On the Shores of the Great Sea - M. B. Synge

The Flight of Pompey

"Oh you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,

Knew you not Pompey?"


Csar now assembled his soldiers on the banks of the river Rubicon, which divided Italy from Gaul. The Romans still thought his heart might fail or his troops desert him. But neither of these things happened. True, it is said, that for a moment, the great conqueror paused.

Suddenly dismayed by the greatness of his undertaking, he asked himself, was he right to bring so much trouble on his countrymen? The destinies of the Roman nation hung on his decision. Then, as if acting on some sudden impulse, he cried, "The die is cast." So saying he urged his charger through the stream. The Rubicon was crossed. He was on his way to Rome. There could be no turning back now.

Caesar at Rubicon


The news reached Rome. Csar's charger had been seen on the Apennine hills. He was coming at last. Pompey did not hesitate. In flight lay his only safety. Up rose consuls and senators, and leaving their wives and children to their fate, they fled for their lives, with Pompey, out of Rome. They played the part of cowards, and in the old Roman days, men would not have deserted their city like this.

"It is all panic and blunder," cried Cicero; "the flight of the Senate, the departure of the magistrates, the closing of the treasury, will not stop Csar—I am broken-hearted."

Pompey could not raise an army by land, but the sea was his. His was the East with all its treasures, his the fleets of the Mediterranean. Csar might win for the moment, but Pompey had the naval power to bring against Italy.

So Csar entered Rome in peace. He soon left it again for Spain, where he went to prepare an army and a fleet to fight against Pompey.

"I go," he said to the Romans—"I go to engage an army without a general: I shall return, to attack a general, without an army."

The Romans at once made him Dictator, and he set out for his chase after Pompey. Pompey was in Greece preparing for his great invasion of Italy. It was early in January, just a year since he had crossed the Rubicon, that Csar sailed from Brindisi for Greece. Pompey's admiral, from the heights of Corfu, saw his ship. He had let Csar pass, but he would not let his soldiers and ships pass in the same way. So Csar waited on one side of the Adriatic and his ships and troops on the other. The months passed on and Csar watched in vain for the sails of his ships.

There is an old story that says he at last made up his mind to row over to Brindisi and see what had happened. He hired a boat of twelve oars, disguised himself as a slave, crept on board in the night-time, and lay down at the bottom of the boat. It was very rough and the waves were dashing very high on the Greek coast, so high, indeed, as to render the crossing very dangerous. The master of the boat ordered the rowers to turn back. Then the disguised slave arose.

"Go forward, my friend," shouted the great Csar, above the roar of wave and wind. "Fear nothing, you carry Csar and his fortunes."

The rivals for Roman power met at last, in Greece, and Pompey was defeated once and for ever by Csar. Pompey's fall was complete. He escaped secretly on foot to the coast, and getting on board a merchant vessel, sailed to Mitylene, where his wife and son were waiting. His wife received the news with tears, and sinking into Pompey's arms, she cried, "Ah that I should see you reduced to one poor vessel, who were wont to sail in these seas with a fleet of five hundred ships!"

Putting his wife and son on board, Pompey now sailed down the coast of Asia Minor, then across to Cyprus, and on to Egypt. Egypt was under Roman influence, though not exactly a Roman province, and here the fugitive might gain protection.

The country was under a boy king, called Ptolemy, and his sister Cleopatra. Pompey anchored at sea and sent to the young king for permission to land. He was invited to come ashore, and saying good-bye to his wife, he stepped into the boat sent for him. As he stepped ashore, he was treacherously murdered, his head cut off, and his body thrown back into the sea. A devoted slave whom Pompey had set free, watched for the body to be washed on shore; then he wrapped it in his shirt and buried it in the sand, and so the last rites were performed for one, who but a short time since, was second to none in Rome.

Meanwhile Csar had been following his fallen foe. Hearing that he had sailed for Egypt, he took ship and landed at Alexandria, to be received by the news of Pompey's death. Hoping to please him, the head of his rival was brought him. From it, he turned in horror and burst into tears, for Pompey had once been his friend.