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Old World Hero Stories by  Eva March Tappan

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JULIUS CAESAR, THE FIRST EMPEROR OF ROME

WHEN Ju'li-us C'sar was a young man, he was taken by pirates. He sent his servants to collect money for his ransom, and then he set to work to make merry with his captors. When he was tired, he told them to keep quiet and let him sleep. When he wanted to be amused, he told them to dance and entertain him—and the strange part of it is that they obeyed. He composed verses and orations and ordered the pirates to listen to them. They did not know what to make of either him or his verses, and he rated them for their stupidity. "You don't know poetry when you hear it," he said. "You think you can scoff at my verses and orations because I am your prisoner. I'll take you prisoners some day, and then you shall have your pay." "What will it be?" [100] they demanded with shouts of laughter. "I'll crucify every one of you," he replied quietly. Not so very long after this he kept his word; but the Romans laughed at him for being so tenderhearted as to have their throats cut before they were crucified.

A few years later, Csar was made governor of Spain. As a general thing, when a man became governor of a province, his chief aim was to get as much money from the provincials as possible; but Csar behaved as if he were really interested in his people and wanted to help them. He completed the conquest of Spain, and he straightened out the financial affairs of the province. Then he returned to Rome. The people's party made him consul; but the nobles succeeded in electing one of their own party to be the second consul. Csar was so much stronger than he that the jokers of the time used to date their papers, "In the consulship of Julius and Csar."

There were now in Rome three men of power: Cras'sus, who was enormously rich; Pom'pey, who had long been a successful general; and Csar, who had not yet accomplished so very much, but who had the power to make people believe that he could do whatever he chose to undertake. These three men, the First Tri-um'vi-rate, as they are called, bargained together to help one another and divide the Roman world among them.

Csar's share in this division was Gaul, the present France, and he set off to conquer the country. Before long, wonderful stories came back to Rome of great victories and the capture of thousands of prisoners. Trees were cut down in [101] the forest, and in a few days they had been made into complicated bridges. Great chiefs yielded and cities surrendered. There were tales of forced marches, of sudden surprises, of vast amounts of booty, also of a mysterious land across the water to the northwest. It was called Brit'ain, and tin was brought from there, but no one knew much about it, not even whether it was an island or not. By and by, Csar visited this Britain. He wrote a book about the country and his conquests there and about his campaigns in Gaul. It is called his "Commentaries," and is so clear and simple and concise that it is a model of military description.


[Illustration]

CAESAR CROSSING THE RUBICON.

The Triumvirate had agreed that Pompey should give up his command in Spain and Csar his command in Gaul at the same time; but Pompey remained near Rome, and he induced the senate to allow him to continue governor of Spain for five years longer. Then Csar was aroused. At the end of the five years, he would be only a private citizen, while Pompey would be commander of a great army. Crassus was dead. "Either decree that Pompey and I shall give up our provinces at the same time, or allow me to stand for the consulship before I enter Rome," Csar urged. The senate refused and, moreover, threatened two magistrates, called tribunes of the people, who stood by Csar. They fled to his camp on the farther side of the little river Ru'bi-con.

It was a law in Rome that any Roman general who brought his army across the Rubicon should be regarded as an enemy to his country. Csar could declare now, however, that he was coming, not as an enemy, but to defend the people and their tribunes against Pompey and the nobles. It is said that [102] he hesitated, then exclaimed, "The die is cast," and plunged into the river, followed by his army.

Pompey fled. Csar made himself master of Italy and then pursued. At Phar-sa'lus in Thes'sa-ly a great battle was fought, and Csar won. Pompey fled to Egypt for protection; but the Egyptian councilors were afraid of Csar and killed the fugitive. Csar returned to Rome the ruler of the world. He had a magnificent triumph, and he gave the people feasts and money and combats of wild beasts, their favorite amusement. The senators were thoroughly humbled. They made him dictator for life; they changed the name of his birth-month from Quin-ti'lis (fifth) to Julius [103] (July); they stamped their money with his image; they even dedicated temples and altars to him as to a god.

Csar's head was not turned by this flattery; but the heads of those who had opposed him were almost turned with astonishment and relief. Some years before this, one general named Ma'ri-us and then another one named Sul'la had held sole rule in Rome, and each of them had put to death some thousands of the people who had been against him. The Romans supposed that Csar would behave in the same way; but he made no attempt to revenge himself. Indeed, his only thought seemed to be to do what was best for Rome. He made just laws for rich and poor, and was especially thoughtful of the good of the provincials. He planned to collect a great library, to put up magnificent temples and other public buildings, to rebuild Carthage, to make a road along the Apennines, and to drain the Pon'tine Marshes, which were near the city.

Csar ruled nobly, but a plot was formed against him. The chief conspirators were Cas'si-us and Bru'tus. Cassius was envious of his great power; Brutus believed that if Csar were slain, the old forms of government would be restored and Rome would be again a republic. These men pressed about Csar in the senate house as if they wished to present him a petition. At a signal, they drew their swords. Csar defended himself for a moment; then he saw among them the face of Brutus, the one to whom he had shown every favor and to whom he had given a sincere affection. He cried, "You, too, Brutus!" drew his robe over his face, and fell dead.


[Illustration]

MARCUS ANTONIUS DELIVERING THE FUNERAL ORATION OVER CAESAR.

[104] It was the custom for an oration to be delivered at a funeral, and the conspirators very unwisely permitted Csar's friend An'to-ny to speak at his funeral. He also read Csar's will, in which he had left a gift of money to every citizen and had been especially generous to some of the very men who had become his murderers. The people were aroused to such a pitch of fury that the assassins were glad to flee from the city. The senate appointed Antony to see that the will was carried out, and they agreed to accept as ruler a grand-nephew [105] of Csar whom he had named as his successor. This grandnephew was a young man named Oc-ta-vi-a'nus, who afterwards became the emperor Au-gus'tus.

SUMMARY

Csar and the pirates. — Csar as governor and as consul. — The First Triumvirate. — Csar's conquest of Gaul. — The crossing of the Rubicon. — The death of Pompey. — The honors shown to Csar. — His plans for Rome. — His murder. — The oration of Antony. — Octavianus becomes ruler.


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