Julius Caesar - Ada Russell

Rome During Caesar's Absence

Caesar had secured the home government for the year 58 for his friends Gabinius and Piso. He married Piso's daughter, Calpurnia, having divorced Pompeia; and to secure Pompey's friendship during his absence he gave him his attractive daughter Julia in marriage. Cato made a great outcry against all these 'political marriages.' Through Caesar's influence Cicero's great enemy, Publius Clodius Pulcher, was adopted by a plebeian father and made one of the tribunes of the plebs. Clodius and his sister Clodia, members of one of the oldest families in Rome, throw a lurid light on Roman society of the time, although it must be confessed that their evil reputations are derived from Cicero, who had a lurid mind. It is very curious that we only know how bad the Roman aristocracy of the last days of the republic was through Cicero, and that yet it is Cicero who throws a glamour over the republican cause. Clodia was what we should call a Bohemian at a time when the Roman lady seldom lifted up her eyes or her voice in the presence of men, and considered sober raiment a mark of virtue. She was the 'Lesbia' of the poet Catullus, and the centre of a circle of young poets and men of fashion in revolt from the narrow views and ways of older Rome. Clodius started like Clodia by shocking society, even stealing into Caesar's house in women's clothes when (Caesar being Pontifex Maximus)  the ceremonies of the Bona Dea were being performed, at which only women might be present. The affair was regarded so seriously that Clodius tried to get out of it by pleading an alibi  and bribing the jury, but Cicero had seen him in Rome and spoiled his alibi, and thenceforth Clodius persecuted the great senator.

Cicero had a very bad time after Caesar's departure for Gaul, and was soon to be cruelly awakened from the state of self-satisfaction in which he had lived ever since his suppression of the Catilinarian Conspiracy. He was using all his eloquence in stirring up popular feeling against the Triumvirs, and so Caesar and his friends allowed Clodius to secure his exile on the charge of having put Roman citizens to death without trial. The Senate ought to have stood by him, but most of its members, Cicero comforted himself with thinking, were jealous of his great deeds; any way, he departed, and in after years it was a long time before he threw in his lot unreservedly with the senatorial party. He might have languished in exile (the severest of punishments to a man of his temperament, with a passion for politics, the law-courts and society), had not Pompey quarreled with Clodius. He returned to Italy in the autumn of 57 with his sentence reversed, and was welcomed back with enthusiasm by the Italians, who supported him as a man of Arpinum, by the people who had always loved him, and by his own class, the powerful body of Roman knights. He was escorted from Brundisium to Rome by a crowd greater than the one which had conducted him home on the day when he laid down his consulship. Italy, he said, carried him on her shoulders to Rome, where he was welcomed at the gates by the chief men. They had begun to see that the Senate had been humiliated by his exile.

The great event of 56 was the conference, mentioned above, of the Triumvirs at Luca, in Cisalpine Gaul, where in the early part of the year Caesar held his court. Roman magistrates, provincial governors and distinguished generals thronged his quarters there, and sometimes 120 lictors of consuls and praetors could be seen; and more than 200 senators came. His Gallic spoils were known to be large and believed to be enormous; and while some had come to conciliate the commander of a powerful army and a possible murderous Sulla, others had come with the idea of replenishing their purses. Caesar was eager to grant benefits of this kind, and either gave money or lent it without interest, especially to senators, and even to freedmen and slaves who were supposed to have influence with their masters. The slave and freedman were a great social force in Rome, and Quintus Cicero once made the remark that all reputations have a domestic source. Caesar also sent to Rome in the years of his absence 100,000,000 sesterces for the site of the forum which he intended to build, and at his daughter's death he gave a very grand gladiatorial show and a public banquet, a thing never done before on such an occasion. The two chief people at Luca in 56 were, of course, Pompey and Crassus, who came to this arrangement with Caesar: Caesar was to have five more years' command in Gaul; Pompey and Crassus were to be consuls in 55, after which Pompey was to have Spain and Africa, and Crassus Syria, for their provinces.

[Illustration] from Julius Caesar by Ada Russell


When the decision of the Triumvirate was known in Rome nearly all the other candidates for the consulship retired from the contest, and the rich Conservative, Domitius Ahenobarbus, thought of doing so; but Cato insisted on his standing, saying: "You are seeking the consulship to gratify no ambition, but to defend our country's liberties against two tyrants"—Crassus being regarded but as the tyrants' purse. Domitius had not the ghost of a chance, and after great scenes of disorder Pompey and Crassus were elected. They carried out the arrangements which they had made at Luca, and when the year was over Crassus departed for Syria, to end his life there in a very tragic fashion, thus leaving Pompey and Caesar face to face. The great duel between them at last began. "You might then say," writes Plutarch, "with the comic poet:

"The combatants are waiting to begin,

Smearing their hands with dust and oiling each his skin."

Pompey did not go to his provinces, but remained in Rome, where he began to take up a different position with regard to the Senate, thanks largely to Cicero, who was deeply grateful to him for securing his recall and saw how sorely the optimates  needed a soldier on their side. Pompey, too, had begun to long for his old glory, feeling himself eclipsed by Caesar. He had quite broken with the Senate, and found that he could never be so popular as Caesar with the revolutionary party. Cicero had pictured him in Caesar's consulship as "fallen from the stars," with "the Good his enemies and not even the Evil Ones his friends." The attacks of Caesar's agent, Clodius, had alienated him from Caesar, and the death of Julia completed the process. He now began to champion the Senate against the populares, but he viewed with secret pleasure all the signs of democratic violence around him, for it became clear that very soon a dictator would have to be appointed to put an end to the disorder. The strife of parties had destroyed all reverence for the State, and in such a condition of things a revolution was bound to come.

Already in 54 Cicero, who usually saw ahead, said that a dictatorship was in the wind, and the disorder was such in 53 that for eight months Rome was without consuls. People began to talk of establishing a monarchy, and pointed to Pompey as a suitable person to be chosen for king. Pompey discouraged such talk and pretended to be blind to the anarchy in the city, but in the year 52 the Senate was forced to call him to the helm.

When Pompey had been attacked by Clodius he had made use of a rough named Milo who controlled bands of gladiators and came boldly to blows with the darling of the mob. Milo and Clodius were well known to each other from their street rows in Rome, but they merely passed each other with frowns of recognition, as they met one January day in 52 when Milo had come to Bovillae, travelling on the road to Lanuvium. When Clodius had gone by, a servant of Milo's ran back and stabbed him from behind. One of the young man's attendants carried him bleeding into a neighbouring inn, but Milo and his slaves returned to finish their work, for, Milo said afterward, he knew he should be accused of the murder and he might as well have what he paid for. He had done a deed which was to be his ruin, for the Romans had a misplaced hero-worship for this villain. They loved this member of the great Claudian family, and his wild escapades, his acts of reckless daring, his defiance of every law, his picturesqueness and his general power of amusing them had won their deep affection. Besides this, there were great political forces behind that handsome, dashing figure, for Clodius was the special representative of Caesar. Milo might well think that he would find plenty of persons to protect him, but when the news of the murder reached Rome the people burst into lamentation. After spending the night in the Forum, where they placed his corpse on the Rostra, they accompanied the tribunes who bore it to the Senate House. There they broke up the benches and chairs for a funeral pyre and burned down the Senate House and all the surrounding buildings in their anxiety to do due honour to the departed.

Milo took his supporters into the Forum to address the people, but the supporters were slain and he was forced to escape in a slave's dress. The Clodian gangs had, for the most part, been slaves, and they now roamed about the city, caring little whom they slew so that they offered up a large enough sacrifice. Citizen and stranger, especially the richly clad and those who bore that sign of rank, a gold ring, were cut down. The anarchy was such that for several days armed desperadoes were able to pillage the houses of wealthy citizens, who, by the law of the land, might not bear arms in Rome. They knocked at doors and demanded to search the house for friends of Milo, and took the opportunity to rob it.

Thus Pompey's hour sounded at last. The Senate met and discussed the appointment of a dictator. Cato prevented this, but he was forced to allow the nomination of Pompey as sole consul. This foreshadowed the approaching monarchy. Pompey entered on what Cicero afterward called sarcastically "that divine third consulship," and effectually restored order in the tumultuous city. He revived the laws against violence, bribery and corruption, evils which the Senate had weakly allowed to go unpunished and foolishly taken part in, pleading that it was virtuous to keep rascals out of office in any way. Even Cicero, as we have seen, had been misguided enough to sneer at quixotic purity in politics. Pompey also passed a law by which any citizen might call a magistrate to account for his actions, and made it retrospective, aiming, many people thought, at Caesar, though he pretended to be indignant at the notion, for he still feigned to be Caesar's friend. These laws were strictly enforced, and a few rioters were at once slain by his soldiery. Wholesome fear fell upon the disorderly elements in the population, and the Senate poured its thanks and praise on the author of this new quiet in the city. Two more legions were voted for him and the term of his provincial government was extended; in return he laid down his extraordinary powers as soon as his task was done, naming his new father-in-law, Scipio, as his colleague in the consulship for the rest of the year.

As a result of Pompey's stern measures, crowds of exiles flocked from Rome to seek Caesar's camp; but Caesar, like Pompey, still kept up the appearance of friendship, and praised all Pompey's actions. Pompey actually supported a law by which Caesar might be a candidate for the consulship of 48 in his absence "on account of his distinguished services to the republic." This was vital to Caesar, and Pompey's worst act of folly, for if he wished to oppose him without war, now was the time; but he seems to have begun to wish for a war in which he might destroy him. At Luca it had been arranged that Caesar's command in Gaul should end nominally on 1st March 49, but that no successor should be appointed to him until 1st March 50, after the provinces for 49 had been assigned, so that he might not actually lose his imperium  before his election as consul. When a Roman held any imperium  he might not be called to account for his doings, but directly he sank from office to the position of a private individual he might be prosecuted for his evil deeds; and there were still people waiting to impeach Caesar for the acts of his consulship. The decisions of the Triumvirs of Luca had become law, but in 52 Pompey had made them of no avail, from Caesar's point of view, by altering the law as to provincial magistracies in such a way that a successor might be appointed to the Gauls for March 49, thus leaving Caesar to be a private citizen for a few months before the consular elections in July of that year.

The fanatical Marcus Marcellus, consul in 51, declared open war upon Caesar, urging the Senate to appoint a successor to him and to forbid his standing for the consulship in his absence. One of his actions was outrageous, however black might be his adversary: Caesar had founded the town of Novum Comum at the foot of the Alps and bestowed on it Latin rights, by which its magistrates were Roman citizens in the eyes of the law. As an insult to Caesar, therefore, Marcellus caused one of these magistrates to be scourged, a punishment that could only be inflicted on a Roman citizen by the vote of the Roman people; and he bade him go and show his stripes to Caesar. His cousin, Caius Marcellus, and Aemilius Paulus, both enemies of Caesar, were chosen consuls for 50, and the optimates  thought that they had secured a firm supporter in the tribune Curio. Curio, a wild young noble of the type of the murdered Clodius, had, however, gone over secretly to Caesar's side, and Paulus, it is said, had promised his neutrality for 1500 talents.

Curio effected his change with great diplomacy. The question of Caesar's successor came up early in the year, and he declared his approval of an appointment, but threw out at the same time a suggestion that complicated the matter and at first startled everybody. Everybody was discussing Caesar's possible action if he were superseded and impeached, and it was generally believed that he might march on Rome with all his army; but it was also thought that Pompey would be strong enough to resist him if he did. A year before, the usually keen political prophet, Cicero, had written, in one of his rare fits of enthusiasm for Pompey: "That illustrious citizen is thoroughly prepared to oppose those things we fear." Now Curio electrified Rome by urging that Pompey, whose term of office had not expired, like Caesar's, should be called on also to lay down his command. He then proceeded to paint Pompey and Caesar as two great rivals for pre-eminence in the republic, and there would be no peace, he said, until they were both reduced to the condition of private citizens. The Senate raged, but the disorderly citizens, who had been alienated by Pompey's severity, and all Caesar's party in the city, declared that it was honest advice and that of a brave man, for Pompey at that time seemed omnipotent. Curio, however, still posed as an optimate  and the Senate could do nothing, while the people strewed his homeward way with flowers.

Pompey was taken ill at this point and retired from the city, the State offering solemn sacrifice for the health of its first citizen. His days of glory were over, and if he had died of this illness the world would have had quite a different idea of 'Pompey the Great' from that which is generally retained of him. As it was, the glories of his youth were soon to seem mere freaks of fortune. From his sick bed he wrote a dignified letter to the Senate, offering to resign his command if it were for the good of the State, and when he got back to Rome he confirmed this offer. The sharp eye of Curio, however, had divined his feelings. "Why does not Pompey lay down his command instead of merely offering to do so?" he asked. Considering the enmity between the two men (Rome started at these words, remembering Marius and Sulla), Caesar ought not to be disarmed before Pompey; nor was it safe to allow Pompey such power unless he was counteracted by a rival. If neither of them would lay down their command the Senate must raise an army against them both. These words made an impression on the ever suspicious Senate and they took up the idea, but they were more afraid of Caesar than they were of Pompey, and declared that Caesar must lay down his command first. On this Curio, as tribune, stopped business. The one decision that had been arrived at was that both Pompey and Caesar should send a legion to Syria for the war there, and both satisfied this test of their intentions. Pompey sent to Caesar for the legion which he had lent him, and Caesar sent this and another, giving Pompey's soldiers 250 drachmas each as a present. As these legions were not wanted in Syria they were sent to winter at Capua.

The Senate delayed in appointing a successor to Caesar, but at last resolved to do so and also resolved by an overwhelming majority that Pompey also must lay down the command of his provinces. They were encouraged to defy Caesar to this extent by Pompey's boast when they asked what forces he had. "Have no fear!" he answered, "I have only to stamp my foot and legions will spring up round me." When a false report arrived that Caesar had crossed the Alps, Marcellus and the two consuls elect most went their own initiative to Pompey to beg for his aid, while all the optimates  went into mourning. He had left Rome for a country seat, and when they arrived they presented him with a sword, one of the consuls elect saying, "My colleague and I order you to march against Caesar for the defense of your country; we entrust you with the command of the army at Capua and of all other forces in Italy, and you may levy fresh troops at your discretion." This solemn charge Pompey accepted.

Curio was still agitating in Rome and tried to nullify Pompey's power of conscription; but nobody heeded him, and, seeing that his part was played out, he left Rome for Caesar's camp.