Battle of Thapsus

From Academic Kids

Template:Infobox Battles The Battle of Thapsus took place on February 6, 46 BC near Thapsus (modern Ras Dimas, Tunisia). The Conservative Republican Army, led by Marcus Porcius Cato, the younger and Quintus Caecillius Metellus Scipio clashed with the forces of Julius Caesar, who eventually won the battle. With this victory, Caesar temporarily ended the resistance against his power in Africa and was one step closer to absolute power.


After crossing the Rubicon in 49 BC, Caesar started the last Republican civil war by defying senatorial orders to disband his army. Following his invasion of Italy and Rome, the Conservative Republicans fled to Greece under the command of Pompey. They where defeated in the battles of Dyrrhachium and Pharsalus in 48 BC. Pompey was murdered, but the conservatives, not ready to give up fighting, clustered in the Africa provinces and organized a resistance. Its leaders were Marcus Porcius Cato, the younger, and Metellus Scipio. Other key figures in the resistance were Titus Labienus, Publius Attius Varus, Lucius Afranius, Marcus Petreius and the brothers Sextus and Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey's sons). King Juba I of Numidia was a valuable local ally. After the pacification of the Eastern provinces, and a short visit to Rome, Caesar followed his opponents to Africa and landed in Hadrumetum (modern Sousse, Tunisia) in December 28 47 BC.

The Conservatives gathered their forces with astonishing speed. Its army included 40,000 men (circa 10 legions), a powerful cavalry led by veteran Titus Labienus, allied forces of local kings and 60 war elephants. The two armies embarked in small conflicts to measure forces, during which two conservative legions deserted to Caesar. Meanwhile, Caesar expected reinforcements from Sicily. In the beginning of February, Caesar arrived in Thapsus and besieged the city, blocking the southern entrance with three lines of fortifications. The conservatives, led by Metellus Scipio, could not risk the loss of this position and were forced to accept battle.


Metellus Scipio's army circled Thapsus in order to approach the city by its Northern side. Anticipating Caesar's approach, they remained in tight battle order flanked by its elephant cavalry . Caesar's position was typical to his style, with him commanding the right side and the cavalry and archers flanked. The threat of the elephants led to the additional precautions of reinforcing the cavalry with 5 cohorts.

One of Caesar's trumpeters sounded the battle. Caesar's archers attacked the elephants with no mercy, causing them to panic and trample men on their own side. The left flank of elephants charged against Caesar's center, where Legio V Alaudae was placed. This legion sustained the charge with such bravery that afterwards they wore an elephant as a symbol. After the loss of the elephants, Metellus Scipio started to lose ground. Caesar's cavalry outmaneuvered its enemy, destroyed the fortified camp, and forced its enemy into retreat. King Juba's allied troops abandoned the site and the battle was decided.

Roughly 10,000 enemy soldiers, including Metellus Scipio, wanted to surrender to Caesar, but were instead slaughtered by his army. This action is unusual for Caesar, who was known as a merciful victor. Some sources contend Caesar had an epileptic seizure during the battle and was not fully conscious for its aftermath.


Following the battle, Caesar renewed the siege of Thapsus, which eventually would fall. Caesar proceeded to Utica, where Cato the Younger was garrisoned. On the news of the defeat of his allies, Cato committed suicide. Caesar was upset by this and is reported by Plutarch to have said: Cato, I must grudge you your death, as you grudged me the honour of saving your life.

The battle proceeded peace in Africa--Caesar pulled out and returned to Rome on July 25 of the same year. Opposition, however, would rise again. Titus Labienus, the Pompeian brothers and others had managed to escape to the Hispania provinces. The civil war was not finished and the battle of Munda would soon bei Thapsus


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