Roman Empire > Roman Empire History > From The Beginning Of The Second Civil War To Caesar's Death - b.C. 49-44

From The Beginning Of The Second Civil War To Caesar's Death - b.C. 49-44

As soon as Cæsar learned at Ravenna the last resolution of the Senate, he assembled his soldiers, informed them of the wrongs he had sustained, and called upon them to support him. Finding them quite willing to support him, he crossed the Rubicon, which separated his province from Italy, and occupied Ariminum, where he met with the Tribunes. He commenced his enterprise with only one legion, consisting of 5000 foot-soldiers and 300 horse; but others had orders to follow him from Transalpine Gaul, and he was well aware of the importance of expedition, that the enemy might have no time to complete their preparations. Though it was the middle of winter, he pushed on with the utmost rapidity, and such was the popularity of his cause in Italy, that city after city opened its gates to him, and his march was like a triumphal progress. Arretium, Pisaurum, Fanum, Ancona, Iguvium, and Auximum fell into his hands. These successes caused the utmost consternation at Rome; it was reported that Cæsar's cavalry were already at the gates; a general panic seized the Senate, and they fled from the city without even taking with them the money from the public treasury. Cæsar continued his victorious march through Picenum till he came to Corfinium, which M. Domitius Ahenobarbus held with a strong force; but, as Pompey did not march to his assistance, Domitius was unable to maintain the place, and fell himself into Cæsar's hands, together with several other Senators and distinguished men. Cæsar, with the same clemency which he displayed throughout the whole of the Civil War, dismissed them all uninjured. He then hastened southward in pursuit of Pompey, who had now resolved to abandon Italy. He reached Brundusium before Cæsar, but had not sailed when the latter arrived before the town. Cæsar straightway laid siege to the place, but Pompey abandoned it on the 17th of March, and embarked for Greece. Cæsar was unable to follow him for want of ships. He accordingly marched back from Brundusium, and repaired to Rome, having thus in three months become the master of the whole of Italy.

The only opposition which Cæsar met with in Rome was from L. Metellus the Tribune, who attempted to prevent him from entering the public treasury, though the people had given him permission to take from it as much money as he pleased. "Stand aside, young man," said Cæsar; "it is easier for me to do than to say" After remaining in the neighborhood of Rome for a short time, he set out for Spain, leaving M. Lepidus in charge of the city, and M. Antonius in command of the troops in Italy. He sent Curio to drive Cato out of Sicily, Q. Valerius to take possession of Sardinia, and C. Antonius to occupy Illyricum. Curio and Valerius obtained possession of Sicily and Sardinia without opposition; and the former then passed over into Africa, which was in possession of the Pompeian party. Here, however, he encountered strong opposition, and at length was defeated, and lost his life in a battle with Juba, king of Mauretania, who supported P. Atius Varus, the Pompeian commander. C. Antonius also met with ill success in Illyricum, for his army was defeated, and he himself taken prisoner. These disasters were more than counterbalanced by Cæsar's victories in the mean time in Spain. Leaving Rome about the middle of April, he found, on his arrival in Gaul, that Massilia refused to submit to him. He besieged the place forthwith, but, unable to take it immediately, he left C. Trebonius and D. Brutus, with part of his troops, to prosecute the siege, and continued his march to Spain. On the approach of Cæsar, L. Afranius and M. Petreius, the lieutenants of Pompey in Spain, united their forces, and took up a strong position near the town of Ilerda (Lerida, in Catalonia), on the right bank of the Sicoris (Segre). After experiencing great difficulties at first and some reverses, Cæsar at length reduced Afranius and Petreius to such straits that they were obliged to surrender. They themselves were dismissed uninjured, part of their troops disbanded, and the remainder incorporated among Cæsar's troops. The conqueror then proceeded to march against Varro, who commanded two legions in the Farther Province; but, after the victory over Afranius and Petreius, there was no army in Spain capable of offering resistance, and Varro accordingly surrendered to Cæsar on his arrival at Corduba (Cordova). Having thus subdued all Spain in forty days, he returned to Gaul. Massilia had not yet yielded; but the siege had been prosecuted with so much vigor, that the inhabitants were compelled to surrender the town soon after he appeared before the walls.

During his absence in Spain Cæsar was appointed Dictator by the Prætor M. Lepidus, who had been empowered to do so by a law passed for the purpose. On his return to Rome Cæsar assumed the new dignity, but laid it down again at the end of eleven days, after holding the Consular Comitia, in which he himself and P. Servilius Vatia were elected Consuls for the next year. But during these eleven days he caused some very important laws to be passed. The first was intended to relieve debtors, but at the same time to protect, to a great extent, the rights of creditors. He next restored all exiles; and, finally, he conferred the full citizenship upon the Transpadani, who had hitherto held only the Latin franchise.

After laying down the Dictatorship, Cæsar went in December to Brundusium, where he had previously ordered his troops to assemble. He had lost many men in the long march from Spain, and also from sickness arising from their passing the autumn in the south of Italy. Pompey during the summer had raised a large force in Greece, Egypt, and the East, the scene of his former glory. He had collected an army consisting of nine legions of Roman citizens, and an auxiliary force of cavalry and infantry; and his forces far surpassed in number those which Cæsar had assembled at Brundusium. Moreover, Pompey's fleet, under the command of Bibulus, Cæsar's colleague in his first Consulship, completely commanded the sea. Still Cæsar ventured to set sail from Brundusium on the 4th of January, and he arrived the next day in safety on the coast of Epirus. In consequence, however, of the small number of his ships, he was able to carry over only seven legions, which, from the causes previously mentioned, had been so thinned as to amount only to 15,000 foot and 500 horse. After landing this force he sent back his ships to bring over the remainder; but part of the fleet was intercepted in its return by M. Bibulus, who kept up such a strict watch along the coast that the rest of Cæsar's army was obliged for the present to remain at Brundusium. Cæsar was thus in a critical position, in the midst of the enemy's country, and cut off from the rest of his army; but he knew that he could thoroughly rely on his men, and therefore immediately commenced acting on the offensive. After gaining possession of Oricum and Apollonia, he hastened northward, in hopes of surprising Dyrrhachium, where all Pompey's stores were deposited; but Pompey, by rapid marches, reached this town before him, and both armies then encamped opposite to each other, Pompey on the right, and Cæsar on the left bank of the River Apsus. Cæsar was now greatly in want of re-enforcements, and such was his impatience that he attempted to sail across the Adriatic in a small boat. The waves ran so high that the sailors wanted to turn back, till Cæsar discovered himself, telling them that they earned Cæsar and his fortunes. They then toiled on, but the storm at length compelled them to return, and with difficulty they reached again the coast of Greece. Shortly afterward M. Antonius succeeded in bringing over the remainder of the army. Pompey meantime had retired to some high ground near Dyrrhachium, and, as he would not venture a battle with Cæsar's veterans, Cæsar began to blockade him in his position, and to draw lines of circumvallation of an extraordinary extent. They were nearly completed when Pompey forced a passage through them, and drove back Cæsar's legions with considerable loss. Cæsar thus found himself compelled to retreat from his present position, and accordingly commenced his march for Thessaly. Pompey's policy of avoiding a general engagement with Cæsar's veterans till he could place more reliance upon his own troops was undoubtedly a wise one, and had been hitherto crowned with success; but he was prevented from carrying out the prudent plan which he had formed for conducting the campaign. His camp was filled with a multitude of Roman nobles, unacquainted with war, and anxious to return to their estates in Italy and to the luxuries of the capital. His unwillingness to fight was set down to love of power and anxiety to keep the Senate in subjection. Stung with the reproaches with which he was assailed, and elated in some degree by his victory at Dyrrhachium, he resolved to bring the contest to an issue. Accordingly, he offered battle to Cæsar in the plain of Pharsalus, or Pharsalia, in Thessaly. The numbers on either side were very unequal: Pompey had 45,000 foot-soldiers and 7000 horse, Cæsar 22,000 foot-soldiers and 1000 horse. The battle, which was fought on the 9th of August, B.C. 48, according to the old calendar, ended in the total defeat of Pompey's army.

The battle of Pharsalia decided the fate of Pompey and the Republic. Pompey was at once driven to despair. He made no attempt to rally his forces, though he might still have collected a considerable army; but, regarding every thing as lost, he hurried to the sea-coast with a few friends. He embarked on board a merchant-ship at the mouth of the River Peneus, and first sailed to Lesbos, where he took on board his wife Cornelia, and from thence made for Cyprus. He now determined to seek refuge in Egypt, as he had been the means of restoring to his kingdom Ptolemy Auletes, the father of the young Egyptian monarch. On his death in B.C. 51 Ptolemy Auletes had left directions that his son should reign jointly with his elder sister Cleopatra. But their joint reign did not last long, for Ptolemy, or, rather, Pothinus and Achillas, his chief advisers, expelled his sister from the throne. Cleopatra collected a force in Syria, with which she invaded Egypt. The generals of Ptolemy were encamped opposite her, near Alexandria, when Pompey arrived off the coast and craved the protection of the young king. This request threw Pothinus and Achillas into great difficulty, for there were many of Pompey's old soldiers in the Egyptian army, and they feared he would become master of Egypt. They therefore determined to put him to death. Accordingly, they sent out a small boat, took Pompey on board with three or four attendants, and rowed for the shore. His wife and friends watched him from the ship, anxious to see in what manner he would be received by the king, who was standing on the edge of the sea with his troops. Just as the boat reached the shore, and Pompey was in the act of rising from his seat in order to step on land, he was stabbed in the back by Septimius, who had formerly been one of his centurions. Achillas and the rest then drew their swords; whereupon Pompey, without uttering a word, covered his face with his toga, and calmly submitted to his fate. He had just completed his 58th year. His head was cut off, and his body, which was cast naked upon the shore, was buried by his freedman Philippus, who had accompanied him from the ship. The head was brought to Cæsar when he arrived in Egypt soon afterward, but he turned away from the sight, shed tears at the untimely end of his rival, and put his murderers to death.

When news of the battle of Pharsalia reached Rome, various laws were passed which conferred supreme power upon Cæsar. Though absent, he was nominated Dictator a second time, and for a whole year. He appointed M. Antonius his master of the Horse; and entered upon the office in September of this year (B.C. 48). He was also nominated to the Consulship for the next five years, though he did not avail himself of this privilege; and he was invested with the tribunicial power for life.

Cæsar went to Egypt in pursuit of Pompey, and upon his arrival there he became involved in a war, which detained him several months, and gave the remains of the Pompeian party time to rally and to make fresh preparations for continuing the struggle. The war in Egypt, usually called the Alexandrine War, arose from Cæsar's resolving to settle the disputes respecting the succession to the kingdom. He determined that Cleopatra, whose fascinations completely won his heart, and her brother Ptolemy, should reign in common, according to the provisions of their father's will; but as this decision was opposed by the guardians of the young king, a war broke out between them and Cæsar, in which he was for some time exposed to great danger on account of the small number of his troops. But, having received re-enforcements, he finally prevailed, and placed Cleopatra and her younger brother on the throne, the elder having perished in the course of the contest. Cleopatra afterward joined Cæsar at Rome, and bore him a son named Cæsarion.

After bringing the Alexandrine War to a close, toward the end of March, B.C. 47, Cæsar marched through Syria into Pontus in order to attack Pharnaces, the son of the celebrated Mithridates, who had defeated Cn. Domitius Calvinus, one of Cæsar's lieutenants. This war, however, did not detain him long; for Pharnaces, venturing to come to an open battle with the Dictator, was utterly defeated on the 2d of August near Zela. It was in reference to this victory that Cæsar sent the celebrated laconic dispatch to the Senate, Veni, vidi, vici, "I came, I saw, I conquered" He then proceeded to Rome, caused himself to be appointed Dictator for another year, and nominated M. Æmilius Lepidus his Master of the Horse. At the same time he quelled a formidable mutiny of his troops which had broken out in Campania.

Cæsar did not remain in Rome more than two or three months. With his usual activity and energy he set out to Africa before the end of the year (B.C. 47), in order to carry on the war against Scipio and Cato, who had collected a large army in that country. Their forces were far greater than those which Cæsar could bring against them; but he had too much reliance on his own genius to be alarmed by mere disparity of numbers. At first he was in considerable difficulties; but, having been joined by some of his other legions, he was able to prosecute the campaign with more vigor, and finally brought it to a close by the battle of Thapsus, on the 6th of April, B.C. 46, in which the Pompeian army was completely defeated. All Africa now submitted to Cæsar with the exception of Utica, which Cato commanded. The inhabitants saw that resistance was hopeless; and Cato, who was a sincere Republican, resolved to die rather than submit to Cæsar's despotism. After spending the greater part of the night in perusing Plato's Phædo, a dialogue on the immortality of the soul, he stabbed himself. His friends, hearing him fall, ran up, found him bathed in blood, and, while he was fainting, dressed his wounds. When, however, he recovered feeling, he tore off the bandages, and so died.

Cæsar returned to Rome by the end of July. He was now undisputed master of the Roman world. Great apprehensions were entertained by his enemies lest, notwithstanding his former clemency, he should imitate Marius and Sulla, and proscribe all his opponents. But these fears were perfectly groundless. A love of cruelty was no part of Cæsar's nature; and, with a magnanimity which victors rarely show, and least of all those in civil wars, he freely forgave all who had borne arms against him, and declared that he should make no difference between Pompeians and Cæsarians. His object was now to allay animosities, and to secure the lives and property of all the citizens of his empire. As soon as the news of his African victory reached Rome a public thanksgiving of forty days was decreed in his honor; the Dictatorship was bestowed upon him for ten years; and the Censorship, under the new title of "Præfectus Morum," for three years. Cæsar had never yet enjoyed a triumph; and, as he had now no farther enemies to meet, he availed himself of the opportunity of celebrating his victories in Gaul, Egypt, Pontus, and Africa, by four magnificent triumphs. None of these, however, were in honor of his successes in the civil war; and consequently his African triumph was to commemorate his victory over Juba, and not over Scipio and Cato. These triumphs were followed by largesses of corn and money to the people and the soldiers, by public banquets, and all sorts of entertainments.

Cæsar now proceeded to correct the various evils which had crept into the state, and to obtain the enactment of several laws suitable to the altered condition of the commonwealth. He attempted, by severe sumptuary laws, to restrain the extravagance which pervaded all classes of society. But the most important of his changes this year (B.C. 40) was the reformation of the Calendar, which was a real benefit to his country and the civilized world, and which he accomplished in his character as Pontifex Maximus. The regulation of the Roman calendar had always been intrusted to the College of Pontiffs, who had been accustomed to lengthen or shorten the year at their pleasure for political purposes; and the confusion had at length become so great that the Roman year was three months behind the real time. To remedy this serious evil, Cæsar added 90 days to the current year, and thus made it consist of 445 days; and he guarded against a repetition of similar errors for the future by adapting the year to the sun's course.

In the midst of these labors Cæsar was interrupted by intelligence of a formidable insurrection which had broken out in Spain, where the remains of the Pompeian party had again collected a large army under the command of Pompey's sons, Cneius and Sextus. Cæsar set out for Spain at the end of B.C. 46. With his usual activity he arrived at Obulco, near Corduba, in 27 days from the time of his leaving Rome. He found the enemy able to offer stronger opposition than he had anticipated; but he brought the war to a close by the battle of Munda, on the 17th of March, B.C. 46, in which he entirely defeated the enemy. It was, however, a hard-fought battle: Cæsar's troops were at first driven back, and were only rallied by their general's exposing his own person, like a common soldier, in the front line of the battle. Cn. Pompeius was killed shortly afterward, but Sextus made good his escape. The settlement of the affairs in Spain detained Cæsar in the province some months longer, and he consequently did not reach Rome till September. At the beginning of October he entered the city in triumph on account of his victories in Spain, although the victory had been gained over Roman citizens. The Senate received him with the most servile flattery. They had in his absence voted a public thanksgiving of fifty days, and they now vied with each other in paying him every kind of adulation and homage. He was to wear, on all public occasions, the triumphal robe; he was to receive the title of "Father of his Country;" statues of him were to be placed in all the temples; his portrait was to be struck on coins; the month of Quintilis was to receive the name of Julius in his honor, and he was to be raised to a rank among the gods. But there were still more important decrees than these, which were intended to legalize his power, and confer upon him the whole government of the Roman world. He received the title of Imperator for life; he was nominated Consul for the next ten years, and both Dictator and Præfectus Morum for life; his person was declared sacred; a guard of Senators and Knights was appointed to protect him, and the whole Senate took an oath to watch over his safety.

If we now look at the way in which Cæsar exerted his sovereign power, it can not be denied that he used it in the main for the good of his country. He still pursued his former merciful course: no proscriptions or executions took place; and he began to revolve vast schemes for the benefit of the Roman world. At the same time he was obliged to reward his followers, and for that reason he greatly increased the number of senators and magistrates, so that there were 16 Prætors, 40 Quæstors, and 6 Ædiles, and new members were added to the priestly colleges. Among other plans of internal improvement, he proposed to frame a digest of all the Roman laws, to establish public libraries, to drain the Pomptine marshes, to enlarge the harbor of Ostia and to dig a canal through the isthmus of Corinth. To protect the boundaries of the Roman Empire, he meditated expeditions against the Parthians and the barbarous tribes on the Danube, and had already begun to make preparations for his departure to the East. In the midst of these vast projects he entered upon the last year of his life, B.C. 44, and his fifth Consulship and Dictatorship. He had made M. Antonius his colleague in the Consulship, and M. Lepidus the Master of the Horse. He had for some time past resolved to preserve the supreme power in his family; and, as he had no legitimate children, he had fixed upon his great-nephew Octavius (afterward the Emperor Augustus) as his successor. Possessing royal power, he now wished to obtain the title of king, and accordingly prevailed upon his colleague Antonius to offer him the diadem in public on the festival of the Lupercalia (the 15th of February). But the very name of king had long been hateful at Rome; and the people displayed such an evident dislike to the proposal that it was dropped for the present.

The conspiracy against Cæsar's life had been formed as early as the beginning of the year. It had been set on foot by C. Cassius Longinus, a personal enemy of Cæsar's, and more than sixty persons were privy to it. Private hatred alone seems to have been the motive of Cassius, and probably of several others. Many of them had taken an active part in the war against Cæsar, and had not only been forgiven by him, but raised to offices of rank and honor. Among others was M. Junius Brutus, who had been pardoned by Cæsar after the battle of Pharsalia, and had since been treated almost as his son. In this very year Cæsar had made him Prætor, and held out to him the prospect of the Consulship. Brutus, like Cato, seems to have been a sincere Republican, and Cassius persuaded him to join the conspiracy, and imitate his great ancestor who freed them from the Tarquins. It was now arranged to assassinate the Dictator in the Senate-house on the Ides or 15th of March. Rumors of the plot got abroad, and Cæsar was strongly urged not to attend the Senate. But he disregarded the warnings which were given him. As he entered, the Senate rose to do him honor; and when he had taken his seat, the conspirators pressed around him as if to support the prayer of Tillius Cimber, who entreated the Dictator to recall his brother from banishment. When Cæsar began to show displeasure at their importunity, Tillius seized him by his toga, which was the signal for attack. Casca struck the first blow, and the other conspirators bared their weapons. Cæsar defended himself till he saw Brutus had drawn his sword, and then exclaiming, "And thou, too, Brutus!" he drew his toga over his head, and fell pierced with three-and-twenty wounds at the foot of Pompey's statue.

Coin of Julius Caesar
Coin of Julius Cæsar

Cæsar's death was undoubtedly a loss not only to the Roman people, but the whole civilized world. The Republic was utterly lost. The Roman world was now called to go through many years of disorder and bloodshed, till it rested again under the supremacy of Augustus. The last days of the Republic had come, and its only hope of peace and security was under the strong hand of military power.

Cæsar was in his 56th year at the time of his death. His personal appearance was noble and commanding; he was tall in stature, of a fair complexion, and with black eyes full of expression. He never wore a beard, and in the latter part of his life his head was bald. His constitution was originally delicate, and he was twice attacked by epilepsy while transacting public business; but, by constant exercise and abstemious living, he had acquired strong and vigorous health, and could endure almost any amount of exertion. He took pains with his person, and was considered to be effeminate in his dress.

Cæsar was probably the greatest man of antiquity. He was at one and the same time a general, a statesman, a lawgiver, a jurist, an orator, a poet, a historian, a philologer, a mathematician, and an architect. He was equally fitted to excel in every thing, and has given proofs that he would have surpassed almost all other men in any subject to which he devoted the energies of his extraordinary mind. One fact places his genius for war in a most striking light. Till his 40th year, when he went as Proprætor into Spain, he had been almost entirely engaged in civil life and his military experience must have been of the most limited kind. Most of the greatest generals in the history of the world have been distinguished at an early age: Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Frederick of Prussia, and Napoleon Bonaparte, gained some of their most brilliant victories under the age of 30; but Cæsar, from the age of 23 to 40, had seen nothing of war, and, notwithstanding, appears all at once as one of the greatest generals that the world has ever seen.

Statue of a Roman, representing the Toga
Statue of a Roman, representing the Toga

M. Antonius
M. Antonius
Roman Empire History

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