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The Battle of Philippi 42 BC

After the killing of Julius Caesar in 44 BC on the now ill-famed Ides of March, Brutus and Cassius left Italy and took control of the eastern half of the Roman Empire - Greece, much of modern Turkey, Syria and nearby allied kingdoms like Parthia and Egypt. Meantimes, Octavian, Antony and Lepidus had eliminated the Senate as a distraction. Lepidus stayed in Italy to maintain control while Octavian and Antony moved 28 legions (probably 150,000 infantry plus cavalry and auxiliaries) across the Adriatic to Greece. The army was divided into three parts:  the spearhead was eight legions, followed by Antony with 10 legions. Octavian was delayed by ill-health. At the same time a large fleet of 130 ships loyal to Brutus and Cassius cut most marine re-supply. With 17 legions and cavalry and auxiliaries Cassius and Brutus easily forced their opponents' forward elements to retreat west of Philippi. There was likely a missed opportunity to engage the various segments of the western army piecemeal. As it was, Brutus and Cassius were likely out-numbered 4 to 3. After 18 months the opposing armies met with Octavian opposed to Brutus north of the Via Egnatia and Antony opposed to Cassius south of the road.

 Four knights. And likely over 400,000 troops engaged. It is difficult to see how this scenario was any improvement over Caesar's rule. There was another strategic problem: Octavian and Antony desired to fight a war of annihilation, whereas Brutus and Cassius were content with a war of attrition - they felt most of the resources from the nearby country had already been looted and the seaborne blockade would soon make its effects felt. Antony tried to engineer an advance through the swamps to Cassius' left (southern) flank. A general melee ensued on October 3. In the north Brutus' troops drove through to Octavian's camp, but paused to loot it instead of continuing the pursuit. Another opportunity lost. As it was, Octavian is estimated to have lost almost 20,000 men. In contrast, in the south Antony broke through to Cassius' camp and was successful. Realistically, after 50,000 casualties it was a draw. But, unable to assess the overall status of the battle, Cassius guessed they had been defeated and killed himself. © 2018 Peter F. Zoll. All rights reserved.

Without news of a major naval victory and faced with desertions Brutus decided to attack. This was a poor choice. There were enormous casualties on both sides. I am still seeking a reasonable (and documented) estimate. It can never be good for Roman to fight Roman. Not when there are Parthians in the East and Germanic tribes to the North. A very good reference is Philippi 42 BC: The Death of the Roman Republic by Si Sheppard ISBN: 9781846032653. Ultimately, Brutus lost the battle and his life. There followed twelve more years of intermittent fighting which more or less ended with the exile of Lepidus in 36 BC and the defeat of Antony by Octavian at Actium in 31 BC.

Philippi did not fade from history immediately: St. Paul and others stopped there some time in the period 49-51 AD. At some point, probably no later than 62 AD, the lengthy Epistle to the Philippians was written.