LIFE AND WARS
Caius Julius Cesar was born in 100 b. c. (some authorities hold 102 B. C.), of an old patrician family which had come from Alba under the reign of Tullus Hostilius, and which had enjoyed many public trusts. His father had been praetor and had died when Caesar was about sixteen years old. His mother, Aurelia, was of good stock of plebeian origin, and was a woman of exceptionally fine character. Caesar was proud of his forbears. In pronouncing the funeral oration of his aunt Julia, who had married Marius, Suetonius tells us that he thus spoke of his descent: “My aunt Julia, on the maternal side, is of the issue of kings; on the paternal side, she descends from the immortal gods; for her mother was a Marcia, and the family Marcius Rex are the descendants of Ancus Marcius. The Julia family, to which I belong, descends from Venus herself. Thus our house unites to the sacred character of kings, who are the most powerful among men, the venerated holiness of the gods, who keep kings themselves in subjection.”
Aurelia devoted her life to her son’s education, and by this his natural mental and moral nature enabled him to profit as few youths can. He grew to manhood with many of the best qualities of head and heart stamped upon him. As pedagogue he had a Gaul, M. Antonius Gnipho, who had received all the benefits of an education in Alexandria. His body grew strong,—though originally delicate and having a .tendency to epilepsy,—his carriage was erect, his manner open and kindly, and his countenance singularly engaging and expressive, if not handsome. He had black, piercing eyes, pale face, straight aquiline nose, small handsome mouth, with finely curled lips which bore a look of kindliness; large brow showing great intellectual activity and power. In his youth his face was well-rounded. He was moderate in his diet and temperate; his health, harmed by neither excess of labor or of pleasure, was uniformly good, though at Corduba and later at Thapsus he had serious nervous attacks. He exposed himself to all weathers, was an excellent gymnast, and noted as a rider. “From his first youth he was much used to horseback, and had even acquired the facility of riding with dropped reins and his hands joined behind his back ” (Plutarch). By judicious exercise he gradually became able to endure great fatigue. His dress was careful, and his person neat and tasteful to the extreme. Like the youth of every age he was over fond of outward adornment. Suetonius speaks of his keypattern ornamented toga and loose girdle. Sulla once remarked that it would be well to look out for yonder dandy — and dandies in every age have notably made among the best of soldiers and men. This habit of personal nicety—not to say vanity—clung to him through life. “And when,” says Cicero, “I look at his hair, so artistically arranged, and when I see him scratch his head with one finger,” lest perchance he should disarrange it, “I cannot believe that such a man could conceive so black a design as to overthrow the Roman Republic ” (Plutarch).
Caesar was fond of art as of books. He spoke Greek and Latin with equal ease and fluency, as was common to the cultured classes. He wrote several works which earned him a reputation for clear and forcible style, but he was not equally happy as a poet. “For Caesar and Brutus have also made verses, and have placed them in the public libraries. They are poets as feeble as Cicero, but happier in that fewer people know of them,” says Tacitus. His life up to manhood was that of a city youth of good family and breeding, perhaps according to our notions lax, but within the bounds set by the age in which he lived; in later years he was a thorough man of the world. He was fond of female society, and cultivated it throughout his life. He possessed a marked taste for pictures, jewels, statues; and, as we are told by Dio Cassius, habitually wore a ring with a very beautiful seal of an armed Venus. He joined excellent physical endurance to very exceptional mental and nervous strength. “He was liberal to prodigality, and of a courage above human nature and even imagination,” says Velleius Paterculus. Plutarch calls him the second orator in Rome. Pliny speaks of his extraordinary memory. Seneca gives him credit for great calmness in anger, and Plutarch says he was affable, courteous and gracious to a degree which won him the affection of the people. “In voice, gesture, a grand and noble personality, he had a certain brilliancy in speaking, without a trace of artifice,” testifies Cicero. To the external advantages which distinguished him from all other citizens, Caesar joined an impetuous and powerful soul, says Velleius. One could scarcely add a single qualification to his equipment for the profession of arms. Such was Caius Julius Caesar in the estimation of his contemporaries.
At fourteen years of age, Marius procured for him the appointment of priest of Jupiter. At sixteen he was betrothed to Cossutia, the daughter of a wealthy knight, but broke the engagement a year later. At eighteen he married Cornelia, daughter of Cinna. He is said to have been already well known for his personal and intellectual characteristics; but this was doubtless as the promising young scion of a well-known family, rather than from any services actually accomplished.
When Sulla rode into power on the wreck of the Marian party, he would have liked to bring over this brilliant young man to his cause, but he found Caesar immovable. He ordered him to put away Cornelia, whose father had belonged to the Marian faction, but this Caesar bluntly refused, though he forfeited his priesthood and his wife’s fortune, was declared incapable of inheriting in his own family, and ran danger of his life. This was at a time when such men as Piso and Pompey divorced their wives to suit the politics of the day, and scores a high mark to Caesar’s credit. Finally, after a period of concealment in the Sabine country, through the influence of friends, Caesar was forgiven by Sulla. But Sulla prophesied truly, says Suetonius, that there was more than one Marius lurking in the personality of Caesar.
Caesar deemed it wise, under the circumstances, to keep away from Rome. He could not remain without being thrust actively into the political turmoil, which he could see was but an interlude. Such discretion he manifested all through his political career. He spent some time in Bithynia, where he was guest of King Nicomedes. Here, under the praetor M. Thermus, he served as contubernalis (aide de camp) against Mithridates, and was (81 b. c.) actively employed both in war and diplomacy. At the siege of Mitylene he received a civic crown for saving the life of a Roman soldier. His reputation for morality of demeanor was rudely compromised by his conduct at the court of Nicomedes; but such facts do not concern the soldier. The morals of each age and clime must stand by themselves. Caesar in no wise differed from his compeers. He then served at sea under Servilius in the campaign of 78 b. C., against the Cilician pirates. On Sulla’s death he returned to Rome.
Here his conduct was marked by great moral courage and independence coupled with common sense and a liberal policy; and in some civil proceedings his powers of oratory, which he studied with great care, raised him high in the estimation of the people. It was an usual means of introducing one’s self to the public to pose as advocate in some great political prosecution. Such was Caesar’s part in the prosecution of Dolabella. He was twenty-one years old, and his oration, “which we still read with admiration,” says Tacitus, in a moment made him famous. He later attacked Antonius Hybrida, and was engaged in other celebrated causes. These attacks were really aimed at Sulla’s party, though still in power, rather than at individuals.
Preferring not to join for the present in the profitless political struggles of Rome, Caesar set sail for Rhodes, which at that time was a marked centre of learning, intending to devote some time to study. On the way thither he was captured by pirates of Pharmacusa (Fermaco), a small island of the Sporades. The pirates demanded twenty talents ransom, but Caesar contemptuously volunteered to pay them fifty, a piece of originality which insured him good treatment. While waiting some forty days for the receipt of the ransom-money, Caesar gained such influence with these men, that he was treated rather as a king than as a prisoner. He disarmed all their suspicions and entertained them by his eloquence and wit. He is said to have told them which they treated as a jest—that he would return, capture and crucify them all. He was as good as his word. Collecting vessels and men so soon as he was released, he fell unawares upon the pirates, recovered his money, took much booty, and punished them as he had threatened to do. Suetonius states that from motives of pity he had them all strangled first and only nailed their corpses to the cross.
After a short stay in Rhodes, where he studied under Apollonius Molo, the most celebrated of the masters of eloquence, he undertook on his own authority and cost a campaign against Mithridates in Cyzicus, in which he was measurably successful. He now learned from Rome that he had been nominated pontifex, in place of his uncle, L. Aurelius Cotta. He returned, and shortly after was also elected military tribune. He declined service in armies under the command of the Sullan generals, at the time of the campaigns against Sertorius in Spain. He would gladly have gone to the front to learn his duties in the field, but did not care to take a part against one who represented the old Marian party. He as usual cleverly avoided useless complications. Still he was ambitious of power, and set to work to form a party for himself in the state; and by employing fortune, friends, energy and ability, he succeeded in doing this. Being made quaestor, he accompanied the proconsul Antistius Vetus to Spain. Returned to Rome, he was in 68 b. c. made curator of the Appian Way and aedile curulis, and largely increased his popularity by the splendor of the public games he gave.
His next office was that of judex quaestionis, or judge of the criminal court, in 64 b.c., and in the succeeding year he was made pontifex maximus. After still another year he became praetor. During all this time he had been earning the hate of the aristocrats and the favor of the people. He was assigned the charge of the province of Hispania Ulterior, in 61 b.C., but could not leave Rome till some one had become bondsman for his debts, amounting, it is said, to over four thousand talents, or, according to Plutarch, to eight hundred and thirty talents, from one to five million dollars, as the sum. Caesar’s recklessness in money matters was a characteristic which pursued him through life.
Crassus was prevailed on to be his security. He relied for repayment on Caesar’s future successes. He was not deceived. Political preferment in Rome was coupled with opportunities of making money indefinitely great. The control of a province opened endless avenues of gain. And though no one was more careful to observe the forms of law, though no one was more law-abiding in the technical sense, Caesar was in larger matters as unscrupulous as Napoleon. It was the habit of his day.
Caesar’s province as praetor—Farther Spain, or Boetica —possibly included some adjoining territories. He left Rome so soon as his money matters were arranged, without waiting for the instructions of the Senate, whose action was delayed by some political trials. The lowlanders of his province had been long subject to forays by the mountaineers of Lusitania, a section of country only half subject to the Roman power, if at all. Caesar found two legions, or twenty cohorts, under the colors. These he at once increased by a third legion, or ten additional cohorts, giving him some ten thousand men. The tribes of Mons Herminium (Sierra di Estrella) in Lusitania (Portugal) were constantly troubling the province. Unable to control them by the command of the Roman people, whose authority the hardy uplanders laughed to scorn, Caesar promptly undertook a campaign against them, and by vigorous measures reduced them to submission. Much of the detail of this campaign is not known. The other tribes of the mountains, lest they should suffer a like harsh fate, migrated beyond the Douro. This enabled Caesar to possess himself of the strong places of the country in the valley of the Munda (Mondego), basing on which, he set out to pursue the fugitives, whom he soon reached. The barbarians turned upon him, and to unsettle his cohorts by making the legionaries eager for booty, they drove their herds before them. But Caesar’s men always felt the influence of the strong hand, and these cohorts, though new to him, had already learned to obey. An army is the mirror of its captain, reflecting his force and character as well as his intelligence. So now. Not a soldier left the ranks, and the Lusitanians were quickly routed. In this campaign Caesar scoured the country on both banks of the Durius.
Meanwhile the Mt. Herminianites had again revolted, hoping that Caesar would be defeated by the migrating tribes, and that they could close the road against his retreat and have him at their mercy. Caesar had advanced towards the Durius on the eastern slope of one of the minor ranges. Finding that the barbarians had closed this way, and not caring to encounter a guerilla warfare when he could operate to better advantage, he sought an outlet on the slope which descends towards the sea; but this, too, the barbarians closed by occupying the country from the foothills of the mountains to the shore. Caesar had to fight his way through; but this his legions found no difficulty in doing on the easier terrain near the sea. In attacking the enemy, Caesar operated by his left and managed to cut them off from the interior so as to drive them towards the sea, where he could more readily handle them. They took refuge on an island, which some critics have identified with the headland of Carvoeiro, now joined to the mainland, some forty-five miles north of Lisbon. The strait could be crossed in places at low tide on foot, but with difficulty. Having cooped up his enemy, Caesar proposed to destroy him. It was impracticable to cross the strait under the fire of the barbarians. Caesar built some rafts, and put over a portion of his troops. Part of the rest, over eager, attempted to ford the strait, but, sharply attacked by the barbarians, they were driven back into the rising tide and engulfed. The first attack thus failed, the small part for which the rafts sufficed being unable to effect a landing.
But Caesar never gave up what was possible of accomplishment. Camping opposite the island, where he could hold the Lusitanians, he dispatched messengers to Gades for ships. On the arrival of these, he was able to put a suitable force over to the island, which done, he had no difficulty in subduing the enemy’s force. This matter ended, he sailed to Brigantium (Corunna), whose inhabitants, terrified at the novel sight of such mighty vessels, voluntarily gave up the contest.
This campaign resulted in the submission of all Lusitania, and added much territory to the Roman holding in Spain. Caesar was saluted Imperator by his soldiers and allowed a triumph by the Senate, which also decreed a holiday in honor of his success. So little is given us by the historians beyond the bare outline of the campaign, that we can say of it only that it was Caesar’s first lesson in war. When he attacked the Gallic question, he showed that he was familiar with war, but not with the management of its greater problems. Gaul was his school in the grand operations of war. It is to be regretted that we do not know how he had learned what unquestionably he knew of the art previous to his first campaign in Gaul. He had manifestly covered an immense territory, but we know naught of his method.
With the civil administration of his province after this war we have no concern. Caesar accumulated great wealth; as Suetonius says, by the begging of subsidies; as Napoleon III phrases it, “by contributions of war, a good administration, and even by the gratitude of those whom he governed.” The fact remains, but Caesar did no more than every governor of a Roman province felt it his right to do.
Caesar unquestionably cared for money, but not from miserly motives. Hannibal was accused of avarice; but every coin he accumulated went to fan the flame of war against his country’s oppressors. Caesar used his gold to create an army, to win to himself the love of his legions. Such an amount of booty was taken in Spain as not only to reward his soldiers with exceptional liberality, but to pay off his own debts. His ambition was satisfied in every way.
That Caesar was ambitious is no reproach. No man lacking ambition ever rose out of mediocrity, ever accomplished anything in the world’s economy. At a small village in crossing the Alps, Caesar is said to have exclaimed: “I would rather be first here than second in Rome!” Every great man is ambitious. It is the purpose of his ambition and the means he takes to satisfy it which are the test of its being a virtue or a vice. Caesar’s ambition was more personal than Hannibal’s. It was akin to that of Alexander and Napoleon. In the temple of Hercules at Gades, standing before the statue of Alexander, Caesar exclaimed that he had yet done nothing, when long before his age Alexander had conquered the world. Such was not the ambition of Hannibal for Gustavus.
For his victories in Spain, Caesar was entitled to a triumph, but he denied himself this glory in order to run for the consulship.
The Roman Senate had demonstrated its inability to control the rival factions which were shaking the foundations of the state. Finally a breach between the Senate and Pompey, who was the strongest man in Rome, was brought about by its refusal to grant an allotment of lands for his Eastern veterans. As a result, Pompey, Caesar and Crassus formed a secret compact to act together to divide the power and offices of Rome. They and their friends, with the easy methods of the day, could readily control both the Senate and the people.
Caesar was unanimously elected consul, and with him was chosen Calpurnius Bibulus. The latter was to all purposes, and easily, shelved as a nonentity. Caesar’s first year was passed in law-making. He was able, by Pompey’s aid, to procure the passage of a law by which he received for five years control of Illyria and Cisalpine Gaul, with four legions. This was his first great step upward. The governorship would enable him to win renown and to create an army devoted to his own person, a stepping-stone to almost any greatness. Among his other measures he caused Ariovistus, king of the Suevi, one of his later great antagonists, to be declared a friend and ally of Rome.
Before leaving for Gaul he married his daughter Julia to Pompey, as a bond during his absence, and himself—his wife Cornelia having died some years before—married Calpurnia, daughter of Piso, the ex-consul. Cicero and Cato, Caesar’s rich and powerful opponents, it was agreed should be exiled. The foundation was well laid for permanence.
Caesar had reached the goal of his political ambition by years of persistent effort and by means of every kind, not always such as were most to his credit. But now began a new life. He was forty-two years old, and politics ceded to arms. We shall hereafter view him in a new and far more worthy role,—a role which has made one of the great chapters in the history of the art of war.