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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor

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THE FLIGHT OF POMPEY

[381] IN the camps of both Pompey and Cæsar there was great suffering. The chief strength of Pompey's army was its cavalry, which was 7000 strong, and the horses had begun to die for want of food.

Pompey had many officers of noble rank in his camp, and they urged him to fight at once, or there would be no horses left for the soldiers to ride.

But Pompey knew that his large army was undisciplined, that many of the soldiers were rebellious, and he wished to avoid a battle. He hoped that the difficulty of providing food for his army would force Cæsar to retreat.

It was indeed true that Cæsar's legions were suffering from hunger, but they would have died rather than let the enemy know that this was so. They tried their utmost to mislead them. To stay their hunger they gathered a root which they found in the fields, and made it as palatable as they could by adding milk to it.

Sometimes they made the root into loaves of a kind, and some of these they threw into the enemy's camp, as though to say, "Whatever you may think, we have food enough and to spare."

Not a murmur was heard in Cæsar's camp. Every man remained loyal to his general, and cheerful, even when suffering intensely from the pangs of hunger.

It had been spring when Mark Antony joined Cæsar. It was now nearly the end of summer, and still the two armies were encamped near to each other, but no battle had been fought.

[382] Then, at length, it happened, that Pompey discovered a weak point in Cæsar's lines, which he believed he could attack with success.

His army, pleased to be at last in action, advanced with alacrity as soon as the order was given.

As Pompey had hoped, Cæsar's troops were soon driven back toward their camp in utter confusion, while the camp itself was in danger of being taken.

In vain did Cæsar try to rally his forces, heedless of his own danger, if he could but stem the flight of his men. As one strong active soldier ran past, Cæsar caught hold of him, to make him turn to face the foe.

Mad with terror, and scarce knowing what he did, the fugitive raised his sword. He was going to strike his general.

But, quick as lightning, Cæsar's armour-bearer struck off the soldier's arm, and his sword fell harmlessly to the ground. Cæsar had narrowly escaped with his life.

Had Pompey followed up his attack, he might have captured the camp and won a decisive victory, as Cæsar himself was aware. But Pompey sounded a retreat, and the decisive battle had still to be fought.

Cæsar wasted no time in bemoaning the losses of the day, although he must have felt that evening that his fortunes were at their lowest ebb.

He determined to march without delay into Thessaly, and so to entice Pompey away from the sea. For then he would not be able to get provisions for his army and would be forced to fight. And Cæsar was eager to meet his enemy fairly on the battlefield.

When Pompey's officers saw that Cæsar was retreating, they could scarcely believe their eyes, but their confidence in their own prowess was confirmed.

They begged Pompey to follow, and he reluctantly yielded, but for that day alone. Knowing well the strength of Cæsar's veterans, he had no wish to fight a regular [383] battle, and so he ordered his soldiers to set up their camp again.

The patrician officers were exasperated with the indecision of their general. They did not cease to taunt him for not fighting, or to urge him still to follow Cæsar, until at length Pompey made up his mind that they should have their way and pit themselves against Cæsar's well-disciplined officers and troops.

Both armies accordingly reached Thessaly, although by different routes, and soon they were encamped on the plain of Pharsalia, where, in August 48 B.C., a great and decisive battle was fought.

Pompey's confidence was placed chiefly on his splendid cavalry, and he believed that his 7000 horsemen would speedily scatter the 1000 which was all that Cæsar had to oppose to his great force.

But if his body of cavalry was small, Cæsar had supported it well by his infantry and archers.

His horsemen were, it is true, driven back before the brilliant charge of the enemy, but the infantry and archers attacked Pompey's cavalry so furiously, that soon it was forced from the field in utter confusion.

Cæsar's infantry then advanced against the main body of Pompey's army. The soldiers first hurled their javelins at the enemy and then closed in upon them, doing deadly havoc with their swords.

Before long Cæsar sent a reserve troop of soldiers to their aid, and soon the army of Pompey was put to flight. For the patrician officers had not proved skilful on the battlefield, nor had they now any control over their undisciplined followers.

When Pompey saw that his cavalry was scattered at the beginning of the day, he lost hope and hastened to his tent, where he sat, amid the confused noise of battle, bewildered and dismayed.

Only when the victorious army began to attack the camp [384] did he seem to realise that he must bestir himself, unless he would be captured by the enemy.

"What, into my camp too," he is said to have cried indignantly as he heard the clash of arms and shouts of victory drawing nearer and nearer. Then swiftly laying aside his military dress, the defeated general slipped into a simple garment, and hurrying from the tent, mounted a horse, and with a few followers fled toward the coast. It was useless for him to think of meeting Cæsar again, for his army was slain or scattered. So he resolved to seek shelter in Egypt.

It was a sad voyage on which Pompey embarked, for he had been overthrown, and that by his rival, who would reign supreme.

As the ship drew near to land, Pompey sent a messenger to Alexandria to beg for shelter.

The king, Ptolemy XII., was only a boy of thirteen, but the royal council, when it heard Pompey's request, proved cruel. It neither welcomed him nor sent him elsewhere to seek for safety. At first some of the members spoke on his behalf, but in the end they all agreed that he must die.

But they did not tell him their decision, they merely sent a boat to bring him to shore. In the boat was Septimius, a military tribune of Rome, who had once served in Pompey's army.

As Pompey prepared to step into the boat his wife clung to him, and filled with foreboding would hardly let him go. But he bade her and his followers farewell, and seated himself in the stern of the boat. As he did so he noticed Septimius and spoke kindly to him.

But Septimius had no answer to give to his former general. He had been unjustly degraded by him in former days as he believed, and he still owed him a grudge.

In response to Pompey's words, he only nodded sullenly and with averted face.

[385] Did a swift dread of what lay before him flash across Pompey's mind as he heard the Roman's gruff response to his greeting.

He had at least no time to brood over the future, for, now they had reached the shore, and as Pompey stepped out of the boat, Septimius, who was behind him, drew his sword.

As Pompey felt the touch of the steel he swiftly drew his toga across his face, and then, without a cry for help, he fell to the ground.

When Cæsar reached Egypt ten days later, he was shown the head of his rival and his signet ring. From the first sight he turned away in horror, while, when he saw the ring, he wept.


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