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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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[§126] Octavian and Antony rode through their own ranks shaking hands with those nearest them, urging them even more solemnly to do their duty and not concealing the danger of famine, because they believed that that would be an opportune incitement to bravery. "Soldiers," they said, "we have found the enemy. We have before us those whom we sought to catch outside of their fortifications. Let none of you shame his own challenge or prove unequal to his own threat. Let no one prefer hunger, that unmanageable and distressing evil, to the walls and bodies of the enemy, which yield to bravery, to the sword, to despair. Our situation at this moment is so pressing that nothing can be postponed till tomorrow, but this very day must decide for us either a complete victory or an honourable death. If you conquer you gain in one day and by one blow provisions, money, ships, and camps, and the prizes of victory offered by ourselves. Such will be the result if, from our first onset upon them, we are mindful of the necessities urging us on and if, after breaking their ranks, we immediately cut them off from their gates and drive them upon the rocks or into the plain, so that the war may not spring up again or these enemies get away for another period of idleness - the only warriors, surely, who are so weak as to rest their hopes, not on fighting, but on declining to fight."

[§127] In this way Octavian and Antony roused the spirit of those with whom they came in contact. The emulation of the troops was excited to show themselves worthy of their commanders and also to escape the danger of famine, which had been greatly augmented by the naval disaster in the Adriatic. They preferred, if necessary, to suffer in battle, with the hope of success, rather than be wasted by an irresistible foe.

Inspired by these thoughts, which each man exchanged with his neighbour, the spirit of the two armies was wonderfully raised and both were filled with undaunted courage. They did not now remember that they were fellow-citizens of their enemies, but hurled threats at each other as though they had been enemies by birth and descent, so much did the anger of the moment extinguish reason and nature in them. Both sides divined equally that this day and this battle would decide the fate of Rome completely; and so indeed it did.

[§128] The day was consumed in preparations till the ninth hour, when two eagles fell upon each other and fought in the space between the armies, amid the profoundest silence. When the one on the side of Brutus took flight his enemies raised a great shout and battle was joined. The onset was superb and terrible. They had little need of arrows, stones, or javelins, which are customary in war, for they did not resort to the usual manoeuvres and tactics of battles, but, coming to close combat with naked swords, they slew and were slain, seeking to break each other's ranks. On the one side it was a fight for self-preservation rather than victory: on the other for victory and for the satisfaction of the general who had been forced to fight against his will. The slaughter and the groans were terrible. The bodies of the fallen were carried back and others stepped into their places from the reserves. The generals flew hither and thither overlooking everything, exciting the men by their ardour, exhorting the toilers to toil on, and relieving those who were exhausted so that there was always fresh courage at the front., the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Bust of Augustus as high priest. Museo Nacional de Arte Romano, Mérida (Spain). Photo Marco Prins.
Bust of Octavian/Augustus as high priest. Museo Nacional de Arte Romano, Mérida.

Finally, the soldiers of Octavian, either from fear of famine, or by the good fortune of Octavian himself (for certainly the soldiers of Brutus were not blameworthy), pushed back the enemy's line as though they were turning round a very heavy machine. The latter were driven back step by step, slowly at first and without loss of courage. Presently their ranks broke and they retreated more rapidly, and then the second and third ranks in the rear retreated with them, all mingled together in disorder, crowded by each other and by the enemy, who pressed upon them without ceasing until it became plainly a flight. The soldiers of Octavian, then especially mindful of the order they had received, seized the gates of the enemy's fortification at great risk to themselves because they were exposed to missiles from above and in front, but they prevented a great many of the enemy from gaining entrance. These fled, some to the sea, and some through the river Zygactes to the mountains.
The second battle of Philipp. Design Jona Lendering.
The second battle of Philippi

The enemy having been routed, the generals divided the remainder of the work between themselves, Octavian to capture those who should break out of the camp and to watch the main camp, while Antony was everything, and attacked everywhere, falling upon the fugitives and those who still held together, and upon their other camping-places, crushing all alike with vehement impetuosity. Fearing lest the leaders should escape him and collect another army, he despatched cavalry upon the roads and outlets of the field of battle to capture those who were trying to escape. These divided their work; some of them hurried up the mountain with Rhascus, the Thracian, who was sent with them on account of his knowledge of the roads. They surrounded the fortified positions and escarpments, hunted down the fugitives, and kept watch upon those inside. Others pursued Brutus himself. Lucilius seeing them rushing on furiously surrendered himself, pretending to be Brutus, and asked them to take him to Antony instead of Octavian; for which reason chiefly he was believed to be Brutus trying to avoid his implacable enemy. When Antony heard that they were bringing him, he went to meet him, with a pause to reflect on the fortune, the dignity, and the virtue of the man, and thinking how he should receive Brutus. As he was approaching, Lucilius presented himself, and said with perfect boldness, "You have not captured Brutus, nor will virtue ever be taken prisoner by baseness. I deceived these men and so here I am." Antony, observing that the horsemen were ashamed of their mistake, consoled them, saying, "The game you have caught for me is not worse, but better than you think - as much better as a friend is than an enemy." Then he committed Lucilius to the care of one of his friends, and later took him into his own service and employed him in a confidential capacity.

[§130]  Brutus fled to the mountains with a considerable force, intending to return to his camp by night, or to move down to the sea. But since all the roads were encompassed by guards he passed the night under arms with all his party, and it is said that, looking up to the stars, he exclaimed:

"Forget not, Zeus, the author of these ills"
referring to Antony. It is said that Antony himself repeated this saying at a later period in the midst of his own dangers, regretting that when he might have associated himself with Cassius and Brutus, he had become the tool of Octavian. At the present time, however, Antony passed the night under arms with his outposts over against Brutus, fortifying himself with a breastwork of dead bodies and spoils collected together. Octavius toiled til midnight and then retired on account of his illness, leaving Norbanus to watch the enemy's camp.
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Online 2005
Revision: 22 Dec. 2007
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