Julius Caesar

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Role in the Civil War

Past HSC question 2007
Question 24 (b) Assess the military achievements of Julius Caesar. (15 marks)
(This question also takes in "Gallic Wars" and "Relationship with his army")

The following is from Personalities from the Past, Jennifer Lawless (ed.). Consult your map and mark places mentioned.

The Civil War

The civil war lasted for three and a half years and was fought throughout the Roman Empire.

49 BC

Pompey and his supporters sailed to the east (March), leaving Caesar in Italy. Caesar faced a hostile senate but still made sound arrangements for the security of Italy (April). Before he left for Spain, Caesar had set up strong defensive points on both land and sea. He left Rome in April and sailed west for Massilia. In Spain, his army campaigned for forty days and was successful against some of the strongest Pompeian forces. Caesar returned to Rome in September, after detouring to Placentia in Cisalpine Gaul to put down a mutiny of his own soldiers. In other areas of the empire, however, he did not achieve such success. In Africa, Curio and his troops were killed (late September). Caesar remained in Rome for eleven days and was elected Consul for 48 BC (having previously been appointed dictator) and worked on producing a solution to the debt problem.

48 BC

Caesar left Italy in January from Brundisium and sailed to the east, landing at Epirus. From here two major battles were fought: the first in March at Dyrrachium in which Pompey was successful and the second in April at Pharsalus where, according to Caesar, Pompey faced a great deal of internal squabbling. The Pompeian forces at Pharsalus outnumbered the Ceasarian, but through tight discipline and Caesar's quick reading of Pompey's tactics, Caesar achieved an overwhelming victory. Pompey escaped, but was not to fight another day.

Pompey sailed to Egypt via Lesbos where he met up with his wife and his son, Sextus. Caesar followed and on his arrival in Alexandria (October) he was presented with Pompey's head. Before long Caesar found himself blockaded in Alexandria (November - February).

47 BC - 46 BC

Caesar met with the young co-regent of Egypt, Cleopatra, while awaiting the arrival of a relieving force. During his stay in Egypt he confirmed the joint rule of Cleopatra and her brother-husband, but the latter was killed in the battle to rescue Caesar and his men. Alexandria finally surrendered to Caesar, and that summer Cleopatra gave birth to Caesar's son. caesar left Egypt in April to return to Rome via the East. On his way he settled Syria and Tarsus and many other trouble spots, and defeated King Pharnaces at the battle of Zela.

On his arrival in Rome (September), Caesar became dictator, an office granted to him for one year in his absence. He was met with chaos. Violence in Rome had to be quelled with armed force, resulting in great loss of life. Also, Caesar's veterans had enough of military service and had gone on a rampage in Campania. Before leaving Italy again, Caesar had restored peace and filled vacant official positions with his supporters.

Caesar entered the last stage of this war in Africa. He was successful at Ruspina (November) and again in Uzita (January-February) but the decisive victory came at Thapsus (April) where his soldiers turned the battle into a massacre. So great had been the loss of life that Caesar and his army simply walked in and took the last site of Pompeian resistance, Utica, without any bloodshed.