German Tank Aces of World War II



When looking at the topic, two things become noticeable:

1) No matter where or how you look at it, Germans dominate the charts. English Wikipedia does not even have an own list for tank aces, but one for German WW2 tank aces!.

2) Michael Wittmann. Everywhere. Documentaries always focus on him, and you will always find him somehow. And that even though he only was the fourth most accomplished tank ace – how could that be?

So, let’s have a look at it. Why Germans, why Michael Wittmann?

  • Why Germany?

While Germany was renowned for its Panzers, they really did not field many very strong tanks up until ~1942. And yet tiny Germany was able to hold against the Western Allies and Russia until 1945, and was able to achieve tank kill/loss rates of around 5:1 at the eastern and 4:1 at the western front.

The reasons for this far precede World War II. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles decided that Germany alone was to blame for World War I, and prohibited Germany from having a strong military, including bans of tanks and limiting the army to a mere 100,000 soldiers. From this situation, the German military tacticians saw only one way for successful war planning: They needed a very efficient -Germany therefore trained its soldiers incredibly well- and hyper-mobile force which could overwhelm the enemy before he even mobilized his complete force. Motorized infantry in cooperation with combined arms (air force, artillery, and if possible tanks) would be able to achieve this.

In other words, the fundamentals of Blitzkrieg preceded even the first German tank.

From this line of thought, the national socialist tank programme starting in secret in the early 1930s focused on very skilled crews, which could make their own decisions and did not rely too much on commands from above.

As we all know, Blitzkrieg worked miracles in Poland, France and during the first summer in Russia. Germany overwhelmed all opponents, even though their armour of that time -PzKpfw I, II, III and IV in their early versions- were far inferior to even a T-34.

In Russia they encountered this tank, and realised that their armour up to this point was suddenly antiquated. From there on they spend many resources into building tanks that would not only win right now, but also dominate the battlefield for years to come. They knew that against the vast supplies of Russia and the USA, they would have to fight with great efficiency! Tanks such as Tiger, Panther and their successors and derivatives were born from this mindset.

The moment Tiger came, tank aces emerged. The highly skilled crews of Germany already had great numbers against the poorly trained Russian crews, but now they had a weapon that could destroy enemies from 2.000 meters and beyond with ease.

Tank aces like Carius, Knispel and Wittmann usually were tank soldiers who fought the war from the beginning. So we have highly trained soldiers with lots of combat experience, who now gain access to the best hardware out there.


  1. Germany knew they would need the best trained soldiers out there, which resulted in excellently trained tank crews.
  2. The Germans already had great experience in 1942 from four years of war, and then started building the most expensive, highest quality tanks there were.
  3. Great crews + Great tanks = Great results.
  • Why Wittmann?

From my research and estimations, there appear to be three main reasons why Wittmann is so incredibly well known:

  1. He was good. However, this doesn’t explain it alone, as you can see from the charts there were three soldiers with higher kill numbers.
  2. Villers-Bocage. The most famous single-tank exploit there ever was; A single Tiger taking out dozens of western allied vehicles in a single encounter.
  3. Because he was a member of the SS, the Nazis loved using him for propaganda. Therefore, out of all tank aces there are the most records about him!

The third point might be the most important one. For anyone who does not know so well about the German army structure: The Wehrmacht was the actual army, while the SS was a political institution – basically a paramilitary unit of the NSDAP. When the nazis took power, they decided to form some elite SS units, which would recieve the best training and best equipment – and yet many historians claim that these units did not do all too well, mostly because they were not exactly a part of the Wehrmacht and therefore would encounter trouble in communications. Many Wehrmachts-Officers claimed they would rather see important equipment like the Tigers all gathered in hands of the real army.

From the tank aces you can find on the Panzer Ace List, you can see that Wittmann was the highest scoring member of the SS. And sadly, he also was a very dedicated Nazi. Hence the preference to focus all propaganda on him.

  • What about the other Panzer aces?

From the number two of the list, Otto Carius, we happen to know a lot because he survived the war and wrote a book about it, called “Tigers in the Mud”. He is a valuable source for wartime experiences of German soldiers. Throughout the war he commanded a PzKpfw 38(t), Tiger, Tiger II and Jagdtiger.

About Kurt Knispel, the highest tank ace of all times, we sadly happen to know little. This has two reasons:

  1. While popular amongst his comrades, he was not well liked by the Nazis. He was promoted slowly, and denied many awards that were natural for other soldiers of such success.
  2. He died in 1945, when his Tiger II was surrounded by T-34s.

Knispel joined the war unusually late for a soldier of his achievement. He started in 1941 as a gunner in a PzKpfw IV. He managed to shoot down between 10 and 20 tanks during this time, and was quickly known as the best gunner of his division – a man who would frequently shoot and destroy the target before the commander even gave the order.

When in 1943 he became gunner of a Tiger, his kills quickly skyrocketed and his commanders contributed much of their success to his abilities. Knispel however was not a Nazi and while well-liked by his fellow soldiers and direct superiors, is rumored to have protected prisoners of war and to have been very loose about provisions, as you can see from his beard. For me this is even more reason to like him and (especially as a German) makes me a little sad that Wittmann takes the spotlight all the time!

Some interesting tidbits on SS Schwere Pz Abt. 503.

18 April 1945 blocking position on the road from Protzel to Bollersdorf opposite Ernsthof. A Soviet armor assault emanating from Gruhow is repelled, 64 Soviet tanks are knocked out for the loss of one Tiger 2.

19 April 1945 3 Tigers engage over 100 T-34/85’s and a company of JS 2’s. The first and last JS 2 are knocked out thus blocking traverse from the Soviet tank turrets. The three Königstigers wipe out the Soviets with Körner destroying over 39, Hauptscharführer Harrer destroys 25. The Tigers take on more ammo behind the main defensive line and relocate to Werneuchen.

In the late afternoon the 3 Tigers are attacked by 30 T-34’s, and with the assistance of another Tiger Untersturmführer Schäfer, all the soviet tanks are put out of action.

On this date Karl Körner, his 25th birthday scores his 76th kill in fighting against JS II’s at night with the usage of flares. Retreat toward Straussberg…….

30 April 1945, Georg Diers moves his Tiger 2 towards the Reichstag and knocks out around 30 Soviet T-34’s. Commander Turk remains at Potzdammer Platz and again repels another enemy attack when he is hit to his right track. A Bergepanther recovers his heavy tank…..

The Paragon: General of Panzer Troops Dietrich von Saucken


Born: 16.05.1892 Fischhausen/Ostpreußen

Died: 27.09.1980 München/Bayem

Few officers in the German Wehrmacht personified the aristocratic Prussian Junker-officer as did von Saucken. The monocle’d general came from a long lineage of Prussian nobility dating back to the fourteenth century. He was one of the few high ranking members of the Wehrmacht who was neither intimidated by Hitler’s insane ravings nor hypnotized by his charisma when he – like many others- was summoned to the Fuehrer’s headquarters to explain why he had made a clever tactical withdrawal instead of ordering his troops to stay put and be massacred by vastly superior Russian forces.

Born 1892 in East Prussia as the son of a judge, von Saucken entered the Imperial Army in 1910 and served in the cavalry regiment “Kaiser Wilhelm I” as a Lieutenant. During WW I he was wounded seven times and finished the war with the rank of Captain. Between the wars he continued to serve with the Reichwehr in various cavalry detachments.

Dietrich von Saucken fought in Poland in 1939 with the cavalry (1st Cavalry Brigade). From fall 1940, he commanded the 4th Rifle Brigade (Schutzenbrigade 4) of 4th Panzer Division. He took the command of the division in December 1941. He was promoted to Major General in 1 January, 1942, but unfortunately he was wounded in the next day, a large chunk of his left eyebrow and forehead having to be removed. He came back to service in August 1942 to a post in training schools, was promoted to Lieutenant General in 1943.

In late 1944 he was G.O.C. Group von Saucken north of Minsk organising counterattacks to stop the Great Russian ‘Bagration’ Offensive. He commanded a Panzer Group on the Oder in 1945, and a Corps in East Prussia and South Poland consisting of the Grossdeutschland and Hermann Goring Divisions. In February 1945 von Saucken successfully smashed a way through the Russians, who had surrounded his command when the Vistula front collapsed, and led his Corps back to the Oder and safety near Steinau.

In March 1945 he was G.O.C. 2nd Army in Sopot, Gydnia and Danzig areas. His fellow-cavalryman Captain Gerhard Boldt has left a brilliant description of a meeting between Hitler and von Saucken in the Chancellory in March 1945. ‘Slim, elegant, his left hand resting casually on his cavalry sabre, von Saucken saluted and gave a slight bow. This was three outrages at once. He had not given the Nazi salute with raised arm and the words “Heil Hitler”, as had been regulation since 20 July 1944; he had not surrendered his weapon on entering the operations room; and he had kept his monocle in his eye when saluting Hitler….’ Guderian and Bormann, who were present, seemed turned to stone, but Hitler merely asked Guderian to brief von Saucken on conditions in East Prussia and the Danzig area, where he was to take over 2nd Army Group. Hitler then told the General that in the Danzig area he would have to accept the authority of Gauleiter Forster. Von Saucken stiffened and, still with eyeglass in place struck the marble table with the flat of his hand and said: “I have no intention, Herr Hitler, of placing myself under the orders of a Gauleiter!” Boldt adds: ‘One could have heard a pin drop on the carpet. It seems to me that Hitler shrank physically from the General’s words. His face looked even more waxen, his body more bowed than ever….’

Guderian and Bormann then tried to persuade von Saucken to be reasonable, but he would only reply, “I have no intention whatsoever of doing so….” Hitler, who seemed at last to have met his match in the matter of gazes, finally said in a weak voice: “All right, Saucken, keep the command to yourself.” After a few more minutes of discussion von Saucken left ‘with the merest hint of a bow’. Hitler did not shake his hand.

Guderian had a high opinion of von Saucken, whose abilities he thought ‘outstanding’. He records, in his book ‘Panzer Leader’, that in Eastern Germany in 1945 ‘Generals Nehring and von Sauken performed tasks of military virtuosity during those days that only the pen of a new Xenophon could adequately describe.’

He got Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillianten in 8 May, 1944. Dietrich von Saucken is definitely recognized by the OdR (Knight’s Cross winner association) as being the last man to receive the Diamonds, with his award dated May 8, 1945. After surrendering von Saucken went into Soviet captivity. Doenitz had sent an aircraft to evacuate von Saucken, but he refused to abandon his troops and went into captivity with them.

After his capture by the Russians, von Saucken refused to sign a false letter and was subsequently sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment and sent to a Siberian work camp. Here he was tortured and spent twelve months in solitary confinement. He returned to Germany in 1955 as a marked man and settled in Munich, where he took up amateur painting. He passed away in 1980.

Pope Julius II – the warrior pope

Agony Harrison

Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison) from the film The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)


Pope Julius II, known as the warrior pope, involved himself in several wars in defense of the church and its land. Although his military actions damaged the holy reputation of the papacy, he successfully protected its interests. In addition, Julius was one of the leading patrons of the arts in the Renaissance.

Julius was born Giuliano della Rovere in Albissola, a town in northwestern Italy. He owed his career to a wealthy uncle who financed his education. In 1471 this uncle became Pope Sixtus IV, and shortly after that Giuliano became a cardinal. This new position led him to France and other countries to serve as an official representative of the pope.

In 1474 Giuliano went to war-torn Umbria, part of the Papal States, to end the fighting there. In Umbria he gained a taste for battle, which suited his energy and strength. He remained in Rome until his enemy ALEXANDER VI became pope. Feeling unsafe, Giuliano went to France and later to northwestern Italy, where he lived until Alexander’s death.

In 1503 Giuliano returned to Rome and was elected pope. His strong character and his reputation as a defender of the church helped him win the position. As Julius II he struggled to recover some lands that Venice had taken in the Romagna, a part of the Papal States. In order to defeat the Venetians, Julius joined the League of Cambrai in 1509. This alliance combined the forces of the French king Louis XII, Spain’s FERDINAND OF ARAGON, and the emperor-elect of the Holy Roman Empire, MAXIMILIAN I. The group effectively pressured the Venetians into returning the land. However, Julius continued his battle to protect papal interests. Wanting to ensure Italy’s safety from the mounting French threat, he turned against his former ally and joined the anti- French Holy League. The League, which consisted of leaders from Spain, England, and other countries, fought to drive French troops from Italy. Julius was finally victorious in 1512.

In addition to his military actions, Julius II was one of the most important artistic patrons of the Renaissance. He commissioned one of the most famous works of the Renaissance, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI. Julius also employed RAPHAEL to paint several frescoes*, including the famous School of Athens for his Vatican apartment. Raphael’s portrait of Julius influenced the way artists portrayed popes for centuries.

League of Cambrai, (1508-1510).

An alliance of Pope Julius II (r. 1503- 1513), Louis XII (1462-1515) of France, Emperor Maximilian I, and Ferdinand II of Spain, as well as several Italian states. In name it was a treaty that aimed at punishing the Ottomans. In fact, it was an aggressive alliance that aimed to dismember Venice and divide the carcass of that watery empire. A French army defeated the Venetians at Agnadello in 1509. The alliance quickly collapsed, however, as a result of too many competing ambitions and interests among the allies. Spain withdrew into neutrality and the Papal States switched sides upon receiving some concessions from Venice, and in order to forestall further French advances in Italy.

Alexius I Comnenus: Byzantine Comeback


Alexius I Comnenus


Then he was surrounded by nine Normans who stuck him with spears. But his heavy cataphract armor stopped all six spears and his horse bolted and he managed to escape.


Alexius I Comnenus was an unlikely savior. A member of the aristocratic ranks that the Macedonian dynasty had struggled so long to suppress, he seemed at first to be just another usurper in a long line of meddlesome nobles that had brought such ruin to imperial fortunes. It was true that Alexius had an unrivaled military reputation—in his early twenties, he had fought at Manzikert, and he hadn’t lost a battle since—but he had risen to power in the usual way by overthrowing his short-lived predecessor instead of by fighting the Turks. The motley army he commanded was so full of foreign mercenaries that the moment he brought them inside the walls of Constantinople they started looting the city, and a full day passed before he could bring them under control. Some of Constantinople’s older citizens might well have shaken their heads and muttered that there was indeed nothing new under the sun.

It was hardly an auspicious start, but worse was yet to come. Within a month of Alexius’s coronation, word reached him that a terrible force of Normans had landed on the Dalmatian coast and was heading toward the port city of Durazzo. If they took the city, they would have direct access to the thousand-year-old Via Egnatia and with it a straight invasion route to Constantinople.

The Normans were no ordinary wandering band of adventurers. The descendants of Vikings, these Northmen were the success story of the eleventh century. While their more famous brothers in Normandy had battered their way into Saxon England under the command of William the Conqueror, the southern Normans had batted aside a papal army, held the pope captive, and managed to expel the last vestiges of the Roman Empire from Italy. Led by the remarkable Robert Guiscard, they had invaded Sicily, capturing Palermo and thoroughly broken Saracen power over the island. Now, having run out of enemies at home, and with his appetite whetted for imperial blood, the irascible Guiscard turned his attention to the far more tempting prize of Byzantium.

Upon arriving before the walls of Durazzo, Guiscard cheerfully put the city under siege, but its citizens were well aware that Alexius was on his way and showed no inclination to surrender. After a few months of ineffectual assaults, Robert withdrew to a more defensible position. On October 18, the emperor arrived with his army. The force Alexius had managed to gather in such a short period of time was impressively large, but it suffered from what was by now the traditional Byzantine weakness. The core of the army as always was the elite Varangian Guard, but the rest was an undisciplined, ragtag collection of mercenaries whose loyalty—and courage—was at best suspect. The only consolation for Alexius was that the Varangians, at least, were eager for battle.

Fifteen years before, a Norman duke had burst into Anglo-Saxon England, killing the rightful king at Hastings and placing his heavy boot on the back of anyone with a drop of Saxon blood. Many of those who found life intolerable as second-class citizens in Norman England had eventually made their way to Constantinople, where they had enlisted with their Viking cousins in the ranks of the Varangian Guard. Now at last they were face-to-face with the foreigners who had despoiled their homes, murdered their families, and stolen their possessions.

Swinging their terrible double-headed axes in wicked arcs, the Varangians waded into the Norman line, sending their blades crunching into any man or horse that got in their way. The Normans fell back in the face of such a ferocious assault, but Alexius’s Turkish mercenaries betrayed him, and he was unable to press the advantage. The moment the Norman cavalry wheeled around, the bulk of the imperial army scattered, and the exposed and hopelessly outnumbered Varangians were surrounded and butchered to a man. Alexius, bleeding from a wound in the forehead, kept fighting, but he knew the day was lost. Soon he fled to Bulgaria to rebuild his shattered forces.

The empire had proven as weak as Guiscard had hoped, and with the cream of the Byzantine army gone, there was seemingly nothing to fear from Alexius. By the spring of 1082, Durazzo had fallen along with most of northern Greece, and Guiscard could confidently boast to his men that by winter they would all be dining in the palaces of Constantinople. Unfortunately for the invader’s culinary plans, however, Alexius was far from finished. The ever-resourceful emperor knew he couldn’t hope to stand toe-to-toe with Norman arms, but there were other ways to wage war, and in his capable hands diplomacy would prove a sharper weapon than steel.

Guiscard had been all-conquering in southern Italy, but his meteoric career had left numerous enemies in its wake. Chief among them was the German emperor Henry IV, who held northern Italy in his grip and nervously watched the growth of Norman power in the south. When Alexius sent along a healthy amount of gold with the rather obvious suggestion that a Norman emperor might not be a good thing for either of them, Henry obligingly invaded Rome, forcing the panicked pope to beg Guiscard to return at once. Robert wavered, but more Byzantine gold had found its way into the pockets of the Italians chafing under Norman rule, and news soon arrived that southern Italy had risen in rebellion. Gnashing his teeth in frustration, Guiscard had no choice but to withdraw, leaving his son Bohemond to carry on the fight in his place.

Alexius immediately attacked, cobbling together no fewer than three mercenary armies, but each one met the same fate, and the emperor accomplished nothing more than further draining his treasury. Even without their charismatic leader, the Normans were clearly more than a match for his imperial forces, so Alexius began a search for allies to do the fighting for him. He found a ready one in Venice—that most Byzantine of sea republics—where the leadership was as alarmed as everyone else about the scope of Guiscard’s ambitions. In return for the help of its navy, Alexius reduced Venetian tariffs to unprecedented (and from native merchants’ perspectives rather dangerous) levels, and gave Venice a full colony in Constantinople with the freedom to trade in imperial waters. The concessions virtually drove Byzantine merchants from the sea, but that spring it must all have seemed worth it as the Venetian navy cut off Bohemond from supplies or reinforcements. By this time, the Normans were thoroughly exhausted. It had been nearly four years since they had landed in Byzantine territory, and though they had spectacularly demolished every army sent against them, they were no closer to conquering Constantinople than the day they arrived. Most of their officers were unimpressed by the son of Guiscard and wanted only to return home. Encouraged by Alexius’s shrewd bribes, they started to grumble, and when Bohemond returned to Italy to raise more money, his officers promptly surrendered.

The next year, in 1085, the seventy-year-old Robert Guiscard tried again, but he got no farther than the island of Cephalonia, where a fever accomplished what innumerable enemy swords couldn’t, and he died without accomplishing his great dream. The empire could breathe a sigh of relief and turn its eyes once more to lesser threats from the East.

The Muslim threat—much like the Norman one—had recently been tremendously diminished by a fortuitous death. At the start of Alexius’s reign, it had seemed that the Seljuk Turks would devour what was left of Asia Minor. In 1085, Antioch had fallen to their irresistible advance, and the next year Edessa and most of Syria as well. In 1087, the greatest shock came when Jerusalem was captured and the pilgrim routes to the Holy City were completely cut off by the rather fanatical new masters. Turning to the coast, the Muslims captured Ephesus in 1090 and spread out to the Greek islands. Chios, Rhodes, and Lesbos fell in quick succession. But just when it appeared as if Asia was lost, the sultan died and his kingdom splintered in the usual power grab.

With the Norman threat blunted and the Muslim enemy fragmented, the empire might never have a better opportunity to push back the Seljuk threat—and Alexius knew it. All the emperor needed was an army, but as the recent struggle with the Normans had shown, his own was woefully inadequate. Alexius would have to turn to allies to find the necessary steel to stiffen his forces, and, in 1095, he did just that. Taking pen in hand, he wrote a letter to the pope.

The decision to appeal to Rome was somewhat surprising in light of the excommunication of forty-one years before, but most of those involved in that unfortunate event were long dead, and tempers had cooled in the ensuing decades. The emperor and the pope might quibble occasionally about theological details, but they were members of the same faith, and it was as a fellow Christian that Alexius wrote Urban. As a gesture of goodwill to get things off on the right foot, the emperor reopened the Latin churches in Constantinople, and when his ambassadors reached Pope Urban II, they found the pontiff to be in a conciliatory mood. The appalling Turkish conquests had profoundly shocked him, and the sad plight of eastern Christians under Muslim rule could no longer be ignored. No record of the conversation that followed has survived, but by the time the pope made his way to France a few months later, a grand new vision had formed in his mind. Islam had declared a jihad to seize the holy places of Christendom and spread its faith into Europe; now it was time for a grand Christian counteroffensive. On November 18, the pope mounted a huge platform just outside the French city of Clermont and delivered one of the most fateful speeches in history.

The Saracens, he proclaimed, had come storming out of the deserts to steal Christian land and defile their churches, murdering Christian pilgrims and oppressing the faith. They had torn down the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and forced innumerable believers to convert to Islam. The West could no longer in good conscience ignore the suffering—it was the sacred duty of every Christian to march to the aid of their eastern brothers. The Saracens had stolen the city of God and now righteous soldiers were needed to drive them out. All those who marched with a pure heart would have their sins absolved.

The moment the pope finished speaking, the crowd erupted. Medieval Europe was filled with violence, and most of those gathered were painfully aware of how much blood stained their hands. Now, suddenly, they were offered a chance to avoid the eternal damnation that in all likelihood awaited them by wielding their swords in God’s name. A bishop knelt down on the spot and pledged to take the cross, and within moments the papal officials had run out of material for those who wanted to sew crosses on their clothing as a sign of their intentions. France, Italy, and Germany were swept up in crusading fever as Urban traveled spreading the message, and peasants and knights alike flocked to his banner. So many responded that the pope had to begin encouraging some to stay home to take in the harvest and avert the danger of a famine. Not even in his wildest dreams had he imagined such a groundswell.

The sheer scale of the response electrified the pope, but it horrified Alexius. The last thing he needed was a shambling horde of western knights descending on his capital. What he really wanted were some mercenaries who recognized his authority, while the pope had given him what was sure to be an undisciplined rabble that listened little and demanded much.

And there were plenty of other reasons to mistrust the crusaders. Not only had the pope cleverly substituted Jerusalem for Constantinople as the object of the holy war, but he had also neglected to mention Alexius in any of his speeches, putting the Crusade firmly under his own control, and reinforcing the idea that the pope—not the emperor—was the supreme authority in Christendom. Furthermore, the whole idea of a “holy” war was an alien concept to the Byzantine mind. Killing, as Saint Basil of Caesarea had taught in the fourth century, was sometimes necessary but never praiseworthy, and certainly not grounds for remission of sins. The Eastern Church had held this line tenaciously throughout the centuries, even rejecting the great warrior-emperor Nicephorus Phocas’s attempt to have soldiers who died fighting Muslims declared martyrs. Wars could, of course, be just, but on the whole diplomacy was infinitely preferable. Above all, eastern clergy were not permitted to take up arms, and the strange sight of Norman clerics armed and even leading soldiers disconcerted the watching hosts.

These strange western knights were obviously not to be trusted, and some Byzantines suspected that the true object of the Crusade was not the liberation of Jerusalem at all, but the capture of Constantinople. Anyone who doubted that only needed to look at the nobles who were already on their way, for foremost among the crusading knights was Bohemond—the hated son of Robert Guiscard.

The first group of crusaders to arrive before the gates of the city didn’t improve Alexius’s opinion of them. After the pope had returned to Italy, other men had taken up the task of preaching the Crusade, fanning out to spread the word. One of them, a rather unpleasant monk named Peter the Hermit, traveled through northern France and Germany, preaching to the poor and offering the destitute peasants a chance to escape their crushing lives. After attracting a following of forty thousand men, women, and children who were too impatient to wait for the official start date, Peter led his shambling horde to Constantinople. When they reached Hungary, it became apparent that many had joined the Crusade for less than noble reasons, and neither Peter nor anyone else could control them. Looting their way through the countryside, they set fire to Belgrade and stormed the citadel of any town that didn’t turn over its supplies. At the city of Nish, the exasperated Byzantine governor sent out his troops to bring them into line, and in the skirmish ten thousand crusaders were killed. By the time Peter and his “People’s Crusade” reached Constantinople, they were looking less like an army than a rabble of hungry, tired brigands. Knowing that they wouldn’t stand a chance against the Turks, Alexius advised them to turn back, but they had come too far by now and were firmly convinced of their invulnerability. They were already becoming a headache—taking whatever they pleased and looting the suburbs of Constantinople—so with a final warning Alexius ferried them across to Asia Minor.

The People’s Crusade came to a predictably bad end. The crusaders spent most of the next three months committing atrocities against the local Greek population—apparently without noticing that they were fellow Christians—before blundering into a Turkish ambush. Peter the Hermit managed to survive and make his miserable way back to Constantinople, but the rest of his “army” wasn’t so lucky. The youngest and best-looking children were saved for the Turkish slave markets and the rest were wiped out.

The main crusading armies that arrived over the next nine months bore no resemblance to the pathetic rabble that Peter had led. Headed by the most powerful knights in western Europe, they were disciplined and strong, easily doubling the size of any army Alexius could muster. The logistics of feeding and handling such an enormous group were a nightmare, made especially difficult by the fact that neither they nor Alexius trusted the other an inch. Obviously, the emperor had to handle the situation with extreme care. Since these westerners valued oaths so highly, they must all be made to swear their allegiance to him, but it had to be done quickly. Arriving separately, they were small enough to be overawed by the majesty of the capital, but if they were allowed to join together, they would undoubtedly get it into their heads to attack the city. Constantinople had been a temptation to generations of would-be conquerors before them; why would crusaders prove any different?

The emperor was right to be alarmed. Constantinople was unlike any other city in the world, more splendid and intoxicating than any the westerners had ever seen. To a poor knight, the city was impossibly strange, dripping in gold and home to a population nearly twenty times that of Paris or London. The churches were filled with mysterious rites that seemed shockingly heretical, and the babble of dozens of exotic languages could be heard on streets choked with merchants and nobles dressed in bright silks and brilliant garments. The public monuments were impossibly large, the palaces unbearably magnificent, and the markets excessively expensive. Inevitably, there was a severe culture clash. The Byzantines the crusaders met treated them like barely civilized barbarians, resenting the swarms of “allies” who had looted their cities and stolen their crops, while the crusaders in response despised the “effeminate” Greeks arrayed in their flowing robes and surrounded by perfumed eunuchs who needed westerners to do their fighting for them. Annoyed by the cloying ceremony of the Byzantine court, most of the crusading princes at first treated the emperor with barely concealed contempt—one knight even went so far as to lounge impudently on the imperial throne when Alexius entered to meet with him. The emperor, however, was quite capable of holding his own. With a shrewd mixture of vague threats and luxurious gifts, he managed to procure an oath from each of them. Few arrived eager to pledge their loyalty, although some were compliant enough (Bohemond in particular was a little too willing to swear), but in the end virtually every leader agreed to return any conquered city to the empire. Only the distinguished Raymond of Toulouse stubbornly refused the exact wording, substituting instead the rather nebulous promise to “respect” the life and property of the emperor.

By the early months of 1097, the ordeal was over and the last of the crusaders had been ferried across the Bosporus and settled on the Asian shore. For Alexius, the feeling was one of extreme relief. The armies that had descended on his empire had been more of a threat than a help, and even if they were successful in Anatolia, they would most likely prove more dangerous than the currently disunited Turks. In any case, all that he could do now was wait and see what developed.

As soon as they landed, the crusaders headed for Nicaea, the ancient city that had witnessed the first great council of the church nearly eight centuries before. The Turkish sultan who had wiped out the People’s Crusade was more annoyed than alarmed, assuming that these recent arrivals were of the same caliber. Instead, he found an army of hardened knights mounted on their powerful horses, encased in thick armor that rendered them completely impervious to arrows. The Turkish army shattered before the first charge of the crusader heavy cavalry, and the stunned sultan hastily retreated.

The only thing that marred the victory for the crusaders was the fact that the garrison of Nicaea chose to surrender to the Byzantine commander—who promptly shut the gates and refused to let them enjoy the customary pillaging. Such behavior by the Byzantines was perfectly understandable since the population of Nicaea was predominantly Byzantine Christian, but to the crusaders it smacked of treachery. They began to wonder if the emperor might not be confused between his allies and his enemies—especially when the captured Turks were offered a choice between service under the imperial standards or safe conduct home. For the moment, the crusaders muted their criticism, but their suspicions didn’t bode well for future relations with Byzantium.

Alexius was more than happy to ignore western knighthood’s injured pride, because he was fairly certain that they stood no chance against the innumerable Muslim enemies arrayed against them. Against all expectations in Constantinople, however, the First Crusade turned out to be a rousing success. The Turkish sultan tried again to stop the crusaders, but after two crushing defeats, he ordered their path stripped of supplies and left them unmolested. After a horrendous march across the arid, burning heart of Asia Minor, the crusaders reached Antioch and managed to batter their way inside. No sooner had they captured the city, however, than a massive army under the Turkisn governor of Mosul appeared, and the crusaders—now desperately short of water—were forced to kill most of their horses for food. Alexius gathered his army to march to their defense but was met halfway by a fleeing crusader, who informed him that all hope was lost and that the city had most likely already fallen. Realizing that there was nothing to gain by sacrificing his army, Alexius turned around and returned to Constantinople.

The crusaders, however, hadn’t surrendered. Inspired by the miraculous discovery of a holy relic, they had flung themselves into a last-ditch offensive and managed to put the huge army to flight. Continuing their advance, they reached Jerusalem in midsummer, and on July 15, 1099, successfully stormed the Holy City. Many crusaders wept upon seeing the city that they had suffered so much to reach, but their entry into it unleashed all the pent-up frustrations of the last four years. Few of the inhabitants were spared—neither Orthodox, nor Muslims, nor Jews—and the hideously un-Christian bloodbath continued until early the next morning.

It was the work of several weeks to cleanse the city of the stench of rotting bodies, and by that time the crusaders had chosen a king. By the oaths they had all taken, they should have returned the city—along with everything else they had conquered—to the Byzantine Empire, but there was no longer any chance of that. As far as they were concerned, when Alexius had failed to relieve them in Antioch, he had revealed himself to be treacherous, releasing them from their vows. Bohemond had already seized Antioch, setting himself up as prince, and the rest of their conquests were now broken up into various crusader kingdoms. If the emperor wanted to press his claims to their lands, then he could do so in person with an army at his back.

Alexius was more than happy to let Palestine go. A few Christian buffer states in lands that had been lost for centuries might even be a good thing. But having his enemy Bohemond installed in Antioch was more than he could swallow. Long regarded as the second city of the empire and site of one of the great patriarchates of the church, Antioch had been lost to the Turks only fifteen years before. Its population was thoroughly Orthodox, its language was Greek, and its culture was Byzantine through and through. But even when Bohemond added insult to injury by tossing out the Greek patriarch and replacing him with a Latin one, there was little Alexius could do. The emperor had used the distraction of the Crusade to recover most of northwestern Asia Minor—including the cities of Ephesus, Sardis, and Philadelphia—but his armies were stretched out, and there was no hope of extending his reach into Syria.


Friedrich Dollmann, a large, physically impressive officer who showed great adaptability throughout his career, was born at Wuerzburg, Bavaria, on February 2, 1882. He joined the army as a Fahnenjunker in 1899 and was commissioned second lieutenant in the 7th Bavarian Field Artillery Regiment in 1901. Despite his junior rank he attended the School of Artillery and Engineering at Charlottenburg from 1903 to 1905, did a stint as a battalion adjutant (1905–1909), and was sent to the War Academy for General Staff training in 1909. Promoted to first lieutenant in 1910 and to captain in 1913, he served briefly as a brigade adjutant in early 1913, before becoming an aerial observer—an unusual post for a General Staff officer. Moreover, he served in this capacity for the first two years of the Great War, before assuming command of an artillery battalion in late 1916. He did not take up his first wartime General Staff assignment until November 1917, when he became the intelligence officer of the 6th Infantry Division on the Western Front, a post he held at the end of the war.

Dollmann did not win any promotions during World War I, nor did he achieve any particular distinction; nevertheless he was selected for the Reichswehr and was appointed to the administrative section of the Peace Commission in 1919, no doubt largely because he could speak both French and English and because he had a talent for making himself acceptable. There is little in his personnel file to explain why he advanced to the top rungs of the army in the next 20 years, except that he was an expert in long-range artillery, was a good administrator, and knew how to play the political angles that exist in any army but proliferated in those of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. The fact that he was stationed in Munich (the cradle of Nazism) almost continuously from 1923 to 1933 no doubt gave him some early contacts with the Nazis and may have accelerated his later advancement; in any event, by February 1930, he was a colonel and chief of staff of Wehrkreis VII (Munich) and on February 1, 1931, assumed command of the 6th Artillery Regiment. Eighteen months later, he was promoted to Artillery Commander VII and deputy commander of the 7th Infantry Division in Munich, and on February 1, 1933, he was named inspector of artillery in the Defense Ministry in Berlin. Dollmann was promoted to major general on October 1, 1932, and to lieutenant general exactly one year later.

Although not a Nazi, Friedrich Dollmann saw which way the political winds were blowing and made himself very prominent in fostering good relations between the army and the party in the early years of Hitler’s regime. Partially as a result, he was named commander of Wehrkreis IX at Kassel on May 1, 1935. From this corps-level military district headquarters he issued directives criticizing those members of the officer corps who opposed the concept and outlook of the Nazi Party. He openly and officially blamed the officer corps for the mistrust that existed between the party and the army and wrote that “the Officer Corps must have confidence in the representatives of the Party. Party opinions should not be examined or rejected.” He demanded that “worthy” pictures of the Fuehrer be hung in officers’ messes and that those of the Kaiser be removed or hung only in tradition rooms; furthermore, officers’ wives should play active roles in the National Socialist League of Women, and the only civilian guest speakers who should be invited to address service functions were the politically nonbiased National Socialists.

Dollmann went even further in 1937, when he called in his Catholic chaplains and harangued them for not having a sufficiently positive attitude toward the Nazis. Although he was a Catholic himself, he told the padres, “The Oath which [the soldier] has taken to the Fuehrer and supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht binds him unto the sacrifice of his own life to National Socialism, the concept of the new Reich. . . . No doubts may be permitted to arise out of your [the padres’] attitudes towards National Socialism. The Wehrmacht, as one of the bearers of the National Socialist State, demands of you as chaplains at all times a clear and unreserved acknowledgement of the Fuehrer, State and People!”

Largely because of his pro-Nazi attitudes and orders, Friedrich Dollmann was promoted to general of artillery on April 1, 1936, and on August 25, 1939, he was elevated to the command of 7th Army. This last advancement seems to have been engineered by Bodewin Keitel, the chief of the Army Personnel Office, who had worked for Dollmann for years and was his chief of staff at Kassel until 1938. Six days after Dollmann took charge of his new command, the German Army crossed the Polish frontier, starting the Second World War.

Dollmann’s army, which consisted of nonmotorized divisions made up primarily of inadequately trained, older-age reservists, remained in Germany while Hitler conquered Poland. In the invasion of France (1940), it had the unspectacular mission of manning the southern end of the Westwall (the Siegfried Line), opposite the Maginot Line. Only after the best of the French divisions had been destroyed and the end of the campaign was clearly in sight did the 7th Army go over to the offensive, breaking through the Maginot north of Belford. Demoralized French resistance collapsed quickly, and on June 19, Dollmann linked up with the 1st Panzer Division of Panzer Group Guderian, completing the encirclement of 400,000 French soldiers in the Vosges Mountains. The French formally surrendered at Compiègne two days later. On July 19, 1940, a jubilant Adolf Hitler rewarded his generals with an outpouring of medals and promotions. Among those to benefit was Friedrich Dollmann, who was promoted to colonel general. He then returned to occupation duty in France, where he remained for the next four years.

From 1940 until 1944, while most of the Wehrmacht was fighting on the Eastern Front, Colonel General Dollmann and his 7th Army vegetated in France. During this period Dollmann—to his credit—began to have serious second thoughts about the Nazi regime he had previously supported. As the months went by and the war dragged on, and as the Nazis became more and more repressive and vicious in the occupied areas, the directives exhorting his troops to cooperate with the party ceased to flow from Dollmann’s headquarters. He was, in fact, a deeply troubled man; his health began to deteriorate, and he apparently felt guilty and ashamed of his previous support for the Nazis and was deeply concerned about the future of his country and his command. However, he did very little about either. Headquartered comfortably in LeMans, Dollmann grew fat and followed the lead of his superior, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, and neglected the coastal defenses of his sector. He did not see any active campaigning of any kind and, more debilitating, did not keep abreast of developments in his profession. Indeed, he had little or no grasp of panzer tactics and no understanding of the implications of Allied air superiority. By 1944, Dollmann was almost an anachronism; he simply was not prepared to deal with what he would soon be called upon to face: the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944. Before Eisenhower’s forces landed, however, Dollmann faced another threat to his position when Field Marshal Rommel arrived in France in December 1943.

Erwin Rommel, the famous Desert Fox, was the commander-in-chief of Army Group B, a headquarters that was interjected between Rundstedt’s Oberbefehlshaber West (OB West) and Dollmann’s 7th Army Headquarters. Rundstedt, like Dollmann, had vegetated in a static command and was living in the past. He believed that the proper strategy for Germany was to let the Allies land, build up, and advance inland. Here they could be engaged and perhaps destroyed in a blitzkrieg-like tank battle, well out of range of their big naval guns. Rommel, however, had experienced firsthand the devastating effects of Allied aerial supremacy in North Africa and realized that a battle of the kind envisioned by Rundstedt and his chief armored adviser, General of Panzer Troops Baron Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg, was no longer possible. The dynamic Rommel now insisted that the invaders be halted on the beaches and immediately counterattacked to throw them back into the sea. These tactics would require the laying of tens of thousands of mines, the construction of dozens of bunkers and anti-tank traps, and the erection of countless anti-glider and anti-parachute obstacles.

For almost four years, Friedrich Dollmann had done little to improve his coastal defenses. But Erwin Rommel had a reputation for replacing subordinate commanders who did not enthusiastically support his concept of operations. Suddenly, therefore, the 7th Army commander became a firm advocate of coastal obstacles and offshore barriers. “Dollmann was now absolutely for Rommel’s ideas,” Rommel’s naval adviser recorded in February 1944. However, four months of feverish activity could not make good four years of inactivity. When the Allies landed on D-Day, 7th Army was not ready.

Friedrich Dollmann was not only ill-prepared for D-Day—he was unlucky as well. Field Marshal Rommel was in Germany, away from his post, and Dollmann had scheduled a war game at Rennes for the morning of June 6. As a result, most of the key divisional and corps commanders of the 7th Army were also absent when the Anglo-American paratroopers began to land. Shortly thereafter, the assault forces stormed ashore. Acting in Rommel’s absence, Dollmann tried to restore the situation via an immediate armored counterattack with his only available armored division, but he experienced little success, and the 21st Panzer Division was devastated in the process. Furthermore, when Lieutenant General Fritz Bayerlein, the commander of the elite Panzer Lehr Division, turned up at 7th Army Headquarters in LeMans, Dollmann ordered him to move up his division at 5 p.m.—in broad daylight.

Bayerlein objected immediately. Having served with Rommel in the Afrika Korps, he realized the risks involved in a daylight move, but Dollmann refused to listen. He was more concerned with his invasion front, which was being hammered by vastly superior Allied forces and would soon be on the verge of collapse. Summer days are long in France; to comply with Bayerlein’s request would have meant a delay of more than three hours, and Dollmann did not think he could spare the time. He insisted that the division begin its move at 5 p.m. and even proposed a change in the preselected approach routes, but on this point Bayerlein held firm—any modification at this point certainly would have resulted in chaos, as Dollmann surely should have known. To make matters even worse, Dollmann imposed radio silence on the division. “As if radio silence could have stopped the fighter-bombers and reconnaissance planes from spotting us!” a disgusted and angry Bayerlein snapped later.

As Fritz Bayerlein foresaw, the Allies quickly spotted the move, and Panzer Lehr’s approach to contact quickly became a nightmare. The fighter-bombers were soon everywhere, shooting up the long columns of vehicles and blasting bridges, crossroads, and towns along the division’s five routes of advance. Night brought no relief, because Allied airplanes now knew the approximate location of the division’s columns, so they illuminated the countryside with flares until they found a suitable target. All the while the columns became more and more spread out, scattered, disorganized, and fragmented. The tanks were relatively safe from the bombardment (only five were knocked out), but the rest of the division suffered terribly. During the night of June 6–7, Bayerlein lost 40 loaded fuel trucks; 84 half-tracks, prime-movers, and self-propelled guns; and dozens of other vehicles. Perhaps more important, the elite but now depleted Panzer Lehr Division arrived at its assembly areas in dribs and drabs. Field Marshal Rommel once predicted that the invasion must be thrown back into the sea within 48 hours or the war would be lost. Partially as a result of the Panzer Lehr debacle, the Desert Fox could not launch his armored counterattack until June 9—at least two days too late. It was repulsed. The war was lost.

Significantly, almost as soon as he returned to France (he was in Germany, en route to see Hitler, when the invasion struck), Rommel took the panzer divisions away from the control of Friedrich Dollmann and placed them under Headquarters, Panzer Group West (later 5th Panzer Army) under Geyr von Schweppenburg. Seventh Army now had responsibility only for the left wing of the invasion front—which was quite enough. For the next three weeks an increasingly distressed Dollmann slowed, but could not halt, the progress of the Allied invasion, and the units of the 7th Army were slowly ground to bits in the hedgerow country of Normandy. The French port of Cherbourg, Eisenhower’s initial strategic objective, was cut off from the rest of the army on June 18. Despite the fact that it had enough food and ammunition to hold out for eight weeks, the defenses of Cherbourg collapsed with incredible speed. Lieutenant General Karl Wilhelm von Schlieben, the fortress commander, surrendered at 1:30 p.m. on June 26. Although isolated resistance would continue for several days, the fall of the critical port was now just a matter of time.

Hitler, naturally, was furious, and Keitel ordered a court-martial investigation of the fall of the fortress. Dollmann was questioned, of course, and not too politely. He was accused of negligence in connection with the disaster—and probably rightfully so. In any event, Hitler summoned Rommel and von Rundstedt to Berchtesgaden and, on the afternoon of June 29, demanded that Dollmann be court-martialed for losing Cherbourg. Rundstedt, however, refused to listen to such talk. (Dollmann, after all, had been no more negligent in the pre-invasion years than Rundstedt himself had been.) Hitler then turned to Rommel and demanded that Dollmann at least be relieved of his command. Dollmann, however, had obeyed Rommel’s orders to the best of his ability and the field marshal was personally fond of the fat general; furthermore, the Desert Fox was not accustomed to sacking commanders who had served him loyally.

Like Rundstedt, he stood up for Dollmann and then changed the subject. It was only after the marshals left that Hitler sent the order to LeMans, personally relieving Dollmann of his command. He was replaced by SS Obergruppenfuehrer Paul Hausser. Friedrich Dollmann, however, never knew that he had been sacked. At 10 a.m. on June 28, overworked, stressed out, and very worried about the ongoing investigation that Hitler had ordered, he suffered a heart attack at his forward command post. Sources differ as to whether he succumbed on June 28 or 29, and word of his death did not reach LeMans for hours; however, it seems certain that while Hitler, Rommel, and von Rundstedt were arguing about his fate, Dollmann was already dead. In any case he was buried in France on July 2. Perhaps remembering better days, or perhaps feeling a twinge of guilt for sacking him (if that were possible), Adolf Hitler authorized a laudatory obituary for Colonel General Dollmann.

The Northumbrian rising 1065


Earl Tostig

Events in England soon conspired to render whatever had happened in Normandy increasingly irrelevant as far as Harold was concerned. In the autumn of 1065, the thegns of Northumbria rose up against the rule of Earl Tostig. Whilst Tostig was absent at the royal court, his housecarls were attacked and killed at York, and Morcar, younger brother of Earl Edwin of Mercia, was chosen as earl in his place. The rebels, with Morcar at their head, advanced as far south as Lincoln and then on to Northampton, the southern limit of the northern earldom. Here they joined forces with Earl Edwin (who had Welsh support as well as Mercian) and met Earl Harold. Harold negotiated with them and took their demands (principally the outlawry of Tostig and the recognition of Morcar as their earl) to King Edward at Oxford. The King reluctantly gave in to the rebels’ demands and Harold returned to give the rebels the news. Morcar was confirmed as the new earl and Tostig fled with his wife and followers to the court of his father-in-law in Flanders.

Local grievances dominated the northern rebels’ concerns. Tostig’s relationship with King Malcolm of Scotland, for example, may have been causing unease for some time. Vita Edwardi describes how, in the late 1050s, Tostig had responded to Scottish raids southwards with diplomacy rather than military force. Malcolm and Tostig became sworn brothers and the former acknowledged the superiority of King Edward. However, Malcolm’s unreliability as an ally was demonstrated in 1061 during Tostig’s absence from England on a pilgrimage to Rome. With northern England leaderless, Malcolm raided again, and influential members of England’s northern élite may well have felt that Tostig was neglecting his primary duty of defending his earldom from Scottish attack. If so, their disquiet can only have been compounded after Tostig’s return from Rome when, in 1062, he travelled to Scotland and made peace with Malcolm, reaffirming his earlier agreement with the Scots’ king and effectively accepting the latter’s possession of Cumberland. This was `a serious setback for the security of the North’.

According to John of Worcester, moreover, Tostig’s rule was brutal and cruel: he was responsible for the deaths of two prominent Northumbrian noblemen, whilst his sister (Queen Edith, no less) had ordered the killing of the Northumbrian thegn Cospatric `for her brother’s sake’ at the King’s Christmas court in 1064. Cospatric was the son of Earl Uhtred of Northumbria, who had died in 1016. He therefore had his own claim to the earldom, and his death may hint at the political tensions which remain largely hidden behind the scenes in northern England during Tostig’s rule. That rule was also oppressive for other reasons: Tostig `unjustly levied on the whole of Northumbria’ a `huge tribute’; and even the pro-Godwine Vita Edwardi concedes that he had repressed the Northumbrian nobility `with the heavy yoke of his rule because of their misdeeds’. It is possible that the harshness of Tostig’s regime is overstated in these sources, but the particularly northern concerns of the rebels cannot be overlooked. One of their demands was for the restoration of the `Laws of Cnut’. The laws themselves were not important for their detail as much as for what they were seen to represent, namely `the pattern of northern rule which Tostig’s government had subverted’. This strongly suggests that Tostig had been trying to impose southern laws and, in particular, southern (that is, higher than usual) levels of taxation in the north.

The Vita Edwardi reports a rumour that Earl Harold had actually instigated the rising against his brother. The author takes care to dismiss this possibility (perhaps out of deference to the feelings of his patron, and Harold’s sister, Queen Edith), but clearly states that Tostig himself believed it and that he publicly charged his brother with this treachery before the King. Harold certainly had a great deal to gain from a successful rising. Having recently returned from Normandy, he knew about Duke William’s designs on the throne, and he must have been thinking about the best course to pursue so as to ease his own path to power on Edward’s death. In this context, the support of Earl Edwin of Mercia and his family would have been extremely helpful, and there was perhaps no better way to secure this than by quietly supporting Morcar’s claim to the earldom of Northumbria. In other words, by supporting Morcar, `Harold aligned himself with both Mercians and Northumbrians, a political gain which overrode any familial feelings for a brother whose rule had led to disorder in the north.’ Harold’s marriage at around this time to Ealdgyth, the sister of earls Edwin and Morcar and the widow of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn, was probably designed to set the seal on this newly-established amity between England’s two most powerful families. On balance, it is probably going too far to suggest that Harold stirred up the northern rising; and he may, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle claimed, have tried but failed to reconcile his brother with his opponents. The fallout from the events of 1065 nevertheless benefited Harold greatly in the short term; although by abandoning Tostig he created problems which eventually contributed to his own downfall.

For King Edward, the way in which the Northumbrian rising was brought to an end amounted to a personal humiliation. Tostig had been a royal appointee to the earldom of Northumbria in 1055, and it would have been understandable had Edward perceived the rising as a challenge to his own authority. He had wanted to crush the rebels by force, but, as in 1052, his leading subjects effectively ignored him. According to the Vita Edwardi, a furious and raging Edward felt that he had been betrayed and he fretted himself into an illness from which he never recovered. News of Edward’s poor health must soon have reached William of Normandy.




Siege of Massilia 49 BC


A particular type of shelter known as the musculus appears only rarely in ancient writings. Vegetius describes it as a small machine, reminiscent of the Hellenistic ditch–filling tortoise in its role of protecting men as they brought forward building materials (Veg., Epit. rei mil. 4.16). However, he is surely mistaken. From Caesar’s description of the musculus in action during the siege of Massilia in 49 BCE, it is clear that it was an enormously robust gallery, constructed when the standard vineae and plutei failed to stand up to the defenders’ formidable artillery; its name, meaning ‘little mouse’, is surely another example of soldiers’ humour. The extra protection was required by men moving up to the enemy wall for undermining work. In other words, it was the Roman equivalent of the Hellenistic ‘digging tortoise’. Caesar’s version was 60ft (18m) long, 4ft (1.2m) wide, and 5ft (1.5m) tall, with a pitched roof. It was built out of 2ft–thick (0. 6m) timbers, and entirely covered with a fireproof layer of tiles and clay, followed by a waterproof layer of rawhide, to foil any attempts at dissolving the clay (Caes., BCiv. 2.10). It was perhaps unusual to mobilize such a structure; at any rate, the defenders were taken by surprise when it was suddenly advanced to the wall on sets of rollers normally used to transport ships. With the musculus in place at the wall foot, the defenders were powerless to prevent the Romans from undermining one of the city’s towers.


Like the musculus, but open along one side, was the vinea. This is especially used to shield soldiers when they were undermining the city’s walls by driving tunnels under them, or prizing out the stones at the base with sharp iron tools called terebrae.


Roman law specifically prohibited generals from bringing their legions into Italy proper without the express approval of the Senate. On the Adriatic coast, the border was marked by the Rubicon River south of Ravenna. Yet on January 10 or 11 (sources differ), 49 BCE, announcing that “the die is cast,” Caesar defied the Senate and crossed the small Rubicon with his army into Italy proper. Although Caesar had only one legion immediately with him, he retained eight other battle-tested legions in Gaul. His total force thus numbered some 40,000 men, plus 20,000 auxiliaries. Ranged against Caesar, Pompey and his allies in the Senate could call on two legions in Italy(with eight more being raised there), seven in Spain, and substantial military resources in Greece, the East, and North Africa.

Caesar hoped to counter this formidable imbalance by the decisive approach that had brought him victory in Gaul. Moving swiftly south along the Adriatic, he collected additional forces and recruits. Pompey declared that Rome could not be defended, and he and most of the senators abandoned the city to Caesar in order to buy time to gather additional resources in southern Italy. The only setback for Caesar to this point was the news that Labienus, a former lieutenant of Pompey, had defected to him. All of Caesar’s other key subordinates and legions remained loyal.

Because Pompey was slow both to react to the threat posed by Caesar and to mobilize his own legions, he and 25,000 men and most of the senators who had fled to the south withdrew to Brundisium (Brindisi). Pompey also rejected calls from Caesar that they end the fighting and restore their former alliance, Pompey claiming that he was Caesar’s superior.

Pompey was confident of ultimate victory. He expected to raise substantial forces in the eastern Greek provinces and, with control of most of the Roman Navy, institute a blockade of the Italian coast. In March 49 BCE Pompey and a number of his senatorial allies sailed from Brundisium for Epirus.

Before Caesar could contemplate proceeding against Pompey in Greece, he had to eliminate the threat to his rear posed by Pompey’s sizable army in Spain. Leaving Marcus Aemilius Lepidus as prefect in Rome and Mark Antony in charge of the rest of Italy, Caesar marched for Spain. Gaius Antonius held Illyria for Caesar, while Cisalpine Gaul was under Licinius Crassus. Caesar sent Gaius Curio with other troops to secure Sicily and North Africa.

Pompey supporter Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus landed by sea at Massilia (present-day Marseille) with a small number of men and persuaded its leaders to declare for Pompey. Caesar, having sent most of his army ahead to secure the passes over the Pyrenees that would give him access to Spain, invested Massilia in April with three legions. Caesar then hurried on to take charge of operations in Spain, leaving Gaius Trebonius to continue the siege operations by land and Decimus Brutus to raise a naval force and blockade Massilia from the sea. The siege continued during the entire time of Caesar’s operations in Spain, although Brutus won a naval victory off Massilia against a joint Massilian-Pompeian force.

Taking advantage of Pompey’s absence from the Italian mainland, Caesar moved quickly. In June 49, his legions secured the vital Pyrenees passes just in advance of a large force of 65,000 men loyal to Pompey and commanded by Lucius Afranius and Marcus Petreius. Frustrated by their inability to reach and secure the passes first, the two Pompeian generals awaited Caesar’s arrival in Spain. Two additional Pompeian legions and about 45,000 auxiliaries under Vebellius Rufus and Marcus Terentius Varro held the remainder of Spain.

Both sides engaged in extended maneuvering in what is known as the Ilerda Campaign. Caesar was anxious to avoid pitched battle because of his considerable inferiority in numbers. His opponents were equally reluctant to engage because of Caesar’s military reputation. Finally, through adroit maneuvering and rapid movement, Caesar cut off the withdrawal of the two legions and surrounded them, securing their surrender at Ilerda on August 2, 49. Following his victory, Caesar disbanded the two legions, gaining recruits in the process. He then marched to Gades (Cadiz) to overawe all Spain. Then, leaving a small force to complete the pacification of Iberia, Caesar returned to Massilia, which surrendered on September 6. Domitius escaped by sea.


An example of aggressive siegecraft is provided by the attack on coastal Massilia by Caesar’s deputy, Caius Trebonius, in 49 BCE. He began to construct two embankments at different points on the landward side, but was severely hindered by the town’s ballistae, which had allegedly been engineered to discharge 12ft (3.5m) iron–pointed spears instead of the usual rounded stone balls. The legionaries’ standard wickerwork shelters (vineae) could not stand up to such punishment, so Trebonius arranged for the workers to be protected by galleries made out of timber 1ft thick (30cm). In addition, he had a 30ft—square (9m) brick refuge built close to the town, so that the workers could shelter within its 5ft–thick (1.5m) walls; but he quickly realized how useful a tower would be in this location, and again exploited the legionaries’ engineering skills to raise the structure, under constant threat of enemy missiles, until it had six storeys. This opened up new possibilities, and Trebonius ordered a massive gallery to be built, 60ft (18m) long, stretching from the brick tower to the town wall. Realizing the danger posed by the gallery, the Massiliotes tipped blocks of masonry and blazing barrels of pitch onto it from the battlements above. But they were driven back by the artillery in the brick tower, and their improvised missiles were easily deflected by the gallery’s 2ft–thick (60cm) gabled roof, with its coating of padded rawhide over clay. Then, concealed within the gallery, Trebonius’ legionaries undermined the town wall, whereupon the townsfolk lost hope and surrendered.


C. Trebonius illustrates perhaps better than any other figure of the Late Republic the independence of the “everyday senator” from any “party affiliation” in ancient Roman politics, as compared, for instance, with the modern American political scene. Characterized by scholars as vacillating between political factions (particularly, the factions of Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great), Trebonius, in reality, did as many Roman senators, searching out the best advantages for himself and sticking with one powerful leader or another only as long as he considered their goals appropriate and personally beneficial.

Trebonius emerges from the ancient sources for the first time in 60 BCE, when he held the office of quaestor (financial magistrate) in Rome. During his term, he was one of those politicians who opposed the intentions of P. Claudius Pulcher (commonly known as Clodius). Clodius had developed an intense hatred for one of Trebonius’s good friends, the famous orator Cicero; he intended to utilize the office of plebeian tribune (the powers of which he considered ideal for the purpose) to destroy Cicero’s life. To become tribune, however, Clodius had to relinquish his status as a patrician (a member of Rome’s most blue-blooded families) and apply for adoption into a plebeian family. He had this all arranged, but Trebonius, along with the consuls of 60 (Afranius and Metellus Celer) and other magistrates, opposed and prevented the adoption, since they understood its true purpose.

In the following year, though, Clodius got his way in all things, with the strong backing of Julius Caesar and his associates, Crassus and Pompey, the so-called First Triumvirate. Trebonius apparently continued to resist Clodius, however, endangering his own life against such a loose cannon in the efforts launched to recall Cicero, who had been exiled, thanks to Clodius.

After all this dust had settled, Trebonius teamed up with the Triumvirs. As plebeian tribune in 55 BCE, he proposed a law to grant provincial commands to Crassus (who received the province of Syria and oversight in the neighboring territories) and to Pompey (who received the provinces of Spain), each for a period of five years. In addition, the motion authorized each man to levy as many troops from both Roman citizens and allies, as well as to make war or arrange peace in their provinces, as each saw fit. Two of his colleagues in the tribunate, C. Ateius Capito and P. Aquilius Gallus, attempted to derail Trebonius’s measure; the young Optimate orator M. Favonius also spoke out in opposition, as did M. Porcius Cato, leader of the Optimates. Cato, at least, recognized that there was no way to prevent the measure with the coalition of Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey behind it, but he still made the best stand he could against it; by talking out his allotted time and forcing Trebonius to make a show of dragging him off the Speakers’ Platform and into detention, Cato gave the assembled voters a clear proof of the unjust power being exercised by the Triumvirs.

At this informal meeting (contio) of the People of Rome, so many private citizens took the opportunity to express their opinions on this heated matter that the two opposing tribunes did not even have a chance to speak their views. Gallus decided, therefore, to sleep overnight in the Senate House so that he could be the first one to ascend the Speakers’ Platform (located right outside) at dawn on the following day; Trebonius, however, locked him inside the building and did not let him out for hours. In the meantime, the latter’s supporters crowded into the assembly area (Comitium) outside; they tried to stop Capito, Favonius, Cato, and other opponents from entering, but these found clever ways to do so anyway. For instance, Cato and Capito climbed on the shoulders of those standing around the edge of the Comitium and, from his perch, Capito proclaimed a warning about bad omens, which normally would have necessitated dissolving the meeting.

In the event, however, the supporters of Trebonius, many of whom were soldiers Caesar had furloughed from his army, turned to roughing up opponents of the proposal, including Capito and Cato; many people were driven from the Forum in this way, many badly wounded in the confrontation, including Gallus, and a few even killed. Capito, however, incensed by the sight of his colleague all covered in blood, and building on popular disgust at this, soon stirred up renewed resistance to Trebonius. Pompey and Crassus, as consuls, then entered the scene with their bodyguards, restored order to the assembly, and compelled a vote on Trebonius’s motion. Not surprisingly, it passed into law. They followed this up with a law of their own to extend also the provincial command of Caesar for an additional five years and under the same terms as theirs.

For his efforts as tribune, Trebonius received a reward, a posting as legatus, a lieutenant commander, in the army of Caesar from the end of his term of office through 50 BCE. He accompanied Caesar on his second expedition into Britain, commanded forces against the Belgae (especially in the punitive operations after the rebellion of Ambiorix), and expertly countered the assaults of Vercingetorix’s troops during the famous Siege of Alesia (alongside Marc Antony).

Trebonius continued to serve Caesar when the Civil War broke out between the latter and Pompey. After the city of Massilia in southern Gaul (Marseilles, France) declared itself for Pompey’s side in the first year of the conflict, Caesar placed Trebonius in charge of ground forces to conduct the siege of the town, an ever-challenging business that ended in success for Trebonius after six months. In the following year, 48 BCE, Caesar welcomed Trebonius back to Rome with another reward, the office of urban praetor, which placed him just one rank below Caesar himself as consul and made him the chief judicial official over Roman citizens. This placed Trebonius at odds with another of Caesar’s supporters, M. Caelius Rufus, who had hoped for that appointment himself; even though Caesar gave him the next best thing, the peregrine praetorship (the judicial official over resident aliens and foreign visitors to Rome), Caelius resented it and lashed out at Trebonius by vetoing everything he did in office. Indeed, Caelius went further by opposing Caesar’s laws on loans and rent payments, attempting to foment a sort of social revolution in Rome of debtors and renters against their creditors and landlords; in this uprising, Trebonius almost lost his life (which is what Caelius really wanted) and barely escaped the city in disguise. The Senate and Caesar’s consular colleague, Servilius Isauricus, put a stop to all this within Rome itself; Caelius fled southward to try to stir up support for his cause but failed and was eventually killed by Caesar’s cavalry.

The rest of Trebonius’s praetorship appears to have gone smoothly and he proceeded in the next year to the governorship of Further Spain. Since the summer of 49 BCE, both Spanish provinces had come under Caesar’s authority, but his legions there and some of the local communities had grown restless and, in fact, mutinous. Part of Trebonius’s mission was to restore order; he had previous experience of the region, having fought against the lieutenants of Pompey there in the first year of the Civil War. However, the agents of Metellus Scipio, father-in-law of the now-deceased Pompey and acknowledged leader of the survivors of his faction, had come to Spain to reclaim it by inciting more trouble for Caesar’s side; chief among those agents was Pompey’s eldest son, Cnaeus Pompeius. Inspired by his arrival, the mutinous legionaries and rebellious locals eventually forced Trebonius out of the peninsula. Caesar then personally took up the campaign against the Pompeians in Spain. He apparently sent Trebonius back to Rome and, on his own victorious return in the fall of 45 BCE, appointed his loyal legate as suffect (“fill-in”) consul for the remainder of the year. Again, Trebonius had received his ample reward.

After all this, however, Trebonius turned against Caesar. In fact, he seems to have done so already before Caesar’s return from Spain; he even mentioned something to Marc Antony, who kept it secret instead of reporting it to Caesar. The reason, evidently, for Trebonius’s change of heart was animosity toward Caesar’s kind of dictatorship, which made everyone, including his old comrades, feel like pawns in a game played only by Caesar. In wartime, this might have been satisfactory, but it was not once peace resumed. Thus, many Caesarians participated in the Conspiracy of the Liberators to assassinate Caesar in 44 BCE. While other members of the plot attacked him during a meeting of the Senate on the Ides of March, Trebonius fulfilled his assigned task by keeping Marc Antony outside, engaged in conversation. Trebonius later expressed in a letter to Cicero his pride in the part he had played, the sense of achievement he felt in ridding Rome of a “tyrant.” Cicero had applauded the assassination, but he blamed Trebonius (and Brutus) for not eliminating Antony, too.

Before his death, Caesar had officially assigned Trebonius to govern the Roman province of Asia (western Turkey today), and under the turbulent conditions in Rome following the fallen dictator’s funeral, Trebonius literally had to sneak off to his province so as not to set off any further popular uproar against himself. Soon, the leaders of the Conspiracy, Brutus and Cassius, secretly contacted him, asking him to collect money and troops for the looming head-on confrontation with Antony. He did so, and went further in fortifying key towns in the province against possible attack.

The attack came, but not from Antony. Another adversary appeared, a much more cunning one, in the person of P. Cornelius Dolabella. He had served under Caesar for a number of years and the latter planned to reward him with a suffect consulship in 44 BCE; that is, if Caesar had left for his projected war against the Parthian Empire, he would have handed over the remainder of his own term as consul to Dolabella. Instead, Caesar was assassinated, but Dolabella still wanted that office; the other consul of that year, Antony, stood in opposition, however. Dolabella turned on Antony, posed as a friend of Caesar’s assassins and assumed the consulship anyway, receiving from the Senate a special appointment as governor of the province of Syria to boot.

This proved to be the undoing of Trebonius, who did suspect treachery from Dolabella, but not quite as much as he should have. Early in 43 BCE, when the latter passed through Asia on the way to his own province (engaging in wholesale plunder all along), Trebonius did not permit his entry into the important towns of Pergamum or Smyrna, but, out of respect for his office, he did allow him and his men to gather provisions from Ephesus. All the while, a detachment of Trebonius’s army followed Dolabella. Having done so until nightfall, and seeing no cause for concern in Dolabella’s actions, most of the troops returned to Smyrna, leaving only a few to keep watch on him.

Yet, Dolabella set an ambush for them, captured and killed them, and then turned around unexpectedly and arrived at Smyrna under cover of darkness. His men carefully scaled the walls of the city, secured it for themselves, and even captured Trebonius, sleeping in his bed. One of Dolabella’s centurions, on explicit orders, cut off the head of Trebonius rather than taking him alive and brought it to his commander, who put it on display the following morning on the chair from which Trebonius had delivered his official pronouncements. Dolabella’s soldiers took the rest of the body and furiously attacked it; they also played with his head as though it were a game ball in the streets of the city. A fitting punishment, as they saw it, for the man who had helped to kill Caesar by preventing Marc Antony from coming to his rescue.

The death of Trebonius and the mutilation of his corpse sent a clear signal to the other Conspirators; he was the first of their number to be punished for the killing of Caesar and each of them had to fear such an end now.


The “bronze-bearded” (ahenobarbi) Domitii traced their distinguished lineage at least as far back in Rome’s history as the fifth century BCE. Not all of them possessed the greatest of virtues, but they did share a tendency toward obstinacy and temper and, like many others of the Roman elite, an exalted sense of dignitas. Certainly, these qualities characterized L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, who stood with the Optimates in the Senate against Julius Caesar, challenged the latter through much of his career, confronted him on his invasion of Italy, and fought against him across the empire from southern France to Greece.

According to the famous orator and statesman Cicero, Domitius, even as a young man early on in his political career, held to the moral standards of those senators who styled themselves Optimates. Little is known about that early career, aside from his testimony, in 70 BCE, against Verres, the corrupt Roman governor of Sicily. For this, Cicero praised Domitius as a distinguished young man, first among his peers.

By the summer of 61 BCE, Domitius joined up with the most prominent spokesman of the Optimates, Cato the Younger, to bring two proposals before the Senate regarding bribery. One motion declared as treasonable the sheltering or housing of those who distributed bribes (known as divisores in Latin) among the voters; the other authorized the searching of magistrate’s homes for such individuals. Undoubtedly, these motions targeted the chief adversaries of the Optimates at that time, who were also the men possessing the greatest wealth to spread around through bribery, that is, Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar. Ironically, Domitius’s own comrade, Cato, engaged the very next year in large-scale bribery of the voters to guarantee that his own son-in-law, Bibulus, would gain election to the consulship as a counterweight to Caesar. By the fall of 59 BCE, Domitius found himself implicated in an alleged plot to assassinate Caesar and Pompey, accused by the informer, P. Vettius, of conspiring with the consul Bibulus to do so; Vettius even claimed that the house of Domitius had served as the base of operations for the scheme. Fortunately for Domitius, few believed the accusations, which were probably trumped up by Pompey and Caesar themselves to discredit their opponents.

In the following year, Domitius attained some legal cover through his position as praetor and, together with his colleague Memmius, insisted on holding an inquiry into Caesar’s official misconduct while consul, his blatant disregard of customs and taboos. The Senate as a body refused to take up the matter, so Caesar ignored the praetors’ charges and left Rome for his provincial command. Other proceedings were instituted against him and one of his subordinates, likely all instigated by Domitius, but still these came to nothing.

In the summer of 58 BCE, Domitius attempted to get at Caesar again by standing up for M. Tullius Cicero; the latter had been forced into exile to keep him quiet through the efforts of Caesar and his associates. The plebeian tribune, Clodius, who had orchestrated Cicero’s downfall, found a constitutional means to order Domitius to be silent on the question of Cicero’s recall and the matter of the reconstruction of his house, which had been destroyed at Clodius’s orders.

Undeterred, though obstructed at every turn by the so-called First Triumvirate and its minions, Domitius campaigned relentlessly in 56 BCE for the consulship of the following year, hoping to utilize that office against the opponents of the Optimates. According to the Imperial historian Cassius Dio, Domitius was actively canvassing for votes right up to the very last day before the elections. Another Imperial historian, Appian of Alexandria, asserted that the intention of Domitius in all this was to challenge Pompey; this probably means that, even if Pompey obtained one of the consulships for the upcoming year, Domitius sought to obtain the other and use it as a check on Pompey’s actions and power within the state. Domitius also made clear his intention of removing Julius Caesar from his provincial command. In all this, he had the support of the Optimates in the Senate and especially of their leader, his brother-in-law, Cato.

Caesar had other plans. Pompey and their associate, Crassus, came to meet Caesar at his winter quarters in the town of Luca (modern Lucca) in northern Italy (what Romans referred to as the province of Cisalpine Gaul). Behind the scenes, the three men agreed to cooperate in squeezing Domitius out of the race and obtaining the consulships of 55 for Crassus as well as Pompey.

Even before dawn on the morning of the elections, Domitius arrived in the Campus Martius (Field of Mars) where Roman voters cast their ballots for consuls in the Popular Assembly known as the Comitia Centuriata (Assembly of Centuries). Pompey showed up at about the same time; both men, as was customary, came with a crowd of supporters around them. It did not take long for these hangers-on to begin quarreling, eventually brawling, with one another over their candidates; in the escalating confrontation, one of Domitius’s torch-bearers (recall that it was still dark out when all this took place) was attacked by a follower of Pompey with a sword. Legally, no one was supposed to enter the voting area with weapons, and the fact that one of Pompey’s men was armed suggested that more of them must have had concealed weapons; in fact, Cassius Dio recorded that Publius, the son of Crassus, had brought soldiers from Caesar’s army on furlough to vote in this election, likely secretly armed. Domitius’s entourage melted away and he himself barely escaped to his own home; Cato also escaped, but badly wounded in the right arm as he had tried to delay retreating while also protecting Domitius. Clearly, fair and free elections were not going to happen this time. When the voters assembled, Pompey and Crassus secured both consulships; indeed, they managed to secure many other elective offices for their cronies by the end of the year.

In the elections for the consulships of 54 BCE, however, despite the fact that Crassus and Pompey presided, they were unable to prevent Domitius from securing one of the two positions. His hostility toward Pompey never abated and he unleashed it especially against the latter’s key followers, such as A. Gabinius, who was brought to trial on various charges and forced into exile. Yet, he lost another election important to him thanks to the efforts of Caesar; the latter, despite being far away in his provincial command, worked together with others to deny Domitius the open spot in the priestly college of augurs. Winner of the election was one of Caesar’s chief lieutenants, Marc Antony, making Domitius’s loss an even greater insult. He raged against those who had orchestrated what he considered a travesty and an injustice.

The Optimate members of the Senate pushed for the recall of Caesar from his provincial command and clamored for Domitius to replace him. By this time, Crassus had died fighting the Parthians and Pompey had begun to distance himself from Caesar. When a letter arrived from Caesar insisting on retention of his provincial command until which time as Pompey also laid down his own (so that they would both retire into private life and not pose an imminent threat to one another), the Optimates got their wish; Domitius received the Senate’s mandate to take over Caesar’s provinces and he proceeded to gather forces for that purpose.

Before anyone expected it, however, Caesar had moved with a relatively small force into Italy proper and was on the march toward Rome. By then, Pompey had been selected by the Senate as supreme commander against Caesar’s invasion, but he had retreated from Rome to gather supplies and recruit troops in southern Italy. Domitius had the task of confronting Caesar first. He did not maneuver against him but instead took up position in the town of Corfinium, strategically located on the Via Valeria, a major Roman highway in southern Italy, and at the best crossing for the River Aterno (Aternus). Here, Domitius hoped to halt Caesar and provide Pompey the time he needed to rise up against Caesar.

Caesar could have bypassed Corfinium altogether on his march against Pompey, but he chose not to; he could not allow Domitius to hold such a defiant position against him, one which could have been utilized as a base for enemy operations behind his own line of advance. Domitius’s forces slightly outnumbered those of Caesar, but the latter’s were battle-hardened veterans, while the former’s were fresh recruits from the citizenry of the region. These facts did not deter Domitius, however. He sent some of his troops to destroy the bridge over the Aterno so that Caesar could not use it to cross; the latter’s advanced forces prevented this and chased Domitius’s men back to town. While Caesar’s army camped outside Corfinium, Domitius detailed his troops along the walls, complete with artillery emplacements, and tried to rouse his men to imagine the rewards of victory, to take heart, and to stand firm.

Domitius hoped desperately for military assistance from Pompey, who was only about sixty miles away, and the orator Cicero, in his letters from those days, reveals how he and many other senators hoped for the same. They expected Pompey to concentrate his forces together with those of Domitius and others at Corfinium for the showdown with Caesar. Pompey sent word, however, that he disagreed with Domitius’s strategy of holding Corfinium against Caesar (no matter how brave or patriotic that might have seemed to be), that he had never ordered him to do so, and that he would not now trap himself in that town, too; he criticized Domitius roundly not only for allowing himself and his own force to get stuck but also for not sending on two legions of reinforcements he (Pompey) had requested from Domitius. Pompey urged Domitius to withdraw from Corfinium before it was too late (even if that meant laying open to Caesar the estates of their wealthy comrades in the process) and work toward joining forces in Apulia (modern Puglia). This terribly disheartened Domitius because by waiting for the “hero” Pompey, in whom he had reposed great confidence, he had allowed Caesar the time to flank Corfinium with two military camps, surround it with a rampart and forts, and double the size of his force with new reinforcements. In writing to his friend Atticus on the matter, as news came to him of it, Cicero described Domitius as a fool for having trusted Pompey and criticized the latter for basically deserting the former.

Domitius dared not let on to his own men that they were being abandoned by Pompey to their own devices; the only possible escape, as he saw it, was for himself and those few senators close to him, and he kept this idea secret. The plan was discovered by his troops, however, and after a heated discussion and argument, they decided to hand their untrustworthy commander over to the enemy. A day later, the town of Corfinium received Caesar peacefully and he pardoned all of Domitius’s troops, allowing them to join his own army if they wished; he also permitted Domitius and the other senators with him to go free.

Domitius could have gone into peaceful retirement at that point, but he chose instead to continue the fight against Caesar, his next theater of operations being the defense of Massilia (modern Marseilles) in Gallia Transalpina (modern Provence). In other words, he now proceeded to the provincial command he was supposed to have assumed from Caesar in the first place. An excuse for doing so presented itself in the appeals from the nobility of Massilia, who declared their allegiance to Pompey’s side; the great wealth and powerful fleet of that maritime city could prove tremendous assets in the Civil War and could not be allowed to fall into Caesar’s hands.

The Massiliotes kept Caesar at bay with false negotiations for neutrality until the arrival of Domitius; the oligarchy of the city then handed over its defense to him. Under his orders, they gathered a large store of food and other necessary supplies and commandeered all the vessels in the area for military service. Massilia prepared for a long siege by land and blockade by sea, with which Caesar soon obliged them.

Domitius made his first target the enemy fleet, under the charge of Brutus Albinus, one of Caesar’s most trusted lieutenants. They engaged in difficult and bitter combat in two naval encounters, both sides attempting to maximize their advantages either in maritime skill or fighting prowess. Pompey, finally, came through for Domitius, sending him reinforcement warships all the way from Greece. Domitius also had the full support of the Massiliotes; he called upon every able-bodied man to serve, whether aristocrat or commoner. The remainder of the population did their part as well, by praying to the gods for the success of their fleet. The latter did cause great damage among the enemy vessels, even sinking the flagship of Brutus Albinus (who managed to escape) but were deserted by Pompey’s reinforcements and suffered too many losses of their own to break the blockade.

In the meantime, Caesar’s ground troops, under the command of another of his trusted lieutenants, Trebonius, conducted the siege of Massilia by land. As they erected various devices for that purpose, the Massiliotes, directed by Domitius, attempted to drive the enemy away with artillery fi re and assaults by Gallic warriors armed with firebrands. After some time of this sort of fighting, Trebonius’s sappers undermined and brought down a portion of the defensive wall of Massilia; out of the opening streamed civilians who begged Trebonius for a chance to negotiate peace with Caesar. An uneasy truce ensued, punctuated by skirmishes of differing sorts, until the Massiliotes decided it was, indeed, time to surrender.

Domitius had learned of this decision a few days earlier and prepared ships for his escape. He hoped that inclement weather would deter Brutus Albinus from trying to stop him but that was not the case. Of his three vessels, only his own escaped. Having arrived in Greece, he joined up with Pompey’s main force.

Almost a full year later, Pompey and Caesar fought their major battle at Pharsalus in northern Greece. Up to that moment, Pompey’s three leading lieutenant commanders, Domitius, Metellus Scipio, and Lentulus Spinther, fully expected to destroy Caesar and his army; they had even wasted their time bitterly quarrelling over which of them would succeed Caesar in the post of Pontifex Maximus, the most prestigious priesthood of Rome. Domitius went further in his imaginings about the future; he suggested that, after their victory, the senators who fought on their side should pass judgment on those who stayed out of the conflict or proved useless in it, either exonerating them of wrongdoing, ordering them to pay a fine, or condemning them to death.

Pompey assigned Domitius to command the left wing of his army as it stood to face Caesar’s. The Battle of Pharsalus did not go as Pompey’s side expected. In the turmoil following the victory of Caesar’s troops, Domitius fled the battlefield and headed into the nearby hills for safety. Some of Caesar’s cavalry took off in pursuit and, eventually, captured and killed him.

Having been the first official defender of the Republic against Caesar, Domitius Ahenobarbus carried that duty through to the end of his life. His entire career, in fact, epitomized the determined resistance of the Optimates to the rise of any one senator too far above the others.

Further Reading Carter, J. 1996. Appian: The Civil Wars. New York: Penguin Publishing. Carter, J. 1997. Caesar: The Civil War. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Foster, H. B. 2010. Dio’s Roman History in Six Volumes. Alvin, TX: Halcyon Press Ltd. Graves, R. 2007. Suetonius: The Twelve Caesars. New York: Penguin Publishing. Greenwood, L. H. G. 1988. Cicero: The Verrine Orations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Gruen, E. 1974. The Last Generation of the Roman Republic. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Syme, R. 1939. The Roman Revolution. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. Wiseman, T. P. 1985. Roman Political Life 90 B. C.-A. D. 69. Exeter, UK: Exeter University Press. Seager, R., and R. Warner. 2006. Plutarch, Fall of the Roman Republic. London and New York: Penguin. Shackleton Bailey, D. R. 1978. Cicero’s Letters to Atticus. New York: Penguin Publishing. Shackleton Bailey, D. R. 1978. Cicero’s Letters to His Friends. New York: Penguin Publishing. Syme, R. 1939. The Roman Revolution. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. Wiseman, T. P. 1985. Roman Political Life 90 B. C.-A. D. 69. Exeter, UK: Exeter University Press.

JOSEPH I (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (1678–1711; ruled 1705–1711)


Habsburg emperor.

Joseph I’s reign was dominated by the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), which pitted Bourbon France and Spain against the ‘‘Grand Alliance’’ led by Austria and the Maritime Powers. Born to Emperor Leopold I and Eleonore of the Palatinate-Neuburg, Joseph’s upbringing was notable for the absence of Jesuit influence and the resurgence of German patriotism during lengthy struggles against France and the Ottoman Empire. In 1699 he married Wilhemine Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who his parents hoped would tame his youthful excesses, which included wild parties and a string of indiscriminate sexual escapades. He was soon admitted to the privy council, where he became the center of a ‘‘young court’’ of reform minded ministers eager to resolve the daunting financial and military crises that confronted the monarchy during the opening years of the war, which Leopold had entered to secure the far-flung Spanish inheritance for his second son, Archduke Charles (the future Holy Roman emperor Charles VI). Their first victory came in 1703, with the appointments of Prince Eugene of Savoy and Gundaker Starhemberg to head the war council (Hofkriegsrat) and treasury (Hofkammer). Shortly afterward, John Churchill, the duke of Marlborough, was induced to march a British army into southern Germany, where it combined with imperial troops in destroying a Franco-Bavarian force at Blenheim (August 1704).

Although the great victory saved the monarchy from imminent defeat, Joseph had to overcome a succession of new challenges after succeeding his father (5 May 1705), which included the need to wage war on multiple fronts in Germany, the Spanish Netherlands, Italy, the Low Countries, and Spain, while simultaneously suppressing a massive rebellion in Hungary led by Prince Ferenc II Rákóczi. Joseph’s strong German identity informed vigorous initiatives within the empire, including reform of the Imperial Aulic Council (Reichshofrat) and the banning of several renegade German and Italian princes who had sided with the Bourbons. Yet he gave little assistance to the imperial army fighting along the Rhine frontier or to the Maritime Powers campaigning in the Low Countries. Instead, he focused his resources (together with considerable Anglo-Dutch loans) on Italy, which Prince Eugene delivered in a single stroke at the battle of Turin (1706), after which the French evacuated northern Italy, much as they had abandoned Germany after Blenheim. A small force expelled Spanish forces from Naples the following spring. Joseph’s other principal concern was Hungary, where Rákóczi had aroused widespread support against Leopold’s regime of heavy taxation and religious persecution. Although Joseph dissociated himself from his father’s policies and promised to respect Hungary’s liberties, he refused Rákóczi’s demand that he cede Transylvania as a guarantee against future Habsburg tyranny. As a result, the war dragged on for eight years, as Joseph committed roughly half of all Austrian forces to the difficult process of reconquering the country. Once victory was assured, relatively generous terms were granted the rebels at the peace of Szatmár (April 1711), signed just ten days after Joseph’s death.

With Italy secured and the Hungarian rebellion under control, Joseph shifted his attention to the last and least pressing of his war aims—his brother’s acquisition of the rest of Spain’s European and American empire. Prince Eugene and a small force were sent to join Marlborough’s Anglo-Dutch army in the Spanish Netherlands, most of which fell after their victory at Oudenarde (1708). Joseph also instigated a short war with Pope Clement XI at the end of 1709, forcing him to recognize Charles as king of Spain. By 1710, the first Austrian troops were fighting alongside their British, Dutch, and Portuguese allies in Spain itself. Nonetheless, a combination of logistical difficulties, timely French reinforcements, and the Spanish people’s dogged support for the Bourbon claimant, Philip V, doomed the allied effort. Unsuccessful peace negotiations at The Hague (1709) and Gertruydenberg (1710) failed to deliver what the allies could not win for themselves. Finally, a new British cabinet initiated secret peace talks with Louis XIV at the beginning of 1711, foreshadowing the Peace of Utrecht two years later.

Despite his untimely death from smallpox (17 April 1711), Joseph attained his two main objectives: securing an Italian glacis to the southwest and reconciling Hungary to Austrian domination, albeit with constitutional safeguards. Indeed, both achievements endured until 1866. Much of his success rested with a talent for choosing and managing able ministers to whom he could delegate much of the responsibility for realizing policy objectives. At the same time, Joseph jeopardized these gains through extramarital liaisons, which prevented his wife from bearing children after he gave her a venereal infection in 1704. Although he was survived by two daughters, the absence of a male heir foreshadowed the dynasty’s extinction in 1740.