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Biography of Caesar


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CAIUS JULIUS CAESAR, son of a Roman Praetor of the same name, was born on the 12th of July, I00 B.C. To improve his eloquence, he went to Rhodes, to study under the Rhetor, Appolonius Molo. In 74 B.C., 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 70 B.C., he attached himself to Pompey, whose political actions at this time were of a decidedly democratic character. In 68 B.C., Caesar obtained a questorship in Spain. On his return to Rome (67 B.C.,) he married Pompeia, a relative of Pompey, with whom he was daily becoming more intimate. In 63 B.C., he was elected Pontifex Maximus, and shortly after Praetor. During the same year occurred the famous debate in the Cataline conspiracy, in which the aristocratic party vainly endeavored to persuade the Consul, Cicero, to include Caesar in the list of conspirators. In 62 B.C., Pompey returned from the east and disbanded his army. Next year Caesar obtained 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. Shortly before the passing of the Agrarian law, (59 B.C.) Caesar; with rare tact and sagacity, had reconciled the two most powerful men in Rome, who were then at variance, Pompey and Crassus, and had formed an alliance with them, known in history as the first Triumvirate.

On the expiration of his term of office, he obtained for himself, by the popular vote, the province or Cisalpine Gaul, and Illyricum, for five years, to which the Senate added - to prevent the popular assembly from doing so - the province of Transalpine Gaul. Nothing could have been more favorable to Caesar's aims. He had now an opportunity of developing his extraordinary military genius, and of gathering around him an army of veterans, whom perpetual victory should inspire with 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, Pompey and Crassus, whom, in genius, he far surpassed. Leaving, therefore, the political factions at Rome to exhaust themselves in petty strifes, Caesar in 58 B.C., 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. Caesar's first campaign was against the Helvetii, whom he totally defeated near Bibracte, (Autun.) Out of 368,000, only 110,000 remained. These were commanded by Caesar to return home and cultivate their lands. The eyes of the Gauls were now turned upon the new conqueror. His help was solicited, among others, by Divitiacus, an Aeduan chief. This involved Caesar in a second war with a German prince, named Ariovistus, who was utterly overthrown; and now Caesar, having in the course of one campaign successfully concluded two important wars, led his troops into winter quarters.

Next year (57 B.C.,) occurred the Belgic war, in which Caesar successively routed the Suessiones, Bellovaci, Ambiani and Nervii, who, alarmed at the progress of the Roman arms, had entered into an alliance against the invaders. When the Senate received Caesar's official dispatches, it decreed a thanksgiving of 15 days - an honor never previously granted to any general. During the winter and the spring following, Caesar stayed at Lucca; and after spending large sums of money in hospitality, and in other less praiseworthy purposes, he departed for Gaul, where the flames of war had burst out in the Northwest. The Venetii, a maritime people of Brittany, were the chief instigators of the insurrection. Caesar's plans were laid with consummate skill, and were crowned with the most splendid success. The Venetii were totally defeated, and most of the other Gallic tribes were either checked or subdued. Caesar wintered in the country of the Aulerci and Lexovii (Normandy,) having in the course of three campaigns, conquered Gaul. Next year (55 B.C.) Crassus went to Syria and Pompey to Spain, while Caesar's provincial government was prolonged for five years. He now undertook a campaign against two German tribes, who were about to enter Gaul. He was again sucessful; and pursuing the fleeing enemy across the Rhine, spent eighteen days in plundering the district inhabited by the Sigambri. He next invaded Britain, about the autumn; but after a brief stay 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 thanksgiving of 20 days. In 54 B.C., Caesar 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 to recover their independence. An insurrection broke out in the northeast of Gaul, which was at first partially successful, but was ultimately crushed. Caesar resolved to winter at Samarobrira, (Amiens,) in the vicinity of the malcontents. In 53 B.C., he commenced his sixth campaign. It was chiefly occupied in crushing a second insurrection of the Gauls.

Caesar now returned to Northern Italy, that he might be able to communicate more easily with his friends at Rome. That city was gradually becoming more anarchic; the evils of weak government more apparent; the hour for decisive action seemed approaching, and doubtless Caesar's heart beat with the expectation of the mighty future, when all at once the plot that fate was weaving in his favor, appeared to be completely marred by a tremendous rebellion over the whole of Gaul, headed by a young warrior named Vercingetorix. It was in the dead of winter when the news came to Caesar, who instantly saw that, at all hazards, he must preserve his fame and his army. Leaving, therefore, Pompey 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 other troops, the mountains of Auverge, 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 what Caesar wished. After some wonderful exhibitions of military skill, and numerous successes, Vercingetorix was shut up in Alesia, (Alise in Burgundy,) with all his infantry. Caesar besieged him, and though harrassed by nearly 300,000 Gauls without, who attempted, but in vain, to break through the well defended Roman lines, forced Vercingetorix to capitulate. There can be no doubt, that at this moment he was the most popular man in the state, while his soldiers were devoted to him with a loyalty as enthusiastic as that which Bonaparte inspired when fresh from his Italian victories.

Meantime, Pompey, whose vanity could not bear the greatness of Caesar, had been gradually veering round again to the aristocracy, whose dread of the new conqueror was hourly increasing. After much futile diplomatic finessing on both sides, the Senate carried a motion. "that Ceesar 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, Mark Antony and Q. Cassius, put their veto on this motion; but they were violently driven out of the Senate chambers and fearing for their lives fled to Caesar's camp. The Senate, in the madness of their terror, now declared war, and entrusted the conduct of it to Pompey, whose pride in the invincibility of his military prowess, hindered him from taking the necessary measures for the defence of the state. Caesar, on the other hand, preceiving that the time for decisive action had at length come, harangued his victorius 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, towards Rome. Pompey fled to Brundusium, pursued by Caesar, but contrived to reach Greece in safety, 17th March 49 B.C. The Italian cities had everywhere gladly opened their gates to the conqueror as a deliverer. In three months Caesar was master of all Italy.

Caesar next subdued Pompey's legates in Spain, who were at the head of considerable forces. Pompey, now thoroughly alive to the magnitude of his danger, had gathered in Egypt, Greece and the East, a powerful army, while his fleet swept the sea. Caesar, however, crosslng the Adriatic at an unexpected season, made a rush for Dyrrhachium, where Pompey's stores were, but was nevertheless, outstripped by his opponent. Pompey entrenched his army on some high ground near the city, where he was besieged by Caesar. The first encounter was favorable to Pompey, who drove back Caesar's legions with much loss. The latter now retreated to Thessaly, followed by his exulting enemies. A second battle occurred on the plains of Pharsalia, 9th August, 48 B.C. Pompey's army was utterly routed; Pompey himself fled to Egypt where he was murdered.

No sooner had the news reached Rome than Caesar was again appointed dictator for a year, and Consul for five years. 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 "Alexandrian War," in which he was successful, and which he brought to a close in March 47 B.C. He next overthrew a son of Mithridates, near Zela, in Pontus, August 2nd of the same year, and arrived in Rome in September. He was again appointed dictator, and the property of Pompey 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, 6th April, 46 B.C. Cato commited suicide at Utica, and with such irresistable celerity was the work of subjugation carried on, that by the end of summer Caesar was again in Rome. Now occurred that display of noble and wise generosity, which proves Coesar to have been possessed of a 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 Caesarians. His victories in Gaul, Egypt, Pontus and Africa, were celebrated by four great triumphs, during which the whole Roman populace was feasted and feted by the magnificent liberality of the dictator.

He now proceeded to check, by wholesome enactment, as far as in him lay, the social evils which had long flourished in the city. During the year 46 B.C., also he conferred a benefit on Rome and on the world by the reformation of the calendar, which had been greatly abused by the pontificial college for political purposes. After quelling an insurrection which now broke out in Spain, where Pompey's sons, Cneius and Sextus; had collected an army, he received the title of "Father of his Country," and also of Imperator, was made dictator for life, Consul for l0 years; his person was declared sacred and even divine; he obtained a body guard of Knights and Senators; his statue was placed in the temples; his portrait was struck on the coins; the month Quintilius was named 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 0stia, to dig a canal through the Isthmus of Corinth, and to quell the insurrection of the barbarians on the eastern frontier: but in the midst of these vast designs he was cut off by assassination on the Ides (15) of March, 44 B.C. The details of this crime - the greatest disaster that could have befallen the Roman world as subsequent events showed - are too familiar to require narration.

Caesar, 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 the most vigorous health. 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 equalled in simplicity and vigor of style, and in the truthfulness in which he narrates events of which he was an eye witness. He was in addition, 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; but we still possess his invaluable Commentarii, (generally known as "Caesars' Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars."