The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

The condition of Rome when Caesar returned, crowned with glory,

from his Gallic campaign, in which he had displayed the most consummate

ability, was miserable enough. The constitution had been assailed by all

the leading chieftains, and even Cicero could only give vent to his

despair and indignation in impotent lamentations. The cause of liberty was

already lost. Caesar had obtained the province of Gaul for ten years,

against all former precedent, and Pompey had obtained the extension of his

imperium for five additional years. Both these generals thus had armies

and an independent command for a period which might be called

indefinite--that is, as long as they could maintain their authority in a

period of anarchy. Rome was disgraced by tumults and assassinations;

worthless people secured the highest offices, and were the tools of the

two great generals, who divided between them the empire of the world. All

family ties between these two generals were destroyed by the death of

Julia. The feud between Clodius and Milo, the one a candidate for the

praetorship, and the other for the consulship, was most disgraceful, in the

course of which Clodius was slain. Each wanted an office as the means of

defraying enormous debts. Pompey, called upon by the Senate to relieve the

State from anarchy, was made sole consul--another unprecedented thing. The

trial of Milo showed that Pompey was the absolute master at Rome, and it

was his study to maintain his position against Caesar.

It was plain that the world could not have two absolute masters,

for both Pompey and Caesar aspired to universal sovereignty. One must

succumb to the other--be either anvil or hammer. Neither would have been

safe without their unities and their armed followers. And if both were

destroyed, the State would still be convulsed with factions. All true

constitutional liberty was at an end, for both generals and demagogues

could get such laws passed as they pleased, with sufficient money to bribe

those who controlled the elections. It was a time of universal corruption

and venality. Money was the mainspring of society. Public virtue had

passed away,--all elevated sentiment,--all patriotism,--all self-sacrifice.

The people cared but little who ruled, if they were supplied with corn and

wine at nominal prices. Patrician nobles had become demagogues, and

demagogues had power in proportion to their ability or inclination to

please the people. Cicero despaired of the State, and devoted himself to

literature. There yet remained the aristocratic party, which had wealth

and prestige and power, and the popular party, which aimed to take these

privileges away, but which was ruled by demagogues more unprincipled than

the old nobility. Pompey represented the one, and Caesar the other, though

both were nobles.

Both these generals had rendered great services. Pompey had subdued the

East, and Caesar the West. Pompey had more prestige, Caesar more genius.

Pompey was a greater tactician, Caesar a greater strategist. Pompey was

proud, pompous, jealous, patronizing, self-sufficient, disdainful. Caesar

was politic, intriguing, patient, lavish, unenvious, easily approached,

forgiving, with great urbanity and most genial manners. Both were

ambitious, unscrupulous, and selfish. Cicero distrusted both, flattered

each by turns, but inclined to the side of Pompey as more conservative,

and less dangerous. The Senate took the side of Pompey, the people that of

Caesar. Both Caesar and Pompey had enjoyed power so long, that neither would

have been contented with private life.

In the year B.C. 49, Caesar's proconsular imperium was to terminate

one year after the close of the Gallic war. He wished to be re-elected

consul, and also secure his triumph. But he could not, according to law,

have the triumph without disbanding the army, and without an army he would

not be safe at Rome, with so many enemies. Neither could he be elected

consul, according to the forms, while he enjoyed his imperium, for it had

long been the custom that no one could sue for the consulship at the head

of an army. He, therefore, could neither be consul nor enjoy a triumph,

legitimately, without disbanding his army. Moreover, the party of Pompey,

being then in the ascendant at Rome, demanded that Caesar should lay down

his imperium. The tribunes, in the interests of Caesar, opposed the decree

of the Senate; the reigning consuls threatened the tribunes, and they fled

to Caesar's camp in Cisalpine Gaul. It should, however, be mentioned, that

when the consul Marcellus, an enemy of Caesar, proposed in the Senate that

he should lay down his command, Curio, the tribune, whose debts Caesar had

paid, moved that Pompey should do the same; which he refused to do, since

the election of Caesar to the consulship would place the whole power of the

republic in his hands. Caesar made a last effort to avoid the inevitable

war, by proposing to the Senate to lay down his command, if Pompey would

also; but Pompey prevaricated, and the compromise came to nothing. Both

generals distrusted each other, and both were disloyal to the State. The

Senate then appointed a successor to Caesar in Gaul, ordered a general levy

of troops throughout Italy, and voted money and men to Pompey. Caesar had

already crossed the Rubicon, which was high treason, before his last

proposal to compromise, and he was on his way to Rome. No one resisted

him, for the people had but little interest in the success of either

party. Pompey, exaggerating his popularity, thought he had only to stamp

the ground, and an army would appear, and when he discovered that his

rival was advancing on the Flaminican way, fled hastily from Rome with

most of the senators, and went to Brundusium. Caesar did not at once seize

the capital, but followed Pompey, and so vigorously attacked him, that he

quit the town and crossed over to Illyricum. Caesar had no troops to pursue

him, and therefore retraced his steps, and entered Rome, after an absence

of ten years, at the head of a victorious army, undisputed master of


But Pompey still controlled his proconsular province of Spain,

where seven legions were under his lieutenants, and Africa also was

occupied by his party. Caesar, after arranging the affairs of Italy,

marched through Gaul into Spain to fight the generals of Pompey. That

campaign was ended in forty days, and he became master of Spain. While in

Spain he was elected to his second consulship, and also made dictator. He

returned to Rome as rapidly as he had marched into Spain, and enacted some

wholesome laws, among others that by which the inhabitants of Cisalpine

Gaul, the northern part of Italy, obtained citizenship. After settling the

general affairs of Italy, he laid down the dictatorship, and went, to

Brundusium, and collected his forces from various parts for a decisive

conflict with Pompey, who had remained, meanwhile, in Macedonia,

organizing his army. He collected nine legions, with auxiliary forces,

while his fleet commanded the sea. He also secured vast magazines of corn

in Thessaly, Asia, Egypt, Crete, and Cyrene.

Caesar was able to cross the sea with scarcely more than fifteen

thousand men, on account of the insufficiency of his fleet, and he was

thrown upon a hostile shore, cut off from supplies, and in presence of a

vastly superior force. But his troops were veterans, and his cause was

strengthened by the capture of Apollonia. He then advanced north to seize

Dyrhachiuim, where Pompey's stores were deposited, but Pompey reached the

town before him, and both armies encamped on the banks of the river Apsus,

the one on the left and the other on the right bank. There Caesar was

joined by the remainder of his troops, brought over with great difficulty

from Brundusium by Marcus Antonius, his most able lieutenant and devoted

friend. Pompey was also re-enforced by two legions from Syria, led by his

father-in-law, Scipio. Both parties abstained from attacking each other

while these re-enforcements were being brought forward, and Caesar even

made a last effort at compromise, while the troops on each side exchanged

mutual courtesies.

Pompey avoided a pitched battle, and intrenched himself on a hill

near Dyrhachium. Caesar surrounded him with lines of circumvallation.

Pompey broke through them, and compelled Caesar to retire, with

considerable loss. He retreated to Thessaly, followed by Pompey, who, had

he known how to pursue his advantage, might, after this last success--the

last he ever had--have defeated Caesar. He had wisely avoided a pitched

battle until his troops should become inured to service, or until he

should wear out his adversary; but now, puffed up with victory and

self-confidence, and unduly influenced by his officers, he concluded to

risk a battle. Caesar was encamped on the plain of Pharsalia, and Pompey on

a hill about four miles distant. The steep bank of the river Enipeus

covered the right of Pompey's line and the left of Caesar's. The infantry

of the former numbered forty-five thousand; that of the latter, twenty-two

thousand, but they were veterans. Pompey was also superior in cavalry,

having seven thousand, while Caesar had only one thousand. With these,

which formed the strength of Pompey's force, he proposed to outflank the

right of Caesar, extended on the plain. To guard against this movement,

Caesar withdrew six cohorts from his third line, and formed them into a

fourth in the rear of his cavalry on the right. The battle commenced by a

furious assault on the lines of Pompey by Caesar's veterans, who were

received with courage. Meanwhile Pompey's cavalry swept away that of

Caesar, and was advancing to attack the rear, when they received,

unexpectedly, the charge of the cohorts which Caesar had posted there, The

cavalry broke, and fled to the mountains. The six cohorts then turned upon

the slingers and archers, who had covered the attack of the cavalry,

defeated them, and fell upon the rear of Pompey's left. Caesar then brought

up his third line, and decided the battle. Pompey had fled when he saw the

defeat of his cavalry. His camp was taken and sacked, and his troops, so

confident of victory, were scattered, surrounded, and taken prisoners.

Caesar, with his usual clemency, spared their lives, nor had he any object

to destroy them. Among those who surrendered after this decisive battle

was Junius Brutus, who was not only pardoned, but admitted to the closest


Pompey, on his defeat, fled to Larissa, embarked with his

generals, and sailed to Mitylene. As he had still the province of Africa

and a large fleet, it was his policy to go there; but he had a silly

notion that his true field of glory was the East, and he saw no place of

refuge but Egypt. That kingdom was then governed by the children of

Ptolemy Auletes, Cleopatra and Ptolemy, neither of whom were adults, and

who, moreover, were quarreling with each other for the undivided

sovereignty of Egypt. At this juncture, Pompey appeared on the coast, on

which Ptolemy was encamped. He sent a messenger to the king, with the

request that he might be sheltered in Alexandria. To grant it would

compromise Ptolemy with Caesar; to refuse it would send Pompey to the camp

of Cleopatra in Syria. He was invited to a conference, and his minister

Achillus was sent out in a boat to bring him on shore. Pompey, infatuated,

imprudently trusted himself in the boat, in which he recognized an old

comrade, Septimius, who, however, did not return his salutation. On

landing, he was stabbed by Septimius, who had persuaded Ptolemy to take

his life, in order to propitiate Caesar and gain the Egyptian crown. Thus

ingloriously fell the conqueror of Asia, and the second man in the empire,

by treachery.

On the flight of Pompey from the fatal battle-field, Caesar pressed

in pursuit, with only one legion and a troop of cavalry. Fearing a new war

in Asia, Caesar waited to collect his forces, and then embarked for Egypt.

He arrived at Alexandria only a few days after the murder of his rival,

and was met by an officer bearing his head. He ordered it to be burned

with costly spices, and placed the ashes in a shrine, dedicated to

Nemesis. He then demanded ten million drachmas, promised by the late king,

and summoned the contending sovereigns to his camp. Cleopatra captivated

him, and he decided that both should share the throne, but that the

ministers of Ptolemy should be deposed, which was reducing the king to a

cipher. But the fanaticism of the Alexandrians being excited, and a

collision having taken place between them and his troops, Caesar burned the

Egyptian fleet, and fortified himself at Pharos, awaiting re-enforcements.

Ptolemy, however, turned against him, when he had obtained his release,

and perished in an action on the banks of the Nile. Cleopatra was restored

to the throne, under the protection of Rome.

Pharnaces, son of Mithridates, rewarded by Pompey with the throne

of the Bosphorus for the desertion of his father, now made war against

Rome. Galvinus, sent against him, sustained a defeat, and Caesar rapidly

marched to Asia to restore affairs. It was then he wrote to the Senate

that brief, but vaunting letter: "Veni, vidi, vici." He already

meditated those conquests in the East which had inflamed the ambition of

his rival. He caught the spirit of Oriental despotism. He was not proof

against the flatteries of the Asiatics. But his love for Cleopatra worked

a still greater change in his character, even as it undermined the respect

of his countrymen. History brands with infamy that unfortunate connection,

which led to ostentation, arrogance, harshness, impatience, and contempt

of mankind--the same qualities which characterized Napoleon on his return

from Egypt.

In September, B.C. 47, Caesar returned to Italy, having been

already named dictator by a defeated and obsequious Senate. Cicero was

among the first to meet him, and was graciously pardoned. The only severe

measure which he would allow was the confiscation of the property of

Pompey and his sons, whose statues, however, he replaced. He now ruled

absolutely, but under the old forms, and was made tribune for life. The

Senate nominated him consul for five years, and he was also named


The only foes who now seriously stood out against him were the

adherents of Pompey, who had time, during his absence in the East, to

reorganize their forces, and it was in Africa that the last conflict was

to be fought. The Pompeians were commanded by Scipio, who fixed his

head-quarters at Hadrumentum, with an army of ten legions, a large force

of Numidian cavalry, and one hundred and twenty elephants. But Caesar

defeated this large army with a vastly inferior force, and the rout was

complete. Scipio took ship for Spain, but was driven back, as Marius had

been on the Italian coasts when pursued by the generals of Sulla, and

ended his life by suicide. Cato, the noblest Roman of his day, whose march

across the African desert was one of the great feats of his age, might

have escaped, and would probably have been pardoned: but the lofty stoic

could not endure the sight of the prostration of Roman liberties, and,

fortifying his courage with the Phaedon of Plato, also fell upon his

sword. The Roman republic ended with his death.

After reducing Numidia to a Roman province, Caesar returned to

Italy with immense treasures, and was everywhere received with unexampled

honors. At Rome he celebrated a fourfold triumph--for victories in Gaul,

Egypt, Africa, and the East--and the Senate decreed that his image in ivory

should be carried in procession with those of the gods. His bronze statue

was set upon a globe in the capitol, as the emblem of universal

sovereignty. All the extravagant enthusiasm which marked the French people

for the victories of Napoleon, and all the servility which unbounded power

everywhere commands, were bestowed upon the greatest conqueror the ancient

world ever saw. A thanksgiving was decreed for forty days; the number of

the lictors was doubled; he was made dictator for ten years, with the

command of all the armies of the State, and the presidency of the public

festivals. He also was made censor for three years, by which he regulated

the Senate according to his sovereign will. His triumphs were followed by

profuse largesses to the soldiers and people, and he also instituted

magnificent games under an awning of silk, at the close of which the

Forum Julium was dedicated.

Such were his unparalleled honors and powers. All the great

offices of the State were invested and united in him, and nothing was

wanted to complete his aggrandizement but the name of emperor. But we turn

from these, the usual rewards of conquerors, to glance at the services he

rendered to civilization, which constitute his truest claim to

immortality. One of the greatest was the reform of the calendar, for the

Roman year was ninety days in advance of the true meaning of that word.

The old year had been determined by lunar months rather than by the

apparent path of the sun among the fixed stars which had been determined

by the ancient astronomers, and was one of the greatest discoveries of

ancient science. The Roman year consisted of three hundred and fifty-five

days, so that January was an autumn month. Caesar inserted the regular

intercalary month of twenty-three days, and two additional ones of

sixty-seven days. These were added to the three hundred and sixty-five

days, making a year of transition of four hundred and forty-five days, by

which January was brought back to the first month of the year, after the

winter solstice. And to prevent the repetition of the error, he directed

that in future the year should consist of three hundred and sixty-five

days and one quarter of a day, which he effected by adding one day to the

months of April, June, September, and November, and two days to the months

of January, Sextilis, and December, making an addition of ten days to the

old year of three hundred and fifty-five, and he provided for a uniform

intercalation of one day in every fourth year. Caesar was a student of

astronomy, and always found time for its contemplation. He even wrote an

essay on the motion of the stars, assisted in his observation by

Sosigenes, an Alexandrian astronomer. He took astronomy out of the hands

of priests, and made it a matter of civil legislation. He was drawn away

from legislation to draw the sword once more against the relics of the

Pompeian party, which had been collected in Spain. On the field of Munda

was fought his last great battle, contested with unusual fury, and

attended with savage cruelties. Thirty thousand of his opponents fell in

this battle, and Sextus Pompey alone, of all the marked men, escaped to

the mountains, and defied pursuit. On this victory he celebrated his last

triumph, and the supple Senate decreed to him the title of Imperator. He

was made consul for ten years, dictator for life, his person was decreed

inviolable, and he was surrounded by a guard of nobles and senators. He

also received the insignia of royalty, a golden chair and a diadem set

with gems, and was allowed to wear the triumphal robe of purple whenever

he appeared in public. The coins were stamped with his image, his statue

was placed in the temples, and his friends obtained all the offices of the

State. He adopted Octavius, his nephew, for his heir, and paved the way

for an absolute despotism under his successors. The measure of his glory

and ambition was full. He was the undisputed master of the world.

He then continued his reforms and improvements, as Napoleon did after his

coronation as emperor. He gave the Roman franchise to various States and

cities out of Italy, and colonized new cities. He excluded judices from

all ranks but those of senators and knights, and enacted new laws for the

security of persons and property. He gave unbounded religious toleration,

and meditated a complete codification of the Roman law. He founded a

magnificent public library, appointed commissioners to make a map of the

whole empire, and contemplated the draining of the Pontine marshes.

After these works of legislation and public improvement, he

prepared for an expedition to Parthia, in which he hoped to surpass the

conquests of Alexander in the East. But his career was suddenly cut off by

his premature death. The nobles whom he humiliated, and the Oriental

despotism he contemplated, caused a secret hostility which he did not

suspect amid the universal subserviency to his will. Above all, the title

of king, the symbol of legitimate sovereignty, to which he aspired,

sharpened the daggers of the few remaining friends of the liberty which

had passed away for ever. All the old party of the State concocted the

conspiracy, some eighty nobles, at the head of which were Brutus and

Cassius. On the fifteenth day of March, B.C. 44, the Ides of March, the

day for which the Senate was convened for his final departure for the

East, he was stabbed in the senate-house, and he fell, pierced with

wounds, at the foot of Pompey's statue, in his fifty-sixth year, and

anarchy, and new wars again commenced.

The concurrent voices of all historians and critics unite to give

Caesar the most august name of all antiquity. He was great in every

thing,--as orator, as historian, as statesman, as general, and as lawgiver.

He had genius, understanding, memory, taste, industry, and energy. He

could write, read, and dictate at the same time. He united the bravery of

Alexander with the military resources of Hannibal. He had a marvelous

faculty of winning both friends and enemies. He was generous, magnanimous,

and courteous. Not even his love for Cleopatra impaired the energies of

his mind and body. He was not cruel or sanguinary, except when urged by

reasons of State. He pardoned Cicero, and received Brutus into intimate

friendship. His successes were transcendent, and his fortune never failed

him. He reached the utmost limit of human ambition, and was only hurled

from his pedestal of power by the secret daggers of fanatics, who saw in

his elevation the utter extinction of Roman liberty. But liberty had

already fled, and a degenerate age could only be ruled by a despot. It

might have been better for Rome had his life been prolonged when all

constitutional freedom had become impossible. But he took the sword, and

Nemesis demanded that he should perish by it, as a warning to all future

usurpers who would accomplish even good ends by infamous means. Vulgar

pity compassionates the sad fate of the great Julius; but we can not

forget that it was he who gave the last blow to the constitution and

liberties of his country. The greatness of his gifts and services pale

before the gigantic crime of which he stands accused at the bar of all the

ages, and the understanding of the world is mocked when his usurpation is


Roman Conquests From The Fall Of Carthage To The Times Of The Gracchi The Conquest Of Italy facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail