Battle of the Nile (47 BC)

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Battle of the Nile
Part of the Alexandrine Civil War
Ancient_Egypt_map-la.png
Date47 BC
Location
Nile Delta, Ptolemaic Egypt
Result

Roman victory

  • Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIV installed as co-rulers of Egypt
Belligerents
Roman forces loyal to Caesar
Egyptians loyal to Cleopatra
Greek forces loyal to Mithridates and Antipater
Ptolemaic Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Julius Caesar
Cleopatra VII
Mithridates of Pergamum
Antipater I the Idumaean
Ptolemy XIII
Arsinoe IV
Strength
c. 20,000 infantry
c. 1000 cavalry
c. 27,000 infantry
c. 2000 cavalry

The Battle of the Nile in 47 BC saw the combined RomanEgyptian armies of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra VII defeat those of the rival Queen Arsinoe IV and King Ptolemy XIII and secure the throne of Egypt.

Prelude

After pursuing his rival Pompey to Egypt, Caesar, recently victorious in a civil war closer to home, became entwined in the Alexandrine civil war after his rival, Pompey Magnus, was killed by King Ptolemy XIII in an attempt to please Caesar.

From September 48 BC until January 47 BC, Caesar was besieged in Alexandria, Egypt with about 4,000 men. He was attempting to resolve the Egyptian Civil War between Ptolemy XIII and his sister Cleopatra. When Caesar began to appear to favour Cleopatra over him, Ptolemy was first captured, but then released by Caesar, and gathered his army to besiege the Romans in a small area of Alexandria.

By January, the Egyptians had begun to get the upper hand in their efforts to cut the Romans off from reinforcements and resupply. Caesar had requested reinforcements from his allies who gathered an army of about 13,000 troops trained in the Roman style of warfare under Mithridates of Pergamum, who marched overland from Asia Minor to assist him. Arriving in Egypt in January, Mithridates stormed and took the strategic city of Pelusium and marched on towards the Nile Delta where he defeated an Egyptian force sent to stop him. Caesar, getting a message that his allies were close, left a small garrison in Alexandria and hurried to meet them. The combined force, about 20,000 strong, met the Egyptians in February 47 BC at the Battle of the Nile. The Ptolemaic army, equipped in the Greek manner, was slightly larger.

The Egyptians had set up camp in a strong position along the Nile. Caesar arrived shortly afterwards, before Ptolemy could attack Mithridates' army. Caesar and Mithridates met 7 miles from Ptolemy's position. In order to reach the Egyptian camp they had to ford a small river. Ptolemy sent a detachment of cavalry and light infantry to stop them from crossing the river. Unfortunately for the Egyptians, Caesar had sent his Gallic and Germanic cavalry to ford the river ahead of the main army. They had crossed undetected. When Caesar arrived he had his men make makeshift bridges across the river and had his army charge the Egyptians. As they did the Gallic and Germanic forces appeared and charged into the Egyptian flank and rear. The Egyptians broke and fled back to Ptolemy's camp.

Battle

Caesar, knowing of the strong Egyptian position, opened the battle by having his legions destroy a Ptolemaic fort to try to lure the Egyptians off the hill. However, when the Egyptians stayed in their positions, the Roman army engaged the Egyptian forces at the hill, resulting in fierce fighting between the two forces. Several Roman cohorts then tried to flank the Egyptians, only to suffer heavy casualties after the Egyptians pinned down the flanking force and fired at them with missile fire from the ships. Eventually, a gap was exposed in the main Egyptian line which a Roman contingent managed to exploit and attack the Egyptians from the rear, causing the Egyptian army to panic and flee from the battlefield. Among the retreat included Ptolemy, who reputedly drowned when his ship capsized.

Aftermath

Egypt was now in the hands of Caesar, who then lifted the Siege of Alexandria and placed Cleopatra on the throne as co-ruler with another of her brothers, the twelve-year old Ptolemy XIV. Caesar then uncharacteristically lingered in Egypt until April, enjoying a liaison of about two months with the youthful queen. The former queen Arsinoe IV was marched through Rome as a prisoner and banished to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. Later, after the death of Caesar, she was executed on the orders of Cleopatra and Mark Antony.

Sources

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Coordinates: 30°54′N 31°7′E / 30.900°N 31.117°E / 30.900; 31.117