Chapter 28




JULIUS CĘSAR.

48--44.


With Pompeius fell the hopes of those who were faithful to the old government, such as Cicero and Cato. They had only to wait and see what Cęsar would do, and with the memory of Marius in their minds.

Cęsar did not come at once to Rome; he had first to reduce the East to obedience. Egypt was under the last descendants of Alexander's general Ptolemy, and was an ally of Rome, that is, only remaining a kingdom by her permission. The king was a wretched weak lad; his sister Cleopatra, who was joined with him in the throne, was one of the most beautiful and winning women who ever lived. Cęsar, who needed money, demanded some that was owing to the state. The young king's advisers refused, and Cęsar, who had but a small force with him, was shut up in a quarter of Alexandria where he could get no fresh water but from pits which his men dug in the sand. He burnt the Egyptian fleet that it might not stop the succors that were coming from Syria, and he tried to take the Isle of Pharos, with the lighthouse on it, but his ship was sunk, and he was obliged to save himself by swimming, holding his journals in one hand above the water. However, the forces from Syria were soon brought to him, and he was able to fight a battle in which the young king was drowned; and Egypt was at his mercy. Cleopatra was determined to have an interview with him, and had herself carried into his rooms in a roll of carpet, and when there, she charmed him so much that he set her up as queen of Egypt. He remained three months longer in Egypt collecting money; and hearing that Pharnaces, the son of Mithridates, had attacked the Roman settlements in Asia Minor, he sailed for Tarsus, marched against Pharnaces, routed and killed him in battle. The success was announced to the Senate in the following brief words, "Veni, vidi, vici"--"I came, I saw, I conquered."

He was a second time appointed Dictator, and came home to arrange affairs; but there were no proscriptions, though he took away the estates of those who opposed him. There was still a party of the senators and their supporters who had followed Pompeius in Africa, with Cato and Cnęus Pompeius, the eldest son of the great leader, and Cęsar had to follow them thither. He gave them a great defeat at Thapsus, and the remnant took refuge in the city of Utica, whither Cęsar followed them. They would have stood a siege, but the townspeople would not consent, and Cato sent off all his party by sea, and remained alone with his son and a few of his friends, not to face the conqueror, but to die by his own sword ere he came, as the Romans had learned from Stoic philosophy to think the nobler part.

Such of the Senate as had not joined Pompeius were ready to fall down and worship Cęsar when he came home. So rejoiced was Rome to fear no proscription, that temples were dedicated to Cęsar's clemency, and his image was to be carried in procession with those of the gods. He was named Dictator for ten years, and was received with four triumphs--over the Gauls, over the Egyptians, over Pharnaces, and over Juba, an African king who had aided Cato. Foremost of the Gaulish prisoners was the brave Vercingetorix, and among the Egyptians, Arsinoė, the sister of Cleopatra. A banquet was given at his cost to the whole Roman people, and the shows of gladiators and beasts surpassed all that had ever been seen. The Julii were said to be descended from Ęneas and to Venus, as his ancestress, Cęsar dedicated a breastplate of pearls from the river mussels of Britain. Still, however, he had to go to Spain to reduce the sons of Pompeius. They were defeated in battle, the elder was killed, but Cnęus, the younger, held out in the mountains and hid himself among the natives.

After this, Cęsar returned to Rome to carry out his plans. He was dictator for ten years and consul for five, and was also imperator or commander of an army he was not made to disband, so that he nearly was as powerful as any king; and, as he saw that such an enormous domain as Rome now possessed could never be governed by two magistrates changing every year, he prepared matters for there being one ruler. The influence of the Senate, too, he weakened very much by naming a great many persons to it of no rank or distinction, till there were nine hundred members, and nobody thought much of being a senator. He also made an immense number of new citizens, and he caused a great survey to be begun by Roman officers in preparation for properly arranging the provinces, governments, and tribute; and he began to have the laws drawn up in regular order. In fact, he was one of the greatest men the world has ever produced, not only as a conqueror, but a statesman and ruler; and though his power over Rome was not according to the laws, and had been gained by a rebellion, he was using it for her good.

He was learned in all philosophy and science, and his history of his wars in Gaul has come down to our times. As a high patrician by birth, he was Pontifex Maximus, or chief priest, and thus had to fix all the festival days in each year. Now the year had been supposed to be only three hundred and fifty-five days long, and the Pontifex put in another month or several days whenever he pleased, so that there was great confusion, and the feast days for the harvest and vintage came, according to the calendar, three months before there was any corn or grapes.

To set this to rights, since it was now understood that the length of the year was three hundred and sixty-five days and six hours, Cęsar and the scientific men who assisted him devised the fresh arrangement that we call leap year, adding a day to the three hundred and sixty-five once in four years. He also changed the name of one of the summer months from Sextile to July, in honor of himself. Another work of his was restoring Corinth and Carthage, which had both been ruined the same year, and now were both refounded the same year.

He was busy about the glory of the state, but there was much to shock old Roman feelings in his conduct. Cleopatra had followed him to Rome, and he was thinking of putting away his wife Calphurnia to marry her. But his keeping the dictatorship was the real grievance, and the remains of the old party in the Senate could not bear that the patrician freedom of Rome should be lost. Every now and then his flatterers offered him a royal crown and hailed him as king, though he always refused it, and this title still stirred up bitter hatred. He was preparing an army, intending to march into the further East, avenge Crassus' defeat on the Parthians, and march where no one but Alexander had made his way; and if he came back victorious from thence, nothing would be able to stand against him.

The plotters then resolved to strike before he set out. Caius Cassius, a tall, lean man, who had lately been made prętor, was the chief conspirator, and with him was Marcus Junius Brutus, a descendant of him who overthrew the Tarquins, and husband to Porcia, Cato's daughter, also another Brutus named Decimus, hitherto a friend of Cęsar, and newly appointed to the government of Cisalpine Gaul. These and twelve more agreed to murder Cęsar on the 15th of March, called in the Roman calendar the Ides of March, when he went to the senate-house.

Rumors got abroad and warnings came to him about that special day. His wife dreamt so terrible a dream that he had almost yielded to her entreaties to stay at home, when Decimus Brutus came in and laughed him out of it. As he was carried to the senate-house in a litter, a man gave him a writing and begged him to read it instantly; but he kept it rolled in his hand without looking. As he went up the steps he said to the augur Spurius, "The Ides of March are come." "Yes, Cęsar," was the answer; "but they are not passed." A few steps further on, one of the conspirators met him with a petition, and the others joined in it, clinging to his robe and his neck, till another caught his toga and pulled it over his arms, and then the first blow was struck with a dagger. Cęsar struggled at first as all fifteen tried to strike at him, but, when he saw the hand uplifted of his treacherous friend Decimus, he exclaimed, "Et tu Brute"--"Thou, too, Brutus"--drew his toga over his head, and fell dead at the foot of the statue of Pompeius.




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