Filippoi, Greece (42 BC)
The Battle of Philippi was the decisive engagement of the War of the Second Triumvirate. Like the Battle of Pharsalus, Philippi also took place in Greece, being the largest engagement fought in Greece since the Persian invasions. Philippi was also pivotal in the further weakening of opposition to the rise of the Julio-Claudian dynasty in Rome. Pitting the former allies of Julius Caesar against one another, some of the most illustrious leaders in Roman history fought on each side. Also like Pharsalus, Philippi was immortalized in literature, most famously in the plays of William Shakespeare. Some of the republic’s greatest champions fell at the battle, which also witnessed the brief rise of Mark Anthony.
Following the defeat of Pompey at Pharsalus, the victors united behind Julius Caesar and formed a new government in Rome. However, Caesar quickly began consolidating excessive power to himself and his house, raising fears in the Roman senate that he was setting the stage for a total government takeover. Most of the senators, under the leadership of Brutus and Cassius, took matters into their own hands and famously assassinated Julius Caesar on the Ides of March.
Thinking that the threat of the Julii was now over, the conspirators did not fully prepare for retaliation from Caesar’s family and friends. At the funeral, Mark Antony gave a eulogy that was a rallying cry for the people of Rome, stirring up the mob against the senators. This led almost immediately to the War of the Second Triumvirate.
Like Pompey before them, Brutus and Cassius fled to Greece, where they had a large army at their disposal. They set up defensive positions at Philippi where they awaited Mark Antony and Octavius Caesar. The two sides clashed in October of 42 BC. The campaign actually consisted of several battles in which the two enormous and roughly equal armies clashed several times.
By the end of the month, both sides were eager for a quick finish as supplies and morale were dwindling in both armies. Because the two armies were almost evenly matched in size, equipment and training, the battle was less about strategy than would have been expected. The resultant slugfest devastated the armies, with each side taking tens of thousands of casualties. In the end the army of Brutus was driven from the field, and while not anhilated, the conspirator sensed defeat and committed suicide. His surviving forces were spared and absorbed into the army of Octavius and Antony.
The ruins of the ancient city of Philippi are currently preserved as an archaeological site, and the surrounding area remains in a pristine state. Because of this the battlefield, which lies to the west of the ruins, is largely preserved, and the entire area looks much as it did in ancient times. The ruins of the city of Philippi, which was founded by survivors of the battle, are believed to stand on the location where Brutus had his camp.
The Philippi Battlefield is next to the ruins of Philippi just outside the modern day city of Filippoi, approximately 65 miles east of Thessalonica. The field is an open site, while the ruins of the city are partially restricted. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. No visitor information was available as of this writing. Web: www.visitgreece.gr (official tourism website of Greece).