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The Battle of Philippi


Roman legionary standard. Reenactment group XXX Traiana Ulpia Traiana Victrix (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering. Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) is the author of a Roman History and one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians. His history of the Roman Civil Wars survives in its entirety. The fourth book, section 105-138, contains an excellent account of the double battle of Philippi. The translation was made by Horace White; notes and additions in green by Jona Lendering. A satellite photo of the town and its plain can be seen here.
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[§110] When Antony saw this about noon, instantly, with rage and fury, he turned his own army, which was facing in another direction, and led it against the cross-fortification of Cassius between his camp and the marsh. He carried tools and ladders intending to take it by storm and force his way into Cassius' camp.

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The first battle of Philipp. Design Jona Lendering.
The first battle of Philippi

While he was making this audacious charge, obliquely and up hill, across the space that separated the two armies, the soldiers of Brutus were provoked at the insolence of the enemy in dashing boldly athwart their front while they stood there armed. So they charged on their own account, without any order from their officers, and killed with much slaughter (as natural in a flank attack) all they came up with. The battle once begun they charged upon the army of Octavian, also, which was drawn up opposite, put it to flight, pursued it to the camp which Antony and Octavian had in common, and captured it. Octavian himself was not there, having been warned in a dream to beware of that day, as he has himself written in his Memoirs.

The plain of Philippi, seen from the site where Octavian's men stood. Photo Jona Lendering.The plain of Philippi, seen from the site where Octavian's men stood. 
[§111] When Antony saw that battle was joined he was delighted because he had forced it, for he had been in trouble about his supplies he judged it inadvisable to turn again toward the plain, lest in making the evolution his ranks should be thrown into disorder. So he continued his charge, as he had begun it, on the run, and advanced under a shower of missiles, and forced his way till he struck the troop of Cassius which had not moved from its assigned position and which was amazed at this unexpected audacity. He courageously broke this advance guard and dashed against the fortification that ran between the marsh and the camp, demolished the palisade, filled up the ditch, undermined the works, and killed the men at the gates, disregarding the missiles hurled from the wall, until he had forced an entrance through the gates, and others had made breaches in the fortification, and still others had climbed up on the débris. All this was done so swiftly that those who had just now captured the fortification met Cassius' men, who had been at work in the marsh, coming to the assistance of their friends, and, with a powerful charge, put them to flight, drove them into the marsh, and then at once wheeled against the camp of Cassius itself. These were only the men who had scaled the fortification with Antony, the remainder being engaged in conflict with the enemy on the other side of the wall.

Bust of Marc Antony. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest (Hungary). Photo Jona Lendering.
Marc Antony (Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest)

[§112]
As the camp was in a strong position it was guarded by only a few men, for which reason Antony easily overcame them. Cassius' soldiers outside the camp were already being beaten, and when they saw that the camp was taken they scattered in disorderly flight. The victory was complete and alike on either side, Brutus defeating the enemy's left wing and taking their camp, while Antony overcame Cassius and ravaged his camp with irresistible courage. There was great slaughter on both sides, but by reason of the extent of the plain and the clouds of dust they were ignorant of each other's fate. When they learned the facts they recalled their scattered forces. Those who returned resembled porters rather than soldiers, and did not at once perceive each other nor see anything clearly. Otherwise either party would have flung down their burdens and fiercely attacked the others carrying off plunder in this disorderly fashion. According to conjecture the number of killed on the side of Cassius, including slave shield-bearers, was about 9,000, and on the side of Octavian double that number.

[§113] When Cassius was driven out of his fortifications and no longer had even a camp to go to, he hurried up the hill to Philippi and took a survey of the situation. As he could not see accurately on account of the dust, nor could he see everything, but only that his own camp was captured, he ordered Pindarus, his shield-bearer, to fall upon him and kill him. While Pindarus still delayed a messenger ran up and said that Brutus had been victorious on the other wing, and was ravaging the enemy's camp. Cassius merely answered, "Tell him that I pray his victory may be complete." Then, turning to Pindarus, he said, "What are you waiting for? Why do you not deliver me from my shame?" Then, as he presented his throat, Pindarus slew him.

This is one account of the death of Cassius. Others say that as some horsemen were approaching, bringing the good news from Brutus, he took them for enemies and sent Titinius to find out exactly; that the horsemen pressed around Titinius joyfully as a friend of Cassius, and at the same time uttered loud hurrahs; that Cassius, thinking that Titinius had fallen into the hands of enemies, said, "Have I waited to see my friend torn from me?" and that he withdrew to a tent with Pindarus, and Pindarus was never seen afterward. For this reason some persons think that he killed Cassius without orders.

Thus Cassius ended his life on his birthday, on which, as it happened, the battle was fought, and Titinius killed himself because he had been too late.


Gold piece showing the portrait of Brutus.
Brutus (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien)

[§114] Brutus wept over the dead body of Cassius and called him the last of the Romans, meaning that his equal in virtue would never exist again. He reproached him for haste and precipitancy, but at the same time he esteemed him happy because he was freed from cares and troubles, "which," he said, "are leading Brutus, whither, ah, whither?"

He delivered the corpse to friends to be buried secretly lest the army should be moved to tears at the sight; and himself passed the whole night, without food and without care for his own person, restoring order in Cassius' army. In the morning the enemy drew up their army in order of battle, so that they might not seem to have been beaten. Brutus, perceiving their design, exclaimed, "Let us arm also and make believe that we have suffered defeat." So he put his forces in line, and the enemy withdrew. Brutus said to his friends, jestingly, "They challenged us when they thought we were tired out, but they dared not put us to the test." 

[The story is interrupted by a description of a naval engagement in the Adriatic Sea.]



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Online 2005
Revision: 22 Dec. 2007
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