City of the Seven Hills - S. B. Harding

Julius Caesar, the Conqueror of Gaul

Caius Julius Caesar belonged to a noble family, but he was a nephew of Marius by marriage, and it was this perhaps that caused him first to act with the party of the people,

He was little more than a boy when the parties of Sulla and Marius were carrying on their terrible struggles for the mastery, and he had taken no part in these troubles. But when Sulla had overcome the party of Marius, and was putting to death all persons whom he regarded as the enemies of his own party, he wished to include young Caesar in the number. The Vestal Virgins, however, and some of Sulla's firmest friends, went to him and begged that Caesar's life might be spared, because of his youth and his noble birth. For a long time they pleaded in vain, but at last Sulla gave way.

[Illustration] from City of the Seven Hills by S. B. Harding


"Let him be spared, then, as you wish," he said; "but I would have you know that there is many a Marius in this young man, for whose safety you are so anxious; and you will find, someday, that he will be the ruin of the party of the nobles to which you and I all belong."

After this narrow escape Caesar did not dare to stay longer at Rome. He went to the lands about the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, and joined the camp of a Roman general who was carrying on one of the wars, which the Romans were now waging nearly all the time in that region. Here Caesar got his first training in war; and one day he showed such bravery in saving the life of a fellow soldier, that the general in command of the army presented him with a crown of oak leaves. This, as you will remember from the story of Coriolanus, was a great mark of honor among the Romans.

After Sulla was dead, Caesar returned to Rome; but he did not remain there long. He decided that he wanted to be an orator as well as a soldier, so he went to Greece, as Cicero had done, to study the art of writing and speaking.

While Caesar was on his way to Greece, he had an adventure which shows very well the sort of man that he was. The ship that he was on was captured by pirates, and Caesar was told by them that he must pay a large sum of money before they would let him go. He at once sent his servants to raise this sum, but in the meantime he had to stay with the pirates at their island home.

They were desperate men, who considered the crime of murder a trifling act; but Caesar seemed to have no fear of them, and even showed his contempt for them quite freely. When he wished to sleep, he would order them to be silent while he did so; at other times he would join in their rough play and exercise. To help pass away the time till his servants should return, he wrote poems and speeches, and spoke them to these ignorant men; and when they did not show pleasure in what he recited he frankly called them "dunces" and "barbarians." They took all this from Caesar with great good-humor, for they liked his fearless spirit; and when he threatened to punish them, as soon as he was free, for their piracy and crimes, they laughed and thought this a great joke.

When his money had come, however, and he was set free, the first thing that Caesar did was to carry out this threat. He gathered together some ships and men, and returned to the island where the pirates stayed. He found their vessels still at anchor there, and in the battle which followed, he not only defeated and captured most of the men, but also recovered the money which he had paid them as a ransom.

At Rome, Caesar led the same sort of life that other wealthy young Romans did at that time. He joined in the gayety of the city, and seemed to think of nothing but that. He was very careful in his dress, and was one of the leaders of the fashion at Rome. This seemed foolish to the grave Cicero, and he once spoke doubtfully of Caesar, wondering if there could really be any earnest purpose in a man who gave so much thought to the arrangement of his hair.

But this was only the outside view of Caesar. He had already set his heart on doing something great, so as to make his name remembered; and he never forgot this purpose. At the very time that Cicero thought him so foolish and careless, Caesar was preparing himself to win the favor of the people and become their leader. When he began to speak in public, he had taken so much pains to train himself well, that he pleased his hearers from the first; and after his return from Greece, he was looked upon as one of the best orators of Rome. He was friendly and pleasant to everyone, and gave money freely to all who asked for it. In this way he won the favor of the people, and soon he was elected to several offices, one after the other.

Whip Caesar held one of these offices, it was his duty to oversee the public games. The Romans, as you know, had now become very fond of such shows, and they were given a number of times each year. There were many kinds of these games. Some of them were like the Greek games, and were contests in running, wrestling, leaping, and hurling the spear. Others were sham battles, in which little armies of horsemen, infantry, and elephants took part; But the kinds that the Romans liked best were three, the chariot races, the fights with wild beasts, and the contests of gladiators.

The chariot- races were held in a race course called the Great Circus, which lay between the Palatine hill and the hill which stood south of it. Each chariot was usually drawn by four horses, and four chariots took part in each race. The driver of each chariot wore a different colored gown, one white, one red, one blue, and one green; and the people took such interest in these races, that they divided into parties over them. In this way there arose a party of the Greens, who always favored the driver who wore that color, and a party of the Blues, who favored the one in blue, and so on; and sometimes the people became so excited by the races that the different parties actually came to blows about them.

The chariot races were very old, indeed, it was said that Romulus first started them; but the wild-beast fights were not introduced until after the second war with Carthage. Then the Romans began to turn loose elephants, lions, leopards, and other beasts, in the "arena" of the Circus (as the central part of it was called), and set men to hunt them for the amusement of the spectators. In this way four hundred lions were once turned loose at the same time.

[Illustration] from City of the Seven Hills by S. B. Harding


But the shows which the people liked best of all were the fights of the gladiators. The gladiators were men who were trained to fight to amuse the Romans; and they were usually captives who had been taken in war, or slaves who had been sold to the trainers of gladiators as a punishment. Most often they fought together in single pairs. Sometimes they were both armed in the same way, with helmet, shield, and sword. Sometimes, however, one only would be armed in this way, and the other would have nothing but a three-pointed spear with which to thrust at his enemy, and a net to throw over his head and entangle him. When one of the gladiators became wounded, the fight stopped until the will of the people

had been made known. If they held their thumbs up, he was spared; but if they turned their thumbs so that they pointed downward, he was at once put to death.

The government was supposed to furnish the money to provide for these games, but the custom had arisen for the overseers of the games to add to them at their own expense. So when Caesar was overseer he determined to furnish finer games than had ever been seen before. In this he succeeded. Everybody said that there had never been more or better gladiator fights or finer wild-beast hunts than those he furnished. The statues and pictures, too, which he provided to decorate the Forum and the temples on the Capitol, during the time that the games were being held, were so numerous that places had to be found elsewhere to exhibit many of them.

Caesar spent such large sums of his own money on these shows that he came out of the office very heavily in debt; but he had succeeded in his purpose. He had made the people think him generous and public-spirited; so when he became a candidate for the consulship sometime after this, they gladly supported him. The nobles, however, did not like Caesar so well, and they opposed his election, for they were already beginning to fear his power over the people. But at this time there was a powerful man at Rome who could help Caesar very much with his election, if he would, and he needed Caesar's help as much as Caesar needed his.

This man was named Pompey, and he was called "the Great" because of his deeds in war. At one time he had put down a dangerous rebellion in Spain. After that he had helped to put down a rebellion of gladiators, who had fled in large numbers to Mount Vesuvius in Italy, and formed a strong camp there. Then, sometime after Caesar's adventure with the pirates, Pompey had been given a great fleet and had been commissioned to make war on the pirates. With this fleet he had started in at the Straits of Gibraltar, and searched every nook and corner of the Mediterranean Sea, and swept all the pirates before him till he reached the coast of Asia; there he defeated them in one great battle, and so cleared the seas of pirates for many years. After that, Pompey had been given the command in a war with a king who ruled on the southern shore of the Black Sea; and in this war also he had been successful. So at last Pompey had come back to Rome with much honor, and was given a great triumph by the people; but the nobles looked upon him with suspicion, and refused to reward his soldiers, and to approve the arrangements which he had made for the conquered country in the East.

This vexed Pompey very much; so he joined with Caesar, and they agreed to help each other in gaining what they each wanted. In this way Pompey got lands for his soldiers and had his acts in the East approved; and Caesar got his election as consul. After his year as consul was up, and it was time for him to go as governor to one of the provinces, as was the custom, Caesar was appointed governor of Gaul for five years. And before that time was up, by a new agreement between the two men, Caesar was given another term of five years as governor of Gaul, while Pompey was appointed to govern Spain for an equal time.

The Senators were not sorry to see Caesar go to Gaul, for they hoped that during his long absence from the city, the fickle people of Rome might forget him, and so leave him without influence when he returned; or, if this should not happen, they hoped at any rate that something might occur in the meantime to make his influence less dangerous to the party of the nobles.

At this time there were two districts which the Romans called by the name of Gaul, and Caesar was given command over both of these. One was on the Italian side of the Alps, and included the lands in the valley of the River Po, on which those Gauls had lived who welcomed Hannibal when he came into Italy. This was called "Cis-Alpine Gaul," or "Gaul on this side of the Alps." The other lay on the other side of the Alps, in what is now southern France, and this was called "Trans-Alpine Gaul."

Cis-Alpine Gaul had been conquered for some time, but in Trans-Alpine Gaul the power of the Romans did not extend beyond a little strip of land in the southern part, where the country touches the Mediterranean Sea. Moreover, the affairs of Gaul beyond the Alps had been neglected by the Romans during the struggles that had taken place at Rome, and when Caesar reached his provinces he found that troubles were beginning there which needed his immediate attention.

Caesar learned that a large body of people who lived in the valleys of the Alps, had determined to leave their homes among the mountains, and search out new ones in the western part of Gaul. They had burned their towns and villages, so that their people could have no wish to return to their old homes, and they were now ready to start on their journey through the Roman province, carrying their families and their goods with them.

The march of so large a body of the Swiss through Trans-Alpine Gaul might mean the beginning of much trouble for the Romans; so Cesar determined that they must be stopped before they had gone any farther from their homes. He crossed the Alps in haste, therefore, and sent word to the Swiss forbidding them to march through his province. Then, when they tried in spite of this to force their way out of the mountains, he defeated them in a terrible battle; and sent them back to their own country, to rebuild their burned homes and settle upon their own lands once more.

This great victory gave Caesar's soldiers confidence in their new commander; and it also caused many of the neighboring tribes of Gaul to submit to him, and become friends to the Roman people.

Soon after this the chiefs of one of these tribes appealed to Caesar for aid in a trouble of their own; and begged him to help them against a tribe of Germans, who had lately crossed the Rhine, and come into Gaul. These Germans had already conquered a part of the country, and were inviting other German tribes to cross the river and join them in overrunning the whole of Gaul. This would have been more dangerous even than to have had the Swiss passing through the country in search of new homes; so Caesar determined to give the help that was asked of him, and send the Germans also back to their own lands.

But while Caesar was preparing to march against the Germans, his army began to give him trouble. The Gauls and the Roman traders who passed through the camp, told marvelous tales of the great size of the Germans, and of the fierceness of their appearance, and of their skill with their weapons. When Caesar's soldiers heard these stories, and when it was whispered among them that they were about to march against the Germans, they began to fear this people as much as Marius's soldiers had done before them. Some of the young officers, who had had little experience in war, even began to make excuses to be allowed to return to Rome; others, who were ashamed to leave the army in this way, made their wills, and went about the camp with tears streaming down their faces. These claimed that it was not the enemy they feared; but that they dreaded the narrowness of the roads, and the vastness of the forests through which the men would have to pass, and they were afraid, too, that there would not be food enough for the army on its march.

When Caesar heard these things, he called a meeting of his soldiers and rebuked them.

"Is it your business," he asked, "to inquire in what direction we are to march, and what are the plans of your general? Is it your duty to think of the feeding of the army, and the condition of the roads? That is my affair, and not yours; and you should not distrust me so much as to think that I will not attend to it. I suspect, indeed, that it is the enemy that you dread, and not the dangers of the march. But even though you know that you are to fight against the Germans, what is it that you fear in them? They have already been defeated by Marius within the memory of our fathers. The Swiss, whom you have so lately sent back to their homes, have defeated them in their own country. Shall we not be able to do what they have succeeded in doing? I had intended to put off this march of ours to a more distant day; but now I have determined to break up our camp during this very night, so that I may find out as soon as possible whether my soldiers will answer to the call of duty, or give way to fear. If no others will follow me, I shall still go forward with the tenth legion alone; for I know that the men of that legion, at least, are too brave ever to desert their commander."

On hearing these words, the minds of the soldiers were suddenly changed.. The tenth legion sent messengers to him to thank him for his confidence in them; and the soldiers of the other legions made excuses for themselves, and begged him to believe that they would follow him wherever he might wish to go. Caesar accepted their excuses; but that night, as he had said he would, he began the march. And when the army came up with the Germans, and a battle was fought, Caesar easily defeated the enemy and drove them back across the Rhine into their own country.

These two wars were the beginning of Caesar's command in Gaul. In a few months, he had succeeded in saving the country from being overrun by the Swiss and by the Germans; and perhaps he had even kept the barbarians from entering Italy again as in the time of Marius. He remained governor of Gaul for nine years in all, and during that time he conquered all the country from the Rhine west to the Atlantic Ocean, and from the Roman province in the south to the English Channel on the north. He did even more than this. Twice when he wished to overawe the restless tribes of Germany, he quickly built a bridge over the wide and rapid stream of the Rhine, and led his army over to frighten the neighboring tribes into submission; and twice, also, he gathered ships and crossed over into the neighboring island of Great Britain, to make war upon the tribes that lived there and punish them for having interfered in the affairs of Gaul.

Caesar was the first Roman general to lead an army into either Germany or Britain; and although he made no serious attempt to subdue these countries himself, he prepared the way for the conquest of Britain, at least, in the time that was to come. In Gaul, however, he completely conquered the country. When he left that land its people had already settled down quietly under the Roman rule, and they were beginning to learn the Roman customs and the Roman language. So thoroughly did they learn these that they became almost like the Romans themselves, and even to-day the language that is spoken in that land the French language is merely a form of the old Latin tongue, which their Roman conquerors spoke nearly two thousand years ago.

One of the things that helped Caesar most in this great work of conquest, was his power over the common soldiers. During all the years that they fought under him in Gaul, they never once repeated the threat of disobedience, which they had made when he first proposed to lead them against the Germans. From that time on they were entirely devoted to him, for they had confidence in him. He was willing to share every danger and hardship with his soldiers, and when he made a speech to them he called them "Fellow soldiers," to show that he was one of them. In the marches with his army, he used to go at the head of his troops, sometimes on horseback, but oftener on foot, with his head bare in all kinds of weather. At the beginning of a battle, he often sent his horse away, so that he might lead his men on foot. If they began to give way during the fight he would go among them and stop those that were flying, and turn them towards the enemy again; and so by courage and determination he would change defeat into victory.

Caesar was both mild and strict in his control of his men. After they had won the victory he would allow them to rest and make merry; but before the battle had been fought and the victory decided, he demanded unceasing watchfulness and entire obedience. He would give no notice of battle till the last moment, in order that the soldiers might always hold themselves in readiness for it; and, for the same reason, he would often lead his men out of their camp, when there was no need of it, even in rainy weather and on holidays. Sometimes, either by day or night, he would suddenly give them orders to follow without losing sight of him; and then lead them on long marches in order to test their strength, and to prepare them for doing the same thing whenever there might be real necessity for it. In this way, long before Caesar's nine years in Gaul were over, he had an army of veterans, every man of whom was willing to follow him into any danger.

While Caesar was still in Gaul, he wrote the account of his struggles with the barbarians, and sent it to Rome, so that the people might know of the successes of his army. Many of the Roman books have been lost, but this account of Caesar's wars in Gaul is so well written and so interesting that it was carefully saved, and if you should ever study Latin, this will be almost the first book that you will read.