One of my favorite battles is the Battle of Pharsalus, it was the last battle between Gaius Julius Caesar and his rival, Pompey Magnus. Appian records their speeches marvelously – however, the accuracy of those speeches is, as with many ancient sources, questionable. To give you some context as to the speeches before I quote them, I’ll give a little background here. It’ll be short and sweet, I promise! Well. Ish.
So, the Battle of Pharsalus. One thing you HAVE to remember about Caesar is that he was a brilliant battle commander, and he’s especially renowned for two things: His INSANE speed in pushing his men (He was always two steps ahead of his opponents, appearing places faster than anyone could ever expect), and the INSANE loyalty they had for him. Seriously, when I say insane…he could quell mutinies amongst them with ONE WORD. The battle that had immediately preceded Pharsalus, Dyrrhachium) was a devastating defeat for Caesar’s forces. After it, his men were so ashamed that they apparently begged for decimation, the most infamous punishment of the ancient world. Another example of Caesar’s men’s INSANE devotion to him and his fame was exactly how far his soldiers would go for him in battle. Here’s Plutarch on that:
Such a man, again, was Cassius Scaeva, who, in the battle at Dyrrhachium, had his eye struck out with an arrow, his shoulder transfixed with one javelin and his thigh with another, and received on his shield the blows of one hundred and thirty missiles. In this plight, he called the enemy to him as though he would surrender. Two of them, accordingly, coming up, he lopped off the shoulder of one with his sword, smote the other in the face and put him to flight, and came off safely himself with the aid of his comrades.
However, that battle also brings up Caesar’s greatest fault – he was a piss poor organizer of logistics. He constantly outran his supply lines and then was all “Well, oops. Let’s win anyways.” Crazily enough, his luck was such that he was generally able to.
This brings us to Pharsalus, where Caesar had retreated to after Dyrrhachium. Pompey had followed, setting up camp just a few miles away. His leadership was crazy cocky right now (He had half the Roman Senate in the camp with him), and they were essentially harpies around him. Pompey had the right idea with what he was doing – he was keeping Caesar trapped at Pharsalus, and since Caesar had no supplies, his men were slowly starving. Whereas in Pompey’s camp, he had supplies coming in from EVERYWHERE. Hell, the senators, who had really lavish tents, set up feasts for themselves for after the battle. They weren’t exactly the most intelligent military tacticians themselves – and all they knew was that Pompey wasn’t engaging Caesar, he was keeping his authority over them, and they weren’t as comfortable as they liked being. So they ALL pressured him to attack Caesar – his troops outnumbered Caesar’s 2 to 1! Why was he not attacking? Was he a coward? Or was he keeping his power over them as long as he could? His soldiers were ALSO restless and eager to attack the enemy, and Pompey could only ride that bucking bull for so long.
In Caesar’s camp, again, the men were hungry. They were tired. They had just been routed from a battle. They were outnumbered and cut off. Not the best conditions for ANY army, really. However, they were zealous and they were desperate.
Make sure you keep those conditions in mind as I quote the speeches (as recorded by Appian) below.
Then each of the commanders assembled his soldiers and made an appeal to them. Pompey spoke as follows:
“You, my fellow soldiers, are the leaders in this task rather than the led, for while I was still desirous of wearing Caesar out by hunger you urged on this engagement. Since, therefore, you are the arbiters of the battle, conduct yourselves like those who are greatly superior in numbers. Despise the enemy as victors do the vanquished, as young men do the old, as fresh troops do those who are wearied with many toils. Fight like those who have the power and the means, and the consciousness of a good cause. We are contending for liberty and country. On our side are the laws and honourable fame, and this great number of senators and knights, against one man who has seized the government by robbery. Go forward then, as you have determined to do, with good hope, keeping in vision the flight of the enemy at Dyrrhachium, and the great number of their standards that we captured in one day when we defeated them there.”
Such was Pompey’s speech.
Okay so! Here are the points that Pompey is making to his men:
- They’re the ones who wanted to fight, not him. If they fuck up, it’s their fault because they’re not letting him be the general. A bit of a passive-aggressive statement there 😛
- Because they’re forcing this fight, don’t fuck it up. They’re twice the size of the enemy, they’re well-rested, they’re well-fed, they’re young, while Caesar’s men are tired, hungry, and old(er).
- Here’s one that sounds like the movies. “FREEDOM. FUCK YEAH.” No, seriously, that’s what he’s saying.
- You beat em once, let’s do it again!
….Okay, enough with that. On to Caesar! 😀
Caesar addressed his men as follows:
“My friends, we have already overcome our most formidable enemies, and are now about to encounter not hunger and want, but men. This day will decide everything. Remember what you promised me at Dyrrhachium. Remember how you swore to each other in my presence that you would never leave the field except as conquerors. These men, fellow soldiers, are the same that we met at the Pillars of Hercules, the same that we drove out of Italy. They are the same who sought to disband us without honors, without a triumph, without rewards, after the toils and struggles of ten years, after we had finished those great wars, after innumerable victories, and after we had added 400 nations in Spain, Gaul, and Britain to our country’s sway. I have not been able to prevail upon them by offering fair terms, nor to win them by benefits. You know that I dismissed them unharmed, hoping that we should obtain justice from them. Recall all these facts to your minds to-day, and if you have had any experience of me recall also my care for you, my good faith, and the generosity of my gifts to you.
Nor is it difficult for hardy and veteran soldiers to overcome new recruits who are without experience in war, and who, moreover, like boys, spurn the rules of discipline and of obedience to their commander. I learned that he was afraid and unwilling to come to an engagement. His star has already passed its zenith; he has become slow and hesitating in all his acts, and no longer commands, but obeys the orders of others. I say these things of his Italian forces only. As for his allies, do not think about them, pay no attention to them, do not fight with them at all. They are Syrian, Phrygian, and Lydian slaves, always ready for flight or servitude. I know very well, and you will presently see, that Pompey himself will not assign them any place in his line of battle. Give your attention to the Italians only, even though these allies are running around you like dogs trying to frighten you. When you have put the enemy to flight let us spare the Italians as being our own kindred, but slaughter the allies in order to strike terror into the others. Before all else, in order that I might know that you are mindful of your promise to choose victory or death, throw down the walls of your camp as you go out to battle and fill up the ditch, so that we may have no place of refuge if we do not conquer, and so that the enemy may see that we have no camp and know that we are compelled to occupy theirs.”
Phew. Caesar was long winded as FUCK. Lemme summarize below.
- First two words. “My friends.” That just shows HOW good he is with his men. He never EVER referred to his soldiers as anything but “comrades” or “friends.” That’s an awesome general right there. Anyways.
- You guys have already beaten the real enemies of being starved. Those guys out there are just cleanup duty.
- You guys promised me after you ran away that you would never do that again. You promised EACH OTHER that.
- We’ve beaten these guys back time and time again.
- The guys in charge of this army are the same ones who’ve tried to say that you guys are worthless, even after you spent ten years fighting for Rome. Kick them in the nuts.
- I let these guys go because I loved Rome. They’re fighting against me now. What assholes.
- I LOVE YOU GUYS <3333 (Yea, he seriously says that.)
- You guys’ve got this. Those kids over there are undisciplined idiots while you’re a buncha badasses.
- Pompey’s a pussy.
- It’s only the Italians you have to worry about. The rest of them are worthless.
- Victory or death! Break down the camp so it really IS victory or death.
Cool, huh? Needless to say, Caesar won the battle.