The Battle of Pharsalus: Introduction

Why Model Pharsalus?

This page applies the model of Roman fighting to the battle of Pharsalus. In preliminary discussions with friends a number of questions were raised about this selection. Why pick Pharsalus? There were several reasons: it is a significant battle, fairly well documented, the general site is known, and it has many unusual features. Each of the oddities of the battle offer an opportunity to explore aspects of just how the Romans fought. Some of the features of particular interest are:

The battlefield itself is narrow and confined

The two armies are of different sizes

We know the composition of both armies fairly well

Pompey's cavalry, archers and skirmishers were all together on one flank

Several phases of the cavalry action are described

Pompey's men did not mount a running charge

It is not a typical battle, some of the details given by the sources are odd or even improbable and the battlefield is constricted on both sides.

These are the very features that make Pharsalus an attractive selection. Each oddity highlights aspects of how the Romans fought. Pompey's forces did not charge but stood their ground to await Caesar's men. This helps bring the mechanics of the whole charge into better focus. The cavalry was all on one flank, which actually makes it easier to model. The armies were of different sizes, forcing the model to deal with how this should be shown. The cavalry was supported by foot troops, making it necessary to bring that element into the model as well. Pompey's cavalry, initially successful, turned to attack the flank of Caesar's army, only to be in turn routed and chased away while a mixed force of infantry and cavalry in its own turn attacked Pompey's flank. The very size of the available space tells something about Roman fighting as well for both generals thought the space sufficient for the deployment of their armies; so, what may seem like inadequate space to us, was obviously considered adequate by them.

What the model will and won't do

This depiction of Pharsalus will try to apply some of the ideas already developed to a real battle. It will explore the problems Pharsalus presents and show how well the models fit or do not fit what we know or can surmise about Pharsalus.

What the Pharsalus section does not do is to try to settle questions about Pharsalus itself. There are any number of questions about Pharsalus. For the purpose of the modeling, it is not important to try to answer every one of them.

The Battle of Pharsalus: Caesar

A brief description of the Battle of Pharsalus is given here for readers who are not familiar it.

The basis description which the model will follow is that of Caesar contained in De Bello Civili 3.84 to 3.94. The following summary follows the narrative paragraph by paragraph.

3.85 Pompey camped on a hill and deployed his army at its foot. Caesar offered battle further away but would not engage Pompey at the foot of the hill because the terrain was unfavorable to him. On the last day Caesar had decided to pull up camp and leave since Pompey would not offer battle on ground he could accept. The tents had already been struck when Pompey led his army out, this time further from the hill. Since the ground was more favorable now, Caesar led his army out to give battle.

3.86 Pompey's plan is to have the cavalry attack Caesar's right wing and rear as soon as the armies are near each other (cum propius sit accessum) so that Caesar's army will be routed before Pompey's men even have to throw their weapons (quam a nobis telum in hostem iaceretur -- the term is telum, the generic term for a throwing weapon, not pilum). The legions themselves will never be in danger, presumably not even have to really fight. The Latin is:

ut, cum propius sit accessum, dextrum Caesaris cornu ab latere aperto aggrederentur et circumventa ab tergo acie prius perturbatum exercitum pellerent, quam a nobis telum in hostem iaceretur. Ita sine periculo legionum et paene sine vulnere bellum conficiemus. Id autem difficile non est, cum tantum equitatu valeamus

3.87 There is nothing in this paragraph relevant to the model.

3.88 Caesar gives Pompey's deployment. Left: the 1st and 3rd, legions that Caesar had surrendered to Pompey previously. Pompey commands from this wing. Center: Scipio in command with the Syrian legions. Right: The Cilician legion and the Spanish cohorts. Pompey had 100 cohorts, 45,000 men, plus two cohorts of volunteers (veterans) dispersed throughout his whole army. He had left seven cohorts to protect the camp. His right wing was protected by a river with steep banks. He places all of his cavalry, archers and slingers on his left flank.

3.89 Caesar's forces were deployed thusly. Right: 10th legion, under the command of Sulla. Left: the 9th and 8th legions, under the command of Anthony. Center: the legions are not specifically listed, the command is given to Cn. Domitius. Caesar took his post opposite Pompey (Since Pompey was on his own left, that puts Caesar on his right wing) The 9th had been so depleted from the fighting at Dyrrachium that he placed the 8th close to it for support (et huic sic adiunxit octavam, ut paene unam ex duabus efficeret, atque alteram alteri praesidio esse iusserat) to almost make one of two legions (paene unam ex duabus) he says. Caesar had 80 cohorts on the field, 22,000 men. He left 2 cohorts to guard the camp. Caesar does not say that he placed all of his cavalry on his right flank but this is generally assumed. Seeing the dispositions of Pompey, Caesar then drafts some cohorts from his third line to form a fourth line to oppose Pompey's cavalry(ex tertia acie singulas cohortes detraxit atque ex his quartam instituit equitatuique opposuit). He also ordered the third line not to charge until he gave the signal (ne iniussu suo concurreret: se, cum id fieri vellet, vexillo signum daturum).

3.90 Caesar makes his speech to his troops according to the military custom (cum militari more) , then gives the trumpet signal (tuba signum dedit).

3.91 Crastinus, a veteran volunteer (evocatus), the former pimus pilus of the tenth legion promises to win Caesar's gratitude by his fighting. He then leads the attack on the right wing, followed by 120 volunteers from his cohort. (haec cum dixisset, primus ex dextro cornu procucurrit, atque eum electi milites circiter CXX voluntarii eiusdem cohortis sunt prosecuti).

3.92 There was enough space left between the two battlelines for the charge of the two armies (inter duas acies tantum erat relictum spatii, ut satis esset ad concursum utriusque exercitus). One of the unusual features of Pharsalus is described next. Pompey orders his line not to move from their positions (neve se loco moverent). The rationale give is that by so doing the force of the first attack would be lessened, Caesar's line would be disordered, the pila thrown by Caesar's men would have less force if his men held their positions (they would not be running into the oncoming pila) and that Caesar's men would be tired because they had to run twice the usual distance. Caesar comments that he does not agree. There is a natural fire in all men that the general should encourage, hence the traditions of trumpets sounding and the war cry (a very loose translation). The Latin follows:

Sed Pompeius suis praedixerat, ut Caesaris impetum exciperent neve se loco moverent aciemque eius distrahi paterentur; ... ut primus incursus visque militum infringeretur aciesque distenderetur, atque in suis ordinibus dispositi dispersos adorirentur; leviusque casura pila sperabat in loco retentis militibus, quam si ipsi immissis telis occurrissent, simul fore, ut duplicato cursu Caesaris milites exanimarentur et lassitudine conficerentur. Quod nobis quidem nulla ratione factum a Pompeio videtur, propterea quod est quaedam animi incitatio atque alacritas naturaliter innata omnibus, quae studio pugnae incenditur; hanc non reprimere, sed augere imperatores debent; neque frustra antiquitus institutum est, ut signa undique concinerent clamoremque universi tollerent; quibus rebus et hostes terreri et suos incitari existimaverunt.

3.93 This paragraph contains the heart of the battle description. Caesar's men charge but see that Pompey's men are not moving. On their own, based on previous experience, they stopped about midway so that they would not tire themselves out. After a brief rest they renewed the rush, threw their pila and drew their swords, as Caesar had ordered them to do. Pompey's men threw their pila and drew their own swords. At the same time (eodem tempore) Pompey's cavalry attacked from his left, followed by all of his archers. Caesar's horse did not bear up to the charge and gave way a little. Pompey's horse pressed harder and the turmae began to attack Caesar's lines on the flank. Caesar, seeing this, orders the 6 cohorts of the fourth line to attack Pompey's cavalry. None of the cavalry stood up to the attack but the entire force fled to the high mountains. The archers and slingers, being abandoned by the cavalry, were killed. The cohorts then wheeled around Pompey's left flank to attack them in the rear. The Latin text follows:

Sed nostri milites dato signo cum infestis pilis procucurrissent atque animum advertissent non concurri a Pompeianis, usu periti ac superioribus pugnis exercitati sua sponte cursum represserunt et ad medium fere spatium constiterunt, ne consumptis viribus appropinquarent, parvoque intermisso temporis spatio ac rursus renovato cursu pila miserunt celeriterque, ut erat praeceptum a Caesare, gladios strinxerunt. Neque vero Pompeiani huic rei defuerunt. Nam et tela missa exceperunt et impetum legionum tulerunt et ordines suos servarunt pilisque missis ad gladios redierunt. Eodem tempore equites ab sinistro Pompei cornu, ut erat imperatum, universi procucurrerunt, omnisque multitudo sagittariorum se profudit. Quorum impetum noster equitatus non tulit, sed paulatim loco motus cessit, equitesque Pompei hoc acrius instare et se turmatim explicare aciemque nostram a latere aperto circumire coeperunt. Quod ubi Caesar animadvertit, quartae aciei, quam instituerat sex cohortium, dedit signum. Illi celeriter procucurrerunt infestisque signis tanta vi in Pompei equites impetum fecerunt, ut eorum nemo consisteret, omnesque conversi non solum loco excederent, sed protinus incitati fuga montes altissimos peterent. Quibus submotis omnes sagittarii funditoresque destituti inermes sine praesidio interfecti sunt. Eodem impetu cohortes sinistrum cornu pugnantibus etiam tum ac resistentibus in acie Pompeianis circumierunt eosque a tergo sunt adorti.

3.94 At the same time Caesar ordered the third line, which to this point had been quiet, into battle. The fresh troops replace the tired men (succedere: to come after, to go in the place of). Being also attacked from the rear, Pompey's men turn and run. Caesar credits his foresight in withdrawing the 6 cohorts because it was by them that the cavalry was routed, the skirmishers killed and the left side of Pompey's line surrounded and forced to be the first to flee. Seeing this, Pompey himself quits the battlefield and retreats to the camp. The Latin:

Eodem tempore tertiam aciem Caesar, quae quieta fuerat et se ad id tempus loco tenuerat, procurrere iussit. Ita cum recentes atque integri defessis successissent, alii autem a tergo adorirentur, sustinere Pompeiani non potuerunt, atque universi terga verterunt. ...Ab his enim primum equitatus est pulsus, ab isdem factae caedes sagittariorum ac funditorum, ab isdem acies Pornpeiana a sinistra parte circumita atque initium fugae factum.

The description of the battle ends here, the remainder of the narrative describes attacks on the camp and the pursuit of Pompey's men through the hills. These aspects of the fighting are outside of the scope of the model.

Other Descriptions

Appian


Appian is said to have followed Asinius Pollio's account of the battle. Pollio was one of Caesar's generals.

Plutarch

Plutarch gives two descriptions, one in his life of Pompey, the other in his life of Caesar. These accounts differ from Caesar's account in several details.

In the life of Pompey he is thought to have followed Asinius Pollio, one of Caesar's general's. He states that the six cohorts were stationed behind the tenth legion on the right. He goes on to give the rather silly account of how the men were instructed to jab their pila at the faces of Pompey's cavalry. Plutarch notes that Pompey, on horseback, observed both his army and Caesar's, noting that Caesar's men were quiet and orderly while his own showed signs of nervousness. As a result he ordered his line not to charge. He does confirm Caesar's criticism of this tactic. He also notes that Pompey had more than twice as many men as Caesar. The story of Crassianus is there too, the first man to charge Pompey's lines, killed by a sword thrust through his mouth and out the back of his neck. Plutarch says that the fighting among the legions was fairly even at this point. Then Pompey's cavalry began to deploy against Caesar's flank but at Caesar's orders the 3,000 men of the 6 cohorts attacked and drove the cavalry away. The infantry then attacked Pompey's flank (no mention of the archers and skirmishers in this account). Pompey's left wing, attacked front and flank, gave way. Pompey observed the dust of his cavalry, surmised what was happening and left the field of battle. The rest of his legions followed suit.

In the life of Caesar Plutarch, said to have followed Caesar's own account for this section, notes the cavalry sizes as 7,000 for Pompey and 1,000 for Caesar and the infantry forces as 45,000 and 22,000 respectively. On the last morning, after Caesar had struck his tents his scouts told him of Pompey's deployment. Caesar marched his legions out for battle. He withdrew the 6 cohorts to the rear and kept them out of sight of the enemy. Pompey concentrated all of his cavalry on the left. Pompey himself was on the right wing (?). Plutarch has Pompey ordering his line to hold fast, saying this time that he was apparently not aware that the running charge lends extra force and is a most important element in kindling the fighting spirit. The story of Crassinus is told again, in much the same terms. As Pompey's cavalry squadrons deploy they are attacked by the 6 cohorts who ran up but did not throw their pila, rather using them to thrust at the cavalrymen's faces. The cohorts then ignored the cavalry and attacked the rear of Pompey's army. Pompey, who was on the other wing of his army, saw the disarray and left the field of battle, his whole army following.

Frontinus:

Frontinus gives us only two paragraphs on the battle, one describing Pompey's dispositions, the other, Caesar's. However his brief remarks contain several interesting details. He says that Pompey posted 600 cavalry on is right, near the river. He also notes that to supplement his cavalry Caesar sent light infantry who were very fast runners (velocissimos) and were used to fighting with the cavalry (ad morem equestris pugnae exercitatosa). Finally, he notes that the six cohorts were places behind the cavalry and at an angle (et dextro latere conversas in obliquum).

Other Sources:
Lawrence Kepppie

In The Making of the Roman Army: P 109: Keppie notes that Caesar ignored the fact that Pompey had left 22 cohorts behind him on garrison duty so that instead of 110 cohorts he only had 88. As for the location of the battle, he follows Rice Holmes and places it at the northwest end of the field (more on this in a later section). Otherwise Keppie simply restates the standard description.

Adrian Goldsworthy

The Roman Army at War: P 127: "At Pharsalus, which may have been fought on an untypically dry plain, Pompey was able to deduce that his left flanking cavalry had been defeated by the direction of the cloud of dust thrown up by their hooves."

P 137: There is some suggestion that the first and second lines worked together very closely, being mutually supporting. . . . At Pharsalus, Caesar specifically ordered the third line only to engage on his signal. The implication is that the second line quickly became involved in combat soon after the first line met the enemy. As a result it either could not be withdrawn and redeployed at all, or would in doing so have seriously weakened the army's front line. therefore the possession of a third line gave the commander a reserve that could be more easily channeled to meet any sudden threats."

P 153: "At Pharsalus, Pompey was unable to see the cavalry attack mounted by his left, because of the dust thrown up by the hooves. He had to guess from this dust cloud that his men had been beaten, and on the basis of this assumption stopped his infantry from advancing and being enveloped by Caesar's right. (Apian, BC 2.79)."

P 168: "Few battles involving the roman army were decided by subtle tactical moves. In 58 BC Caesar defeated both the Helvetii and Ariovistus in battles that were simple head-on clashes between the opposing lines. In the Civil War of 49-45 BC the decisive battles were comparatively simple affairs. Pharsalus saw an attempted outflanking attack by Pompey, but both Thapsus and Munda were simple collisions between the opposing armies." . . . victory came when a break made in the enemy line could be exploited by reserves to roll up the rest of his army. A high proportion, often the majority, of a Roman army was positioned behind the main line in reserve at the commander's disposal, to allow him to exploit breaks in the enemy line and plug gaps in his own."

P 180-1: "At Pharsalus, Pompey deployed his legions in lines ten ranks deep (Frontinus, Strategemata 2.3.22). . . . Pompey's use of a ten-deep formation at Pharsalus was made possible by his superior numbers, but made necessary because his men were of significantly lower morale and less experienced than Caesar's troops (BC 3.87, 3.92)."

P 193: "At Pharsalus, Caesar's men expected the Pompeian line to charge to meet them, and so accelerated and prepared to throw their pila. Perhaps they were 55 m (60 yards) from the Pompeian line, assuming that the normal charge distance was about the same as pilum range. Even this close to the enemy, the Caesarian cohorts stopped and reformed their ranks, as soon as they realized that the Pompeians had not moved.. The normal practice was clearly to keep the ranks in as good order as possible, keeping everyone moving forward, and only accelerating into a run for the last 30 metres, so that most of the men arrived at the enemy lines in a group, not a scattered mob of individuals."

P 205: "This was the danger with any hasty advance. If the enemy was not frightened into giving way by their approach, then the attackers might have begun to lose confidence. Any quick advance disordered the ranks and led to the unit becoming scattered, as the faster and bolder raced ahead of the slower and more cautious. . . . A few of the bolder men might have reached the opposing line, but in such small numbers that they could have made no impact upon it, whilst the enemy, outnumbering them, was encouraged. It may have been this effect that Pompey was hoping to cause at Pharsalus when he ordered his infantry not to advance, but to meet Caesar's charge at the halt. . . . In the event, Caesar's men possessed the experience and discipline necessary to halt and re-dress their ranks during the charge, and so arrived in reasonable order. It is difficult to know how a rout, caused by a frightening enemy advance, began. Perhaps the men in the front rank turned to run, but they cannot have actually fled until the ranks behind them gave way. If a few men in the rear rank turned to run, the optio behind the Roman line might have stopped them, but if many or all fled, then he could have done little."

P 227: "In infantry combat the most decisive victories seemed to have happened quickly. If neither side achieved a breakthrough in the early stages of an attack, then a stalemate normally resulted. Many units charged, and drove the enemy back a short distance, either after fighting or by delivering a shock to their morale. The fighting was punctuated by many long periods of inactivity, when neither side was willing or able to advance."

P 227: "Pompey's decision at Pharsalus, to order his infantry to meet the enemy charge at the halt, has no parallel elsewhere in our period."

P 235: "At Pharsalus Caesar's fourth line suddenly attacked the Pompeian cavalry. These seem to have degenerated into a single unformed mass after fighting and beating Caesar's cavalry, and were panicked by the sudden appearance of the enemy infantry and their bold approach. The infantry could have inflicted little or no loss on the fleeing enemy. On this occasion it is important to note that very good infantry encountered very poor cavalry. Normally such charges were not so decisive, and indeed, most infantry chose to face cavalry at the halt."

P 242: "During the Civil Wars, both sides frequently interspersed their cavalry with units of archers and light infantry, who invariable suffered heavily if the cavalry were beaten. In the Pharsalus campaign, Caesar employed a special unit of 400 legionaries to act with his cavalry, allowing the latter to drive off far more numerous enemy horse. These men seem to have marched in battle order, without packs, to be ready for immediate action."

Hans Delbrück

In Warfare in Antiquity: Delbrück, as those who know him would expect, has much to say about Pharsalus. His treatment begins roughly on page 534 and continues through page 555. This is a summary of some of the points of greatest interest.

Caesar states the relative strengths as 22,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry for him and 7,000 cavalry and 45,000 cavalry for Pompey. However, taking other accounts, perhaps derived from Asinius Pollio, the numbers should probably be more like 30,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry for Caesar and 40,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry for Pompey. Although Caesar does not say so, we can probably assume that he assigned all of his cavalry to his right flank, opposite Pompey's. Caesar assigned selected soldiers from the younger men of his legions, antesignani, to the cavalry. He pulled 3,000 men in 6 cohorts from the third line and placed them in an angled position on his right flank. Pompey 3 lines were 10 men deep for a total depth of 30 men. Caesar's army was only about half a s deep. Pompey's cavalry and skirmishers advanced somewhat in advance of his infantry. The infantry was chased from the field. "Although none of the sources reports it specifically, we may be permitted to assume that generals like Pompey and Labienus knew what they had to do against the envelopment with which they were not threatened by Caesar's cavalry. They moved up supporting troops from the third echelon of infantry and attempted to form a flanking angle against the envelopment. But the situation was developing too quickly; there is a difference between having the support from the third echelon foreseen, as Caesar had done, and on the other hand, not having it ordered until the moment when the fleeing mass and behind it the pursuing enemy are already pouring back, at which time the difficult change of front is supposed to be carried out. At this time, too, the phalanxes had just made contact with each other, and the hand-to-hand combat of the first echelons had started." (Page 539) "The battle was set up in accordance with the old, well-known plan for the flank battle, but it was immeasurably refined through the combination with the arrangement of the echelons and the defensive-offensive action." (Page 540) "If he [Caesar] had simply had his 3,000 legionaries move forward with his cavalry, they would not have been of much help and would perhaps have been swept back with the cavalry as the latter, as might be foreseen, was pushed to the rear. For this reason Caesar drew them up in an angled position, in an ambush, as one of the sources expresses it; from this position they first let their own cavalry move back by them and then finally fell upon the enemy cavalry in its flank while their own cavalry wheeled about again and took up the battle." (Page 540)

On page 542 Delbrück begins a lengthy examination of the numbers of the two forces. His conclusion is that Caesar had about 80 cohorts with an average of 400 men each for a total strength of 32,000 of whom 2,000 antesignani were assigned to the cavalry, leaving 30,000 for the legions. Delbrück prefers to follow Orosius-Pollio's figure of 88 cohorts, averaging 455 men each, a total of 40,000 men for Pompey's force.

As for the claim that Pompey had 7,000 cavalry, Delbrück notes: "Even to assemble a cavalry force of 7,000 men was a very difficult matter in those times." (page 546) In support of this he cites several examples, among them that of Crassus who had ample time and resources to recruit yet still had only 4,000 cavalry for his campaign.

"6 cohorts, which according to Caesar's further statement of strengths, numbered hardly 1,800 infantrymen, reportedly not only repelled the Pompeian cavalry but, by taking up the offensive against them, put them to flight and drove them completely from the battlefield. To anybody with any understanding of military history this account is incredible, even if the 6 cohorts had a total of 3,000 men rather than 1,800. Nor is it imaginable that a general like Labienus would have led a cavalry force so lacking in any kind of fighting spirit or that even a mediocre cavalry -- and in this force were, after all, Gallic and Germanic warriors, Thracians, Macedonians, Thessalians -- would have fled into the mountains when faced with a relatively small mass of heavy infantry. And Caesar does not even indicate that his own cavalry, which was initially pushed back, turned around and participated in the attack." (page 547) After more analysis, Delbrück finally concludes, page 549, that the best numbers to assign are 3,000 cavalry to Pompey and 2,000 to Caesar.

Delbrück questions the role of the 6 cohorts in defeating both the cavalry and the skirmishers. He credits, instead, the cavalry working with the light infantry for both these victories and for the flanking attack on Pompey's army. He asks why the skirmishers did not simply run away if attacked by heavy infantrymen who could not possibly have kept up with them. "This account makes sense only if Caesar's cavalry and light infantry turned about and once again fell on their enemies." (Page 549)

He questions the role of the 6 cohorts in making the flank attack. "A flank attack by only 6 cohorts would not have been able to exert such a strong effect on the far larger mass of Pompeian infantry. Even the time that the 6 cohorts needed to accomplish their wheeling movement would have been too long; the enemy generals would in the meantime have taken their countermeasures. The situation was quite different if it was the cavalry and the sharpshooters who first quickly completed the movement and were followed by the closely formed cohorts." (page 550) Delbrück feels that the reason Caesar may have played down the role of his Gallic cavalry was because "public opinion in Rome was reproaching him for leading barbarians against the republic." (p 550) "We can recognize from still another point how greatly Caesar's account was governed by political motives. In his Commentaries Caesar gives the laurels exclusively to the 6 cohorts. In Appian 2.79, however, we read that Caesar had written in his letters that the Tenth Legion, which was stationed on his extreme right flank, had enveloped the enemy wing, which had been left uncovered by the cavalry, and had attacked it from the flank. ('The Tenth Legion under Caesar himself surrounded Pompey's left wing, which had lost its cavalry, and from all sides assailed its flank, where the men remained unmoved; until, at last, the attackers threw it into confusion by force, and so began to win their victory.') . . . When Caesar wrote and published his Commentaries on the civil war, in the fall of 47 BC, before he went from Rome to Africa, the Tenth Legion had mutinied and had thereby most seriously offended its commander. Now it was no longer the unit that had decided the victory at Pharsalus but was replaced by the fourth echelon . . . But we conclude ... that the main role in the decision cannot possibly have been played by these troops but was artificially attributed to them because the commander, for good reasons, did not want to acknowledge to whom he principally owed the victory, that is, the brave barbarian cavalry." (p550) He then, in the next paragraph goes on to note "The longer I have spent studying Caesar, the more definite has my opinion become that his Commentaries are . . . a wonderful fabric of interwoven realistic, penetrating truth and fully deliberate and intended deception."

The timing of the events was also distorted. Caesar has the attack by the courageous Crastinus coming before the cavalry action but Appian says that the cavalry moved out before the infantry. This would make sense from Pompey's battle plan of intentionally holding back his infantry.

T. Rice Holmes

"The Battle-field of Old Pharsalus", Classical Quarterly ii (1908) (pp. 271-292): The Holmes article contains several pertinent details. He notes that the river that cuts through the plain of Pharsalus is not that large and is often dry but that its banks are 60 to 70 meters across and up to 6 meters high, a sufficient barrier to serve as protection for the army's flank. The camps of Pompey and Caesar were 30 stades apart, which he translates to 3.75 Roman miles. The bulk of the article, written in 1908, discusses various earlier theories of the exact location of the battle.

John D. Morgan

"Palaepharsalus -- The Battle and the Town", AJA 87, 1983, pp. 23-54: He cites Apian [ B.C. 2.65] for the distance between the camps being 30 stades. Appian, B.C. 2.78: the archers and slingers were killed by Caesar's cavalry. Morgan reviews the various texts for clues to the battlefield location. Some of the main clues are the collis, hill, upon which Pompey had his camp, the mons, mountain, maybe hill, at the foot of which he lined up his army (in this case Morgan thinks the collis and mons were the same) and the altissimi montes to which the Pompeian army fled after defeat and which Caesar began to surround with earthworks -- necessarily a smallish hill because Caesar thought it possible to complete earthworks between the end of the battle and nightfall. In considering the sizes of the armies Morgan accepts Caesar's figures without comment (as do most authors, Delbrücks adjustments to the numbers do not seem to be widely accepted by more modern scholars). Morgan also argues in favor of 6 feet between files. "Modern students of the battle of Palaepharsalus fall into two classes, 'north-bankers' and 'south-bankers,' according to the side of the Enipeus on which they locate the battle." Morgan follows the earlier theory of Lucas in siting the battle on the north side of the river. He disagrees that Pompey's camp was on Dogantzis, the mountain at the west end of the plain. He believes Dogantzis is too large, some 12 Roman miles in circumference, for Caesar's army to have considered entrenching in an afternoon. Morgan translates 30 stades as 4 Roman miles. Morgan offers a map which is a French copy of a Greek General Staff Map published in 1911. This was used as the basis for the maps used in this page.

John Peddie

The Roman Army at War, Page 25 ff: Peddie begins the section with Frontinus' description. He then notes that Caesar's "lines were no greater than six ranks deep." He gives Caesar's cohorts a strength of 275 and Pompey's a unit strength of 400 to 500. He positions the six cohorts "out of sight behind his right wing cavalry and infantry." He gives Caesar's army a front of 1,200 yards, adding 300 yards for the flanking troops. He notes that if Caesar had been at full strength his army would have extended 1.5 miles.

Unlike many authors, Peddie comments on the size of Caesar's headquarter's staff which, he speculates, would have consisted of his personal escort, standard bearers, Mounted trumpeteres, mounted orderlies, a large number of men, including mounted staff, specialist officers, liaisons to infantry and cavalry units. Howver most of them would probably not have accompanied Caesar to the battlefield.

The Battlefield at Pharsalus


The following illustration is my adaptation of the 1911 Greek General Staff Map.




Each contour line represents approximately 20 meters of elevation, the red contour lines are 100 meter intervals. The first, lowest elevation, red line is 200 meters in elevation. Morgan and others place the battle on the north side of the river. Some put Pompey's camp on the flank of the hill to the far left. Morgan places it just east (to the right) of the central hill. For the purpose of this model it is not necessary to explore the various theories or to try to decide which is the most persuasive. Morgan's, being the most recent, will suffice. The next map shows the sites for the two camps and for the armies that Morgan proposes.


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