Lucanus on the fire of the ships in the harbor of Alexandria, 48 BC

The Latin poet Lucan, in the poem Civil war (vv. 491-503), says the on occasion of the so called Bellum Alexandrinum (48 BC) Caesar, being sieged by the Egyptian army in the royal palace of Alexandria, burned the ships in the harbor in order to create a diversion; but the fire soon destroyed the neighbouring buildings.

Lucanus, Bellum civile 491-503

Nor slow the fire
To seize the hempen cables and the decks
Oozing with melting pitch; the oarsman’s bench
All in one moment, and the topmost yards
Burst into flame: half merged the vessels lay
While swam the foemen, all in arms, the wave;
Nor fell the blaze upon the ships alone,
But seized with writhing tongues the neighbouring homes,
And fanned to fury by the Southern breeze
Tempestuous, it leaped from roof to roof;
Not otherwise than on its heavenly track,
Unfed by matter, glides the ball of light,
By air alone aflame.

[translation by Edward Ridley]