Julius Caesar

Caesar appeals to his Army

Caesar appeals to his Army.--The Tribunes join him at Rimini.--Panic and Flight of the Senate.--Incapacity of Pompey.--Fresh Negotiations.-- Advance of Caesar.--The Country Districts refuse to arm against him.-- Capture of Corfinium.--Release of the Prisoners.--Offers of Caesar.-- Continued Hesitation of Cicero.--Advises Pompey to make Peace.--Pompey, with the Senate and Consuls, flies to Greece.--Cicero's Reflections.-- Pompey to be another Sylla.--Caesar Mortal, and may die by more Means than one.

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Caesar, when the report of the Senate's action reached him, addressed his soldiers. He had but one legion with him, the 13th. But one legion would represent the rest. He told them what the Senate had done, and why they had done it. "For nine years he and his army had served their country loyally and with some success. They had driven the Germans over the Rhine; they had made Gaul a Roman province; and the Senate for answer had broken the constitution, and had set aside the tribunes because they spoke in his defence. They had voted the State in danger, and had called Italy to arms when no single act had been done by himself to justify them." The soldiers whom--Pompey supposed disaffected declared with enthusiasm that they would support their commander and the tribunes. They offered to serve without pay. Officers and men volunteered contributions for the expenses of the war. In all the army one officer alone proved false. Labienus kept his word to Pompey and stole away to Capua. He left his effects behind, and Caesar sent them after him untouched.

Caesar appeals to his Army

Finding that all the rest could be depended on, he sent back over the Alps for two more legions to follow him. He crossed the little river Rubicon, which bounded his province, and advanced to Rimini, where he met the tribunes, Antony, Cassius Longinus, and Curio, who were coming to him from Rome. 1 At Rimini the troops were again assembled. Curio told them what had passed. Caesar added a few more words. The legionaries, officers and privates, were perfectly satisfied; and Caesar, who, a resolution once taken, struck as swiftly as his own eagles, was preparing to go forward. He had but 5,000 men with him, but he understood the state of Italy, and knew that he had nothing to fear. At this moment Lucius Caesar, a distant kinsman, and the praetor Roscius arrived, as they said, with a private message from Pompey. The message was nothing. The object was no more than to gain time. But Caesar had no wish for war, and would not throw away a chance of avoiding it. He bade his kinsman tell Pompey that it was for him to compose the difficulties which had arisen without a collision. He had been himself misrepresented to his countrymen. He had been recalled from his command before his time; the promise given to him about his consulship had been broken. He had endured these injuries. He had proposed to the Senate that the forces on both sides should be disbanded. The Senate had refused. A levy had been ordered through Italy, and the legions designed for Parthia had been retained. Such an attitude could have but one meaning. Yet he was still ready to make peace. Let Pompey depart to Spain. His own troops should then be dismissed. The elections could be held freely, and Senate and people would be restored to their joint authority. If this was not enough, they two might meet and relieve each other's alarms and suspicions in a personal interview.

With this answer the envoys went, and Caesar paused at Rimini. Meanwhile the report reached Rome that Caesar had crossed the Rubicon. The aristocracy had nursed the pleasant belief that his heart would fail him, or that his army would desert him. His heart had not failed, his army had not deserted; and, in their terror, they saw him already in their midst like an avenging Marius. He was coming. His horse had been seen on the Apennines. Flight, instant flight, was the only safety. Up they rose, consuls, praetors, senators, leaving wives and children and property to their fate, not halting even to take the money out of the treasury, but contenting themselves with leaving it locked. On foot, on horseback, in litters, in carriages, they fled for their lives to find safety under Pompey's wing in Capua. In this forlorn company went Cicero, filled with contempt for what was round him.

"You ask what Pompey means to do," he wrote to Atticus. "I do not think he knows himself. Certainly none of us know.--It is all panic and blunder. We are uncertain whether he will make a stand, or leave Italy. If he stays, I fear his army is too unreliable. If not, where will he go, and how and what are his plans? Like you, I am afraid that Caesar will be a Phalaris, and that we may expect the very worst. The flight of the Senate, the departure of the magistrates, the closing of the treasury, will not stop him.--I am broken-hearted; so ill-advisedly, so against all my counsels, the whole business has been conducted. Shall I turn my coat, and join the victors? I am ashamed. Duty forbids me; but I am miserable at the thought of my children." 2

A gleam of hope came with the arrival of Labienus, but it soon clouded. "Labienus is a hero," Cicero said. "Never was act more splendid. If nothing else comes of it, he has at least made Caesar smart.--We have a civil war on us, not because we have quarrelled among ourselves, but through one abandoned citizen. But this citizen has a strong army, and a large party attached to him.--What he will do I cannot say; he cannot even pretend to do anything constitutionally; but what is to become of us, with a general that cannot lead?--To say nothing of ten years of blundering, what could have been worse than this flight from Rome? His next purpose I know not. I ask, and can have no answer. All is cowardice and confusion. He was kept at home to protect us, and protection there is none. The one hope is in two legions invidiously detained and almost not belonging to us. As to the levies, the men enlist unwillingly, and hate the notion of a war." 3

In this condition of things Lucius Caesar arrived with the answer from Rimini. A council of war was held at Teano to consider it; and the flames which had burnt so hotly at the beginning of the month were found to have somewhat cooled. Cato's friend Favonius was still defiant; but the rest, even Cato himself, had grown more modest. Pompey, it was plain, had no army, and could not raise an army. Caesar spoke fairly. It might be only treachery; but the Senate had left their families and their property in Rome. The public money was in Rome. They were willing to consent that Caesar should be consul, since so it must be. Unluckily for themselves, they left Pompey to draw up their reply. Pompey intrusted the duty to an incapable person named Sestius, and the answer was ill-written, awkward, and wanting on the only point which would have proved his sincerity. Pompey declined the proposed interview. Caesar must evacuate Rimini, and return to his province; afterwards, at some time unnamed, Pompey would go to Spain, and other matters should be arranged to Caesar's satisfaction. Caesar must give securities that he would abide by his promise to dismiss his troops; and meanwhile the consular levies would be continued. 4

To Cicero these terms seemed to mean a capitulation clumsily disguised. Caesar interpreted them differently. To him it appeared that he was required to part with his own army, while Pompey was forming another. No time was fixed for the departure to Spain. He might be himself named consul, yet Pompey might be in Italy to the end of the year with an army independent of him. Evidently there was distrust on both sides, yet on Caesar's part a distrust not undeserved. Pompey would not see him. He had admitted to Cicero that he desired a war to prevent Caesar from being consul, and at this very moment was full of hopes and schemes for carrying it on successfully. "Pompey writes," reported Cicero on the 28th of January, "that in a few days he will have a force on which he can rely. He will occupy Picenum, 5 and we are then to return to Rome. Labienus assures him that Caesar is utterly weak. Thus he is in better spirits." 6

[February, B.C. 49.] A second legion had by this time arrived at Rimini. Caesar considered that if the Senate really desired peace, their disposition would be quickened by further pressure. He sent Antony across the mountains to Arezzo, on the straight road to Rome; and he pushed on himself toward Ancona, before Pompey had time to throw himself in the way. The towns on the way opened their gates to him. The municipal magistrates told the commandants that they could not refuse to entertain Caius Caesar, who had done such great things for the Republic. The officers fled. The garrisons joined Caesar's legions. Even a colony planted by Labienus sent a deputation with offers of service. Steadily and swiftly in gathering volume the army of the north came on. At Capua all was consternation. "The consuls are helpless," Cicero said. "There has been no levy. The commissioners do not even try to excuse their failure. With Caesar pressing forward and our general doing nothing, men will not give in their names. The will is not wanting, but they are without hope. Pompey, miserable and incredible though it be, is prostrate. He has no courage, no purpose, no force, no energy.... Caius Cassius came on the 7th to Capua, with an order from Pompey to the consuls to go to Rome and bring away the money from the treasury. How are they to go without an escort, or how return? The consuls say he must go himself first to Picenum. But Picenum is lost.--Caesar will soon be in Apulia, and Pompey on board ship. What shall I do? I should not doubt had there not been such shameful mis-management, and had I been myself consulted. Caesar invites me to peace, but his letter was written before his advance." 7

Desperate at the lethargy of their commander, the aristocracy tried to force him into movement by acting on their own account. Domitius, who had been appointed Caesar's successor, was most interested in his defeat. He gathered a party of young lords and knights and a few thousand men, and flung himself into Corfinium, a strong position in the Apennines, directly in Caesar's path. Pompey had still his two legions, and Domitius sent an express to tell him that Caesar's force was still small, and that with a slight effort he might enclose him in the mountains. Meanwhile Domitius himself tried to break the bridge over the Pescara. He was too late. Caesar had by this time nearly 30,000 men. The Cisalpine territories in mere enthusiasm had raised twenty-two cohorts for him. He reached the Pescara while the bridge was still standing. He surrounded Corfinium with the impregnable lines which had served him so well in Gaul, and the messenger sent to Capua came back with cold comfort. Pompey had simply ordered Domitius to retreat from a position which he ought not to have occupied, and to join him in Apulia. It was easy to say Retreat! No retreat was possible. Domitius and his companions proposed to steal away in the night. They were discovered. Their own troops arrested them, and carried them as prisoners to Caesar. Fortune had placed in his hands at the outset of the campaign the man who beyond others had been the occasion of it. Domitius would have killed Caesar like a bandit if he had caught him. He probably expected a similar fate for himself. Caesar received his captives calmly and coldly. He told them that they had made an ungrateful return to him for his services to his country; and then dismissed them all, restoring even Domitius's well-filled military chest, and too proud to require a promise from him that he would abstain personally from further hostility. His army, such as it was, followed the general example, and declared for Caesar.

The capture of Corfinium and the desertion of the garrison made an end of hesitation. Pompey and the consuls thought only of instant flight, and hurried to Brindisi, where ships were waiting for them; and Caesar, hoping that the evident feeling of Italy would have its effect with the reasonable part of the Senate, sent Cornelius Balbus, who was on intimate terms with many of them, to assure them of his eagerness for peace, and to tell Cicero especially that he would be well contented to live under Pompey's rule if he could have a guarantee for his personal safety. 8

[March, B.C. 49.] Cicero's trials had been great, and were not diminishing. The account given by Balbus was simply incredible to him. If Caesar was really as well disposed as Balbus represented, then the senatorial party, himself included, had acted like a set of madmen. It might be assumed, therefore, that Caesar was as meanly ambitious, as selfish, as revolutionary as their fears had represented him, and that his mildness was merely affectation. But what then? Cicero wished for himself to be on the right side, but also to be on the safe side. Pompey's was the right side, the side, that is, which, for his own sake, he would prefer to see victorious. But was Pompey's the safe side? or rather, would it be safe to go against him? The necessity for decision was drawing closer. If Pompey and the consuls went abroad, all loyal senators would be expected to follow them, and to stay behind would be held treason. Italy was with Caesar; but the East, with its treasures, its fleets, its millions of men, this was Pompey's, heart and soul. The sea was Pompey's. Caesar might win for the moment, but Pompey might win in the long run. The situation was most perplexing. Before the fall of Corfinium, Cicero had poured himself out upon it to his friend. "My connections, personal and political," he said, "attach me to Pompey. If I stay behind, I desert my noble and admirable companions, and I fall into the power of a man whom I know not how far I can trust. He shows in many ways that he wishes me well. I saw the tempest impending, and I long ago took care to secure his good-will. But suppose him to be my friend indeed, is it becoming in a good and valiant citizen, who has held the highest offices and done such distinguished things, to be in the power of any man? Ought I to expose myself to the danger, and perhaps disgrace, which would lie before me, should Pompey recover his position? This on one side; but now look at the other. Pompey has shown neither conduct nor courage, and he has acted throughout against my advice and judgment. I pass over his old errors: how he himself armed this man against the constitution; how he supported his laws by violence in the face of the auspices; how he gave him Further Gaul, married his daughter, supported Clodius, helped me back from exile indeed, but neglected me afterward; how he prolonged Caesar's command, and backed him up in everything; how in his third consulship, when he had begun to defend the constitution, he yet moved the tribunes to curry a resolution for taking Caesar's name in his absence, and himself sanctioned it by a law of his own; how he resisted Marcus Marcellus, who would have ended Caesar's government on the 1st of March. Let us forget all this: but what was ever more disgraceful than the flight from Rome? What conditions would not have been preferable? He will restore the constitution, you say, but when? by what means? Is not Picenum lost? Is not the road open to the city? Is not our money, public and private, all the enemy's? There is no cause, no rallying point for the friends of the constitution.... The rabble are all for Caesar, and many wish for revolution.... I saw from the first that Pompey only thought of flight: if I now follow him, whither are we to go? Caesar will seize my brother's property and mine, ours perhaps sooner than others', as an assault on us would be popular. If I stay, I shall do no more than many good men did in Cinna's time.--Caesar may be my friend, not certainly, but perhaps; and he may offer me a triumph which it would be dangerous to refuse, and invidious with the "good" to accept. Oh, most perplexing position!--while I write, word comes that Caesar is at Corfinium. Domitius is inside, with a strong force and eager to fight. I cannot think Pompey will desert him." 9

[February, B.C. 49.] Pompey did desert Domitius, as has been seen. The surrender of Corfinium, and the circumstances of it, gave Cicero the excuse which he evidently desired to find for keeping clear of a vessel that appeared to him to be going straight to shipwreck. He pleased himself with inventing evil purposes for Pompey, to justify his leaving him. He thought it possible that Domitius and his friends might have been purposely left to fall into Caesar's hands, in the hope that Caesar would kill them and make himself unpopular. Pompey, he was satisfied, meant as much to be a despot as Caesar. Pompey might have defended Rome, if he had pleased; but his purpose was to go away and raise a great fleet and a great Asiatic army, and come back and ruin Italy, and be a new "Sylla." 10 In his distress Cicero wrote both to Caesar and to Pompey, who was now at Brindisi. To Caesar he said that, if he wished for peace, he might command his services. He had always considered that Caesar had been wronged in the course which had been pursued toward him. Envy and ill-nature had tried to rob him of the honors which had been conferred on him by the Roman people. He protested that he had himself supported Caesar's claims, and had advised others to do the same. But he felt for Pompey also, he said, and would gladly be of service to him. 11

To Pompey he wrote:

[March, B.C. 49.] "My advice was always for peace, even on hard terms. I wished you to remain in Rome. You never hinted that you thought of leaving Italy. I accepted your opinion, not for the constitution's sake, for I despaired of saving it. The constitution is gone, and cannot be restored without a destructive war; but I wished to be with you, and if I can join you now, I will. I know well that my conduct has not pleased those who desired to fight. I urged peace; not because I did not fear what they feared, but because I thought peace a less evil than war. When the war had begun and overtures were made to you, you responded so amply and so honorably that I hoped I had prevailed.... I was never more friendly with Caesar than they were; nor were they more true to the State than I. The difference between us is this, that while they and I are alike good citizens, I preferred an arrangement, and you, I thought, agreed with me. They chose to fight, and as their counsels have been taken, I can but do my duty as a member of the Commonwealth, and as a friend to you." 12

In this last sentence Cicero gives his clear opinion that the aristocracy had determined upon war, and that for this reason and no other the attempted negotiations had failed. Caesar, hoping that a better feeling might arise after his dismissal of Domitius, had waited a few days at Corfinium. Finding that Pompey had gone to Brindisi, he then followed, trusting to overtake him before he could leave Italy, and again by messengers pressed him earnestly for an interview. By desertions, and by the accession of volunteers, Caesar had now six legions with him. If Pompey escaped, he knew that the war would be long and dangerous. If he could capture him, or persuade him to an agreement, peace could easily be preserved. When he arrived outside the town, the consuls with half the army had already gone. Pompey was still in Brindisi, with 12,000 men, waiting till the transports could return to carry him after them. Pompey again refused to see Caesar, and, in the absence of the consuls, declined further discussion. Caesar tried to blockade him, but for want of ships was unable to close the harbor. The transports came back, and Pompey sailed for Durazzo. 13

A few extracts and abridgments of letters will complete the picture of this most interesting time.

Cicero to Atticus. 14

"Observe the man into whose hands we have fallen. How keen he is, how alert, how well prepared! By Jove, if he does not kill any one, and spares the property of those who are so terrified, he will be in high favor. I talk with the tradesmen and farmers. They care for nothing but their lands, and houses, and money. They have gone right round. They fear the man they trusted, and love the man they feared; and all this through our own blunders. I am sick to think of it."

Balbus to Cicero. 15

"Pompey and Caesar have been divided by perfidious villains. I beseech you, Cicero, use your influence to bring them together again. Believe me, Caesar will not only do all you wish, but will hold you to have done him essential service. Would that I could say as much of Pompey, who I rather wish than hope may be brought to terms! You have pleased Caesar by begging Lentulus to stay in Italy, and you have more than pleased me. If he will listen to you, will trust to what I tell him of Caesar, and will go back to Rome, between you and him and the Senate, Caesar and Pompey may be reconciled. If I can see this, I shall have lived long enough. I know you will approve of Caesar's conduct at Corfinium."

Cicero to Atticus. 16

"My preparations are complete. I wait till I can go by the upper sea; I cannot go by the lower at this season. I must start soon, lest I be detained. I do not go for Pompey's sake. I have long known him to be the worst of politicians, and I know him now for the worst of generals. I go because I am sneered at by the optimates. Precious optimates! What are they about now? Selling themselves to Caesar? The towns receive Caesar as a god. When this Pisistratus does them no harm, they are as grateful to him as if he had protected them from others. What receptions will they not give him? What honors will they not heap upon him? They are afraid, are they? By Hercules, it is Pompey that they are afraid of. Caesar's treacherous clemency enchants them. Who are these optimates, that insist that I must leave Italy, while they remain? Let them be who they may, I am ashamed to stay, though I know what to expect. I shall join a man who means not to conquer Italy, but to lay it waste."

Cicero to Atticus. 17

"Ought a man to remain in his country after it has fallen under a tyranny? Ought a man to use any means to overthrow a tyranny, though he may ruin his country in doing it? Ought he not rather to try to mend matters by argument as opportunity offers? Is it right to make war on one's country for the sake of liberty? Should a man adhere at all risks to one party, though he considers them on the whole to have been a set of fools? Is a person who has been his country's greatest benefactor, and has been rewarded by envy and ill usage, to volunteer into danger for such a party? May he not retire, and live quietly with his family, and leave public affairs to their fate?

"I amused myself as times passes with these speculations."

Cicero to Atticus. 18

"Pompey has sailed. I am pleased to find that you approve of my remaining. My efforts now are to persuade Caesar to allow me to be absent from the Senate, which is soon to meet. I fear he will refuse. I have been deceived in two points. I expected an arrangement; and now I perceive that Pompey has resolved upon a cruel and deadly war. By Heaven, he would have shown himself a better citizen, and a better man, had he borne anything sooner than have taken in hand such a purpose."

Cicero to Atticus. 19

"Pompey is aiming at a monarchy after the type of Sylla. I know what I say. Never did he show his hand more plainly. Has he not a good cause? The very best. But mark me, it will be carried out most foully. He means to strangle Rome and Italy with famine, and then waste and burn the country, and seize the property of all who have any. Caesar may do as ill; but the prospect is frightful. The fleets from Alexandria, Colchis, Sidon, Cyprus, Pamphylia, Lycia, Rhodes, Chios, Byzantium, will be employed to cut off our supplies, and then Pompey himself will come in his wrath."

Cicero to Atticus. 20

"I think I have been mad from the beginning of this business. Why did not I follow Pompey when things were at their worst? I found him (at Capua) full of fears. I knew then what he would do, and I did not like it. He made blunder on blunder. He never wrote to me, and only thought of flight. It was disgraceful. But now my love for him revives. Books and philosophy please me no more. Like the sad bird, I gaze night and day over the sea, and long to fly away. 21 Were flight the worst, it would be nothing, but I dread this terrible war, the like of which has never been seen. The word will be, 'Sylla could do thus and thus; and why should not I?' Sylla, Marius, Cinna, had each a constitutional cause, yet how cruel was their victory! I shrank from war because I saw that something still more cruel was now intended. I, whom some have called the saviour and parent of my country! I to bring Getes, and Armenians, and Colchians upon Italy! I to famish my fellow-citizens and waste their lands! Caesar, I reflected, was in the first place but mortal; and then there were many ways in which he might be got rid of. 22 But, as you say, the sun has fallen out of the sky. The sick man thinks that while there is life there is hope. I continued to hope as long as Pompey was in Italy. Now your letters are my only consolation."

"Caesar was but mortal!" The rapture with which Cicero hailed Caesar's eventual murder explains too clearly the direction in which his thoughts were already running. If the life of Caesar alone stood between his country and the resurrection of the constitution, Cicero might well think, as others have done, that it was better that one man should die rather than the whole nation perish. We read the words with sorrow, and yet with pity. That Cicero, after his past flatteries of Caesar, after the praises which he was yet to heap on him, should yet have looked on his assassination as a thing to be desired, throws a saddening light upon his inner nature. But the age was sick with a moral plague, and neither strong nor weak, wise nor unwise, bore any antidote against infection.

[1] The vision on the Rubicon, with the celebrated saying that "the die is cast," is unauthenticated, and not at all consistent with Caesar's character.

[2] Ibid., vii. 12.

[3] "Delectus ... invitorum est et pugnando ab horrentium."--To Atticus, vii. 13.

[4] Compare Caesar's account of these conditions, De Bello Civili, i. 10, with Cicero to Atticus, vii. 17.

[5] Between the Apennines and the Adriatic, about Ancona; in the line of Caesar's march should he advance from Kimini.

[6] To Atticus, vii. 16.

[7] Ibid., vii. 21.

[8] "Balbus quidem major ad me scribit, nihil malle Caesarem, quam principe Pompeio sine metu vivere. Tu puto haec credis."--To Atticus, viii. 9.

[9] To Atticus, viii. 3.

[10] To Atticus, viii. 11.

[11] "Judicavique te bello violari, contra cujus honorem, populi Romani beneficio concessum, inimici atque invidi niterentur. Sed ut eo tempore non modo ipse fautor dignitatis tuae fui, verum etiam caeteris auctor ad te adjuvandum, sic me nunc Pompeii dignitas vehementer movet," etc.--Cicero to Caesar, enclosed in a letter to Atticus, ix. 11.

[12] Enclosed to Atticus, viii. 11.

[13] Pompey had for two years meditated on the course which he was now taking. Atticus had spoken of the intended flight from Italy as base. Cicero answers: "Hoc turpe Cnaeus noster biennio ante cogitavit: ita Sullaturit animus ejus, et diu proscripturit;" "so he apes Sylla and longs for a proscription."--To Atticus, ix. 10.

[14] To Atticus, viii. 13.

[15] Enclosed to Atticus, viii. 15.

[16] To Atticus, viii. 16.

[17] To Atticus, ix. 4.

[18] Ibid., ix. 6.

[19] To Atticus, ix. 7 and 9.

[20] Ibid.

[21] "Ita dies et noctes tanquam avis illa mare prospecto, evolare cupio."

[22] "Hunc primum mortalem esse, deinde etiam multis modis extingui posse cogitabam."--To Atticus, ix. 10.

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