The Alexandrian War by Julius Caesar
Chapter 1 When the war broke out at Alexandria, Caesar sent to Rhodes, Syria, and Cilicia, for all his fleet; and summoned archers from Crete, and cavalry from Malchus, king of the Nabatheans. He likewise ordered military engines to be provided, corn to be brought, and forces dispatched to him. Meanwhile he daily strengthened his fortifications by new works; and such parts of the town as appeared less tenable were strengthened with testudos and mantelets. Openings were made in the walls, through which the battering-rams might play; and the fortifications were extended over whatever space was covered with ruins, or taken by force. For Alexandria is in a manner secure from fire, because the houses are all built without joists or wood, and are all vaulted, and roofed with tile or pavement. Caesar's principal aim was, to inclose with works the smallest part of the town, separated from the rest by a morass toward the south: with these views, first, that as the city was divided into two parts, the army should be commanded by one general and one council; in the second place, that he might be able to succor his troops when hard pressed, and carry aid from the other part of the city. Above all, he by this means made sure of water end forage, as he was but ill provided with the one, and wholly destitute of the other. The morass, on the contrary, served abundantly to supply him with both.

Chapter 2 Nor were the Alexandrians remiss on their side, or less active in the conduct of their affairs. For they had sent deputies and commissioners into all parts, where the powers and territories of Egypt extend, to levy troops. They had carried vast quantities of darts and engines into the town, and drawn together an innumerable multitude of soldiers. Nevertheless workshops were established in every part of the city, for the making of arms. They enlisted all the slaves that were of age; and the richer citizens supplied them with food and pay. By a judicious disposition of this multitude, they guarded the fortifications in the remoter parts of the town; while they quartered the veteran cohorts, which were exempted from all other service, in the squares and open places; that on whatever side an attack should be made, they might be at hand to give relief, and march fresh to the charge. They shut up all the avenues and passes by a triple wall built of square stones, and carried to the height of forty feet. They defended the lower parts of the town by very high towers of ten stories: besides which, they had likewise contrived a kind of moving towers, which consisted of the same number of stories, and which being fitted with ropes and wheels, could, by means of horses, as the streets of Alexandria were quite even and level, be conveyed wherever their service was necessary.

Chapter 3 The city abounding in every thing, and being very rich, furnished ample materials for these several works: and as the people were extremely ingenious, and quick of apprehension, they so well copied what they saw done by us that our men seemed rather to imitate their works. They even invented many things themselves, and attacked our works, at the same time that they defended their own. Their chiefs every where represented: "That the people of Rome were endeavoring by degrees to assume the possession of Egypt; that a few years before Gabinius had come thither with an army; that Pompey had retreated to the same place in his flight; that Caesar was now among them with a considerable body of troops, nor had they gained any thing by Pompey's death; that Caesar should not prolong his stay; that if they did not find means to expel him, the kingdom would be reduced to a Roman province: and that they ought to do it at once, for he, blockaded by the storms on account of the season of the year, could receive no supplies from beyond the sea."

Chapter 4 Meanwhile, a division arising between Achillas, who commanded the veteran army, and Arsinoe, the youngest daughter of king Ptolemy, as has been mentioned above, while they mutually endeavored to supplant one another, each striving to engross the supreme authority, Arsinoe, by the assistance of the eunuch Ganymed, her governor, at length prevailed, and slew Achillas. After his death, she possessed the whole power without a rival, and raised Ganymed to the command of the army; who, on his entrance upon that high office, augmented the largesses of the troops, and with equal diligence discharged all other parts of his duty.

Chapter 5 Alexandria is almost quite hollow underneath, occasioned by the many aqueducts to the Nile, that furnish the private houses with water; where being received in cisterns, it settles by degrees, and becomes perfectly clear. The master and his family are accustomed to use this: for the water of the Nile being extremely thick and muddy, is apt to breed many distempers. The common people, however, are forced to be contented with the latter, because there is not a single spring in the whole city. The river was in that part of the town which was in the possession of the Alexandrians. By which circumstance Ganymed was reminded that our men might be deprived of water; because being distributed into several streets, for the more easy defense of the works, they made use of that which was preserved in the aqueducts and the cisterns of private houses.

Chapter 6 With this view he began a great and difficult work; for having stopped up all the canals by which his own cisterns were supplied, he drew vast quantities of water out of the sea, by the help of wheels and other engines, pouring it continually into the canals of Caesar's quarter. The cisterns in the nearest houses soon began to taste salter than ordinary, and occasioned great wonder among the men, who could not think from what cause it proceeded. They were even ready to disbelieve their senses when those who were quartered a little lower in the town assured them that they found the water the same as before. This put them upon comparing the cisterns one with another, and by trial they easily perceived the difference. But in a little time the water in the nearest houses became quite unfit for use, and that lower down grew daily more tainted and brackish.

Chapter 7 All doubt being removed by this circumstance, such a terror ensued among the troops that they fancied themselves reduced to the last extremity. Some complained of Caesar's delay, that he did not order them immediately to repair to their ships. Others dreaded a yet greater misfortune, as it would be impossible to conceal their design of retreating from the Alexandrians, who were so near them; and no less so to embark in the face of a vigorous and pursuing enemy. There were besides a great number of the townsmen in Caesar's quarter, whom he had not thought proper to force from their houses, because they openly pretended to be in his interest, and to have quitted the party of their follow-citizens. But to offer here a defense either of the sincerity or conduct of these Alexandrians, would be only labor in vain, since all who know the genius and temper of the people must be satisfied that they are the fittest instruments in the world for treason.

Chapter 8 Caesar labored to remove his soldiers' fears by encouraging and reasoning with them. For he affirmed "that they might easily find fresh water by digging wells, as all sea coasts naturally abounded with fresh springs: that if Egypt was singular in this respect, and differed from every other soil, yet still, as the sea was open, and the enemy without a fleet, there was nothing to hinder their fetching it at pleasure in their ships, either from Paraetonium on the left, or from the island on the right; and as their two voyages were in different directions, they could not be prevented by adverse winds at the same time; that a retreat was on no account to be thought of, not only by those that had a concern for their honor, but even by such as regarded nothing but life; that it was with the utmost difficulty they could defend themselves behind their works; but if they once quitted that advantage, neither in number or situation would they be a match for the enemy: that to embark would require much time, and be attended with great danger, especially where it must be managed by little boats: that the Alexandrians, on the contrary, were nimble and active, and thoroughly acquainted with the streets and buildings; that, moreover, when flushed with victory, they would not fail to run before, seize all the advantageous posts, possess themselves of the tops of the houses, and by annoying them in their retreat, effectually prevent their getting on board; that they must therefore think no more of retreating, but place all their hopes of safety in victory."

Chapter 9 Having by this speech re-assured his men, he ordered the centurions to lay aside all other works, and apply themselves day and night to the digging of wells. The work once begun, and the minds of all aroused to exertion, they exerted themselves so vigorously that in the very first night abundance of fresh water was found. Thus, with no great labor on our side, the mighty projects and painful attempts of the Alexandrians were entirely frustrated. Within these two days the thirty-seventh legion, composed of Pompey's veterans that had surrendered to Caesar, embarking by order of Domitius Calvinus, with arms, darts, provisions, and military engines, arrived upon the coast of Africa, a little above Alexandria. These ships were hindered from gaining the port by an easterly wind, which continued to blow for several days; but all along that coast it is very safe to ride at anchor. Being detained, however, longer than they expected, and distressed by want of water, they gave notice of it to Caesar, by a dispatch sloop.

Chapter 10 Caesar, that he might himself be able to determine what was best to be done, went on board one of the ships in the harbor, and ordered the whole fleet to follow. He took none of the land forces with him, because he was unwilling to leave the works unguarded during his absence. Being arrived at that part of the coast known by the name of Chersonesus, he sent some mariners on shore to fetch water. Some of these venturing too far into the country for the sake of plunder, were intercepted by the enemy's horse. From them the Egyptians learned that Caesar himself was on board, without any soldiers. Upon this information, they thought fortune had thrown in their way a good opportunity of attempting something with success. They therefore manned all the ships that they had ready for sea, and met Caesar on his return. He declined fighting that day, for two reasons, first, because he had no soldiers on board, and secondly, because it was past four in the afternoon. The night, he was sensible, must be highly advantageous to his enemies, who depended on their knowledge of the coast, while he would be deprived of the benefit of encouraging his men, which could not be done with any effect in the dark, where courage and cowardice must remain equally unknown. Caesar, therefore, drew all his ships toward the shore, where he imagined the enemy would not follow him.

Chapter 11 There was one Rhodian galley in Caesar's right wing, considerably distant from the rest. The enemy observing this, could not restrain themselves, but came forward with four-decked ships, and several open barks, to attack her. Caesar was obliged to advance to her relief, that he might not suffer the disgrace of seeing one of his galleys sunk before his eyes though, had he left her to perish, he judged that she deserved it for her rashness. The attack was sustained with great courage by the Rhodians, who, though at all times distinguished by their valor and experience in engagements at sea yet exerted themselves in a particular manner on this occasion, that they might not draw upon themselves the charge of having occasioned a misfortune to the fleet. Accordingly they obtained a complete victory, took one four-banked galley, sunk another, disabled a third, and slew all that were on board, besides a great number of the combatants belonging to the other ships. Nay, had not night interposed, Caesar would have made himself master of their whole fleet. During the consternation that followed upon this defeat, Caesar, finding the contrary winds to abate, took the transports in tow, and advanced with the victorious fleet to Alexandria.

Chapter 12 The Alexandrians, disheartened at this loss, since they found themselves now worsted, not by the superior valor of the soldiers, but by the skill and ability of the mariners, retired to the tops of their houses, and blocked up the entrances of their streets, as if they feared our fleet might attack them even by land. But soon after, Ganymed assuring them in council, that he would not only restore the vessels they had lost, but even increase their number, they began to repair their old ships with great expectation and confidence, and resolved to apply more than ever to the putting their fleet in a good condition. And although they had lost above a hundred and ten ships in the port and arsenal, yet they did not relinquish the idea of repairing their fleet; because, by making themselves masters of the sea, they saw they would have it in their power to hinder Caesar's receiving any reinforcements or supplies. Besides, being mariners, born upon the sea-coast, and exercised from their infancy in naval affairs, they were desirous to return to that wherein their true and proper strength lay, remembering the advantages they had formerly gained, even with their little ships. They therefore applied themselves with all diligence to the equipping a fleet.

Chapter 13 Vessels were stationed at all the mouths of the Nile; for receiving and gathering in the customs. Several old ships were likewise lodged in the king's private arsenals which had not put to sea for many years. These last they refitted, and recalled the former to Alexandria. Oars were wanting; they uncovered the porticos, academies, and public buildings, and made use of the planks they furnished for oars. Their natural ingenuity, and the abundance of all things to be met with in the city, supplied every want. In fine, they had no long navigation to provide for, and were only solicitous about present exigences, foreseeing they would have no occasion to fight but in the port. In a few days, therefore, contrary to all expectation, they had fitted out twenty-two quadriremes, and five quinqueremes. To these they added a great number of small open barks; and after testing the efficiency of each in the harbor, put a sufficient number of soldiers on board, and prepared every thing necessary for an engagement. Caesar had nine Rhodian galleys (for of the ten which were sent, one was shipwrecked on the coast of Egypt), eight from Pontus, five from Lycia, and twelve from Asia. Of these, ten were quadriremes, and five quinqueremes; the rest were smaller, and for the most part without decks. Yet, trusting to the valor of his soldiers, and being acquainted with the strength of the enemy, he prepared for an engagement.

Chapter 14 When both sides were come to have sufficient confidence in their own strength, Caesar sailed round Pharos, and formed in line of battle opposite to the enemy. He placed the Rhodian galleys on his right wing, and those of Pontus on his left. Between these he left a space of four hundred paces, to allow for extending and working the vessels. This disposition being made, he drew up the rest of the fleet as a reserve, giving them the necessary orders, and distributing them in such a manner that every ship followed that to which she was appointed to give succor. The Alexandrians brought out their fleet with great confidence, and drew it up, placing their twenty-two quadriremes in front, and disposing the rest behind them in a second line, by way of reserve. They had besides a great number of boats and smaller vessels, which carried fire and combustibles, with the intention of intimidating us by their number, cries, and flaming darts. Between the two fleets were certain flats, separated by very narrow channels, and which are said to be on the African coast, as being in that division of Alexandria which belongs to Africa. Both sides waited which should first pass these shallows, because whoever entered the narrow channels between them, in case of any misfortune, would be impeded both in retreating and working their ships to advantage.

Chapter 15 Euphranor commanded the Rhodian fleet, who for valor and greatness of mind deserved to be ranked among our own men rather than the Grecians. The Rhodians had raised him to the post of admiral, on account of his known courage and experience. He, perceiving Caesar's design, addressed him to this effect: "You seem afraid of passing the shallow first, lest you should be thereby forced to come to an engagement, before you can bring up the rest of the fleet. Leave the matter to us; we will sustain the fight (and we will not disappoint your expectations), until the whole fleet gets clear of the shallows. It is both dishonorable and afflicting that they should so long continue in our sight with an air of triumph." Caesar, encouraging him in his design, and bestowing many praises upon him, gave the signal for engaging. Four Rhodian ships having passed the shallows, the Alexandrians gathered round and attacked them. They maintained the fight with great courage, disengaging themselves by their art and address, and working their ships with so much skill, that notwithstanding the inequality of number, none of the enemy were suffered to run alongside, or break their oars. Meantime the rest of the fleet came up; when, on account of the narrowness of the place, art became useless, and the contest depended entirely upon valor. Nor was there at Alexandria a single Roman or citizen who remained engaged in the attack or defense, but mounted the tops of the houses and all the eminences that would give a view of the fight, addressing the gods by vows and prayers for victory.

Chapter 16 The event of the battle was by no means equal; a defeat would have deprived us of all resources either by land or sea; and even if we were victorious, the future would be uncertain. The Alexandrians, on the contrary, by a victory gained every thing; and if defeated, might yet again have recourse to fortune. It was likewise a matter of the highest concern to see the safety of all depend upon a few, of whom, if any were deficient in resolution and energy, they would expose their whole party to destruction. This Caesar had often represented to his troops during the preceding days, that they might be thereby induced to fight with the more resolution, when they knew the common safety to depend upon their bravery. Every man said the same to his comrade, companion, and friend, beseeching him not to disappoint the expectation of those who had chosen him in preference to others for the defense of the common interest. Accordingly, they fought with so much resolution, that neither the art nor address of the Egyptians, a maritime and seafaring people, could avail them, nor the multitude of their ships be of service to them; nor the valor of those selected for this engagement be compared to the determined courage of the Romans. In this action a quinquereme was taken, and a bireme, with all the soldiers and mariners on board, besides three sunk, without any loss on our side. The rest fled toward the town, and protecting their ships under the mole and forts, prevented us from approaching.

Chapter 17 To deprive the enemy of this resource for the future, Caesar thought it by all means necessary to render himself master of the mole and island; for having already in a great measure completed his works within the town, he was in hopes of being able to defend himself both in the island and city. This resolution being taken, he put into boats and small vessels ten cohorts, a select body of light-armed infantry, and such of the Gallic cavalry as he thought fittest for his purpose, and sent them against the island; while, at the same time, to create a diversion, he attacked it on the other with his fleet, promising great rewards to those who should first render themselves masters of it. At first, the enemy firmly withstood the impetuosity of our men; for they both annoyed them from the tops of the houses, and gallantly maintained their ground along the shore; to which being steep and craggy, our men could find no way of approach; the more accessible avenues being skillfully defended by small boats, and five galleys, prudently stationed for that purpose. But when after examining the approaches, and sounding the shallows, a few of our men got a footing upon the shore, and were followed by others, who pushed the islanders, without intermission; the Pharians at last betook themselves to flight. On their defeat, the rest abandoning the defense of the port, quitted their ships, and retired into the town, to provide for the security of their houses

Chapter 18 But they could not long maintain their ground there: though, to compare small things with great, their buildings were not unlike those of Alexandria, and their towers were high, and joined together so as to form a kind of wall; and our men had not come prepared with ladders, fascines, or any weapons for assault. But fear often deprives men of intellect and counsel, and weakens their strength, as happened upon this occasion. Those who had ventured to oppose us on even ground, terrified by the loss of a few men, and the general rout, durst not face us from a height of thirty feet; but throwing themselves from the mole into the sea, endeavored to gain the town, though above eight hundred paces distant. Many however were slain, and about six hundred taken.

Chapter 19 Caesar, giving up the plunder to the soldiers, ordered the houses to be demolished, but fortified the castle at the end of the bridge next the island, and placed a garrison in it. This the Pharians had abandoned; but the other, toward the town, which was considerably stronger, was still held by the Alexandrians. Caesar attacked it next day; because by getting possession of these two forts, he would be entirely master of the port, and prevent sudden excursions and piracies. Already he had, by means of his arrows and engines, forced the garrison to abandon the place, and retire toward the town. He had also landed three cohorts which was all the place would contain; the rest of his troops were stationed in their ships. This being done, he orders them to fortify the bridge against the enemy, and to fill with stones and block up the arch on which the bridge was built, through which there was egress for the ships. When one of these works was accomplished so effectually, that no boat could pass out at all, and when the other was commenced, the Alexandrians sallied, in crowds from the town, and drew up in an open place, over against the intrenchment we had cast up at the head of the bridge. At the same time they stationed at the mole the vessels which they had been wont to make pass under the bridge, to set fire to our ships of burden. Our men fought from the bridge and the mole; the enemy from the space, opposite to the bridge, and from their ships, by the side of the mole.

Chapter 20 While Caesar was engaged in these things, and in exhorting his troops, a number of rowers and mariners, quitting their ships, threw themselves upon the mole, partly out of curiosity, partly to have a share in the action. At first, with stones and slings, they forced the enemy's ships from the mole; and seemed to do still greater execution with their darts. But when, some time after, a few Alexandrians found means to land, and attack them in flank, as they had left their ships without order or discipline, so they soon began to flee, with precipitation. The Alexandrians, encouraged by this success, landed in great numbers, and vigorously pressed upon our men, who were, by this time, in great confusion. Those that remained in the galleys perceiving this, drew up the ladders and put off from the shore, to prevent the enemy's boarding them. Our soldiers who belonged to the three cohorts, which were at the head of the mole to guard the bridge, astonished at this disorder, the cries they heard behind them, and the general rout of their party, unable besides to bear up against the great number of darts which came pouring upon them, and fearing to be surrounded, and have their retreat cut off, by the departure of their ships, abandoned the fortifications which they had commenced at the bridge, and ran, with all the speed they could, toward the galleys: some getting on board the nearest vessels, overloaded and sank them: part, resisting the enemy, and uncertain what course to take, were cut to pieces by the Alexandrians. Others, more fortunate, got to the ships that rode at anchor; and a few, supported by their bucklers, making a determined struggle, swam to the nearest vessels.

Chapter 21 Caesar, endeavoring to re-animate his men, and lead them back to the defense of the works, was exposed to the same danger as the rest; when, finding them universally to give ground, he retreated to his own galley, whither such a multitude followed and crowded after him, that it was impossible either to work or put her off. Foreseeing what must happen, he flung himself into the sea, and swam to the ships that lay at some distance. Hence dispatching boats to succor his men, he, by that means, preserved a small number. His own ship, being sunk by the multitude that crowded into her, went down with all that were on board. About four hundred legionary soldiers, and somewhat above that number of sailors and rowers, were lost in this action. The Alexandrians secured the fort by strong works, and a great number of engines; and having cleared away the stones with which Caesar had blocked up the port, enjoyed henceforward a free and open navigation.

Chapter 22 Our men were so far from being disheartened at this loss, that they seemed rather roused and animated by it. They made continual sallies upon the enemy, to destroy or check the progress of their works; fell upon them as often as they had an opportunity; and never failed to intercept them, when they ventured to advance beyond their fortifications. In short, the legions were so bent upon fighting, that they even exceeded the orders and exhortations of Caesar. They were inconsolable for their late disgrace, and impatient to come to blows with the enemy; insomuch, that he found it necessary rather to restrain and check their ardor, than incite them to action.

Chapter 23 The Alexandrians, perceiving that success confirmed the Romans, and that adverse fortune only animated them the more, as they knew of no medium between these on which to ground any further hopes, resolved, as far as we can conjecture, either by the advice of the friends of their king who were in Caesar's quarter, or of their own previous design, intimated to the king by secret emissaries, to send embassadors to Caesar to request him, "To dismiss their king and suffer him to rejoin his subjects; that the people, weary of subjection to a woman, of living under a precarious government, and submitting to the cruel laws of the tyrant Ganymed, were ready to execute the orders of the king: and if by his sanction they should embrace the alliance and protection of Caesar, the multitude would not be deterred from surrendering by the fear of danger."

Chapter 24 Though Caesar knew the nation to be false and perfidious, seldom speaking as they really thought, yet he judged it best to comply with their desire. He even flattered himself, that his condescension in sending back their king at their request, would prevail on them to be faithful; or, as was more agreeable to their character, if they only wanted the king to head their army, at least it would be more for his honor and credit to have to do with a monarch than with a band of slaves and fugitives. Accordingly, he exhorted the king, "To take the government into his own hands, and consult the welfare of so fair and illustrious a kingdom, defaced by hideous ruins and conflagrations. To make his subjects sensible of their duty, preserve them from the destruction that threatened them, and act with fidelity toward himself and the Romans, who put so much confidence in him, as to send him among armed enemies." Then taking him by the hand, he dismissed the young prince who was fast approaching manhood. But his mind being thoroughly versed in the art of dissimulation, and no way degenerating from the character of his nation, he entreated Caesar with tears not to send him back; for that his company was to him preferable to a kingdom. Caesar, moved at his concern, dried up his tears; and telling him, if these were his real sentiments, they would soon meet again, dismissed him. The king, like a wild beast escaped out of confinement, carried on the war with such acrimony against Caesar, that the tears he shed at parting seemed to have been tears of joy. Caesar's lieutenants, friends, centurions, and soldiers, were delighted that this had happened; because his easiness of temper had been imposed upon by a child: as if in truth Caesar's behavior on this occasion had been the effect of easiness of temper, and not of the most consummate prudence.

Chapter 25 When the Alexandrians found that on the recovery of their king, neither had they become stronger, nor the Romans weaker; that the troops despised the youth and weakness of their king; and that their affairs were in no way bettered by his presence: they were greatly discouraged; and a report ran that a large body of troops was marching by land from Syria and Cilicia to Caesar's assistance (of which he had not as yet himself received information); still they determined to intercept the convoys that came to him by sea. To this end, having equipped some ships, they ordered them to cruise before the Canopic branch of the Nile, by which they thought it most likely our supplies would arrive. Caesar, who was informed of it, ordered his fleet to get ready, and gave the command of it to Tiberius Nero. The Rhodian galleys made part of this squadron, headed by Euphranor their admiral, without whom there never was a successful engagement fought. But fortune, which often reserves the heaviest disasters for those who have been loaded with her highest favors, encountered Euphranor upon this occasion, with an aspect very different from what she had hitherto worn. For when our ships were arrived at Canopus, and the fleets drawn up on each side had begun the engagement, Euphranor, according to custom, having made the first attack, and pierced and sunk one of the enemy's ships; as he pursued the next a considerable way, without being sufficiently supported by those that followed him, he was surrounded by the Alexandrians. None of the fleet advanced to his relief, either out of fear for their own safety, or because they imagined he would easily be able to extricate himself by his courage and good fortune. Accordingly he alone behaved well in this action, and perished with his victorious galley.

Chapter 26 About the same time Mithridates of Pergamus, a man of illustrious descent, distinguished for his bravery and knowledge of the art of war, and who held a very high place in the friendship and confidence of Caesar, having been sent in the beginning of the Alexandrian war, to raise succors in Syria and Cilicia, arrived by land at the head of a great body of troops, which his diligence, and the affection of these two provinces, had enabled him to draw together in a very short time. He conducted them first to Pelusium, where Egypt joins Syria. Achillas, who was perfectly well acquainted with its importance, had seized and put a strong garrison into it. For Egypt is considered as defended on all sides by strong barriers; on the side of the sea by the Pharos, and on the side of Syria by Pelusium, which are accounted the two keys of that kingdom. He attacked it so briskly with a large body of troops, fresh men continually succeeding in the place of those that were fatigued, and urged the assault with so much firmness and perseverance, that he carried it the same day on which he attacked it, and placed a garrison in it. Thence he pursued his march to Alexandria, reducing all the provinces through which he passed, and conciliating them to Caesar, by that authority which always accompanies the conqueror.
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