Story of Rome - Mary Macgregor
Julius Caesar was born in 100 or 101 B.C., and belonged to one of the most illustrious patrician families of Rome.
From his boyhood, Cæsar was a favourite with the people. They liked his frank, bright ways, and then he spent money lavishly, and that was what they thought the young nobles ought to do.
But they never dreamed that this youth was different from the other pleasure-loving youths of Rome, that in his heart he hid great ambitions, and had already, in his own way, begun to pave the way toward their fulfilment.
That he was fearless and not easily turned away from his purpose he soon showed. Even of Sulla in his most powerful day he felt no dread.
When Sulla commanded that all those who were connected with the party of Marius by marriage should send their wives away, Cæsar, who was then only nineteen years of age, refused to obey. So Cornelia stayed with her husband in spite of the danger they both knew they would incur by defying one of Sulla's commands.
Cæsar would indeed have lost his life, had not powerful friends begged Sulla to be merciful, adding that it was surely not necessary to put a mere boy to death.
But Sulla was a reader of character, and he believed that Cæsar was too clever not to be dangerous to the State.
To those who begged for his life, he said, 'You know little if you do not see more than one Marius in that boy.'
When Cæsar heard what Sulla had said, he escaped to the Sabine hills and hid himself, until Rome should become a safer city.
Some time after this the young patrician was on his way to Rhodes to study rhetoric, when he was captured by pirates. For this was before Pompey had cleared the seas of the terrible sea robbers.
The pirates did not know how great a prize they had captured when they took Julius Cæsar prisoner, and they demanded merely twenty talents for his ransom.
Cæsar laughed, for he valued himself at more than that modest sum, and offered them fifty talents.
He then sent his followers away to raise the money, while he stayed alone with the pirates, save for one friend and two attendants. And this he did, although he knew that they often put their prisoners to death.
For thirty-eight days he lived with them, sometimes amusing himself by joining in their sports, sometimes reading to them poems he had written, or rehearsing speeches he had prepared.
To these they would listen, indeed, but without giving any applause. Then Cæsar would grow angry with them, calling them names, saying that when he was free he would crucify them.
At other times, if he wished to sleep and the pirates were making a noise, he would send to bid them be quiet.
The pirates laughed at the strange ways and words of their captive, and paid no heed to his threats. But Cæsar was in earnest when he was angry, and no sooner was his ransom paid and he set free, than the first thing he did was to hire ships to go in search of these very same pirates.
He soon found and captured them, and in the end he crucified them, as he had more than once threatened to do when he was their prisoner.
Cæsar then went to Rhodes to study rhetoric. And he profited by his studies, for on his return to Rome his eloquence won him fame.
As for the citizens they still loved him, for he was kind to them and feasted and spent money as before. But that he would prove a great soldier, one who would astonish not only Rome, but the whole world, there was nothing yet to tell.
Cicero, indeed, as Sulla had done before, saw that Cæsar was ambitious. Beneath his pleasant smiles and ways, Cicero sometimes thought that the young patrician had a hidden purpose, which he would not easily lay aside. At other times the orator thought that, after all, Cæsar was a trifler and nothing more. 'When I see his hair so carefully arranged,' says this wise man, 'and observe him adjusting it with one finger, I cannot imagine it should enter into such a man's thoughts to subvert the Roman State.'
But whatever others thought, there was no doubt that to the people Cæsar had become an idol. And he was pleased that this should be so, for he liked well to be popular and beloved.
About the year 67 B.C., Cæsar was appointed to superintend the repairs of the Appian Way. On these repairs he spent large sums of his own, and the people whispered to one another that this was done for their welfare, and they smiled more warmly than ever on the young noble.
But he looked after their pleasures as well as after their more practical welfare. For he held a show of gladiators in which six hundred and forty took part, to the delight of the citizens, while the games he celebrated were more magnificent than those usually seen in Rome.
The height of his popularity in these early days was reached, however, when he restored the statues of Marius and of his triumph over Jugurtha and the Cimbri. These had been banished from the Capitol during the time that Sulla ruled the city.
In 63 B.C. Cæsar determined to put his popularity to the test. The high priest had died, and Cæsar wished to succeed him. It was true that Catulus and another Roman of influence were known to expect that the appointment would be given to one of them. But in spite of this Caesar insisted on letting the people know that he too was a candidate.
Catulus, dreading a contest with one who was so popular, offered Caesar a large sum of money if he would withdraw.
But Caesar, although he had spent all his money and was deep in debt, scornfully refused the offer of Catulus. 'I would borrow a larger sum to carry on the contest,' he said, with proud defiance.
On the day that the votes were to be taken, his mother accompanied him to the door of their house, her tears betraying her anxiety. But he, as he embraced her, said, 'To-day you will see me either high priest or an exile.'
The excitement ran high as the different tribes gave their votes, but it was Cæsar, the idol of the people, who won the day.
It was what, in his proud confidence he had expected, but he was pleased, while the people were elated.
But the nobles were exceedingly annoyed. What would the citizens do next? Would they not be content until Julius Cæsar reigned supreme in Rome?