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Julius Caesar by  Jacob Abbott




[13] THERE were three great European nations in ancient days, each of which furnished history with a hero: the Greeks, the Carthaginians, and the Romans.

Alexander was the hero of the Greeks. He was King of Macedon, a country lying north of Greece proper. He headed an army of his countrymen, and made an excursion for conquest and glory into Asia. He made himself master of all that quarter of the globe, and reigned over it in Babylon, till he brought himself to an early grave by the excesses into which his boundless prosperity allured him. His fame rests on his triumphant success in building up for himself so vast an empire, and the admiration which his career has always excited among mankind is heightened by the consideration of [14] his youth, and of the noble and generous impulses which strongly marked his character.

The Carthaginian hero was Hannibal. We class the Carthaginians among the European nations of antiquity; for, in respect to their origin, their civilization, and all their commercial and political relations, they belonged to the European race, though it is true that their capital was on the African side of the Mediterranean Sea. Hannibal was the great Carthaginian hero. He earned his fame by the energy and implacableness of his hate. The work of his life was to keep a vast empire in a state of continual anxiety and terror for fifty years, so that his claim to greatness and glory rests on the determination, the perseverance, and the success with which he fulfilled his function of being, while he lived, the terror of the world.

The Roman hero was Cæsar. He was born just one hundred years before the Christian era. His renown does not depend, like that of Alexander, on foreign conquests, nor, like that of Hannibal, on the terrible energy of his aggressions upon foreign foes, but upon his protracted and dreadful contests with, and ultimate triumphs over, his rivals and competitors at home. When he appeared upon the stage, the Roman empire [15] already included nearly all of the world that was worth possessing. There were no more conquests to be made. Cæsar did, indeed, enlarge, in some degree, the boundaries of the empire; but the main question in his day was, who should possess the power which preceding conquerors had acquired.

The Roman empire, as it existed in those days, must not be conceived of by the reader as united together under one compact and consolidated government. It was, on the other hand, a vast congeries of nations, widely dissimilar in every respect from each other, speaking various languages, and having various customs and laws. They were all, however, more or less dependent upon, and connected with, the great central power. Some of these countries were provinces, and were governed by officers appointed and sent out by the authorities at Rome. These governors had to collect the taxes of their provinces, and also to preside over and direct, in many important respects, the administration of justice. They had, accordingly, abundant opportunities to enrich themselves while thus in office, by collecting more money than they paid over to the government at home, and by taking bribes to favor the rich man's [16] cause in court. Thus the more wealthy and prosperous provinces were objects of great competition among aspirants for office at Rome. Leading men would get these appointments, and, after remaining long enough in their provinces to acquire a fortune, would come back to Rome, and expend it in intrigues and maneuvers to obtain higher offices still.

Whenever there was any foreign war to be carried on with a distant nation or tribe, there was always a great eagerness among all the military officers of the state to be appointed to the command. They each felt sure that they should conquer in the contest, and they could enrich themselves still more rapidly by the spoils of victory in war, than by extortion and bribes in the government of a province in peace. Then, besides, a victorious general coming back to Rome always found that his military renown added vastly to his influence and power in the city. He was welcomed with celebrations and triumphs; the people flocked to see him and to shout his praise. He placed his trophies of victory in the temples, and entertained the populace with games and shows, and with combats of gladiators or of wild beasts, which he had brought home with him for this purpose in the [17] train of his army. While he was thus enjoying his triumph, his political enemies would be thrown into the back ground and into the shade; unless, indeed, some one of them might himself be earning the same honors in some other field, to come back in due time, and claim his share of power and celebrity in his turn. In this case, Rome would be sometimes distracted and rent by the conflicts and contentions of military rivals, who had acquired powers too vast for all the civil influences of the Republic to regulate or control.



There had been two such rivals just before the time of Cæsar, who had filled the world with their quarrels. They were Marius and Sylla. Their very names have been, in all ages of the world, since their day, the symbols of rivalry and hate. They were the representatives respectively of the two great parties into which the Roman state, like every other community in which the population at large have any voice in governing, always has been, and probably always will be divided, the upper and the lower; or, as they were called in those days, the patrician and the plebeian. Sylla was the patrician; the higher and more aristocratic portions of the community were on his side. Marius was the [18] favorite of the plebeian masses. In the contests, however, which they waged with each other, they did not trust to the mere influence of votes. They relied much more upon the soldiers they could gather under their respective standards and upon their power of intimidating, by means of them, the Roman assemblies. There was a [19] war to be waged with Mithridates, a very powerful Asiatic monarch, which promised great opportunities for acquiring fame and plunder. Sylla was appointed to the command. While he was absent, however, upon some campaign in Italy, Marius contrived to have the decision reversed, and the command transferred to him. Two officers, called tribunes, were sent to Sylla's camp to inform him of the change. Sylla killed the officers for daring to bring him such a message, and began immediately to march toward Rome. In retaliation for the murder of the tribunes, the party of Marius in the city killed some of Sylla's prominent friends there, and a general alarm spread itself throughout the population. The Senate, which was a sort of House of Lords, embodying mainly the power and influence of the patrician party, and was, of course, on Sylla's side, sent out to him, when he had arrived within a few miles of the city, urging him to come no further. He pretended to comply; he marked out the ground for a camp; but he did not, on that account, materially delay his march. The next morning he was in possession of the city. The friends of Marius attempted to resist him, by throwing stones upon his troops from the roofs of the [20] houses. Sylla ordered every house from which these symptoms of resistance appeared to be set on fire. Thus the whole population of a vast and wealthy city were thrown into a condition of extreme danger and terror, by the conflicts of two great bands of armed men, each claiming to be their friends.

Marius was conquered in this struggle, and fled for his life. Many of the friends whom he left behind him were killed. The Senate were assembled, and, at Sylla's orders, a decree was passed declaring Marius a public enemy, and offering a reward to any one who would bring his head back to Rome.

Marius fled, friendless and alone, to the southward, hunted every where by men who were eager to get the reward offered for his head. After various romantic adventures and narrow escapes, he succeeded in making his way across the Mediterranean Sea, and found at last a refuge in a hut among the ruins of Carthage. He was an old man, being now over seventy years of age.

Of course, Sylla thought that his great rival and enemy was now finally disposed of, and he accordingly began to make preparations for his Asiatic campaign. He raised his army, built [21] and equipped a fleet, and went away. As soon as he was gone, Marius's friends in the city began to come forth, and to take measures for reinstating themselves in power. Marius returned, too, from Africa, and soon gathered about him a large army. Being the friend, as he pretended, of the lower classes of society, he collected vast multitudes of revolted slaves, outlaws, and other desperadoes, and advanced toward Rome. He assumed, himself, the dress, and air, and savage demeanor of his followers. His countenance had been rendered haggard and cadaverous partly by the influence of exposures, hardships, and suffering upon his advanced age, and partly by the stern and moody plans and determinations of revenge which his mind was perpetually revolving. He listened to the deputations which the Roman Senate sent out to him from time to time, as he advanced toward the city, but refused to make any terms. He moved forward with all the outward deliberation and calmness suitable to his years, while all the ferocity of a tiger was burning within.

As soon as he had gained possession of the city, he began his work of destruction. He first beheaded one of the consuls, and ordered his head to be set up, as a public spectacle, in the [22] most conspicuous place in the city. This was the beginning. All the prominent friends of Sylla, men of the highest rank and station, were then killed, wherever they could be found, without sentence, without trial, without any other accusation, even, than the military decision of Marius that they were his enemies, and must die. For those against whom he felt any special animosity, he contrived some special mode of execution. One, whose fate he wished particularly to signalize, was thrown down from the Tarpeian Rock.

The Tarpeian Rock was a precipice about fifty feet high, which is still to be seen in Rome, from which the worst of state criminals were sometimes thrown. They were taken up to the top by a stair, and were then hurled from the summit, to die miserably, writhing in agony after their fall, upon the rocks below.

The Tarpeian Rock received its name from the ancient story of Tarpeia. The tale is, that Tarpeia was a Roman girl, who lived at a time in the earliest periods of the Roman history, when the city was besieged by an army from one of the neighboring nations. Besides their shields, the story is that the soldiers had golden bracelets upon their arms. They wished [23] Tarpeia to open the gates and let them in. She promised to do so if they would give her their bracelets; but, as she did not know the name of the shining ornaments, the language she used to designate them was, "Those things you have upon your arms." The soldiers acceded to her terms; she opened the gates, and they, instead of giving her the bracelets, threw their shields  upon her as they passed, until the poor girl was crushed down with them and destroyed. This was near the Tarpeian Rock, which afterward took her name. The rock is now found to be perforated by a great many subterranean passages, the remains, probably, of ancient quarries. Some of these galleries are now walled up; others are open; and the people who live around the spot believe, it is said, to this day, that Tarpeia herself sits, enchanted, far in the interior of these caverns, covered with gold and jewels, but that whoever attempts to find her is fated by an irresistible destiny to lose his way, and he never returns. The last story is probably as true as the other.

Marius continued his executions and massacres until the whole of Sylla's party had been slain or put to flight. He made every effort to [24] discover Sylla's wife and child, with a view to destroying them also, but they could not be found. Some friends of Sylla, taking compassion on their innocence and helplessness, concealed them, and thus saved Marius from the commission of one intended crime. Marius was disappointed, too, in some other cases, where men whom he had intended to kill destroyed themselves to baffle his vengeance. One shut himself up in a room with burning charcoal, and was suffocated with the fumes. Another bled himself to death upon a public altar, calling down the judgments of the god to whom he offered this dreadful sacrifice, upon the head of the tyrant whose atrocious cruelty he was thus attempting to evade.

By the time that Marius had got fairly established in his new position, and was completely master of Rome, and the city had begun to recover a little from the shock and consternation produced by his executions, he fell sick. He was attacked with an acute disease of great violence. The attack was perhaps produced, and was certainly aggravated by, the great mental excitements through which he had passed during his exile, and in the entire change of fortune which had attended his re- [25] turn. From being a wretched fugitive, hiding for his life among gloomy and desolate ruins, he found himself suddenly transferred to the mastery of the world. His mind was excited, too, in respect to Sylla, whom he had not yet reached or subdued, but who was still prosecuting his war against Mithridates. Marius had had him pronounced by the Senate an enemy to his country, and was meditating plans to reach him in his distant province, considering his triumph incomplete as long as his great rival was at liberty and alive. The sickness cut short these plans, but it only inflamed to double violence the excitement and the agitations which attended them.

As the dying tyrant tossed restlessly upon his bed, it was plain that the delirious ravings which he began soon to utter were excited by the same sentiments of insatiable ambition and ferocious hate whose calmer dictates he had obeyed when well. He imagined that he had succeeded in supplanting Sylla in his command, and that he was himself in Asia at the head of his armies. Impressed with this idea, he stared wildly around; he called aloud the name of Mithridates; he shouted orders to imaginary troops; he struggled to break away from the restraints [26] which the attendants about his bedside imposed, to attack the phantom foes which haunted him in his dreams. This continued for several days, and when at last nature was exhausted by the violence of these paroxysms of phrensy, the vital powers which had been for seventy long years spending their strength in deeds of selfishness, cruelty, and hatred, found their work done, and sunk to revive no more.

Marius left a son, of the same name with himself, who attempted to retain his father's power; but Sylla, having brought his war with Mithridates to a conclusion, was now on his return from Asia, and it was very evident that a terrible conflict was about to ensue. Sylla advanced triumphantly through the country, while Marius the younger and his partisans concentrated their forces about the city, and prepared for defense. The people of the city were divided, the aristocratic faction adhering to the cause of Sylla, while the democratic influences sided with Marius. Political parties rise and fall, in almost all ages of the world, in alternate fluctuations, like those of the tides. The faction of Marius had been for some time in the ascendency, and it was now its turn to fall. Sylla found, therefore, as he advanced, every [27] thing favorable to the restoration of his own party to power. He destroyed the armies which came out to oppose him. He shut up the young Marius in a city not far from Rome, where he had endeavored to find shelter and protection, and then advanced himself and took possession of the city. There he caused to be enacted again the horrid scenes of massacre and murder which Marius had perpetrated before, going, however, as much beyond the example which he followed as men usually do in the commission of crime. He gave out lists of the names of men whom he wished to have destroyed, and these unhappy victims of his revenge were to be hunted out by bands of reckless soldiers, in their dwellings, or in the places of public resort in the city, and dispatched by the sword wherever they could be found. The scenes which these deeds created in a vast and populous city can scarcely be conceived of by those who have never witnessed the horrors produced by the massacres of civil war. Sylla himself went through with this work in the most cool and unconcerned manner, as if he were performing the most ordinary duties of an officer of state. He called the Senate together one day, and, while he was addressing them, the attention of [28] the Assembly was suddenly distracted by the noise of outcries and screams in the neighboring streets from those who were suffering military execution there. The senators started with horror at the sound. Sylla, with an air of great composure and unconcern, directed the members to listen to him, and to pay no attention to what was passing elsewhere. The sounds that they heard were, he said, only some correction which was bestowed by his orders on certain disturbers of the public peace.

Sylla's orders for the execution of those who had taken an active part against him were not confined to Rome. They went to the neighboring cities and to distant provinces, carrying terror and distress every where. Still, dreadful as these evils were, it is possible for us, in the conceptions which we form, to overrate the extent of them. In reading the history of the Roman empire during the civil wars of Marius and Sylla, one might easily imagine that the whole population of the country was organized into the two contending armies, and were employed wholly in the work of fighting with and massacring each other. But nothing like this can be true. It is obviously but a small part, after all, of an extended community that [29] can be ever actively and personally engaged in these deeds of violence and blood. Man is not naturally a ferocious wild beast. On the contrary, he loves, ordinarily, to live in peace and quietness, to till his lands and tend his flocks, and to enjoy the blessings of peace and repose. It is comparatively but a small number in any age of the world, and in any nation, whose passions of ambition, hatred, or revenge become so strong as that they love bloodshed and war. But these few, when they once get weapons into their hands, trample recklessly and mercilessly upon the rest. One ferocious human tiger, with a spear or a bayonet to brandish, will tyrannize as he pleases over a hundred quiet men, who are armed only with shepherds' crooks, and whose only desire is to live in peace with their wives and their children.

Thus, while Marius and Sylla, with some hundred thousand armed and reckless followers, were carrying terror and dismay wherever they went, there were many millions of herdsmen and husbandmen in the Roman world who were dwelling in all the peace and quietness they could command, improving with their peaceful industry every acre where corn would ripen or grass grow. It was by taxing and plundering [30] the proceeds of this industry that the generals and soldiers, the consuls and prætors, and proconsuls and proprætors, filled their treasuries, and fed their troops, and paid the artisans for fabricating their arms. With these avails they built the magnificent edifices of Rome, and adorned its environs with sumptuous villas. As they had the power and the arms in their hands, the peaceful and the industrious had no alternative but to submit. They went on as well as they could with their labors, bearing patiently every interruption, returning again to till their fields after the desolating march of the army had passed away, and repairing the injuries of violence, and the losses sustained by plunder, without useless repining. They looked upon an armed government as a necessary and inevitable affliction of humanity, and submitted to its destructive violence as they would submit to an earthquake or a pestilence. The tillers of the soil manage better in this country at the present day. They have the power in their own hands, and they watch very narrowly to prevent the organization of such hordes of armed desperadoes as have held the peaceful inhabitants of Europe in terror from the earliest periods down to the present day.

[31] When Sylla returned to Rome, and took possession of the supreme power there, in looking over the lists of public men, there was one whom he did not know at first what to do with. It was the young Julius Cæsar, the subject of this history. Cæsar was, by birth, patrician, having descended from a long line of noble ancestors. There had been, before his day, a great many Cæsars who had held the highest offices of the state, and many of them had been celebrated in history. He naturally, therefore, belonged to Sylla's side, as Sylla was the representative of the patrician interest. But then Cæsar had personally been inclined toward the party of Marius. The elder Marius had married his aunt, and, besides, Cæsar himself had married the daughter of Cinna, who had been the most efficient and powerful of Marius's coadjutors and friends. Cæsar was at this time a very young man, and he was of an ardent and reckless character, though he had, thus far, taken no active part in public affairs. Sylla overlooked him for a time, but at length was about to put his name on the list of the proscribed. Some of the nobles, who were friends both of Sylla and of Cæsar too, interceded for the young man; Sylla yielded to their request, or, rather, suspended [32] his decision, and sent orders to Cæsar to repudiate his wife, the daughter of Cinna. Her name was Cornelia. Cæsar absolutely refused to repudiate his wife. He was influenced in this decision partly by affection for Cornelia, and partly by a sort of stern and indomitable insubmissiveness, which formed, from his earliest years, a prominent trait in his character, and which led him, during all his life, to brave every possible danger rather than allow himself to be controlled. Cæsar knew very well that, when this his refusal should be reported to Sylla, the next order would be for his destruction. He accordingly fled. Sylla deprived him of his titles and offices, confiscated his wife's fortune and his own patrimonial estate, and put his name upon the list of the public enemies. Thus Cæsar became a fugitive and an exile. The adventures which befell him in his wanderings will be described in the following chapter.

Sylla was now in the possession of absolute power. He was master of Rome, and of all the countries over which Rome held sway. Still he was nominally not a magistrate, but only a general returning victoriously from his Asiatic campaign, and putting to death, somewhat irregularly, it is true, by a sort of martial law, [33] persons whom he found, as he said, disturbing the public peace. After having thus effectually disposed of the power of his enemies, he laid aside, ostensibly, the government of the sword, and submitted himself and his future measures to the control of law. He placed himself ostensibly at the disposition of the city. They chose him dictator, which was investing him with absolute and unlimited power. He remained on this, the highest pinnacle of worldly ambition, a short time, and then resigned his power, and devoted the remainder of his days to literary pursuits and pleasures. Monster as he was in the cruelties which he inflicted upon his political foes, he was intellectually of a refined and cultivated mind, and felt an ardent interest in the promotion of literature and the arts.

The quarrel between Marius and Sylla, in respect to every thing which can make such a contest great, stands in the estimation of mankind as the greatest personal quarrel which the history of the world has ever recorded. Its origin was in the simple personal rivalry of two ambitious men. It involved, in its consequences, the peace and happiness of the world. In their reckless struggles, the fierce combatants trampled on every thing that came in their way, [34] and destroyed mercilessly, each in his turn, all that opposed them. Mankind have always execrated their crimes, but have never ceased to admire the frightful and almost superhuman energy with which they committed them.

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