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Caesar & The Battle of Thapsus (Feburary 6, 46 BC)

When thinking back through the history of the world and leaders of great note, two names always come to the forefront of my mind: Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. One was Greek, one was Roman, and both accomplished more than any one man could have ever dreamed during the times that they lived. Julius Caesar became the first man to do a great many things and once we’ve “Crossed the Rubicon,” we can never return.

Pompey, a Roman aristocrat, was elected consul in 70 B.C. He championed the poor and established himself as a shrewd military leader. His conquests in the Middle East—such as the conquest of Jerusalem in 63 B.C.—helped to solidify his military presence. When he returned to Rome, however, he found the Senate unwilling to support his promises to his troops and the poor.

While Pompey conquered countries, Julius Caesar conquered hearts. A young aristocrat, Caesar championed the poor, as well, and was well-liked by many of the citizens. In 59 B.C., he and Pompey struck a bargain and Pompey supported Caesar for a position as consul. Once elected, Caesar went over the Senate’s heads to the Assembly, getting the needed approval for Pompey’s requests.

Caesar’s ambitions led him to seek out more political stature. He won a five-year term as the governor of Gaul (modern day France) and began amassing an army and a military presence. For about nine years, Caesar conquered the area of Gaul from the Rhine River to the English Channel—that area includes the modern day countries of France, Holland, Switzerland, Belgium, and parts of Germany. He extended his power northward into England, as well, as far as the Thames. Caesar’s conquests spread the Greco-Roman culture throughout Europe.

He made sure to keep his name in front of his loyal supporters in Rome, as well. He wrote of his conquests and victories and was touted as a hero by the common people of Rome. As his popularity grew with the common people, it decreased with the Senate—and the now-jealous Pompey.

Fearing Caesar’s power, the Roman Senate requested he disband his army. That would be the equivalent of telling a five year old not to draw on the wall in the living room—when you’re in the kitchen. Caesar, of course, did not listen. He did vacillate between staying in Gaul and returning to Italy. Then finally in 49 BC, he crossed the Rubicon River into Italy, knowing he would either be immortalized or “notorized.” As he entered Italy, the cities gladly welcomed him—which caused a minor panic in Pompey and the Senate. Alright, a major panic. They fled eastward.

Caesar had himself appointed as a sort of “temporary” dictator of Rome to restore order after the Senate fled. For five years, he ruled Rome. For five years, he sought Pompey. Why? Because Pompey was the only man who could defeat Caesar. With as brilliant as Caesar was, politically, he was no match for Pompey, militarily. Pompey’s only disadvantage was the lack of a strong army. Caesar pursued Pompey into Alexandria, Egypt. Much to Caesar’s dismay, however, Pompey was assassinated before Caesar could defeat him.

In his pursuing of Pompey, Caesar entered into the city of Thapsus and cut off the southern entrance of the city. Fortifying the city, he prepared himself for battle against General Metellus Scipio, leader of the Pompeian army, and Jaba I, King of Numidia. Wikipedia does give a very interesting description of the battle, however, I didn’t see any sources listed (and they also list the date as April 6, not February 6). According to that source, Caesar’s archers attacked the 60 war elephants which, of course, scared the animals and they trampled their own men. Once the elephants were out of the way, the battle could continue as “normally” as possible. The end result was General Scipio and Jaba I fled, leaving Caesar as victorious in the battle.

Of course, we know Caesar’s end—stabbed to death by 13 Senators, among them Brutus. Shakespeare immortalized what is now knows as “The Ides of March”—March 15, 44 B.C.—in his play Julius Caesar. In the play, as the knives plunge into Caesar, he turns and stares into the eyes of his best friend, Brutus, and says, “et tu, Brute?”—and you, Brutus? As we reflect upon the life of Julius Caesar, we can clearly see his political agenda—to conquer the world. If Alexander the Great were to have met Caesar, I often imagine Alexander’s words to Caesar would have been, et tu, Caesar?

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