Battle of Zela
|Battle of Zela|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Gaius Julius Caesar||Pharnaces II of Pontus|
Pharnaces had defeated Caesar's Legate Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus, and his small Roman and allied army at the Battle of Nicopolis. He then committed atrocities against the Roman prisoners and against any Roman civilians he found in the region. When Pharnaces received word of Caesar's approach, he sent envoys to seek peace, which Caesar refused outright.
Caesar had two cohorts of the veteran VI Legion, the full XXII Legion, an allied force of Galatians and Vexillations from the XXXVI Legion. He also had a small contingent of cavalry. Pharnaces had an army approximately 20,000 strong, mostly consisting of tribal and levied infantry but also containing a core of professional soldiers and cavalry.
The battle took place in Zile, what is now a small hilltop town in the Tokat province of northern Turkey. The Pontic army positioned itself near the hilltop town of Zela, but as Caesar's men were entrenching their own camp on nearby high ground the Pontic force suddenly attacked. This action was unexpected as it defied logic to give up the solid position at Zela and to attack uphill. The assault achieved momentary surprise and at first gained some ground amidst the confusion, but the veteran Roman legionaries soon recovered and quickly organised a defensive line. Caesar then went onto the counter-offensive and drove the Pontic army back down the hill, where it broke into a complete rout.
It was a decisive point in Caesar's military career - his five-day campaign against Pharnaces was evidently so swift and complete that, according to Plutarch (writing about 150 years after the battle) he commemorated it with the now famous Latin words reportedly written to Amantius in Rome Veni, vidi, vici ("I came, I saw, I conquered"). Suetonius says that the same three words were displayed prominently in the triumph for the victory at Zela. Pharnaces escaped the rout back to his Bosporan Kingdom but was killed by one of his former governors in a skirmish.