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Battle of Pharsalus (48 BC)

By Chris Jones

The later Roman Republic was struggling under the stresses which would soon lead to the collapse of the power of the Senate and the foundation of the Empire under Augustus. The power of individual men was becoming greater than that of the Senate and the system whereby the consuls were agents of the Senate and people was no more. A number of compromise divisions of power had been attempted. The first Triumvirate had initially seemed to be a solution, but the death of Crassus at Carrhae had ended that attempt. The factions of Julius Caesar and Pompey were just too powerful for the ailing Republic to hold under control for long.

Caesar was kept occupied for a time in his conquest of Gaul. However, the very success of this campaign and the attendant popularity, which this gave to Caesar forced the hand of Pompey, who had the advantage of being in Rome and having the control of the garrison of Rome which was the only military force allowed within the city. This had been insituted earlier during the Republic in order to stop a popular general from marching his forces close to Rome in order to threaten the Senate. Pompey resolved to turn it to his advantage. He had Caesar recalled from Gaul on a trumped up charge knowing he must travel to the city with only a small escort. Caesar was aware of Pompey's intentions and marched with his whole army. When he arrived at the small stream, the Rubicon, which marked the boundary of Rome, he knew that crossing it could make him an outcast and traitor to Rome. However, he resolutely marched on with the comment "Alea Iacta Est" or the "Die is Cast." It was Pompey who had to flee Rome, as the popular Caesar was welcomed into the city.

The Civil war had begun. The campaign continued through a series of indecisive combats until the two generals faced each other at Pharsalus in Greece for what was to be the decisive battle of the war.

The Historical Battle

Pompey had a large advantage in numbers, which was offset to some extent by the greater experience of many of Caesar's Gallic war veterans. Pompey did, however, have a significant advantage in cavalry, which he massed on the left wing to drive through Caesar's horsemen. Caesar foresaw this tactic and bolstered his cavalry by positioning eight cohorts of infantry on his right with lances and orders to advance and strike at the faces of the Patrician aristocratic horsemen. He felt that the Pompeian cavalry would flee rather than risk being disfigured.

Pompey had also ordered his infantry to await the charge of Caesar's legions at the halt hoping that Caesar's forces would become fatiqued and disordered by their long advance. However, the Caesarian legions halted halfway between the armies to rest and dress their lines. Pompey thus lost the impetus of the charge, which effectively equalised the numbers.

Pompey's cavalry under Caesar's former subordinate Titus Labenius drove back Caesar's horse and were about to outflank his forces when they were attacked by the reserve infantry and fled in disorder. Caesar's reserves now wheeled to attack the flank of Pompey's infantry and drove it back.

Pompey fled as soon as the battle turned against him, rode back to his camp. through the front gate ordering them to defend it against Caesar and then out the back gate! In his absence his army collapsed in rout. The battle effectively ended the Civil war in Caesar's favour although there were more battles still to fight. Caesar of course would still meet his Ides of March in the future at the Senate!

Simulating Pharsalus in DBA

Order of Battle

Caesarian Forces (#59) -- 1xCv, 8xBd*, 1xPs

Pompeian Forces (#59) - 2xCv, 8xBd, 2xPs

* See Special Rules.


The battlefield was mainly open. The Pompeian baseline from center to left flank should be high ground representing the slopes of Mount Dogandzis. The river Enipeus runs the width of the board (i.e. along the board edge) on the Pompeian right flank/Caesarian left flank. An area of marshy ground (bad going) at least one element wide lines the river bank between the Pompeian and Caesarian lines.


Normal DBA.

Special Rules

Caesar can resignate one Roman Bd element as Sp to reproduce the order to attack the Cv in the face. In addition, two of Caesar's Bd can be designated veteran with a +1 modifier in close combat.

Victory Conditions

Normal DBA

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Last Update: June 12, 2000

My thanks to Chris Jones for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.