Caesar’s Civil War (Part 3) ⚔️ Battle of Ruspina


After he decisively defeated Pompey in the Battle of Pharsalus, Caesar did not linger for long and went after his arch-rival to
Alexandria. There he was greeted by a reluctant and scheming court which presented him the severed head of Pompey… Despite being victorious in a civil war much
closer to home, Caesar did not have too much idle time on his hands. Having been embroiled in prolonged Egyptian
court intrigue and quelling a serious uprising of the local population, more recently he
faced another insurrection in Asia minor against Pharnaces II of Pontus. Caesar was able to successfully conclude the
campaign in Asian minor in just a few days, but this brief window of time gave was enough
for the opposition leadership in Africa to consolidate their forces and allies, and to
gather enough strength to renew the conflict. Cato, Labienus, Afranius, Scipio and many
other prominent “optimates” were able to form 10 legions and ensure valuable support
of King Juba of Numidia, who was able to provide an army that was the equivalent of 4 legions
and he also brought his elite light Numidian cavalry, as well as 120 war elephants. Caesar needed to act quickly. By the time he reached Italy many of his veteran
legions, including his beloved 10th, were mutinous and were demanding to be demobilized
after years of active service. It was a situation that became worse due to
his long absence in Egypt and Asia minor. But yet again he displayed a crucial gift,
common in great commanders of men, his perfect grasp of his troops’ psychology. Caesar agreed to their demands, declaring
that all of their desires would be granted once he had won the war in Africa with the
help of “other” legions, all the while addressing his veterans not as “comrades”, but as
“quirites”, which were just “ordinary” civilians. This bit of reverse-psychology made even his
most battle hardened veterans feel ashamed. The mutineers and especially troops from the
10th legion were soon begging Caesar to take them back into his service. Now that the mutiny was resolved it was time
to deal with the “optimates” in Africa. Caesar impatiently rushed towards Sicily with
a single legion, wishing to face his enemies as soon as possible. Unfortunately for him, bad weather forced
him to postpone his departure to north Africa. While waiting, he ordered his tent to be pitched
on the beach to make a point of how eager and confident he was to embark on a journey
against his enemies. Finally on the 25th of December 47 BC he set
sail for Africa. But hasty planning of the expedition meant
that he was able to take only 6 legions and 2000 cavalry, and there was almost no effort
to properly scout the landing area. Once again in his career Caesar’s sea crossing
was a dramatic affair, as unexpected winds scattered his fleet in multiple directions. African coast came in sight not far from Hadrumentum. The city was occupied by a large garrison,
so with only a fraction of the troops at his disposal Caesar could only wait until more
of his galleys converged near the flag ship. After a few hours he eventually disembarked near the city with a meagre force of 3000 foot and 150 horse. With his logistical situation critical, Caesar
used his small force to expand his operational base an attain a firmer foothold on Africa. Marching along the coast he was soon met with
multiple delegations from various coastal cities that were offering to supply and help
him in any way that they could. Once at the city of Ruspina, he raised a fortified
camp. With his base established, Caesar marched
on and reached the free city of Leptis. There the deputies of the town offered their
unconditional help and collaboration. While in the city, by sheer chance some of
the lost galleys found their way to the harbor. From the crews Caesar learned that the rest
of his fleet was unsure which course to pursue, and decided to sail for Utica. The Roman general garrisoned Leptis with 6
cohorts and marched back to Ruspina. He left the remainder of his small force in
the fortified camp and on the following night went on a reconnaissance mission in order to find out the whereabouts of the rest of his army. His lucky star shined bright that night, as
the rest of his fleet unexpectedly appeared in view just before day break. Re-united with the remained of his forces,
Caesar marched back to his fortified camp. The next task was finding supplies, as the
sudden appearance of the rest of his troops put an extra weight on his already strained
logistics. A contingent of 30 cohorts, some 9000-strong,
along with a small force of cavalry, advanced out into the country without their baggage
to forage. Caesar had not marched more than three miles
from his camp when he was informed by his scouts that enemy forces were in sight. As soon as the announcement was made a big
cloud of dust appeared in the distance. He immediately ordered his small force of
400 cavalry and 150 archers to march forward in order to cover his infantry, with explicit
instructions to avoid being enveloped. And, in a rare move he deployed his legions into a single line due to the small size of his force. The enemy army was comprised mainly of light
Numidian cavalry and a few foot skirmishers under the command of his former deputy, Titus Labienus. In total the Numidians numbered around 11.500 men. Labienus had arranged his cavalry in such
close order that Caesar mistook them for infantry, so when he suddenly began to extend his line
the Caesarians were caught off guard. As the light Numidian cavalry advanced, Caesar’s
archers were forced to retreat, but at the same time a few cohorts broke ranks and charged
against the approaching Numidians. The light cavalry retreated immediately while
the Numidian infantry advanced and launched their missiles at the unshielded right side
of the Roman infantry. Labienus now gave the order and by using his
overwhelming superiority in numbers he pushed back the outnumbered Caesarian cavalry that
was guarding the flanks. The fast moving Numidians used their superior
numbers to encircle the enemy as no other was available to block their advance. For once, Caesar was completely enveloped
and tactically outmatched. The situation was made worse by the fact that
his legionaries were not the battle hardened veterans of Gaul and Pharsalus, but mostly
raw recruits. It was his charisma and reputation alone that
averted certain disaster as he persuaded the men to hold their nerve. Caesar forbade his men to advance beyond the
signifiers and arranged his army so as to face both sides. The heavy armored legionaries were incapable
of dealing with this method of fighting since they couldn’t catch up neither with the
light infantry nor with the Numidian cavalry, while the Numidians could shower them with projectiles without engaging them in close quarters. At this moment Labienus advanced in front
of the battle line without his helmet and began taunting the Caesarians, mocking their
severe situation and their lack of experience. A legionary from Caesar’s ranks replied:
“I am not of your raw warriors, but a veteran of the 10th legion”. “Where is your standard?!”, Labienus shouted
back. “I will soon make you sensible to who I am”,
answered the soldier. Then, pulling off his helmet to reveal himself,
he threw a pilum with all his strength, wounding Labienus’ horse, which threw him on the
ground. The soldier warned: “Know that this javelin
was thrown by a soldier of the 10th legion.” The wounded Labienus was carried from the
field. Despite the heroic display of the veteran,
Caesar’s green troops were wary and one standard bearer attempted to abandon his position
forcing Caesar to grab him by the shoulder turn him around and say “Look, that’s
where the enemy are!”. With dusk approaching Caesar tried to break
the encirclement and withdraw his army into his fortified camp. He gave orders to most of his cohorts and
his cavalry to suddenly charge against the Numidians, hoping that the surprise attack would give them enough time to break out and retreat. The concentrated push caught the Numidians unawares, and their formation scattered in confusion. A brief skirmish ensued, but the light cavalrymen
disengaged soon after and the Romans attempted a rapid march towards their fortifications. With daylight diminishing, the Caesarian columns
were in the process of retreating when a new detachment of 1100 strong Numidian cavalry, commanded by Marcus Petreius fell upon Caesar’s rear guard. Caesar ordered his cavalry and a contingent
of legionaries to aid the embattled troops in the rear and buy time for the rest of the
army to reach the camp. The countercharge was successful and the Numidians
retreated and their commander was wounded in the fighting. After a long and hard-fought retreat, Caesar’s
exhausted legionaries made their way to the fortified camp. Casualties for both sides are unknown but
they were probably not too severe. At Ruspina, Caesar almost lost everything
and it was only because of his quick thinking and his good luck that he was able to survive
through this predicament to fight another day. The decisive engagement in Africa was yet to come…

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