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Helene A. Guerber

The Battle of Pharsalia

W HEN Cæsar reached the port of Brundisium he found that there were not vessels enough to carry all his army across the sea. He therefore set out with one part, leaving the other at Brundisium, under the command of his friend Mark Antony, who had orders to follow him as quickly as possible.

Instead of obeying promptly, Mark Antony waited so long that Cæsar secretly embarked on a fisherman's vessel to return to Italy and find out the cause of the delay. This boat was a small open craft, and when a tempest arose the fishermen wanted to turn back.

Cæsar then tried to persuade them to sail on, and proudly said: "Go on boldly, and fear nothing, for you bear Cæsar and his fortunes." The men would willingly have obeyed the great man, but the tempest soon broke out with such fury that they were forced to return to the port whence they had sailed.


Bust of Cæsar.

Shortly after this, Mark Antony made up his mind to cross the sea, and joined Cæsar, who was then besieging Pompey in the town of Dyrrachium, in Illyria. To drive the enemy away as soon as possible, Pompey had destroyed all the provisions in the neighborhood. Cæsar's men suffered from hunger, but they were too loyal to desert him. To convince Pompey that the means he had used were of no avail, they flung their few remaining loaves into the enemy's camp, shouting that they would live on grass rather than give up their purpose.

Cæsar, however, saw that his men were growing ill for want of proper food, so he led them away from Dyrrachium into Thessaly, where they found plenty to eat, and where Pompey pursued them. Here, on the plain of Pharsalia, the two greatest Roman generals at last met in a pitched battle; and Pompey was so sure of winning the victory that he bade the soldiers make ready a great feast, which they would enjoy as soon as the fight was over.

Pompey's soldiers were mostly young nobles, proud of their fine armor and good looks, while Cæsar's were hardened veterans, who had followed him all through his long career of almost constant warfare. Cæsar, aware of the vanity of the Roman youths, bade his men aim their blows at the enemies' faces, and to seek to disfigure rather than to disable the foe.

The battle began and raged with great fury. Faithful to their general's orders, Cæsar's troops aimed their weapons at the faces of their foes, who fled rather than be disfigured for life. Pompey soon saw that the battle was lost, and fled in disguise, while Cæsar's men greatly enjoyed the rich banquet which their foes had prepared.

Unlike the other Romans of his time, Cæsar was always generous to the vanquished. He therefore soon set free all the prisoners he had made at Pharsalia. Then, instead of prying into Pompey's papers, as a mean man would have done, he burned them all without even glancing at them. This mercy and honesty pleased Brutus so greatly that he became Cæsar's firm friend.

Pompey, in the mean while, was fleeing to the sea. He had been surnamed the Great on account of his many victories; but the defeat at Pharsalia was so crushing that he was afraid to stay in Greece. He therefore embarked with his new wife, Cornelia, and with his son Sextus, upon a vessel bound for Egypt.

As he intended to ask the aid and protection of Ptolemy XII., the Egyptian king, he composed an eloquent speech while on the way to Africa. The vessel finally came to anchor at a short distance from the shore, and Pompey embarked alone on the little boat in which he was to land.

Cornelia staid on the deck of the large vessel, anxiously watching her husband's departure. Imagine her horror, therefore, when she saw him murdered, as soon as he had set one foot ashore. The crime was committed by the messengers of the cowardly Egyptian king, who hoped to win Cæsar's favor by killing his rival.

Pompey's head was cut off, to be offered as a present to Cæsar, who was expected in Egypt also. The body would have remained on the shore, unburied, but for the care of a freedman. This faithful attendant collected driftwood, and sorrowfully built a funeral pyre, upon which his beloved master's remains were burned.