Gaius Iulius Caesar

--Reproduced in its entirety from "Introduction", Caesar's Gallic War, ed. Francis W. Kelsey, Allyn & Bacon: Boston, 1897.


I. Life of Caesar
II. Caesar as a General
III. Caesar as a Politician
IV. Caesar as a Man of Letters
V. The Portraits of Caesar

I. Life of Caesar

   Gaius Iulius Caesar was born July 12, in the year 100 before Christ [Some scholars put the date two years earlier. Cf. Mommsen, "History of Rome," (ed. of 1895), vol. iv., pp. 278-280.], being thus six years younger than Cicero and Pompey. His family belonged to the old nobility, the patrician order, and several of his ancestors had won distinction in the service of the state; but his father had held no higher office than that of praetor. His mother was Aurelia, a woman of strong character, who watched carefully over the education of her children. Of his early youth nothing is known except that he was taught at his own home by Gnipho, an accomplished man of Gallic descent, and dabbled in verse-making. As his parents were wealthy, we may suppose that he received under private masters the usual training of the time in Greek and Latin, numbers, music, and physical exercises.
   Caesar's life was cast in a period fraught with great changes for the Roman state. The former adjustment of authorities, the old-time balancing of the elements of power that had brought to Rome both strength and security, had given place to violent party strifes, which threatened the very existence of the government. The city was crowded with turbulent throngs of poor citizens, who received grain from the public treasury at a rate much below cost, and were easily bribed by men desiring political elevation. With this needy populace all those of humbler station sympathized and voted; thus the bulk of the popular party was made up. Opposed to this was the old aristocracy, which jealously guarded its ancient privileges. Its stronghold was the Senate. Besides these parties there were the capitalists, who wielded great influence and sided sometimes with the one, sometimes with the other, as self-interest directed. Amid intrigues for power, things had come to such a pass that any great and successful party leader had matters all his own way and might become virtually supreme. Notwithstanding the risk and uncertainty, politics were thought the only field of activity not beneath the dignity of a young Roman of standing.
   When Caesar became old enough to take an active interest in public affairs, Marius, his uncle by marriage, was at the head of the popular party, and with this party his lot was naturally cast. In 83 B.C. he married the daughter of Lucius Cinna, one of the bitterest opponents of the aristocracy. The following year Sulla returned from a series of victories in the East and restored the power of the Senate, wreaking vengeance upon all its political enemies. Caesar was bidden to put away his wife. He refused, and his life was endangered. He disguised himself and went into hiding in the Sabine mountains, once indeed purchasing his life from an emissary of Sulla, who had tracked him out. After a time, through influential friends, pardon was obtained from Sulla, who is said to have granted it with the remark that in Caesar there were many Mariuses. Caesar soon left Italy, to serve with the army in Asia in the war with Mithridates. At the siege of Mytilene (B.C. 80) he distinguished himself by saving the life of a Roman citizen, receiving a civic crown as a reward of merit. Afterwards he served with Publius Servilius Isauricus in a campaign against the Cilician pirates.
   Returning to Rome, after Sulla's death (B.C. 78), he accused of extortion in provincial management first Gnaeus Dolabella, who had been proconsul in Macedonia, and afterwards Gaius Antonius, who had plundered Greece. At that time the bringing of delinquent officials to justice was a common way of introducing one's self to public notice. Though both Dolabella and Antonius were acquitted, Caesar showed great oratorical power, and in prosecuting them attracted much attention. Wishing to perfect himself in oratory, in 76 he set out for Rhodes, to study under Molo. Near Miletus his vessel was captured by pirates; he was kept a prisoner on the island of Pharmacusa until a ransom of fifty talents (more than fifty-six thousand dollars) was paid. But as soon as he was set free he manned some ships, took the pirate stronghold, and crucified his captors,--as when with them he had jokingly told them that he would do.
   During the next sixteen years Caesar followed the regular course of political promotion, neglecting no means by which he might make himself popular. He bestowed gifts with a lavish hand, assumed the debts of bankrupt young nobles who had squandered their inheritance, gave largesses to the people. As his own means were soon exhausted, he borrowed large sums at exorbitant rates of interest, with the design of getting reimbursement from the spoils of office. According to Plutarch his indebtedness, before he held a single office, had reached the enormous sum of thirteen hundred talents, about a million and a half of dollars. In 68 he was quaestor, going with Antistius Vetus into Spain. In 65 he was curule aedile, with Bibulus as colleague. In this office, by most extravagant expenditures on public games and buildings, he raised the enthusiasm of the populace to the highest pitch. He even dared by night to set up in the Capitol the statue of Marius and some trophies of victories in the Jugurthine and Cimbrian wars, which had been thrown down by Sulla seventeen years before; and the people wept for joy at the revival of old memories. He secured so many gladiators for public shows that the Senate became alarmed, on account of the presence of so great an armed force, and passed a law restricting the number; but he nevertheless exhibited three hundred and twenty pairs, all resplendent in silver armor.
   It is generally believed that Caesar was connected with the Catilinarian conspiracy of 65 B.C., if not also with that of 63; but the evidence is meagre. In 62 he had the office of praetor, in the discharge of which amid scenes of violence, he carried himself with firmness and dignity. The next year he was propraetor in Further Spain, where he won distinction by subduing several tribes along the Atlantic in Gallaecia and Lusitania. Returning to Rome in the summer of 60, with abundant means of satisfying his creditors, he was decreed a public thanksgiving for his victories, and was soon elected consul for the year 59.
   For some years Pompey had been the most prominent man in Rome. His successes in the campaign against the pirates and the war with Mithridates hade made him the national hero. But in the qualities needful for a political leader he was utterly lacking; so that even from his own party, the aristocratic, he was unable to win either the recognition he desired or the privileges to which he was entitled. More than once the Senate snubbed him outright. Here Caesar saw his chance. Relying on his own popularity, he proposed to Pompey that they work in harmony, and by uniting their influence accomplish what either might desire. Pompey agreed; and with these two, Crassus, the wealthiest man of Rome, was joined, making a political coalition really supreme, which is known as the First Triumvirate. It had no official existence; it was simply a political ring, of only three members but on unlimited power. To cement the union further, Pompey married Caesar's own daughter Julia. During his consulship, among other measures, Caesar caused a law to be passed regarding the division of the public lands, which, though bitterly opposed by the Senate, pleased the people greatly. With his aid, too, Pompey gained the favors previously denied. At the close of his consulship, as it was the custom to give ex-consuls the charge of provinces, Caesar easily obtained for five years the government of both Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum, together with the part of Transalpine Gaul previously subued, "the Province."
   Caesar now devoted himself to the conquest of Transalpine Gaul beyond "the Province." The first summer (B.C. 58) he drove back to their homes the Helvetii, who had attempted to migrate to the west of Gaul, and annihilated the army of the German king, Ariovistus. The following year he subdued the Belgic States in the north. The third campaign (B.C. 56) was against the peoples of north-west Gaul, that had leagued together to resist him. This year at Luca Caesar renewed his compact with Pompey and Crassus, who agreed to see to it that his command should be extended for five years longer. A part of every winter except one (54-53), he spent in Cisalpine Gaul, so as to be near Rome and retain his influence in home politics: it was against the law that a provincial governor having any army should enter Italy while in office. In 55 Caesar chastised several German tribes, and crossed over to Britain. The campaign of the next summer was principally against the Britons, part of whom he reduced to nominal subjection. In the fall a division of his army in Belgium, under the command of Sabinus and Cotta, was cut off by a sudden uprising of the enemy. In 53 Caesar had to face a general rebellion of the subject states, which, however, he speedily crushed. But the next year almost all Gaul rose against him, and under the leadership of Vercingetorix taxed his powers to the utmost. He finally prevailed; and after the fall of Alesia (B.C. 52), the strength of the Gauls was forever broken. In the eighth campaign, summer of 51, the states that had not submitted were one by one reduced to complete subjection. The following spring Caesar left his army and went into Cisalpine Gaul. Here he resolved to remain till the expiration of his command in 49, returning to Transalpine Gaul only for a short time during the summer to review the troops.
   During Caesar's absence in Gaul Crassus had been defeated and killed in the East, thus putting an end to the Triumvirate, and with it to the harmony between Caesar and Pompey. The latter began to view Caesar's successes with distrust and alarm. He entered into alliance again with the aristocracy. The Senate in Pompey's interest passed a decree that he and Caesar should each give up a legion for service in the East. Since 53 Caesar had had one of Pompey's legions: this was now demanded back. Caesar let it go, and one of his own too, without a complaint, although the intent of the whole action was evidently to weaken his forces and annoy him. As it was not lawful for him to proceed in person to Rome, he stationed himself in Ravenna, the town of his province nearest the Italian boundary. He sent agents and friends to the City to negotiate for him, to try and offset the influence now openly brought to bear against him. Pompey and the Senate both hated and feared him. A decree was passed that Caesar should disband his army by a certain date, or be considered an outlaw. In the state of public affairs at that time this was simply to wrest from him the fruits of his hard-won successes, without leaving him even a guaranty of his personal safety. Caesar hesitated. The Senate voted further, that the consuls should "provide that the state receive no hurt," which is like a proclamation of martial law in our day. This was virtually a declaration of war against Caesar, inspired by the jealousy of his opponent. With one legion he at once crossed the Rubicon, the boundary of his province. Soon all Italy was in his power,--Pompey, the Senate, and their followers having fled to Greece. After arranging matters at Rome to suit himself he went to Spain, where lieutenants devoted to Pompey had a strong army. They were quickly crushed, the main force being captured near Ilerda (Aug. 2, B.C. 49). On his return Massilia (Marseilles), which had closed its gates to him on the way out, and had been besieged with great energy in his absence by Decimus Brutus, gave itself into his hands.
   Caesar now gathered his forces in Greece, to meet his enemies there. For some time the two armies faced each other at Dyrrhachium; but Caesar was soon obliged to withdraw into the interior. The decisive battle was fought August 9, B.C. 48, near the city of Pharsalus, in Thessaly. Caesar's forces numbered about twenty-two thousand men, with one thousand cavalry; Pompey had forty-seven thousand infantry, seven thousand cavalry, and some light-armed troops. But superior generalship and the courage of desperation won the day against overwhelming odds. The Senatorial forces were entirely routed. Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was treacherously murdered. Caesar also went to Egypt, where he became involved in difficulties known as the Alexandrine War. Putting an end to these, and to some disturbances in Asia Minor, he proceeded to the neighborhood of Carthage, where Cato and Scipio had raised a force against him. He won a complete victory over them at the battle of Thaspus, April 6, B.C. 46.
   Caesar was now everywhere master. In accordance with legal forms he promulgated several laws of great benefit to the people. He reformed the calendar; in memory of this, the name of the month in which he was born was changed from Quintilis to Iulius, our July. In 45 a large army was collected in Spain, and commanded by the two sons of Pompey. Caesar marched against it, and at the battle of Munda (March 17) totally defeated it. On his return to Rome the Senate, whose members were mainly of his own choosing, loaded him with honors. By conferring upon him all the important offices it centred the whole authority in his hands. His tenure of power was marked by clemency towards former opponents, and by the forming of great projects for the public weal, few of which were ever realized. A league was formed to take his life. The conspirators were led to the crime by different motives, part by personal jealousy and hatred, part by a patriotic desire to restore the old republican constitution in full force, part by ambitious designs upon the spoils of office. So on March 15, B.C. 44, as Caesar had just entered the hall where the Senate met, near Pompey's Theatre, he was set upon by daggers, and fell, pierced by twenty-three wounds, at the foot of a state of his vanquished rival. But the plans of the murderers all miscarried. It is said that not one of them died a natural death; and before many years Caesar's nephew and heir, Octavianus, afterwards called Augustus, was Emperor of the Roman world.

   Caesar was tall and of commanding presence. His features were angular and prominent.He had a fair complexion, with keen, expressive black eyes. In later years he was bald; at no time of life did he wear a beard. Though endowed with a constitution naturally by no means robust, he became inured to hardship, and exhibited astonishing powers of endurance. In matters of dress he was particular to the verge of effeminacy. His private life was not free from the vices of his time.
   Of all the Romans Caesar was without doubt the greatest. In him the most varied talents were united with a restless ambition and tireless energy. While deliberate and far-seeing in forming his plans, in carrying them out he often acted with a haste that seemed like utter recklessness. He could command, and witness unmoved, scenes of the most shocking cruelty; yet none could be more forgiving, or more gracious in granting pardon. Believing, with the Epicurean philosophy, that death ends all and life is worth living only for the pleasure to be gotten out of it, he mingled freely with the dissolute society of Rome; yet when it was time for action he spurned indulgences, gave himself to the severest toil, endured without a murmur the most trying privations. Although denying the power of the gods, he became a priest of Jupiter early in life, and in 63 B.C. sought and obtained the office of Supreme Pontiff, which placed him at the head of the Roman religious system. But in regard to all these things we may say that his faults were those he shared in common with his age; his genius belongs to all ages. Chateaubriand declares that Caesar was the most complete man of all history; for his genius was transcendent in three directions, in politics, in war, and in literature. Let us try to form some estimate of this threefold life-work by considering him specially as a General, as a Politician, and as a Man of Letters.

II. Caesar as a General

   Caesar was the greatest general Rome produced. His military genius did not display itself, as did that of Hannibal or Napoleon, in strategic innovation of the introduction of new tactics; but taking the Roman art of war as he found it, he brought it to the highest perfection. The Romans, at all periods in their history, relied for victory not so much on brilliant feats in arms as on the rigid discipline, power of endurance, and persistent courage of their soldiers. In Caesar's ability to make his men do more and endure more for him than they would under any one else lies a chief secret of his success. He had the rare power of binding his army to him with a devotion that nothing could destroy. In almost every campaign he fought against vastly superior numbers and the most serious disadvantages. For his troops there were long marches, heavy burdens, the constant labor of fortifying, well-grounded fears of the enemy often increased tenfold by exaggeration; yet confidence in their leader inspired them with ever fresh zeal, and his addresses from time to time, reminding them of what he expected of them, fired their courage to the utmost. To this unflagging faithfulness, this unswerving allegiance to him and his cause that he had the faculty of calling forth, fully as much as to skilful handling of forces on the field of battle, his victories were due.
   The longer men served under Caesar the more confidence he placed in them; and he did not hesitate to tell them how much he relied on them. Instances of special courage on the part of legions, battalions, or individuals, he made note of, and commended. He made his men think that he was personally interested in each one,--just as Napoleon used to go among the common soldiers and inquire into their welfare. He knew his centurions by name, and once at least when the battle was hottest he rushed into the ranks and called out to them individually, urging to greater effort; at the battle of the Sambre he seized a shield from a common soldier, and fought in the front rank.
   In campaigns Caesar was most careful of the lives of his men, never exposing them to unnecessary risks. Slight delinquencies of conduct he often overlooked; but his general system of discipline was most strict. Active warfare was confined almost entirely to the summer months. During the winter the troops were placed in stationary quarters, where they were kept from idleness by constant drilling. These winter camps, though often distributed about the enemy's country, were nevertheless located away from cities, that the soldiers might not lose their discipline by being brought under corrupting influences, or form attachments with those in whose region they were placed. In this way Caesar avoided one of the fatal mistakes of Hannibal, who in the winter allowed his army to revel in the luxuries of South Italy. No matter how well trained a force may be, in a campaign of hard fighting it becomes demoralized, partly by reason of the gaps in the ranks caused by losses, partly on account of irregularity of movement and constant effort toward adaptation to new circumstances. Caesar made his winter encampments a source of fresh strength. From them his soldiers went forth with recruited powers, confident from the experience of past campaigns, and hardened by training. Thus Caesar "made his army, as it were a body, of which he was the soul."
   The military movements of Caesar, as of Napoleon, were characterized by an incredible swiftness. He often appeared in the vicinity of the enemy, or gained possession of important points, before the news had spread that he was on the march. Thus he not infrequently caught his adversaries unawares, found them with scattered forces, and gained a victory before they could come together. As a consequence, in many cases a panic was excited that paralyzed the efforts of the foe and resulted in greater advantage to Caesar than the winning of several battles. When he felt himself too weak in numbers to assume the offensive with the force at hand, he would gain time by parleying, declaring that he must have opportunity for deliberation, while in reality he was awaiting reinforcements, or completing preparations for active measures. Like Grant, he had the power of keeping to himself his designs. His most trusted officers rarely knew his plans till called upon to execute them. He seems to have thought that the best way to assure the secrecy of a project was to carry it out as soon as formed. So his movements often appeared rash; but in the end results revealed his superior judgment and foresight.
   No matter how rapidly Caesar advanced, he was always careful to keep up connection with his base of supplies. For these he relied in the Gallic War partly on "the Province," partly on friendly tribes, and partly on the hostile region through which he was marching. That there might be no failure in the regular transportation of supplies to the front he took every precaution. He left no points in possession of the foe behind him; he so secured the route by garrisons at strategic points that in case of defeat he could retreat in safety. Thus, instead of crossing the Rhine by boats, as he could easily have done, he built bridges each time, and left them strongly guarded while he went over into Germany. Once sufficiently near the enemy, his usual practice was to choose immediately a favorable location and fortify a camp. Then by sallies with cavalry he tried to cut off the supplies of the enemy and force them to attack him on his own ground. In this respect his tactics were defensive rather than offensive, and uniformly successful. Sometimes by a feigned retreat, or by marching to one side of the direct route, he drew the enemy away from a point he wished to take, then by a reverse movement fell on it suddenly before they could come to the rescue. He never stopped to besiege a town if he could well avoid it, knowing that a crushing defeat in the field opens the gates of cities. Yet no one was more skilled in the conducting of operations against fortified places than he. The siege of Alesia was one of the most remarkable recorded in history.
   None understood better than Caesar how to follow up a victory and turn it to the best advantage. In pursuit of the fleeing he sent detachments of cavalry, and on all sides struck heavy blows before the enemy could gather again or get new courage. Occasionally he authorized indiscriminate slaughter, or the general sale of captives into slavery; but he was not cruel by nature, and in making slaves of those he spared by the sword, he acted in accordance with the universal custom of antiquity. In the Civil War he was more compassionate toward the vanquished men than any of his contemporaries. In the Gallic War, on conquering a state he usually took under his protection one of the parties in it, placing it in charge of the government, thus binding it to himself by strong ties. His organizing power displayed itself in bringing order out of chaos; while his firmness and moderation won the respect, if not the esteem, of those whom he had made subject. When he left Gaul and engaged in the war with Pompey, the country was not only once for all subdued, but even contained a strong party devoted to his interests.
   The military successes of Caesar have sometimes been attributed to the lack of generalship on the part of his adversaries. This is not just. To say nothing of the fact that in the civil strifes the best warriors of Rome were pitted against him, two at least of his northern foes, Ariovistus and Vercingetorix, were men of great natural powers of organization and leadership, consummate masters of the tactics with which they are familiar. The numbers of the barbarian armies were almost beyond compute, their courage well-nigh invincible. From traditions of Gallic invasions the Gauls had become the terror of the Roman soldiery. They were by no means the undiciplined savages that they are sometimes thought to have been; in civilization they were far in advance of the early Britons and Germans. In the earlier campaigns they showed lack of military organization; but toward the end of the Gallic War their troops were organized, armed, and drilled after the Roman fashion, and proved almost a match for the invaders. Sometimes Caesar diminished the awe of his soldiers by trial skirmishes, that the mettle of the enemy might be tested, and the confidence of his army strengthened before the general engagement.
   No, the reasons for Caesar's pre-eminence as a general must be sought, not in the weakness of his enemies, but in himself, in his singular power of controlling and organizing men, in his quick and comprehensive grasp of circumstances and ready adaptation to them, in his knowledge of human nature as shown specially in his selection of officers, in his ability to make skilful use of the Roman tactics. But behind all these qualities there was another that defies analysis, that enabled him always to turn things to his own advantage: therein lay his genius. Many generals have studies Caesar's Memoirs very carefully as a military manual; Wellington carried a copy with him on his memorable campaign in India. As the greatest general among the Romans, Caesar takes rank aamong the most famous military leaders of the world. He will not suffer by comparison with Alexander the Great, with Hannibal and Napoleon, Grant and Von Moltke; but the modern warrior whose qualities of leadership and generalship most resemble Caesar's is England's "Iron Duke," Wellington.

III. Caesar as a Politician

   The political character of Caesar has long been a subject of controversy. According to some he was a monster of crime, with hardly a redeeming quality, deliberately sacrificing the liberties of his country to an inordinate ambition. Others portray him as a broad-minded statesman, who saw that, in the anarchy arising from the strife of parties, Rome's great need was a single controlling will; who, to give peace and order to his distracted land, made himself its master. Both these views are extreme and unjust. The one emphasizes the destructive side of Caesar's character, while the constructive side is ignored; the other attributes to him that profound knowledge of the tendencies of the Roman state which students of history have been eighteen centuries in acquiring. His character presents, indeed, many apparently conflicting elements. But upon careful study it is evident that in the main he acted in accordance with the spirit of his age; that though his motives may not always have been patriotic, he was in reality a benefactor of his country; and that the true significance of his career becomes apparent only when it is considered as the final outworking of a principle which in times past had been asserting itself more and more in Roman politics,--the principle of Imperialism.
   In entering the arena of political life Caesar no doubt both followed his own inclinations and chose the course reckoned most proper for a Roman youth of fortune and high position. At that time, owing to the proscriptions of Sulla, there was in the popular party a dearth of leaders,--a condition which gave ample room for the exercise of his powers. The methods which he employed to make himself the people's favorite were in the highest degree objectionable, if judged by modern standards. Still, they were the usual methods of his time; while in restoring the trophies of Marius to the Capitol he showed a deep insight into the real feelings of the masses as well as a knowledge of the ways of reaching the popular heart. Few of his contemporaries had so great regard for the formalities of the law as he; he avoided unlawful means. At the trial of the Catilinarian conspirators he argued on legal grounds that the accused should not be put to death. The formation of the First Triumvirate was a shrewd move, fraught with momentous consequences. It reveals rare sagacity and foresight; but it had no more and no less significance than the forming of political rings to secure the rewards of office in our day. It proposed not to subvert but to direct the government, and at the same time to turn to private advantage the influence and emoluments of official positions.
   The means by which Caesar was enabled finally to obtain the supreme power was the conquest of Gaul. From early times the Gauls, pressed by the tribes beyond, had occasionally made incursions into Italy; and now Roman colonists in "the Province" were not infrequently threatened. To protect these the rest of Transalpine Gaul must be subdued. It has been said that caesar undertook the task of bringing Gaul into subjection in order to acquire a military power with which to overthrow the home government. But how could he expect, in the subduing of a rough northern country, to develop a force able to cope with a government that had behind it Pompey, conqueror of rich provinces in the East? More likely he planned the Gallic campaigns as an important service to the State. If he should be successful in carrying them out, he would gain still a higher place in the affections of the people, and would add one more laurel to his political honors. Because his remarkable ability as a general rapidly won for him extraordinary successes, which he afterwards employed to further his own ends, we are not warranted in assuming that his aim from the beginning was to obtain the supreme power, and that the conquest of Gaul was the means he took to accomplish it.
   The death of Crassus left Pompey and Caesar without rivals in political power. The latter, as master of Gaul, found himself much more nearly on a level with the "great man of Rome" than ever before. A mutual jealousy soon provoked a collision. Pompey undoubtedly had the advantage; for while he was administering a powerful command in Spain through his lieutenants, he was in person at Rome, at the centre of affairs, acting as sole consul by the desire of the people; but Caesar was outside the limits of Italy. As a matter of fact, Rome was under Pompey's control. So it was at Pompey's bidding that the Senate ordered Caesar to disband his legions and resign his command. Caesar was placed in a difficult position. In obeying this decree he would give up everything to his opponent and make himself a political cipher, with but small prospect of ever regaining his former influence. His enemies had woven a net around him. In refusing to obey he would give to the Senate a chance to declare him a traitor, and to his adversary an opportunity of attacking him in the name of the State. Yet simple justice required that all which might be demanded of the one should be demanded of the other also. So at least Caesar thought; and he acted accordingly. If he had previously fought for fame and influence, he must now fight for self-preservation. An appeal to arms was his only means of defence. Delay was dangerous; and he decided on immediate action. If an appeal to arms against the existing authority is ever justifiable in the case of an individual, the crossing of the Rubicon, the first aggressive step of the movement which resulted in Caesar's elevation to supreme power, was attended at least by palliating circumstances.
   But in this contest there was a deeper significance than the elevation or overthrow of an individual. Whoever conquered would be king. There were certain tendencies in the Roman state that rendered a monarchy inevitable. Rome was at first a municipality; her government, a group of institutions developed by and adapted to a city population. When she extended her boundaries she conquered cities, and her government thus had to deal with a collection of municipal organizations similar to her own. The consequence was a constant tendency toward disintegration,--toward the separation of this combination of units into its original elements. Opposed to this localizing tendency there was necessarily developed a contrary drift toward centralization. It was found that a body composed of many inharmonious members needed a single will. In times of extreme danger the state was obliged to put almost absolute power into the hands of a dictator. The people thus became familiar with the prerogatives of royalty under a different name. Meanwhile the influx of wealth after the period of conquest, the development of large landed estates which absorbed the small farms of the peasant class, and the excessive employment of slave labor which was reducing the free classes within ever narrower limits, gave prominence to individual aspirants to power who made the state a republic only in name. Gaius Gracchus for a time held virtual sovereignty. Marius was supreme for five years. Sulla was as really a king as if he had worn the purple. Matters had at length come to such straits that the very existence of the state demanded a king. There was needed a strong, centralized government, capable of repressing anarchy at home and of enforcing respect abroad.
   The murder of Pompey left Caesar without a rival; and under the forms of the old constitution he became in truth monarch of Rome. Thus had he, who at first cherished no more ambitious aim than to become a political leader, risen by force of circumstances to the absolute mastery of the Roman world. His short administration revealed in him statesmanship of the highest order. Under him the state enjoyed a larger measure of prosperity than before for many decades; and his untimely end only renewed the political disturbances that he had sought to repress. Endowed with so deep insight into men and things, Caesar must have foreseen, faintly at first perhaps, but more and more distinctly as time passed on, what would be the end of the course he was pursuing,--as the traveller sees through the breaking mist the summit toward which the upward path is leading. We claim for him, however, that he did not definitely contemplate the subversion of the liberties of the Commonwealth; and that, guided by an overruling Providence, he accomplished an important work for the Roman state and for humanity. Certainly few men have left so strong an impress upon the history of the race as he. The calendar, as reformed by him, is still in use in Greece and Russia. His name became a designation of imperial authority in the Empire which he founded, and remains today in the word Kaiser, the official title of the emperors of Germany and Austria; some think also in the Russian Czar [All three positions which existed when this book was written.--Webmaster]. Political writers, too, use the word Caesarism. What a life, able not simply to make for itself a place in the records of history, but even to hand down a name as synonymous with the highest power!

IV. Caesar as a Man of Letters

   Caesar had a natural taste for literature. He enjoyed the best educational advantages of his time in rhetoric and elocution; but the freshness, directness, and vigor of his style indicate not so much careful training as an inborn power over language. As an orator he was considered second only to Cicero. It is to be regretted that none of his orations have come down to us; from the fragments that survive, we know that his manner of speaking was terse, logical, earnest, and convincing. Even during the busiest periods of his life he kept up literary pursuits. He composed a treatise on Latin grammar (De Analogia) in two books, in the course of a journey from Cisalpine Gaul across the Alps to the army. About the time of the battle of Munda he wrote a tract "Against Cato," also in two books (Anticatones); this was in answer to a panegyric by Cicero, and held the hero of Utica up to ridicule. An extensive treatise on astronomy passed under his name, and is several times cited by the elder Pliny. With the exception of a few fragments, all these works, as well as his poems and letters, have perished.
   Caesar's most important writings, which still survive, were the 'Commentaries on the Gallic War,' in seven books, describing the conquest of Gaul; and 'Commentaries on the Civil War,' in three books, giving an account of the struggle with Pompey. These works, as the name indiciates (Commentarii, that is, notes or comments, 'Memoirs'), were not intended to be formal historical treatises, but were written in great haste, and given to the world rather as condensed first droughts, as sketches in outline, than as complete and finished productions. The 'Gallic War' was probably written after the fall of Alesia, and published in 51 B.C., before the break with Pompey (Cf. Book VI., chap. i.; VII., chap. vi.); an eighth book was afterwards added to it by Aulus Hirtius. The 'Civil War' was left unfinished, and probably not published till after Caesar's death; it, too, was extended by others, who added narratives of his military operations in Egypt, Africa, and Spain.
   The style of the 'Memoirs' has alwasy been much admired. Cicero, although a political enemy of the author, did not hesitate to say of them (Brut. lxxv. 262): "They are worthy of all praise. They are unadorned, straightforward, and elegant, every embellishment being stripped off as a garment. Caesar desired, indeed, to furnish others who might wish to write history with material upon which they might draw; and perhaps men without good taste, who like to deck out facts in tawdry graces of expression, may think that he has rendered a service in this regard, but he has deterred men of sound sense from trying to improve on them in writing. For in history a pure and brilliant conciseness of style is the highest attainable beauty." The manner of expression, although so condensed, is most clear, and often vivid. It stands as a warning to those who think that a simple, direct, and forcible statement of facts can be made more effective by the use of many words and high-sounding phrases. The same unaffected directness of language is a noticeable characteristic of Grant's memoirs.
   Although Caesar is everywhere, as a matter of course, the principal figure in the 'Memoirs,' he throws himself into the background, making prominent the deed rather than the doer. He speaks of himself usually in the third person,--a mode of expression as rare in personal narrative in his time as today, which made possible the belief, current in the Middle Ages, that the 'Memoirs' were written by Suetonius. More surprising still is the fact that one finds no bitter aspersions upon his enemies, no extravagant commendations of friends, no professedly special pleas to justify his course. The reasons for important movements are always stated, but in such a way that they seem to have grown out of the attendant circumstances, and to have on action; so that no man of discretion could have done otherwise than he did. In all this there is the highest skill. While keeping himself free from all expressions alike of malice and of self-glorification, he draws the reader along with him, arouses sympathy, and wins to his own view; thus he justifies his course tenfold more effectively than if he were to excite the reader's opposition of suspicion by violent statements, or had adopted a more direct way of pleading his cause. There can be little doubt that behind both the 'Gallic' and the 'Civil War' lay a political purpose, to set a favorable explanation of his career before the eyes of his fellow-countrymen and of posterity, and so to offset the malicious rumors about his acts persistently circulated by his enemies. But does this affect the truthfulness of his statements?
   In writing his 'Memoirs' Caesar had to deal with several classes of facts. First, especially in the 'Gallic War,' there was a fund of interesting information about the strange peoples with which he came in contact. many of these were previously unknown to the Romans. Caesar was a close and careful observer. He made minute inquiries not only into the numbers and military prowess of his foes, but also into their manner of life, their customs, and religious beliefs. In him, with the circumspection and foresight of the general, was united the eager desire for knowledge of the man of science. His nature was adverse to the marvellous. The pages of few ancient writers who present accounts of new peoples are so free from the improbable. Whenever possible he got his information directly, at first hand. In a few instances he seems to have become possessed or erroneous views; but as a whole his statements about lands and peoples are trustworthy. Then, there were the accounts of his military campaigns in the broad sense, of the general conduct of his campaigns. the accuracy of these has hardly been called in question; while the surveys and excavations carried on under the direction of the Emperor Napoleon III, have furnished in many cases a remarkable confirmation. Finally, there remain the more particular descriptions of battles, sieges, and the like; of successes and reverses. These affect reputation; here if anywhere we should look for untruthfulness. Did Caesar, as some have thought, magnify his victories and cover up his defeats? There is no evidence that he did. The tone throughout his works is candid and fair. Besides, with these things most of his readers were to some extent familiar by means of reports brought from the field. Falsifying under such circumstances would have been downright folly, would have excited all manner of derision, and have entirely defeated the writer's purposes. Probably Caesar now and then purposely omitted something: his reliability in general we have not the slightest reason to doubt. His statements of his motives of action in certain cases, bearing in mind the circumstances, we are at liberty to accept or reject as we choose; his veracity in regard to facts should not be impugned without good reason. From whatever point of view considered, his works are of great interest and value. The De Bello Gallico in particular deserves to be carefully studied, as a masterpiece of concise and spirited writing, as casting light upon the beginnings of the history of Northern Europe, and as revealing the modes of thought and action of one of the world's greatest men.

V. The Portraits of Caesar

   After Caesar became supreme, innumerable likenesses of him must have been made. Men ordered the erection of statues of him in all cities, and in all the temples of Rome; his features were stamped on coins and cut in gems. Of the many extant busts and statues bearing his name only a few can be considered genuine. Though the two best of these, a colossal bust at Naples and a large statue at Rome, have been somewhat restored, the expression of face has not been materially affected; a bust in the British Museum, representing Caesar at a somewhat later period of life, is singularly well preserved. In the statue he appears as commander, making an address to his troops. To judge from the manner of treatment, both this statue and the bust at Naples were made near the end of the first century A.D.


[ Home ]  [ Schedule ]  [ Events ] [ Members ]  [ Information ]  [ Audio ]  [ Biographies ]  [ Texts ]  [ Links ]