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Julius Caesar by  Jacob Abbott


 

 

CROSSING THE RUBICON

[129]

T
HERE was a little stream in ancient times, in the north of Italy, which flowed westward into the Adriatic Sea, called the Rubicon. This stream has been immortalized by the transactions which we are now about to describe.

The Rubicon was a very important boundary, and yet it was in itself so small and insignificant that it is now impossible to determine which of two or three little brooks here running into the sea is entitled to its name and renown. In history the Rubicon is a grand, permanent, and conspicuous stream, gazed upon with continued interest by all mankind for nearly twenty centuries; in nature it is an uncertain rivulet, for a long time doubtful and undetermined, and finally lost.

The Rubicon originally derived its importance from the fact that it was the boundary between all that part of the north of Italy which is formed by the valley of the Po, one of the richest and most magnificent countries of the [130] world, and the more southern Roman territories. This country of the Po constituted what was in those days called the hither  Gaul, and was a Roman province. It belonged now to Cæsar's jurisdiction, as the commander in Gaul. All south of the Rubicon was territory reserved for the immediate jurisdiction of the city. The Romans, in order to protect themselves from any danger which might threaten their own liberties from the immense armies which they raised for the conquest of foreign nations, had imposed on every side very strict limitations and restrictions in respect to the approach of these armies to the Capitol. The Rubicon was the limit on this northern side. Generals commanding in Gaul were never to pass it. To cross the Rubicon with an army on the way to Rome was rebellion and treason. Hence the Rubicon became, as it were, the visible sign and symbol of civil restriction to military power.

As Cæsar found the time of his service in Gaul drawing toward a conclusion, he turned his thoughts more and more toward Rome, endeavoring to strengthen his interest there by every means in his power, and to circumvent and thwart the designs of Pompey. He had agents and partisans in Rome who acted for [131] him and in his name. He sent immense sums of money to these men, to be employed in such ways as would most tend to secure the favor of the people. He ordered the Forum to be rebuilt with great magnificence. He arranged great celebrations, in which the people were entertained with an endless succession of games, spectacles, and public feasts. When his daughter Julia, Pompey's wife, died, he celebrated her funeral with indescribable splendor. He distributed corn in immense quantities among the people, and he sent a great many captives home, to be trained as gladiators, to fight in the theaters for their amusement. In many cases, too, where he found men of talents and influence among the populace, who had become involved in debt by their dissipations and extravagance, he paid their debts, and thus secured their influence on his side. Men were astounded at the magnitude of these expenditures, and, while the multitude rejoiced thoughtlessly in the pleasures thus provided for them, the more reflecting and considerate trembled at the greatness of the power which was so rapidly rising to overshadow the land.

It increased their anxiety to observe that Pompey was gaining the same kind of influ- [132] ence and ascendency too. He had not the advantage which Cæsar enjoyed in the prodigious wealth obtained from the rich countries over which Cæsar ruled, but he possessed, instead of it, the advantage of being all the time at Rome, and of securing, by his character and action there, a very wide personal popularity and influence. Pompey was, in fact, the idol of the people. At one time, when he was absent from Rome, at Naples, he was taken sick. After being for some days in considerable danger, the crisis passed favorably, and he recovered. Some of the people of Naples proposed a public thanksgiving to the gods, to celebrate his restoration to health. The plan was adopted by acclamation, and the example, thus set, extended from city to city, until it had spread throughout Italy, and the whole country was filled with the processions, games, shows, and celebrations, which were instituted every where in honor of the event. And when Pompey returned from Naples to Rome, the towns on the way could not afford room for the crowds that came forth to meet him. The high roads, the villages, the ports, says Plutarch, were filled with sacrifices and entertainments. Many received him with garlands on their heads and [133] torches in their hands, and, as they conducted him along, strewed the way with flowers.

In fact, Pompey considered himself as standing far above Cæsar in fame and power, and this general burst of enthusiasm and applause, educed by his recovery from sickness, confirmed him in this idea. He felt no solicitude, he said, in respect to Cæsar. He should take no special precautions against any hostile designs which he might entertain on his return from Gaul. It was he himself, he said, that had raised Cæsar up to whatever of elevation he had attained, and he could put him down even more easily than he had exalted him.

In the mean time, the period was drawing near in which Cæsar's command in the provinces was to expire; and, anticipating the struggle with Pompey which was about to ensue, he conducted several of his legions through the passes of the Alps, and advanced gradually, as he had a right to do, across the country of the Po toward the Rubicon, revolving in his capacious mind, as he came, the various plans by which he might hope to gain the ascendency over the power of his mighty rival, and make himself supreme.

He concluded that it would be his wisest [134] policy not to attempt to intimidate Pompey by great and open preparations for war, which might tend to arouse him to vigorous measures of resistance, but rather to cover and conceal his designs, and thus throw his enemy off his guard. He advanced, therefore, toward the Rubicon with a small force. He established his headquarters at Ravenna, a city not far from the river, and employed himself in objects of local interest there, in order to avert as much as possible the minds of the people from imagining that he was contemplating any great design. Pompey sent to him to demand the return of a certain legion which he had lent him from his own army at a time when they were friends. Cæsar complied with this demand without any hesitation, and sent the legion home. He sent with this legion, also, some other troops which were properly his own, thus evincing a degree of indifference in respect to the amount of the force retained under his command which seemed wholly inconsistent with the idea that he contemplated any resistance to the authority of the government at Rome.

In the mean time, the struggle at Rome between the partisans of Cæsar and Pompey grew more and more violent and alarming. Cæsar [135] through his friends in the city, demanded to be elected consul. The other side insisted that he must first, if that was his wish, resign the command of his army, come to Rome, and present himself as a candidate in the character of a private citizen. This the constitution of the state very properly required. In answer to this requisition, Cæsar rejoined, that, if Pompey would lay down his military commands, he would do so too; if not, it was unjust to require it of him. The services, he added, which he had performed for his country, demanded some recompense, which, moreover, they ought to be willing to award, even if, in order to do it, it were necessary to relax somewhat in his favor the strictness of ordinary rules. To a large part of the people of the city these demands of Cæsar appeared reasonable. They were clamorous to have them allowed. The partisans of Pompey, with the stern and inflexible Cato at their head, deemed them wholly inadmissible, and contended with the most determined violence against them. The whole city was filled with the excitement of this struggle, into which all the active and turbulent spirits of the capital plunged with the most furious zeal, while the more considerate and thoughtful of the population, re- [136] membering the days of Marius and Sylla, trembled at the impending danger. Pompey himself had no fear. He urged the Senate to resist to the utmost all of Cæsar's claims, saying, if Cæsar should be so presumptuous as to attempt to march to Rome, he could raise troops enough by stamping with his foot to put him down.

It would require a volume to contain a full account of the disputes and tumults, the maneuvers and debates, the votes and decrees which marked the successive stages of this quarrel. Pompey himself was all the time without the city. He was in command of an army there, and no general, while in command, was allowed to come within the gates. At last an exciting debate was broken up in the Senate by one of the consuls rising to depart, saying that he would hear the subject discussed no longer. The time had arrived for action, and he should send a commander, with an armed force, to defend the country from Cæsar's threatened invasion. Cæsar's leading friends, two tribunes of the people, disguised themselves as slaves, and fled to the north to join their master. The [137] country was filled with commotion and panic. The Commonwealth had obviously more fear of Cæsar than confidence in Pompey. The country was full of rumors in respect to Cæsar's power, and the threatening attitude which he was assuming, while they who had insisted on resistance seemed, after all, to have provided very inadequate means with which to resist. A thousand plans were formed, and clamorously insisted upon by their respective advocates, for averting the danger. This only added to the confusion, and the city became at length pervaded with a universal terror.

While this was the state of things at Rome, Cæsar was quietly established at Ravenna, thirty or forty miles from the frontier. He was erecting a building for a fencing school there and his mind seemed to be occupied very busily with the plans and models of the edifice which the architects had formed. Of course, in his intended march to Rome, his reliance was not to be so much on the force which he should take with him, as on the co-operation and support which he expected to find there. It was his policy, therefore, to move as quietly and privately as possible, and with as little display of violence, and to avoid every thing which might indicate his intended march to any spies which might be around him, or to any other persons who might be disposed to report what they ob- [138] served at Rome. Accordingly, on the very eve of his departure, he busied himself with his fencing school, and assumed with his officers and soldiers a careless and unconcerned air, which prevented any one from suspecting his design.

In the course of the day he privately sent forward some cohorts to the southward, with orders for them to encamp on the banks of the Rubicon. When night came he sat down to supper as usual, and conversed with his friends in his ordinary manner, and went with them afterward to a public entertainment. As soon as it was dark and the streets were still, he set off secretly from the city, accompanied by a very few attendants. Instead of making use of his ordinary equipage, the parading of which would have attracted attention to his movements, he had some mules taken from a neighboring bake-house, and harnessed into his chaise. There were torch-bearers provided to light the way. The cavalcade drove on during the night, finding, however, the hasty preparations which had been made inadequate for the occasion. The torches went out, the guides lost their way, and the future conqueror of the world wandered about bewildered and lost, until, just after break of day, the party met with a peas- [141] ant who undertook to guide them. Under his direction they made their way to the main road again, and advanced then without further difficulty to the banks of the river, where they found that portion of the army which had been sent forward encamped, and awaiting their arrival.

Cæsar stood for some time upon the banks of the stream, musing upon the greatness of the undertaking in which simply passing across it would involve him. His officers stood by his side. "We can retreat now," said he, "but once across that river and we must go on." He paused for some time, conscious of the vast importance of the decision, though he thought only, doubtless, of its consequences to himself. Taking the step which was now before him would necessarily end either in his realizing the loftiest aspirations of his ambition, or in his utter and irreparable ruin. There were vast public interests, too, at stake, of which, however he probably thought but little. It proved, in the end, that the history of the whole Roman world, for several centuries, was depending upon the manner in which the question new in Cæsar's mind should turn.

There was a little bridge across the Rubicon [142] at the point where Cæsar was surveying it. While he was standing there, the story is, a peasant or shepherd came from the neighboring fields with a shepherd's pipe—a simple musical instrument, made of a reed, and used much by the rustic musicians of those days. The soldiers and some of the officers gathered around him to hear him play. Among the rest came some of Cæsar's trumpeters, with their trumpets in their hands. The shepherd took one of these martial instruments from the hands of its possessor, laying aside his own, and began to sound a charge—which is a signal for a rapid advance—and to march at the same time over the bridge "An omen! a prodigy!" said Cæsar. "Let us march where we are called by such a divine intimation. The die is cast."


[Illustration]

CROSSING THE RUBICON

So saying, he pressed forward over the bridge, while the officers, breaking up the encampment, put the columns in motion to follow him.

It was shown abundantly, on many occasions in the course of Cæsar's life, that he had no faith in omens. There are equally numerous instances to show that he was always ready to avail himself of the popular belief in them; to awaken his soldiers' ardor or to allay their fears. Whether, therefore, in respect to this [142] story of the shepherd trumpeter, it was an incident that really and accidentally occurred, or whether Cæsar planned and arranged it himself, with reference to its effect, or whether, which is, perhaps, after all, the most probable supposition, the tale was only an embellishment invented out of something or nothing by the story-tellers of those days, to give additional dramatic interest to the narrative of the crossing of the Rubicon, it must be left for each reader to decide.

As soon as the bridge was crossed, Cæsar called an assembly of his troops, and, with signs of great excitement and agitation, made an address to them on the magnitude of the crisis through which they were passing. He showed them how entirely he was in their power; he urged them, by the most eloquent appeals, to stand by him, faithful and true, promising them the most ample rewards when he should have attained the object at which he aimed. The soldiers responded to this appeal with promises of the most unwavering fidelity.

The first town on the Roman side of the Rubicon was Ariminum. Cæsar advanced to this town. The authorities opened its gates to him—very willing, as it appeared, to receive him [143] as their commander. Cæsar's force was yet quite small, as he had been accompanied by only a single legion in crossing the river. He had, however, sent orders for the other legions, which had been left in Gaul, to join him without any delay, though any re-enforcement of his troops seemed hardly necessary, as he found no indications of opposition to his progress. He gave his soldiers the strictest injunctions to do no injury to any property, public or private, as they advanced, and not to assume, in any respect, a hostile attitude toward the people of the country. The inhabitants, therefore, welcomed him wherever he came, and all the cities and towns followed the example of Ariminum, surrendering, in fact, faster than he could take possession of them.

In the confusion of the debates and votes in the Senate at Rome before Cæsar crossed the Rubicon, one decree had been passed deposing him from his command of the army, and appointing a successor. The name of the general thus appointed was Domitius. The only real opposition which Cæsar encountered in his progress toward Rome was from him. Domitius had crossed the Apennines at the head of an army on his way northward to supersede Cæsar [145] in his command, and had reached the town of Corfinium, which was perhaps one third of the way between Rome and the Rubicon. Cæsar advanced upon him here and shut him in.

After a brief siege the city was taken, and Domitius and his army were made prisoners. Every body gave them up for lost, expecting that Cæsar would wreak terrible vengeance upon them. Instead of this, he received the troops at once into his own service, and let Domitius go free.

In the mean time, the tidings of Cæsar's having passed the Rubicon, and of the triumphant success which he was meeting with at the commencement of his march toward Rome, reached the Capitol, and added greatly to the prevailing consternation. The reports of the magnitude of his force and of the rapidity of his progress were greatly exaggerated. The party of Pompey and the Senate had done every thing to spread among the people the terror of Cæsar's name, in order to arouse them to efforts for opposing his designs; and now, when he had broken through the barriers which had been intended to restrain him, and was advancing toward the city in an unchecked and triumphant career, they were overwhelmed with dismay. [146] Pompey began to be terrified at the danger which was impending. The Senate held meetings without the city—councils of war, as it were, in which they looked to Pompey in vain for protection from the danger which he had brought upon them. He had said that he could raise an army sufficient to cope with Cæsar at any time by stamping with his foot. They told him they thought now that it was high time for him to stamp.

In fact, Pompey found the current setting every where strongly against him. Some recommended that commissioners should be sent to Cæsar to make proposals for peace. The leading men, however, knowing that any peace made with him under such circumstances would be their own ruin, resisted and defeated the proposal. Cato abruptly left the city and proceeded to Sicily, which had been assigned him as his province. Others fled in other directions. Pompey himself, uncertain what to do, and not daring to remain, called upon all his partisans to join him, and set off at night, suddenly, and with very little preparation and small supplies, to retreat across the country toward the shores of the Adriatic Sea. His destination was Brundusium, the usual port of embarkation for Macedon and Greece.

Cæsar was all this time gradually advancing toward Rome. His soldiers were full of enthusiasm in his cause. As his connection with the government at home was sundered the moment he crossed the Rubicon, all supplies of money and of provisions were cut off in that quarter until he should arrive at the Capitol and take possession of it. The soldiers voted, however, that they would serve him without pay. The officers, too, assembled together, and tendered him the aid of their contributions. He had always observed a very generous policy in his dealings with them, and he was now greatly gratified at receiving their requital of it.

The further he advanced, too, the more he found the people of the country through which he passed disposed to espouse his cause. They were struck with his generosity in releasing Domitius. It is true that it was a very sagacious policy that prompted him to release him. But then it was generosity too. In fact, there must be something of a generous spirit in the soul to enable a man even to see the policy of generous actions.

Among the letters of Cæsar that remain to the present day, there is one written about this time to one of his friends, in which he speaks [148] of this subject. "I am glad," says he, "that you approve of my conduct at Corfinium. I am satisfied that such a course is the best one for us to pursue, as by so doing we shall gain the good will of all parties, and thus secure a permanent victory. Most conquerors have incurred the hatred of mankind by their cruelties, and have all, in consequence of the enmity they have thus awakened, been prevented from long enjoying their power. Sylla was an exception; but his example of successful cruelty I have no disposition to imitate. I will conquer after a new fashion, and fortify myself in the possession of the power I acquire by generosity and mercy."

Domitius had the ingratitude, after this release, to take up arms again, and wage a new war against Cæsar. When Cæsar heard of it, he said it was all right. "I will act out the principles of my nature," said he, "and he may act out his."

Another instance of Cæsar's generosity occurred, which is even more remarkable than this. It seems that among the officers of his army there were some whom he had appointed at the recommendation of Pompey, at the time when he and Pompey were friends. These men [149] would, of course, feel under obligations of gratitude to Pompey, as they owed their military rank to his friendly interposition in their behalf. As soon as the war broke out, Cæsar gave them all his free permission to go over to Pompey's side, if they chose to do so.

Cæsar acted thus very liberally in all respects. He surpassed Pompey very much in the spirit of generosity and mercy with which he entered upon the great contest before them. Pompey ordered every citizen to join his standard, declaring that he should consider all neutrals as his enemies. Cæsar, on the other hand, gave free permission to every one to decline, if he chose, taking any part in the contest, saying that he should consider all who did not act against him as his friends. In the political contests of our day, it is to be observed that the combatants are much more prone to imitate the bigotry of Pompey than the generosity of Cæsar, condemning, as they often do, those who choose to stand aloof from electioneering struggles, more than they do their most determined opponents and enemies.

When, at length, Cæsar arrived at Brundusium, he found that Pompey had sent a part of his army across the Adriatic into Greece, and [150] was waiting for the transports to return that he might go over himself with the remainder. In the mean time, he had fortified himself strongly in the city. Cæsar immediately laid siege to the place, and he commenced some works to block up the mouth of the harbor. He built piers on each side, extending out as far into the sea as the depth of the water would allow them to be built. He then constructed a series of rafts, which he anchored on the deep water, in a line extending from one pier to the other. He built towers upon these rafts, and garrisoned them with soldiers, in hopes by this means to prevent all egress from the fort. He thought that, when this work was completed, Pompey would be entirely shut in, beyond all possibility of escape.

The transports, however, returned before the work was completed. Its progress was, of course, slow, as the constructions were the scene of a continued conflict; for Pompey sent out rafts and galleys against them every day, and the workmen had thus to build in the midst of continual interruptions, sometimes from showers of darts, arrows, and javelins, sometimes from the conflagrations of fireships, and sometimes from the terrible concussions of great vessels [151] of war, impelled with prodigious force against them. The transports returned, therefore, before the defenses were complete, and contrived to get into the harbor. Pompey immediately formed his plan for embarking the remainder of his army.

He filled the streets of the city with barricades and pitfalls, excepting two streets which led to the place of embarkation. The object of these obstructions was to embarrass Cæsar's progress through the city in case he should force an entrance while his men were getting on board the ships. He then, in order to divert Cæsar's attention from his design, doubled the guards stationed upon the walls on the evening of his intended embarkation, and ordered them to make vigorous attacks upon all Cæsar's forces outside. He then, when the darkness came on, marched his troops through the two streets which had been left open, to the landing place, and got them as fast as possible on board the transports. Some of the people of the town contrived to make known to Cæsar's army what was going on, by means of signals from the walls; the army immediately brought scaling ladders in great numbers, and, mounting the walls with great ardor and impetuosity, they [152] drove all before them, and soon broke open the gates and got possession of the city. But the barricades and pitfalls, together with the darkness, so embarrassed their movements, that Pompey succeeded in completing his embarkation and sailing away.

Cæsar had no ships in which to follow. He returned to Rome. He met, of course, with no opposition. He re-established the government there, organized the Senate anew, and obtained supplies of corn from the public granaries, and of money from the city treasury in the Capitol. In going to the Capitoline Hill after this treasure, he found the officer who had charge of the money stationed there to defend it. He told Cæsar that it was contrary to law for him to enter. Cæsar said that, for men with swords in their hands, there was no law. The officer still refused to admit him. Cæsar then told him to open the doors, or he would kill him on the spot. "And you must understand," he added, "that it will be easier for me to do it than it has been to say it." The officer resisted no longer, and Cæsar went in.

After this, Cæsar spent some time in vigorous campaigns in Italy, Spain, Sicily, and Gaul, wherever there was manifested any op- [153] position to his sway. When this work was accomplished, and all these countries were completely subjected to his dominion, he began to turn his thoughts to the plan of pursuing Pompey across the Adriatic Sea.


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