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Julius Caesar

Civil War

After the First Triumvirate ended, the senate supported Pompey, who became sole consul in 52 B.C. Meanwhile, Caesar had become a military hero as well as a champion of the people. The senate feared him and wanted him to give up his army, knowing that he hoped to be consul when his term in Gaul expired. In Dec., 50 B.C., Caesar wrote the senate that he would give up his army if Pompey would give up his. The senate heard the letter with fury and demanded that Caesar disband his army at once or be declared an enemy of the people—an illegal bill, for Caesar was entitled to keep his army until his term was up.

Two tribunes faithful to Caesar, Marc Antony and Quintus Cassius Longinus (see under Cassius) vetoed the bill and were quickly expelled from the senate. They fled to Caesar, who assembled his army and asked for the support of the soldiers against the senate. The army called for action, and on Jan. 19, 49 B.C., Caesar with the words "Iacta alea est" [the die is cast] crossed the Rubicon, the stream bounding his province, to enter Italy. Civil war had begun.

Caesar's march to Rome was a triumphal progress. The senate fled to Capua. Caesar proceeded to Brundisium, where he besieged Pompey until Pompey fled (Mar., 49 B.C.) with his fleet to Greece. Caesar set out at once for Spain, which Pompey's legates were holding, and pacified that province. Returning to Rome, Caesar held the dictatorship for 11 days in early December, long enough to get himself elected consul, and then set out for Greece in pursuit of Pompey.

Caesar collected at Brundisium a small army and fleet—so small, in fact, that Bibulus, waiting with a much larger fleet to prevent his crossing to Epirus, did not yet bother to watch him—and slipped across the strait. He met Pompey at Dyrrhachium but was forced to fall back and begin a long retreat southward, with Pompey in pursuit. Near Pharsalus, Caesar camped in a very strategic location. Pompey, who had a far larger army, attacked Caesar but was routed (48 B.C.) and fled to Egypt, where he was killed.

Caesar, having pursued Pompey to Egypt, remained there for some time, living with Cleopatra, taking her part against her brother and husband Ptolemy XIII, and establishing her firmly on the throne. From Egypt he went to Syria and Pontus, where he defeated (47 B.C.) Pharnaces II with such ease that he reported his victory in the words "Veni, vidi, vici" [I came, I saw, I conquered]. In the same year he personally put down a mutiny of his army and then set out for Africa, where the followers of Pompey had fled, to end their opposition led by Cato.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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