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The Decline and Fall of the Republic. (146-27 b.c.). page 2

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In the previous century (135-132) there had been a serious servile war in Sicily, where the revolted slaves defeated several armies. In 103-99 a hard struggle was needed to suppress a like insurrection in the same island. The danger now arose far nearer to the capital. Spartacus, a Capuan gladiator of real ability in war, headed a formidable revolt of comrades and slaves, and took up a position on Mount Vesuvius. Four armies, under praetors and consuls, were defeated by him, and several large towns were taken and plundered. The leader at last fell bravely fighting, and Pompeius, who had just returned from warfare in Spain, crushed the remnant of the rebels. In 70 b.c. Pompeius became consul, and was henceforth a leading politician, at first taking the popular side and repealing some of Sulla's legislation. He rendered great services to the whole commercial world of the Mediterranean by his skilful, systematic suppression, a virtual annihilation, of the pirates who infested the waters of that sea. The evil had risen to such a height that in 67 he was appointed, with supreme powers, to this important task. The sea-robbers had established a kind of free state afloat, a regular, organised community, with headquarters among the mountains of Crete and Cilicia. They swept the sea from end to end, and no merchant or his property was safe. They landed on the coasts and plundered towns and rich villas, carrying off the wealthy for ransom, and at last reached the point of dragging to captivity, from a high-road near Rome, a praetor journeying with all the retinue of his high office, The needful work was quickly and thoroughly done by Pompeius. The term of his special appointment was three years, but in three months there was not a pirate to be seen. Numerous small squadrons had been formed; the Mediterranean had been mapped out into districts, one for each squadron. 3,000 piratical craft had been taken, 10,000 robbers slain, double that number captured and settled far away from the coasts, and the strongholds of the freebooters had been 'taken and destroyed. Cilicia and Crete were also subdued and permanently added to the Roman dominions.

We must now notice some of the distinguished men of the period, including one of consummate abilities and achievements, by most good judges regarded as the greatest man in all history. Crassus the plutocrat has been already seen in the history of Parthia, and needs no further mention. His whole soul was given up to the acquisition of wealth, and to his wealth alone he owed his political importance. Marcus Cato, great-grandson of the Censor, the foe of Carthage, was of a very different stamp. A Stoic philosopher of the most rigid kind, he was conspicuous for the morality of his life among the profligate nobles of the age. A brave soldier, an honest administrator, once a tribune of the commons, he became one of the chief leaders of the aristocratic party, opposing with the utmost vehemence the self-interested schemes of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. Pompey was one of the most skilful of generals, and little more, veering as a politician between the popular and aristocratic parties, and destitute of the higher qualities of the statesman.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, styled "Tully" by British writers of a past age, but now universally known as Cicero, was one of the most brilliant forensic and parliamentary orators, and one of the most accomplished men of letters, that the world has ever seen. As a statesman, he was timid and irresolute on a general view; unable to see his way clearly, too sensitive to public opinion, and at last regarded as what Macaulay styles him, "a most eloquent and accomplished trimmer." His great achievement was effected when he was consul in 63 b.c., at the age of 44, in his prompt dealing with the formidable conspiracy of Catiline, a desperate, debauched, and ruined noble, who had planned a revolution that was to start with the assassination of Cicero himself, the firing and plunder of the city, and the murder of hostile senators and citizens. Cicero knew all the plan by the revelation of accomplices, and his denunciation of Catiline face to face in the Senate-house was followed by the flight of the leader from Rome, the arrest and execution (by the order of the Senate and contrary to the law which allowed an appeal to the Comitia Tributa) of two chief conspirators, and the death of Catiline in Etruria, fighting like a demon with his followers against the other consul and his troops. In 70 b.c. Cicero won undying renown by his impeachment of the infamous Verres, proconsul of Sicily, driving that villain into exile by his mere indictment, the opening speech which gave the chief heads of the atrocious misgovernment of that fertile province. In 51-50 Cicero gained well-earned credit by his own just and kindly treatment of the provincials when he was governor of Cilicia.

The well-known supreme and varied talents of Caius Julius Caesar, a noble of the highest rank who, for his own ends, took up the popular cause against the senatorial party, dispense with the need for elaborate eulogy of a man who was at once a general and a statesman of the highest order; an admirable orator and writer; a man of fashion; the darling of Roman ladies; cool-headed, generous, kindly to all Romans, - a very marvel in his union of gifts and attainments, and in his fitness for the work which he accomplished, that of bringing the whole Roman world under subjection to one imperial ruler. He made instruments for his work out of the circumstances and the politicians of his time, using them with the utmost patience and the keenest intelligence as he moved onwards to his foreseen and predestined goal. Such was the man who, in 60 b.c., took a great step forward in his career by forming, with Pompey and Crassus, the secret alliance known as "The First Triumvirate." In the following year Caesar was consul, and in 58 he went as proconsul to Gaul for the term of five years. Pompey took Spain as his province. Crassus, as we know, went to Syria and met his death in Parthia. Of Caesar's eight campaigns in Gaul, and his two visits to the British Isles, it is needless to write in detail. He displayed in the conquest of the Gallic country from end to end, from the Pyrenees to the Rhine, the highest qualities of a general, and he established Roman civilisation among the Celts of the central region, strongly resembling their kinsmen, the Irish, in character. Rome thus acquired a new nation of firmly attached subjects, who supplied her with many great men. For his own purposes, Csesar created there the magnificent army of veteran troops, thoroughly devoted to their great leader, with which he was to master the whole Roman world that had just received so noble an addition of territory.

Pompey and the senatorial party, in jealous dread of Caesar, caused the breaking-out of civil war in 49 b.c., and the conqueror of Gaul, crossing the famous and proverbial Rubicon, a little stream running into the Adriatic a little north of Ariminum, and there forming the boundary of his province, invaded Italy, swept through the country in 60 days, and drove Pompey and his party over to Greece. The terror in Rome was soon allayed by Cesar's mild and magnanimous conduct towards his opponents, in striking contrast to the atrocities of the contest between Sulla and Marius. Turning first to Spain, in order to secure his rear, Csesar, in the summer of 49, broke up the forces there under the command of Pompeius' legati or lieutenant-generals, took Massilia (Marseilles) on his return, and then, in the spring of 48, followed Pompey to northern Greece, landing on the coast of Epirus. At Dyrrhachium he suffered a defeat by Pompey's breaking through his lines, and retired to Thessaly. There, in August, came the decisive battle of Pharsalus or Pharsalia, where Pompey, with double Csesar's force (about 22,000 men), was utterly defeated. He fled to Egypt, and was there barbarously murdered by the king's minister, who hoped thereby to win Csesar's favour. The conqueror shed tears on seeing the victim's head, and displayed his noble clemency towards countrymen by taking no life of those whom conquest had placed at his disposal.

The "Alexandrine war," as it was called, of 48-47 was due to a general insurrection of the people, aided by the Roman army of occupation, against Csesar and his limited force. He was in the greatest danger, besieged in the royal palace, but escaped by aid of his own reckless courage. Making a diversion by causing the Egyptian fleet to be fired, an act which, to the regret of an accomplished scholar well skilled in Greek learning, caused the destruction of much of the famous library of Alexandria, he swam over a branch of the Nile to a place of safety, and was finally victorious, in the spring of 47, by means of troops that arrived from Asia. It was at this time that the famous Cleopatra, then 16 years of age, became Queen of Egypt. The country was under Roman control, with a garrison in Alexandria.

After returning to Rome, Csesar crossed to Africa, and in 47-46 warred with the adherents of Pompeius, including his son Sextus, Cato, and Labienus, Csesar's former able second-in-command or legatus. The battle of Thapsus, in 46, ended that struggle in complete victory for Caesar. Cato slew himself at Utica, rather than surrender. Sextus Pompeius and Labienus escaped to Spain. The conqueror then returned to Rome and celebrated triumphs for his successes, and gave splendid games to amuse the people, with a lavish distribution of corn and money. It was at this time that, with the aid of Greek astronomers, he corrected the calendar, which was nearly ten weeks "out," and established the "Julian Calendar," making the solar year consist of 365¼ days. Caesar's work of pacification was not yet done. In 45 he was in Spain, taking the field against Pompey's sons, who were finally, after some success, defeated in the desperate battle of Munda, between Cordova and Gibraltar. Labienus, Cneius Pompeius, and 30,000 men had fallen, and at last the great Julius could return to Rome, master of the whole Roman world. As "Dictator" for life, by decree of the Senate, he was really invested with absolute power, under the constitutional form of a democratic monarchy, whereby all laws were still required to be submitted to the easily controlled Comitia. The Senate became a council of mere advisers, increased in number up to 900, by admission of Spaniards, Gauls, ex-officers, and even sons of freedmen, all appointed by the supreme ruler. The financial system was reformed by the abolition of tax-farming and the imposition of direct taxes. Numerous colonies were established for the purpose of spreading the Latin tongue and civilisation in the provinces, and of clearing Rome of idle inhabitants. Many other schemes for the public benefit - as the codification of the Roman law, the establishment of public libraries, the draining of the Pomptine (or Pontine) marshes on the coast of Latium, the embanking of the Tiber to check the destructive inundations, and the improvement of the harbour at Ostia (the mouth of the river) - had been devised by the all-embracing mind of Cajsar, when his career was cut short by one of the vilest and most senseless crimes in history. The aristocratic conspiracy against him included Brutus, Cassius, and many other men whose lives he had spared, and who had received other benefits at his hands. On March isth, 44 b.c., at the age of 56, Julius Csesar died, stabbed in 23 places by the hands of those whom he had subdued and forgiven, in a hall of the great theatre of Pompeius, where the meeting of the Senate happened to be held on that fatal day. The populace of Rome, incited, in his famous funeral-oration, by Marcus Antonius, who had served under Caesar in Gaul, and commanded the left wing of the victorious army at Pharsalia, rose against the conspirators, and drove them from the capital.

Thirteen years of disturbance and civil war followed the crime which its perpetrators vainly thought was to restore in peace the old senatorial power. Antony aimed at supreme power, but was opposed by Caesar's heir, great-nephew, and adopted son, Cams Octavius, then a youth 18 years of age, completing his education in Greece. After adoption, his name became "Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus," but he is generally known by his subsequent imperial title "Augustus Csesar." The young Octavianus came to Rome, gained favour with the people, and then formed, in 43, with Antony and an insignificant person named Lepidus, formerly a staff-officer of Csesar, the "Second Triumvirate." A proscription of monstrous cruelty occurred, in which many thousands of persons - senators, knights, and other prominent citizens - obnoxious to any of the board of three rulers, lost their lives and property. The most famous victim was Cicero, murdered by Antony's emissaries in revenge for the attacks made upon him in the speeches called Philippics, from the orations of Demosthenes against Philip of Macedon. Those works of oratorical art were in a very different style. Cicero's Second Philippic is one of the most scathing pieces of invective ever composed, and may be compared with Macaulay's famous essay on Barere, in which the worst of the miscreants of the French Revolution of 1789 is consigned to immortal infamy. Antony and Octavianus then crossed over to Greece in pursuit of Caesar's chief murderers, and in November, 42, utterly defeated Brutus and Cassius at Philippi, in the east of Macedonia. Brutus and Cassius committed suicide after the action.

The division of the Roman world amongst the triumvirs - Antony taking the east, Octavianus the west, and Lepidus the territories in Africa - only led to further civil war. Antony took up his abode, after fighting had occurred between his partisans and those of Octavianus, with Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, leading a life of vicious and inglorious ease like an Eastern despot. His Parthian campaigns, in intervals of this career, have been already noticed. His treatment of his wife Octavia, sister of his co-triumvir, and his general misconduct, led to open war in 32 b.c. The cool-headed Octavianus had long been quietly consolidating his position in Italy and the western portion of the Roman dominions, and he was far better prepared for warlike action than his rival. In September, 31 b.c., the matter was settled by the naval victory of Octavianus over Antony and Cleopatra at Actium, in the Ambracian Gulf, south of Epirus. Cleopatra fled with her squadron of 60 galleys in the middle of the action, and was followed by Antony. In 30 b.c., pursued by Octavianus to Egypt, they both committed suicide, she by the poison of a snake called asp - probably the "horned viper" - he by the sword. Egypt became a Roman province, and this completed Rome's dominion over all the Mediterranean countries. Peace had come after so many troubles. Octavianus, heading a vast military force devoted to his service, and hailed with the highest satisfaction by provincials weary of oppressive governors, by the populace of Rome, and by all citizens who desired rest after so long a period of storm and stress, was absolute master of the territories henceforth forming the "Roman Empire." In 27 b.c., the Senate having been reduced to 600 members, with a high property-qualification, he accepted the title of "Augustus" (the "Majestic") and was fully installed in his imperial office.

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