The New International Encyclopædia/Cæsar, Gaius Julius

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The New International Encyclopædia
Cæsar, Gaius Julius
Edition of 1905. Written by George N. OlcottSee also Julius Caesar on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

CÆSAR, Gaius Julius (B.C.100-B.C.44). A famous Roman general, statesman, and writer; one of the most remarkable men of all time. He was the son of a Roman prætor of the same name, and was born July 12, B.C. 100. Two circumstances conspired to determine his sympathies in favor of democracy, and against a republican oligarchy. The first was the marriage of his aunt Julia with Gaius Marius; the second, the marriage of Cæsar himself, in B.C. 83, with Cornelia, daughter of L. Cinna, one of the principal enemies of Sulla. The anger of the dictator at this cost Cæsar his rank, property, and almost his life itself. Feeling that he would be safer abroad for a time, he went to Asia (B.C. 81); but on learning of the death of Sulla (B.C. 78), he hurried back to Rome, where he found the popular party in a state of great ferment, and anxious to regain what it had lost under the vigorous despotism of the aristocratic dictator. Cæsar, however, took no part in the attempts of Lepidus to overthrow the oligarchy; but he showed his political leanings by prosecuting (B.C. 77) Cn. Dolabella — a great partisan of Sulla — for extortion in his Province of Macedonia. To improve his eloquence, he went to Rhodes to study under the rhetor Apollonius Molo. In B.C. 74 he returned to Rome, where he had been elected pontifex, and now for the first time threw himself earnestly into public life. In the year B.C. 70 he attached himself to Pompeius, whose political actions at this time were of a decidedly democratic character. In B.C. 68 Cæsar obtained a quæstorship in Spain. On his return to Rome (B.C. 67) he married Pompeia, a relative of Pompeius, with whom he was daily becoming more intimate. In B.C. 65 he was elected to the curule ædileship, and lavished vast sums of money on games and public buildings, by which he increased his already great popularity. For the next few years Cæsar is found steadily skirmishing on the popular side. In B.C. 63 he was elected Pontifex Maximus, and shortly after prætor. During the same year occurred the famous debate on the Catiline conspiracy, in which the aristocratic party vainly endeavored to persuade the consul, Cicero, to include Cæsar in the list of conspirators. In B.C. 62 Pompeius returned from the East, and disbanded his army. Next year Cæsar obtained, as proprætor, the Province of Hispania Ulterior. His career in Spain was brilliant and decisive. On his return he was elected consul, along with M. Calpurnius Bibulus (B.C. 60). Cæsar, with rare tact and sagacity, reconciled the two most powerful men in Rome, who were then at variance — Pompeius and Crassus — and formed an alliance with them, known in history as the First Triumvirate (B.C. 60). Both of these distinguished men aided Cæsar in carrying his Agrarian Law (B.C. 59); and to strengthen still further the union which had been formed, Cæsar gave Pompeius his daughter, Julia, in marriage, though she had been promised to M. Brutus; while he himself married Calpurnia, daughter of L. Piso, his successor in the consulship. On the expiration of his term of office, he obtained for himself, by the popular vote, the Province of Gallia Cisalpina and Illyricum for five years, to which the Senate added — to prevent the popular assembly from doing so — the Province of Gallia Transalpina. Nothing could have been more favorable to Cæsar's aims. He had now an opportunity of developing his extraordinary military genius, and of gathering round him an army of veterans, whom perpetual victory should inspire with thorough soldierly fidelity and devotion to his person. This was the very thing he wanted to give him a reputation equal to that of his coadjutors, Pompeius and Crassus, whom, in genius, he far surpassed. Leaving, therefore, the political factions at Rome to exhaust themselves in petty strifes, Csesar, in B.C. 58, after the banishment of Cicero, repaired to his provinces, and during the next nine years conducted those splendid campaigns in Gaul by which, had he done nothing else, he would have “built himself an everlasting name.” Cæsars first campaign was against the Helvetii, who were migrating from Switzerland into Gaul, and whom he totally defeated near Bibracte (Mont-Beuvray, near Autun). Out of 368,000 men, women, and children, only 110,000 remained. These were commanded by Cæsar to return home and cultivate their lands. The eyes of the Gauls were now turned upon the new conqueror, whose aid was solicited against an invader from beyond the Rhine, the German chief Ariovistus. Cæsar advanced against Ariovistus, who was utterly overthrown. And now Cæsar, having in the course of one campaign successfully concluded two important wars, led his troops into winter quarters.

Next year (B.C. 57) occurred the Belgic War, in which Cæsar successively routed the Suessiones, Bellovaci, Ambiani, and Nervii, who, alarmed at the progress of the Roman arms, had entered into an alliance with each other against the invaders. When the Senate received Cæsar's official dispatches, it decreed a thanksgiving of fifteen days — an honor never previously granted to any other general. During the winter and the spring following, Cæsar stayed at Lucca; and, after spending large sums of money in hospitality and for other less praiseworthy purposes, he departed for Gaul, where the flames of war had burst out in the northwest. The Veneti, a maritime people of Brittany, who possessed fleets of large vessels, were the chief instigators of the insurrection. Cæsar's plans were laid with consummate skill, and were crowned with the most splendid success. The Veneti were totally defeated, and most of the other Gallic tribes were either checked or subdued. Cæsar wintered in the country of the Aulerci and Lexovii (Normandy), having, in the course of three campaigns, conquered Gaul. Next year (B.C. 55) Crassus went to the East (where he was slain by the Parthians in B.C. 53), and Pompeius to Spain, while Cæsar's provincial government was prolonged for five years. He now undertook a fourth campaign against two German tribes who were about to enter Gaul. He was again successful; and, pursuing the fleeing enemy across the Rhine, which he had bridged, spent eighteen days in plundering the district inhabited by the Sigambri. He next invaded Britain, about the autumn; but after a brief stay in the island returned to Gaul. The Roman Senate, astonished at his hardihood and his successes in regions where no Roman army had ever been before, accorded him a public thanksgiving of twenty days. In B.C. 54 Ciesar opened his fifth campaign by a second invasion of Britain. On his return to Gaul, he was compelled — on account of the scarcity of corn, arising from drought — to winter his army in divisions. This naturally aroused the hopes of the Gauls, who thought the time had come for recovering their independence. An insurrection broke out in the northeast of Gaul, which was at first partially successful, but was ultimately crushed. Cæsar resolved to winter at Saniarobriva (Amiens), in the vicinity of the malcontents. In B.C. 53 he commenced his sixth campaign. It was chiefly occupied in crushing a second insurrection of the Gauls.

Cæsar then returned to northern Italy, that he might be able to communicate more easily and securely with his friends in Rome. That city was gradually becoming more anarchic, the evils of weak government more apparent; the hour for decisive action seemed to be approaching, and doubtless Cæsar's heart beat with expectation of the mighty future reserved for his boundless ambition, when all at once the prospect was darkened by a tremendous rebellion extending over the whole of Gaul, headed by a young warrior named Vercingetorix. It was in the dead of winter when the news came to Cæsar, who instantly saw that, at all hazards, he must preserve his fame and his army. Leaving, therefore, his rival Pompeius to succeed at Rome, he hurried to meet the insurgent hordes. His great difficulty was to collect his scattered legions. First crossing, with some Cisalpine and provincial troops, the mountains of Auvergne, though they lay six feet deep in snow, he suddenly appeared among the Arverni, who, terrified at his unexpected approach, sent for their chief, Vercingetorix, to come to their assistance. This was precisely what Cæsar wished. After some wonderful exhibitions of military skill and numerous successes by the Romans, Vercingetorix was shut up in Alesia (Alise in Burgundy), with all his infantry. Cæsar besieged him, and though harassed by nearly 300,000 Gauls without, who attempted, but in vain, to break through the well-defended Roman lines, he forced Vercingetorix to capitulate, many of the tribes now hastened to submit to Cæsar, who prudently determined to winter among the vanquished. The Senate voted him another public thanksgiving. In the next year (B.C. 51) Cæsar proceeded to quell the tribes who still held out. This he successfully accomplished, and having, in addition, reduced the whole of Aquitania, passed the winter of his eighth campaign at Nemetocenna, in Belgium, where he spent the time in a manner both politic and magnanimous. The Gallic princes were courteously and generously treated; the common people were spared the imposition of further taxes; and everything was done to render it possible for him to visit Italy with safety in the spring. This he did, and took up his residence at Ravenna, where he was informed of everything that was going on by the tribune C. Curio. There can be no doubt that at this moment he was the most popular man in the State, while his soldiery were devoted to him with a loyalty as enthusiastic as that which Bonaparte inspired when fresh from his Italian victories.

Meanwhile, Pompeius, whose vanity could not endure the greatness of Cæsar, had been gradually inclining again to the aristocracy, whose dread of the new conqueror was hourly increasing. After much futile diplomatic finesse on all sides, the Senate carried a motion “that Cæsar should disband his army by a certain day; and that if he did not do so he should be regarded as an enemy of the State.” The tribunes Marcus Antonius and Q. Cassius put their veto on this motion; but they were violently driven out of the Senate chamber, and, fearing for their lives, they fled to Cæsar's camp. The Senate, in the madness of their terror, now declared war, and intrusted the conduct of it to Pompeius, whose pride in the invincibility of his military prowess hindered him from taking the necessary measures for the defense of the State. He fancied that his name would bring thousands to his standard, and he was even led to believe that Cæsar's troops were willing to desert their general; the result of which delusion was that when hostilities formally commenced, he had hardly any soldiers except two legions which had recently been in the service of his rival. Cæsar, on the other hand, perceiving that the time for decisive action had at length come, harangued his victorious troops, who were willing to follow him anywhere; crossed the Rubicon (a small stream which separated his province from Italy proper), and moved swiftly, amid the acclamations of the people, toward Rome. Pompeius fled to Brundisium, pursued by Cæsar, but contrived to reach Greece in safety, March 17, B.C. 49. The Italian cities had everywhere gladly opened their gates to the conqueror as a deliverer. Within three months Cæsar was master of all Italy.

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Cæsar next subdued Pompeius's legates in Spain, who were at the head of considerable forces. On his return he took Massilia (Marseilles), where he learned that he had been appointed dictator of the Republic — a function which at this time he retained for only eleven days; but these were honorably distinguished by the passing of several humane enactments. Pompeius, now thoroughly alive to the magnitude of his danger, had gathered a powerful array in Egypt, Greece, and the East, while his fleet swept the sea. Cæsar, however, crossing the Adriatic at an unexpected season, hastened to Dyrrbachium, where Pompeius's stores were; but was nevertheless outstripped by his opponent. Pompeius intrenched his army upon some high ground near the city, where he was besieged by Cæsar. The first encounter was favorable to Pompeius, who drove back Cæsars legions with much loss. The latter now retreated to Thessaly, followed by his exulting enemies. A second battle ensued on the plains of Pharsalia, August 9, B.C. 48. Pompeius's army was utterly routed and Pompeius himself fled to Egypt, where he was treacherously murdered. See Pompeius.

No sooner had the news reached Rome than Cæsar was again appointed dictator for one year, and consul for five years. He was invested with tribunitial power for life, and with the right of holding all the magisterial comitia except those for the election of the plebeian tribunes. He did not, however, return to Rome after the battle of Pharsalia, but went to Egypt, then in a distracted condition on account of the disputes regarding the succession. Out of love for Cleopatra (who subsequently bore him a son), he entered upon the ‘Alexandrine War,’ in which he was successful, and which he brought to a close in March, B.C. 47. He next overthrew Pharnaces, King of Bosporus, son of Mithridates, near Zela, in Pontus, August 2d of the same year, and arrived in Rome in September. He was once more appointed dictator, and the property of Pompeius was confiscated and sold. Before the close of the year he had set out for Africa, where his campaign against the Pompeian generals, Scipio and Cato, was crowned with victory at the battle of Thapsus, April 6, B.C. 46. Cato committed suicide at Utica; and with such irresistible celerity was the work of subjugation carried on, that by the end of the summer Cæsar was again in Rome. Now occurred that display of noble and wise generosity which proves Cæsar to have been possessed of a great, magnanimous nature. He was not a man that could stoop to the vulgar atrocities of Marius or Sulla, and so he majestically declared that henceforth he had no enemies, and that he would make no difference between Pompeians and Cæsesarians. His victories in Gaul, Egypt, Pontus, and Africa were celebrated by four great triumphs, during which the whole Roman populace was feasted and fêted by the magnificent liberality of the dictator.

He now proceeded to check, by wholesale enactments, as far as in him lay, the social evils which had long flourished in the city. During the year B.C. 46, also, he conferred a benefit on Rome and on the world by the reformation of the calendar, which had been greatly abused by the Pontifical College for political purposes. In the meanwhile Pompeius's sons, Gneius and Sextus, were in arms in Spain. Cæsar overwhelmed their forces at Munda (B.C. 45). He now received the title of ‘Father of his Country,’ and also of imperator; was made dictator and præfectus morum for life, and consul for ten years; his person was declared sacred, and even divine; he obtained a bodyguard of knights and senators; his statue was placed in the temples; his portrait was struck on coins; the month Quintilis was called Julius in his honor; and on all public occasions he was permitted to wear the triumphal robe. He now proposed to make a digest of the whole Roman law for public use; to found libraries for the same purpose; to drain the Pontine marshes; to enlarge the harbor of Ostia; to dig a canal through the Isthmus of Corinth; and to quell the inroads of the barbarians on the eastern frontiers. But in the midst of these vast designs he was cut off by assassination, on the Ides (15th) of March, B.C. 44. The details of this crime — the greatest disaster that could have befallen the Roman world, as subsequent events made plain — are too familiar to require narration. It is sufficient to say that of the sixty aristocrats who were in the conspiracy, many had partaken of Cæsar's generosity, and all of his clemency. A few, like Brutus, out of a weak and formal conscientiousness, based on theory rather than insight, were probably shocked by Cæsar's desire to change the form of government into an hereditary monarchy; but most of them, like Cassius, were inspired by a jealous hatred of the dictator, and the base ambition of regaining power at all hazards.

Cæsar, who was 56 years of age when he was murdered, was of a noble and kingly presence, tall of stature, and possessing a countenance which, though pale and thin with thought, was always animated by the light of his black eyes. He was bald-headed (at least, in the latter part of his life), wore no beard; and though of a rather delicate constitution naturally, he ultimately attained to the most vigorous health. His besetting sin was sensuality; but without meaning to detract from the criminality of his conduct in this respect, it may be said that it was as much the sin of the times in which he lived as his own, and that the superlative grandeur of his position gave a prominence to his licentiousness which a more humble lot would have escaped. His intellect was marvelously versatile. In everything he excelled. He was not only the first general and statesman of his age, but he was — excepting Cicero — its greatest orator. As an historian he has never been surpassed, and rarely equaled in simplicity and vigor of style, and in the truthfulness with which he narrates events of which he was an eye-witness. He was, moreover, a mathematician, philologist, jurist, and architect, and always took great pleasure in literary society. Most of his writings have been lost, though their titles are preserved; yet we still possess his invaluable Commentarii (generally known as “Cæsar's Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars”). The editio princeps was printed at Rome (1449). The best edition of his works is that of Dinter (Leipzig, 1890). Cæsar's life was formally written in ancient times by Suetonius and Plutarch. Consult, also: Delorme, César et ses Contemporains, etc. (Paris, 1868); Napoleon III., Histoire de Jules César (Paris, 1865-66); Stoffel, id., La Guerre civile {Paris, 1888); Froude, Cæsar (London, 1879); Dodge, “Cæsar,” in Great Captains Series (Boston, 1892); and Fowler, Julius Cæsar and the Foundation of the Roman Imperial System (New York, 1892). On the Gallic campaigns, consult Holmes, Cæsar's Conquest of Gaul (London, 1899).