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On the Shores of the Great Sea by  M. B. Synge

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THE EMPIRE OF ROME

"Comes the Last Age, of which the Sibyl sang—

A new-born cycle of the rolling years:

Justice returns to earth."

—VIRGIL.

IT was, indeed, a dangerous Rome, to which young Csar, now came to claim his birthright; but he soon showed his countrymen, that he was a worthy successor, of his great uncle. Stories were told of him, as an infant, that showed he was marked out for greatness, according to the early ideas of the Romans.

When he was a small baby he was laid in his cradle by his nurse. The next day he was missing and nowhere to be found. They sought for him long, and then found him on a high tower, commanding a view of the sea, lying with his face to the rising sun. When he first began to speak, a [195] story says, that he commanded some troublesome croaking frogs, to be silent, and the frogs have never croaked there since that day.

It was not long, before the Romans made Csar's young heir consul, while Mark Antony, who had grasped at power, on the death of the man he had called his friend, was declared to be an enemy of the State. The murderers of Julius Csar had, in their turn, been murdered, amongst them the aged Cicero; but Rome was still unsettled, Rome was still dangerous.

At last Mark Antony fled to raise an army against the young Csar. He had schemes of conquering the East and making Alexandria the capital of the world; but instead of this, he became captivated by the beautiful Queen of Egypt, for whom Julius Csar had fought before. He had met her in Rome, when she had stayed with Csar. Now he met her again at Tarsus, and at once fell captive to her charms and her wit.

Cleopatra sailed up the river, in a gilded vessel, with purple sails and silver oars, to the music of flutes and reed pipes. She lay under an awning spangled with gold, surrounded by her beautiful slaves. Mark Antony soon loved her. He spent all his time with her, he laid aside his Roman dress and his Roman manners to adopt those of Egypt.


[Illustration]

CLEOPATRA SAILED UP THE RIVER, IN A GILDED VESSEL, WITH PURPLE SAILS AND SILVER OARS.

Ugly rumours about him, reached Rome, and Csar determined to put an end, to this growing [196] power, beyond the seas. He mustered a fleet and army and met the fleet of Antony and Cleopatra off the southern coast of Greece. For some days a rough sea prevented any battle, but when the battle began, it was very unequal. The huge bulks of the Eastern ships were ill adapted for advance or retreat. They were no match for the skilfully managed triremes of the Romans, and while they rolled heavily on the waters, up went the sail of Cleopatra's galley, and, followed by sixty Egyptian ships and the despairing Antony, she fled across the sea to Alexandria. Thither Csar followed, by way of Asia and Syria. All the princes of Asia bowed down to him, and Herod, King of Judea, made friends with the conqueror. He arrived at Alexandria, to hear the news, that Antony had killed himself, and that the queen, Cleopatra, had shut herself up in a strong tower.

Once, and once only, Csar saw her; she tried to excite his pity, but failed. She discovered that he intended to have her taken to Rome, to take part in his triumph. The humiliation was more than she could bear. The next day she was found lying on her couch, in her royal robes, dead. Her two maids were dying on either side.

"Is this well?" asked the man, who found her.

"It is well for the daughter of kings," answered the dying maid.

And so Egypt became a Roman province.

Csar went back to Rome, triumphant. The [198] death of Antony put an end to the fierce struggles, that had torn Rome, for the ten years, following the death of Julius Csar. It seemed, as if the great empire of Rome, might have rest for a time now, under the man, who had already done so much. He now occupied not only the highest place in the city and the highest place in the State, but he was chief of the army.

The man who rules an empire and commands the army of that empire is called an emperor; so Csar was now an emperor. He also took the name of Augustus, a word applied to things most noble, most dignified, most high. From this time, therefore, we must call him Csar Augustus.

Well and wisely did Augustus rule the Roman people. He lived simply amongst them, he dressed as a plain citizen, he joined in the life of the people. His house was unadorned, his meals were taken in haste and were not luxurious. To his Court and to his person he drew the greatest poets and writers of his age. In his reign Virgil, tall, dark, and shy, might have been seen walking about the streets of Rome, while Horace, who had fought for his country in days gone by, was poet-laureate to the emperor. Lesser singers lived too, in these days of prosperity, ever praising the man, who had restored law and order to Rome, the man who had won peace for their great empire—even Csar Augustus, the first Emperor of the Roman Empire.


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