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Caesar's Civil War: Battle of Munda

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Date & Conflict:

The Battle of Munda was part of Julius Caesar's Civil War (49 BC-45 BC) and took place on March 17, 45 BC.

Armies & Commanders:

Populares

  • Gaius Julius Caesar
  • Marcus Agrippa
  • 40,000 men

Optimates

  • Titus Labienus
  • Publius Attius Varus
  • Gnaeus Pompeius
  • 70,000 men

Battle of Munda Overview:

In the wake of their defeats at Pharsalus (48 BC) and Thapsus (46 BC), the Optimates and supporters of the late Pompey the Great were contained in Hispania (modern Spain) by Julius Caesar. In Hispania, Gnaeus and Sextus Pompeius, Pompey's sons, worked with General Titus Labienus to raise a new army. Moving quickly, they subjugated much of Hispania Ulterior and the colonies of Italica and Corduba. Outnumbered, Caesar's generals in the region, Quintus Fabius Maximus and Quintus Pedius, elected to avoid battle and requested assistance from Rome.

Answering their call, Caesar marched west with several legions, including the veteran X Equestris and V Alaudae. Arriving in early December, Caesar was able to surprise local Optimate forces and quickly relieved Ulipia. Pressing on to Corduba, he found that that he was not able to take the city which was guarded by troops under Sextus Pompeius. Though he outnumbered Caesar, Gnaeus was advised by Labienus to avoid a major battle and instead compelled Caesar to embark upon a winter campaign. Gnaeus' attitude began to change following the loss of Ategua.

The capture of the city by Caesar badly shook the confidence of Gnaeus' native troops and some began to defect. Unable to continue delaying battle, Gnaeus and Labienus formed their army of thirteen legions and 6,000 cavalry on a gentle hill approximately four miles from the town of Munda on March 17. Arriving on the field with eight legions and 8,000 cavalry, Caesar unsuccessfully attempted to trick the Optimates into moving off the hill. Having failed, Caesar ordered his men forward in a frontal assault. Clashing, the two armies battled for several hours without an advantage being gained.

Moving to the right wing, Caesar personally took command of X Legion and drove it forward. In heavy fighting, it began to push back the enemy. Seeing this, Gnaeus moved a legion from his own right to reinforce his failing left. This weakening of the Optimate right allowed Caesar's cavalry to gain a decisive advantage. Storming forward, they were able to drive back Gnaeus' men. With Gnaeus' line under extreme pressure, one of Caesar's allies, King Bogud of Mauritania, moved around the enemy's rear with cavalry to attack the Optimate camp.

In an effort to block this, Labienus led the Optimate cavalry back towards their camp. This maneuver was misinterpreted by Gnaeus' legions who believed that Labienus' men were retreating. Beginning their own retreat, the legions soon crumbled and were routed by Caesar's men.

Aftermath:

The Optimate army effectively ceased to exist after the battle and all thirteen standards of Gnaeus' legions were taken by Caesar's men. Casualties for the Optimate army are estimated at around 30,000 as opposed to only 1,000 for Caesar. Following the battle, Caesar's commanders reclaimed all of Hispania and no further military challenges were mounted by the Optimates. Returning to Rome, Caesar became dictator for life until his murder the following year.

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