Zela

Town in north-central Turkey , about 75 miles inland from the Black Sea; site of a military engagement fought in May 47 B.C.E. between Julius Caesar and Pharnaces II, king of the Bosporus, resulting in a complete triumph for Caesar.

While the Roman world was engulfed by the Civil War of the First Triumvirate, Pharnaces II, son of the famed Mithridates the Great (of Pontus), attempted to emulate his father’s achievements. He marched on Caesar’s legate, Calvinus, in ASIA MINOR, and defeated him at the battle of Nicopolis in October 48.

Caesar, embroiled in the siege of Alexandria, was unable to respond, and Pharnaces extended his conquests throughout Pontus and into Cappadocia. By spring of 47, however, Caesar had finished his Egyptian campaign. The Asian monarch greeted the general’s arrival on the Pontic borders with a delegation that sued for the retention of all lands taken.

Two armies were camped near each other and close to Zela, the site of Mithridates’ success in 67 B.C.E. Caesar had no intention of allowing Pharnaces to keep the lands but allowed the Asian to make new offers and counteroffers while he maneuvered the Legions into a position of advantage. Made aware of Caesar’s ploy, Pharnaces ordered his chariots and infantry to the attack, surprising the Romans, who did not expect such a foolhardy advance.

Chariots armed with scythes tore through the confused Roman cohorts, but were soon rendered ineffective by massed archery and missiles. The legions, inspired by their tactical victory and by their position at the top of a steep hill, moved into action. The battle raged up and down the line, with the VI Legion, on the right, breaking through first.

The rout was on, and Pharnaces fled from the field and was murdered a short time later. Caesar named Mithridates of Pergamum the new ruler of Pontus, now a reduced domain, and then headed for Rome. He summed up the defeat of Pharnaces with the famous words, “Veni, vidi, vici”—“I came, I saw, I conquered.”

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