HotFreeBooks.com
Caesar: A Sketch
by James Anthony Froude
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

In the pursuit he came again to Tongres, to the fatal camp which Sabinus had deserted and in which the last of the legionaries had killed each other, rather than degrade the Roman name by allowing themselves to be captured. The spot was fated, and narrowly escaped being the scene of a second catastrophe as frightful as the first. The entrenchments were standing as they were left, ready to be occupied. Caesar, finding himself encumbered by his heavy baggage in the pursuit of Ambiorix, decided to leave it there with Quintus Cicero and the 14th legion. He was going himself to scour Brabant and East Flanders as far as the Scheldt. In seven days he promised to return, and meanwhile he gave Cicero strict directions to keep the legion within the lines, and not to allow any of the men to stray. It happened that after Caesar recrossed the Rhine two thousand German horse had followed in bravado, and were then plundering between Tongres and the river. Hearing that there was a rich booty in the camp, that Caesar was away, and only a small party had been left to guard it, they decided to try to take the place by a sudden stroke. Cicero, seeing no sign of an enemy, had permitted his men to disperse in foraging parties. The Germans were on them before they could recover their entrenchments, and they had to form at a distance and defend themselves as they could. The gates of the camp were open, and the enemy were actually inside before the few maniples who were left there were able to collect and resist them. Fortunately Sextius Bacillus, the same officer who had so brilliantly distinguished himself in the battle with the Nervii, and had since been badly wounded, was lying sick in his tent, where he had been for five days, unable to touch food. Hearing the disturbance, Bacillus sprang out, snatched a sword, rallied such men as he could find, and checked the attack for a few minutes. Other officers rushed to his help, and the legionaries having their centurions with them recovered their steadiness. Sextius Bacillus was again severely hurt, and fainted, but he was carried off in safety. Some of the cohorts who were outside, and had been for a time cut off, made their way into the camp to join the defenders, and the Germans, who had come without any fixed purpose, merely for plunder, gave way and galloped off again. They left the Romans, however, still in the utmost consternation. The scene and the associations of it suggested the most gloomy anticipations. They thought that German cavalry could never be so far from the Rhine, unless their countrymen were invading in force behind them. Caesar, it was supposed, must have been surprised and destroyed, and they and every Roman in Gaul would soon share the same fate. Brave as they were, the Roman soldiers seem to have been curiously liable to panics of this kind. The faith with which they relied upon their general avenged itself through the completeness with which they were accustomed to depend upon him. He returned on the day which he had fixed, and not unnaturally was displeased at the disregard of his orders. He did not, or does not in his Commentaries, professedly blame Cicero. But the Ciceros perhaps resented the loss of confidence which one of them had brought upon himself. Quintus Cicero cooled in his zeal, and afterward amused the leisure of his winter quarters with composing worthless dramas.

Ambiorix had again escaped, and was never taken. The punishment fell on his tribe. The Eburones were completely rooted out. The turn of the Carnutes and Senones came next. The people themselves were spared; but their leader, a chief named Acco, who was found to have instigated the revolt, was arrested and executed. Again the whole of Gaul settled into seeming quiet; and Caesar went to Italy, where the political frenzy was now boiling over.

[1] Caesar says their trenches were fifteen miles long. This is, perhaps, a mistake of the transcriber. A Roman camp did not usually cover more than a few acres.

[2] People about Sens, Melun, and Chartres.



CHAPTER XVIII.

[Sidenote: B.C. 55.] The conference at Lucca and the Senate's indifference had determined Cicero to throw in his lot with the trimmers. He had remonstrated with Pompey on the imprudence of prolonging Caesar's command. Pompey, he thought, would find out in time that he had made Caesar too strong for him; but Pompey had refused to listen, and Cicero had concluded that he must consider his own interests. His brother Quintus joined the army in Gaul to take part in the invasion of Britain, and to share the dangers and the honors of the winter which followed it. Cicero himself began a warm correspondence with Caesar, and through Quintus sent continued messages to him. Literature was a neutral ground on which he could approach his political enemy without too open discredit, and he courted eagerly the approval of a critic whose literary genius he esteemed as highly as his own. Men of genuine ability are rarely vain of what they can do really well. Cicero admired himself as a statesman with the most unbounded enthusiasm. He was proud of his verses, which were hopelessly commonplace. In the art in which he was without a rival he was modest and diffident. He sent his various writings for Caesar's judgment. "Like the traveller who has overslept himself," he said, "yet by extraordinary exertions reaches his goal sooner than if he had been earlier on the road, I will follow your advice and court this man. I have been asleep too long. I will correct my slowness with my speed; and as you say he approves my verses, I shall travel not with a common carriage, but with a four-in-hand of poetry." [1]

"What does Caesar say of my poems?" he wrote again. "He tells me in one of his letters that he has never read better Greek. At one place he writes [Greek: rathumotera] [somewhat careless]. This is his word. Tell me the truth, Was it the matter which did not please him, or the style?" "Do not be afraid," he added with candid simplicity; "I shall not think a hair the worse of myself." [2]

His affairs were still in disorder. Caesar had now large sums at his disposition. Cicero gave the highest proof of the sincerity of his conversion by accepting money from him. "You say," he observed in another letter, "that Caesar shows every day more marks of his affection for you. It gives me infinite pleasure. I can have no second thoughts in Caesar's affairs. I act on conviction, and am doing but my duty; but I am inflamed with love for him." [3]

With Pompey and Crassus Cicero seemed equally familiar. When their consulship was over, their provinces were assigned as had been determined. Pompey had Spain, with six legions. He remained himself at Rome, sending lieutenants in charge of them. Crassus aspired to equal the glory of his colleagues in the open field. He had gained some successes in the war with the slaves which persuaded him that he too could be a conqueror; and knowing as much of foreign campaigning as the clerks in his factories, he intended to use Syria as a base of operations against the Parthians, and to extend the frontier to the Indus. The Senate had murmured, but Cicero had passionately defended Crassus;[4] and as if to show publicly how entirely he had now devoted himself to the cause of the "Dynasts," he invited Crassus to dine with him the day before his departure for the East.

The position was not wholly pleasant to Cicero. "Self-respect in speech, liberty in choosing the course which we will pursue, is all gone," he wrote to Lentulus Spinther—"gone not more from me than from us all. We must assent, as a matter of course, to what a few men say, or we must differ from them to no purpose.—The relations of the Senate, of the courts of justice, nay, of the whole Commonwealth are changed.—The consular dignity of a firm and courageous statesman can no longer be thought of. It has been lost by the folly of those who estranged from the Senate the compact order of the equites and a very distinguished man [Caesar]." [5] And again: "We must go with the times. Those who have played a great part in public life have never been able to adhere to the same views on all occasions. The art of navigation lies in trimming to the storm. When you can reach your harbor by altering your course, it is a folly to persevere in struggling against the wind. Were I entirely free I should still act as I am doing; and when I am invited to my present attitude by the kindness of one set of men, and am driven to it by the injurious conduct of the other, I am content to do what I conceive will conduce at once to my own advantage and the welfare of the State.— Caesar's influence is enormous. His wealth is vast. I have the use of both, as if they were my own. Nor could I have crushed the conspiracy of a set of villains to ruin me, unless, in addition to the defences which I always possessed, I had secured the goodwill of the men in power." [6]

[Sidenote: B.C. 54.] Cicero's conscience could not have been easy when he was driven to such laborious apologies. He spoke often of intending to withdraw into his family, and devoting his time entirely to literature; but he could not bring himself to leave the political ferment; and he was possessed besides with a passionate desire to revenge himself on those who had injured him. An opportunity seemed to present itself. The persons whom he hated most, after Clodius, were the two consuls Gabinius and Piso, who had permitted his exile. They had both conducted themselves abominably in the provinces, which they had bought, he said, at the price of his blood. Piso had been sent to Macedonia, where he had allowed his army to perish by disease and neglect. The frontiers had been overrun with brigands, and the outcries of his subjects had been audible even in Rome against his tyranny and incapacity. Gabinius, in Syria, had been more ambitious, and had exposed himself to an indignation more violent because more interested. At a hint from Pompey, he had restored Ptolemy to Egypt on his own authority and without waiting for the Senate's sanction, and he had snatched for himself the prize for which the chiefs of the Senate had been contending. He had broken the law by leading his legions over the frontier. He had defeated the feeble Alexandrians, and the gratified Ptolemy had rewarded him with the prodigious sum of ten thousand talents—a million and a half of English money. While he thus enriched himself he had irritated the knights, who might otherwise have supported him, by quarrelling with the Syrian revenue farmers, and, according to popular scandal, he had plundered the province worse than it had been plundered even by the pirates.

When so fair a chance was thrown in his way, Cicero would have been more than human if he had not availed himself of it. He moved in the Senate for the recall of the two offenders, and in the finest of his speeches he laid bare their reputed iniquities. His position was a delicate one, because the senatorial party, could they have had their way, would have recalled Caesar also. Gabinius was Pompey's favorite, and Piso was Caesar's father- in-law. Cicero had no intention of quarrelling with Caesar; between his invectives, therefore, he was careful to interweave the most elaborate compliments to the conqueror of Gaul. He dwelt with extraordinary clearness on the value of Caesar's achievements. The conquest of Gaul, he said, was not the annexation of a province. It was the dispersion of a cloud which had threatened Italy from the days of Brennus. To recall Caesar would be madness. He wished to remain only to complete his work; the more honor to him that he was willing to let the laurels fade which were waiting for him at Rome, before he returned to wear them. There were persons who would bring him back, because they did not love him. They would bring him back only to enjoy a triumph. Gaul had been the single danger to the Empire. Nature had fortified Italy by the Alps. The mountain-barrier alone had allowed Rome to grow to its present greatness, but the Alps might now sink into the earth, Italy had no more to fear.[7]

The orator perhaps hoped that so splendid a vindication of Caesar in the midst of his worst enemies might have purchased pardon for his onslaught on the baser members of the "Dynastic" faction. He found himself mistaken. His eagerness to revenge his personal wrongs compelled him to drink the bitterest cup of humiliation which had yet been offered to him. He gained his immediate purpose. The two governors were recalled in disgrace, and Gabinius was impeached under the new Julian law for having restored Ptolemy without orders, and for the corrupt administration of his province. Cicero would naturally have conducted the prosecution; but pressure of some kind was laid on, which compelled him to stand aside. The result of the trial on the first of the two indictments was another of those mockeries of justice which made the Roman law-courts the jest of mankind. Pompey threw his shield over his instrument. He used his influence freely. The Egyptian spoils furnished a fund to corrupt the judges. The speech for the prosecution was so weak as to invite a failure, and Gabinius was acquitted by a majority of purchased votes. "You ask me how I endure such things," Cicero bitterly wrote, in telling the story to Atticus; "well enough, by Hercules, and I am entirely pleased with myself. We have lost, my friend, not only the juice and blood, but even the color and shape, of a commonwealth. No decent constitution exists in which I can take a part. How can you put up with such a state of things? you will say. Excellently well. I recollect how public affairs went awhile ago, when I was myself in office, and how grateful people were to me. I am not distressed now, that the power is with a single man. Those are miserable who could not bear to see me successful. I find much to console me." [8] "Gabinius is acquitted," he wrote to his brother.—"The verdict is so infamous that it is thought he will be convicted on the other charge; but, as you perceive, the constitution, the Senate, the courts, are all nought. There is no honor in any one of us.—Some persons, Sallust among them, say that I ought to have prosecuted him. I to risk my credit with such a jury! what if I had acted, and he had escaped then! but other motives influenced me. Pompey would have made a personal quarrel of it with me. He would have come into the city.[9]—He would have taken up with Clodius again. I know that I was wise, and I hope that you agree with me. I owe Pompey nothing, and he owes much to me; but in public matters (not to put it more strongly) he has not allowed me to oppose him; and when I was flourishing and he was less powerful than he is now, he let me see what he could do. Now when I am not even ambitious of power, and the constitution is broken down, and Pompey is omnipotent, why should I contend with him? Then, says Sallust, I ought to have pleased Pompey by defending Gabinius, as he was anxious that I should. A nice friend Sallust, who would have me push myself into dangerous quarrels, or cover myself with eternal infamy!" [10]

Unhappy Cicero, wishing to act honorably, but without manliness to face the consequences! He knew that it would be infamous for him to defend Gabinius, yet at the second trial Cicero, who had led the attack on him in the Senate, and had heaped invectives on him, the most bitter which he ever uttered against man, nevertheless actually did defend Gabinius. Perhaps he consoled himself with the certainty that his eloquence would be in vain, and that his extraordinary client this time could not escape conviction. Any way, he appeared at the bar as Gabinius's counsel. The Syrian revenue farmers were present, open-mouthed with their accusations. Gabinius was condemned, stripped of his spoils, and sent into banishment. Cicero was left with his shame. Nor was this the worst. There were still some dregs in the cup, which he was forced to drain. Publius Vatinius was a prominent leader of the military democratic party, and had often come in collision with Cicero. He had been tribune when Caesar was consul, and had stood by him against the Senate and Bibulus. He had served in Gaul in Caesar's first campaigns, and had returned to Rome, at Caesar's instance, to enter for higher office. He had carried the praetorship against Cato; and Cicero in one of his speeches had painted him as another Clodius or Catiline. When the praetorship was expired, he was prosecuted for corruption; and Cicero was once more compelled to appear on the other side, and defend him, as he had done Gabinius. Caesar and Pompey, wishing perhaps to break completely into harness the brilliant but still half unmanageable orator, had so ordered, and Cicero had complied. He was ashamed, but he had still his points of satisfaction. It was a matter of course that, as an advocate, he must praise the man whom, a year before, he had spattered with ignominy; but he had the pleasure of feeling that he was revenging himself on his conservative allies, who led the prosecution. "Why I praised Vatinius," he wrote to Lentulus, "I must beg you not to ask either in the case of this or of any other criminal. I put it to the judges that since certain noble lords, my good friends, were too fond of my adversary [Clodius], and in the Senate would go apart with him under my own eyes, and would treat him with warmest affection, they must allow me to have my Publius [Vatinius], since they had theirs [Clodius], and give them a gentle stab in return for their cuts at me." [11] Vatinius was acquitted. Cicero was very miserable. "Gods and men approved," he said; but his own conscience condemned him, and at this time his one consolation, real or pretended, was the friendship of Caesar. "Caesar's affectionate letters," he told his brother, "are my only pleasure; I attach little consequence to his promises; I do not thirst for honors, or regret my past glory. I value more the continuance of his good-will than the prospect of anything which he may do for me. I am withdrawing from public affairs, and giving myself to literature. But I am broken-hearted, my dear brother;—I am broken-hearted that the constitution is gone, that the courts of law are naught; and that now at my time of life, when I ought to be leading with authority in the Senate, I must be either busy in the Forum pleading, or occupying myself with my books at home. The ambition of my boyhood—

Aye to be first, and chief among my peers—

is all departed. Of my enemies, I have left some unassailed, and some I even defend. Not only I may not think as I like, but I may not hate as I like,[12] and Caesar is the only person who loves me as I should wish to be loved, or, as some think, who desires to love me." [13]

[Sidenote: B.C. 53.] The position was the more piteous, because Cicero could not tell how events would fall out after all. Crassus was in the East, with uncertain prospects there. Caesar was in the midst of a dangerous war, and might be killed or might die. Pompey was but a weak vessel; a distinguished soldier, perhaps, but without the intellect or the resolution to control a proud, resentful, and supremely unscrupulous aristocracy. In spite of Caesar's victories, his most envenomed enemy, Domitius Ahenobarbus, had succeeded after all in carrying one of the consulships for the year 54. The popular party had secured the other, indeed; but they had returned Appius Claudius, Clodius's brother, and this was but a poor consolation. In the year that was to follow, the conservatives had bribed to an extent which astonished the most cynical observers. Each season the elections were growing more corrupt; but the proceedings on both sides in the fall of 54 were the most audacious that had ever been known, the two reigning consuls taking part, and encouraging and assisting in scandalous bargains. "All the candidates have bribed," wrote Cicero; "but they will be all acquitted, and no one will ever be found guilty again. The two consuls are branded with infamy." Memmius, the popular competitor, at Pompey's instance, exposed in the Senate an arrangement which the consuls had entered into to secure the returns. The names and signatures were produced. The scandal was monstrous, and could not be denied. The better kind of men began to speak of a dictatorship as the only remedy; and although the two conservative candidates were declared elected for 53, and were allowed to enter on their offices, there was a general feeling that a crisis had arrived, and that a great catastrophe could not be very far off. The form which it might assume was the problem of the hour.

Cicero, speaking two years before on the broad conditions of his time, had used these remarkable words: "No issue can be anticipated from discords among the leading men, except either universal ruin, or the rule of a conqueror, or a monarchy. There exists at present an unconcealed hatred implanted and fastened into the minds of our leading politicians. They are at issue among themselves. Opportunities are caught for mutual injury. Those who are in the second rank watch for the chances of the time. Those who might do better are afraid of the words and designs of their enemies." [14]

The discord had been suspended, and the intrigues temporarily checked, by the combination of Caesar and Pompey with Crassus, the chief of the moneyed commoners. Two men of equal military reputation, and one of them from his greater age and older services expecting and claiming precedency, do not easily work together. For Pompey to witness the rising glory of Caesar, and to feel in his own person the superior ascendency of Caesar's character, without an emotion of jealousy, would have demanded a degree of virtue which few men have ever possessed. They had been united so far by identity of conviction, by a military detestation of anarchy, by a common interest in wringing justice from the Senate for the army and people, by a pride in the greatness of their country, which they were determined to uphold. These motives, however, might not long have borne the strain but for other ties, which had cemented their union. Pompey had married Caesar's daughter, to whom he was passionately attached; and the personal competition between them was neutralized by the third element of the capitalist party represented by Crassus, which if they quarrelled would secure the supremacy of the faction to which Crassus attached himself. There was no jealousy on Caesar's part. There was no occasion for it. Caesar's fame was rising. Pompey had added nothing to his past distinctions, and the glory pales which does not grow in lustre. No man who had once been the single object of admiration, who had tasted the delight of being the first in the eyes of his countrymen, could find himself compelled to share their applause with a younger rival without experiencing a pang. So far Pompey had borne the trial well. He was on the whole, notwithstanding the Egyptian scandal, honorable and constitutionally disinterested. He was immeasurably superior to the fanatic Cato, to the shifty Cicero, or the proud and worthless leaders of the senatorial oligarchy. Had the circumstances remained unchanged, the severity of the situation might have been overcome. But two misfortunes coming near upon one another broke the ties of family connection, and by destroying the balance of parties laid Pompey open to the temptation of patrician intrigue. In the year 54 Caesar's great mother Aurelia, and his sister Julia, Pompey's wife, both died. A child which Julia had borne to Pompey died also, and the powerful if silent influence of two remarkable women, and the joint interest in an infant, who would have been Caesar's heir as well as Pompey's, were swept away together.

The political link was broken immediately after by a public disaster unequalled since the last consular army was overthrown by the Gauls on the Rhone; and the capitalists, left without a leader, drifted away to their natural allies in the Senate. Crassus had taken the field in the East, with a wild ambition of becoming in his turn a great conqueror. At first all had gone well with him. He had raised a vast treasure. He had plundered the wealthy temples in Phoenicia and Palestine to fill his military chest. He had able officers with him; not the least among them his son Publius Crassus, who had served with such distinction under Caesar. He crossed the Euphrates at the head of a magnificent army, expecting to carry all before him with the ease of an Alexander. Relying on his own idle judgment, he was tempted in the midst of a burning summer into the waterless plains of Mesopotamia; and on the 15th of June the great Roman millionaire met his miserable end, the whole force, with the exception of a few scattered cohorts, being totally annihilated.

The catastrophe in itself was terrible. The Parthians had not provoked the war. The East was left defenceless; and the natural expectation was that, in their just revenge, they might carry fire and sword through Asia Minor and Syria. It is not the least remarkable sign of the times that the danger failed to touch the patriotism of the wretched factions in Rome. The one thought of the leaders of the Senate was to turn the opportunity to advantage, wrest the constitution free from military dictation, shake off the detested laws of Caesar, and revenge themselves on the author of them. Their hope was in Pompey. If Pompey could be won over from Caesar, the army would be divided. Pompey, they well knew, unless he had a stronger head than his own to guide him, could be used till the victory was won, and then be thrust aside. It was but too easy to persuade him that he was the greatest man in the Empire; and that as the chief of a constitutional government, and with the Senate at his side, he would inscribe his name in the annals of his country as the restorer of Roman liberty.

The intrigue could not be matured immediately. The aristocracy had first to overcome their own animosities against Pompey, and Pompey himself was generous, and did not yield to the first efforts of seduction. The smaller passions were still at work among the baser senatorial chiefs, and the appetite for provinces and pillage. The Senate, even while Crassus was alive, had carried the consulships for 53 by the most infamous corruption. They meant now to attack Caesar in earnest, and their energies were addressed to controlling the elections for the next year. Milo was one of the candidates; and Cicero, who was watching the political current, reverted to his old friendship for him, and became active in the canvass. Milo was not a creditable ally. He already owed half a million of money, and Cicero, who was anxious for his reputation, endeavored to keep him within the bounds of decency. But Milo's mind was fastened on the province which was to redeem his fortunes, and he flung into bribery what was left of his wrecked credit with the desperation of a gambler. He had not been praetor, and thus was not legally eligible for the consulate. This, however, was forgiven. He had been aedile in 54, and as aedile he had already been magnificent in prodigality. But to secure the larger prize, he gave as a private citizen the most gorgeous entertainment which even in that monstrous age the city had yet wondered at. "Doubly, trebly foolish of him," thought Cicero, "for he was not called on to go to such expense, and he has not the means." "Milo makes me very anxious," he wrote to his brother. "I hope all will be made right by his consulship. I shall exert myself for him as much as I did for myself;[15] but he is quite mad," Cicero added; "he has spent L30,000 on his games." Mad, but still, in Cicero's opinion, well fitted for the consulship, and likely to get it. All the "good," in common with himself, were most anxious for Milo's success. The people would vote for him as a reward for the spectacles, and the young and influential for his efforts to secure their favor.[16]

The reappearance of the "Boni," the "Good," in Cicero's letters marks the turn of the tide again in his own mind. The "Good," or the senatorial party, were once more the objects of his admiration. The affection for Caesar was passing off.

[Sidenote: B.C. 52.] A more objectionable candidate than Milo could hardly have been found. He was no better than a patrician gladiator, and the choice of such a man was a sufficient indication of the Senate's intentions. The popular party led by the tribunes made a sturdy resistance. There were storms in the Curia, tribunes imprisoning senators, and the Senate tribunes. Army officers suggested the election of military tribunes (lieutenant-generals), instead of consuls; and when they failed, they invited Pompey to declare himself Dictator. The Senate put on mourning, as a sign of approaching calamity. Pompey calmed their fears by declining so ambitious a position. But as it was obvious that Milo's chief object was a province which he might misgovern, Pompey forced the Senate to pass a resolution that consuls and praetors must wait five years from their term of office before a province was to be allotted to them. The temptation to corruption might thus in some degree be diminished. But senatorial resolutions did not pass for much, and what a vote had enacted a vote could repeal. The agitation continued. The tribunes, when the time came, forbade the elections. The year expired. The old magistrates went out of office, and Rome was left again without legitimate functionaries to carry on the government. All the offices fell vacant together.

Now once more Clodius was reappearing on the scene. He had been silent for two years, content or constrained to leave the control of the democracy to the three chiefs. One of them was now gone. The more advanced section of the party was beginning to distrust Pompey. Clodius, their favorite representative, had been put forward for the praetorship, while Milo was aspiring to be made consul, and Clodius had prepared a fresh batch of laws to be submitted to the sovereign people; one of which (if Cicero did not misrepresent it to inflame the aristocracy) was a measure of some kind for the enfranchisement of the slaves, or perhaps of the sons of slaves.[17] He was as popular as ever. He claimed to be acting for Caesar, and was held certain of success; if he was actually praetor, such was his extraordinary influence, and such was the condition of things in the city, that if Milo was out of the way he could secure consuls of his own way of thinking, and thus have the whole constitutional power in his hands.[18]

Thus both sides had reason for fearing and postponing the elections. Authority, which had been weak before, was now extinct. Rome was in a state of formal anarchy, and the factions of Milo and Clodius fought daily, as before, in the streets, with no one to interfere with them.

Violent humors come naturally to a violent end. Milo had long before threatened to kill Clodius. Cicero had openly boasted of his friend's intention to do it, and had spoken of Clodius in the Senate itself as Milo's predestined victim. On the evening of the 13th January, while the uncertainty about the elections was at its height, Clodius was returning from his country house, which was a few miles from Rome on "the Appian Way." Milo happened to be travelling accidentally down the same road, on his way to Lanuvium (Civita Indovina), and the two rivals and their escorts met. Milo's party was the largest. The leaders passed one another, evidently not intending a collision, but their followers, who were continually at sword's point, came naturally to blows. Clodius rode back to see what was going on; he was attacked and wounded, and took refuge in a house on the roadside. The temptation to make an end of his enemy was too strong for Milo to resist. To have hurt Clodius would, he thought, be as dangerous as to have made an end of him. His blood was up. The "predestined victim," who had thwarted him for so many years, was within his reach. The house was forced open. Clodius was dragged out bleeding, and was despatched, and the body was left lying where he fell, where a senator, named Sextus Tedius, who was passing an hour or two after, found it, and carried it the same night to Rome. The little which is known of Clodius comes only through Cicero's denunciations, which formed or colored later Roman traditions; and it is thus difficult to comprehend the affection which the people felt for him; but of the fact there can be no doubt at all; he was the representative of their political opinions, the embodiment, next to Caesar, of their practical hopes; and his murder was accepted as a declaration of an aristocratic war upon them, and the first blow in another massacre. On the following day, in the winter morning, the tribunes brought the body into the Forum. A vast crowd had collected to see it, and it was easy to lash them into fury. They dashed in the doors of the adjoining senate-house, they carried in the bier, made a pile of chairs and benches and tables, and burnt all that remained of Clodius in the ashes of the senate-house itself. The adjoining temples were consumed in the conflagration. The Senate collected elsewhere. They put on a bold front, they talked of naming an interrex—which they ought to have done before—and of holding the elections instantly, now that Clodius was gone. Milo still hoped, and the aristocracy still hoped for Milo. But the storm was too furious. Pompey came in with a body of troops, restored order, and took command of the city. The preparations for the election were quashed. Pompey still declined the dictatorship, but he was named, or he named himself, sole consul, and at once appointed a commission to inquire into the circumstances of Milo's canvass, and the corruption which had gone along with it. Milo himself was arrested and put on his trial for the murder. Judges were chosen who could be trusted, and to prevent intimidation the court was occupied by soldiers. Cicero undertook his friend's defence, but was unnerved by the stern, grim faces with which he was surrounded. The eloquent tongue forgot its office. He stammered, blundered, and sat down.[19] The consul expectant was found guilty and banished, to return a few years after like a hungry wolf in the civil war, and to perish as he deserved. Pompey's justice was even-handed. He punished Milo, but the senate-house and temples were not to be destroyed without retribution equally severe. The tribunes who had led on the mob were deposed, and suffered various penalties. Pompey acted with a soldier's abhorrence of disorder, and, so far, he did what Caesar approved and would himself have done in Pompey's place.

But there followed symptoms which showed that there were secret influences at work with Pompey, and that he was not the man which he had been. He had taken the consulate alone; but a single consul was an anomaly; as soon as order was restored it was understood that he meant to choose a colleague; and Senate and people were watching to see whom he would select as an indication of his future attitude. Half the world expected that he would name Caesar, but half the world was disappointed. He took Metellus Scipio, who had been the Senate's second candidate by the side of Milo, and had been as deeply concerned in bribery as Milo himself; shortly after, and with still more significance, he replaced Julia by Metellus Scipio's daughter, the widow of young Publius Crassus, who had fallen with his father.

Pompey, however, did not break with Caesar, and did not appear to intend to break with him. Communications passed between them on the matter of the consulship. The tribunes had pressed him as Pompey's colleague. Caesar himself, being then in the north of Italy, had desired, on being consulted, that the demand might not be insisted on. He had work still before him in Gaul which he could not leave unfinished; but he made a request himself that must be noticed, since the civil war formally grew out of it, and Pompey gave a definite pledge, which was afterwards broken.

One of the engagements at Lucca had been that, when Caesar's command should have expired, he was to be again consul. His term had still three years to run; but many things might happen in three years. A party in the Senate were bent on his recall. They might succeed in persuading the people to consent to it. And Caesar felt, as Pompey had felt before him, that, in the unscrupulous humor of his enemies at Rome he might be impeached or killed on his return, as Clodius had been, if he came back a private citizen unprotected by office to sue for his election. Therefore he had stipulated at Lucca that his name might be taken and that votes might be given for him while he was still with his army. On Pompey's taking the power into his hands, Caesar, while abandoning any present claim to share it, reminded him of this understanding, and required at the same time that it should be renewed in some authoritative form. The Senate, glad to escape on any terms from the present conjunction of the men whom they hoped to divide, appeared to consent. Cicero himself made a journey to Ravenna to see Caesar about it and make a positive arrangement with him. Pompey submitted the condition to the assembly of the people, by whom it was solemnly ratified. Every precaution was observed which would give the promise, that Caesar might be elected consul in his absence, the character of a binding engagement.[20]

It was observed with some surprise that Pompey, not long after, proposed and carried a law forbidding elections of this irregular kind, and insisting freshly on the presence of the candidates in person. Caesar's case was not reserved as an exception or in any way alluded to. And when a question was asked on the subject, the excuse given was that it had been overlooked by accident. Such accidents require to be interpreted by the use which is made of them.

[1] Ad Quintum Fratrem, ii. 15.

[2] "Ego enim ne pilo quidem minus me amabo."—Ibid., ii. 16. Other editions read "te."

[3] "Videor id judicio facere: jam enim debeo: sed amore sum incensus."—Ad Quintum Fratrem, iii. 1.

[4] Ad Crassum. Ad Familiares, v. 8.

[5] Ad Lentulum. Ad Fam., i. 8.

[6] Ibid., i. 9.

[7] De Provinciis Consularibus.

[8] To Atticus, iv. 16.

[9] Pompey, as proconsul with a province, was residing outside the walls.

[10] Ad Quintum fratrem, iii. 4.

[11] Ad Familiares, i. 9.

[12] "Meum non modo animum, sed ne odium quidem esse liberum."—Ad Quintum Fratrem, iii. 5.

[13] See the story in a letter to Atticus, lib. iv. 16-17.

[14] De Haruspicum Responsis.

[15] "Angit unus Milo. Sed velim finem afferat consulatus: in quo enitar non minus, quam sum enisus in nostro."—Ad Quintum Fratrem, iii. 9.

[16] Ad Familiares, ii. 6.

[17] "Incidebantur jam domi leges quae nos nostris servis addicerent.... Oppressisset omnia, possideret, teneret lege nova, quae est inventa apud eum cum reliquis legibus Clodianis. Servos nostros libertos suos fecisset."—Pro Milone, 32, 33. These strong expressions can hardly refer to a proposed enfranchisement of the libertini, or sons of freedmen, like Horace's father.

[18] "Caesaris potentiam suam esse dicebat.... An consules in praetore coercendo fortes fuissent? Primum, Milone occiso habuisset suos consules."—Pro Milone, 33.

[19] The Oratio pro Milone, published afterwards by Cicero, was the speech which he intended to deliver and did not.

[20] Suetonius, De Vita Julii Caesaris. Cicero again and again acknowledges in his letters to Atticus that the engagement had really been made. Writing to Atticus (vii. 1), Cicero says: "Non est locus ad tergiversandum. Contra Caesarem? Ubi illae sunt densae dexterae? Nam ut illi hoc liceret adjuvi rogatus ab ipso Ravennae de Caelio tribuno plebis. Ab ipso autem? Etiam a Cnaeo nostro in illo divino tertio consulatu. Aliter sensero?"



CHAPTER XIX.

The conquest of Gaul had been an exploit of extraordinary military difficulty. The intricacy of the problem had been enhanced by the venom of a domestic faction, to which the victories of a democratic general were more unwelcome than national disgrace. The discomfiture of Crassus had been more pleasant news to the Senate than the defeat of Ariovistus, and the passionate hope of the aristocracy had been for some opportunity which would enable them to check Caesar in his career of conquest and bring him home to dishonor and perhaps impeachment. They had failed. The efforts of the Gauls to maintain or recover their independence had been successively beaten down, and at the close of the summer of 53 Caesar had returned to the north of Italy, believing that the organization of the province which he had added to the Empire was all that remained to be accomplished. But Roman civilians had followed in the van of the armies. Roman traders had penetrated into the towns on the Seine and the Loire, and the curious Celts had learnt from them the distractions of their new rulers. Caesar's situation was as well understood among the Aedui and the Sequani as in the clubs and coteries of the capital of the Empire, and the turn of events was watched with equal anxiety. The victory over Sabinus, sharply avenged as it had been, kept alive the hope that their independence might yet be recovered. The disaffection of the preceding summer had been trampled out, but the ashes of it were still smouldering; and when it became known that Clodius, who was regarded as Caesar's tribune, had been killed, that the Senate was in power again, and that Italy was threatened with civil convulsions, their passionate patriotism kindled once more into flame. Sudden in their resolutions, they did not pause to watch how the balance would incline. Caesar was across the Alps. Either he would be deposed, or civil war would detain him in Italy. His legions were scattered between Treves, Auxerre, and Sens, far from the Roman frontier. A simultaneous rising would cut them off from support, and they could be starved out or overwhelmed in detail, as Sabinus had been at Tongres and Cicero had almost been at Charleroy. Intelligence was swiftly exchanged. The chiefs of all the tribes established communications with each other. They had been deeply affected by the execution of Acco, the patriotic leader of the Carnutes. The death of Acco was an intimation that they were Roman subjects, and were to be punished as traitors if they disobeyed a Roman command. They buried their own dissensions. Except among the Aedui there was no longer a Roman faction and a patriot faction. The whole nation was inspired by a simultaneous impulse to snatch the opportunity, and unite in a single effort to assert their freedom. The understanding was complete. A day was fixed for a universal rising. The Carnutes began by a massacre which would cut off possibility of retreat, and, in revenge for Acco, slaughtered a party of Roman civilians who were engaged in business at Gien.[1] A system of signals had been quietly arranged. The massacre at Gien was known in a few hours in the south, and the Auvergne country, which had hitherto been entirely peaceful, rose in reply, under a young high-born chief named Vercingetorix. Gergovia, the principal town of the Arverni, was for the moment undecided.[2] The elder men there, who had known the Romans long, were against immediate action; but Vercingetorix carried the people away with him. His name had not appeared in the earlier campaigns, but his father had been a man of note beyond the boundaries of Auvergne; and he must himself have had a wide reputation among the Gauls, for everywhere, from the Seine to the Garonne, he was accepted as chief of the national confederacy. Vercingetorix had high ability and real organizing powers. He laid out a plan for the general campaign. He fixed a contingent of men and arms which each tribe was to supply, and failure brought instantaneous punishment. Mild offences were visited with the loss of eyes or ears; neglect of a more serious sort with death by fire in the wicker tower. Between enthusiasm and terror he had soon an army at his command, which he could increase indefinitely at his need. Part he left to watch the Roman province and prevent Caesar, if he should arrive, from passing through. With part he went himself to watch the Aedui, the great central race, where Roman authority had hitherto prevailed unshaken, but among whom, as he well knew, he had the mass of the people on his side. The Aedui were hesitating. They called their levies under arms, as if to oppose him, but they withdrew them again; and to waver at such a moment was to yield to the stream.

The Gauls had not calculated without reason on Caesar's embarrassments. The death of Clodius had been followed by the burning of the senate-house and by many weeks of anarchy. To leave Italy at such a moment might be to leave it a prey to faction or civil war. His anxiety was relieved at last by hearing that Pompey had acted, and that order was restored; and seeing no occasion for his own interference, and postponing the agitation for his second consulship, he hurried back to encounter the final and convulsive effort of the Celtic race to preserve their liberties. The legions were as yet in no danger. They were dispersed in the north of France, far from the scene of the present rising, and the northern tribes had suffered too desperately in the past years to be in a condition to stir without assistance. But how was Caesar to join them? The garrisons in the province could not be moved. If he sent for the army to come across to him, Vercingetorix would attack them on the march, and he could not feel confident of the result; while the line of the old frontier of the province was in the hands of the insurgents, or of tribes who could not be trusted to resist the temptation, if he passed through himself without more force than the province could supply. But Caesar had a resource which never failed him in the daring swiftness of his own movements. He sent for the troops which were left beyond the Alps. He had a few levies with him to fill the gaps in the old legions, and after a rapid survey of the stations on the provincial frontier he threw himself upon the passes of the Cevennes. It was still winter. The snow lay six feet thick on the mountains, and the roads at that season were considered impracticable even for single travellers. The Auvergne rebels dreamt of nothing so little as of Caesar's coming upon them at such a time and from such a quarter. He forced his way. He fell on them while they were lying in imagined security, Vercingetorix and his army being absent watching the Aedui, and, letting loose his cavalry, he laid their country waste. But Vercingetorix, he knew, would fly back at the news of his arrival; and he had already made his further plans. He formed a strong entrenched camp, where he left Decimus Brutus in charge, telling him that he would return as quickly as possible; and, unknown to any one, lest the troops should lose courage at parting with him, he flew across through an enemy's country with a handful of attendants to Vienne, on the Rhone, where some cavalry from the province had been sent to wait for him. Vercingetorix, supposing him still to be in the Auvergne, thought only of the camp of Brutus; and Caesar, riding day and night through the doubtful territories of the Aedui, reached the two legions which were quartered near Auxerre. Thence he sent for the rest to join him, and he was at the head of his army before Vercingetorix knew that only Brutus was in front of him. The Aedui, he trusted, would now remain faithful. But the problem before him was still most intricate. The grass had not begun to grow. Rapid movement was essential to prevent the rebel confederacy from consolidating itself; but rapid movements with a large force required supplies; and whence were the supplies to come? Some risks had to be run, but to delay was the most dangerous of all. On the defeat of the Helvetii, Caesar had planted a colony of them at Gorgobines, near Nevers, on the Loire. These colonists, called Boii, had refused to take part in the rising; and Vercingetorix, turning in contempt from Brutus, had gone off to punish them. Caesar ordered the Aedui to furnish his commissariat, sent word to the Boii that he was coming to their relief, swept through the Senones, that he might leave no enemy in his rear, and then advanced on Gien, where the Roman traders had been murdered, and which the Carnutes still occupied in force. There was a bridge there over the Loire, by which they tried to escape in the night. Caesar had beset the passage. He took the whole of them prisoners, plundered and burnt the town, gave the spoil to his troops, and then crossed the river and went up to help the Boii. He took Nevers. Vercingetorix, who was hastening to its relief, ventured his first battle with him; but the cavalry, on which the Gauls most depended, were scattered by Caesar's German horse. He was entirely beaten, and Caesar turned next to Avaricum (Bourges), a rich and strongly fortified town of the Bituriges. From past experience Caesar had gathered that the Gauls were easily excited and as easily discouraged. If he could reduce Bourges, he hoped that this part of the country would return to its allegiance. Perhaps he thought that Vercingetorix himself would give up the struggle. But he had to deal with a spirit and with a man different from any which he had hitherto encountered. Disappointed in his political expectations, baffled in strategy, and now defeated in open fight, the young chief of the Arverni had only learnt that he had taken a wrong mode of carrying on the war, and that he was wasting his real advantages. Battles in the field he saw that he would lose. But the Roman numbers were limited, and his were infinite. Tens of thousands of gallant young men, with their light, active horses, were eager for any work on which he might set them. They could scour the country far and wide. They could cut off Caesar's supplies. They could turn the fields into a blackened wilderness before him on whichever side he might turn. The hearts of the people were with him. They consented to a universal sacrifice. They burnt their farmsteads. They burnt their villages. Twenty towns (so called) of the Bituriges were consumed in a single day. The tribes adjoining caught the enthusiasm. The horizon at night was a ring of blazing fires. Vercingetorix was for burning Bourges also; but it was the sacred home of the Bituriges, the one spot which they implored to be allowed to save, the most beautiful city in all Gaul. Rivers defended it on three sides, and on the fourth there were swamps and marshes which could be passed only by a narrow ridge. Within the walls the people had placed the best of their property, and Vercingetorix, against his judgment, consented, in pity for their entreaties, that Avaricum should be defended. A strong garrison was left inside. Vercingetorix entrenched himself in the forests sixteen miles distant, keeping watch over Caesar's communications. The place could only be taken by regular approaches, during which the army had to be fed. The Aedui were growing negligent. The feeble Boii, grateful, it seemed, for Caesar's treatment of them, exerted themselves to the utmost, but their small resources were soon exhausted. For many days the legions were without bread. The cattle had been driven into the woods. It came at last to actual famine.[3] "But not one word was heard from them," says Caesar, "unworthy of the majesty of the Roman people or their own earlier victories." He told them that if the distress became unbearable he would raise the siege. With one voice they entreated him to persevere. They had served many years with him, they said, and had never abandoned any enterprise which they had undertaken. They were ready to endure any degree of hardship before they would leave unavenged their countrymen who had been murdered at Gien.

Vercingetorix, knowing that the Romans were in difficulties, ventured nearer. Caesar surveyed his position. It had been well chosen behind a deep morass. The legions clamored to be allowed to advance and attack him, but a victory, he saw, would be dearly purchased. No condemnation could be too severe for him, he said, if he did not hold the lives of his soldiers dearer than his own interest,[4] and he led them back without indulging their eagerness.

The siege work was unexpectedly difficult. The inhabitants of the Loire country were skilled artisans, trained in mines and iron works. The walls, built of alternate layers of stone and timber, were forty feet in thickness, and could neither be burnt nor driven in with the ram. The town could be taken only with the help of an agger—a bank of turf and fagots raised against the wall of sufficient height to overtop the fortifications. The weather was cold and wet, but the legions worked with such a will that in twenty-five days they had raised their bank at last, a hundred yards in width and eighty feet high. As the work drew near its end Caesar himself lay out all night among the men, encouraging them. One morning at daybreak he observed that the agger was smoking. The ingenious Gauls had undermined it and set it on fire. At the same moment they appeared along the walls with pitch-balls, torches, fagots, which they hurled in to feed the flames. There was an instant of confusion, but Caesar uniformly had two legions under arms while the rest were working. The Gauls fought with a courage which called out his warm admiration. He watched them at the points of greatest danger falling under the shots from the scorpions, and others stepping undaunted into their places to fall in the same way. Their valor was unavailing. They were driven in, and the flames were extinguished; the agger was level with the walls, and defence was no longer possible. The garrison intended to slip away at night through the ruins to join their friends outside. The wailing of the women was heard in the Roman camp, and escape was made impossible. The morning after, in a tempest of rain and wind, the place was stormed. The legionaries, excited by the remembrance of Gien and the long resistance, slew every human being that they found, men, women, and children all alike. Out of forty thousand who were within the walls, eight hundred only, that had fled at the first sound of the attack, made their way to the camp of Vercingetorix.

Undismayed by the calamity, Vercingetorix made use of it to sustain the determination of his followers. He pointed out to them that he had himself opposed the defence. The Romans had defeated them, not by superior courage, but by superior science. The heart of the whole nation was united to force the Romans out of Gaul, and they had only to persevere in a course of action where science would be useless, to be sure of success in the end. He fell back upon his own country, taking special care of the poor creatures who had escaped from the carnage; and the effect of the storming of Bourges was to make the national enthusiasm hotter and fiercer than before.

The Romans found in the town large magazines of corn and other provisions, which had been laid in for the siege, and Caesar remained there some days to refresh his troops. The winter was now over. The Aedui were giving him anxiety, and as soon as he could he moved to Decize, a frontier town belonging to them on the Loire, almost in the very centre of France. The anti-Roman faction were growing in influence. He called a council of the principal persons, and, to secure the fidelity of so important a tribe, he deposed the reigning chief and appointed another who had been nominated by the Druids.[5] He lectured the Aedui on their duty, bade them furnish him with ten thousand men, who were to take charge of the commissariat, and then divided his army. Labienus, with four legions, was sent to compose the country between Sens and Paris. He himself, with the remaining six legions, ascended the right bank of the Allier towards Gergovia in search of Vercingetorix. The bridges on the Allier were broken, but Caesar seized and repaired one of them and carried his army over.

The town of Gergovia stood on a high plateau, where the rivers rise which run into the Loire on one side and into the Dordogne on the other. The sides of the hill are steep, and only accessible at a very few places, and the surrounding neighborhood is broken with rocky valleys. Vercingetorix lay in force outside, but in a situation where he could not be attacked except at disadvantage, and with his communication with the fortress secured. He was departing again from his general plan for the campaign in allowing Gergovia to be defended; but it was the central home of his own tribe, and the result showed that he was right in believing it to be impregnable. Caesar saw that it was too strong to be stormed, and that it could only be taken after long operations. After a few skirmishes he seized a spur of the plateau which cut off the garrison from their readiest water-supply, and he formed an entrenched camp upon it. He was studying the rest of the problem when bad news came that the Aedui were unsteady again. The ten thousand men had been raised as he had ordered, but on their way to join him they had murdered the Roman officers in charge of them, and were preparing to go over to Vercingetorix. Leaving two legions to guard his works, he intercepted the Aeduan contingent, took them prisoners, and protected their lives. In his absence Vercingetorix had attacked the camp with determined fury. The fighting had been desperate, and Caesar only returned in time to save it. The reports from the Aedui were worse and worse. The patriotic faction had the upper hand, and with the same passionate determination to commit themselves irrevocably, which had been shown before at Gien, they had massacred every Roman in their territory. It was no time for delaying over a tedious siege: Caesar was on the point of raising it, when accident brought on a battle under the walls. An opportunity seemed to offer itself of capturing the place by escalade, which part of the army attempted contrary to orders. They fought with more than their usual gallantry. The whole scene was visible from the adjoining hills, the Celtic women, with long streaming hair, wildly gesticulating on the walls. The Romans were driven back with worse loss than they had yet met with in Gaul. Forty-six officers and seven hundred men had been killed.

Caesar was never more calm than under a reverse. He addressed the legions the next day. He complimented their courage, but he said it was for the general and not for them to judge when assaults should be tried. He saw the facts of the situation exactly as they were. His army was divided. Labienus was far away with a separate command. The whole of Gaul was in flames. To persevere at Gergovia would only be obstinacy, and he accepted the single military failure which he met with when present in person through the whole of his Gallic campaign.

Difficulties of all kinds were now thickening. Caesar had placed magazines in Nevers, and had trusted them to an Aeduan garrison. The Aeduans burnt the town and carried the stores over the Loire to their own strongest fortress, Bibracte (Mont Beauvray). The river had risen from the melting of the snows, and could not be crossed without danger; and to feed the army in its present position was no longer possible. To retreat upon the province would be a confession of defeat. The passes of the Cevennes would be swarming with enemies, and Labienus with his four legions in the west might be cut off. With swift decision he marched day and night to the Loire. He found a ford where the troops could cross with the water at their armpits. He sent his horse over and cleared the banks. The army passed safely. Food enough and in plenty was found in the Aeduans' country, and without waiting he pressed on toward Sens to reunite his forces. He understood the Gauls, and foresaw what must have happened.

Labienus, when sent on his separate command, had made Sens his head- quarters. All down the Seine the country was in insurrection. Leaving the new Italian levies at the station, he went with his experienced troops down the left bank of the river till he came to the Essonne. He found the Gauls entrenched on the other side, and, without attempting to force the passage, he marched back to Melun, where he repaired a bridge which the Gauls had broken, crossed over, and descended without interruption to Paris. The town had been burnt, and the enemy were watching him from the further bank. At this moment he heard of the retreat from Gergovia, and of the rebellion of the Aedui. Such news, he understood at once, would be followed by a rising in Belgium. Report had said that Caesar was falling back on the province. He did not believe it. Caesar, he knew, would not desert him. His own duty, therefore, was to make his way back to Sens. But to leave the army of Gauls to accompany his retreat across the Seine, with the tribes rising on all sides, was to expose himself to the certainty of being intercepted. "In these sudden difficulties," says Caesar, "he took counsel from the valor of his mind." [6] He had brought a fleet of barges with him from Melun. These he sent down unperceived to a point at the bend of the river four miles below Paris, and directed them to wait for him there. When night fell he detached a few cohorts with orders to go up the river with boats as if they were retreating, splashing their oars, and making as much noise as possible. He himself with three legions stole silently in the darkness to his barges, and passed over without being observed. The Gauls, supposing the whole army to be in flight for Sens, were breaking up their camp to follow in boisterous confusion. Labienus fell upon them, telling the Romans to fight as if Caesar was present in person; and the courage with which the Gauls fought in their surprise only made the overthrow more complete. The insurrection in the north-west was for the moment paralysed, and Labienus, secured by his ingenious and brilliant victory, returned to his quarters without further accident. There Caesar came to him as he expected, and the army was once more together.

Meanwhile the failure at Gergovia had kindled the enthusiasm of the central districts into white-heat. The Aedui, the most powerful of all the tribes, were now at one with their countrymen, and Bibracte became the focus of the national army. The young Vercingetorix was elected sole commander, and his plan, as before, was to starve the Romans out. Flying bodies harassed the borders of the province, so that no reinforcements could reach them from the south. Caesar, however, amidst his conquests had the art of making staunch friends. What the province could not supply he obtained from his allies across the Rhine, and he furnished himself with bodies of German cavalry, which when mounted on Roman horses proved invaluable. In the new form which the insurrection had assumed the Aedui were the first to be attended to. Caesar advanced leisurely upon them, through the high country at the rise of the Seine and the Marne, toward Alesia, or Alice St. Reine. Vercingetorix watched him at ten miles' distance. He supposed him to be making for the province, and his intention was that Caesar should never reach it. The Celts at all times have been fond of emphatic protestations. The young heroes swore a solemn oath that they would not see wife or children or parents more till they had ridden twice through the Roman army. In this mood they encountered Caesar in the valley of the Vingeanne, a river which falls into the Saone, and they met the fate which necessarily befell them when their ungovernable multitudes engaged the legions in the open field. They were defeated with enormous loss: not they riding through the Roman army, but themselves ridden over and hewn down by the German horsemen and sent flying for fifty miles over the hills into Alice St. Reine. Caesar followed close behind, driving Vercingetorix under the lines of the fortress; and the siege of Alesia, one of the most remarkable exploits in all military history, was at once undertaken.

Alesia, like Gergovia, is on a hill sloping off all round, with steep and, in places, precipitous sides. It lies between two small rivers, the Ose and the Oserain, both of which fall into the Brenne, and thence into the Seine. Into this peninsula, with the rivers on each side of him, Vercingetorix had thrown himself with eighty thousand men. Alesia as a position was impregnable except to famine. The water-supply was secure. The position was of extraordinary strength. The rivers formed natural trenches. Below the town to the east they ran parallel for three miles through an open alluvial plain before they reached Brenne. In every other direction rose rocky hills of equal height with the central plateau, originally perhaps one wide table-land, through which the water had ploughed out the valleys. To attack Vercingetorix where he had placed himself was out of the question; but to blockade him there, to capture the leader of the insurrection and his whole army, and so in one blow make an end with it, on a survey of the situation seemed not impossible. The Gauls had thought of nothing less than of being besieged. The provisions laid in could not be considerable, and so enormous a multitude could not hold out many days.

At once the legions were set to work cutting trenches or building walls as the form of the ground allowed. Camps were formed at different spots, and twenty-three strong block-houses at the points which were least defensible. The lines where the circuit was completed were eleven miles long. The part most exposed was the broad level meadow which spread out to the west toward the Brenne river. Vercingetorix had looked on for a time, not understanding what was happening to him. When he did understand it, he made desperate efforts on his side to break the net before it closed about him. But he could do nothing. The Gauls could not be brought to face the Roman entrenchments. Their cavalry were cut to pieces by the German horse. The only hope was in help from without, and before the lines were entirely finished horsemen were sent out with orders to ride for their lives into every district in Gaul and raise the entire nation. The crisis had come. If the countrymen of Vercingetorix were worthy of their fathers, if the enthusiasm with which they had risen for freedom was not a mere emotion, but the expression of a real purpose, their young leader called on them to come now, every man of them, and seize Caesar in the trap into which he had betrayed himself. If, on the other hand, they were careless, if they allowed him and his eighty thousand men to perish without an effort to save them, the independence which they had ceased to deserve would be lost forever. He had food, he bade the messengers say, for thirty days; by thrifty management it might be made to last a few days longer. In thirty days he should look for relief.

The horsemen sped away like the bearers of the fiery cross. Caesar learnt from deserters that they had gone out, and understood the message which they carried. Already he was besieging an army far outnumbering his own. If he persevered, he knew that he might count with certainty on being attacked by a second army immeasurably larger. But the time allowed for the collection of so many men might serve also to prepare for their reception. Vercingetorix said rightly that the Romans won their victories, not by superior courage, but by superior science. The same power of measuring the exact facts of the situation which determined Caesar to raise the siege of Gergovia decided him to hold on at Alesia. He knew exactly, to begin with, how long Vercingetorix could hold out. It was easy for him to collect provisions within his lines which would feed his own army a few days longer. Fortifications the same in kind as those which prevented the besieged from breaking out would serve equally to keep the assailants off. His plan was to make a second line of works—an exterior line as well as an interior line; and as the extent to be defended would thus be doubled, he made them of a peculiar construction, to enable one man to do the work of two. There is no occasion to describe the rows of ditches, dry and wet; the staked pitfalls; the cervi, pronged instruments like the branching horns of a stag; the stimuli, barbed spikes treacherously concealed to impale the unwary and hold him fast when caught, with which the ground was sown in irregular rows; the vallus and the lorica, and all the varied contrivances of Roman engineering genius. Military students will read the particulars for themselves in Caesar's own language. Enough that the work was done within the time, with the legions in perfect good humor, and giving jesting names to the new instruments of torture as Caesar invented them. Vercingetorix now and then burst out on the working parties, but produced no effect. They knew what they were to expect when the thirty days were out; but they knew their commander, and had absolute confidence in his judgment.

Meanwhile, on all sides, the Gauls were responding to the call. From every quarter, even from far-off parts of Belgium, horse and foot were streaming along the roads. Commius of Arras, Caesar's old friend, who had gone with him to Britain, was caught with the same frenzy, and was hastening among the rest to help to end him. At last two hundred and fifty thousand of the best fighting men that Gaul could produce had collected at the appointed rendezvous, and advanced with the easy conviction that the mere impulse of so mighty a force would sweep Caesar off the earth. They were late in arriving. The thirty days had passed, and there were no signs of the coming deliverers. Eager eyes were straining from the heights of the plateau; but nothing was seen save the tents of the legions or the busy units of men at work on the walls and trenches. Anxious debates were held among the beleaguered chiefs. The faint-hearted wished to surrender before they were starved. Others were in favor of a desperate effort to cut their way through or die. One speech Caesar preserves for its remarkable and frightful ferocity. A prince of Auvergne said that the Romans conquered to enslave and beat down the laws and liberties of free nations under the lictors' axes, and he proposed that sooner than yield they should kill and eat those who were useless for fighting.

Vercingetorix was of noble nature. To prevent the adoption of so horrible an expedient, he ordered the peaceful inhabitants, with their wives and children, to leave the town. Caesar forbade them to pass his lines. Cruel—but war is cruel; and where a garrison is to be reduced by famine the laws of it are inexorable.

But the day of expected deliverance dawned at last. Five miles beyond the Brenne the dust-clouds of the approaching host were seen, and then the glitter of their lances and their waving pennons. They swam the river. They filled the plain below the town. From the heights of Alesia the whole scene lay spread under the feet of the besieged. Vercingetorix came down on the slope to the edge of the first trench, prepared to cross when the turn of battle should give him a chance to strike. Caesar sent out his German horse, and stood himself watching from the spur of an adjoining hill. The Gauls had brought innumerable archers with them. The horse flinched slightly under the showers of arrows, and shouts of triumph rose from the lines of the town; but the Germans rallied again, sent the cavalry of the Gauls flying, and hewed down the unprotected archers. Vercingetorix fell back sadly to his camp on the hill, and then for a day there was a pause. The relieving army had little food with them, and, if they acted at all, must act quickly. They spread over the country collecting faggots to fill the trenches, and making ladders to storm the walls. At midnight they began their assault on the lines in the plain; and Vercingetorix, hearing by the cries that the work had begun, gave his own signal for a general sally. The Roman arrangements had been completed long before. Every man knew his post. The slings, the crossbows, the scorpions were all at hand and in order. Mark Antony and Caius Trebonius had each a flying division under them to carry help where the pressure was most severe. The Gauls were caught on the cervi, impaled on the stimuli, and fell in heaps under the bolts and balls which were poured from the walls. They could make no impression, and fell back at daybreak beaten and dispirited. Vercingetorix had been unable even to pass the moats and trenches, and did not come into action till his friends had abandoned the attack.

The Gauls had not yet taken advantage of their enormous numbers. Defeated on the level ground, they next tried the heights. The Romans were distributed in a ring now fourteen miles in extent. On the north side, beyond the Ose, the works were incomplete, owing to the nature of the ground, and their lines lay on the slope of the hills descending towards the river. Sixty thousand picked men left the Gauls' camp before dawn; they stole round by a distant route, and were allowed to rest concealed in a valley till the middle of the day. At noon they came over the ridge at the Romans' back; and they had the best of the position, being able to attack from above. Their appearance was the signal for a general assault on all sides, and for a determined sally by Vercingetorix from within. Thus before, behind, and everywhere, the legions were assailed at the same moment; and Caesar observes that the cries of battle in the rear are always more trying to men than the fiercest onset upon them in front; because what they cannot see they imagine more formidable than it is, and they depend for their own safety on the courage of others.

Caesar had taken his stand where he could command the whole action. There was no smoke in those engagements, and the scene was transparently visible. Both sides felt that the deciding trial had come. In the plain the Gauls made no more impression than on the preceding day. At the weak point on the north the Romans were forced back down the slope, and could not hold their positions. Caesar saw it, and sent Labienus with six cohorts to their help. Vercingetorix had seen it also, and attacked the interior lines at the same spot. Decimus Brutus was then despatched also, and then Caius Fabius. Finally, when the fighting grew desperate, he left his own station; he called up the reserves which had not yet been engaged, and he rode across the field, conspicuous in his scarlet dress and with his bare head, cheering on the men as he passed each point where they were engaged, and hastening to the scene where the chief danger lay. He sent round a few squadrons of horse to the back of the hills which the Gauls had crossed in the morning. He himself joined Labienus. Wherever he went he carried enthusiasm along with him. The legionaries flung away their darts and rushed upon the enemy sword in hand. The cavalry appeared above on the heights. The Gauls wavered, broke, and scattered. The German horse were among them, hewing down the brave but now helpless patriots who had come with such high hopes and had fought so gallantly. Out of the sixty thousand that had sallied forth in the morning, all but a draggled remnant lay dead on the hill-sides. Seventy-four standards were brought in to Caesar. The besieged retired into Alice again in despair. The vast hosts that were to have set them free melted away. In the morning they were streaming over the country, making back for their homes, with Caesar's cavalry behind them, cutting them down and capturing them in thousands.

The work was done. The most daring feat in the military annals of mankind had been successfully accomplished. A Roman army which could not at the utmost have amounted to fifty thousand men had held blockaded an army of eighty thousand—not weak Asiatics, but European soldiers, as strong and as brave individually as the Italians were; and they had defeated, beaten, and annihilated another army which had come expecting to overwhelm them, five times as large as their own.

Seeing that all was over, Vercingetorix called the chiefs about him. He had gone into the war, he said, for no object of his own, but for the liberty of his country. Fortune had gone against him; and he advised them to make their peace, either by killing him and sending his head to the conqueror or by delivering him up alive. A humble message of submission was despatched to Caesar. He demanded an unconditional surrender, and the Gauls, starving and hopeless, obeyed. The Roman general sat amidst the works in front of the camp while the chiefs one by one were produced before him. The brave Vercingetorix, as noble in his calamity as Caesar himself in his success, was reserved to be shown in triumph to the populace of Rome. The whole of his army were prisoners of war. The Aedui and Arverni among them were set aside, and were dismissed after a short detention for political reasons. The remainder were sold to the contractors, and the proceeds were distributed as prize-money among the legions. Caesar passed the winter at Bibracte, receiving the submission of the chiefs of the Aedui and of the Auvergne. Wounds received in war soon heal if gentle measures follow a victory. If tried by the manners of his age, Caesar was the most merciful of conquerors. His high aim was, not to enslave the Gauls, but to incorporate them in the Empire; to extend the privileges of Roman citizens among them and among all the undegenerate races of the European provinces. He punished no one. He was gracious and considerate to all, and he so impressed the central tribes by his judgment and his moderation that they served him faithfully in all his coming troubles, and never more, even in the severest temptation, made an effort to recover their independence.

[Sidenote B.C. 51.] Much, however, remained to be done. The insurrection had shaken the whole of Gaul. The distant tribes had all joined in it, either actively or by sympathy; and the patriots who had seized the control, despairing of pardon, thought their only hope was in keeping rebellion alive. During winter they believed themselves secure. The Carnutes of the Eure and Loire, under a new chief named Gutruatus,[7] and the Bituriges, untaught by or savage at the fate of Bourges, were still defiant. When the winter was at its deepest, Caesar suddenly appeared across the Loire. He caught the country people unprepared, and captured them in their farms. The swiftness of his marches baffled alike flight and resistance; he crushed the whole district down, and he was again at his quarters in forty days. As a reward to the men who had followed him so cheerfully in the cold January campaign, he gave each private legionary 200 sesterces and each centurion 2,000. Eighteen days' rest was all that he allowed himself, and with fresh troops, and in storm and frost, he started for the Carnutes. The rebels were to have no rest till they submitted. The Bellovaci were now out also. The Remi alone of all the Gauls had continued faithful in the rising of Vercingetorix. The Bellovaci, led by Commius of Arras, were preparing to burn the territory of the Remi as a punishment. Commius was not as guilty, perhaps, as he seemed. Labienus had suspected him of intending mischief when he was on the Seine in the past summer, and had tried to entrap and kill him. Anyway Caesar's first object was to show the Gauls that no friends of Rome would be allowed to suffer. He invaded Normandy; he swept the country. He drove the Bellovaci and the Carnutes to collect in another great army to defend themselves; he set upon them with his usual skill; and destroyed them. Commius escaped over the Rhine to Germany. Gutruatus was taken. Caesar would have pardoned him; but the legions were growing savage at these repeated and useless commotions, and insisted on his execution. The poor wretch was flogged till he was insensible, and his head was cut off by the lictor's axe.

All Gaul was now submissive, its spirit broken, and, as the event proved, broken finally, except in the southwest. Eight years out of the ten of Caesar's government had expired. In one corner of the country only the dream still survived that, if the patriots could hold out till Caesar was gone, Celtic liberty might yet have a chance of recovering itself. A single tribe on the Dordogne, relying on the strength of a fortress in a situation resembling that of Gergovia, persisted in resistance to the Roman authority. The spirit of national independence is like a fire: so long as a spark remains a conflagration can again be kindled, and Caesar felt that he must trample out the last ember that was alive. Uxellodunum— so the place was named—stood on an inaccessible rock, and was amply provisioned. It could be taken only as Edinburgh Castle was once taken, by cutting off its water; and the ingenious tunnel may still be seen by which the Roman engineers tapped the spring supplied the garrison. They, too, had then to yield, and the war in Gaul was over.

[Sidenote B.C. 50.] The following winter Caesar spent at Arras. He wished to hand over his conquests to his successor not only subdued, but reconciled, to subjection. He invited the chiefs of all the tribes to come to him. He spoke to them of the future which lay open to them as members of a splendid Imperial State. He gave them magnificent presents. He laid no impositions either on the leaders or their people, and they went to their homes personally devoted to their conqueror, contented with their condition, and resolved to maintain the peace which was now established—a unique experience in political history. The Norman Conquest of England alone in the least resembles it. In the spring of 50 Caesar went to Italy. Strange things had happened meanwhile in Rome. So long as there was a hope that Caesar would be destroyed by the insurrection, the ill-minded Senate had waited to let the Gauls do the work for him. The chance was gone. He had risen above his perils more brilliant than ever, and nothing now was left to them but to defy and trample on him. Servius Galba, who was favorable to Caesar, had stood for the consulship for 49, and had received a majority of votes. The election was set aside. Two patricians, Lentulus and Caius Marcellus, were declared chosen, and their avowed purpose was to strip the conqueror of Gaul of his honors and rewards.[8] The people of his own Cisalpine Province desired to show that they at least had no sympathy with such envenomed animosities. In the colonies in Lombardy and Venetia Caesar was received with the most passionate demonstrations of affection. The towns were dressed out with flags and flowers. The inhabitants crowded into the streets with their wives and children to look at him as he passed. The altars smoked with offerings; the temples were thronged with worshippers praying the immortal gods to bless the greatest of the Romans. He had yet one more year to govern. After a brief stay he rejoined his army. He spent the summer in organizing the administration of the different districts and assigning his officers their various commands. That he did not at this time contemplate any violent interference with the Constitution may be proved by the distribution of his legions, which remained stationed far away in Belgium and on the Loire.

[1] Above Orleans, on the Loire.

[2] Four miles from Clermont, on the Allier, in the Puy-de-Dome.

[3] "Extrema fames."—De Bell. Gall., vii. 17.

[4] "Summa se iniquitatis condemnari debere nisi eorum vitam sua salute habeat cariorem."

[5] De Bell. Gall., vii. 33.

[6] "Tantis subito difficultatibus objectis ab animi virtute consilium petebat."

[7] Gudrund? The word has a German sound.

[8] "Insolenter adversarii sui gloriabantur L. Lentulum et C. Marcellum consules creatos, qui omnem honorem et dignitatem Caesaris exspoliarent. Ereptum Servio Galbae consulatum cum is multo plus gratia, suffragiisque valuisset, quod sibi conjunctus et familiaritate et necessitudine legationis esset."—Auli Hirtii De Bell. Gall. viii. 50.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse