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Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon

The next popular hero was one of the greatest soldiers who ever lived. This was Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.), a nephew of Marius, and father-in-law of Pompey.

"Sprung from one of the oldest noble families of Latium -- which traced back its lineage to the heroes of the Iliad and the kings of Rome -- he spent the years of his boyhood and early manhood as the genteel youth of that epoch were wont to spend them. He had tasted the sweetness as well as the bitterness of the cup of fashionable life, had recited and declaimed, had practised literature and made verses in his idle hours, and learnt all the mysteries of shaving, curls, and ruffles pertaining to the toilette-wisdom of the day, as well as into the far more mysterious art of always borrowing and never paying.

"In fencing and in riding he was a match for any of his soldiers, and his swimming saved his life at Alexandria; the rapidity of his journeys, which usually, for the sake of gaining time, were performed by night, was not the least among the causes of his success. The mind was like the body. His memory was matchless, and it was easy for him to carry on several occupations at the same time. Although a gentleman, a man of genius, and a monarch, he had still a heart. So long as he lived he cherished the purest veneration for his worthy mother (his father having died early); to his wives, and above all to his daughter, he devoted an honourable affectdon."

Julius Caesar had served as a soldier in Asia, and had been honoured for his bravery. He had gained great fame as an orator when speaking against the greed of a Roman governor. And yet this was an age of great orators, for Cicero, the most famous of them all, delivered some of his most important speeches at this time. Once Caesar was taken by pirates, and he determined he would one day capture and crucify them -- and he did. He held all the great offices in Rome, one after the other.

But he knew he must have an army to raise him to the chief power, and he now saw a great chance in the West, as Pompey had had his opportunity in the East. So Caesar got a law passed which made him governor of "Gaul" on both sides of the Alps.

In eight years (58-50 B.C.) Caesar subdued Gaul (on the other side of the Alps) from the Atlantic to the Rhine, and he found time twice to visit Britain. Thus he added the vast territory which is now France and Belgium to the Roman Empire, and ever since his time the culture of Gaul (or France) has been mainly Latin.

Now Pompey, who commanded the senate's armies, became jealous of his father-in-law. The senate ordered Caesar to break up his great army, or to become an outlaw. But Caesar refused, and decided to take the fatal step of crossing the Rubicon, the little river that separated his Gallic "province" from the road to Rome. He was received in triumph by the people. Pompey fled from Rome. Caesar was made consul (49 B.C.). Then he captured Pompey's army in Spain, crossed to Greece, and defeated him. Pompey fled to Egypt, and there he was treacherously murdered.

In three years Caesar made himself master of the Mediterranean world. In Egypt he visited the beautiful Cleopatra, the last of the Greeks to rule Egypt after the break-up of Alexander's Empire. While he was in Egypt a mob attacked him, and the great library of Alexandria was burnt. From Asia Minor he sent his famous report to the senate: "I came, I saw, I conquered" (Veni, vidi, vici).

And so Caesar made himself the first sole master of the Roman-Greek world. He was offered the royal diadem, but refused it, and he was murdered on the Ides (15th) of March (44 B.C.) by Brutus, Cassius, and others, who hated the name and power of kings. Thus ended the long tragedy of the great patriotic reformers of Rome, from the Gracchi down to Julius Caesar.