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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

CATO DIES RATHER THAN YIELD TO CÆSAR

[386] CAESAR found that a civil war was raging in Egypt, between the followers of the boy king and his sister Cleopatra. So the Roman general sent for the brother and sister, and said that he would settle their dispute.

Cleopatra was beautiful and charming, and this may have helped Cæsar to decide that she should reign along with her brother, Ptolemy.

The brother and sister might have been content with this arrangement, but the king's minister was dissatisfied, and he persuaded the army to side with him, and to besiege Cæsar in Alexandria.

But Cæsar had not enough troops to defend the city, so he sent to Asia for reinforcements. While he awaited them he withdrew from Alexandria to Pharos, which was quite close to the city, and connected with it by a drawbridge.

King Ptolemy, who was with Cæsar, begged one day to be allowed to go to Alexandria, where Cleopatra's sister had now been established as queen.

Cæsar granted the boy's request, and he went off gleefully as if for a holiday. But he did not go to the city. Instead he joined the army which was fighting against Cæsar, and tried his boyish best to prevent provisions reaching the Romans by sea.

But in March 47 B.C., the reinforcements for which Cæsar had sent arrived in Egypt.

Ptolemy did not hesitate to march with his troops against this new army before it had joined Cæsar, where- [387] upon the Roman general hurried swiftly after him. He speedily took Ptolemy's camp, and the young king was forced to flee. In his attempt to escape from the enemy he was drowned.

Soon after this Cleopatra's sister abdicated, and Cleopatra became queen.

Cæsar's troubles in Egypt were now over and he was able to return to Rome, where he had already been appointed Dictator for a year, and Consul for five years.

But although the Dictator's presence was needed in Rome, he could only stay three months in the city, for he was still more needed in Africa. For the leaders of the Pompeian Party had gathered together a new army and were ready to war against Cæsar.

After Julia's death, Pompey had married again, and his father-in-law, Scipio, was at the head of the army. Pompey's two sons too, Gnæus and Sextus, were eager to avenge their father's death. Cato was in possession of Utica. It was a formidable army, and Cæsar had not as large a number of men as the Pompeians. Moreover, he was hampered by having his supplies intercepted by the fleet of his enemy.

Until reinforcements arrived, Cæsar therefore contented himself with taking towns that did not make any serious defence. But in January 46 B.C. his army was reinforced, and he was eager to draw Scipio into battle.

One day, early in February, Cæsar began to march toward the town of Thapsus, meaning to attack it. Scipio followed him, and soon found himself in such a position that he was forced to fight.

The battle was fierce, but Cæsar in the end defeated Scipio with great loss. Leaving an officer to carry out the assault he had planned upon Thapsus, Cæsar himself then marched towards Utica, which town was held by Cato.

Now Cato might be a philosopher, and indeed such he was, but he had not the qualities of a soldier.

No sooner did he hear that Cæsar was on his way to [388] Utica, than he decided that any attempt to hold the town would be useless, and he made none.

But the philosopher was not afraid of death, and he determined to die rather than to yield to the conqueror. So he withdrew quietly to his own room and threw himself upon his sword. His friends, hearing him fall, rushed to his aid; as the wound was not fatal, it was dressed and bandaged.

No sooner was Cato again alone, than he dragged off the bandages and let himself bleed to death.

Gnæus and Sextus Pompeius had gone to Spain, and Scipio escaped to a ship and sailed away, hoping to join the lads.

But Cæsar sent a vessel in pursuit of the defeated general, and Scipio, seeing that he must be captured, threw himself overboard and was drowned.

Numidia was now made a Roman province, and Cæsar's work in Africa was ended. He returned to Rome in July 46 B.C. as ruler of the great Roman Empire.


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