Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

At the age of twenty-seven, Caesar was elected pontiff and military tribune; at thirty-two, quaestor; at thirty-five, aedile; at thirty-seven, grand pontiff; at thirty-eight, praetor, and at forty, consul.

In the capacity of curule aedile, one of the three highest civil officers known to the republic, Caesar, in accordance with Roman custom, entertained the people with public festivities and amusements. Under his administration, the Forum and the Capitol were magnificently decorated; the gladiatorial exhibitions displayed unwonted pomp, and the Roman games were celebrated with a splendor never before witnessed. At that moment, when all eyes were turned to him as the idol of the people, when the unprecedented splendor of his aedileship had won for him an unbounded personal influence, he resolved upon a bold stroke, both for himself and for his country. The popular cause had been for years without a leader. The terrible proscriptions of Sylla had silenced the friends of progress, and removed from the public gaze all memorials of their past successes and victories. Even the statues and trophies commemorative of the illustrious deeds of their favorite champion, Marius, had disappeared from the Capitol. But one morning the Romans awoke to find all these trophies restored to their former places. The unexpected sight filled the nobles with rage and terror, but awakened in the people glad memories of glory and liberty. The friends of progress gazed with joy upon these cherished memorials of their great champion, and hailed Caesar as his worthy successor. From that moment the aedile was their acknowledged head and leader.

The military career of Caesar dates from his appointment as propractor of Spain. Though thirty-nine years of age, he was then, for the first time in his life, at the head of an army. He at once displayed the high qualities of a great commander, and won for himself an enviable military fame. The senate, though politically opposed to him, was compelled to acknowledge the greatness of his services, and in honor of his brilliant achievements awarded him, by special decree, the honor of a triumph.

At the age of forty, Caesar, on his return from Spain, came forward as a candidate for the consulship, the highest civil office in the state. His towering ambition, his fearless independence, and his attachment to the popular cause, made him the recognized champion of the people; but he desired to win to his standard some of the illustrious men whose fame had given such prestige to the senatorial party. His efforts were not without success. Soon the three leading spirits of the age, Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus, made common cause, and, wielding a united influence, which was absolutely irresistible, assumed the control of the destinies of the republic.

Caesar was unanimously elected consul, and at once brought forward radical propositions for reform, which his colleague, Marcus Bibulus, opposed with great bitterness and vigor. But the contest was of short duration. Bibulus, finding himself no match for the determined reformer, after the most humiliating defeats, withdrew from all participation in the government, leaving Caesar the undisputed master of the situation. This fact gave rise to the playful remark that the two consuls for the year were Julius and Caesar.

Thus relieved from the factious opposition of his colleague, Caesar at once signalized his consulship by several bold and remarkable measures. He made himself the idol of the people by procuring the enactment of an agrarian law, by which twenty thousand families received allotments of public lands; he won the favor of the equestrian order by relieving it from an oppressive contract, and bound Pompey still more closely to his person and his destinies by giving him in marriage his accomplished daughter Julia, and by procuring for him the ratification of all his acts in Asia.

At the close of his term of office, Caesar was made proconsul of Gaul for a period of five years, which was afterwards extended to ten. His province, including Transalpine and Cisalpine Gaul, with Illyricum, opened to him a new career directly in the line of his aspiring ambition, his cherished hopes, and his lofty military genius; but that career was beset

with the most appalling difficulties and dangers. The Gauls were an energetic and warlike people. While Rome was yet in its infancy, they had scaled the Alps, taken possession of the fertile valley of the Po, and converted Northern Italy into a Gallic province. In the fourth century B. C., they suddenly passed the Apennines, descended upon Latium, won the victory of the Allia, and entering Rome in triumph, burned the greater portion of the city. Three centuries later the hordes of the Cimbri and Teutones, descending in their desolating march upon Southern Europe, threatened the very existence of the Roman republic. But at length the brilliant victories of Marius and other Roman generals checked the encroachments of these hardy nations of the north, and even made conquests on either side of the Alps.

When Caesar received his commission, Cisalpine Gaul had already, for a century and a half, been a Roman province; and even beyond the Alps, the colony of Narbo and the conquest of the Allobroges had led to the organization of a small Roman province.

Caesar arrived early in the spring of 58 B. C. in the province of Narbo. The warlike Helvetii, three hundred and fifty thousand in number, had burned their own towns and villages, and were already commencing their hostile movements; one hundred and fifty thousand Germans had crossed the Rhine, and established themselves in Gaul, and one hundred thousand more were preparing to follow their example. The countless hordes of the north were again in motion. Caesar saw the magnitude of the danger; he well knew that a reverse to his arms would be a crushing calamity to the republic and to all Italy. With a lively appreciation of the great trusts committed to his hands, he entered boldly upon a career of Transalpine conquest as complete as it was glorious. His genius speedily converted Gaul into one vast battle-field of victory and glory. His very first campaign was crowned with signal success. It not only annihilated the power of the Helvetii, and established the prestige of the Roman arms, but also humbled the haughty Ariovistus, and extended the Roman province to the banks

of the Rhine. His second campaign, scarcely less brilliant than the first, added Belgic Gaul to the Roman dominions, and assured the final triumph of his arms throughout the whole extent of Gaul.

The effect of these successes was felt on both sides of the Alps. One Gallic people after another presented to the conqueror their protestations of allegiance, while the tidings. of victory filled Rome with joy and gladness. Political animosity was for the hour laid aside, and the Roman senate, Caesar's bitterest partisan foe, decreed a public thanksgiving for fifteen days in honor of the great achievements of the people's favorite.

But the Gauls, though repeatedly vanquished upon the field of battle, were not yet subjugated. Those hardy warriors loved liberty too well to bear with meekness any foreign rule. The spirit of revolt, ever rife among them, was moreover fostered by their warlike neighbors, the Britons and the Germans. But the decree had gone forth that Gaul should be subdued and Romanized. Accordingly Caesar gave himself, year after year, to the great work which had been committed to his hands. Twice he crossed the Rhine and struck terror into the hearts of the Germans; twice he stood upon the hitherto unknown soil of Britain; and when at length, after six years of toil and war, the conquest seemed almost complete, the Gauls rose in one final and desperate struggle for independence. Nations and tribes hitherto jealous and hostile to each other took their places side by side under one common standard, for one common cause.

Vercingetorix, the intrepid leader of the Gauls, at length established himself, with eighty thousand men, in the strongly fortified town of Alesia, the capital of the Mandubii. Caesar at once invested the city, and for forty days lay intrenched before it, between two concentric lines of almost impregnable works; but at length a mighty array of confederate Gauls, two hundred and fifty thousand strong, arrived in the rear of his intrenchments. A simultaneous assault was made upon the Roman lines, by the besieged on the one hand, and by the army of relief on the other. Utter de

struction seemed inevitably to await Caesar and his cause; but the genius of the great commander rose with the magnitude of the occasion. Roman valor and discipline, inspired and guided by that genius, triumphed over all obstacles, and wrested victory from the hands of the enemy. A few days later, the despatches of Caesar announced to the Roman. senate the fall of Alesia and the triumph of the Roman

arms.

Another year of warfare followed, and the conquest of Gaul was complete. Eight years of heroic daring and bloody strife had added a mighty realm to the Roman dominions.

But already the question of the recall of Caesar was discussed in the senate, and a few months later, at the instance of Pompey, who had become his bitter rival, a decree was passed requiring him, under penalty of being declared a traitor to his country, to resign the governorship of both Gauls and disband his army. The news of this action reached Caesar at Ravenna, on the 10th of June, 49 B. C. Scarcely a day elapsed before his decision was made. With a single legion he crossed the Rubicon, the southern boundary of his province, and advanced into Italy. The prestige of his name gathered numerous recruits to his standard; town after town threw open its gates to the conqueror, and in sixty days after the edict of the senate declaring him a traitor to his country, the proscribed outlaw entered the capital the undisputed master of Italy. A bloodless victory and a triumphal march from the Rubicon to Rome, had accomplished one of the most remarkable revolutions recorded in the annals of the world.

The senatorial party, panic-stricken, had fled from the city in anticipation of the reënactment of the bloody scenes of proscription which had marked the triumphs of Marius and Sylla. But the magnanimity of Caesar disappointed both friends and foes. The frantic passion of the aristocracy, in their impotence and exile breathing out threats of proscription, contrasted strangely with the calm moderation of the victor in all the plenitude of his power.

« IndietroContinua »