Alexander the Great, one of the first conquerors of the ancient world left a great influence on many important Romans. I found myself wondering what manner of men these emporers were, and I found that their obsession with Alexander had much to do with how they operated. These men did not compare themselves to Alexander, but the people did, and that was what mattered. But as much as we know, we are yet unable to understand how these men were really seen by the people. One of the interesting things about ancient history is that we must create an opinion from the limited and self-contained nature of the evidence. It would be absurd, of course, to claim that we know all there is to know about the Romans and Alexander. Nevertheless, it is the case that we have to come to some conclusions about them based on the few books, inscriptions and edicts which only amount to a small fragment of what once existed.
"I write what I believe to be the truth, for the Greeks have many stories which seem to me absurd," Hecataeus of Miletus.
Pompeius Strabo, Pompey's father, began his career as quaestor in Sardinia in 104 B.C. He became praetor by '92 and had then, like Sulla, seen service abroad as a governor of the province of Macedonia which had been governed by his father. Although Strabo was widely disliked, he was an excellent military commander and he was sent to operate against the Picenum to the northeast where he had family estates and where the rebels had opened hostilities with the massacre of all Roman citizens in the strategic town of Asculum. Pompey, at sixteen, accompanied him. Strabo, like Philip, lost no time in raising an army from his clients and laid seige to Asculum, whose defenders hurled lead sling bullets that still survive bearing the inscriptions "for Pompeius" and "for his guts." In recognition of this and other services in the first year of war he was deemed to the consulship for 89, the first his family had ever achieved. Towards the end of the year he succeeded in taking Asculum after winning a great battle against rebel forces. Assassination was common among the Romans. The philosophy of the time was to either love you or kill you; There was nothing in between. On the evening of the assassination attempt, which involved setting fire to Strabo's tent and stabbing his son in bed. The young Pompey was secretly informed of the plot(like Alexander, he was loved by his troops for his generous gifts) while he was at dinner with his prospective murderrer, his tent-mate Lucius Terentius. He drank even more freely than usual, showed great friendliness to Terentius and, retired to bed. But as soon as he was alone, he made up his couch to look like he was in it. He then sneaked out to set a trustworthy guard at his father's tent and returned to his own quarters. Eventually he saw a figure silently approach his tent and plunge a sword into the bed. He was on Terentius in a moment and quickly disposed of him. But the commotion alerted the other conspirators, who took it as a signal to incite mutiny among the troops. The fuss was so great that Strabo did not dare leave his tent. But Pompey, who was loved by his troops and feared like his father, went up and down the camp appealing to the men with tears. He then threw himself down at the camp gates and cried out to those deserting their general that they must first trample his son. Romans admire courage, and respected him, so Pompey's action worked. "Everyone," said Plutarch, "drew back out of shame, and all but eight hundred of the men were reconciled to Strabo." Strabo no longer hesistated to reach out to the defense of Rome, not knowing it was his last battle. Soon afterward, Strabo would be killed by lightning. This incident gave power to Pompey's character because, at birth of Alexander, a lightning bolt struck a temple. It was not long after his father's death that Pompey took over and started his career.
The only tears that were shed for Strabo outside his family were tears of joy. The universal judgment on Pompey's father was that he was totally unprincipled, insatiably greedy for money and honors, yet a great soldier. This personality was shared with Pompey with the exception that Pompey cared for his men. "While he lived, they feared him, for he was a very warlike man."1 He was a naturally authority and because of his great authority as a soldier in a series of crises he rose to the highest office of the state.
Pompey had inherited from his father the dignity of his rank and the wealth of his estates(like Alexander the Great) without the defective personality that had made Strabo hated. To charm, he added a degree of modesty which was quite remarkable in so handsome a young man for Plutarch is insistent that his face was his fortune in his early days. "His good looks played a great part in his popularity, and pleaded for him before he opened his mouth."2 From his youth he is credited with a regal appearance. "The way his hair lifted from his forehead and the graceful contours of his face around the eyes that produced a resemblance to portraits of Alexander."3 This resemblance was more talked about among Romans than was was apparent. The name Alexander stuck so firmly to Pompey that when Pompey was charged with stealing property, namely booty from a sack of Asculum, the person pleading on his behalf in court was able to say that he was "doing nothing strange if, being Philip, he loved Alexander."4 There was not one who realized how soon this young man's deed would make a comparison with the conquerors of the East. Much more than a matter of looks.
For years, Marius had pursued Jurgatha, Rome's enemy in Africa, but when the king finally by captured a Patrician officer, Cornelius Sulla took the credit. Twenty years younger than Marius, and driven by ambition and allied with the Patricians, Sulla bruised the old Plebian ego, starting the three year assault called the Social Wars-Rome fighting against their socii, their former allies.
Sulla stormed back to take the city and guarantee that his faction wouldn't be dislodged again. After a decisive victory at Rome, he waited anxiously for news of Pompey who was leading a private army to Rome to support him. Pompey was already considered a brilliant soldier though he was only twenty three years old. As his legions drew within sign of the city, Pompey ordered his officers to march in strict formation, fully armed. Sulla was impressed by their discipline as he was meant to be. When Pompey saluted Sulla as "Imperator," Sulla repeated the exalted title back to the twenty-three year old who had never been elected to office.
Sulla sent Pompey to Sicily and Libya to put a stop to the resistance there, but as the soldiers would recognize, Pompey was ruthless like Alexander. In Africa, Pompey slaughtered lions and elephants so that "even the beasts of Libya would fear the Roman army."5 When it was time for Pompey to return to Rome, Sulla instructed him to send his troops back first. Sensing a trick, Pompey's men threatened to mutiny until Pompey urged them to follow orders. Weeping, he assured them that he would kill himself before he would violate instructions from Rome. Like Alexander, tears came easily to Pompey; his courage guaranteed that no one would mock him for them. His weeping also testified to young men unusually sensitive to Rome's opinion. His family had been influential in Rome but the Pompeii couldn't compare in prestige to the Caesar's Julii. Pompey wanted to be accepted by the Senate's ruling class and that made him vulnerable.
Like other ambitious Roman soldiers he took Alexander as his model. In two and half centuries since Alexander died, no one had conquered the world as he did. He went east as Armenia, Mesopotamia, Syria and north as Bithynia. On their march back to Rome the Pompey's devoted troops flatterred him by adding "Magnus" to his name. The title not only had majestic echoes, but he would never again be called his father's name, Pompeius Strabo. This time, Sulla wne outside the city walls to welcome Pompey hom. But when Pompey asked for triumph to celebrate his victories, the dictator felf compelled to deny it. A triumph was bound by specific rules and traditions. "I think I do nothing demeaning or unworthy, fellow citizens, in making the first move to goodwill and friendship with Pompey, to whom you gave the name 'The Great' when he was still beardless and voted a triumph before he was a member of the Senate."6
Sulla argued that he could not allow Pompey, who had never been elected to any office, to ride down the Sacra Via. The people would be furious at the boy for demanding a triumph, Sulla said, and at him for permitting it. Pompey's answer came so low that Sulla missed it. But when the dictator saw his courtiers looking shocked, he asked Pompey to repeat what he said. Pompey said that more people worshipped the sun when it rose than when it set. The image annoyed Sulla, but he said, "Let him have his triumph! Let him have his triumph."
Despite Sulla's fears, most Roman were taking show with good humor, enjoying the fact that a man who didn't qualify for a triumph snatched one from the reluctant Senators. Seen close up, the young man was handsome but in a soft and rounded way. His cheeks were full, his hair wavy, and his eyes seemed to promise compassion. Pompey's could look reassuringly like Alexander's.
Although Alexander's love life was not much, neither was Pompey's. Flora, an aging and celebrated courtesan, after making love to Pompey, would brag to her friends about the bites she had allover her body. But Pompey's true love in life would be Julia, Caesar's daughter.
Pompey's new figure was a tragic figure of his generation, an intensely patriotic Roman condemned to overspend his generous talent in civil war. But for the incompetence of his superior, he might have taken Pompey's place as one of the greatest empire builders and administrators of the Republic. As it was, he would become one of the last and greatest supporters of its lost causes. In Spain, Pompey's mission had begun badly. Sertorius had moved his troops near Lauro, a rich forming community on the east coast. But Pompey's reputation, like Alexander's, frightened the town's people, and they sent word to him that any past allegiance to Sertorius was over. When both commanders marched on Lauro, Sertorius sprang a trap that killed one-third of Pompey's forces. For Pompey, losing this war was unthinkable. He urged the people of Lauro to remain cheerful and invited them to seats along with town wall to watch him lay siege to Sertorius' camp. But Sertorius hadn't exhausted his tricks. At forty-seven, he had been a soldier almost as long as Pompey had been alive. He laughed and promised to teach Sulla's schoolboy and Alexander's image a lesson." A general must look to the rear rather than to the front."7 With that, he brought six thousand men up behind Pompey and plundered the town and burned it to the ground.
Pompey had finally met his match and had to retreat. He wrote a letter to the Senate for help, but none was given. He concluded his second letter with this threat: "I myself have exhausted not only my money but even my credit. You are our only resource. Unless you come to our rescue-against my will, but not without warning from me, our army will pass over into Italy, bringing with it all the war in Spain."8
The Senate put together two legions and some money, but Pompey wanted to beat Sertorius at his own game of guerrilla tactics of harassment and the best man for the job was Metellus, one of the governors from Spain under whom Pompey had served in Italy.
Pompey then marched to join Metellus and as a mark of respect for the older man he ordered his lectors to lower their fasces in salute as the two approached each other. Even Alexander respected a general with a specific talent. But Metellus so respected the legend of Pompey that he refused to accept his honor and assumed no other marks of superiority.
Sertorius immediately counter-attacked and Pompey found himself almost surrounded by the Sertorius bodyguards. When one of them rushed out at Pompey, he hacked off the attacker's hand. But as a result of the fight that ensued, Pompey would bear many scars. Pompey could have considerred the war won, thanks to Metellus, but to return in triumph he had to capture Sertorius or kill him.
Marcus Perperna spared Pompey that chore. Sertorius' second-in-command murderred him. But when he assumed the rebel command, Perperna proved no match for Pompey. He was as furious as Alexander when he discovered Darius was assassinated. Perperna was captured and bargained for his life with letters he claimed would demonstrate that for years group of senators in Rome had been dealing secretly with Sertorius. Pompey was disappointed that the one person who challenged him the most was not killed by his hands, not knowing Caesar was yet to be discovered.
Pompey, looking for adventure pursued Spartacus. At the top of the Pyrenees, before engaging Pompey he erected a statue of himself, an imitation of Alexander's famous victory monument. With the engraving "876 towns brought into subjection's from the Alps to the limits of Farther Spain." Like Alexander, he ignored the contribution of his associate Metellus. After the defeat Sertorious said, "But as for that boy Pompey, if the old woman Metellus had not come up, I should have given him a sound thrashing and sent him back to Rome."9
The prospect of Pompey sharing in the defeat of Spartacus was too late. Crassus had killed more than 12,000 slaves and Pompey chased after the retreating slaves and killed as many as 5000. He wrote at once to the senate to magnify his contribution. Crassus may have conquered the slaves in combat, but Pompey said, but it was he, Magnus, who had torn up the rebellion by its very roots. Back in Rome, like a spoiled child, he demanded a second triumph for his services in Spain. He still had no more official claim. The senate and Sulla raged with envy and dislike but had to agree because of Pompey's popularity.
With Sertorius and Spartacus dead and Mithrides stalemated in the East, the greatest threats to Rome were the pirate fleets. A new generation of pirates was recruiting the sons of good families and behaving like theivish nobility. Over four hundred cities had been hit. They hijacked cargo and kidnapped officials for ransom. Even Caesar was kidnapped. The raiding caused shortages in wheat and the Romans foresaw famine and riots. The Romans began to clamor for the service of their best generals. Patricians in the senate feared Pompey more than they feared the pirates because he was so popular that he could conceivable become a dictator, but Pompey refused the command. He rationalized that he shouldn't always be the one to hold power too quickly. "Surely I am not the only one who loves you, and I am not the only one skilled in warfare," he said.10 But the final vote went to Pompey, he asked the senate for 500 ships and an army of 120,000 infantry and 5000 calvalry.
As the report of Pompey's new command reached the ports, confidence was renewed and traders started shipping grain to Rome again. With supplies increasing, prices dropped. Pompey's boosters claimed that his very name "Pompey the Great" had put an end to piracy. The pirates had been operating as guerillas picking easy target and sailing away before the Romans could catch him. Our hero prepared a massive, coordinated strike. Dividing the seas that reached from Farther Spain to Syria into 13 districts, he assigned one of his best generals to each. Commanders were told to patrol the seas and attack all pirate bases. Pompey took a fleet of 60 ships in a circle around the Mediterranean, defeated the last remnants at sea, then launched a siege against the strongholds until the pirates unconditionally. He captured 20,000 pirates from 90 warships. Romans had expected their commander to rescue them over three years, but Pompey the Great did it in three months. The victory boosted Pompey's dignity and towards the end of his career he adopted the stubbornness of Alexander. His reaction was as swift as it was angry. He prepared a legion against Aristobulus at Jordan valley, to increase the Roman territory. At the city Pompey had orderred the king to come down and discuss the situation sensibly or prepare a suicidal defense, bu the king refused to hand over the treasury or admit a Roman garrison. His fate was sealed. Pompey clapped him in irons and destroyed the city.
The Triumvirs established by Caesar, Pompey and Crassus organized to govern Rome. For Pompey, this became the point in his career when everything began to go downhill because he was a good soldier but not a good politician. At Capua, he and his fellow land commissioners were establishing his veterans in a Roman colony. But Pompey had known that he should not replace the soldiers with natives, but he did. Just as Alexander had, he lost the morale of his troops. Cicero sarcastically said, "To my great sorrow, my darling Pompey has shattered his own reputation, and I am very much afraid that our rulers may find it necessary to try the effect of fear."11 Plutarch wrote, "How happy it would have been for Pompey to have ended his life at this point. Up to which , he had enjoyed the good fortune of Alexander; for the future brought him only success that made him hateful and failure that was irreparable."12 But Pompey was not as untroubled by unpopularity as Caesar.
In Rome, the issue had become one of trust. Caesar was sure the senate aristocrats were trying to trick him into giving up his command in Gaul before he could assume the legal protection of 2nd consulship and suspect that Caesar is not giving up his military command at all. Pompey, caught in the middle, was distrusted by both sides. But Pompey thought he had done enough for Caesar by delaying it by five months, by that time Caesar would have been elected consul.
Even if Pompey was acting in good faith, Caesar couldn't take the chance. He might surrender his command only to find that his enemies had delayed the consular elections. Caesar in his absense sent a tribune with a message that if Caesar was forced to give up his provinces, Pompey should do the same. That tribune was another Alexander wannabe, Mark Anthony, a young boy whose military skill was as good as Pompey's. When Mark Anthony asked Pompey where he would find the forces to defend Rome if Caesar challenged the senate, Pompey answered, "Wherever I stomp my foot in Italy, there will be enough troops in an instant-both cavalry and infantry."
Mark Anthony lived a life that even Romans considerred wild. Besides his drinking and gambling, he was notoriously extravagant. He was also a womanizer like Caesar but not like Alexander. But high spending was a tradition in his family. In campaigns he threw parties, wrestling matches, games and hunting. Anthony left his teens and outgrew adolescent friendships. He grew a beard and built his body to impose Alexander. He then followed the example of Caesar and Cicero by going abroad to Greece to study. There, he joined in military exercises but concentrated on rhetoric. Caesar reminded Romans that he was descended from Venus. Anthony's family claimed Hercules and Dionysus and he became a bully, carrying a sword. His nature was forthright and his generosity was greater than his finances should have permitted. He liked to laugh, and men and women liked to laugh with him.
Anthony was a reckless and daring soldier. He was often the first to climb the wall of the city. When he fought, he was like Hercules-when he partied, he was like Dionysus.
Pompey's deadline passed with Caesar still entrenched in Gaul. One of the senators called for a vote on the issue of sending commanders to replace Caesar. A majority of senators withdrew the vote. They reasoned that most of them had seen too much violence and bloodshed in their lifetime. But Cicero could see the two conquerors' lives as parallel enough to suggest comparison, and that Caesar had bribed the senate. A second vote by Anthony suggested that Pompey and Caesar leave their commands at the same time, but Caesar was clever, knowing that Pompey was tired and wanted to retire. Convinced that a civil war had been avoided, they showered Anthony with flowers. But Cicero told his fellow senators, "Enjoy your victory, you have won Caesar as your master." Caesar's mobility was compared with Alexander's. Caesar's buying time with the senate discussing who stays and who leaves. Caesar had already crossed the Alps with his army plus Pompey's veterans that he recruited after Pompey retired them at Spain.
By now, the senators believed that Caesar threatened their lives. A consul called on the ranking officials to leave the chamber or expect violence. Anthony jumped from his chair and called on gods and Romans to witness this indignity. Shouting predictions of war, death, and destruction he ran out of the senate.
Disguishing himself, he rented a carriage and hurried to tell Caesar that civil war is started. On paper, Pompey's forces and Caesar's were evently matched; on the battlefield they were not. Caesar's legions were close at hand in Gaul, while most of Pompey's were in Spain. Caesar's legions were close at hand in Gaul, while most of Pompey's were in Spain. Caesar had given secret orders for three legions to move close enough to the Spanish border to bottle up troops loyal to Pompey. This took great communication and planning which Caesar learned from Alexander the Great. Of Pompey's three legions in Italy, two had served with Caesar, and their loyalties were unclear. Though he had more troops, Pompey lost the battle. By Caesar's estimate, 24,000 of Pompey's 45,000 troops surrendered, the rest were dead. Now he had to make sure Pompey would not be able to raise a new army. But Pompey was staying ahead of him. He went to Lesbos to get money and then sailed to Egypt, but his timing couldn't be worse. Ptolemy was already locked in his own civil war against his sister Cleopatra.
When Ptolemy heard of the fallen general's approach, he sent a message to Pompey telling him to delay his landing until he and his advisors made a decision. At one time, Pompey could have crushed Egypt, now he did as he was told, spending his 58th birthday awaiting permission from a child. Ptolemy sent a small craft to row Pompey ashore. The Romans now saw Egyptian soldiers boarding their galleys. Even if Pomepy had been inclined to flee, he no longer had that option. Sensing a trap, his wife Cornelia began to cry. But Pompey, who had worried much of his life about treachery, had moved beyond fear. Notables from the Egyptian court were coming forward to give him the welcome he deserved.
As Pompey got to his feet, an Egyptian soldier drew his sword and stabbed him in the back. It was a moment Pompey seemed to foresee, and he me it nobly. He made no protest, but pulled up his robe with both hands and covered his head so that his face would not expose his terror. The Egyptians aboard the boat cut off his head and threw his body overboard.
When Caesar reached Egypt, Ptolemy's advisers thought they knew how to appease the Roman. As proof of their loyalty, they sent an Egyptian bearing Pompey's head, but Caesar shrank back from it, shocked. Caesar took Pompey's seal-a lion holding a sword. Caesar recalled the years of kinship he had with Pompey, and burst into tears. It seemed that with Pompey's death, Caesar would gain all his wealth and property, and even his spirit-which was so much like Alexander. "Thus he won many battles, brought into subjection many potentates and kings both by war and treaty, colonized eight cities, opened up many lands and sources of revenue to the Romans, and established and organized most of the nations of the continent of Asia with their own laws and constitutions. So that even to this day they still you Pompey's laws."13
Sulla was elected a dictator with a commission to reconstitute the state. Such commission had granted him temporary monarchy in order to make monarchy impossible. Sulla with his death list would kill anyone suspecting a threat to the Republic. Yet Sulla's actions had a long-term effect. He had shown how power might be concentrated in a single person.
Gaius Julius Caesar stood before Sulla, waiting a decision that could cost him his life. To ensure the loyalty of Rome's young aristocrats, Sulla had ordered several of them to leave their wives and marry women he had selected. Most obeyed, and now he was demanding that the 19-year-old Caesar divorce and accept a more politically acceptable wife. But Caesar was staring at him with black and cold eyes. His stubbornness was a puzzle to Sulla.
Caesar had married Cornelia, a young aristocrat whose father had been named four times as consul. But Caesar would not divorce her. Apparently, he loved her. In doing so, he honored his parents and his aunt Julia and Gaius Marius, her husband. Marius was the famous general who had restored great prestige and power to Caesar's family. He was also Sulla's most hated enemy. To punish Caesar, Sulla confiscated his inheritance and Cornelia's dowry and exiled him to Rome. As Caesar had to move from house to house, his family appealed to the dictator, for his mother was in constant communication. His mother, like Alexander's, was a strong and powerful woman, reminding Caesar that even Alexander had been exiled, and had come back with a vengeance. Allegiances between the followers of Sulla and Marius were constantly shifting, and Caesar's mother called on her conservative relatives to protect her son. She also had friends among the vestal virgins. Even a dictator had to listen to their pleas. Caesar, with his mother's confidence, went to Greece. In following the traces of his father and undergoing his first test of manhood, Caesar considered Odysseus as his hero. "You need not bear this insolence of theirs, you are a child no longer. Have you ever heard what glory young Orestes won when he cut down that two-faced man, Aigisthos, for killing his illustrious father? Dear friend, you are tall and well set up, I see; be brave-you, too-and men in times to come will speak of you respectfully."14
The journey signified more than a search for his father or testing of manhood, it represented a cultural pilgrimage. Caesar would visit places associated with Alexander, the famous poets, artists and architects, as well as philosophers. In later years, Caesar would continue to challenge the city-state concept of empire. At this point he was a lowly quaestor arbitrating petty disputes over boundaries and water rights. Since Sulla had exiled him, this was the best job he could gain. He suffered a painful realization of his insignificance when he visited the temple of Melkort by Gades. On the doors of the temple he beheld the image of the birth of the demigod and he recalled Hercules' mourn in the underworld to Odysseus about his journeys. "Odysseus, master mariner and soldier, under a cloud, you too? Destined to grinding labors like my own in the sunny world? Son of Kronion Zeus or not, how many days I sweated out, being bound in servitude to a man far worse than I, a rough master! He made me hunt this place one time to get the watchdog of the dead: no more perilous task, he thought could be."15 Caesar considered his own agony as a lowly quaestor. When he entered the temple and saw the bust of Alexander, he "heaved a sigh as if out of patience with his own incapacity at having nothing done where at the time, Alexander had already brought the world to his feet."16
Caesar immediately asked for discharge to seek Rome, but before his departure he made a visite to the temple of Venus at Gades. Romans seemed to need a symbol, a turning point-the bust of Alexander, a prophetic dream-to explain the change they saw over Caesar. When priests interpreted dreams of worshippers within the same followers, Caesar had a vision of violating his mother. He had a particularly close relationship with her since his father died of stroke. Aurelia, unlike many other widows, didn't worry, but devoted herself to her son's career. The priests reached a conclusion which satisfied Caesar. "He was destined to rule the world, since his mother had seen in his power was none other earth. Which is regarded as the common parent of all mankind."17 At Rome, the priests serving Caesar's divine ancestors interpreted mastery over the earth like Alexander.
Aurelia pressuring Sulla worked, he agreed to spare the young man; with absolute power. When his advisors congradulated him on his decisions, Sulla replied, "You are stupid if you don't see that in this boy there are many Mariuses."18
Julius Caesar didn't believe that he could stop running. He arranged for a post that would take him far from Rome. It meant a long absence from his wife and daughter, and from his mother. Gaul was mostly undiscovered and challenging, and it put an ocean between him and the dictator. But the sea was always risky, less for the storms then the pirates. When he was crossing the Aegean, pirates seized his ship. They asked for 20 talents(about 1000 pounds of silver.). One account had Caesar annoyed when the pirates demanded only 20 talents, complaining that the price was too low. If he really did this, there are two reasons: 1) He wanted to gauge his popularity with the Romans. 2) Pure ego. Other stories told of him watching his captors practice with their swords, and laughing at their incompetence. The pirates wrestled and swam with him until he became more their leader than their prisoner. When he was sleepy, he demanded that the pirates stop talking. Most amusing, was that Caesar joked with his captors that once he was free, he would see them all hanged. The pirates had promised to set their captives free after receiving the ransom, and they kept their word. So did Caesar. Gaul was not entirely strange to Caesar. His tutor had been a native. For years Romans had ignored a persistent resistance in North Spain, but Caesar targeted those tribes because he needed money to keep his troops at Gaul. Caesar practiced Alexander's policy-if the tribe was willing to join Rome, they would not be harmed. But it backfired, when the tribes rejected his demanded, Caesar marched his troops to the plains. He had picked no easy foe. The tribes slept on the ground and lived off acorns and goat meat. Rather than take slaves, they stoned their prisoners to death. Caesar tried to demoralize them by launching a rumor his horse had hooves that separated into toes. But Caesar's victory came from Roman training and tactics and his genius strategy with a limited army, not from his propoganda.
Caesar's victories in Gaul had proved him to be a natural commander. But while Pompey had fought for Rome's glory and expected gratitude, Caesar had aimed for political power. Caesar had only five thousand me, compared to Gaul's twenty thousand. Marius had devised a spear that when hurled, the spear head would ecome detached upon impact so that it could not be thrown back. Caesar developed one better, creating a spear that lodged so deep into an enemy's shield that the entire shield had to be east aside.
Caesar had already made up his mind: The Helvetians couldn't be trusted. In his father's time, they had defeated the Roman consul, killing him. Caesar thought that by now the Helvetians were plundering villages that were allied to Rome. He brought up new forces and put them to work. He had developed a formula for building forts. During march, they built a complete temporary camp at the end of each day, throwing up walls 16 feet high and digging trenches, miles long, and protecting the installation with heavy wooden stakes.
The Helvetians decided to defy him. Some attempted to break through the Roman line by night as others crossed the trench. Caesar's men proved alert, and drove them back. He then marched five legions back to Gaul, fighting off mountain tribes as he took the shortest route over the Alps. He waited for midnight and then led a surprise attack on those waiting for morning to transport the tribe's baggage across the river. The Romans killed many of the Helvetians, including women and children. Caesar told his engineers to throw up portoon bridges(floating temporary bridges) and caught the enemy off guard. It had taken them three weeks to cross the river; Caesar cut the time to a single day. Caesar's soldiers compared the challenge to Alexander, when he was building bridge to attack Tyre.
The Helvetians knew they had to try to negotiate but they made the mistake of sending the same chieftain who had once defeated the Roman consul. The chief's plea began reasonably, but then he reminded Caesar of his past victory and added that Caesar should not let this place go down in history as the site of another disaster for the Romans.
Romans never forget an enemy. Caesar's response was, "When the gods wish to take vengeance on humans for their crimes, they usually grant them, for a time, considerable success and quite a long period of immunity, so that when their fortunes are reversed they will it more bitterly."19 The old chief's pride hardened. The Helvetian tradition was to take hostages, not give them. The next day the tribe moved camp, and Caesar sent his entire cavalry of five thousand men after them. His troops had two advantages: hurling a javelin down from high ground and Caesar's breakaway javelin had a range of one hundred feet. The victory was to be Caesar's.
Caesar's rules were explicit, if a town surrendered before his battering rams struck its walls, he would spare the citizens, but they had to hand over their weapons to him. Caesar stormed the village and took the entire population as slaves. By autumn, Caesar considerred Gaul conquered.
In the civil war with Pompey, Caesar had the omens at his side. This mean that, like Alexander, he had the gods on his side. This strength the morale of his troops, but he still had to convince them to take up arms against Rome. In an emotional speech to his troops, he recited the history of wrongs against him, and threw open his tunic to show how vulnerable he was to his troops. He also had to convince them to go against Pompey. He did this by explaining that Pompey had been led astray, and was now trying to take away the credit that Caesar and his troops deserved.
When he began to speak, Caesar had little reason to doubt his men's loyalty. When he finished, he had none. Caesar was a "wretched madman" who was fighting to defend his honor. Pompey was outnumbering Caesar at Rome, but Caesar had his favorite legions with him, the 10th and 12th, they were the legions that had defeated the Gauls and the Germans, the barbarians Rome had feared for years. Before the battle, Caesar is quoted, "Alea iacta est." : The die is cast.
Pompey's strategy was to fight a slow war, and to starve them out. But the morale of his troops was low as they were afraid that a long war would hurt them more than it would Caesar. He decided to attack the next day. Omens soon occurred that seemed to assure Caesar of his victory, and Pompey of his defeat. When a comet flated across the sky from the direction of Caesar's camp, it illustrated the way they would fall upon Pompey's camp and extinguish it. Pompey, on the other hand, had made a sacrifice, but it was ruined when a swarm of bees settled upon his altar. He had to assure his men that they hadn't been cursed.
Caesar stationed himself directly opposite Pompey. "This day will decide everything," he said. "Remember how you swore to each other in my presence that you would never leave the field except as conquerors." He instructed his troops to concentrate on only defeating the legions from Italy and not the Syrians or other foreigners who were slaves ready to flee the battlefield. Once they had put the enemy to flight, however, "let us spare the Italians as our kinfolk but slaughter their allies in order to strike terror in others." He turned for a response to Crastinus, a former centurion from the 10th Legion who had left retirement to come fight with him. The answer came back: "Today, General, I will give you reason to thank me, living or dead." Caesar captured the camp, but Pompey had fled. Caesar entered Pompey's tent and made it his own. His lieutenants estimated that there were 6,000 of the enemy dead, but Caesar had only lost 30 centurions and 200 legionnaires. Among the dead, was Crastinus. Caesar located his body, and had a special tomb erected next to his common grave.
With Crassus dead at Parthia and Pompey dead by the Egyptians, Caesar ruled alone. But some senate members saw Caesar as a tyrant and decided to assassinate him. Cicero, not party to the conspiracy, was always a thorn in Caesar's side. When Caesar was killed, Cicero proclaimed liberty.
Anthony extolled Caesar's mercy to his defeated rivals and reminded his audience that it was the Romans themselves who insisted on bestowing Caesar his many titles. "Therefore, for the gods he was a high priest. For us citizens he was consul. For the soldiers, Imperator and, for the enemy, dictator. But why do I list all these details when-in one phrase-you called him father of his country."
With Anthony temporarily in charge, Cicero fear for his life and fled. But Anthony pursued and caught him. He cut off his head and his hands, and back in Rome, had his head mounted on the large rostra and on either side, his hands.
Caesar was dead, but not his work. He had established nothing that would last, but what Caesar had destroyed was never repaired. The image of Alexander so influenced Caesar, Anthony, and Pompey, that they had embraced an oligarchy. But now the oligarchic constitution lay in ruins. Caesar himself had said, "the Republic was merely a name, without form or substance"; and no daggers could ever restore that substance.
1. Plutarch. "Fall of the Roman Republic." Pg. 189, line 31.
2. Ibid., pg. 165, line 8.
3. Peter Greenhalgh. "Pompey: The Roman Alexander." Pg. 11.
4. Ibid., pg. 11.
5. T. Rice Holmes. "The Architect of the Roman Empire." pg. 219.
6. Plutarch. "Life of Crassus." Pg. 128, line 12.
7. A. J. Langguth. "A Noise of War." Pg. 61.
8. Peter Greenhalgh. "Pompey: The Roman Alexander." Pg. 62.
9. Plutarch. "Life of Sertorius." pg. 40, 19.6.
10. A. J. Langguth. "Noise of War." Pg. 85.
11. Peter Greenhalgh. "Pompey: The Roman Alexander." Pg. 220.
12. Plutarch. "Life of Pompey." Pg. 46.
13. Dio Crassus. "Roman History." Pg. 37.
14. Arthur D. Kahn. "The Education of Julius Caesar." pg. 61.
15. Ibid., pg. 108.
16. Ibid., pg. 108.
17. Ibid., pg. 108.
18. Allan Massie. "The Caesar's." Pg. 37.
19. Brogan. "War Over River Tolls." Pg. 12
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