Formal Debate Challenge - Pompey v Caesar

Jul 2017
2,247
Australia
Looking first at Caesar's figures, we find 22,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry against Pompey's 45,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry. But these numbers don't seem to fit the events. We are told by Caesar that Pompey sought to gain every little advantage possible and acted with such reluctance to fight the battle. Delbruck many years ago recognised the trouble in Caesar's account:

What kind of personality must Pompey have been, if with more than twice as many infantry and seven times as many cavalrymen as his enemy, he wanted to avoid the decision? How could he hope ever again to encounter Caesar under such favorable circumstances, when we know, of course, that Caesar was greatly superior to him in the total number of his land troops? To judge from the movements that Pompey made, we may assume that he enjoyed a certain superiority of numbers but that this advantage was still not significant enough to give him the confidence to engage in an open battle against the qualitative superiority of Caesar's veterans right in the Dyrrhachium area. Now for the first time, after the morale of his troops had been increased greatly by the successful attack on the enemy camp near Dyrrhachium, and that of the enemy, as he could easily believe, had been weakened, he came to the decision to risk the decisive battle, but he still sought up to the last minute to gain further small advantages for himself in the terrain, and he thereby delayed the battle.

Pollio, through Orosius and Eutropius give Caesar's army as something under 30,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry; and Pompey's army as 40,000 infantry and 1,100 cavalry. On the infantry first, we cannot expect Pollio to have been giving a precise number, and I'd imagine that the figure of 30,000 was given as a "close-to" number that was accurate enough but also served Pollio's own objective of downplaying Caesar. If we examine Caesar himself, he claims 22,000 infantry in 80 cohorts "in the line", along with 2,000 younger legionaries serving with the cavalry and two of his oldest cohorts guarding the camp. To make some incisions, Caesar had a total of 110 cohorts, 15 of which were absent in Hellas, and 8 were garrisoned at his depots. 2 cohorts guarded his camp, meaning that 5 cohorts are missing. 2 cohorts to guard the camp seems suspiciously low, so it may be logical to add these missing 5 cohorts to the guard, meaning Caesar had 87 cohorts and 2,000 younger legionaries. This would mean that Caesar's legions were on average almost half strength, somewhat difficult to believe. It's pointless to go into depth with the analysis with such a short piece as this, and so for now I will rest my conclusions based on the events. Pompey's movements indicate a moderate numerical superiority in infantry, he maneuvers in Thessaly to gain small advantages that a man of such experience as Pompey would not be so paranoid about if he had 45,000 infantry to 22,000. I will therefore take Pollio's figures: Caesar had 25,000-30,000 legionaries to Pompey's 35,000-40,000. A quick note on Pompey's infantry: Caesar incorrectly identifies 110 cohorts in the battle line, when he know that Pompey had 15 cohorts at Dyrrachium, and stationed 7 cohorts to the camp guard, hence he in fact had 88 cohorts - which is coincidentally what Pollio testifies, hence solidifying his reliability as a witness and participant in the battle itself.

The issue of the cavalry is a bit more abstract, Delbruck admits to have been frustrated at the dilemma. My own analysis stems from the origins of the figure of 7,000 cavalry for Pompey. There may be no reason to actually disbelieve the figure entirely. Appian tells us that Pompey had gathered 7,000 horsemen, but that not all of them (along with the auxiliaries) would be serving in the main force, but in garrisons and aiding the Pompeian war effort in general. It may be that many horses that Pompey used/drafted to support his army and his supply lines were added onto this total. Now, as Peter Brunt points out, Caesar when giving Pompey's army at Pharsalus seems to have been giving a realistic estimate of his opponent's entire force, including cohorts not actually there. He may have been doing the same with the cavalry for the whole campaign. If we deduct horses used for garrisoning, supply lines and the train of the army, and deduct casualties and sick horses from the prolonged siege of Dyrrachium, it may not be entirely impossible for Pompey's cavalry force to be less than half of 7,000. As Delbruck noted, a force of 7,000 cavalry would be extremely hard to assemble and supply. Crassus, an incredibly rich man and experienced general spent a year in Syria assembling an army to attack the Parthians, and could only assemble 4,000 horse, of which 1,000 were lent to him by Caesar. Even if we accepted 7,000 cavalry along with Pollio's 40,000 infantry to Caesar's 30,000, it still wouldn't really explain why Pompey was so cautious about accepting battle on flat terrain, especially if Caesar only had 1,000 horse. Antony, when he brought the other half of Caesar's army over sent back most of the ships to transport "the remainder of the soldiers and horse." It wouldn't be too far fetched to suggest that small detachments of reinforcements, particularly of horse, may have arrived to bolster Caesar's forces. Pollio says that Pompey only had 1,100 horse. For the purposes of this piece, for now I will resign to Delbruck's self-admitted arbitrary estimate of 1,000-2,000 cavalry for Caesar, and 3,000 cavalry for Pompey. A moderate advantage in cavalry appears more appropriate vis-a-vis Pompey's movements. So then, if Caesar had 30,000 infantry and 2,000 horse, and Pompey had 40,000 infantry and 3,000 horse, Pompey's movements now make sense. Pompey had enough of a superiority to decide a battle, but not enough that he was not willing to maneuver and try and get the best position for said battle. We may now then understand Pompey's deployment. Even more support in preference of Pollio's numbers is that Caesar himself accepted Pompey's offer of battle. If Caesar was as outnumbered as he said he was, why then didn't he simply decline battle and at least attempt to link up with the 15 cohorts in Hellas? Why would Caesar accept such odds considering that he could increase his army by a measure one and a half legions? The fact is that the odds cannot have been so great. No commander, not even Caesar would have accepted battle against 45,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry with 22,000 infantry and 1,000 horse when he could still further strengthen his army without much effort.

*Part II will be added within a few days when I get the time, it will cover the events of the battle of Pharsalus, where I will defend Pompey's deployment and and generalship during the battle - plus provide a selected bibliography for readers who are interested.*
 
Jul 2017
2,247
Australia
I think your points are very strong. Pompeius Magnus is terribly underrated. Will you ever be posting part II? I'd be very interested to read it. I'd also like to see your selected bibliography.
I'm working on fleshing out Pompey's history ss a general before tackling his Greek campaigns. I think this background treatment will be very crucial to determining Pompey's ability relative to Caesar's.
 
I'm working on fleshing out Pompey's history ss a general before tackling his Greek campaigns. I think this background treatment will be very crucial to determining Pompey's ability relative to Caesar's.
Agreed. Pompeius Magnus' early career was stellar and remarkable...and mostly ignored by pro-Caesarian scholars. Anti-Pompeians also have a tendency to downplay his strengths (e.g. the ability to recruit and organize armies and navies) or state "anyone could do it with those resources" (e.g. clearing the Mediterranean of pirates with shocking speed). It's unfortunate we don't have his own direct histories. I look forward to reading your pre-2nd Civil War military history of Pompeius Magnus. Your arguments on his strategy in Greece were cogent and made more sense than most any I've read on that campaign.
 
Jan 2015
5,388
Ontario, Canada
The figures of Sulla, Caesar and Augustus have all benefited from winner's bias.
A trend that one tends to see in Chinese history as well. Where the other guy gets buried in negative hit pieces and the winners get hagiographies which praise all of their virtues.
 
Jul 2017
2,247
Australia
Agreed. Pompeius Magnus' early career was stellar and remarkable...and mostly ignored by pro-Caesarian scholars. Anti-Pompeians also have a tendency to downplay his strengths (e.g. the ability to recruit and organize armies and navies) or state "anyone could do it with those resources" (e.g. clearing the Mediterranean of pirates with shocking speed). It's unfortunate we don't have his own direct histories. I look forward to reading your pre-2nd Civil War military history of Pompeius Magnus. Your arguments on his strategy in Greece were cogent and made more sense than most any I've read on that campaign.
I would argue that Pompey's strengths aren't simply the age old "he was good at organisation and recruitment".

What parts of my arguments did you find make more sense than other accounts you've read?

The figures of Sulla, Caesar and Augustus have all benefited from winner's bias.
A trend that one tends to see in Chinese history as well. Where the other guy gets buried in negative hit pieces and the winners get hagiographies which praise all of their virtues.
This is correct and totally unfortunate.

Yeah, Pompey recruited an army at about age 19. Not many can claim that.
Well, he did recruit his father's veterans, and had the money to pay for them.
 

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