38. Caesar Appears. Thus the rich and the poor were once more struggling with each other almost as in the old days of the patricians and plebeians. First one party, then the other prevailed, and blood often flowed in the streets of Rome. Since the people of Rome themselves had changed, things could no longer go on in the old way. Unless able leaders who knew how to make wise reforms came forward, it seemed that Rome, after all her conquests, must soon be ruined.
Among the leaders at that time were Pompey, a famous general who had won many victories over distant nations in Asia, and Crassus, noted for his immense wealth. But soon a younger man, named Julius Caesar, began to be spoken of. Tall and erect, with hooked nose and piercing glance, this remarkable person began to show how clearly he could think and with what power he could act. The people eagerly supported him because he seemed to be their friend and champion, just as the Gracchi had been.
At first Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar were friends. They made a secret agreement that they would help each other to be elected to offices and to control everything. Since there were three of them, they came to be called the "triumvirate." No one could oppose them successfully, for Pompey bad fame, Crassus money, and Caesar brains.
Thus in turn they had themselves chosen as consuls, and when their year of office was up they went forth, according to the custom, as governors of wealthy provinces over which Rome ruled. Caesar chose to be governor of Gaul, the Roman name for the country we call France.
39. Caesar Conquers Gaul and Quarrels with Pompey. In Gaul Caesar did wonderful things. At that time this beautiful country was still almost a wilderness, inhabited by barbarous tribes always at war. The Romans as yet controlled only a little of the southern part.
From the beginning Caesar had to face unusual dan-. gers. To get the better of their neighbors one of the Gailic tribes called to their aid the fierce Germans who lived in the wild regions beyond the Rhine. Under the lead of a chief called Ariovistus an immense number of these barbarians crossed over into Gaul and threatened to overrun the whole country. In terror the Gauls now appealed to Caesar for protection. But such stories of the huge size and great courage of the Germans were spread abroad that even the Roman soldiers were disturbed, and many of the camp followers were ready to flee in terror to Italy.
Caesar, however, was not afraid. Calling his officers together, be made a brave speech by which he restored their courage. Then the Roman army marched against the Germans. In a terrible battle the barbarians were defeated and driven out of Gaul.
Later, in order to terrify the Germans still further, Caesar caused his engineers to build a bridge across the Rhine. The task of spanning this great stream with no building material but hastily felled logs was skillfully accomplished, and then Caesar led his army over in triumph. After showing his power, he returned safely.
Caesar had made up his mind that all of Gaul should come under the sway of Rome. One tribe after another was overthrown by his invincible legions, which won many battles against overwhelming numbers of brave but undisciplined Gauls. The wh9le country finally seemed to be subdued.
But when he did not expect it, the tribes rose 3uddenly against Caesar. Up to this time the Gauls had seldom been able to unite. Now, however, a great conspiracy was formed by a young and able chief named Vercingetorix. Though no doubt a barbarian, Vercingetorix was a patriot ready to die to save his country from slavery to Rome.
Never was Caesar in such danger. A great defeat by Vercingetorix seemed to sweep away the result of all his conquests. But the Roman commander now showed his genius. Rallying his army, he overthrew the untrained Gallic warriors and forced their brave leader to take refuge in his stronghold of Alesia.
Here Vercingetorix thought he could hold out. But Caesar, with the aid of his skillful engineers, built fortifications entirely around Alesia. An army of Gauls which came to relieve the fortress was beaten, and after a long siege Vercingetorix and his warriors had to surrender.
The unfortunate chief was taken to Rome, paraded through the streets, and finally executed. Yet to this day his memory is honored by the French people as that of a brave man who tried to save his country.
Besides subduing Gaul, Caesar undertook other enterprises. During the conflicts the Gallic tribes received aid from the people of a distant country which the Romans called Britannia. It was England, then an almost unknown land inhabited by a race called Britons.
The Britons were kinsfolk of the Gauls. But they were more barbarous. Great influence was held among them by their priests, called Druids. Groves of oak trees were their chosen retreats, and they paid special veneration to the plant called mistletoe. The Druids carried on the rites of a dark and gloomy religion whose gods they tried to appease by human sacrifice.
Caesar determined to teach the Britons that even the sea could not save them from the power of Rome. When the ships of Caesar came within sight of the white cliffs of Britannia, he found the Britons drawn up to defend their land. They had spears and darts, and the skins of many of them were tattooed a blue color. Some of the chiefs rode in war chariots having sharp blades attached to the wheels so that they could cut down their foes.
At first the Rornans could not land because of the shower of darts and stones rained upon them. But finally a brave soldier who carried one of the standards, calling out to the men to follow or they would lose their eagle, jumped into the shallow water and waded forward. Then all rushed after him, and though the Britons resisted stoutly, they were at last defeated.
Caesar made two expeditions to Britannia, but since it was so far away he did not try to hold it permanently. All Gaul, however, was brought by him under the rule of Rome. By his marches and battles he showed himself one of the greatest generals Rome had ever produced. But meanwhile things were changing at home. Crassus was now dead, and Pompey had become Caesar's rival and enemy. He and many of the noble and wealthy Romans feared lest, now that Caesar had conquered Gaul, he would make himself absolute master of Rome also. Among the mob, however, many favored Caesar. He had skillfully won them to his side by giving them bribes and having them entertained by games. Little did such men care whether Rome was ruled in the old way by its senate or by Caesar alone.
40. Caesar Makes Himself Master of Rome. Caesar's enemies prepared to punish him, but Caesar was too quick. At the head of his faithful soldiers he marched into Italy and reached a little stream called the Rubicon. Here for a moment he hesitated. To cross the Rubicon meant to declare a war which would mean for him either mighty power or death. Should he take the risk?
"The die is cast," he said, and led his soldiers across.
So quickly did he come that Pompey and his followers could not get ready to withstand him. They fled to Greece, and Caesar became master of Rome.
But his power was not yet sure. All who loved the old customs of Rome were his foes. Many went to join Pompey, and that famous soldier soon had a great army, far larger than Caesar could muster. But Caesar did not fear, for he trusted to his own skill and to the valor of his veteran soldiers. He soon crossed to Greece and met Pompey in a great battle. Pompey at first had the advantage, but in the end Caesar was completely victorious. The army of his enemies was scattered and Pompey, fleeing for safety, was slain.
Even yet Caesar was not safe, for his enemies gathered other armies to overthrow him. More battles were fought, but the great leader was always victorious. Once he won so quickly that he sent to Rome merely the words, "I came, I saw, I conquered."
One man, Julius Caesar, was now master of the whole civilized world.
41. The Death of Caesar. How would Caesar use the power he had thus gained? In many ways he proved a wise ruler, and though he crushed his foes he had good plans to improve conditions. But the man who overthrows the liberty of his country always has enemies. Among the prominent men of Rome a plot was formed to slay Caesar. Some who took part in it were merely jealous or angry at some slight, but others, like Brutus, believed that Caesar was a tyrant and that his death would make Rome free as it had been in the good old days after the Tarquins were driven out. The conspirators
At last the day came. In all its state the senate was assembled, and Caesar entered the hail. Now the conspirators, as if by chance, came around him. One of them handed him a paper, and as he did so suddenly grasped Caesar by the robe. Then the plotters drew from beneath their cloaks long, gleaming daggers, and stabbed Caesar again and again. Thus wretchedly died this great conqueror.
But Rome was not free. The death of Caesar meant merely that somebody else would take his place. Th Roman people had forgotten how to govern themselves.