1902 Encyclopedia > Julius Caesar (Caius Julius Caesar)

Caius Julius Caesar
Roman soldier and statesman
(c. 101-44 BC)




CAIUS JULIUS CAESAR, was born July 12, 100 B.C., according to others in 102 B.C., of a family who for many years held high offices in the state. He was the greatest man of the Roman or perhaps of all the ancient world. It is not without reason that his name has remained among us as the title of sovereignty, or that his memory survives as the standard of commanding greatness; yet the very completeness of his character makes it difficult to obtain a clear grasp of his individuality. In every relation of life he attained apparently without effort to the highest excellence, as a citizen, a politician, an orator, a general, a companion, a man of letters, and a far-seeing organizing statesman. Yet study will make it clear to us that his greatness has not been overrated, and the more we contemplate his position and his work, the less opportunity we shall find for blame or criticism. He entered into active life at a great crisis of his country’s history. A strong national individuality, firmness, and unity of character and purpose had gradually won for Rome the supremacy of Latium, of Italy, and of the world. But the qualities which were able to acquire an empire were not able to govern it. The time was now passed when the senate presented an example of dignity and magnanimity, when a sense of law and justice and persistency of aim and object sufficed to extenuate a cruelty which knew no limit but the realization of its will. It was truer now than in the time of Horace that Rome was falling by the weight of its own greatness. The long struggle between the patricians and plebeians for political equality served rather to strengthen than loosen the cohesion of the state. But the nations which lay outside the city could not be assimilated without severe struggles. The equality of Latins and Italians with the citizens of Rome might be won by the efforts of a demagogue, but could only be assured by an entire change of government. failure to effect the purposes of government had diminished the sense of responsibility in the ruling class. Jugurtha has been able to discover that Roman virtue was accessible to bribes. The direction of provinces at once gratified and stimulated the avarice of statesmen. The riches of the world which were beginning to flow into the imperial city excites the desire for more. There existed at the same time the demoralization which accompanies the breaking up and abandonment of old principles of conduct, and an unsettled yearning for the adjustment of pressing difficulties. We may credit the Gracchi with a far-seeing grasp of the wants of their country, but they could not but appear to their contemporaries as mischievous revolutionists. Sulla attempted to give new strength and power to a system which had sunk into hopeless decay. Marius was inspired rather with a rough contempt for expedients which could never be successful, than with a patriotic desire to elevate the people form whom he sprung. The impotence of statesmen to understand or to regulate the age led to the employment of violence and bloodshed. A domestic enemy has forced the gates of Rome, and each political victory was sealed with the blood of the vanquished. The senate which had conquered the world was unable to defend itself; it could neither recover its former power not bring into being a new constitution. It could not exercise the ordinary functions of government without entrusting to a citizen powers which might be turned against its own existence. It is difficult to imagine what would have been the destiny of a world from which the cohesive force which bound it together might at any time be removed. If Rome had perished in this crisis she would have left but a faint impress upon the nations who owned her sovereignty. The long reign of law and order, from which we derive the chief legacies which Rome has left to the modern world, was yet to come. Thus the newly-founded empire did not fall before the onslaught of an eastern despot, or break up into separate provinces governed by rebellious citizens, is due, as far as we can see, to Julius Caesar alone. It is difficult to see how such a man could have been produced by the wants of any age, but there is no doubt that he course of future history was marked out in no slight degree by the genius and foresight of this single individual.

Caesar displayed at the very outset of his career the same versatility, energy, and courage which distinguished him till its close. When ordered by Sulla to put away his wife, who was connected with the Marian party, he refused to obey, although he lost by the refusal his wife’s dower, his priesthood, and his fortune. Although compelled to quite Rome to avoid the dictator’s anger, he did not deprive his country of his services. His diplomacy served to obtain form Nicoledes, king of Bithynia, a fleet, which was used in the reduction of Mitylene, and by his personal bravery in the siege he won form Marcus Thermus the reward of a civic crown. He served in Cilicia against the pirates, whose extinction was to be the great against the pirates, whose extinction was to be the great glory of his rival, and either at this or at a later time (for authorities differ on this point) had an adventure with them, which displays his subtlety and resource. Taken prisoner by them at the island of Pharmacussa he sent the main body of his companions and attendants to seek his ransom. During his stay of forty days, he ingratiated himself with his captors, and promised them in jest that when once set fee he would return and crucify them, and he kept his word. When he was released he armed some vessels of Miletus, found the pirates in the anchorage where had left them, took them into Pergamus, and handed them over to the civil arm. When a student under Apollonius Molo at Rhodes, on the outbreak of the Mithridatic war, he passed, of his own accord, to the continent, drove the king’s general from the province, and restored the shaken allegiance of the subject towns. A Roman citizen of birth was expected not only to be a general and a statesman but an orator. He must be practised in every branch of the art of government. Caesar attained distinction in the forum with the same case as he had won it in the field. He accused Dolabella of extortion in the provinces in 77 B.C., and Antonius of a similar offence in 76 B.C. In neither prosecution was he successful, but he gained in both a reputation for eloquence and public spirit. To perfect himself in oratory he sought the instruction of Apollonius before mentioned, under whom Cicero had also studied, and who had striven with little success to curb the extravagance of his redundant diction. Perhaps it is to him that we owe the massive and monumental eloquence, the pure and chastened taste of the Commentaries. The chronology of these events is uncertain pontiff and military tribune. Not untried in war and in affairs, tinged with Greek culture but not weakened by it, in the prime of youth and the fullness of fascination, he was fitted in every way to gain the favour of his countrymen, and to play his part in the game of politics, which required then, if ever, and open brow and secret thoughts.

For the next twelve years Caesar, with the exception of a short absence in Spain as quaestor, remained at Rome. During the whole of this time he lent his assistance to the task of strengthening and reviving the democratic party, which had sunk very low after the death of Marius. He was thus brought constantly into connection with Pompeius, and it is difficult for us to determine whether Caesar supported Pompeius because he perceived that his ends were those which he himself wished to gain, or whether Pompeius courted the democratic party for the purpose of his own aggrandizement. In 70 B.C. Pompeius, in conjunction with Crassus, repealed the Sullan constitution, and in the measures which were necessary for this purpose he had the full approval and support of Caesar. The power of the tribunes was restored, that of the senate diminished. The control of the law courts, which Sulla had given back to the senate, and which had been abused to shield from punishment high-born plunderers of the provinces, was now divided among the senate, the equites, who were the great capitalists, and the tribuni aerarii, who represented a still more popular element. Caesar in this conduct was true to the principles which animated his whole career, a desire to give equality to the citizens, and recognition to the subjects of Rome, and to obliterate as far as possible the scars of civil dissension. In 68 B.C. he lost his aunt and his wife, one the widow of Marius, the other the daughter of Cinna. In the orations which he pronounced over them in the forum, he was able to rehabilitate the reputation of the leaders of his party. At his aunt’s funeral he caused busts of Marius to be carried in the procession, and the people were roused to recall at once the greatness of their general, whose memory had been so long prescribed, and the generous courage of his kinsman in restoring it. As the power of the senate became weakened, respect for the old safeguards of the constitution became less strong. It was therefore not unnatural, when Rome was suffering from the attacks of enemies whom she could not quell, that she should invest her former general with an extraordinary command, and seek in new expedients a remedy which the constitution had failed to supply. Such was the origin of the Gabinian and Manilian laws, the first of which conferred on Pompeius a command against the pirates of the Mediterranean, while the second gave him control of the Mithridatic war. Never had such power been concentrated in the hands of a single citizen. He was invested with absolute control for three years over the whole of the Mediterranean Sea, from the Straits of Gibraltar to the innermost bays of the Levant, and over the coasts for fifty miles inland. Under him were twenty-five praetors of senatorial rank chosen by himself. He had ample authority for levying troops and raising money. By the Manilian law he obtained in addition command over the whole of the East, "so that there remained scarcely a spot of land within the wide Roman dominions that had not obeyed him." These laws were opposed by the friends of the senate and by those who still cherished respect for the old constitution of the city. They were supported by Caesar and by Cicero, and were carried by the public voice. We need not see in this action of Caesar’s a desire either to get rid of Pompeius as a rival, or to earn future favour by present support; we may rather conclude that he saw more clearly than the statesmen of his time the growth of a new order and the decay of the old, and the necessity of flesh and even perilous expedients to meet wants which had not before arisen.

After the departure of Pompeius, Caesar held the aedileship with Bibulus. His business in this office was to take charge of the public buildings, to repair the old, to furnish such new ones as were required, and to keep the multitude in good temper by a due magnificence in their national games. This office was to Caesar the occasion of flesh triumphs. Bibulus supplied the money, but Caesar showed how it might best to spent, and gained the whole credit of the generosity displayed. He decorated the forum,—that small space under the Capitoline hill, on which every successive master of Rome has for good or for evil left his mark. He built, either at this or at a later time, the basilica Julia, which has again come to light in our generation, the first of those imperial erections which were imitated by his successors, and which extended the long line of colonnades and halls of justice far beyond the narrow limits of the Septimontium. He built porticoes under the Capitol for the reception of works of art, the plunder of Grecian cities; and he struck a deeper chord in the hearts of his countrymen when by his order the trophies won by Marius from barbaric kings and peoples glittered one morning fleshly adorned and gilded in the place from which they had been removed by Sulla. The defenceless city was terrified at the number of gladiators which he proposed to exhibit in the Great Games, and restricted him to three hundred and twenty pairs, but he made amends by arming them with accoutrements of silver, an act of magnificence remembered even in times when the city was sated with profusion.

In the following year, 64 B.C., he was concerned in measures which show the consistency of his political character. He supported the agrarian law of Rullus (which, as far as we know its provisions, proposed to settle the poorer citizens in the waste lands of Campania and elsewhere), because, although its provisions might be defective, its principles were good, and calculated to lessen the inequality between the different members of the state. Cicero may, with the responsibility which attached to him as consul, have been right in procuring its rejection as ill-digested and premature. Caesar’s support of the impeachment of Rabirious for the murder of Saturninus thirty-seven years before, was perhaps intended to show that party feeling should never be suffered to cover the commission of a crime, to assert again the principles of democracy which had been long unpopular and also to deter young aristocrats from imitating the excesses of Sulla. These principles once asserted, there was no need to carry the prosecution to extremities. In the year following, 63 B.C., he was elected Pontifex Maximus, a signal mark of his popularity. This office placed him at the head of the state religion. Although he did not obtain it without bribery, yet we cannot believe that he would have been elected unless the people had left confidence in the dignity and integrity of his character, and if he had been the frivolous and abandoned libertine which some historians represent him to have been at this time. De Quincey has remarked that we are presented with a touching picture of his home life on the morning of his candidature. His mother Aurelia accompanied him to the portico of the house, with a mingled feeling of hope for his success and fear for his safety, and he answered to her expressed anxieties that he would return a conqueror of a corpse. We may believe that to his mother he owed many of his most commanding qualities. Throughout her life he treated her with deep affection and respect, and we have abundant proof that Caesar possessed to the full that strong family affection which always accompanies a noble nature, and which the Romans of that day have by some writers been so strangely supposed to have been without.

An event was at hand of sufficient seriousness to try the mettle of the strongest. The conspiracy of Catiline has perhaps been exaggerated by the vanity of Cicero; but allowing for this exaggeration, it threatened serious danger to the state, and it affords a conclusive proof of the impotence of the Roman government at this time. We shall find the closest parallel in the military pronunciamiento of modern Spain. Catiline had probably little design beyond his friends at any cost. It Caesar had joined this movement he might have mastered it and directed it to his own purposes; had he been an unprincipled adventurer he might have framed for himself combinations more likely to succeed. There is no proof that Caear was an accomplice in this villany. Probability is against it. What we do know is that on December 5th he spoke against the execution of the conspirators. In this we have evidence of his strong common sense and political foresight. He saw that it was had policy to break the laws in order to punish their violation. He knew also that the dead alone come back to haunt the living. "If an adequate punishment," he said, "can be devised for these men’s offences let it be inflicted; if their offence transcends all punishment, let us punish them by the laws of our country." It would have been well for Cicero if he had followed this advice. Such language was thoroughly consistent in the mouth of a man who had done his best to remedy the excesses of Sulla, from which he himself had suffered, and who had lost no opportunity of inculcating political moderation. The next year, 62 B.C., Caesar was praetor. At the close of it Pompeius returned from the conquest of Mithridates, and quietly disbanded his army. The time had not arrived for Caesar to lay aside the toga. In 61 B.C., at the age of forty, he assumed as proprietor his first important military command and laid the foundation of a reputation as the greatest of generals, which should never be allowed to overshadow his higher merit as a statesman and the regenerator of his country.





Before Caesar could leave Rome for his province it was necessary that he should clear himself from the load of debt which oppressed him, and this he was enabled to do by the assistance of Crassus. A charge of insolvency has been allowed to weigh too heavily upon the character of Caesar, and has received too much importance as a motive for his actions. It can be accounted for by supposing an over-recklessness of means to gain important public ends, and a culpable carelessness in his private interests, which are not without a parallel in statesmen of modern times, whose character is above suspicion. We have little positive information about his campaign in the Peninsula, the main operations of which were carried on in Galicia and Portugal. Caesar appears to have exhibited on a small field the same qualities which distinguished him in a large sphere. He was proclaimed imperator by his soldiers, was voted a triumph by the senate, and while he added to the riches of the state was careful to render his own fortune more secure. He was a candidate for the consulship in the following year, and would gladly have conducted his canvass by proxy, while he kept his army outside the gates in readiness for his promised triumph. But Cato and the senate would not permit this violation of the law. Caesar at once obeyed, surrendered his triumph, and obtained the consulship. He formed at this time an alliance with Pompeius and Crassus, which is generally known as the first triumvirate. It was merely a political union for common purposes, and was not, like the second triumvirate, an organized form of government. Pompeius and Crassus had been enemies, and were now reconciled by Caesar. Cato, the champion of the senate, could not be included in this alliance, and Cicero was too vacillating in his policy and too weak in character to command the confidence of either of his former friends. The objects of the coalition were not so much to secure the personal aggrandizement of its members, as to form a strong and united front against those who wished to maintain a form of government which had become impossible, and was therefore hurtful to the state. It is possible that both Pompeius and Caesar foresaw that under a new constitution Rome would be subject to a single head, while Crassus was not reluctant to join himself to two men, one of whom must be the ruler of the future. The democracy which raised Caesar to power wished to obtain for its favourite the command of an army which would ensure the preponderance of his council in coming changes. Caesar himself, conscious of the pressing need of important measures, and the inability of the senate to provide them, was ready with the frankest generosity to work with any one whose ideas were on this point coincident with his own. The alliance was cemented by the marriage of Pompeius to Julia, Caesar’s daughter, while Caesar married Calpurnia, the daughter of Piso.

Caesar’s colleague in the consulship was M. Bibulus, the devoted servant of the senate, who both as aedile and praetor had submitted as a foil to set off the greatness of his companion. He offered a vain opposition to Caesar’s measures, and when he found that he could not prevent their being carried by the use of the political machinery in his power, he retired to his house and announced his intention of "observing the heavens" during the rest of his consulship, a process which ought technically to have rendered invalid all acts passed during that time. We do not possess a full account of the laws carried by Caesar while he stood at the head of the state, but we know enough to show us that he used his opportunities to enforce the same political principles which he had always consistently professed. He ordered the proceedings of the senate to be published, and so rendered its deliberations amenable to public opinion. He passed an agrarian law similar to that of Rullus, but without the defects which had procured its rejection. He carried a measure of just relief for the equites or capitalist, not so much with a view of gaining their support as to make a fair concession to an important class of the community. He declared Ptolemy, king of Egypt, and Ariovistus, the German, friends of the Roman people. He made regulations for the better government of the provinces, and remedied the worst abuses under which the provinces groaned. He was the author of a great measure for the suppression of bribery and corruption amongst public functionaries, which were at that time a stigma on the state. Other resources of a similar tendency were carried by his subordinates. The senate had intended that Caesar, on laying down his office, should be rendered as harmless as possible, and for that reason had assigned to the consuls the charge of woods and forests in Italy. The people, however, were able to protest successfully against the injustice. The tribune Vatinius obtained the passing of a law which gave to Caesar the province of Cisalpine Gaul or Northern Italy for five years, with three legions; and the senate of its own accord added the charge of Gaul and the Alps with an additional legion. Caesar thus obtained a filed of action worthy of his genius. He stayed near the city just long enough to secure the election of his friends as consuls, and to provide against the repeal of the measures which he had passed, and then set out for the country which has ever since been identified with his name.

It is not our object to describe in detail the marvellous work which occupied Caesar for the next eight years. No part of his life has been written with greater fullness, nor is there any for which we possess more abundant material. It must suffice to give a short sketch of the masterly campaigns by which a free and chivalrous people were reduced to absolute obedience, new countries were opened up to the knowledge and enterprise of Rome, and a form was given to the development of the civilization of France, of which she has preserved the main features to the present day. In his first campaign (58 B.C.) Caesar gained two important victories. He defeated at Autun the Helvetii who were leaving Switzerland with the intention of settling themselves on the fertile seaboard of the Atlantic, and forced the greater number of them to return to the homes which they had left. He attacked a nobler foe in the Germans under Ariovistus, the friend of the Roman people, and in the neighbourhood of Mühlhausen cut them to pieces, and drove the few survivors across the Rhine. This mighty stream now became the boundary of the Roman empire. All central Gaul was quelled by his bold attack, and the Germans were cowed into quietude, but the Belgae, a mixed race of warlike qualities, remained unsubdued. In the next year (57 B.C.) Caesar marched against them, and scattered their confederacy to the winds. The Nervii made a better stand, and Caesar was forced to expose his life, and to fight like a common soldier. But they, too, sustained a crushing defeat, and the submission of the Veneti and the coast cantons to Publius Crassus left only the northern tribes, such as the Morini and Menapii, independent of the Roman rule. The work of Crassus had been imperfectly performed, and in the following year (56 B.C.) the Veneti threw off the yoke. The whole coast from the Loire to the Rhine joined the insurrection. Caesar hurried from Italy, and taking measures for the security of the north ands south, prepared to attack the Veneti by sea. Victorious by sea as by land by new and skilful devices, he disabled their powerful fleet, and sold the defeated captives into slavery to a man. The Morini and Menapii alone remained unconquered, protected more than any thing else by the natural strength of their country. Caesar marched against them, but was forced to desist from the attack. With this exception, the whole of Gaul had been reduced to obedience in three campaigns. Caesar now turned his arms against the Germans. He cut to pieces the Usipetes and Tenchteri, who had crossed the lower Rhine, after treacherously depriving them of their leaders, who had come of their own free will into his camp. There is no excuse for this violation of international law, which was very properly rebuked by Cato in the senate; but Caesar might have replied that the precedents of Roman history had not inculcated a spirit of fairness or forbearance towards alien, enemies. He built a bridge across the Rhine, and remained eighteen days on the other bank. The same year (55 B.C.) witnesses his first expedition to Britain, whither he was led partly from curiosity, and partly by a desire to detach from the Celtic confederacy a land which was the sure asylum of political refugees. The islanders made a brave resistance, and Caesar was compelled to retreat. He was so much dissatisfied with the result of the campaign, that he made great preparations for renewing the attack in 54 B.C. On this occasion he penetrated further into the interior and crossed the Thames, but Cassivellaunus, to whom the defence of his country had been entrusted, followed the Roman army with his war chariots, and successfully impeded their occasion. Caesar, before he left, imposed a tribute and demanded hostages, but it was difficult to conceal that he retired discomfited form a land which he had to all appearance seriously intended to subdue. The next two years witnessed the final struggle of the Gauls to regain their freedom. Inspirited by the resistance of the Germans and the Britons, and inflamed by the death of Dumnorix, they determined to make a simultaneous attack on the Roman garrisons, which this winter were scattered more widely than usual. Q. Titurius Sabinus and L. Aurelius Cotta were the first assailed. Deceived by Ambiorix, king of the Eburones, their whole division was annihilated. A similar attack was made upon Q. Cicero in the territory of the Nervii, but Caesar was nears enough to bring assistance. The insurrection was checked and a terrible vengeance exacted from the Eburones. Acco, prince of the Carnutes, was executed by the victors. His death spurred his tribesmen to greater exertions. In the winter of 53-52 B.C. they roused the spirit of their countrymen. The post of honour was held by the Arverni, under their prince Vercingetorix, an heroic leader, whose name casts luster on this last vigorous but hopeless struggle. A new plan of defence was adopted. Instead of defending every town against the Romans, it was determined to burn those places which could not be held, and to concentrate their forces in those strong positions which gave a good hope of success. Thus the campaign clusters round the names of Avaricuym, Gergovia, and Alesia. The first of these towns (Bourges) was taken in the spring of 52 B.C. The second, the capital of the Arverni, was attacked by Caesar in vain, and an attempt to remedy the disaster led to a more decisive defeat. The star of Caesar began to pale. The Haedui, who had before hesitated to join the insurrection, now avowed their hostility, and the whole nation rose like one man to cast off the yoke of the invader. The final struggle was concentrated round the hill-town of Alesia. Versingetorix, faithful to his tactics, took refuge here with 80,000 infantry and 25,000 horse. Caesar had been able to join his forces with Labienus, and invested the hill on every side. The mighty masses of the Gallic landsturm crowded from all quarters to release their champion. Caesar was at once besieger and besieged. In this supreme crisis his genius triumphed. The provision of Alesia were exhausted. Caesar repulsed the double attack on both his lines, and Vercingetoriz, disdaining to fly, delivered himself into the power of his conqueror. Had the result been otherwise, it is possible that Caesar might have been driven from Gaul, and the floods of barbarians pouring down over Italy would have anticipated history by five hundred years. The following year (51 B.C.) saw the final pacification of the country, In eight years Caesar had done his work most thoroughly, Gaul never afterwards attempted to revolt, but remai ed a rich and contended member of the Roman empire. On no subject-country was impressed more completely the language, laws, and civilization of its masters. If it has been possible so gradually to extend the bounds of Roman dominion as to convert dangerous hordes of undisciplined tribes into contended allies, Caesar shows us how it might have been done. Even the patriotism of an emperor of the French cannot but admit that it was better for his country that Caesar should conquer than Vercingetorix.

Whilst Caesar had been engaged in the conquest of Gaul, the bands which held the triumvirate together had gradually become loosened. The three members of the coalition had met at Lucca in 56 B.C., and had arranged that Caesar’s command in Gaul should be continued for another five years; that Pompeius and Crassus should be elected consuls for 55 B.C.; and that on the expiration of their office Crassus should have Syria for his province and Pompeius the two Spains. These arrangements were carried out, but in September 54 B.C. Julia, the daughter of Caesar and the wife of Pompeius, died. A project for a double alliance of a similar kind was rejected by Pompeius. In 53 B.C. Crassus was slain in Parthia. In 52 B.C. it become clear that Pompeius was asserting his independence, was drawing nearer to Cato as an ally, and was becoming more disposed to act as the champion of the senate. From this time till the outbreak of the civil war, it was more and more evident that a collection between the two great rivals was inevitable, although Caesar did his best to avert the catastrophe. The details of the final quarrel are complicated an difficult to understand. By the law of Vatinius Caesar’s command expired in 54 B.C., by that of Trebonius it was continued till 49 B.C. It is comparatively unimportant whether his imperium would determine at the end of February or the end of December in that year. It had been arranged among the triumvirs that Caesarshould be consul in 48 B.C. According to strict Roman law he must announce himself personally as a candidate, which he could not do whilst he was still in command of an army. Pompeius had, in 52 B.C., secured to Caesar exemption from the restriction by a tribunician law, but there was some doubt whether this had not been rendered invalid by a subsequent enactment. In the same year it has been decreed that no one should hold a governorship until five years had elapsed from his laying down the office of consul or senator. IN 51 B.C. the question of appointing a successor to Caesar came before the senate, and it was finally determined that his command should come to an end on the Ides of November, 49 B.C. The object of the senate was that some interval should elapse between Caesar’s consulship and proconsulship. Caesar knew that he could not trust himself to the power of his enemies, but he displayed his usual moderation. He gave up the two legions which were demanded from him for the Parthian war, and by means of Curio, whom he had won over to his side, he proposed to the senate that Pompeius and himself should simultaneously disarm. To the surprise of the aristocratic party the motion was carried. Marcellus refused to accept the decision on the plea that Caesar was bringing his army into Northern Italy. He called on Pompeius to put himself at the head of the legion in Campania, and declare war against the invader. Caesar made one more ineffectual attempt at compromise. The propositions brought by Curio to the new consuls on January 1, 49 B.C., were contemptuously rejected, and Caesar was peremptorily ordered to resign his command. Although he had only one legion with him at Ravenna he could not hesitate. He crossed the frontier of Italy, and arrived at Ariminum.





Caesar crossed the Rubicon in the middle of January, 49 B.C., and he was murdered on the Ides of March, 44 B.C. During this space of a little over five years he crushed in every part of Europe the armies of his enemies, and laid deep and strong the foundations of the imperial power of his successors. He spent barely fifteen months of this time in Rome. He did not now, as his enemies had expected, march at once upon the capital. He observed that a surer way lay open to him to securing the possession of Italy by seizing the central heart of the peninsula, which in ancient as in modern times has held out delusive hopes to patriot people and rebellious kings of taming the proud tyranny of the Tiber city. Here the solitary church of St Pelino marks the site of Corfinium, once the destined home of Latin independence, and the city of Aquila languishes under the snows of the Gran Sasso d’Italia, a monument of the vain but chivalrous struggle of the emperors against the popes. Into these upland valleys, lying midway between the two seas, Caesar dashed with irresistible force, and town after town fell before him and his lieutenants. Pompeius moved slowly towards Brundusium whither he was followed by the conqueror. Caesar was unable to prevent the embarkation of his troops for Greece, but when by the end of March he reached Rome he was already the undisputed master of Italy.

In his next operations Caesar displayed to a marvellous degree his ability and resources, and showed how the success of his projects depended entirely upon his personal exertions. His lieutenants were seldom fortunate; but. Like Napoleon, his presence was worth an army, and, like Frederick the Great, he knew how to spring at once from the deepest embarrassments to the triumph of victory. At Ilerda his army was cooped up between two rivers, and all communication with Rome cut off. By a clever stratagem he surrounded Afranius and Petreius, and compelled them to surrender. At Dyrrachium he was in a worse position, encamped on a barren ridge, encompassed by a far superior army on the land side, and cut off from the sea, which was in the power of his enemies. Even when he had received his reinforcements he could not hold his own against greater numbers. Yet he was able to take advantage of the first mistake of Pompeius, and the victory of Pharsalua, was crushing and complete. At Alexandria, where his stay is difficult to account for even by the attractions of Cleopatra, he nearly fell a victim to a popular tumult, yet he was no sooner extricated from his difficulties than he marched into Asia, saw and conquered the son of the great Mithridates, and placed the affairs of the East on a basis of security. In Africa he had allowed the Pompenians to attain a dangerous efficiency of organization by his delay at Alexandria, and it was only through the extremest caution that he was enabled to assemble his tardy forces. But the battle of Thapsus deprived the senate of their last and noblest champion, and left Caesar the master of the Roman world. The capitulation of Ilerda took place in August 49, B.C., the winter of 49-48 B.C. was passed on the coast of Illyria, the battle of Pharsalus was fought on Auguts 9, 48 B.C., and Pharnaces was defeated at Zela on August 2, 47 B.C. Caesar’ stay at Rome was chequered by the mutiny of the legions in Campania, and the difficulty of assembling his troops; yet he was able to land in Africa before the end of 47 B.C., and he won the victory of Thapsus on April 6, 46 B.C. In July of that year he entered Rome as conqueror, and could now find leisure to govern the world which he had subdued.

During four separate days he celebrated four triumphs over Gaul, Egypt, Pontus, and Africa. Vercingetorix struggled in vain to save his country, Arsinoe the sister of Cleopatra, and the son of Juba, king of Mauretania, followed his triumphal car. The citizens were publicly feasted at the dictator’s expense, a distribution of money was made to the poor and the strange magnificence of the games celebrated in memory of his daughter Julia fulfilled the promise of the splendour of his aedileship. One more struggle was necessary before peace was finally secured. The sons of Pompeius, Cnaeus and Sextus, has collected a large army in Spain, which had always been the stronghold of their cause. The battle of Munda, fought on March 17, 45 B.C., resulted in their entire defeat, but Caesar was compelled to be absent from the capital from the end of 46 B.C. till September 45 B.C.

It may be questioned whether Caesar was himself anxious to receive the title of king, which his admirers were without doubt desirous to force upon him. Such a title would have added but little to his real power over every department of the state. After the expulsion of the kings the Roman constitution come eventually into such a form that, while every interest was represented, the whole power could never come into the hands of one individual. The two consuls were a check upon each other, and they were themselves subordinate to the senate. The tribunes occupied an entirely different position to the other magistrates, and defended the interest of the mass of the citizens. The senate itself was controlled by the censor, and the working of the political machine was so ordered that a single magistrate could, either by his personal objection, or by a skilful use of divine sanctions, obstruct any measure of a rash or unusual character. The chief officers of the state were occasionally suspended by the appointment of a dictator for extraordinary emergencies, but it had probably never occurred to any statesman that the whole of these well-balanced and often conflicting authorities might come to be concentrated in the person of one man. Yet it was by these means that the republic became a monarchy, and that Caesar became emperor. He was five times consul and four times dictator, and at his death was dictator elect for life. He had the tribunician power conferred upon him, which, among other advantages, rendered his person inviolable. Instead of the censorship he was invested with the new office of proefectus morum, which he used to curb the luxury and extravagance induced by the influx of conquered wealth. His opinion was, as princes senatus, asked first in the senate; his effigy was struck upon the coins. The exaggerated and half-divine honours which the servility of the senate invested added but little to his power, but the title of imperator, with which many a successful general had been saluted on the field of battle, was now prefixed to his name as a permanent addition, and has remained, together with the family of him who first bore it, as the title of highest sovereignty throughout the civilized world.

The complex of authorities thus placed in his hands he used in a manner to justify the confidence of those who entrusted them to him. It is difficult to give an accurate account of his administration. Mommsen, in the brilliant chapter which at present closes his history of Rome, has scarcely distinguished with sufficient care between Caesar’s intentions and his acts, and between his measures and those of his successors. Yet we have ample evidence that much was done and much more conceived. If we follow the authority of Suetonius we find that he reformed the calendar by intercalating three months in the year 46, and making arrangements for the future, which lasted unchanged till the 16th century. He increased the number of the senate to nine hundred, and made it more thoroughly representative of all classes and all parts of the empire. He increased the number of the magistrates, did his best to heal the wounds left by the civil war, and reformed the courts of justice. he confined donations of corn to the poorer citizens, and while by the rebuilding of Carthage and Corinth he found a refuge for many who would have starved at home, he did his best to prohibit absenteeism, and to discourage the tillage of the soil of Italy by slaves. He gave the rights of citizenship to men of science and to professors of liberal arts, enforced the laws without favour, and attempted with little success to retrain the luxury of the age. He prepared the way for the work of his successor, who found Rome of brick and left it of marble. He intended to codify the law, and to provide public libraries of Greek and Latin works, the care of which he entrusted to Varro, the most learned of the Romans. He is credited with the design of draining the Pontine marshes, a work yet to be performed; of converting the Fucine lake into a fertile plain, an enterprise begun by Claudius and completed by Prince Torlonia; of piercing the isthmus of Corinth; of making a road from the Adriatic to the Tiber; and further, of subduing the Parthians, and returning through Scythia and Germany into Italy, after extending the limits of the empire to the stream of the ocean.

However this may be, it is certain that at the time of his death he was preparing an expedition against the Parthians. It is useless to speculate whether his absence from the city would have been short or long. There is evidence that he did not fell at his ease in the capital, that he considered his personal work to be accomplished, and that his plains could be better carried out by his successor. Yet nothing can excuse the shortsighted wickedness and folly of those who murdered him. We need not repeat the well-known story, how in the Ides of March 44, B.C., Caesar was murdered in a meeting of the senate, and fell at the feet of the statue of Pompeius, pierced with wounds from head to foot, only one of which was fatal. There is no reason to believe that the conspiracy had been long in preparation, or that it was motived on the one hand by a desire for personal aggrandizement, or still less, on the other, by a devoted patriotism. It began in spite, and continued in folly. A very slight degree of political foresight might have convinced those who asserted to the plot that the people would not be on their side, and that they would precipitate the very conclusion which they desired to avert. Those who deified Brutus in the French Revolution knew but little of Roman history, or confounded him with the expeller of the Tarquins. Dante is a better judge, whose ardent love of liberty did not blind him to the necessity of a strong and united government for his native land. The divine poet relates to us with an appalling realism, that in the centre of the earth, in the bottom of the pit of hell, Lucifer holds in his three mouths the three greatest malefactors the world has ever seen,—Brutus and Cassius, who betrayed their sovereign and their country, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed his Master with a kiss.

Under different circumstance Caesar might have won as great a reputation as a man of letters as he has acquired as a general and a statesman. He was fully aware that a change in the literary language of his countrymen was as necessary as in their government and constitution. The rude though vigorous dialect of Plautus, or even of Varro, was not suited to be the organ of civilization throughout a subject world. A widespread knowledge of Greek had made the Romans aware of their own deficiencies, and the united efforts of all men of culture to give form and refinement to the Latin tongue culminated in the glories of the Augustan age. Cicero and Livy, Virgil and Horace, have remained as examples of Latin style during the whole of the Christian era. The language in which they wrote must have differed widely from anything which was spoken by their most cultivated contemporaries. It is not unreasonable to fell some regret that the cultivated language did not follow a course of development more suited to its inherent character, and that Lucretius and Caesar were not adopted by the rhetoricians of the empire as models for precept and imitation. The excellence of the Latin language lies in its solidity and precision; its defects lie in a want of lightness and flexibility. Lucretius found it sufficient to express with admirable clearness very complex philosophical reasoning, and Caesar exhibited its excellencies in their purest and chastest form. It is a misfortune that the Commentaries are not more often studied as a masterpiece of literature, but are relegated by the irony of fortune to the lower forms of schools. Their style is faultless, not a word is thrown away or used with a doubtful meaning, every expression is in its place, and each touch serves to enhance the effect of the whole. Had Caesar been writing history instead of military memoirs, he might have allowed himself greater freedom of ornament. We know, from his treatise on grammar (De Analogia), often quoted by grammarians, that his success in literature was the result of careful study and meditation. As an orator he was acknowledged to be second to Cicero alone, and he is one of the few men in history who have quelled a rebellion by a speech.

In this sketch of Caesar’s life we have found but little to blame, and have been able to add few shadows to the picture. The stories which the jealousy of contemporaries have preserved against him are too frivolous to be recorded, while the dignity, sweetness, and nobleness of his character cannot be concealed. We have preferred rather to attempt to construct from very imperfect materials some faint resemblance of the marvellous personality of him whom the genius of Shakespeare rightly recognized as "the foremost man of all this world."

The principal ancient authorities for the life of Caesar are the biographies of Plutarch and Seutonius, the letters are orations of Cicero, and the Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars written by or ascribed to Caesar himself. To those may be added Appian’s Cicil War, Dion, Cassius, Velleius, Paterculus, Sallust’s Catiline, the Epitomes of Livy, and Lucan’s Pharsalia. His life has been perpertually narrated in ancient and modern times, and has been the battle-field of imperialists and republicans . For English readers, the account given by Merivale, both in his History of the Romans under the Empire, and in the Fall of the Roman Republic, is readable and adequate; the fullest and fairest examination of the original authorities is in Long’s Decline of the Roman Republic, vols. iii.—v. The article in Smith’s Biographical Dictionary is excellent, but by far the most brilliant picture of Caesar’s character and work is to be found in Mommsen’s History of Rome (published 1856, translated into English 1866). Mommsen is extremely favourable to Caesar, but unfair to his opponents. The Histoire de César of Napoleon III., which extends only to the outbreak of the civil war, is especially valuable form the maps and plans which accompany it. The German student will find a full satisfactory repertory of all that is known about the subject in Dramann, Geschichte Roms. (O. B.)


The above article was written by Oscar Browning, M.A.; Fellow and Tutor of King's College, Cambridge; University Lecturer in History; Examiner for University of London, 1899; author of Modern England, History of England, Life of George Eliot, and many historical monographs.




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