAP. XXX. Caesar, upon this success, judging that his
sudden approach must strike great terror into the Alex-
andrians, advanced toward their camp with his victorious
army. But finding it well intrenched, strongly fortified by
nature, and the ramparts covered with armed soldiers, he did
not think proper that his troops, who were very much fatigued
both by their march and the late battle, should attack it ; and
therefore encamped at a small distance from the enemy. Next
day he attacked a fort, in a village not far off, which the king
had fortified and joined to his camp by a line of communication,
with a view to keep possession of the village. He attacked


it with his whole army, and took it by storm ; not because it
would have been difficult 'to cany it with a few forces ; but
with the design of falling immediately upon the enemy's camp,
during the alarm which the loss of this fort must give them.
Accordingly, the Romans, in continuing the pursuit of those
that fled from the fort, arrived at last before the Alexandrian
camp, and commenced a most furious action at a distance.
There were two approaches by which it might be attacked ;
one by the plain, of which we have spoken before, the other by
a narrow pass, between their camp and the Nile. The first,
which was much the easiest, was defended by a numerous body
of their best troops ; an 1 the access on the side of the Nile
gave the enemy great advantage in distressing and wounding

Online LibraryJulius CaesarCæsar's Commentaries on the Gallic and civil wars: → online text (page 40 of 59)