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Caesar's Earlier Career.

“Better be first, he said, in a little Iberian village,
Than be second in Rome.

Longfellow.
Caius Julius Caesar (Gaius Iulius Caesar) was born July 12th, B. C. 100, or, according to some authorities, two years earlier. Assuming the later date, he was six years younger than Pompey, his great rival, and Cicero, the distinguished orator. His ancestry was of the noblest, and was supposed to reach back on his mother's side to Ancus Marcius, the Roman king, and on the father's to Aeneas, the founder of the Roman nation and reputed to be the son of a goddess.

The time of his birth was during the great ascendancy of the Populares under Marius, his uncle; and his childhood was passed amid the horrors of the proscriptions that marked Marius's dictatorship. Though Caesar was connected by blood with the oldest and proudest houses of Rome, he early showed his predilection for the party of the people; and the sturdy Marius, with all his defects, doubtless exercised a marked influence over the life and destinies of his young nephew. Caesar lost his father early in life, so that most of the responsibility for his education and bringing up rested upon his mother, Aurelia. She was a typical matron of the old school, managing her house with simplicity and frugality, and holding to the traditions and virtues of the ancient Romans. Tacitus, the Roman historian, couples her name with that of Cornelia, the famous mother of the Gracchi. Caesar owed much of his future greatness to her influence, and his love and reverence for her are highly honorable to both.

In the year 86, when Caesar was still a boy, he was appointed a priest of Jupiter. This office was a perfunctory one and had little real religious significance. In 83 he married Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna, an act which identified him thus early with the Populares; for Cinna was a very prominent leader of that party. It was soon after this that Sulla, the leader of theOptimates, returned from Asia Minor with a victorious army, prepared to take a terrible revenge for the proscription of Marius. Caesar soon fell under his displeasure because of his relationship to Marius. He was ordered to divorce his young wife because she was Cinna's daughter. In this crisis Caesar showed a prominent trait of his character, a trait which led him during all his life to brave every danger rather than allow himself to be controlled. Though but a youth, he refused to obey Sulla's command. A price was set on his head and he was obliged to flee for his life. Often he was in great peril, and once he was taken, and escaped only by bribing his captor. His friends interceded for him, pleading his youth, and finally obtained hispardon, Sulla saying, " Take him, since you will have it so; but I would have you know that the youth for whom you are so earnest, will one day overthrow the aristocracy. I see in him many Mariuses."

Caesar thinking it safer to leave Italy for a time went to Asia Minor, where he gained some military experience and distinguished himself for valor by saving a comrade's life. Sulla died in 78 and Caesar returned to his family and resumed his studies. He was a diligent and thorough student and doubtless followed the usual course of Greek, rhetoric, grammar, philosophy, and oratory. To be a good speaker was essential to political success, and Caesar was especially anxious to excel in that direction. He gave some public exhibitions of his skill and won much applause; but anxious to perfect himself still farther he went to Rhodes in 76, to study under Apollonius Molon, the most famous teacher of oratory and rhetoric of the day. On this journey, when near Miletus, he was captured by pirates and held for a heavy ransom. He spent some time among them while waiting for the money, arid joined in their sports and games with the greatest freedom, at the same time assuring them that he would hang them all as soon as he was free. They seem to have regarded him with mingled awe and admiration. The ransom was paid. Caesar was released, went at once to Miletus, where he hastily collected a few ships and made a descent on the pirates before they dreamt of danger. He recovered the ransom money and punished the pirates as he had threatened.

On his return to Rome, he began his political career (B. C. 68) by serving as quaestor, an office connected with the public treasury and the first step toward the consulship. This was followed in 65 by the aedileship. The taking of this office, which was one of the chief magistracies, though it involved only the care of the public buildings and the oversight of the great festivals and games, was considered a direct bid for a future consulship, and a man's claims upon that higher office were determined in large measure by the lavishness and splendor of his aedileship. Caesar was poor, but with characteristic boldness he played for the highest political stakes and did not hesitate to incur enormous debts, in fact so enormous that those who had not the most perfect confidence in his capacity and his powers believed him irretrievably ruined. His aedileship surpassed all before it in magnificence; but he left it — as he remarked with grim humor — worth more than a million dollars less than nothing.

After his aedileship he identified himself more and more with the popular faction, and even dared to restore some of the statues and trophies of Marius, which had been banished from sight seventeen years before by the order of Sulla. The people began to hope for a successful revival of the Marian party and to look to Caesar as its leader.

In B. C. 63 he was elected pontifex maximus against the strong opposition of the Optimates. This office was one of great political power and dignity, though not formally a civil office. Caesar held it for the rest of his life. In 62 he was elected praetor, an office of a judicial character, and this was followed by a year of command in Spain as propraetor. Before leaving for Spain, his creditors became insistent and threatened to detain him unless he paid them. Caesar then obtained a large loan from the richest man in Rome, Crassus, who was ambitious for office and doubtless hoped to make good use in turn of Caesar's brilliant abilities to further his own ends.

In Spain Caesar gained valuable military experience and made his administration so profitable to himself, as was usual with provincial governors, that, though he left Rome owing millions of sesterces, he returned in the year 60 with enough money to pay all his debts. His design was to run for the consulship, the highest office in the gift of the people. To secure his election he effected a union of interests between himself and Crassus and Pompey. These were the two most powerful men in Rome, — Crassus because of his wealth, Pompey because of his fame as a general and his popularity with the army. The latter was, in fact, really the first man in the state. He had but recently returned from Asia Minor laden with the spoils of the Mithridatic war, and might easily have seized the dictatorship had he so chosen; but he disbanded his army and preferred to appear as a private citizen, but with almost autocratic power. He had quarreled with Crassus, but Caesar reconciled them, and the three formed a sort of offensive and defensive alliance known as the first triumvirate — what we should call a political deal. This was for Caesar, who was at that time quite their inferior in fame and influence, a master stroke of craft and diplomacy.

In 59 Caesar was elected consul almost without opposition. He well understood the critical condition of affairs and saw clearly the dangers that threatened the state, and instituted valuable reforms looking to its regeneration and salvation. The army and the moneyed classes represented by Pompey and Crassus were with him, and he could do almost as he pleased. His first act was the passage of an agrarian law, by which thousands of acres were to be distributed to the poor. This was not a mere act of bribery, but an attempt to restore the peasant freeholders, who had been dispossessed by the rich. Then he passed the excellent body of laws known as the Leges Juliae, which mark an epoch in Roman jurisprudence, and which were devised in the interests of individual rights, purity of justice, morality, and good government. All that one man could do in a single year to save his country from anarchy, Caesar did.

Caesar was now forty-three years of age. With the exception of the time spent in Spain, his life had been employed in petty miserable contests with Roman factions. He longed for a new and larger field where he might have freedom to perform deeds worthy of his surpassing abilities and unbounded ambition. This opportunity came to him when, as proconsul, he was entrusted with the protection of the northern frontier against the Gauls, and was assigned the provinces of Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul and Illyricum. It was a most hazardous post and doubtless many of the Optimates thought that they were well rid of him.


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