Pompey is said to have founded Legio IX in Hispania, (Spain) in 65BC along with the VI, VII and VIII legions. They did not, however, stay in Hispania. They were transferred to Northern Italy, the region known as Cisalpine Gaul. Here, Julius Caesar gained the command of the IX, along with the VII, VIII and X, when he became governor of this region in 59BC.
In 49BC a dispute between Caesar and some members of the Senate led to Caesar leading his legions on Rome. Here, his old friend, Pompey, and much of the Senate fled to Greece. In Greece, Pompey thought he could more easily recruit an army to face Caesar.
Caesar could not pursue them because he had no fleet and so he set about solidifying his hold on the western Mediterranean, especially Spain, where the IX had originated. Only then did he assemble a fleet to pursue Pompey and the Senate.
Pompey’s fleet commander put up a blockade, knowing that Ceasar would pursue. However, Caesar crossed the Adriatic in the winter, against all convention, and managed to get half his fleet onto Greek shores. whether the IX was among this early landfall, I do not know.
The blockade, was successful in preventing not only the rest of the fleet from crossing, but also prevented supplies reaching Caesar from Italy. Since most of the Greek population supported the Senate, Caesar’s troops soon became hungry.
Pompey decided to let hunger defeat him, and did not attack. Realising this, Caesar tried to pursue peace with Pompey, but Pompey would not agree to talk. Because of this failure, Caesar decided to go back for the rest of his army, but his plans were disrupted by an immense storm in the Adriatic.
In the meantime. Mark Antony had been rallying troops in Italy and fought through the blockade. He eventually met up with Caesar. Still, Caesar had only half the man that Pompey had.
A battle became inevitable, but Pompey had set up camp in an impregnable position with the sea at his back and hills surrounding his position, near to the town of Dyrrhachium.
Caesar tried to cut off Pompey’s water and pasture for the horses by building a wall around Pompey’s position. Pompey responded by building a parallel wall. This left a kind of no-man’s land between the walls.
Thus a stand-off ensued that was only broken when a traitor from Caesar’s army told Pompey where Caesar’s wall was weakest. Pompey exploited this and Caesar then retreated.
Caesar was famous for his varied traps, and so Pompey decided not to pursue him. He still thought he could starve Caesar out, and so did not set up a pitched battle, but after pressure from the Senators and his commanders, he gave in.
He set up near the town of Pharsalus. He deployed the traditional 3 lines of 10 men with cavalry on the wings. They stood and waited for Caesar to charge.
Caesar did not set up in the traditional way, though. He set up 4 lines of 6 men. Seeing that Pompey was not charging, they began to advance. As the infantry fought, Pompey’s cavalry on the left flank attacked Caesar’s cavalry and forced them back. Caesar then brought forward his 4th line of infantry who harried the cavalry with their pila, a kind of javelin around 2 metres long. They used them to stab rather than throw.
Pompey’s cavalry panicked at this unusual and unexpected turn of events and fled, but not until they had suffered hundreds of casualties. The rest of the cavalry then retreated to the hills.
The left wing of Pompey’s army was now exposed . Caesar’s men broke the left wing, and Pompey lost the will to fight.
He and his wife and family fled the scene dressed as civilians and fled to Egypt, where he was assassinated shortly afterwards, and his head sent to Caesar in the hope of winning Caesar’s favour. Instead it gained a furious enemy.
The IX legion was known to have taken part in this battle. I will continue with more about it in another post.