Battle of Nicopolis (48 BC)

Battle of Nicopolis (48 BC)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Zela

partof= Caesar's civil war
date=48 BC
result=Pontian victory
combatant1=Caesar's forces
combatant2=Pharnacean forces
commander1=Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus
commander2=Pharnaces II of Pontus

The Battle of Nicopolis was fought in December 48 BC between the army of Pharnaces II of Pontus, the son of Mithdridates VI Eupator, and a Roman army lead by Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus.

After defeating Pompey the Great and the optimates at Pharsalus, Julius Caesar went to Asia Minor and then to Egypt. In Asia province he left Calvinus in command with an army consisting out of the 36th legion, made up out of mainly veterans from Pomey's disbanded legions. With Caesar preoccupied in Egypt and the Roman republic in the midst of civil strife, Pharnaces saw an opportunity to expand his Kingdom of the Bosphorus into is father's old Pontic empire. In 48 BC he invaded Cappadocia, Bithynia and Armenia Parva.

Calvinus concentrated his forces at Comana. These forces consisted of the 36th, two recently levied green legions recruited in Armenia Parva and armed in the Roman style by King Deiotarus of Galatia, and local auxiliary skirmishers and cavalry from Cilicia. Despite being outnumbered by Pharnaces, Calvinus advanced toward Pontus in order to strenghten his forces with military settlers hastily recruited from Rome's Pontian colonies. Pharnaces tried to delay Calvinus by diplomatic means but failing in this, he retired to the vicinity of Nicopolis in Armenia Parva. Calvinus brought his army to within seven miles from Nicopolis and, avoiding an ambush set by Pharnaces. His ambush failed, Pharnaces retired to the city and awaited a further Roman advance.

Calvinus advanced to find Pharnaces' heavy infantry formed in deep ranks between two trenches, fronted by his skirmishers, and flanked by his numerous cavalry beyond the trenches. The Romans deployed the 36th on the right wing and the Pontic legion of military retirees on the left, with the recently levied green legions in the center. The Roman auxilaries made out the advance guard and what little cavalry the Romans had were put on the flanks. As Pharnaces outnumbered the Romans, the Roman army was spread thin in order to match Pharances' deployment. The battle ended in a Roman rout as Calvinus' Asiatic troops fled at the onset of battle, and he was completely defeated, only the steadiness of the Romans saving him from complete annihilation. Although the 36th Legion escaped with light losses, Calvinus had lost two thirds of his army.

A subsequent rebellion in his rear prevented Pharnaces from capitalizing on his victory, and by the time this rebellion was quelled, Caesar had arrived to rectify the situation, decisively defeating Pharnaces at Zela.


* "De Bello Alexandrino", 34-40.

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