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The Civil War

After their joint consulship in 55 BCE, Pompey and Crassus both tried to strengthen their positions. Crassus needed a military success to compete with Caesar and Pompey, so he got a pro-consular command in Syria where a war with the Parthians had broken out, but he was unsuccessful and eventually died in battle in 53 BCE.

Pompey kept his former pro-consular command in Spain, where several legions were stationed, but he remained in Rome to keep the senate in check. In 54 BCE his family ties with Caesar was severed, when his wife, Caesar's daughter Julia died. Pompey was the single most powerful man in Rome. Normally there would be two consuls, and one could veto the decisions of the other, but in 52 BCE Pompey was elected sole consul, which effectively gave him dictatorial powers for a year. The same year he remarried, this time with the daughter of one of Caesar's political enemies. It was almost certain that it would somehow come to a confrontation between Pompey and Caesar when the latter returned from Gaul.

Caesar still had very influential enemies in Rome, and now he probably had to count Pompey as one of them. It was more likely that not that he would have to stand trial when his command in Gaul expired by the end of 50 BCE. He applied the senate for permission to run for consul in absentia for the year 49 BCE, which was granted, but his wish to keep his imperium in Gaul, and therefore his military command, while being a candidate was turned down, again leaving him vulnerable to prosecution. When Pompey openly started to cooperate with Caesar's enemies to prevent his election, his chances diminished further.

Unable to get his way politically, Caesar turned to his proven means: his armies. The soldiers had been fighting with him for almost ten years and they knew that their future laid with the political fortunes of Caesar. They expected to be awarded a piece of land somewhere when disbanded, but Caesar had to be around to ensure it. His enemies certainly wouldn't fulfil his promises to his veterans.

When Caesar ordered his troops to cross the Rubicon river, he started a civil war. The Rubicon in the Po Valley formed the border between province of Cisalpine Gaul, where he could legally lead his soldiers, and Italy proper, where he had absolutely no right to command an army. In Italy there were, however, few troops loyal to the senate, and Caesar quickly overran the whole peninsula. Pompey and most of the senators escaped towards Greece via Brindisi in S. Italy.

Caesar now had control of Rome, where he appointed a new senate, before he pursued his enemies. He first looked towards Spain, where Pompey had loyal troops stationed, but in a swift campaign through Spain and S. France eliminated that threat in less than six months.

In 48 BCE Caesar was ready to face Pompey and the others in Greece. In spite of having lesser naval forces at his command he managed to ferry most of his troops over the Adriatic Sea. He first suffered a minor defeat at Dyrrhachium (Dürres in Albania), but later Pompey gave battle at Pharsalus, which Caesar won in spite of being numerically inferior. Many of his enemies from the senate died on the battlefield, but Pompey managed to escape and fled to Egypt.

In Egypt Pompey got caught up in a conflict of succession between Ptolemy XIII and his sister Cleopatra VII. Ptolemy had Pompey killed to gain favour with Caesar, but when Caesar arrived he was furious and sided with Cleopatra against her brother. Caesar stayed in Egypt for several months. He instated Cleopatra as sole ruler, and left her pregnant when he set off to return to Rome. She later gave birth to a son, Ptolemy Caesar (often called Caesarion). Caesar passed through Palestine, Syria and Asia Minor, where he reorganised the provinces before he returned to Rome in 47 BCE.

The remaining republican forces had used his absence to regroup and reorganise. Caesar first had to suppress an uprising in Rome itself, but the main opposition forces were assembled in Africa, where he landed in December 47 BCE. Early the next year the decisive battle was fought at Thapsos where the remaining leaders of the republican cause died, including Cato the Younger. Back in Rome Caesar now had the time to celebrate. The senate (his senate) bestowed numerous honours on him and he celebrated four triumphs, nominally over foreign powers, as no triumphs had ever been celebrated for a victory in a civil war.

Pompey had two sons, Gnaus and Sextus Pompeius, who managed to raise an army in Spain. They met Caesar in battle near Munda in 45 BCE. It was hard fought battle with substantial casualties on both sides, but in the end Caesar won. He remained in Spain for a while to reorganise the provinces, and then celebrated yet another triumph on his return to Rome.

This article has been split into 11 separate sections. Use the menu below to jump to another section.

  1. Introduction
  2. Caesar's Political Career
  3. The Alliance with Crassus and Pompey
  4. The Conquest of Gaul
  5. The Civil War
  6. Dictator and God
  7. The Assassination
  8. Caesar's Legacy
  9. The Julian Calendar
  10. Literature and Links
  11. Photographs of Julius Caesar

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This page is linked under the names "Julius Caesar", "Caesar", "Gaius Julius Caesar", "Gaius Iulius Caesar" and "Giulio Cesare".

Copyright © 2003 René Seindal, last changed 2003-08-28

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