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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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[§121] Marc Antony marshalled his men again on the following day. As the enemy would not come down even then, he was disgusted, but he continued to lead out his men daily. Brutus had a part of his army in line lest he should be compelled to fight; and with another part he guarded the road by which his supplies were conveyed. 

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

There was a hill very near the camp of Cassius, which it was difficult for an enemy to occupy, because by reason of its nearness, it was exposed to arrows from the camp. Nevertheless, Cassius had placed a guard on it, lest any one should make bold to attack it. As it had been abandoned by Brutus, the army of Octavian occupied it by night with four legions and protected themselves with wickerwork and hides against the enemy's bowmen. When this position was secured they transferred ten other legions a distance of more than a kilometer toward the sea. 750 meter farther they placed two legions, in order to extend themselves in this manner quite to the sea, with a view of breaking through the enemy's line either along the sea itself, or through the marsh, or in some other way, and to cut off their supplies. Brutus counteracted this movement by building fortified posts opposite their camps and in other ways.
The wetlands, seen from the southwest, now partly drained. Photo Jona Lendering.
The wetlands, seen from the southwest, now partly drained. Photo Jona Lendering.

[§122] The task of Octavian and Antony became pressing, hunger was already felt, and in view of the magnitude of the coming famine the fear of it grew upon them more and more each day, for Thessaly could no longer furnish sufficient supplies, nor could they hope for anything from the sea, which was commanded by the enemy everywhere. News of their recent disaster in the Adriatic having now reached both armies, it caused them fresh alarm, as also did the approach of winter while they were quartered in this muddy plain. Moved by these considerations they sent a legion of troops to Achaea at once to collect all the food they could find and send it to them in haste. As they could not rest under so great an impending danger, and as their other artifices were of no avail, they ceased offering battle in the plain and advanced with shouts to the enemy's fortifications, and challenged Brutus to fight, reviling and scoffing at him, intending not so much to besiege him as by a mad assault to force him to an engagement.
Gold piece showing the portrait of Brutus.
Brutus (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien)

[§123] But Brutus adhered to his original intention, and all the more because he knew of the famine and of his own success in the Adriatic, and of the enemy's desperation for want of supplies. He preferred to endure a siege, or anything else rather than come to an engagement with men desperate for hunger, and whose hopes rested solely on fighting because they despaired of every other resource. His soldiers, however, without reflection, entertained a different opinion. They took it hard that they should be shut up, idle and cowardly, like women, within their fortifications. Their officers also, although they approved of Brutus' design, were vexed, thinking that in the present temper of the army they might overpower the enemy more quickly. Brutus himself was the cause of these murmurs, being of a gentle and kindly disposition toward all - not like Cassius, who had been austere and imperious in every way, for which reason the army obeyed his orders promptly, not interfering with his authority, and not criticising them when they had learned them. But in the case of Brutus they expected nothing else than to share the command with him on account of his mildness of temper. Finally, the soldiers began more and more openly to collect together in companies and groups and to ask each other, "Why does our general put a stigma upon us? How have we offended lately - we who conquered the enemy and put him to flight; we who slaughtered those opposed to us and took their camp?" Brutus took no notice of these murmurs, nor did he call an assembly, lest he should be forced from his position, contrary to his dignity, by the unreasoning multitude, and especially by the mercenaries, who, like fickle slaves seeking new masters, always rest their hopes of safety on desertion to the enemy.


[§124] His officers also kept irritating him and urging him to make use of the eagerness of the army now, which would speedily bring glorious results. If the battle should turn out adversely, they could fall back to their walls and put the same fortifications between themselves and the enemy. Brutus was especially vexed with these, for they were his officers, and he grieved that they, who were exposed to the same peril as himself, should capriciously side with the soldiers in preferring a quick and doubtful chance to a victory without danger; but, to the ruin of himself and them, he yielded, chiding them with these words, "I seem likely to carry on war like Pompey the Great, not so much commanding now as commanded."

I think that Brutus restricted himself to these words in order to conceal his greatest fear, lest those of his soldiers who had formerly served under Caesar should become disaffected and desert to the enemy. This both himself and Cassius had suspected from the beginning, and they had been careful not to give any excuse for such disaffection toward themselves.

[§125] So Brutus led out his army unwillingly and formed them in line of battle before his walls, ordering them not to advance very far from the hill so that they might have a safe retreat if necessary and a good position for hurling darts at the enemy. In each army the men exchanged exhortations with each other. There was great eagerness for battle, and exaggerated confidence. On the one side was the fear of famine, on the other a proper shame that they had constrained their general to fight when he still favoured delay, and fear lest they should come short of their promises and prove weaker than their boastings, and expose themselves to the charge of rashness instead of winning praise for good counsel, and because Brutus also, riding through the ranks on horseback, showed himself before them with a solemn countenance and reminded them of these things in such words as the opportunity offered. "You have chosen to fight," he said; "you have forced me to battle when I could conquer otherwise. Do not falsify my hopes or your own. You have the advantage of the higher ground and everything safe in your rear. The enemy's position is the one of peril because he lies between you and famine."

With these words he passed on, the soldiers telling him to trust them and echoing his words with shouts of confidence.

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Online 2005
Revision: 22 Dec. 2007
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