The Civil War Battle of Pharsalus Between Caesar and Pompey


Battle: Pharsalus
Date of Battle: August 9, 48 B.C.
Victorious general: Julius Caesar
Loser: Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus

Date and Location of the Battle of Pharsalus

Part of the civil war between Pompey and Caesar, the Battle of Pharsalus was fought on August 9, 48 B.C. (according to the Julian Calendar -- June 6), in Pharsalus.
Pharsalus was a Greek town in Phthia ( the name of the kingdom of Achilles' father Peleus) in southeastern Thessaly.

Historically, Thessaly had sent troops to support Athens against Sparta in the Peloponnesian War, and was captured by Philip of Macedonia.

Civil War:

Between the day in January 49 B.C. that Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and August 9, 48, Rome had been embroiled in civil war, with Pompey leading the senatorial forces and Caesar his own troops plus those of his allies, including Mark Antony. Pompey and Caesar had fought battles in Italy, Spain, Africa, Gaul, and a few weeks before Pharsalus, at Dyrracchium, in Greece, Pompey had defeated Caesar, but had foolishly not immediately pursued the retreating troops, which fled to Thessaly.


Pompey thought he had won the war and declared himself imperator. He had 500 ships and could have taken Italy, according to Cassius Dio, but decided, instead, to mop up -- by following Caesar to Thessaly. There the two camps were ranged opposite each other and made unsuccessful attempts at reconciliation. Dio says that Pompey excelled in numbers, but Caesar's men were stronger.

Plutarch says Pompey commanded the right wing; Domitius, the left with the cavalry; and Scipio, the center.


Plutarch (Life of Caesar 44) says Caesar put Domitius Calvinus in charge of the center; while Antony and Caesar each had a wing; Caesar controlling his tenth legion. While Pompey's left wing circled Caesar's right, Caesar's men started stabbing the inexperienced enemy troops. Plutarch says they aimed at the men's faces to worry the young men's vanities.

The cavalry fled and Caesar's men then surrounded Pompey's infantry.

Dio Cassius on The Battle of Pharsalus:

Dio Cassius dwells on the problems involved in having men from the same country and hearth fighting against each other. He says it was easier for those in back to launch missiles against unseen enemy countrymen, adding the poignant detail that those dying sent messages home through their own slayers. Portents, thunder, fire, and bees conspired to destroy Pompey's army. Pompey himself fled.

Lucan Book VII Pharsalia - Romans Killed in the Battle at Pharsalus:

  • "Where flows the nation's blood, where beats the heart, knowing, he [Caesar] bids them spare the common herd, but seek the senators -- thus Rome he strikes, Thus the last hold of Freedom. In the fray, then fell the nobles with their mighty names of ancient prowess; there Metellus' sons, Corvini, Lepidi, Torquati too, not once nor twice the conquerors of kings, first of all men, Pompeius' name except, lay dead upon the field."

Pharsalus Aftermath:

Cassius Dio says Caesar killed many of the senators and knights, but enlisted the rank and file into his own troops. Plutarch says Caesar gave the Thessalians their freedom before pursuing Pompey.

The End of Pompey:

Pompey's flight took him to Egypt where he was tricked and beheaded.

Lucan Book VII Pharsalia - On the Roman Army Under Pompey:

" Reflected from their arms, th' opposing sun filled all the slope with radiance as they marched In ordered ranks to that ill-fated fight, and stood arranged for battle. On the left thou, Lentulus, had'st charge; two legions there, the fourth, and bravest of them all, the first: While on the right, Domitius, ever stanch, though fates be adverse, stood: in middle line the hardy soldiers from Cilician lands, in Scipio's care; their chief in Libyan days, to-day their comrade. By Enipeus' pools and by the rivulets, the mountain troops of Cappadocia, and loose of rein thy squadrons, Pontus: on the firmer ground Galatia's tetrarchs and the greater kings; and all the purple-robed, the slaves of Rome. Numidian hordes were there from Afric shores, there Creta's host and Ituraeans found full space to wing their arrows; there the tribes from brave Iberia clashed their shields, and there Gaul stood arrayed against her ancient foe. Let all the nations be the victor's prize, none grace in future a triumphal car; this fight demands the slaughter of a world."