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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

CÆSAR INVADES BRITAIN

[370] IN 55 B.C. Cæsar resolved to invade our own island home. He knew little about Britain, save that she was on good terms with the Gauls, and carried on trade with them.

When he questioned the traders, they told him that he would find tin and lead in the ground, as well as precious stones scattered over the land.

Curiosity, the desire for booty, as well as the wish to punish all who aided the Gauls, drove Cæsar to the adventure, and he ordered a fleet to be prepared for the great enterprise.

It was autumn when he set sail for Britain, with eighty vessels and an army of 12,000 men. He had not taken a larger fleet, as he thought that he would have little trouble in conquering the barbarians of the island.

Rumours had reached Britain of the coming of the great Roman general with a fleet, and the natives crowded to the shore, eager to keep the strangers from landing in their country.

As he drew near to Deal, where he hoped to land, Cæsar saw that his ships were too big to sail close in to shore, so he ordered his soldiers to jump into the sea and make their way to land as well as they could.

The Romans looked at the sea and their hearts misgave them, brave soldiers as they were, for they were not used to the sea, nor did they love it as the Britons seemed to do.

They were already in the water, some on foot, some on [371] horses, and they seemed to the astonished Romans as undisturbed as though they were on land.

And Cæsar had bidden them jump into the sea. Still they hesitated.

Then the officer who carried the eagle of the tenth legion jumped into the water, crying, "Leap, soldiers, unless you wish to betray your eagle to the enemy."

The soldiers could not risk their standard being captured by the barbarians, so now they hastily leaped into the water and followed their officer.

Then a fierce struggle began, many of the Romans falling before the battle axes of the Britains, many others slipping on the treacherous sand and being drowned.

But at length the Romans reached the shore, and the Briton chiefs were soon forced to submit to Cæsar.

The Roman general was disappointed to find little booty on the island which he had taken so much trouble to invade, and to see nothing of the precious stones which he had been told were strewn in plenty on the ground. And so he soon sailed back to Gaul.

In the following spring, however, Cæsar again returned to Britain. This time, instead of eighty vessels his fleet consisted of eight hundred, while his army numbered many thousands.

The Britons had again gathered in great strength to repel the invaders, but when they saw so many ships they grew afraid and fled to their forests. So Cæsar landed without difficulty at Romney marsh.

At length, led by a brave chief, called Cassivellaunus, the tribes determined to try to drive the Romans from their shore.

Cassivellaunus did not conquer the Romans, but he proved a brave and skilful commander, and constantly harassed them. At last, however, his capital was taken, and he then sent messengers to treat with Cæsar.

Cæsar received the envoys and demanded from them [372] hostages, and the promise that their tribes would pay a yearly tribute to Rome.

Then in September 54 B.C., when his fleet, which had been damaged by a storm, was repaired, he again went back to Gaul.

Here he was greeted with the sad news that his daughter Julia was dead.

Julia had often smoothed away the jealousies of her husband, the irritations of her father, and both Pompey and Cæsar mourned for her loss.

Their friends also were troubled. They foresaw that now the beautiful Julia was no longer alive, it would not be long before the two great generals quarrelled. And that was a grave thought. For the peace of Rome depended on the friendship of Pompey and Cæsar.

Cæsar's work in Gaul was not yet finished. In 52 B.C. the tribes in the south made one more desperate stand against the power of Rome, which seemed to be pressing more and more heavily upon them.

The rebellion was led by a young chief named Vercingetorix, who had seized the town of Gergovia, the capital of his tribe and his own birthplace.

Cæsar, when he heard that Gergovia was in the hands of the barbarians, hastened to the town and at once laid siege to it. But to his surprise the town withstood every effort he made to take it. For the first time Cæsar was unable to capture a Gallic town, and not only so, but he was forced to raise the siege.

When Vercingetorix saw the Romans retreating, he believed that now was the time to attack them, and he led his followers against the foe.

But on the battlefield the Gauls were no match for the legions of Rome, and Vercingetorix was forced to flee from the field with only a remnant of his army.

The young Gaul succeeded in reaching the town of Alesia, which he at once began to fortify.

Cæsar speedily followed the enemy to Alesia, and when [373] he saw the Gauls within the walls of the town, he determined to keep them there. He at once ordered his men to set to work to dig trenches, and to build forts round the walls, that no one might escape.

But one night, when it was dark, the young Gaul sent messengers to summon the neighbouring tribes to come to his aid.

The messengers passed the enemy's lines in safety, and galloped swiftly away to rouse their people. In a short time a large army of 300,000 of the bravest men in Gaul were marching to the aid of Vercingetorix.

Thus it was that one day, as the Romans worked at the trenches and the forts, they were unexpectedly attacked by a new Gallic army.

Vercingetorix seized the same moment to sally out of Alesia with his men, and the Romans were caught between two foes. For four days a terrible struggle raged, and then, as was almost always the way, Cæsar and his legions proved victorious.

To save his army, Vercingetorix gave himself up to the Romans, flinging first his arms and then himself at the feet of the conqueror. But Cæsar had no pity for the foe he had vanquished, and carried off the brave young Gaul to Rome to adorn his triumph.

For two years longer Cæsar stayed in Gaul, and although he fought some battles and put down some rebellions, his chief work was to pass laws that would make the Gauls content to live under the protection of Rome.

By the end of the two years Cæsar had shown that he was not only a great general, but that he was also a great ruler of men.


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