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Wars of the Second Triumvirate: Battle of Philippi

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Conflict:

The Battle of Philippi was part of the War of the Second Triumvirate (44-42 BC).

Dates:

Fought on two separate dates, the Battle of Philippi took place on October 3 and 23, 42 BC.

Armies & Commanders:

Second Triumvirate

Brutus & Cassius

Battle Summary:

Following the assassination of Julius Caesar, two of the principle conspirators, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus fled Rome and took control of the eastern provinces. There they raised a large army consisting of the eastern legions and levies from local kingdoms allied to Rome. To counter this, the members of the Second Triumvirate in Rome, Octavian, Mark Antony, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, raised their own army to defeat the conspirators and avenge Caesar's death. Leaving Lepidus in Rome, Octavian and Antony marched east into Macedonia seeking the enemy.

As they moved forward, they dispatched Norbanus and Saxa ahead with eight legions to search for the conspirator's army. Moving along the Via Egnatia, the two passed through the town of Philippi and assumed a defensive position in a mountain pass to the east. Moving west, Brutus and Cassius wished to avoid a general engagement, preferring to operate on the defensive. After flanking Norbanus and Saxa out of their position and forcing them to retreat, the conspirators dug in to the west of Philippi, with their line anchored on a marsh to the south and steep hills to the north.

Aware that Antony and Octavian were approaching, the conspirators fortified their position, which straddled the Via Egnatia, and placed Brutus' troops to the north of the road and Cassius' to the south. The Triumvirate's forces soon arrived and Antony arrayed his men opposite Cassius, while Octavian faced Brutus. Eager to begin the fighting, Antony tried several times to bring about a general battle, but Cassius and Brutus would not advance from behind their defenses. Seeking to break the deadlock, Antony began building a causeway through the marshes in an effort to turn Cassius' right flank.

Quickly understanding the enemy's intentions, Cassius began building a transverse dam and pushed part of his forces south in an effort to cut off Antony's men in the marshes. This effort brought about the First Battle of Philippi on October 3, 42 BC. Attacking Cassius' line near where the fortifications met the marsh, Antony's men swarmed over the wall. Driving through Cassius' men, Antony's troops put them to rout and seized their camp. To the north, Brutus' men, seeing the battle in the south, attacked Octavian's forces.

Catching them off guard, Brutus' men drove them from their camp, forcing Octavian to hide in a nearby swamp. As they moved through Octavian's camp, Brutus' men paused to plunder the tents allowing the enemy to reform and avoid a rout. Unable to see Brutus' success, Cassius fell back with his men. Believing that they had both been defeated, he committed suicide. As the dust settled, both sides withdrew to their lines with their spoils. Robbed of his best strategic mind, Brutus decided to attempt to hold his position with the goal of wearing down the enemy.

Over the next three weeks, Antony began pushing south and east through the marshes forcing Brutus to extend his lines. While Brutus wished to continue delaying battle, his commanders and allies became restless and forced the issue. Surging forward on October 23, Brutus' men met Octavian and Antony's in battle. Fighting at close-quarters, the battle proved very bloody as the Triumvirate's forces succeeded in repelling Brutus' attack. As his men began retreating, Octavian's army captured their camp. Deprived of a place to make a stand, Brutus ultimately committed suicide and his army was routed.

Aftermath & Impact:

The casualties for the First Battle of Philippi were approximately 9,000 killed and wounded for Cassius and 18,000 for Octavian. Casualties are not known for the second battle on October 23. With the death of Cassius and Brutus, the Second Triumvirate essentially ended resistance to their rule and succeeded in avenging the death of Julius Caesar. The battle marked the highpoint of Antony's career as a military leader, as his power would slowly erode until his ultimate defeat by Octavian at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC.

Sources

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Conflicts & Battles
  5. Battles & Wars: to 1000
  6. Battle of Philippi - Mark Antony and Octavian at the Battle of Philippi

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