Battle of Tegea, March 46 BC

The battle of Tegea (March 46 BC) was the last in a series of skirmishes between the forces of Caesar and the Republicans in the campaign that ended at Thapsus, and was an inconclusive battle that helped convince Caesar that the Republican commander Scipio wouldn’t risk a full scale battle unless he was forced into it.

In the aftermath of their defeat at Pharsalus (48 BC) the remaining Republican leaders fled to North Africa, where they were able to rebuild their strength while Caesar was distracted in Egypt. They soon raised a powerful army, commanded by the ex-consul Metellus Scipio and Caesar’s former lieutenant Labienus.

Caesar wasn’t free to deal with them until the start of 46 BC. He finally landed on the east coast of the Roman Province of Africa at the start of January, but his transport ships were badly scattered during the voyage, and so for some time he was badly outnumbered and vulnerable. Over time more of his troops arrived, followed by fresh waves of reinforcements, and eventually he felt able to go onto the offensive. He emerged from the fortified area he had constructed around Ruspina and attempted to lure Scipio into a battle.

The last of these efforts came around the town of Tegea, which was close to Scipio’s fortified camp, and somewhere near Ruspina. Scipio had a garrison of 2,000 cavalry in Tegea, which was now between the two camps.

After receiving one last batch of reinforcements Caesar once again led his forces towards Scipio’s camp, and formed up in line of battle two miles from Scipio’s camp and five miles from his own.

Scipio responded by ordering his cavalry to deploy on either side of the town, while he led his legions out of his camp and drew them up on a ridge one mile from his camp, and thus half way to Caesar’s position.

After some time had passed, Caesar got frustrated with Scipio’s lack of action and ordered 400 of his cavalry to attack the enemy forces at Tegea. He also sent some of his light infantry, archers and slingers to support them.

The Republicans allowed Caesar’s cavalry to make their attack, and when they were fully engaged in combat then began to extend their lines, so that they could get around the flanks of Caesar’s outnumbered men.

Caesar responded by sending 300 lightly armed men from the nearest legion to move to assist the cavalry. At the same time Labienus committed another 2,000 cavalry to the battle, so Caesar’s cavalry was now outnumbered by ten to one (although they do appear to have been more heavily armoured than their opponents, who included at least some lightly armed Numidians).

Caesar’s cavalry was forced to fall back. He responded by committing a second squadron of cavalry to the battle. The two cavalry units delivered a massed charge, and their opponents turned and fled (again suggesting that they were lighter Numidian cavalry). Caesar’s men chased the retreated Republicans as far as some nearby high ground and then returned to their lines. Amongst the Republican wounded was Pacideius, one of their more active commanders.

Throughout this cavalry battle Scipio’s infantry had remained static. Caesar remained in his line of battle until the tenth hour of the day (the daylight hours being divided into twelve hours), and then withdrew to his camp without any further losses.

Although his troops had the best of the cavalry battle, Scipio’s refusal to commit his infantry made it clear that Caesar needed to find an alternative way to force him to battle. He chose to besiege the Republican held city of Thapsus. This time Scipio was forced to react, triggering the battle of Thapsus (April 46 BC), which ended as a crushing victory for Caesar. 

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 November 2018), Battle of Tegea, March 46 BC , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_tegea.html

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