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Chapter XVI

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Rome
by
Tenney Frank

published by
Henry Holt and Company
New York 1923

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter XVIII

 p293  Chapter XVII

The Civil War

The dispute between Caesar and Pompey. The fatal quarrel between Pompey and Caesar arose out of a long series of disagreements. On the renewal of the triumvirate in 55 Caesar had been given a legal extension of his command for five years, that is formally till March, 49. The understanding was implicit, however, that he would necessarily hold the office till January, 48, since his successor would naturally be an ex‑consul who would be released from office in Rome in February, not in March. Since Caesar would, like all promagistrates, remain till his successor arrived, the date of succession could only be in January of 48. No one at the time considered any other possibility. Furthermore Pompey had promised Caesar that he would at a suitable moment propose a law exempting Caesar from having to canvass for the consulship in person, so that he might step directly into a new consulship on his return. This was illegal, but after all a small breach in comparison with the illegalities both had committed in 59. To Caesar this promise was exceedingly important, for if he entered the city to canvass in 49 he would thereby become a private citizen and amenable to the courts; and Cato had served notice that he would at the first possible moment hale Caesar to court for treason. Pompey indeed kept his promise, and had Caesar exempted by a plebiscite.

However, when Pompey became sole consul in 52 and became reconciled with the Senate, he and his new friends began to devise schemes for reducing Caesar to the position of a private citizen before the date of his probable consulship, and they could do this better because Caesar was now so occupied with Vercingetorix that he had no time to  p294 watch every political move at Rome. Pompey's party found a plausible way out. Urging that proconsulships were being used to pay political debts, they proposed to check the evil by selecting for promagistracies only such persons as had held a magistracy fully five years before. The real purpose of this measure was, of course, to make it possible to find some former consul for Caesar's place the very day his official term was ended, and thus bring Caesar back to private life for nine months. It would of course also deprive Caesar in 48 of a new proconsulship for five years even if he got as far as the consulship in 48. Caesar's friends in the city did not see the bearing of this bill in time to stop its passage. Pompey then passed a bill forbidding canvassing for the consulship in absentia. When asked how this conformed with his promises to Caesar in the previous bill of exemption, he evasively said that in his view a specific exemption was probably valid despite a general prohibition passed later.

Caesar, now on his guard, saw that the only legal means he had of preventing disaster to himself was to employ the services of some tribune to veto the appointment of a successor before the day of his return, and by this method the vital question was postponed till late in the year 50. Meanwhile he offered through his representatives to resign office if Pompey did the same, a proposal to which the Senate dared not listen. Pompey was no match for Caesar in a contest at the polls. His prestige lay entirely in his supposed superiority as a soldier. Though he had no great army at present he had recalled from Caesar's army a legion formerly lent him, to which the Senate had added another from Gaul on the plea that Parthian invasions into Syria required troops. And he also had strong legions in Spain that might conceivably attack Caesar from the rear.

In November the dispute came to a head. The Senate on the consul's motion voted a preliminary bill that a successor should be sent to Gaul before March 1. A tribune in the pay of Caesar pointed out that this might mean civil  p295 war and immediately proposed that both Pompey and Caesar should lay down their commands simultaneously. The frightened Senate by a large majority adopted the motion — this of course was not binding, since a senatus consultum could hardly override the plebiscites that had bestowed the commands. However it showed that Pompey's supporters were yielding. The consul accordingly on his own initiative pretentiously handed the sword to Pompey, commissioning him to defend the state. This seems to have been merely a gesture without legal authority, but it impressed the people who supposed the act significant; and Pompey, seeing that he must act at once or lose, accepted the command and ordered a levy of troops throughout Italy. There is also archaeological evidence that masons were set to work to strengthen the weak points of Rome's fortifications at this time.​a

On the first of January, 49, when the new consuls took office, the question must come up for final settlement as all knew. After hearing a new proposal from Caesar that he would yield all but two legions if he might stand for the consulship in absentia the Senate voted that Caesar must retire from office on July first or be declared a public enemy. Mark Antony, then tribune, acting in Caesar's behalf, promptly vetoed the measure. For days the friends of peace tried to break the deadlock by urging each or both to yield. Cicero very nearly succeeded in persuading Pompey to advocate a compromise, but the conservative senators overrode his counsel and on the seventh the Senate passed the "last decree" which disregarded the tribune's veto and threw the government into the hands of the military power. The tribunes departed that night and reached Ariminum in three days. Caesar had already set out from Ravenna the evening before with his own legion, crossed the Rubicon, and now he met the tribunes on Italian soil.

There would be little point in attempting to apportion  p296 the guilt in this quarrel. Both Caesar and Pompey were concerned chiefly about themselves, willing to risk the blood of innocents for personal advantage. And when men like Cicero hesitated to take sides we can only be grateful that there were still Romans who felt disgust at the heedless egoism of both contestants. Pompey has perhaps won more sympathy from historians, but that is probably because the blame on his side was shared by the Senate. His two agreements with Caesar in 60 and in 56 to override the constitution for the sake of mutual benefits made him as culpable as Caesar. Nor does it wash away his guilt that he suddenly became sensitive to the claims of the constitution when finally he had secured his own future before Caesar could do the same. It must also be add that, considering the pledges made him by Pompey in 56, Caesar's offers in 50 and 49 were so reasonable that one must exonerate him from the charge of maneuvering for a war and a dictatorship. He intended to keep alive and in a position of great power for the rest of his life, and he was willing to shed other men's blood for that, but there is no proof that when he took up the quarrel he aimed at anything more.

Caesar's victories. Pompey had hoped to hold Rome and to decide the conflict in Italy, but Caesar, though he had but one legion with him, dashed forward at once, knowing that Italy blamed the Senate for the war and that if he came rapidly enough he would be able to pick up most of the recruits being levied for Pompey. When Pompey saw what was happening he marched his two legions southward: having been with Caesar recently they were not wholly reliable. Most of the Senate went with him. He barely had time to embark from Brundisium for Greece before Caesar came up.

Caesar, however, could not well follow Pompey eastward. It would require time to build transports, and meanwhile Pompey, whose name was held in great esteem in the  p297 East, would gather large forces and take charge of the provincial armies of the eastern provinces. Caesar therefore decided to set the machinery of a favorable government going at Rome, secure the grain provinces of the West which Pompey had tried to hold in the hope of starving Italy, put all the shipyards of Italy to work building a fleet, and, picking up his Gallic legions on the way, proceed to Spain to destroy the Pompeian veterans on his rear He secured all Italian ports readily, but Massilia (Marseilles), influenced by the proconsul Domitius, refused to espouse his cause. Since this Greek port might readily receive a garrison from Pompey and block the communications between Italy and Spain in his absence, he left a part of his army under Decimus Brutus to reduce it, and himself proceeded to Spain. Here Pompey's lieutenants, Petreius, Afranius, and Terentius Varro, the great scholar, commanded seven legions. In a campaign of 40 days, in which Caesar assumed the most hazardous risks for the sake of saving time, he defeated them. He dismissed the captive officers, as was his strangely generous custom, and accepted the services of most of the troops in his own army. Then returning, he remained at Massilia till it was stormed, marched on to Rome, and, accepting the dictatorship for a few days, had himself and a friend, Servilius Isauricus, elected consuls for the next year.

As consul he passed a law giving the citizenship to the Transpadanes for which they thanked him by recruiting liberally for service in his army. He also attempted to restore business credit and induce the circulation of money by declaring a moratorium, putting into effect a liberal bankruptcy rule, and permitting a limited repudiation of debts by ordering the courts to allow debtors the privilege of deducting interest already paid from the principal. A general repudiation, which was urged by the many bankrupts who had joined him, he refused to consider.

Now he set out for Greece with seven legions, but having  p298 transports for only half of these he had to divide his forces. Pompey's admiral, who had raked the Eastern harbors for ships, patrolled the Straits of Otranto day and night. Caesar, however, slipped through with his first division. With this portion he dashed for Dyrrhachium to seize Pompey's supplies, but was outraced by Pompey who was now returning from his Thessalian recruiting grounds. Caesar was now in danger of being overwhelmed, since Antony had thus far been unable to bring the remnant of his army through Pompey's patrol. Indeed Caesar put out one stormy night in a small boat to lead them over in person, but he too failed to make the crossing because of high seas. When finally Antony appeared Caesar undertook to besiege Pompey's army at Dyrrhachium. The task turned out to be impossible because of the extent of the walls that must be covered. Caesar indeed has been criticized for thus inviting failure, but it must be remembered that his engineers had grown to be experts in trenching and barricading in the sieges of Gergovia and Alesia. He doubtless had reason for his faith in the attempt. Pompey eventually broke through his circumvallations, and Caesar in want of supplies, since he did not control the sea, retreated to the plains of Thessaly.

Pharsalia. Pompey's intention was to avoid battle till his troops were hardened and till the army of Caesar should begin to suffer from want of food. But the consuls and senators were impatient to return to Rome and divide the spoils. Pompey, who had formally accepted the position of obedient servant to the government he carried in his train, yielded to their demands, and against his better judgment offered battle at Pharsalia. He had in fact an army about twice as large as Caesar's with a very superior force of cavalry, but individually his soldiers were no match for the toughened veterans that had for ten years under Caesar outfought huge armies of barbarians. It was chiefly a question of whether Caesar could stem the first  p299 attack of Pompey's large force of cavalry which would naturally try to ride around his flanks and enclose his rear. He did this successfully by a skilful disposition of ambushed cohorts at critical points behind the lines. When the cavalry attack had thus been parried, the rest was not difficult. Pompey's army was completely routed. The general escaped from the field and took ship for Egypt where he hoped that young Ptolemy might show him kindness for his part in restoring the king's father to his throne a few years before. When Pompey arrived, however, Ptolemy chanced to be encamped with his army near the coast, on the point in fact of attacking the forces of his sister and co‑ruler Cleopatra. The king's advisers, fearing that the Roman contingents of the Egyptian army (the troops sent to aid the king in 56) would espouse the cause of Pompey and thus draw Egypt into war, advised that the safest course would be to dispose of Pompey and welcome the victor. Pompey was accordingly invited into a small boat and treacherously slain as he was about to land. It is reported that Caesar later had the murderers put to death.

Caesar at Alexandria. Since Egypt might possibly prove a rallying point for his enemies, Caesar decided if possible to go to Egypt and establish peace between Ptolemy and Cleopatra and pledge them to his cause. Their father had indeed decreed that both should rule, but the ministers of state and the army refused to recognize Cleopatra. Angered by Caesar's intervention, they suddenly attacked him, and but for his presence of mind they might have sealed his fate. Caesar, however, blockaded in the center of Alexandria, held out tenaciously against all attacks until his officers had scoured Palestine and Syria for a rescuing force. It was not till March of 47 that he was relieved. Since the king had perished in the struggle Caesar now placed Cleopatra on the throne, and, it is said, remained for two or three months to inaugurate her in her onerous duties as queen,  p300 for she was very young and inexperienced — and very beautiful.

The siege of Caesar at Alexandria which had so nearly caused his undoing encouraged his enemies to gather their forces. Many of the senators, following the lead of Cato and Scipio, went to Africa where the Numidian king was known to be friendly to the Senate. Pharnaces, the son of Mithradates, had also refused to submit to the new cause and had defeated a Roman army. At home there was also much dissatisfaction. In fact the hotheaded Caelius, whom Caesar had left as praetor, apparently to please the radical element, had declared a new moratorium without permission, and in his court had entertained all sorts of requests for the remission of rents and debts. He had to be deposed by Mark Antony, Caesar's master of horse, and now Dolabella, the tribune, was making similar efforts through madcap legislation. Caesar turned first to the East, marched quickly across to Pontus, and in the summer of 47 put an end to Pharnaces' forces at Zela. It was from that battlefield that he sent home the theatrical but famous dispatch: Veni, vidi, vici.

Caesar at Rome. Returning to Rome he strengthened credits again by disowning the radical elements. In the early winter he ordered his troops to embark for Africa. However, the legions stationed in Campania mutinied when ordered to embark, marched on Rome and demanded their arrears of pay and discharge. The famous tenth legion which had been his favorite in Gaul seems to have led in the movement. Caesar's prompt daring on this occasion greatly impressed the Romans, and was no doubt significant of the swift and penetrating judgment which played so large a part in his success. Though threatened with personal violence he went out to the camp, faced the soldiers, and in a few cutting remarks that wisely referred to past successes and future triumphs he discharged them. In a moment they were on their knees begging to be taken back.

 p301  At the elections, which of course he controlled, Caesar accepted the consulship again together with Lepidus, a willing tool of his, but he also retained the dictatorship. Governorships were distributed, and in a spirit of conciliation he chose Marcus Junius Brutus, who had been in Pompey's army, for Cisalpine Gaul, one of the most important posts at his disposal. This Brutus bore a name distinguished in five centuries of Roman history for stubborn love of liberty, and though he had submitted to Caesar after the battle of Pharsalia, we have no reason to think that he loved Caesar or made any effort to capture the good graces of the dictator. It was rather Caesar who sought out Brutus. He had too many bankrupts and upstarts in his following and too few men who were trustworthy and respected. Brutus also was related by blood or marriage to a large number of the noble families of Rome, the Junii, Livii, Porcii, Servilii, Hortensii, and others, and would obviously be a great asset. There is little ground for the criticism that historians have heaped upon the young man because he accepted office from Caesar. When Brutus assumed the governorship Caesar had not yet revealed his intention of establishing an autocracy. Brutus received his office by means of the legitimate channels of appointment, and since provinces must be governed and governed by the best possible men, Brutus was only serving his state by accepting.

The Battle of Thapsus. During the sixteen months that had elapsed after Pharsalia, the republican forces gathering in the province of Africa had grown very strong. King Juba of Numidia contributed a large army and especially a strong cavalry force accustomed to fighting over the hot sands of the South. Scipio and Cato were names that attracted republican partisans from all quarters, and they had the services of practiced generals in Labienus, Afranius, and Petreius. Caesar spent the first three months of 46 in holding his own on a narrow coast of Africa till he had  p302 gathered enough of an army to strike. On April 6, he attacked the forces of Scipio on the field of Thapsus and again won a decisive victory. Of the leaders only Labienus escaped. Cato fled with a few others to the city of Utica where he advised the townsmen to surrender to Caesar. Then he withdrew to his room and committed suicide. It was perhaps this act of martyrdom which more than all the deeds of his life made him a vital force in Roman history, for, though a man of unquestioned integrity and indomitable courage, he had lacked both the appealing human traits and the broad-seeing wisdom that make an effective leader of men. The manner of his death touched with sentiment those virtues which during his life-time had made his personality somewhat repellent. His name was henceforth of great inspiration as long as Rome survived.

Caesar's government. The war now seemed to be over, for no one expected that the feeble-witted sons of Pompey hiding in Spain could cause any real trouble. All eyes were on Caesar anxiously watching for signs of a definite policy. Some dared to hope for a return to constitutional forms, but in vain. Many feared that Caesar, now that complete power was in his hands, would wreak vengeance in a proscription as had both Marius, his uncle, and Sulla. This he did not do. In fact he declared openly that he had no punishments to mete out and that he would make no difference between Pompeians and Caesarians. In a letter that he wrote early in the war he had announced this policy to some of his friends, although in terms that seem to reveal only the calculating politician. The gist of the letter is this: "Since most conquerors have failed to hold power because they have averted sympathy through cruelty, I shall attempt to win lasting power by a policy of clemency." However it may be that this letter betrays the spirit of the recipients rather than the actual motive of the writer. Caesar's was, on the whole, a generous nature, and it is only fair to say that wholesome instincts played a larger  p303 rôle in his behavior than did calculation. Nevertheless there was some suffering. The rights of heirs were not always closely considered when the properties of fallen republicans were put up at public auction. His nearest advisers and intimates were to a large extent small-minded flatterers so that men of the opposite party seldom had a favorable hearing. Cicero alone of the old Pompeians had the heart to undertake the disagreeable task of begging him humbly for the life and restoration of forgotten republicans in exile. And these speeches are uttered in a tone of deference that prove liberty obsolete. In a free state such speeches would have had no effect. Here they accomplished their purpose.

During the seven months that Caesar remained at Rome in 46 (July to December, with two intercalated months) he accomplished an immense amount of work. There had of course first to be a splendid triumph, for he had not yet celebrated his victories even over the Gauls, and the Romans had so largely escaped the need of participation in the wars — the old Gallic army had borne the brunt of all contests — that they needed a visual demonstration of what had been achieved if they were to comprehend the sequel. Four days were set apart for four separate triumphs, over Gaul, Egypt (nothing could be said regarding Pompey), Pontus, and Africa (Juba and not Cato was officially named as the enemy). Magnificent games were given, each soldier received about $1,000, and bounties in money and food were lavished on all citizens to pay the expenses of the holiday season. Thus began the efforts to make autocracy popular. At a most impressive ceremony Caesar dedicated a temple to Venus Genetrix, for which a very beautiful statue of a goddess created by edict was made by the best artist of the day. The name implied of course that Caesar was of divine race, a common enough boast in Asiatic monarchies. The Roman people took it as a pleasant whim and passed on. They were doomed to  p304 learn very soon that this act was full of the deepest significance.

In this year's legislation Caesar was most seriously concerned in repairing the machinery of government and getting it into steady action. The means did not concern him greatly though he generally employed the Senate and Assembly in their recognized functions. As consul he frequently proposed administrative measures to the Senate, but he first filled up the Senate with his partisans in order to secure favorable action. All measures proposed in the Senate or Assembly — he employed either or both as best suited his purpose — were drawn up beforehand under his supervision. Bills that bore his approval were not discussed or vetoed. They were invariably adopted; and no one ventured to propose bills without his approval. Much was done even more expeditiously by orders from the dictator (he had now been voted the office for ten years) or by a free use of his powers as perpetual censor. Some of the more important measures that seem to belong to this period may be mentioned in order that we may note the trend of Caesar's statesmanship.

First he called in the best astronomer of the day, a Greek scientist of Alexandria, and with him reformed the Roman calendar. The old year of 355 days which required an intercalary month every second year was replaced by a calendar of 365 days with a leap year every fourth year. This calendar, with a slight revision made by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 A.D., is of course still in use. To adapt the old to the new system it was necessary to insert 67 days between November and December.

Much wisdom was displayed in Caesar's method of caring for discharged soldiers. They were not like Sulla's veterans colonized in groups to become turbulent masses later, but were scattered about where individual lots were found available. The unemployed urban crowd was also dealt with. The clubs that had frequently been used by  p305 Clodius for political purposes were abolished, with the except of the bona fide industrial collegia that had had charters of long standing. A commission was appointed to cut down to less than half their size the enormous number (320,000) of those receiving free grain. Every application was scrutinized and state aid was given only in accordance with reasonable principles. We shall see later that Caesar colonized in foreign parts great masses of these urban poor.

Sumptuary laws were also needed in order to remind the thoughtless spendthrifts that when finances are in a critical condition money has to be drawn into legitimate business and investments by repressing luxurious living. Caesar had market inspectors to control prices and the amount that could be purchased of certain rare commodities, and he designated a specific amount that he thought a reasonable allowance for the monthly bill for the table. The bread and meat cards that have recently been so extensively imposed in European countries hark back to a very ancient precedent. He also reimposed the 5 per cent import taxes for Italy which had been abolished in 60 B.C. This aided somewhat in reducing imports, and it also laid upon the Italians some small part of the expenses of government, which they had been too lightly escaping.

He also concerned himself seriously with the question of how to promote a better citizenship. Slaves had to a dangerous extent been the body from which the Roman population grew. They were practically the only immigrants since they could be bought and brought in to fill every new need. He did not indeed attempt to stem manumission, though he presently sent out great hordes of freedmen to colonies, but he laid down the rule that grazers — who were of course the extensive users of slave labor — should employ at least one free citizen to every two slaves. This might serve as the beginning of a reform. And he opened the door to a healthier immigration by granting  p306 citizenship liberally to medical practitioners and to all teachers of the liberal arts. His most important measure for the betterment of the status of Roman citizens throughout Italy was his lex Julia Municipalis which provided a model charter for all municipalities. Such a model had long been needed since the Social wars, which had nominally given citizenship to all Italians, had been followed by civil wars and by Sulla's unsympathetic régime with the result that the Italians had had no help from Rome in founding local governments when their tribal organizations broke up. Caesar's model charter — which we have in part in a broken inscription — adopted the conservative principle already in vogue in older Roman municipalities of using a city council of a hundred ex‑magistrates as decuriones in whose hands lay the power of making all city ordinances. Democrat though he claimed to be Caesar did not think it proper to employ the general town-meeting for this purpose. The executive and judicial power was held by a board of four men elected annually, the elective power remaining in the whole democratic assembly of citizens. The division of power was laid down very specifically and the arrangements for street paving, for policing, fire protection and the like were thoroughly thought out. It is a charter on which municipalities could still govern themselves with success.

Such was the work Caesar accomplished in the few months while planning the Spanish campaign. The great problem of Rome's own constitution he did not touch directly. Whatever he intended finally to do with that, he could better do after he had accustomed the Senate to the exposure of its helplessness. It was not yet time to reveal his final intentions. But in the circumscribed problem that he now chose to assume one sees in every detail the result of keen observation, a detachment of judgment, and a scientist's eagerness to obtain the relevant facts in the case.  p307 He possessed in very great measure that analytical mind which reveals itself in almost every page of Rome's code of laws; which the Gracchi possessed but dulled with sentimental impulses; which Sulla also possessed though he let the spirit of revenge distort the aim of every law he devised.

Caesar in Spain. Meanwhile Labienus and the two sons of Pompey were gathering the remnants of Pompeian and Sertorian forces in Spain and adding large bodies of Spanish mercenaries in order to prepare for a final struggle. Caesar sent on an army in the autumn of 46 and at the end of the year set out to join it. It is characteristic of the man's power of concentration that on this journey he sloughed off cares of state and thoughts of war to such an extent that he composed a long poem about the journey called "Iter," a grammatical treatise, and a criticism of Cato (the Anti-Cato) in answer to the laudatory "Cato" which Cicero had just published. In March (45) the opposing forces met at Munda in Spain, and Caesar won his last battle. He remained for some months punishing rebellious tribes, rewarding loyal ones by the gift of full citizenship or "Latin" rights, and in general consolidating Roman interests in the province. On his return journey he gave much of his attention to Octavius, his grandnephew, an intelligent and attractive youth of seventeen years. As soon as he reached Rome he drew up a new will in which — apparently without informing Octavius — he made him his son and heir.

Caesar's position in the state. On receiving the news of Munda, the Senate passed a series of decrees very extensively increasing Caesar's powers and honors. A fifty‑day thanksgiving was decreed, the month Quinctilis was renamed Julius (Oriental kings had had such honors), the title of pater patriae was given him, and his portrait was to appear on Rome's coins — another ominous custom adopted from Oriental kings.

His powers were made supreme by the gift of all magisterial power. First he was voted the consulship for ten  p308 years, but this he refused. It was not his policy to lend dignity to old republican offices. The Senate took the hint and designated him dictator for life, adding the proconsular office for life (by virtue of which he kept the supreme command of all armies), full censorial power under the title of "praefectus morum" (which gave him control of all lists of senators, knights, and citizens), and the perpetual intercessio or Tribunicia potestas (whereby he could prevent any attempt at independent legislation). He was now autocrat in more than name, and his acceptance of these powers after refusing the ten‑year consulship is proof sufficient that he had invited these offices through his agents and that he had not been laden down with them against his will by a servile Senate, as his apologists claimed after his death. Nor need we blame him. There were numberless things still to be done at Rome by way of correcting ancient abuses, and Caesar frankly assumed the powers which would make it possible to do this quickly and without tedious opposition. His acceptance of autocratic power was not necessarily an indication of the form of government he meant finally to devise. Sulla for instance had employed autocratic powers for the restoration of senatorial rule.

There was another series of honors which Caesar accepted — and we must conclude, invited — which was even more significant of his intended course, honors which pointed to a desire to lift himself above ordinary men to the position of a divinity. And he had already suggested this course when he invented the new goddess Venus Genetrix — Venus the parent of the Julian gens. It was certainly not without suggestions from Caesar's agents that the Senate voted that a statue of Caesar was to be carried among statues of divinities in the stately procession at the games, that one was also to be placed in the temple of Quirinus (the deified Romulus) where a bust of a mere human being had no right to appear, and finally that his palace on the Palatine should have a pediment like that  p309 of temples — suggesting to all passers‑by that the inhabitant was a god. It was his acceptance of these un‑Roman honors — nay the conviction that he invited these honors — that most angered old patriots. These are the things that Cicero in his guarded letters to intimate friends mentions in deep rage, not the dictatorship and other insignia of autocracy. Had Caesar gone mad? Had he lost his comprehension of what Romans would endure? Was he too drunk with power to remain a man among men? This has been the problem that students of Caesar's character have endlessly debated. One group of historians has attributed his behavior to a loss of self-control associated with an increased manifestation of epileptic attacks; another has insisted that the honors were maliciously bestowed for the purpose of destroying Caesar's popularity.

Recently a third explanation, more in accord with all the available facts, has been offered. Briefly, it is that Caesar, like Alexander the Great, observing that in all Oriental nations autocracy had succeeded only where the ruler based his power upon the theory of divine rights, had deliberately chosen to accustom the Roman people gradually to acknowledge the superhuman character of their ruler. In Persia as in Egypt the king was more than man. He was a descendant of gods, a spokesman of gods, or himself a divinity, whose utterances could not be gainsaid. Alexander, comprehending the fact that his reforms and his great plans for unifying Greece were hindered on every hand by treaties, laws and constitutions, and that he might over-ride these only if he could accustom the Greeks to the idea that his decrees, emanating from a superhuman source, were final, had deliberately spread the story of his descent from Zeus Ammon. Julius Caesar, who was a close student of the career of Alexander, who knew Asiatic and Egyptian customs from personal observation, seems to have adopted a similar policy. He knew that the Romans, accustomed for five centuries to democracy,  p310 would not easily be trained for autocracy, that the Senate would for a while remain subservient since it had been packed by his partisans, but that these too would grow to the dignity of their office, imbibe the spirit of independence, and revolt. Though he was belittling the consulship by putting weak men into the office for brief terms, accidents might happen; some incumbent might one day assert his independence, and kindle a revolt. Caesar's plan, difficult to comprehend in the light of modern customs, was after all very reasonable in the society of that day. Rome was filled with Orientals who were accustomed to the theory of divine royalty. The mob at least would only too readily adopt the idea and would be all the more devoted to the ruler for his elevation. Many of the senators also who had held provinces in the east remembered how the Orientals had preferred to bow before them as to semi-divine beings. They were already half trained to accept the idea. And Caesar's plan was to be brought in gradually and with due caution. He intended to be declared rex at first not over Italy but over the provinces. An oracle was found which seemed to declare that only a rex could conquer Parthia. He would remain in the East for some years, conquering and organizing the empire as far as Persia. He would probably take up his headquarters in Alexandria or at Troy, which was according to rumor to be rebuilt. At such a center he would, during a few years, call his Senate to attendance, and at such a center in surroundings wholly Oriental even the senators would accustom themselves in time to the pomp of a royal court of the Oriental type. Such seems to have been Caesar's plan.

If we grant that the huge Roman empire could no longer be ruled by senatorial cliques and a confused assembly we must also admit that Caesar was right in assuming that the most reasonable and obvious experiment — though not the only possible one — was to centralize imperial and urban control in the hands of one man. And in view of the fact  p311 that the old kingship of Rome was according to tradition elective, a system which was provocative of civil war, we must also admit that the hereditary autocracy of the well-known Hellenistic type was the obvious one to choose. Considering therefore the difficulties of instituting a regnum over occidental peoples accustomed to democracy, we may finally admit that it was wise to try to infuse a religious sentiment into the autocratic institution, which would at least reconcile the mixed populace to the idea. There was a great danger that the nobles of Rome would find the idea revolting, but Caesar had now for so many years been absent from Rome at the head of armies that he was no longer a familiar presence. He might well succeed in imposing his plan upon them, and if he succeeded for a few years, the danger would gradually lessen. At any rate his plan seems to have been carefully thought out, and that it came so near succeeding is proof that he well understood the requirements of that day's society. Of course we know that it failed and that his heir after dallying with the idea for some time rejected it, but it was Caesar's plan which was eventually adopted, and it was not till a very few years ago that modern occidental nations were able through a harrowing war to rid themselves of the last vestiges of the Oriental notion that kings ruled Dei gratia.

Caesar's plans. It was Caesar's intention to set out for the East in 44 for an extended campaign, and before going he laid out a large number of projects which were to be carried out in his absence. Only a few were brought to completion by his successor, who inherited a looted treasury, but the program is interesting in revealing the character of the empire-builder.

As a basis for scientific taxation and colonization in all the provinces he conceived the stupendous program of having a complete survey and census taken throughout the empire. Hitherto citizens alone had been taken into consideration. The day was approaching, in Caesar's view  p312 of society, when the Roman and Italian should have no advantages above the Gaul, the Greek, and the Asiatic. He was turning the empire into a melting pot. Gauls and Spaniards, even sons of ex‑slaves, were elevated to the Senate by him. Whole cities of tribes recently subdued were turned into Romans by his command. Colonies of veterans, on the contrary, were settled at Narbo and Arles in Gaul and a colony proposed for Lyons. These cities of Provence made the Rhone valley a new Italy. Spain received colonies of Romans, Spaniards and legionaries at Cordova, Seville, Tarragona, New Carthage, and Urso. The last named received chiefly freedmen from Rome for whom Caesar drew up a plan of government which still exists. From this colonization dates the rapid Romanization of Spain. Large groups of citizens, chiefly freedmen, were also sent to rebuild Carthage, long a waste, Corinth, so cruelly destroyed by the Senate in 146, Sinope and Heraclea, far off on the Black Sea. These had once been important trading cities, hence Caesar chose for them freedmen who were more calculated to make successful tradespeople than farmers. He even had the Isthmus of Corinth surveyed with the intention of cutting a canal from the Aegean to the gulf of Corinth where he placed the colony. In a word the empire was to be unified and the subjects were to be lifted to equality with the Italians as soon as possible; and as a voucher for his sincerity he abolished the unfair contract system of tax‑gathering in the collection of the regular tithes and diminished all exactions to a marked degree. So far was he willing to consider the convenience of subjects that the Jews were exempted from paying the tribute for Sabbatical years when by an old stupid custom they remained unproductive.

There were also liberal plans drawn for the betterment and beautifying of Rome and Italy. Rome was to have an up‑to‑date harbor with breakwaters, deepened channel, and docks at Ostia, and a canal was to provide cheap barge  p313 traffic for all of Latium from Tarracina along the coast line to the Tiber. The Pomptine marshes and Lake Fucinus were to be drained and large expanses of good land made available for agriculture — projects that were carried out at immense expense in the nineteenth century. At Rome the Campus Martius was to be given over to building sites, a new Campus being planned farther northwest, and to make room for this the Tiber was to be thrown to the foot of the Vatican hills. Plans were also drawn up for new government buildings, for a theater on the slope of the Capitoline and for a large public library. Finally we must mention Caesar's project of making a digest of laws and edicts, a work for which a noted jurist was chosen. Caesar's death put an end to this undertaking also, and the labor had to await the far less competent hands of Justinian's jurists. When one sees what Rome lost in social and economic betterment by Caesar's death one cannot but regret that autocracy could not this once have had an opportunity to prove its efficiency. A man of such broad sympathies, keen vision, daring imagination, and energy was not to be given to Rome again.


Thayer's Note:

a A conjecture of the writer, detailed in his article "Notes on the Servian Wall" (AJA 22:175‑188).


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