The Death of Caesar
As soon as Cæsar landed in Egypt, he was offered Pompey's head. Instead of rejoicing at the sight of this ghastly token, he burst into tears. Then, taking advantage of his power, he interfered in the affairs of Egypt, and gave the throne to Cleopatra, the king's sister, who was the most beautiful woman of her time.
This did not please some of the Egyptians, who still wished to be ruled by Ptolemy. The result was a war between Ptolemy and the Egyptians on one side, and Cæsar and Cleopatra on the other.
In the course of this conflict the whole world suffered a great loss; for the magnificent library at Alexandria, containing four hundred thousand manuscript volumes, was accidentally set on fire. These precious books were written on parchment, or on a sort of bark called papyrus. They were all burned up, and thus were lost the records of the work of many ancient students.
Cæsar was victorious, as usual, and Cleopatra was made queen of Egypt. The Roman general then left her and went to fight in Pontus, where a new war had broken out. Such was the energy which Cæsar showed that he soon conquered the whole country. The news of his victory was sent to Rome in three Latin words, "Veni, vidi, vici," which mean, "I came, I saw, I conquered."
After a short campaign in Africa, Cæsar returned to Rome, where he was rewarded by four triumphs such as had never yet been seen. Not long afterwards, he was given the title of Imperator, a word which later came to mean "emperor." In his honor, too, one of the Roman months was called Julius, from which our name July has come.
Cæsar made one more remarkable campaign in Spain before he really settled down at Rome. He now devoted his clear mind and great energy to making better laws. He gave grain to the hungry people, granted lands to the soldiers who had fought so bravely, and became ruler under the title of dictator, which he was to retain for ten years.
As the people in Rome were always very fond of shows, Cæsar often amused them by sham battles. Sometimes, even, he would change the arena into a vast pool, by turning aside the waters of the Tiber; and then galleys sailed into the circus, where sham naval battles were fought under the eyes of the delighted spectators. He also permitted fights by gladiators; but, as he was not cruel by nature, he was careful not to let them grow too fierce.
Cæsar was a very ambitious man, and his dearest wish was always to be first, even in Rome. Some of his friends approved greatly of his ambition, and would have liked to make him king. But others were anxious to keep the republic, and feared that he was going to overthrow it.
Among the stanch Roman republicans were Cassius and Brutus. They were friends of Cæsar, but they did not like his thirst for power. Indeed, they soon grew so afraid lest he should accept the crown that they made a plot to murder him.
In spite of many warnings, Cæsar went to the senate on the day appointed by Cassius and Brutus for his death. It is said that he also paid no attention to the appearance of a comet, which the ancient Romans thought to be a sign of evil, although, as you know, a comet is as natural as a star. Cæsar was standing at the foot of Pompey's statue, calmly reading a petition which had been handed to him. All at once the signal was given, and the first blow struck. The great man first tried to defend himself, but when he saw Brutus pressing forward, dagger in hand, he sorrowfully cried: "And you, too, Brutus!" Then he covered his face with his robe, and soon fell, pierced with twenty-three mortal wounds.
Death of Cæsar.
Thus Cæsar died, when he was only fifty-five years of age. He was the greatest general, the best statesman, and the finest historian of his time and race. You will find many interesting things to read about him, and among them is a beautiful play by Shakespeare.
In this play the great poet tells us how Cæsar was warned, and how he went to the senate in spite of the warnings; and then he describes the heroic death of Cæsar, who was more grieved by his friends' treachery than by the ingratitude of the Romans whom he had served for so many years.