Julius Caesar - Ada Russell

Caesar in the Day of Pompey's Greatness

That Sulla had granted freedom to the republic in fact as well as in name was shown by the election of the democratic leader Lepidus to the consulship of 78 Inc. That he was actually in power when Sulla's death took place raised the highest hopes in the democratic party, but they soon found that in all other ways they were too weak for a new effort. Even the bold Caesar drew off when he got home; and it was with a band of devoted Italians, dispossessed of their estates to make way for Sulla's soldiers, that Lepidus made his march on Rome in 77. He was defeated by the veterans of Sulla in a battle in the Campus Martius, and fled to Sardinia, where he died.

Caesar, therefore, laid aside all ideas of revolution for the present, and started to build up his political career in the usual way, namely, by the study and practice of the law. It was illegal for a Roman advocate to take fees for his services, but he learned how to speak in an effective way, got to know the people who would be his voters when he was old enough to seek the great offices of State, and placed many people under an obligation to him. Whatever party in the State he belonged to, he generally started life by rolling some magnate in the dust of the law courts in order to call attention to himself. Cicero, Caesar's contemporary and only rival in fame, first made a reputation in Rome by attacking an agent of Sulla's, although he was a Conservative himself. Indeed, political beliefs had as little to do as private convictions of right with the Roman lawyer's pleadings. "Business is business," he would say as he stood up to prove that his guilty client was an injured saint, and the plaintiff or defendant, as the case might be, a man unfit to live. "Yes, I know I said that," answered Cicero once, when he was charged with grave inconsistency, "but I was speaking as a barrister, not as a man." Faulty as this education was for a statesman, it taught the young Roman many of the arts of public life and a common-sense, tolerance and knowledge of the world which were usually characteristic of the Roman statesman.

Caesar's first great opportunity was as counsel for the prosecution against Cornelius Dolabella, the proconsul, who was charged with extortion in his province. The senators were always very sensitive in the matter of such prosecutions, as many of them intended to plunder provinces in their turn; and, moreover, they had decreed Dolabella a 'Triumph' on his return and it would be a public disgrace to them if Dolabella's sins were proved against him. As Sulla had restored the jury courts to the Senate, Dolabella was naturally acquitted, but the young Caesar made such an able attack that he created the impression that Dolabella was guilty. After another attack on a magnate in 76 he found that he had made too big a name to start with, and again left Italy for a few years (76-74).

He may have been bitterly disappointed at his failure in these two cases, in both of which, probably, he had right on his side, and he determined to learn oratory from the most celebrated teacher of the time, Apollonius Molo of Rhodes, Cicero's master of rhetoric. On his way out to Rhodes he travelled with all the state of a rich Roman, and probably more grandly than most Romans in private life, for, like the two Ciceros, he fully understood from an early age the advantage of ostentation. A remarkable adventure befell him. His ship was boarded by pirates and he and his attendants were captured. If the tale is not true, it is at least characteristic. The 'man born to be king' laughed when the pirates asked him for twenty talents ransom, promised them fifty, and upbraided them for rating him so low. He sent most of his servants to fetch the sum agreed upon, but was so little afraid of his fierce captors, who would readily have killed him if the caprice had taken them, that he would send to bid them be quiet when he wanted to sleep. He joined in their wild amusements, composed verses and speeches and solemnly recited them, chiding his audience if it showed boredom—all this perhaps by torchlight in a mountain cave, when the pirates, their day's work done, lay round the leaping flames of their rough hearth and related their extraordinary adventures. Caesar often told them that he should return and hang them all, but they had accepted him as a comical fellow and only roared with laughter. At last his ransom came and they bade him a sorrowful farewell; but they saw him back only too soon. He hastened to Miletus and obtained ships from the authorities, returned, and made a great haul of pirates and booty, recovering his ransom. With his strong distaste for brutality, he obtained the mercy for the pirates that their throats should be cut before they were given their due punishment of crucifixion.

He then went on to the peaceful classroom of Molo, and became, like Cicero, though second to Cicero, a great orator. He had a far-reaching voice, and accompanied it with much eager action, always graceful. Cicero in after years wrote to a friend: "What professional speaker would you put above Caesar? Who has such acute sayings, or so many of them, or so well expressed?" And again he characterizes his orations as "elegant, brilliant, lofty, and stately." He was interrupted in his studies by the outbreak of a new war against Mithradates, and at about the close of 74 B.C. once more turned his steps toward Rome. He was about to make a new effort to get into touch with the electorate and prepare in earnest for the magisterial career. He turned his newly-learned oratory to a far different use from that which Cicero made of this weapon, and the difference between his character and that of Cicero is instructive. He had all the self-restraint and reserve which Cicero so sadly lacked. He listened to others and kept his own opinions to himself, as wise politicians have done in every age, while Cicero, receiving a vivid impression from every passing event, was forever talking or writing about his fresh ideas. Posterity has gained inestimably by this habit of Cicero's, and it was the delight both of his true friends and of his concealed enemies, but he lost by it. The Romans could not respect a chatterbox, even if he chattered pearls all the time; they were far more likely to admire a character the extreme opposite of Cicero's, even if it were that of some shallow man posing as the strong, silent, noble Roman of the old school. Such a person was to be found in the greatest figure in Roman society at the time of Caesar's return—Cnaeus Pompey.

All Caesar's public acts had been marked by an extreme boldness, but he had done no important public service so far, and a quarter of a century was to pass before the Romans discovered that he was a greater man than Pompey, a man a few years older than himself. Although only of the Equestrian Order and without aristocratic connections or influence, Pompey had for long been prominent. He changed his political party several times, but belonged to the Conservatives by tradition. His father's house had been plundered in the Marian massacres and the youth had armed three legions to aid Sulla when he returned from the East to subjugate Italy. Sulla gave him the title of imperator  for his services, to the surprise of all, as he was only twenty-three years of age. When he returned from subduing the Roman province of Africa for Sulla, the Dictator greeted him as ' Magnus' (the Great), which was afterward his surname. Before he was old enough to hold the civil offices which gave admission to the Senate he obtained a Triumph for his victories, that is, he received from the Senate permission to enter Rome in a triumphal procession with his spoils and trophies. He owed a great deal to Sulla's favour, but he rose still higher after his death, and was soon far and away the first man in Rome.

Few people nowadays dream of comparing Pompey with either Caesar or Cicero, but then even vain Cicero was tormented with doubts as to whether posterity would not think Pompey a greater man than himself; it never entered his head that Caesar was to be reckoned with. Plutarch has given us this traditional portrait of Pompey:

"Never had any Roman the people's goodwill and devotion more zealous throughout all the changes of fortune, more early in its first springing up, or more steadily rising with his prosperity, or more constant in his adversity than Pompey had. . . . There were many causes that helped to make him the object of their love: his temperance, his skill and exercise in war, his eloquence of speech, integrity of mind, and affability in conversation and address; insomuch that no man ever asked a favour with less offence, or conferred one with a better grace. When he gave, it was without assumption; when he received, it was with dignity and honour. In his youth his countenance pleaded for him, seeming to anticipate his eloquence, and win upon the affections of the people before he spoke. His beauty even in his bloom of youth had something in it at once of gentleness and dignity; and when his prime of manhood came, the majesty and kingliness of his character at once became visible in it."

This delicate drawing would have seemed a true copy but for the other portrait which we find in Cicero's letters. Cicero had the clearest vision of any man of his time, and he often speaks of Pompey as if he were a fair but brainless statue, and later he chows him to us as petty, vindictive, and cruel. In the light of Pompey's later failure many people came to believe that he had always taken the credit for other people's deeds, but this does not seem very probable, and we may leave him the virtue of a knowledge of the art of war.

If Pompey had any rival at all at the time of Caesar's return from Rhodes it was the millionaire Crassus, like himself and Cicero a man of the Equestrian Order. He was a member of a wealthy family of bankers and usurers, and had made immense sums of money by speculating in the property of those proscribed in Sulla's time, and he had gained enormous political influence by lending money to many men of the first rank and position. He was a shrewd and observant man, and there was hardly an undercurrent of Roman society at this time, when so many people were plotting in secret, of which Crassus was not aware. He had, moreover, the gift which every Roman politician aimed at possessing, of knowing the name and business of every man in the city, and of every man who could possibly enter into his life outside the city. He had great personal ambition and some charm as an orator, and he gave corn and great banquets to the people. On the whole he would be an invaluable helper for a great leader, but hardly a great leader himself. He and Pompey were the two most prominent Romans until Caesar's influence began to grow at their expense. The weakness of the Government after Sulla's death soon called all three men to the fore.

Every province of the Empire but Spain had submitted to Sulla, and Spain was still independent under the brilliant Cinnan partisan Sertorius. The Government sent out army after army against Sertorius, and the war was only ended by his assassination in 72; but Pompey, who was at last given chief command by the Senate, gained great fame through winning back this important province, which had given Hannibal in old days a footing for an attack on Italy.

The years of struggle against Sertorius had been years of general warfare throughout the Empire. Mithradates had declared war again at the beginning of 74, and Tigranes, the powerful King of Armenia, was extending his realm in Asia Minor and in Syria almost as far as the Mediterranean. When Mithradates began suddenly to massacre the Romans of Asia Minor, Caesar at Rhodes hastily quitted his classes, raised a corps of volunteers, and held the Pontic king's general at bay until the arrival of the Roman army sent out under Lucullus, one of the famous epicures of antiquity, but a capable man. During the year 74 and onward Lucullus slew army after army of Mithradates and Tigranes, taking vast treasure, and he would have completed their subjugation but for the opposition to all his actions at home, and finally, in 68, a mutiny of his soldiers. He was recalled by the Senate and obeyed, leading his army back to Asia Minor with Mithradates and Tigranes at his heels, and all his work undone.

Thus the eastern boundary of the Empire was left exposed to the ravages of barbarian kings, and at the same time the whole Mediterranean was overrun by pirates, who were sacking seaports, scuttling ships, and selling passengers and crews as slaves if they were not rich enough to pay ransom. Many a Cinnan fugitive and old Sertorian soldier fought under the pirates' flag, and they showed a prowess and organization which put the Roman Government to shame; but it was only when a Roman governor and his suite, going out to his province, were captured, or the pirates sailed up the Tiber, pillaging, that the Government realized the scandal. Indeed, it is probable that prominent Romans had shares in the profits, and that that was the reason why no steps were taken against this scourge.

Worse again than the condition of affairs in the East and on the Mediterranean was a war which had broken out in Italy itself—the Servile or Slaves' War, under the slave gladiator Spartacus, in 73. At first the idea of a Slave War caused amusement at Rome, but soon it was clear that the city itself was threatened as it had been in the days of Hannibal. For three years the Government endured defeat and humiliation, and so unwilling were the Romans to face the slaves that no one offered himself for the praetorship of 71 until Crassus, who had been longing for some great opportunity, came forward. Two consuls had been defeated by Spartacus, and Crassus was a bold man to undertake the war; but fortune favoured him. The gallant Spartacus was thwarted in every way by his own lawless troops, and in six months' time Crassus slew the whole force, including its leader. Pompey returned from Spain in time to win the credit of stamping out the last sparks of revolt, and he and Crassus caused themselves to be elected to the consulship for 70, although Pompey had been neither praetor nor quaestor, and was only thirty-six years of age.

There is no doubt that Pompey, who was afterward to be the great champion of constitutional rule against Caesar, did wrong in seeking the chief magistracy in this illegal way, and it was extremely foolish of the Senate, in fear of his army, to allow him to obtain it; and this was only a foretaste of its future weak conduct toward Caesar. It never learned to 'withstand the beginnings' of things, and then when it had allowed its opponent to become strong it plunged the State into a futile civil war against him. The people were alarmed now when neither of the two new consuls disbanded his army, and the rumour flew round that Pompey and Crassus were mortal enemies and were going to fight it out as Marius and Sulla had done. We do not know to this day what agencies were set to work, but in the end the two rivals laid aside their enmity and acted in concert against the Senate; and Pompey, Sulla's protégé, joined with Crassus in restoring the power of the tribunes of the plebs, associating Roman knights with the senators on the juries, and in other ways destroying the Sullan constitution. Perhaps Pompey saw that one man could never be supreme in Rome with the Senate so strong as Sulla had left it, and though he did not wish to be king he wished to be supreme in Rome.

An incident of Pompey's consulship shows his unique position in the State. It was customary for Roman knights who had served for the required time in the wars to lead their horses into the Forum before the censors, give an account of their service and receive their discharge. The two censors were sitting in state inspecting the knights, when Pompey was seen coming down to the Forum, with his consul's insignia, and leading his horse. His lictors stood aside and he led his horse up to the censors' bench, to the amazement of the people and the gratification of the censors, who were surprised at the haughty consul remembering that he was but a Roman knight and obeying the law like common men. "Then the senior censor examined him," writes Plutarch. "'Pompeius Magnus, I demand of you whether you have served the full time in the wars that is prescribed by the law?' 'Yes,' replied Pompey, with a loud voice, 'I have served all, and all under myself as general. The people hearing this gave a great shout, and made such an outcry for delight, that there was no appeasing it; and the censors rising from their judgment seat accompanied him home to gratify the multitude, who followed after, clapping their hands and shouting."

It was the people who, in 67, gave Pompey the charge of clearing the sea of pirates. Travel was becoming more dangerous from day to day, and so a tribune of the plebs  proposed and carried extraordinary powers for Pompey, complete command of the Mediterranean for three years and whatever forces and supplies he thought necessary; and Pompey added to his glory by clearing the sea of this pest in the space of forty days, thus exposing the senatorial Government which had suffered it so long. Then he took over the command in the East, defeated with the same swiftness Mithradates, Tigranes, and Antiochus, King of Syria, and returned home for his last Triumph in 61. He found that the Senate had become his bitter foe through its fear of him, and he was forced to throw himself into the party which Caesar had been gathering together in these long years.