Julius Caesar was said to be the greatest man in the Roman world. Some historians, and among them those of international authority, have made greater claims for him. He was the greatest of the Roman would but of antiquity. Looking through the onlg list of rulers, kings and emperors and the rest, they have failed to find an wuqual of this man who refused the style of king but those name Ceasar has become the commanding majesty and power. Great as a general, great as a politican. Born in 102 B. C. , or it may have been tow or three years later, Gaius Julius Caesar, to give him his full name, was of the most ancient nd aristocratic lineage.
Although he himself, rationalist as he was, must have smiled sometimes at the conceit, there were some who said that he was not only of royal but divine descent, since Venus, the goddess of Love, and married a Trojan prince and so become the mother of the legendary founder of the Julian house. All the same, circumstances and perhaps personal inclinations attached him to the comparatively democratic party. His aunt had married as a youth of seventeen to the daughter of Cinna, another leader of the fraction tht was opposed to the aristocratic party under Sulla, Marius, great rival.
A year or two later, when Sulla had become supreme in the state, the young man was ordered to put away his wife. He refused, and his life was saved only through the intercession of powerful friends in Rome. But though he had been reprieved, Ceasar was far from safe, and for a time he skulled in the mountains until he managed to get acrss the sea to Asia Minor, where he served in the Roman army that was campaigning against Mithridates, the king of Pontus. At the seige of Mitylene in 80 B. C. he first distinguished himself as a soldier when he saved the life of a hard-pressed cmrade.
On the death of he kept himself at the bar. His politics and made a career for himself at the bar. His political learning were showwn clearly enought, however, when he ventured to act as prosecutor of one of Sullas principal lieutnants, who was charged with gross extortion and crueltu when he was governor of the Macedonian province. To improve himself in rhetoric, Casear went to Rhodes to take a course of lessons under a celebrated master of that art, and it was probably at about this time that he had his famous encouter with Mediterranean pirates.
These rufians captured the ship in hich he was a passenger, and put his ransom. While his messenger was away collecting the money, Caesar made himself quite at home with his captors. He told them amusing stories, joked with them, joined in their exercises, and, always in the highest good humor, told laughed and joined in the fun. But Caesar was as good as his word. As soon as his ransom had been paid some over and he regained his liberty, he went to Miletus, hired some warships, and made straight back to the pirates, and ordered them to be crucified as he had assured them that he would.
He also got back the money that had benn paid as his ransom. Still on the fringe of the political arena, Caesar spent the next few years as a gay young man about town. His family wasnt rich, but there were plenty of moneylenders who were glad to accommodate him. He spent money like water, on expensive pleasures women particularly, since he was as facinating to them as they were to him and on building up a body of popular support for the time when he might need it.
Then in 68 B. C. he got his first official appointment under Government, as a quaestor, which secured him a seat in the Senate, and in 63 B. C. appointed Pontifex maximus, a position of great dignity and importance in the religion establishment of the Roman State. He was onthe way up, and his rise was furthered by successful administration of a province in Spain.
So capable did he prove that in 60 B. C. he was chosen by Rome, to form with him and crassus what is called the 1st Triumvirate. To strengthen the union between himself and Pompey, Caesar gave Pompey his daughter Julia in marriage. Then after a year as Consul, Caesar applied for, and was granted, the proconculship of Gual and Illyricum, the Roman dominion that extended from what is now the outh of France to the Adriatic.
His enemies and he had plenty were glad to see him leave Rome, and they no dought thought that Gual would prove the grave of his reputation. After all, he had up to now shown no special military gifts. But Casear knew what he was doing. He realized that the path to power in the Roman State lay through military victory, and he believed, as firmly as he believed in anything, in his star. In a series of campaigns he extended Roman dominion to the Atlantic and what a thousand years later was to be known as the English Channel. Years after year his dispatched to the Government in Rome told ever large conquests, of ever greater victories.
Sometimes he suffered a reverse, but not often and when he did he was relentless in his determination to win the last and decisive battle. His soldiers idolized him even while they feared him. He demanded but he showed them how to do it. He was not behind the lined general, ordering his men into the breach while he looked on from a distance. He was always up there, in the front line or very near it. He would march beside his legionaries on foot, and out-tire the best of them. He set the pace for his cavalry. He would seize a spade and give a hand in digging in.
He ate the same food as his men were out in the cold and wet. He was never a specially strong man, physically he seems been subject to epileptic seizures but when campaigning he seemed as hard as nails. And of course he was brave. Many and many time when his men were hard-pressed by the hosts of Gauls they were vastly cheered by the sights of their general hurrying up to their assistance, branshing his weapns and shouting words of encouragement. Cowards die many times before their eaths,” are among the words that Shakespeares puts into his mouth,”the valiant taste of death but once.
If we would read the histlry of those years of almost constant campaigning, from 58 to 49 B. C. , where better than in those memories of Caesars own writting, that are among the materpieces of latin lierature. Of course interest to us in 55 B. C. when the Roman expeditionary forces sailed from Boulogne and the men got ashore on the coast at Deal. This first invasion was nothing more than a reconnaissance, and after three weeks Casear went back across the Channel. But in the summer of the next year he returned, and this time he penetrated as far as the valley of the Thames in Middlesex.
After considerable figting, the Britons under Cassivellaunus sued for terms, gave hostages and agreed to pay tribute. Whereupon Caesar sailed back to Gual, where there was always a risk that the recently subdued natives might make a fresh bid for their independence. In fact, they did rebel, and for several years Caesar found a worthy match in the young Vercingetorix. Once he was defeated, and the Roman position in Gual was threatened as it had never been before. But Caesar managed to unite his forces, and at Alesia in 52 B. C. crushed the Gaulish armies and obtained Vercingetorixs surrender.
This was the end to resistance to Roman rule henceforth Gual was a great and increasingly prosperous province of the Roman realm. Casears victory was opportune, for affairs at Rome demanded his attention. The Triumvirate was on the verge of dissolution. Pompey was estranged, and Crassus had gone off to the east, where he met disaster and death in battle with the Parthians. Caesars terms of office in Gaul was nearing its end, and already his enemies in Rome were talking of hat they would do to him when he had returned to civil life.
They complained of his having overstepped his authority, of having embarked on grandiose schemes of comquest, of cruelties inflicted on poor inoffensive barbarians. All there things were reported to Caesar in his camp, and, being the man he was, it is not surprising that he resolved to get in the firt blow. Although he had only one legion under his immediate command, and Pompey had been boasting that he had only to stamp on the ground and legions would rise up to do his bidding he resolved to march on Rome.
Early in January, 49 B. C. took the decisive step of crossing the Rubicon, the little river that ws the boundry of his command. As he watched his men plunging into streams he talked up and down the banks, and some who were near said that he muttered the wrods “Jacta alea est”, “the die is cast” .
Whether he spoke the words or not, the die was cast, and in open defiance of Pompeys government, Caesar marched with all speed on the capital. Pompeys support disintegrated, and he was foced to flee overseas. Caesar entered Rome triumph. Almost without a blow Caesar had become master of Rome, and he ws forthwith granted dictatorial powers.
But Pomey and his friends rallied, and for the next five years Caesar was chiefly engaged in defeating, first, Pompey at Pharsalia in Greece, soon after which Pompey was murdered in Egypt, next Pompeys sons in spain, and hten the army of those Roman leaders who constituted what was known as the senatorial party those who clung to the onle time-honoured system of republican rule through the Senate. A strange intrelude in this torrent of campaining is the time spent by Caesar in Egypt, when he had an affair with the beautiful young Queen Cleopatra, who bore him a son.
After this he proceeded to Asia Minor, where Pharnaces, the son and murdered of King Mithridates, was Causing trouble. Caesar made short work of him. In his message to the Senate he reported “Veni, vidi, vici”, “I came, I saw, I conquered. At length he returned to Rome, and was according yet another triumph he had had four already. Vast crowds acclaimed him as he passed in his chariot through the streets on his way to the Capitol. Great hopes were centered upon him, great things were expected of him. The old system must soon come to birth.
We shall never know what vast schemes were fermenting in the rain of the man who was now hailed as Impector, the first of the emperors ot walk the stage of history, but we may perhaps get some idea of them from what he managed to accomplish in the all too short period that was left to him. For the most part they were young men and vigorous, and he was middle-aged and grown heavy and less active than in the days when he had soldiered with his men in Gual. But he put up a good fight.
He struggled, unarmed though he was, tried to push them sway, and then struck at them with his meta stilus or pen. Then he saw Brutus was among his assailants. what, you too, Brutus” as he said and onvering his body with his robe so that he should fall decently, suffered himself to be overborne. He fell, with twenty-three wounds in his body, at the foot of the statue of his great rival Pompey, which, with characteristic magnanimity, he had allowed to be re-erected in the Capitol. Such was their mad fury, some of the murderers had wounded one another in their bloody work. Now they ruched from the scene, sxultingly shouting that the Tyrant was no more. Thy called upon the people who were there to rejoice with them, but the people hung their heads, or muttered a prayer or fled.