Julius Caesar was said to be the greatest man in the Roman world. Somehistorians, and among them those of international authority, have made greaterclaims for him. He was the greatest of the Roman would but of antiquity. Lookingthrough the onlg list of rulers, kings and emperors and the rest, they havefailed to find an wuqual of this man who refused the style of king but thosename Ceasar has become the commanding majesty and power. Great as a general,great as a politican. Born in 102 B.
C., or it may have been tow or three yearslater, Gaius Julius Caesar, to give him his full name, was of the most ancientand aristocratic lineage. Although he himself, rationalist as he was, must havesmiled sometimes at the conceit, there were some who said that he was not onlyof royal but divine descent, since Venus, the goddess of Love, and married aTrojan prince and so become the mother of the legendary founder of the Julianhouse. All the same, circumstances and perhaps personal inclinations attachedhim to the comparatively democratic party. His aunt had married as a youth ofseventeen to the daughter of Cinna, another leader of the fraction tht wasopposed to the aristocratic party under Sulla, Marius, great rival. A year ortwo later, when Sulla had become supreme in the state, the young man was orderedto put away his wife.
He refused, and his life was saved only through theintercession of powerful friends in Rome. But though he had been reprieved,Ceasar was far from safe, and for a time he skulled in the mountains until hemanaged to get acrss the sea to Asia Minor, where he served in the Roman armythat was campaigning against Mithridates, the king of Pontus. At the seige ofMitylene in 80 B.C. he first distinguished himself as a soldier when he savedthe life of a hard-pressed cmrade. On the death of he kept himself at the bar.His politics and made a career for himself at the bar.
His political learningwere showwn clearly enought, however, when he ventured to act as prosecutor ofone of Sullas principal lieutnants, who was charged with gross extortion andcrueltu when he was governor of the Macedonian province. To improve himself inrhetoric, Casear went to Rhodes to take a course of lessons under a celebratedmaster of that art, and it was probably at about this time that he had hisfamous encouter with Mediterranean pirates. These rufians captured the ship inwhich he was a passenger, and put his ransom. While his messenger was awaycollecting the money, Caesar made himself quite at home with his captors. Hetold them amusing stories, joked with them, joined in their exercises, and,always in the highest good humor, told laughed and joined in the fun. But Caesarwas as good as his word.
As soon as his ransom had been paid some over and heregained his liberty, he went to Miletus, hired some warships, and made straightback to the pirates, and ordered them to be crucified as he had assured themthat he would. He also got back the money that had benn paid as his ransom.Still on the fringe of the political arena, Caesar spent the next few years as agay young man about town. His family wasnt rich, but there were plenty ofmoneylenders who were glad to accommodate him. He spent money like water, onexpensive pleasures women particularly, since he was as facinating to them asthey were to him and on building up a body of popular support for the time whenhe might need it. Then in 68 B.C.
he got his first official appointment underGovernment, as a quaestor, which secured him a seat in the Senate, and in 63B.C. he appointed Pontifex maximus, a position of great dignity and importancein the religion establishment of the Roman State. He was onthe way up, and hisrise was furthered by successful administration of a province in Spain. Socapable did he prove that in 60 B.
C. he was chosen by Rome, to form with him andcrassus what is called the 1st Triumvirate. To strengthen the union betweenhimself and Pompey, Caesar gave Pompey his daughter Julia in marriage. Thenafter a year as Consul, Caesar applied for, and was granted, the proconculshipof Gual and Illyricum, the Roman dominion that extended from what is now thesouth of France to the Adriatic. His enemies and he had plenty were glad to seehim leave Rome, and they no dought thought that Gual would prove the grave ofhis reputation. After all, he had up to now shown no special military gifts.
ButCasear knew what he was doing. He realized that the path to power in the RomanState lay through military victory, and he believed, as firmly as he believed inanything, in his star. In a series of campaigns he extended Roman dominion tothe Atlantic and what a thousand years later was to be known as the EnglishChannel. Years after year his dispatched to the Government in Rome told everlarge conquests, of ever greater victories. Sometimes he suffered a reverse, butnot often and when he did he was relentless in his determination to win the lastand decisive battle.
His soldiers idolized him even while they feared him. Hedemanded but he showed them how to do it. He was not behind the lined general,ordering his men into the breach while he looked on from a distance.
He wasalways up there, in the front line or very near it. He would march beside hislegionaries on foot, and out-tire the best of them. He set the pace for hiscavalry. He would seize a spade and give a hand in digging in. He ate the samefood as his men were out in the cold and wet. He was never a specially strongman, physically he seems been subject to epileptic seizures but when campaigninghe seemed as hard as nails.
And of course he was brave. Many and many time whenhis men were hard-pressed by the hosts of Gauls they were vastly cheered by thesights of their general hurrying up to their assistance, branshing his weapnsand shouting words of encouragement. Cowards die many times before theirdeaths,” are among the words that Shakespeares puts into his mouth,”thevaliant taste of death but once.” If we would read the histlry of those yearsof almost constant campaigning, from 58 to 49 B.C., where better than in thosememories of Caesars own writting, that are among the materpieces of latinlierature. Of course interest to us in 55 B.
C. when the Roman expeditionaryforces sailed from Boulogne and the men got ashore on the coast at Deal. Thisfirst invasion was nothing more than a reconnaissance, and after three weeksCasear went back across the Channel.
But in the summer of the next year hereturned, and this time he penetrated as far as the valley of the Thames inMiddlesex. After considerable figting, the Britons under Cassivellaunus sued forterms, gave hostages and agreed to pay tribute. Whereupon Caesar sailed back toGual, where there was always a risk that the recently subdued natives might makea fresh bid for their independence. In fact, they did rebel, and for severalyears Caesar found a worthy match in the young Vercingetorix.
Once he wasdefeated, and the Roman position in Gual was threatened as it had never beenbefore. But Caesar managed to unite his forces, and at Alesia in 52 B.C. crushedthe Gaulish armies and obtained Vercingetorixs surrender. This was the end toresistance to Roman rule henceforth Gual was a great and increasingly prosperousprovince of the Roman realm. Casears victory was opportune, for affairs atRome demanded his attention.
The Triumvirate was on the verge of dissolution.Pompey was estranged, and Crassus had gone off to the east, where he metdisaster and death in battle with the Parthians. Caesars terms of office inGaul was nearing its end, and already his enemies in Rome were talking ofwhat they would do to him when he had returned to civil life. They complained ofhis having overstepped his authority, of having embarked on grandiose schemes ofcomquest, of cruelties inflicted on poor inoffensive barbarians. All therethings were reported to Caesar in his camp, and, being the man he was, it is notsurprising that he resolved to get in the firt blow. Although he had only onelegion under his immediate command, and Pompey had been boasting that he hadonly to stamp on the ground and legions would rise up to do his bidding heresolved to march on Rome.
Early in January, 49 B.C. he took the decisive stepof crossing the Rubicon, the little river that ws the boundry of his command.
Ashe watched his men plunging into streams he talked up and down the banks, andsome who were near said that he muttered the wrods “Jacta alea est”, “thedie is cast” . Whether he spoke the words or not, the die was cast, and inopen defiance of Pompeys government, Caesar marched with all speed on thecapital. Pompeys support disintegrated, and he was foced to flee overseas.Caesar entered Rome triumph. Almost without a blow Caesar had become master ofRome, and he ws forthwith granted dictatorial powers. But Pomey and his friendsrallied, and for the next five years Caesar was chiefly engaged in defeating,first, Pompey at Pharsalia in Greece, soon after which Pompey was murdered inEgypt, next Pompeys sons in spain, and hten the army of those Roman leaderswho constituted what was known as the senatorial party those who clung to theonle time-honoured system of republican rule through the Senate. A strangeintrelude in this torrent of campaining is the time spent by Caesar in Egypt,when he had an affair with the beautiful young Queen Cleopatra, who bore him ason.
After this he proceeded to Asia Minor, where Pharnaces, the son andmurdered of King Mithridates, was Causing trouble. Caesar made short work ofhim. In his message to the Senate he reported “Veni, vidi, vici”, “I came,I saw, I conquered. At length he returned to Rome, and was according yetanother triumph he had had four already.
Vast crowds acclaimed him as he passedin his chariot through the streets on his way to the Capitol. Great hopes werecentered upon him, great things were expected of him. The old system must sooncome to birth. We shall never know what vast schemes were fermenting in thebrain of the man who was now hailed as Impector, the first of the emperors otwalk the stage of history, but we may perhaps get some idea of them from what hemanaged to accomplish in the all too short period that was left to him.
For themost part they were young men and vigorous, and he was middle-aged and grownheavy and less active than in the days when he had soldiered with his men inGual. But he put up a good fight. He struggled, unarmed though he was, tried topush them sway, and then struck at them with his meta stilus or pen. Then he sawBrutus was among his assailants. “what, you too, Brutus” as he said andconvering his body with his robe so that he should fall decently, sufferedhimself to be overborne. He fell, with twenty-three wounds in his body, at thefoot of the statue of his great rival Pompey, which, with characteristicmagnanimity, he had allowed to be re-erected in the Capitol.
Such was their madfury, some of the murderers had wounded one another in their bloody work. Nowthey ruched from the scene, sxultingly shouting that the Tyrant was no more. Thycalled upon the people who were there to rejoice with them, but the people hungtheir heads, or muttered a prayer or fled.
So Caesar died “the noblest man”,to quote Shakespeares immortal lines again, “that ever lived in the tide oftimesBibliography100 Great Kings, Queens and Rulers of the World Edited by John Canning SchoolLibrary Journal Audio Recording Drama Theater Julius Caear http://homepages.iol.ie/coolmine/typ/romans/romans6.htmlJulius Caesar http:library.thinkingquest.org/17120/data/bios/users/caesar/page_1.htmlThe Word Book Encyclopedia Julius Caesar Vol 3