Julius Caesar - Jacob Abbott

Caesar Imperator

Although Pompey himself had been killed, and the army under his immediate command entirely annihilated, Cæsar did not find that the empire was yet completely submissive to his sway. As the tidings of his conquests spread over the vast and distant regions which were under the Roman rule—although the story itself of his exploits might have been exaggerated—the impression produced by his power lost something of its strength, as men generally have little dread of remote danger. While he was in Egypt, there were three great concentrations of power formed against him in other quarters of the globe: in Asia Minor, in Africa, and in Spain. In putting down these three great and formidable arrays of opposition, Cæsar made an exhibition to the world of that astonishing promptness and celerity of military action on which his fame as a general so much depends. He went first to Asia Minor, and fought a great and decisive battle there, in a manner so sudden and unexpected to the forces that opposed him that they found themselves defeated almost before they suspected that their enemy was near. It was in reference to this battle that he wrote the inscription for the banner, "Veni, vidi, vici."  The words may be rendered in English, "I came, looked, and conquered," though the peculiar force of the expression, as well as the alliteration, is lost in any attempt to translate it.

In the mean time, Cæsar's prosperity and success had greatly strengthened his cause at Rome. Rome was supported in a great measure by the contributions brought home from the provinces by the various military heroes who were sent out to govern them; and, of course, the greater and more successful was the conqueror, the better was he qualified for stations of highest authority in the estimation of the inhabitants of the city. They made Cæsar dictator even while he was away, and appointed Mark Antony his master of horse. This was the same Antony whom we have already mentioned as having been connected with Cleopatra after Cæsar's death. Rome, in fact, was filled with the fame of Cæsar's exploits, and, as he crossed the Adriatic and advanced toward the city, he found himself the object of universal admiration and applause.

But he could not yet be contented to establish himself quietly at Rome. There was a large force organized against him in Africa under Cato, a stern and indomitable man, who had long been an enemy to Cæsar, and who now considered him as a usurper and an enemy of the republic, and was determined to resist him to the last extremity. There was also a large force assembled in Spain under the command of two sons of Pompey, in whose case the ordinary political hostility of contending partisans was rendered doubly intense and bitter by their desire to avenge their father's cruel fate. Cæsar determined first to go to Africa, and then, after disposing of Cato's resistance, to cross the Mediterranean into Spain.

Before he could set out, however, on these expeditions, he was involved in very serious difficulties for a time, on account of a great discontent which prevailed in his army, and which ended at last in open mutiny. The soldiers complained that they had not received the rewards and honors which Cæsar had promised them. Some claimed offices, others money, others lands, which, as they maintained, they had been led to expect would be conferred upon them at the end of the campaign. The fact undoubtedly was, that, elated with their success, and intoxicated with the spectacle of the boundless influence and power which their general so obviously wielded at Rome, they formed expectations and hopes for themselves altogether too wild and unreasonable to be realized by soldiers; for soldiers, however much they may be flattered by their generals in going into battle, or praised in the mass in official dispatches, are after all but slaves, and slaves, too, of the very humblest caste and character.

The famous tenth legion, Cæsar's favorite corps, took the most active part in fomenting these discontents, as might naturally have been expected, since the attentions and the praises which he had bestowed upon them, though at first they tended to awaken their ambition, and to inspire them with redoubled ardor and courage, ended, as such favoritism always does, in making them vain, self-important, and unreasonable. Led on thus by the tenth legion, the whole army mutinied. They broke up the camp where they had been stationed at some distance beyond the walls of Rome, and marched toward the city. Soldiers in a mutiny, even though headed by their subaltern officers, are very little under command; and these Roman troops, feeling released from their usual restraints, committed various excesses on the way, terrifying the inhabitants and spreading universal alarm. The people of the city were thrown into utter consternation at the approach of the vast horde, which was coming like a terrible avalanche to descend upon them.

The army expected some signs of resistance at the gates, which, if offered, they were prepared to encounter and overcome. Their plan was, after entering the city, to seek Cæsar and demand their discharge from his service. They knew that he was under the necessity of immediately making a campaign in Africa, and that, of course, he could not possibly, as they supposed, dispense with them. He would, consequently, if they asked their discharge, beg them to remain, and, to induce them to do it, would comply with all their expectations and desires.

Such was their plan. To tender, however, a resignation of an office as a means of bringing an opposite party to terms, is always a very hazardous experiment. We easily overrate the estimation in which our own services are held taking what is said to us in kindness or courtesy by friends as the sober and deliberate judgment of the public; and thus it often happens that persons who in such case offer to resign, are astonished to find their resignations readily accepted.

When Cæsar's mutineers arrived at the gates, they found, instead of opposition, only orders from Cæsar, by which they were directed to leave all their arms except their swords, and march into the city. They obeyed. They were then directed to go to the Campus Martius, a vast parade ground situated within the walls, and to await Cæsar's orders there.

Cæsar met them in the Campus Martius, and demanded why they had left their encampment without orders and come to the city. They stated in reply, as they had previously planned to do, that they wished to be discharged from the public service. To their great astonishment, Cæsar seemed to consider this request as nothing at all extraordinary, but promised, on the other hand, very readily to grant it. He said that they should be at once discharged, and should receive faithfully all the rewards which had been promised them at the close of the war for their long and arduous services. At the same time, he expressed his deep regret that, to obtain what he was perfectly willing and ready at any time to grant, they should have so far forgotten their duties as Romans, and violated the discipline which should always be held absolutely sacred by every soldier. He particularly regretted that the tenth legion, on which he had been long accustomed so implicitly to rely, should have taken a part in such transactions.

In making this address, Cæsar assumed a kind and considerate, and even respectful tone toward his men, calling them Quirites  instead of soldiers—an honorary mode of appellation, which recognized them as constituent members of the Roman commonwealth. The effect of the whole transaction was what might have been anticipated. A universal desire was awakened throughout the whole army to return to their duty. They sent deputations to Cæsar, begging not to be taken at their word, but to be retained in the service, and allowed to accompany him to Africa. After much hesitation and delay, Cæsar consented to receive them again, all excepting the tenth legion, who, he said, had now irrevocably lost his confidence and regard. It is a striking illustration of the strength of the attachment which bound Cæsar's soldiers to their commander, that the tenth legion would not  be discharged, after all. They followed Cæsar of their own accord into Africa, earnestly entreating him again and again to receive them. He finally did receive them in detachments, which he incorporated with the rest of his army, or sent on distant service, but he would never organize them as the tenth legion again.

It was now early in the winter, a stormy season for crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Cæsar, however, set off from Rome immediately, proceeded south to Sicily, and encamped on the sea-shore there till the fleet was ready to convey his forces to Africa. The usual fortune attended him in the African campaigns. His fleet was exposed to imminent dangers in crossing the sea, but, in consequence of the extreme deliberation and skill with which his arrangements were made, he escaped them all. He overcame one after another of the military difficulties which were in his way in Africa. His army endured, in the depth of winter, great exposures and fatigues, and they had to encounter a large hostile force under the charge of Cato. They were, however, successful in every undertaking. Cato retreated at last to the city of Utica, where he shut himself up with the remains of his army; but finding, at length, when Cæsar drew near, that there was no hope or possibility of making good his defense, and as his stern and indomitable spirit could not endure the thought of submission to one whom he considered as an enemy to his country and a traitor, he resolved upon a very effectual mode of escaping from his conqueror's power.

He feigned to abandon all hope of defending the city, and began to make arrangements to facilitate the escape of his soldiers over the sea. He collected the vessels in the harbor, and allowed all to embark who were willing to take the risks of the stormy water. He took, apparently, great interest in the embarkations, and, when evening came on, he sent repeatedly down to the sea-side to inquire about the state of the wind and the progress of the operations. At length he retired to his apartment, and, when all was quiet in the house, he lay down upon his bed and stabbed himself with his sword. He fell from the bed by the blow, or else from the effect of some convulsive motion which the penetrating steel occasioned. His son and servants, hearing the fall, came rushing into the room, raised him from the floor, and attempted to bind up and stanch the wound. Cato would not permit them to do it. He resisted them violently as soon as he was conscious of what they intended. Finding that a struggle would only aggravate the horrors of the scene, and even hasten its termination, they left the bleeding hero to his fate, and in a few minutes he died.

The character of Cato, and the circumstances under which his suicide was committed, make it, on the whole, the most conspicuous act of suicide which history records; and the events which followed show in an equally conspicuous manner the extreme folly of the deed. In respect to its wickedness, Cato, not having had the light of Christianity before him, is to be leniently judged. As to the folly of the deed, however, he is to be held strictly accountable. If he had lived and yielded to his conqueror, as he might have done gracefully and without dishonor, since all his means of resistance were exhausted, Cæsar would have treated him with generosity and respect, and would have taken him to Rome; and as within a year or two of this time Cæsar himself was no more, Cato's vast influence and power might have been, and undoubtedly would have been, called most effectually into action for the benefit of his country. If any one, in defending Cato, should say he could not foresee this, we reply, he could  have foreseen it; not the precise events, indeed, which occurred, but he could have foreseen that vast changes must take place, and new aspects of affairs arise, in which his powers would be called into requisition. We can always  foresee in the midst of any storm, however dark and gloomy, that clear skies will certainly sooner or later come again; and this is just as true metaphorically in respect to the vicissitudes of human life, as it is literally in regard to the ordinary phenomena of the skies.

From Africa Cæsar returned to Rome, and from Rome he went to subdue the resistance which was offered by the sons of Pompey in Spain. He was equally successful here. The oldest son was wounded in battle, and was carried off from the field upon a litter faint and almost dying. He recovered in some degree, and, finding escape from the eager pursuit of Cæsar's soldiers impossible, he concealed himself in a cave, where he lingered for a little time in destitution and misery. He was discovered at last; his head was cut off by his captors and sent to Cæsar, as his father's had been. The younger son succeeded in escaping, but he became a wretched fugitive and outlaw, and all manifestations of resistance to Cæsar's sway disappeared from Spain. The conqueror returned to Rome the undisputed master of the whole Roman world.

Julius Caesar


Then came his triumphs. Triumphs were great celebrations, by which military heroes in the days of the Roman commonwealth signalized their victories on their return to the city. Cæsar's triumphs were four, one for each of his four great successful campaigns, viz., in Egypt, in Asia Minor, in Africa, and in Spain. Each was celebrated on a separate day, and there was an interval of several days between them, to magnify their importance, and swell the general interest which they excited among the vast population of the city. On one of these days, the triumphal car in which Cæsar rode, which was most magnificently adorned, broke down on the way, and Cæsar was nearly thrown out of it by the shock. The immense train of cars, horses, elephants, flags, banners, captives, and trophies which formed the splendid procession was all stopped by the accident, and a considerable delay ensued. Night came on, in fact before the column could again be put in motion to enter the city, and then Cæsar, whose genius was never more strikingly shown than when he had opportunity to turn a calamity to advantage, conceived the idea of employing the forty elephants of the train as torch-bearers; the long procession accordingly advanced through the streets and ascended to the Capitol, lighted by the great blazing flambeaus which the sagacious and docile beasts were easily taught to bear, each elephant holding one in his proboscis, and waving it above the crowd around him.

In these triumphal processions, every thing was borne in exhibition which could serve as a symbol of the conquered country or a trophy of victory. Flags and banners taken from the enemy; vessels of gold and silver, and other treasures, loaded in vans; wretched captives conveyed in open carriages or marching sorrowfully on foot, and destined, some of them, to public execution when the ceremony of the triumph was ended; displays of arms, and implements, and dresses, and all else which might serve to give the Roman crowd an idea of the customs and usages of the remote and conquered nations; the animals they used, caparisoned in the manner in which they used them: these, and a thousand other trophies and emblems, were brought into the line to excite the admiration of the crowd, and to add to the gorgeousness of the spectacle. In fact, it was always a great object of solicitude and exertion with all the Roman generals, when on distant and dangerous expeditions, to possess themselves of every possible prize in the progress of their campaign which could aid in adding splendor to the triumph which was to signalize its end.

In these triumphs of Cæsar, a young sister of Cleopatra was in the line of the Egyptian procession. In that devoted to Asia Minor was a great banner containing the words already referred to, VENI, VIDI, VICI. There were great paintings, too, borne aloft, representing battles and other striking scenes. Of course, all Rome was in the highest state of excitement during the days of the exhibition of this pageantry. The whole surrounding country flocked to the capital to witness it, and Cæsar's greatness and glory were signalized in the most conspicuous manner to all mankind.

After these triumphs, a series of splendid public entertainments were given, over twenty thousand tables having been spread for the populace of the city. Shows of every possible character and variety were exhibited. There were dramatic plays, and equestrian performances in the circus, and gladiatorial combats, and battles with wild beasts, and dances, and chariot races, and every other imaginable amusement which could be devised and carried into effect to gratify a population highly cultivated in all the arts of life, but barbarous and cruel in heart and character. Some of the accounts which have come down to us of the magnificence of the scale on which these entertainments were conducted are absolutely incredible. It is said, for example, that an immense basin was constructed near the Tiber, large enough to contain two fleets of galleys, which had on board two thousand rowers each, and one thousand fighting men. These fleets were then manned with captives, the one with Asiatics and the other with Egyptians, and when all was ready, they were compelled to fight a real battle for the amusement of the spectators which thronged the shores, until vast numbers were killed, and the waters of the lake were dyed with blood. It is also said that the whole Forum, and some of the great streets in the neighborhood where the principal gladiatorial shows were held, were covered with silken awnings to protect the vast crowds of spectators from the sun, and thousands of tents were erected to accommodate the people from the surrounding country, whom the buildings of the city could not contain.

All open opposition to Cæsar's power and dominion now entirely disappeared. Even the Senate vied with the people in rendering him every possible honor. The supreme power had been hitherto lodged in the hands of two consuls, chosen annually, and the Roman people had been extremely jealous of any distinction for any one, higher than that of an elective annual office, with a return to private life again when the brief period should have expired. They now, however, made Cæsar, in the first place, consul for ten years, and then Perpetual Dictator. They conferred upon him the title of the Father of his Country. The name of the month in which he was born was changed to Julius, from his prænomen, and we still retain the name. He was made, also, commander-in-chief of all the armies of the commonwealth, the title to which vast military power was expressed in the Latin language by the word IMPERATOR.

Cæsar was highly elated with all these substantial proofs of the greatness and glory to which he had attained, and was also very evidently gratified with smaller, but equally expressive proofs of the general regard. Statues representing his person were placed in the public edifices, and borne in processions like those of the gods. Conspicuous and splendidly ornamented seats were constructed for him in all the places of public assembly, and on these he sat to listen to debates or witness spectacles, as if he were upon a throne. He had, either by his influence or by his direct power, the control of all the appointments to office, and was, in fact, in every thing but the name, a sovereign and an absolute king.

He began now to form great schemes of internal improvement for the general benefit of the empire. He wished to increase still more the great obligations which the Roman people were under to him for what he had already done. They really were under vast obligations to him; for, considering Rome as a community which was to subsist by governing the world, Cæsar had immensely enlarged the means of its subsistence by establishing its sway every where, and providing for an incalculable increase of its revenues from the tribute and the taxation of conquered provinces and kingdoms. Since this work of conquest was now completed, he turned his attention to the internal affairs of the empire, and made many improvements in the system of administration, looking carefully into every thing, and introducing every where those exact and systematic principles which such a mind as his seeks instinctively in every thing over which it has any control.

One great change which he effected continues in perfect operation throughout Europe to the present day. It related to the division of time. The system of months in use in his day corresponded so imperfectly with the annual circuit of the sun, that the months were moving continually along the year in such a manner that the winter months came at length in the summer, and the summer months in the winter. This led to great practical inconveniences; for whenever, for example, any thing was required by law to be done in certain months, intending to have them done in the summer, and the specified month came at length to be a winter month, the law would require the thing to be done in exactly the wrong season. Cæsar remedied all this by adopting a new system of months, which should give three hundred and sixty-five days to the year for three years, and three hundred and sixty-six for the fourth; and so exact was the system which he thus introduced, that it went on unchanged for sixteen centuries. The months were then found to be eleven days out of the way, when a new correction was introduced, and it will now go on three thousand years before the error will amount to a single day. Cæsar employed a Greek astronomer to arrange the system that he adopted; and it was in part on account of the improvement which he thus effected that one of the months, as has already been mentioned, was called July. Its name before was Quintilis.

Cæsar formed a great many other vast and magnificent schemes. He planned public buildings for the city, which were going to exceed in magnitude and splendor all the edifices of the world. He commenced the collection of vast libraries, formed plans for draining the Pontine Marshes, for bringing great supplies of water into the city by an aqueduct, for cutting a new passage for the Tiber from Rome to the sea, and making an enormous artificial harbor at its mouth. He was going to make a road along the Apennines, and cut a canal through the Isthmus of Corinth, and construct other vast works, which were to make Rome the center of the commerce of the world. In a word, his head was filled with the grandest schemes, and he was gathering around him all the means and resources necessary for the execution of them.