I came, I saw, I overcame. - Caesar at the Battle of Zela in 47 BCE

2 August 47 BCE, 2060 years ago, halfway between Ancyra (Ankara) and the Black Sea, Julius Caesar defeated Pharnaces II, the King of Pontus and Lord the Bosporan Kingdom, in the Battle of Zela.

“And because he would advertise one of his friends of the suddenness of this victory, he only wrote three words unto Anitius at Rome: "Veni, vidi, vici:" I came, I saw, I overcame." These three words, ending all with like sound and letter in the Latin, have a certain short grace more pleasant to the ear than can be well expressed in any other tongue.” (Plutarch, “The Life of Julius Caesar“)

A bust of Julius Caesar (Art History Museum, Vienna)* 

The Kingdom of Pontus was one the successor states of Alexander the Great’s conquests and ruled by a dynasty of mixed Hellenic and Persian origin, claiming direct descent from the Achaemenid Kings of kings and became the dominant power in Asia Minor by the turn of the 2nd century BCE and since the Roman Republic literally inherited the Ionic coast in 129 BCE, a major conflict was bound to occur. Pharnaces II’s father Mithridates VI consequently provoked Rome into a series of conflicts known as the Mithridatic Wars (88 – 63  BCE) and a lot of notable Roman commanders, Sulla, Lucullus and finally Pompey among them, took their turn to trash Mithridates who always came back for more – until he was forced to commit suicide at the age of 70 by his son who successfully rebelled against him. Pharnaces surrendered to Pompey, Asia Minor became more or less a Roman province and Pharnaces was granted Colchis and the Bosporan Kingdom (parts of the Crimea and Georgia) to rule as a client king.

A Greek gold stater showing the likeness of King Pharnaces II **

When civil war broke out again in Rome in 49 BCE, Pharnaces II saw his chance for a comeback and invaded Lesser Armenia (present day eastern Turkey), clearly Roman territory and managed to defeat the Roman governor of Asia, one Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus, at Nicopolis a year later. Unfortunately for him, the war between Caesar and Pompey ended a year later and Caesar decided to settle matters in the north, especially since Pharnaces begun to commit atrocities against Roman citizens and Roman allies, like his father did before him during the infamous Asiatic Vespers.  When the king heard of Caesar’s approach, he immediately tried to sue for peace but was brusquely refused.

Charging scythed chariots - the type was last used by Pharnaces at Zela

When he met with Caesar at Zela, Pharnaces commanded about twice the size of an army than the Romans brought into Anatolia, however, the local Legio XXII and the two cohorts of Legio Sexta Ferrata were battle-hardened veterans while Pharances had mostly levies and mercenaries. Nonetheless, he almost succeeded with a surprise attack uphill that caught the Romans off balance. However, the Roman professionals quickly asserted themselves and routed the Pontians. The war was over after a couple of weeks, Pharnaces tried to flee back to Colchis but was allegedly murdered by one of his retainers. Caesar indeed came, saw and conquered.

And more on:


picture by Andrew Bossi from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:0092_-_Wien_-_Kunsthistorisches_Museum_-_Gaius_Julius_Caesar.jpg)

** picture found onhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/antiquitiesproject/6851773532/