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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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[131] On the following day Brutus, seeing the enemy still lying in wait for him, and having fewer than four full legions, which had ascended the mountain with him, thought it best not to address himself to his troops, but to their officers, who were ashamed and repentant of their fault. To them he sent to put them to the test and to learn whether they were willing to break through the enemy's lines and regain their own camp, which was still held by their troops who had been left there. These officers, though they had rushed to battle unadvisedly, had been of good courage for the most part, but now, for some divine infatuation was already upon them, gave to their general the undeserved answer that he should look out for himself, that they had tempted fortune many times, and that they would not throw away the last remaining hope of accommodation. Then Brutus said to his friends, "I am no longer useful to my country if such is the temper of these men," and calling Strato, the Epirote, who was one of his friends, gave him the order to stab him. While Strato still urged him to deliberate, Brutus called one of his servants. Then Strato said, "Your friend shall not come short of your servants in executing your last commands, if the decision is actually reached." With these words he thrust his sword into the side of Brutus, who did not shrink or turn away., the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Bust of Julius Caesar. Musei Vaticani, Roma (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering.
Julius Caesar
(Musei Vaticani, Rome)

So died Cassius and Brutus, two most noble and illustrious Romans, and of incomparable virtue, but for one crime; for although they belonged to the party of Pompey the Great, and had been the enemies, in peace and in war, of Gaius Julius Caesar, he made them his friends, and from being friends he was treating them as sons. The Senate at all times had a peculiar attachment to them, and commiseration for them when they fell into misfortune. On account of those two it granted amnesty to all the assassins, and when they took flight it bestowed governorships on them in order that they should not be exiles; not that it was disregardful of Gaius Caesar or rejoiced at what had happened to him, for it admired his bravery and good fortune, gave him a public funeral at his death, ratified his acts, and had for a long time awarded the magistracies and governorships to his nominees, considering that nothing better could be devised than what he proposed. But its zeal for these two men and its solicitude for them brought it under suspicion of complicity in the assassination - so much were those two held in honour by all. By the most illustrious of the exiles they were more honoured than Sextus Pompeius, although he was nearer and not irreconcilable to the triumvirs, while they were farther away and irreconcilable.

When it became necessary for them to take up arms, two whole years had not elapsed ere they had brought together upward of twenty legions of infantry and something like 20,000 cavalry, and 200 ships of war, with corresponding apparatus and a vast amount of money, some of it from willing and some from unwilling contributors. They carried on wars with many peoples and with cities and with men of the adverse faction successfully. They brought under their sway all the nations from Macedonia to the Euphrates. Those whom they had fought against they had brought into alliance with them and had found them most faithful. They had had the services of the independent kings and princes, and in some small measure even of the Parthians, who were enemies of the Romans; but they did not wait for them to come and take part in the decisive battle, lest this barbarous and hostile race should become accustomed to encounters with the Romans.

Most extraordinary of all was the fact that the greater part of their army had been the soldiers of Gaius Caesar and wonderfully attached to him, yet they were won over by the very murderers of Caesar and followed them more faithfully against Caesar's son than they had followed Antony, who was Caesar's companion in arms and colleague; for not one of them deserted Brutus and Cassius even when they were vanquished while some of them had abandoned Antony at Brundusium before the war began. The reason for their service, both under Pompey aforetime and now under Brutus and Cassius, was not their own interest, but the cause of democracy; a specious name indeed, but always hurtful. Both of the leaders, when they thought they could no longer be useful to their country, alike despised their own lives. In that which related to their cares and labours Cassius gave his attention strictly to war, like a gladiator to his antagonist. Brutus, wherever he might be, wanted to see and hear everything, having been a philosopher of no mean note.

[134] Against all these virtues and merits must be set down the crime against Caesar, which was not an ordinary or a small one, for it was committed unexpectedly against a friend, ungratefully against a benefactor who had spared them in war, and nefariously against the head of the state, in the senate-house, against a pontiff clothed in his sacred vestments, against a ruler without equal, who was most serviceable above all other men to Rome and to its empire. For these reasons Heaven was incensed against them and often forewarned them of their doom. When Cassius was performing a lustration for his army his lictor placed his garland upon him wrong side up; a Victory, a gilded offering of Cassius, fell down. Many birds hovered over his camp, but uttered no sound, and swarms of bees continually settled upon it. While Brutus was celebrating his birthday at Samos it is said that in the midst of the feast, although not a ready man with such quotations, he shouted out this verse without any apparent cause:

                                                  ...Cruel fate
Hath slain me, aided by Latona's son.[Apollo]
Once when he was about to cross from Asia to Europe with his army, and while he was awake at night and the light was burning low, he beheld an apparition of extraordinary form standing by him, and when he boldly asked who of men or gods it might be, the spectre answered, "I am thy evil genius, Brutus. I shall appear to thee again at Philippi." And it is said that it did appear to him before the last battle.

When the soldiers were going out to the fight an Ethiopian met them in front of the gates, and as they considered this a bad omen they immediately cut him in pieces. It was due, too, to something more than human, no doubt, that Cassius gave way to despair without reason after a drawn battle, and that Brutus was forced from his policy of wise delay to an engagement with men who were pressed by hunger, while he himself had supplies in abundance and the command of the sea, so that his calamity proceeded rather from his own troops than from the enemy. Although they had participated in many engagements, they never received any hurt in battle, but both became the slayers of themselves, as they had been of Caesar. Such was the punishment that overtook Cassius and Brutus.

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Online 2005
Revision: 22 Dec. 2007
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