Battle of Lauron
The Battle of Lauron (also known as the battle of Lauro) was fought in 76 BC by a rebel force under the command of the Roman rebel Quintus Sertorius and a Republican army under the command of the Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (better known as Pompey). The battle was part of the Sertorian War and ended in a great victory for Sertorius. The battle was recorded in detail by Frontinus in his Stratagems and by Plutarch in his Life of Sertorius and Life of Pompey.
In 88 BC Lucius Cornelius Sulla marched his legions on Rome starting a civil war. Quintus Sertorius, a client of Gaius Marius, joined his patron's faction and took up the sword against the Sullan faction (mainly optimates). After the death of Lucius Cornelius Cinna and Gaius Marius, Sertorius lost faith with his faction's leadership. In 82 BC, during the second war against Sulla, he left Italy for his assigned propraetorian province in Hispania. Unfortunately his faction, the Marians, lost the war in Italy right after his departure and in 81 BC Sulla sent Gaius Annius Luscus with several legions to take the Spanish provinces from Sertorius. After a brief resistance Sertorius and his men are expelled form Hispania. They ended up in Mauretania in north-eastern Africa where they conquered the city of Tingis. Here the Lusitanians, a fierce Iberian tribe who were about to be invaded by a Sullan governor, approached him. They requested Sertorius to become their warleader in the fight against the Sullans. Sertorius accepted the request and so well into 80 BC Sertorius landed at the little fishing town of Baelo near the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) and returned to Hispania. Soon after his landing he fought and defeated the Sullan general Fufidius (the aforementioned Sullan governor) at the Baetis river. After the Baetis victory he defeated several Sullan armies and drove his opponents from Spain. Threatened by Sertorius' success the Senate in Rome upgraded Hispania Ulterior to a proconsular province and sent the proconsul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius with a large army to fight him. Sertorius used guerrilla tactics so effectively he wore down Metellus to the point of exhaustion while Sertorius' legate Lucius Hirtuleius defeated the governor of Hispania Citerior Marcus Domitius Calvinus. In 76 BC the government in Rome decided to send Pompey and an even larger army to help Metellus. In the same year Sertorius is joined by Marcus Perpenna, who brought him the remnants of the army of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus the rebel consul of 78 BC. Thus reinforced Sertorius decided to try and take the Spanish east coast (because the cities there support his enemies). His first target was the city of Lauron.
Lauron was strategically located between Pompey's legions and those of his colleague Metellus. Sertorius wanted to prevent Pompey from linking up with Metellus and also punish Lauron for siding with his opponents. Pompey wanted to finish off Sertorius quickly. Both men marched for Lauron. Sertorius arrived at Lauron first, and began to lay siege to the city. Pompey had a veteran army (recruited from among Sulla's veterans) of 30,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry and was very confident of victory. When he arrived he built his camp close to that of Sertorius to force Sertorius into battle.
Sertorius responded by sending out his light troops and cavalry to harass Pompey's foragers. He ordered his men to concentrate on the forage parties in the nearby areas but to leave the Pompeians in the more distant tracts. Eventually, tired of the continual raids, the Pompeians moved their foraging operations to the more remote areas. This was what Sertorius had been waiting for. During the night he ordered ten cohorts of heavily armed troops and ten cohorts of light troops under the command of Octavius Gracinus, along with Tarquitius Priscus and two thousand cavalry to move out of his camp and lay an ambush against the foragers.
Pompey's foragers had also been out overnight, and were well loaded with supplies. When they were heading back to camp they were suddenly attacked by the light-armed Iberians. The Pompeians tried to form battle lines but before they could do so the Sertorian heavy infantry charged them from the woods. The charge routed the entire foraging party and they ran for the safety of Pompey's camp. This is when the Sertorian cavalry was unleashed and started riding down the fleeing Pompeians turing the route into a massacre. Furthermore a squadron of 250 cavalry had set out for Pompey's camp the moment the opening attack started and were now working their way back killing every Pompeian they encountered.
When Pompey became aware of his foragers predicament he sent out a legion to cover his men's retreat. The advancing legion encountered the Sertorian cavalry and forced them back to the right flank where they fell out of sight. They then encountered the Sertorian infantry. While they were forming up to engage the infantry they were hit in the rear by the Sertorian cavalry who had circled around. As the legion recoiled from the shock of this unexpected attack they were attacked from the front by the Sertorian infantry. Like the foragers before them they broke and fled, and the massacre continued.
By that time Pompey was leading out his entire army and forming them up to come to his men's rescue. As he was preparing to march, Sertorius led out his remaining troops and drew up for battle. Pompey now had a dilemma on his hands. If he marched to rescue his men, Sertorius could hit his rear or flank, with disastrous results. If, on the other hand, he would advance on Sertorius then his retreating force would probably be destroyed and he still would have to fight an uphill battle, and Sertorius would have an excellent chance of winning.
The result was a stalemate. Pompey was forced to become a bystander while his men were cut down before his eyes. The Pompeian army lost ten thousand men. With morale very low, Pompey's army was confined to camp while Sertorius burned down Lauron. It was only the timely arrival of Metellus and his army who prevented Sertorius from finishing Pompey off.
The battle was spectacular victory but not a decisive one, for Pompey and his army remained a force to be reckoned with and Sertorius had to withdraw when Metellus arrived on the scene. The war in Hispania would rage on for several more years and only ended when a number of his own men plotted against Sertorius and assassinated him.
- Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 18.3.
- Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 18.
- Frontinus, Stratagems 2.5.31.
- John Leach, Pompey the Great p.44 and pp.226-227.
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain pp.96-101.
- Philip Spann, Quintus Sertorius and the Legacy of Sulla.
- John Leach, Pompey the Great, p.44
- Frontinus, Stratagems, 2.5.31.
- Frontinus, Stratagems, 2.5.31; Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 18.3; Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 18; John Leach, Pompey the Great, pp.226-227; Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, pp.96-101.
- Plutarch, Life of Sertorius , 6.
- Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 7.
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, p.64; Spann, Quintus Sertorius, pp. 56–7
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, p.68.
- Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 17.
- Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 15.
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, p.96
- John Leach, Pompey the Great, p.47
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, p. 97.
- Frontinus, Stratagems, 2.5.31; John Leach, Pompey the Great, pp.226-227; Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, pp.96-101.
- Frontinus, Stratagems, 2.5.31; John Leach, Pompey the Great, p.227.
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, p.101