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"Pompey at Pharsalus" Topic


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490 hits since 18 May 2017
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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian18 May 2017 11:07 a.m. PST

Though regarded as one of the great commanders of his age, Pompey did not shine at Pharsalus. Why?

MichaelCollinsHimself Supporting Member of TMP18 May 2017 11:23 a.m. PST

He probably did not expect his cavalry to be met with a line of spearmen.

Hafen von Schlockenberg Supporting Member of TMP18 May 2017 11:51 a.m. PST

Or a bunch of Naz-er, Germans!

VVV reply18 May 2017 4:44 p.m. PST

Apparently Caesars legions were better.

Deuce03 In the TMP Dawghouse18 May 2017 7:47 p.m. PST

I think the defeat can be attributed in roughly equal proportions to Labienus's mistake and Caesar's ingenuity. As overall commander, Pompey must carry some of the responsibility but I also think it's unfair to blame him too heavily.

Caesar was later sceptical of the instruction to halt the infantry rather than charge, but the quality of troops on both sides was very different: that Pompey's relatively raw recruits managed to hold their line against Caesar's veterans suggests the plan had some merit. The battle was won and lost on Pompey's left flank where the cavalry did the first half of their job but then were taken by surprise and the whole thing ended in disaster. He had no direct control over what happened there and as soon as that flank folded, he correctly recognised the jig was up.

Whether he should have appointed a different commander for the cavalry is debatable. That other divisions were commanded by Ahenobarbus and Scipio suggests he wasn't swimming in quality. Perhaps Afranius or Petreius could have done a better job with that wing than Labienus did – but there's no particular reason to believe they would have, and it's entirely speculative.

Of course he should never have engaged at Pharsalus at all. Pompey was always a better strategist than a tactician, and it was foolish to give Caesar that opportunity. But the reasons for that were political, and it seems the consensus is prepared absolve Pompey of much of the blame for battle being joined as it wasn't entirely his decision.

Mars Ultor19 May 2017 11:01 a.m. PST

Right on, Deuce. I especially agree with the last two paragraphs. Nothing more to add.

CFeicht Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2017 4:55 p.m. PST

"Pompey did not shine at Pharsalus. Why?"

It's hard to shine as a commander when you have a bunch of know-it-all senators at your back telling you how to fight a campaign.

Mars Ultor21 May 2017 10:10 a.m. PST

NOt to deny Pompey something of his due, but also, as has been noted many times, Pompey's reputation was overblown. He had great success against the pirates, no doubt. But he was called a vulture even by politicians in his own generation for his tendency to have go into a theater AFTER much of the hard work had been done by other commanders whom he was replacing (e.g., Pontus and Spartacus and one other I'm sure that I'm forgetting). And then the Pompey PR machine would claim the glory and ask for the triumph. So his ability "to shine" was something of a gilded golden layer.

This as opposed to Caesar, who was used to doing the work from ground up. Whatever his other faults, he usually was very active in all phases of a campaign.

Crazyivanov25 May 2017 3:21 a.m. PST

I mean, annexing the entire Selucid Empire might have something to do with it.

Mars Ultor25 May 2017 9:57 a.m. PST

"The entire Seleucid Empire" at that point was pretty small and was way in decline(consisting of Antioch and some surrounding cities). The rump of the empire was largely ignored by the major powers. Most of what Pompey did was just snuff out the dying embers and convert the area to the Roman province of Syria.

Again, Pompey sounds better than he really is and his reputation is overblown.

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