Travels in Epirus, Albania, Macedonia, and Thessaly
F. Pouqueville
 

TRAVELS IN THESSALY

CHAPTER XIV.
Pharsalus. Battle between Cæsar and Pompey. Rivers Apidanus and Enipeus. Moscolouri, &c.
 

Plains, when fertile and productive, are subject to one peculiar evil: they are for various reasons selected fo be the scenes of warfare; and are consequently exposed to the desolation and destruction necessarily resulting from war. Of the truth of this observation, the plains of Flanders and Lombardy furnish but too many confirmations. The same remark may be applied to the great central plain of Thessaly. Of all the military operations, however, of which Thessaly has at various epochs been the theatre, none can enter into competition with those conducted by Julius Cæsar before, during, and after his celebrated and decisive action with Pompey, in the vicinity of Pharsalus, on the southern verge of the plain annexed to that town.

It was already said, that we were ferried over from the north to the south bank of the Salembria, formerly the Peneus of rich poetic memory, below the influx of the Apidanus, or the river of Pharsalus. This rirer, called in the country Sataldgé-Potamos, the river of Sataldgé, the modern name of the modern Pharsalus, rises among the northern slopes of the hills of Goura, on the south side of the plain of Thessaly, hetween Thaumacos on the west, and Velestina on the east. The first branch of this river flowing from the south-east quarter, receives the Enipeus, or river of Vlacho-Jani, a little above Pharsalus.

Setting off then from the khan of Alif-Aga, we followed the course of the low hills, directing our course southward, over a plain intersected by rivulets. Travelling in this way for four hours, we halted for the night at a caravanserail established in the plain. We were there within a journey of an hour and-a-half of Pharsalus, by the Turks railed Sataldgé; but the town being then a prey to the plague, we did not think it advisable to approach it. I therefore gave up the project of visiting the town, as also the Old Pharsalus itself, of which the walls were the work of the Pelasgians, the primitive people of that country now desolate through war and distemper. Of this desolation every thing on our route bore evident marks. Mighty armies had not indeed laid waste the plains:

" __________ Not as in times of yore
Had eagle fought with eagle: there no more
The broken car and spear, th' unburied slain,
In mouldering heaps deformed th' ensanguined plain."



107
    Battle of Pharsalus.

No; the marks we saw of human destruction were the effects of the inveterate animosities formerly subsisting between the valourous Thessalians of the surrounding mountains, and their barbarous Mahometan invaders or tyrants. Many indicated the spots where the devouring pestilence had accumulated the victims of its scourge. Recovering from the impressions made on my mind by those monuments, I applied myself to explore that country in which Rome, by her own sword, determined her fate.

When I considered the nature of the country over which I had just passed, the aspect of the plains, the positions of Gomphi, Metropolis, and Larissa, I no longer doubted that I was actually on the memorable field of Pharsalus. We were, besides, in the very time of the year when the battle was fought; when, as the victor tells us, "the corn was nearly ripe;" or in the beginning of June. The period of my return to my station in Epirus was approaching; and I now beheld that plain which was to terminate my topographic researches, relative to the most important of all the objects of my inquiry and exploratory excursions; the operations of the Roman armies under Cæsar and Pompey, in their several routes from Dyrrachium, through Epirus and Macedonia, until they met in the heart of Thessaly.

If my reader will revert to what has been said relative to Dyrrachium, and to the courses of the several rivers which traverse the northern and western parts of Epirus, referring the whole to the details recorded by Cæsar himself, in the third book of his Commentaries of the Civil War, he will, I trust, be enabled to form a correct notion of the several operations and incidents of that eventfnl campaign. By reconsidering the description of the Candavian mountains, of the district of Gheortcha, of Apollonia, Oricum, and the Acroceraunlan mountains, he will perceive the whole narrative of the commentaries to be consistent and rational. On the other hand, by tracing the retrograde movements of Philip before Flamininus, from the strait of the Aous to Mount Lingos, his battle on the Atrax in Thessaly, and on the hills of Cynoscephalæ, future commentators will be enabled to instruct the soldier and the historian with the certainty which must always result from accurate topography.

On his first landing in Epirus, César possessed his usual success; but, in the lines near Dyrrachium, the fortune of war seemed to change, and Pompey was hailed the meritorious commander by his army, elevated with success beyond their hopes. Cæsar, who by detachments of his army, had previously secured Etolia, Acarnania, and Amphilochia, resolved to


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adopt another plan of the campaign. Relinquishing the blockade of Pompey, within his lines at Petra, he marched off early in the morning for Apollonia, to be in the way of supplies of provisions from the southern provinces, and to receive re-inforcements from Italy and other parts. Informed of Cæsar's departure, Pompey pursued and overtook his rear-guard on the north bank of the Genusus, the Scombi, or Tobi; but was repulsed with loss. By an able and ingenious manoeuvre, but which proved his perfect knowledge of the capacity of his antagonist, Cæsar gained half-a-day's march on Pompey, who was never able to retrieve his loss, and arrived in good order in Apollonia; according to the corrected dates of Cæsar's several operations, he was in that city on the 27th of May; then, following up the course of the Aous, he pushed forward for Thessaly; whilst Pompey, unable to defeat or even to retard his schemes, marched off for the same country, by a different and an easier route. He penetrated into Macedonia, over th- Candavian mountains, those of Gheortcha formerly described; and had nearly surprised Domitius, Cæsar's lieutenant in that quarter. In two days Cæsar might march up the Aous from Apollonia, to the influx of the Celydnus above Tebelen, a course of sixteen leagues, and in three days more he might gain the elevated plain of Mount Lingos: this would be about the 2d of June. From Candavia, Domitius must have traversed Caulonias, and the country of Conitza, to meet Cæsar at Æginium, and to accompany him into Thessaly, whither he took the route over Mount Politzi, or by Mount Copanez.

Whilst these things were doing, Pompey, of whose operations no relation has been preserved, from the Candavian mountains descended into the valley of the Haliacmon. Then directing his course southwards, he would enter Thessaly by the defile of Alassona, and proceed down the course of the Titaresius, now the Saranta-Poros of Thessaly, to join Scipio, in Larissa; this was about the 10th of June, but Cæsar was already in the plains of Pharsalus. By the possession of Gomphi and Metropolis, Cæsar had secured his communication with the countries beyond Mount Pindus: but Pompey, with the great river Peneus in his rear, seems to have made no provision for the protection of his troops in the event of a defeat. Finding an advantageous position in the vicinity of Pharsalus, where the corn was nearly ripe, there Cæsar resolved to encamp and wait for Pompey. There Cæsar's wonted celerity was highly favourable to his views. Arriving in Larissa, Pompey, elated by the advantage he had obtained near Dyrrachium, invited Scipio, his new father-in-law, and his army to partake of the rewards of that victory over his former father-


109
    Battle of Pharsalus.

in-law, which be regarded as certain. But the fruits of victory, and not the means of achieving victory, filled the imaginations of the Roman nobles. Pompey himself was not, in their judgment, sufficiently sanguine and alert. On the other hand, Cæsar neglected no measure to ensure the final success of his operations; he drew together provisions, he exercised his troops, he gradually excited them to that prudent confidence in themselves, as well as in him their commander, by which so many extraordinary operations had been accomplished. It seemed to be the purpose of Cæsar, no stranger to the qualities of both mind and body of many of the counsellors of Pompey, by keeping them in continual agitation, under the burning climate of the Thessalian plain, to wear out their endurance, and so to compel his adversary to come to action when, perhaps, he least approved of it. Perceiving, at last, the enemy drawn up on the slope of a hill below his entrenchment, Cæsar disposing his comparatively small force, in a manner which indicated how well he knew his enemy, in a few hours, under every disadvantage, gained a victory so complete that his opponents were utterly dissipated. Alike able to make use of his victory as to achieve it, cutting off the escape of the enemy towards Larissa, Cæsar exalted to the highest pitch his reputation, by his clemency in granting life and liberty to his bitterest foes. Thus ended the transaction, the most memorable of the civil wars of Rome, in the plain where I now stood, and in the same season of the year, nineteen centuries before.

It was already stated, that as the plague prevailed in Pharsalus we could not enter the town: I was therefore obliged to content myself with determining the positions of several places within my view, and to return to Trikala by the direct road across the great plain. On my route, I marked the course of a river, probably the Pamisus, and at midway from Pharsalus to Trikala, I saw the monastery of Vendonia, dedicated to St. Belisarius. On the left of our route were observed Krania and Moscolouri, an episcopal see, noted for its fair. The town is mentioned by Gyllius, in his treatise de Bosphoro Thracico, (ii. 16.) who says, that, in his time, sorcery and enchantment were as successfully practised by the ladies of Moscolouri, as ever they had been in ancient times in any quarter of Thessaly, renowned for such exploits. Moscolouri, I think, occupies the site of some ancient city, because of the great number of medals found there; one which I met with there, a Roman piece, has never I believe been published. It is of bronze, with the laureated head of Domitian, and the inscription:  On the reverse, the head


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of Domitia, with . I am not sufficiently informed to be able to decide, whether Moscolouri occupy the place of Scotussa, or of Ktimené. When you leave this town, you see several villages situated on little eminences in the plain, of which that called Xiloparissi may be particularly noticed, in order to discover the ruins reported to exist in the vicinity of the celebrated fountains Messeis and Hyperia. This quarter of the plain, having the advantage to enjoy a wholesome air, is inhabited by 130 Christian families, employed in raising cotton and silk. Their tobacco is esteemed the best in Thessaly. A league and a-half beyond Xiloparissi, on the way to Trikala, you come to Spathades, and two leagues farther to Meisdani, a village noted for its monastery of the Apostles, occupying probably, from an inscription, the place of gome ancient town. From this place to Trikala is a journey of three hours.
 

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