Beacon Lights of History, Volume IV
John Lord

Part 1 out of 4









The Persian Empire
Persia Proper
Origin of the Persians
The Religion of the Iranians
Persian Civilization
Persian rulers
Youth and education of Cyrus
Political Union of Persia and Media
The Median Empire
Early Conquests of Cyrus
The Lydian Empire
Croesus, King of Lydia
War between Croesus and Cyrus
Fate of Croesus
Conquest of the Ionian Cities
Conquest of Babylon
Assyria and Babylonia
Subsequent conquests of Cyrus
His kindness to the Jews
Character of Cyrus
Cambyses; Darius Hystaspes
Fall of the Persian Empire



Caesar an instrument of Providence
His family and person
Early manhood; marriage; profession; ambition
Curule magistrates; the Roman Senate
Only rich men who control elections ordinarily elected
Venality of the people
Caesar borrows money to bribe the people
Elected Quaestor
Gains a seat in the Senate
Second marriage, with a cousin of Pompey
Caesar made Pontifex Maximus; elected Praetor
Sent to Spain; military services in Spain
Elected Consul; his reforms; Leges Juliae
Opposition of the Aristocracy
Assigned to the province of Gaul
His victories over the Gauls and Germans
Character of the races he subdued
Amazing difficulties of his campaigns
Reluctance of the Senate to give him the customary honor
Jealousy of the nobles; hostility between them and Caesar
The Aristocracy unfit to govern; their habits and manners
They call Pompey to their aid
Neither Pompey nor Caesar will disband his forces; Caesar recalled
Caesar marches on Home; crosses the Rubicon
Ultimate ends of Caesar; the civil war
Pompey's incapacity and indecision; flies to Brundusi
Caesar defeats Pompey's generals in Spain
Dictatorship of Caesar
Battle of Pharsalia
Death of Pompey in Egypt
Battles of Thapsus and of Munda
They result in Caesar's supremacy
His services as Emperor
His habits and character
His assassination,--its consequences
Causes of Imperialism,--its supposed necessity when Caesar
arose; public rebuke of Caesar by Cicero
An historical puzzle



Remarkable character of Marcus Aurelius
His parentage and education
Adopted by Antoninus Pius
Subdues the barbarians of Germany
Consequences of the German Wars
Mistakes of Marcus Aurelius; Commodus
Persecutions of the Christians
The "Meditations,"--their sublime Stoicism
Epictetus,--the influence of his writings
Style and value of the "Meditations"
Necessities of the Empire
Its prosperity under the Antonines; external glories
Its internal weakness; seeds of ruin
Gibbon controverted by Marcus Aurelius



Constantine and Diocletian
Influence of martyrdoms
Influence of Asceticism,--its fierce protest
Rise of Constantine
His civil wars for the supremacy of the Roman world
The rival Emperors and their fate: Maximinian, Galerius,
Maxentius, Maximin, Licinius
Constantine sole Emperor over the West and East
Foundation of Constantinople,--its great advantage
The pomp and ceremony of the imperial Court
Crimes of Constantine; his virtues
Conversion of Constantine
His Christian legislation; edict of Toleration
Patronage of the Clergy; union of Church and State
Council of Nice
Theological discussion
Doctrine of the Trinity
Athanasius and Arius
The Nicene Creed
Effect of philosophical discussions on theological truths
Constantine's work; the uniting of Church with State
Death of Constantine
His character and services



Female friendship
Paganism unfavorable to friendship
Character of Jewish women
Great Pagan women
Paula, her early life
Her conversion to Christianity
Her asceticism
Asceticism the result of circumstances
Virtues of Paula
Her illustrious friends
Saint Jerome and his great attainments
His friendship with Paula
His social influence at Rome
His treatment of women
Vanity of mere worldly friendship
^Esthetic mission of woman
Elements of permanent friendship
Necessity of social equality
Illustrious friendships
Congenial tastes in friendship
Necessity of Christian graces
Sympathy as radiating from the Cross
Necessity of some common end in friendship
The extension of monastic life
Virtues of early monastic life
Paula and Jerome seek its retreats
Their residence in Palestine
Their travels in the East
Their illustrious visitors
Peculiarities of their friendship
Death of Paula
Her character and fame
Elevation of woman by friendship



The power of the Pulpit
Eloquence always a power
The superiority of the Christian themes to those of Pagan antiquity
Sadness of the great Pagan orators
Cheerfulness of the Christian preachers
Society of the times
Chrysostom's conversion, and life in retirement
Life at Antioch
Characteristics of his eloquence; his popularity as orator
His influence
Shelters Antioch from the wrath of Theodosius
Power and responsibility of the clergy
Transferred to Constantinople, as Patriarch of the East
His sermons, and their effect at Court
Quarrel with Eutropius
Envy of Theophilus of Alexandria
Council of the Oaks; condemnation to exile
Sustained by the people; recalled
Wrath of the Empress
Exile of Chrysostom
His literary labors in exile
His more remote exile, and death
His fame and influence



Dignity of the Episcopal office in the early Church
Growth of Episcopal authority,--its causes
The See of Milan; election of Ambrose as Archbishop
His early life and character; his great ability
Change in his life after consecration
His conservation of the Faith
Persecution of the Manicheans
Opposition to the Arians
His enemies; Faustina
Quarrel with the Empress
Establishment of Spiritual Authority
Opposition to Temporal Power
Ambrose retires to his cathedral; Ambrosian chant
Rebellion of Soldiers; triumph of Ambrose
Sent as Ambassador to Maximus; his intrepidity
His rebuke of Theodosius; penance of the Emperor
Fidelity and ability of Ambrose as Bishop
His private virtues
His influence on succeeding ages



Lofty position of Augustine in the Church
Parentage and birth
Education and youthful follies
Influence of the Manicheans on him
Teacher of rhetoric
Visits Rome
Teaches rhetoric at Milan
Influence of Ambrose on him
Conversion; Christian experience
Retreat to Lake Como
Death of Monica his mother
Return to Africa
Made Bishop of Hippo; his influence as Bishop
His greatness as a theologian; his vast studies
Contest with Manicheans,--their character and teachings
Controversy with the Donatists,--their peculiarities
Tracts: Unity of the Church and Religious Toleration
Contest with the Pelagians: Pelagius and Celestius
Principles of Pelagianism
Doctrines of Augustine: Grace; Predestination; Sovereignty of God;
Servitude of the Will
Results of the Pelagian controversy
Other writings of Augustine: "The City of God;" Soliloquies; Sermons
Death and character
Eulogists of Augustine
His posthumous influence



The mission of Theodosius
General sense of security in the Roman world
The Romans awake from their delusion
Incursions of the Goths
Battle of Adrianople; death of Valens
Necessity for a great deliverer to arise; Theodosius
The Goths,--their characteristics and history
Elevation of Theodosius as Associate Emperor
He conciliates the Goths, and permits them to settle in the Empire
Revolt of Maximus against Gratian; death of Gratian
Theodosius marches against Maximus and subdues him
Revolt of Arbogastes,--his usurpation
Victories of Theodosius over all his rivals; the Empire once
more united under a single man
Reforms of Theodosius; his jurisprudence
Patronage of the clergy and dignity of great ecclesiastics
Theodosius persecutes the Arians
Extinguishes Paganism and closes the temples
Cements the union of Church with State
Faults and errors of Theodosius; massacre of Thessalonica
Death of Theodosius
Division of the Empire between his two sons
Renewed incursions of the Goths,--Alaric; Stilicho
Fall of Rome; Genseric and the Vandals
Second sack of Rome
Reflections on the Fall of the Western Empire



Leo the Great,--founder of the Catholic Empire
General aim of the Catholic Church
The Church the guardian of spiritual principles
Theocratic aspirations of the Popes
Origin of ecclesiastical power; the early Popes
Primacy of the Bishop of Rome
Necessity for some higher claim after the fall of Rome
Early life of Leo
Elevation to the Papacy; his measures; his writings
His persecution of the Manicheans
Conservation of the Faith by Leo
Intercession with the barbaric kings; Leo's intrepidity
Desolation of Rome
Designs and thoughts of Leo
The _jus divinum_ principle; state of Rome when this principle
was advocated
Its apparent necessity
The influence of arrogant pretensions on the barbarians
They are indorsed by the Emperor
The government of Leo
The central power of the Papacy
Unity of the Church
No rules of government laid down in the Scriptures
Governments the result of circumstances
The Papal government the need of the Middle Ages
The Papacy in its best period
Greatness of Leo's character and aims
Fidelity of his early successors, and perversions of later Popes



The Conversion of Paula by St. Jerome.
_After the painting by L. Alma-Tadema_.

Archery Practice of a Persian King.
_After the painting by F.A. Bridgman_.

Tomyris Plunges the Head of the Dead Cyrus into a Vessel of Blood.
_After the painting by A. Zick_.

Julius Caesar.
_From the bust in the National Museum, Rome_.

Surrender of Vercingetorix, the Last Chief of Gaul.
_After the painting by Henri Motte_.

Marcus Aurelius.
_From a photograph of the statue at the Capitol, Rome_.

Persecution of Christians in the Roman Arena.
_After the painting by G. Mantegazza_.

St. Jerome in His Cell.
_After the painting by J.L. Gerome_.

St. Chrysostom Condemns the Vices of the Empress Eudoxia.
_After the painting by Jean Paul Laurens_.

St. Ambrose Refuses the Emperor Theodosius Admittance to His Church.
_After the painting by Gebhart Fuegel_.

St. Augustine and His Mother.
_After the painting by Ary Scheffer_.

Invasion of the Goths into the Roman Empire.
_After the painting by O. Fritsche_.

Invasion of the Huns into Italy.
_After the painting by V. Checa_.


* * * * *


* * * * *

559-529 B.C.


One of the most prominent and romantic characters in the history of the
Oriental world, before its conquest by Alexander of Macedon, is Cyrus
the Great; not as a sage or prophet, not as the founder of new religious
systems, not even as a law-giver, but as the founder and organizer of
the greatest empire the world has seen, next to that of the Romans. The
territory over which Cyrus bore rule extended nearly three thousand
miles from east to west, and fifteen hundred miles from north to south,
embracing the principal nations known to antiquity, so that he was
really a king of kings. He was practically the last of the great Asiatic
emperors, absorbing in his dominions those acquired by the Assyrians,
the Babylonians, and the Lydians. He was also the first who brought Asia
into intimate contact with Europe and its influences, and thus may be
regarded as the link between the old Oriental world and the Greek

It is to be regretted that so little is really known of the Persian
hero, both in the matter of events and also of exact dates, since
chronologists differ, and can only approximate to the truth in their
calculations. In this lecture, which is in some respects an introduction
to those that will follow on the heroes and sages of Greek, Roman, and
Christian antiquity, it is of more importance to present Oriental
countries and institutions than any particular character, interesting as
he may be,--especially since as to biography one is obliged to sift
historical facts from a great mass of fables and speculations.

Neither Herodotus, Xenophon, nor Ctesias satisfy us as to the real life
and character of Cyrus. This renowned name represents, however, the
Persian power, the last of the great monarchies that ruled the Oriental
world until its conquest by the Greeks. Persia came suddenly into
prominence in the middle of the seventh century before Christ. Prior to
this time it was comparatively unknown and unimportant, and was one of
the dependent provinces of Media, whose religion, language, and customs
were not very dissimilar to its own.

Persia was a small, rocky, hilly, arid country about three hundred miles
long by two hundred and fifty wide, situated south of Media, having the
Persian Gulf as its southern boundary, the Zagros Mountains on the west
separating it from Babylonia, and a great and almost impassable desert
on the east, so that it was easily defended. Its population was composed
of hardy, warlike, and religious people, condemned to poverty and
incessant toil by the difficulty of getting a living on sterile and
unproductive hills, except in a few favored localities. The climate was
warm in summer and cold in winter, but on the whole more temperate than
might be supposed from a region situated so near the tropics,--between
the twenty-fifth and thirtieth degrees of latitude. It was an elevated
country, more than three thousand feet above the sea, and was favorable
to the cultivation of the fruits and flowers that have ever been most
prized, those cereals which constitute the ordinary food of man growing
in abundance if sufficient labor were spent on their cultivation,
reminding us of Switzerland and New England. But vigilance and incessant
toil were necessary, such as are only found among a hardy and courageous
peasantry, turning easily from agricultural labors to the fatigues and
dangers of war. The real wealth of the country was in the flocks and
herds that browsed in the valleys and plains. Game of all kinds was
abundant, so that the people were unusually fond of the pleasures of the
chase; and as they were temperate, inured to exposure, frugal, and
adventurous, they made excellent soldiers. Nor did they ever as a nation
lose their warlike qualities,--it being only the rich and powerful among
them who learned the vices of the nations they subdued, and became
addicted to luxury, indolence, and self-indulgence. Before the conquest
of Media the whole nation was distinguished for temperance, frugality,
and bravery. According to Herodotus, the Persians were especially
instructed in three things,--"to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the
truth." Their moral virtues were as conspicuous as their warlike
qualities. They were so poor that their ordinary dress was of leather.
They could boast of no large city, like the Median Ecbatana, or like
Babylon,--Pasargadae, their ancient capital, being comparatively small
and deficient in architectural monuments. The people lived chiefly in
villages and hamlets, and were governed, like the Israelites under the
Judges, by independent chieftains, none of whom attained the rank and
power of kings until about one hundred years before the birth of Cyrus.
These pastoral and hunting people, frugal from necessity, brave from
exposure, industrious from the difficulty of subsisting in a dry and
barren country, for the most sort were just such a race as furnished a
noble material for the foundation of a great empire.

Whence came this honest, truthful, thrifty race? It is generally
admitted that it was a branch of the great Aryan family, whose original
settlements are supposed to have been on the high table-lands of Central
Asia east of the Caspian Sea, probably in Bactria. They emigrated from
that dreary and inhospitable country after Zoroaster had proclaimed his
doctrines, after the sacred hymns called the Gathas were sung, perhaps
even after the Zend-Avesta or sacred writings of the Zoroastrian priests
had been begun,--conquering or driving away Turanian tribes, and
migrating to the southwest in search of more fruitful fields and fertile
valleys, they found a region which has ever since borne a
name--Iran--that evidently commemorated the proud title of the Aryan
race. And this great movement took place about the time that another
branch of their race also migrated southeastwardly to the valleys of the
Indus. The Persians and the Hindus therefore had common ancestors,--the
same indeed, as those of the Greeks, Romans, Sclavonians, Celts, and
Teutons, who migrated to the northwest and settled in Europe. The Aryans
in all their branches were the noblest of the primitive races, and have
in their later developments produced the highest civilization ever
attained. They all had similar elements of character, especially love of
personal independence, respect for woman, and a religious tendency of
mind. We see a considerable similarity of habits and customs between
the Teutonic races of Germany and Scandinavia and the early inhabitants
of Persia, as well as great affinity in language. All branches of the
Aryan family have been warlike and adventurous, if we may except the
Hindus, who were subjected to different influences,--especially of
climate, which enervated their bodies if it did not weaken their minds.

When the migration of the Iranians took place it is difficult to
determine, but probably between fifteen hundred and two thousand years
before our era, although it may have been even five hundred years
earlier than that. All theories as to their movements before their
authentic history begins are based on conjecture and speculation, which
it is not profitable to pursue, since we can settle nothing in the
present state of our knowledge.

It is very singular that the Iranians should have had, after their
migrations and settlements, religious ideas and systems so different
from those of the Hindus, considering that they had common ancestors.
The Iranians, including the Medes as well as Persians, accepted
Zoroaster as their prophet and teacher, and the Zend-Avesta as their
sacred books, and worshipped one Supreme Deity, whom they called
Ahura-Mazda (Ormazd),--the Lord Omniscient,--and thus were monotheists;
while the Hindus were practically poly-theists, governed by a
sacerdotal caste, who imposed gloomy austerities and sacrifices,
although it would seem that the older Vedistic hymns of the Hindus were
theistic in spirit. The Magi--the priests of the Iranians--differed
widely in their religious views from the Brahmans, inculcating a higher
morality and a loftier theological creed, worshipping the Supreme Being
without temples or shrines or images, although their religion ultimately
degenerated into a worship of the powers of Nature, as the recognition
of Mithra the sun-god and the mysterious fire-altars would seem to
indicate. But even in spite of the corruptions introduced by the Magi
when they became a powerful sacerdotal body, their doctrine remained
purer and more elevated than the religions of the surrounding nations.

While the Iranians worshipped a supreme deity of goodness, they also
recognized a supreme deity of evil, both ruling the world--in perpetual
conflict--by unnumbered angels, good and evil; but the final triumph of
the good was a conspicuous article of their faith. In close logical
connection with this recognition of a supreme power in the universe was
the belief of a future state and of future rewards and punishments,
without which belief there can be, in my opinion, no high morality, as
men are constituted.

In process of time the priests of the Zoroastrian faith became unduly
powerful, and enslaved the people by many superstitions, such as the
multiplication of rites and ceremonies and the interpretation of dreams
and omens. They united spiritual with temporal authority, as a powerful
priesthood is apt to do,--a fact which the Christian priesthood of the
Middle Ages made evident in the Occidental world.

In the time of Cyrus the Magi had become a sort of sacerdotal caste.
They were the trusted ministers of kings, and exercised a controlling
influence over the people. They assumed a stately air, wore white and
flowing robes, and were adept in the arts of sorcery and magic. They
were even consulted by kings and chieftains, as if they possessed
prophetic power. They were a picturesque body of men, with their mystic
wands, their impressive robes, their tall caps, appealing by their long
incantations and frequent ceremonies and prayers to the eye and to the
ear. "Pure Zoroastrianism was too spiritual to coalesce readily with
Oriental luxury and magnificence when the Persians were rulers of a vast
empire, but Magism furnished a hierarchy to support the throne and add
splendor and dignity to the court, while it blended easily with
previous creeds."

In material civilization the Medes and Persians were inferior to the
Babylonians and Egyptians, and immeasurably behind the Greeks and
Romans. Their architecture was not so imposing as that of the Egyptians
and Babylonians; it had no striking originality, and it was only in the
palaces of great monarchs that anything approached magnificence. Still,
there were famous palaces at Ecbatana, Susa, and Persepolis, raised on
lofty platforms, reached by grand staircases, and ornamented with
elaborate pillars. The most splendid of these were erected after the
time of Cyrus, by Darius and Xerxes, decorated with carpets, hangings,
and golden ornaments. The halls of their palaces were of great size and
imposing effect. Next to palaces, the most remarkable buildings were the
tombs of kings; but we have no remains of marble statues or metal
castings or ivory carvings, not even of potteries, which at that time in
other countries were common and beautiful. The gems and signet rings
which the Persians engraved possessed much merit, and on them were
wrought with great skill the figures of men and animals; but the nearest
approach to sculpture were the figures of colossal bulls set to guard
the portals of palaces, and these were probably borrowed from the

Nor were the Persians celebrated for their textile fabrics and dyes. "So
long as the carpets of Babylon, the shawls of India, the fine linen of
Egypt, and the coverlets of Damascus poured continually into Persia in
the way of tribute and gifts, there was no stimulus to manufacture." The
same may be said of the ornamental metal-work of the Greeks, and the
glass manufacture of the Phoenicians. The Persians were soldiers, and
gloried in being so, to the disdain of much that civilization has
ever valued.

It may as well be here said that the Iranians, both Medes and Persians,
were acquainted with the art of writing. Harpagus sent a letter to Cyrus
concealed in the belly of a hare, and Darius signed a decree which his
nobles presented to him in writing. In common with the Babylonians they
used the same alphabetic system, though their languages were
unlike,--namely, the cuneiform or arrow-head or wedge-shaped characters,
as seen in the celebrated inscriptions of Darius on the side of a high
rock thirty feet from the ground. We cannot determine whether the Medes
and Persians brought their alphabet from their original settlements in
Central Asia, or derived it from the Turanian and Semitic nations with
which they came in contact. In spite of their knowledge of writing,
however, they produced no literature of any account, and of science they
were completely ignorant. They made few improvements even in military
weapons, the chief of which, as among all the nations of antiquity, were
the bow, the spear, and the sword. They were skilful horsemen, and made
use of chariots of war. Their great occupation, aside from agriculture,
was hunting, in which they were trained by exposure for war. They were
born to conquer and rule, like the Romans, and cared for little except
the warlike virtues.

Such were the Persians and the rugged country in which they lived, with
their courage and fortitude, their love of freedom, their patriotism,
their abhorrence of lies, their self-respect allied with pride, their
temperance and frugality, forming a noble material for empire and
dominion when the time came for the old monarchies to fall into their
hands,--the last and greatest of all the races that had ruled the
Oriental world, and kindred in their remote ancestry with those European
conquerors who laid the foundation of modern civilization.

Of these Persians Cyrus was the type-man, combining in himself all that
was admirable in his countrymen, and making so strong an impression on
the Greeks that he is presented by their historians as an ideal prince,
invested with all those virtues which the mediaeval romance-writers have
ascribed to the knights of chivalry.

The Persians were ruled by independent chieftains, or petty kings, who
acknowledged fealty to Media; so that Persia was really a province of
Media, as Burgundy was of France in the Middle Ages, and as Babylonia at
one period was of Assyria. The most prominent of these chieftains or
princes was Achaemenes, who is regarded as the founder of the Persian
monarchy. To this royal family of the Achaemenidae Cyrus belonged. His
father Cambyses, called by some a satrap and by others a king, married,
according to Herodotus, a daughter of Astyages, the last of the
Median monarchs.

The youth and education of Cyrus are invested with poetic interest by
both Herodotus and Xenophon, but their narratives have no historical
authority in the eyes of critics, any more than Livy's painting of
Romulus and Remus: they belong to the realm of romance rather than
authentic history. Nevertheless the legend of Cyrus is beautiful, and
has been repeated by all succeeding historians.

According to this legend, Astyages--a luxurious and superstitious
monarch, without the warlike virtues of his father, who had really built
up the Median empire--had a dream that troubled him, which being
interpreted by the Magi, priests of the national religion, was to the
effect that his daughter Mandane (for he had no legitimate son) would be
married to a prince whose heir should seize the supreme power of Media.
To prevent this, he married her to a prince beneath her rank, for whom
he felt no fear,--Cambyses, the chief governor or king of Persia, who
ruled a territory to the South, about one fifth the size of Media, and
which practically was a dependent province. Another dream which alarmed
Astyages still further, in spite of his precaution, induced him to send
for his daughter, so that having her in his power he might easily
destroy her offspring. As soon as Cyrus was born therefore in the royal
palace at Ecbatana, the king intrusted the infant prince to one of the
principal officers of his court, named Harpagus, with peremptory orders
to destroy him. Harpagus, although he professed unconditional obedience
to his monarch, had scruples about taking the life of one so near the
throne, the grandson of the king and presumptive heir of the monarchy.
So he, in turn, intrusted the royal infant to the care of a herdsman, in
whom he had implicit confidence, with orders to kill him. The herdsman
had a tender-hearted and conscientious wife who had just given birth to
a dead child, and she persuaded her husband--for even in Media women
virtually ruled, as they do everywhere, if they have tact--to substitute
the dead child for the living one, deck it out in the royal costume, and
expose it to wild beasts. This was done, and Cyrus remained the supposed
child of the shepherd. The secret was well kept for ten years, and both
Astyages and Harpagus supposed that Cyrus was slain.

Cyrus meanwhile grew up among the mountains, a hardy and beautiful boy,
exposed to heat and cold, hunger and fatigue, and thus was early inured
to danger and hardship. Added to personal beauty was remarkable courage,
frankness, and brightness, so that he took the lead of other boys in
their amusements. One day they played king, and Cyrus was chosen to
represent royalty, which he acted so literally as to beat the son of a
Median nobleman for disobedience. The indignant and angry father
complained at once to the king, and Astyages sent for the herdsman and
his supposed son to attend him in his palace. When the two mountaineers
were ushered into the royal presence, Astyages was so struck with the
beauty, wit, and boldness of the boy that he made earnest inquiries of
the herdsman, who was forced to tell the truth, and confessed that the
youth was not his son, but had been put into his hands by Harpagus with
orders to destroy him. The royal origin of Cyrus was now apparent, and
the king sent for Harpagus, who corroborated the statement of the
herdsman. Astyages dissembled his wrath, as Oriental monarchs can, who
are trained to dissimulation, and the only punishment he inflicted on
Harpagus was to set before him at a banquet a dish made of the arms and
legs of a dead infant. This the courtier in turn professed to relish,
but henceforth became the secret and implacable enemy of the king.

Herodotus tells us that Astyages took the boy, unmistakably his grandson
and heir, to his palace to be educated according to his rank. Cyrus was
now brought up with every honor and the greatest care, taught to hunt
and ride and shoot with the bow like the highest nobles. He soon
distinguished himself for his feats in horsemanship and skill in hunting
wild animals, winning universal admiration, and disarming envy by his
tact, amiability, and generosity, which were as marked as his
intellectual brilliancy,--being altogether a model of reproachless

For some reason, however, the fears and jealousy of Astyages were
renewed, and Cyrus was sent to his father in Persia with costly gifts.
Possibly he was recalled by Cambyses himself, for a father by all the
Eastern codes had a right to the person of his son.

No sooner was Cyrus established in Persia,--a country which it would
seem he had never before seen,--than he was sought by the discontented
Persians to head a revolt against their masters, and he availed himself
of the disaffection of Harpagus, the most influential of the Median
noblemen, for the dethronement of his grandfather. Persia arose in
rebellion against Media. A war ensued, and in a battle between the
conflicting forces Astyages was defeated and taken prisoner, but was
kindly treated by his magnanimous conqueror. This battle ended the
Median ascendency, and Cyrus became the monarch of both Media
and Persia.

Since the Medes belonged to the same Aryan family as the Persians, and
had the same language, religion, and institutions, with slight
differences, and lived among the mountains exposed to an uncongenial
climate with extremes of heat and cold, and were doomed to hard and
incessant labors for a subsistence, and were therefore--that is, the
ordinary people--frugal, industrious, and temperate, it will be seen
that what we have said of Persia equally applies to Media, except the
possession by the latter of political power as wielded by the sovereign
of a larger State.

Before a central power was established in Media, the country had
been--as in all nations in their formative state--ruled by chieftains,
who acknowledged as their supreme lord the King of Assyria, who reigned
in Nineveh. Among these chieftains was a remarkable man called Deioces,
so upright and able that he was elected king. Deioces reigned
fifty-three years wisely and well, bequeathing the kingdom he had
founded to his son Phraortes, under whom Media became independent of
Assyria. His son and successor Cyaxares, who died 593 B.C., was a
successful warrior and conqueror, and was the founder of Median
greatness. With the assistance of Nabopolassar, a Babylonian general who
had also revolted against the Assyrian monarch, Cyaxares succeeded,
after repeated failures, in taking Nineveh and destroying the great
Assyrian Empire which had ruled the Eastern world for several centuries.
The northern and eastern provinces were annexed to Media, while the
Babylonian valley of the Euphrates in the south fell to the share of
Nabopolassar, who established the Babylonian ascendency. This in its
turn was greatly augmented by his son Nebuchadnezzar, one of the most
famous conquerors of antiquity, whose empire became more extensive even
than the Assyrian. He reigned in Babylon with unparalleled splendor, and
made his capital the wonder and the admiration of the world, enriching
and ornamenting it with palaces, temples, and hanging gardens, and
strengthening its defences to such a marvellous degree that it was
deemed impregnable.

Cyaxares the Median meanwhile raised up in Ecbatana a rival power to
that of Babylon, although he devoted himself to warlike expeditions more
than to the adornment of his capital. He penetrated with his invincible
troops as far to the west as Lydia in Asia Minor, then ruled by the
father of Croesus, and thus became known to the Ionian cities which the
Greeks had colonized. After a brilliant reign, Cyaxares transmitted his
empire to an unworthy son,--Astyages, the grandfather of Cyrus, whose
loss of the throne has been already related. With Astyages perished the
Median Empire, which had lasted only about one hundred years, and Media
was incorporated with Persia. Henceforth the Medes and Persians are
spoken of as virtually one nation, similar in religion and customs, and
furnishing equally the best cavalry in the world. Under Cyrus they
became the ascendent power in Asia, and maintained their ascendency
until their conquest by Alexander. The union between Media and Persia
was probably as complete as that between Burgundy and France, or that of
Scotland with England. Indeed, Media now became the residence of the
Persian kings, whose palaces at Ecbatana, Susa, and Persepolis nearly
rivalled those of Babylon. Even modern Persia comprises the
ancient Media.

The reign of Cyrus properly begins with the conquest of Media, or rather
its union with Persia, B.C. 549. We know, however, but little of the
career of Cyrus after he became monarch of both Persia and Media, until
he was forty years of age. He was probably engaged in the conquest of
various barbaric hordes before his memorable Lydian campaign. But we are
in ignorance of his most active years, when he was exposed to the
greatest dangers and hardships, and when he became perfected in the
military art, as in the case of Caesar amid the marshes and forests of
Gaul and Belgium. The fame of Caesar rests as much on his conquests of
the Celtic barbarians of Europe as on his conflict with Pompey; but
whether Cyrus obtained military fame or not in his wars against the
Turanians, he doubtless proved himself a benefactor to humanity more in
arresting the tide of Scythian invasion than by those conquests which
have given him immortality.

When Cyrus had cemented his empire by the conquest of the Turanian
nations, especially those that dwelt between the Caspian and Black seas,
his attention was drawn to Lydia, the most powerful kingdom of western
Asia, whose monarch, Croesus, reigned at Sardis in Oriental
magnificence. Lydia was not much known to distant States until the reign
of Gyges, about 716 B.C., who made war on the Dorian and Ionian Greek
colonies on the coast of Asia Minor, the chief of which were Miletus,
Smyrna, Colophon, and Ephesus. His successor Ardys continued this
warfare, but was obliged to desist because of an invasion of the
Cimmerians,--barbarians from beyond the Caucasus, driven away from
their homes by the Scythians. His grandson Alyattes, greatest of the
Lydian monarchs, succeeded in expelling the Cimmerians from Lydia. After
subduing some of the maritime cities of Asia Minor, this monarch faced
the Medes, who had advanced their empire to the river Halys, the eastern
boundary of Lydia, which flows northwardly into the Euxine. For five
years Alyattes fought the Medes under Cyaxares with varying success, and
the war ended by the marriage of the daughter of the Lydian king with
Astyages. After this, Alyattes reigned forty-three years, and was buried
in a tomb whose magnificence was little short of the grandest of the
Egyptian monuments.

Croesus, his son, entered upon a career which reminds us of Solomon, the
inheritor of the conquests of David. Like the Jewish monarch, Croesus
was rich, luxurious, and intellectual. His wealth, obtained chiefly from
the mines of his kingdom, was a marvel to the Greeks. His capital Sardis
became the largest in western Asia, and one of the most luxurious cities
known to antiquity, whither resorted travellers from all parts of the
world, attracted by the magnificence of the court, among whom was Solon
himself, the great Athenian law-giver. Croesus continued the warfare on
the Greek cities of Asia, and forced them to become his tributaries. He
brought under his sway most of the nations to the west of the Halys, and
though never so great a warrior as his father, he became very powerful.
He was as generous in his gifts as he was magnificent in his tastes. His
offerings to the oracle at Delphi were unprecedented in their value,
when he sought advice as to the wisdom of engaging in war with Cyrus. Of
the three great Asian empires, Croesus now saw his father's ally,
Babylon, under a weak and dissolute ruler; Media, absorbed into Persia
under the power of a valiant and successful conqueror; and his own
empire, Lydia, threatened with attack by the growing ambition of Persia.
Herodotus says he "was led to consider whether it were possible to check
the growing power of that people."

It was the misfortune of Croesus to overrate his strength,--an error
often seen in the career of fortunate men, especially those who enter
upon a great inheritance. It does not appear that Croesus desired war
with Persia, but he did not dread it, and felt confident that he could
overcome a man whose chief conquests had been made over barbarians.
Perhaps he felt the necessity of contending with Cyrus before that
warrior's victories and prestige should become overwhelming, for the
Persian monarch obviously aimed at absorbing all Asia in his empire; at
any rate, when informed by the oracle at Delphi that if he fought with
the Persians he would destroy a mighty empire, Croesus interpreted the
response in his own favor.

Croesus made great preparations for the approaching contest, which was
to settle the destiny of Asia Minor. The Greeks were on his side, for
they feared the Persians more than they did the Lydians. With the aid of
Sparta, the most warlike of the Grecian States, he advanced to meet the
Persian conqueror, not however without the expostulation of some of his
wisest counsellors. One of them, according to Herodotus, ventured to
address him with these plain words: "Thou art about, O King, to make war
against men who wear leather trousers and other garments of leather; who
feed not on what they like, but on what they can get from a soil which
is sterile and unfriendly; who do not indulge in wine, but drink water;
who possess no figs, nor anything which is good to eat. If, then, thou
conquerest them, what canst thou get from them, seeing that they have
nothing at all? But if they conquer thee, consider how much that is
precious thou wilt lose; if they once get a taste of our pleasant
things, they will keep such a hold of them that we never shall be able
to make them lose their grasp." We cannot consider Croesus as utterly
infatuated in not taking this advice, since war had become inevitable,
It was "either anvil or hammer," as between France and Prussia in
1870-72,--as between all great powers that accept the fortune of war,
ever uncertain in its results. The only question seems to have been who
should first take the offensive in a war that had been long preparing,
and in which defeat would be followed by the utter ruin of the
defeated party.

The Lydians began the attack by crossing the Halys and entering the
enemy's territory. The first battle took place at Pteria in Cappadocia,
near Sinope on the Euxine, but was indecisive. Both parties fought
bravely, and the slaughter on both sides was dreadful, the Lydians being
the most numerous, and the Persians the most highly disciplined. After
the battle of Pteria, Croesus withdrew his army to his own territories
and retired upon his capital, with a view of augmenting his forces;
while Cyrus, with the instinct of a conqueror, ventured to cross the
Halys in pursuit, and to march rapidly on Sardis before the enemy could
collect another army. Prompt decision and celerity of movement
characterize all successful warriors, and here it was that Cyrus showed
his military genius. Before Croesus was fully prepared for another
fight, Cyrus was at the gates of Sardis. But the Lydian king rallied
what forces he could, and led them out to battle. The Lydians were
superior in cavalry; seeing which, Cyrus, with that fertility of
resource which marked his whole career, collected together the camels
which transported his baggage and provisions, and placed them in the
front of his array, since the horse, according to Herodotus, has a
natural dread of the camel and cannot abide his sight or his smell. The
result was as Cyrus calculated; the cavalry of the Lydians turned round
and galloped away. The Lydians fought bravely, but were driven within
the walls of their capital. Cyrus vigorously prosecuted the siege, which
lasted only fourteen days, since an attack was made on the side of the
city which was undefended, and which was supposed to be impregnable and
unassailable. The proud city fell by assault, and was given up to
plunder. Croesus himself was taken alive, after a reign of fourteen
years, and the mighty Lydia became a Persian province.

There is something unusually touching in the fate of Croesus after so
great prosperity. Saved by Cyrus from an ignominious and painful death,
such as the barbarous customs of war then made common, the unhappy
Lydian monarch became, it is said, the friend and admirer of the
Conqueror, and was present in his future expeditions, and even proved a
wise and faithful counsellor. If some proud monarchs by the fortune of
war have fallen suddenly from as lofty an eminence as that of Croesus,
it is certain that few have yielded with nobler submission than he to
the decrees of fate.

The fall of Sardis,--B.C. 546, according to Grote,--was followed by the
submission of all the States that were dependent on Lydia. Even the
Grecian colonies in Asia Minor were annexed to the Persian Empire.

The conquest of the Ionian cities, first by Croesus and then by Cyrus,
was attended with important political consequences. Before the time of
Croesus the Greek cities of Asia were independent. Had they combined
together for offence and defence, with the assistance of Sparta and
Athens, they might have resisted the attacks of both Lydians and
Persians. But the autonomy of cities and states, favorable as it was to
the development of art, literature, and commerce, as well as of
individual genius in all departments of knowledge and enterprise, was
not calculated to make a people politically powerful. Only a strong
central power enables a country to resist hostile aggressions on a great
scale. Thus Greece herself ultimately fell into the hands of Philip, and
afterward into those of the Romans.

The conquest of the Ionian cities also introduced into Asia Minor and
perhaps into Europe Oriental customs, luxuries, and wealth hitherto
unknown. Certainly when Persia became an irresistible power and ruled
the conquered countries by satraps and royal governors, it assimilated
the Greeks with Asiatics, and modified the forms of social life; it
brought Asia and Europe together, and produced a rivalry which finally
ended in the battle of Marathon and the subsequent Asiatic victories of
Alexander. While the conquests of the Persians introduced Oriental ideas
and customs into Greece, the wars of Alexander extended the Grecian sway
in Asia. The civilized world opened toward the East; but with the
extension of Greek ideas and art, there was a decline of primitive
virtues in Greece herself. Luxury undermined power.

The annexation of Asia Minor to the empire of Cyrus was followed by a
protracted war with the barbarians on his eastern boundaries. The
imperfect subjugation of barbaric nations living in Central Asia
occupied Cyrus, it is thought, about twelve years. He pushed his
conquests to the Iaxartes on the north and Afghanistan on the east,
reducing that vast country which lies between the Caspian Sea and the
deserts of Tartary.

Cyrus was advancing in years before he undertook the conquest of
Babylon, the most important of all his undertakings, and for which his
other conquests were preparatory. At the age of sixty, Cyrus, 538 B.C.,
advanced against Narbonadius, the proud king of Babylon,--the only
remaining power in Asia that was still formidable. The Babylonian
Empire, which had arisen on the ruins of the Assyrian, had lasted only
about one hundred years. Yet what wonders and triumphs had been seen at
Babylon during that single century! What progress had been made in arts
and sciences! What grand palaces and temples had been erected! What a
multitude of captives had added to the pomp and wealth of the proudest
city of antiquity! Babylon the great,---"the glory of kingdoms," "the
praise of the whole earth," the centre of all that was civilized and all
that was corrupting in the Oriental world, with its soothsayers, its
magicians, its necromancers, its priests, its nobles,--was now to fall,
for its abominations cried aloud to heaven for punishment.

This great city was built on both sides of the Euphrates, was fifteen
miles square, with gardens and fields capable of supporting a large
population, and was stocked with provisions to maintain a siege of
indefinite length against any enemy. The accounts of its walls and
fortifications exceed belief, estimated by Herodotus to be three hundred
and fifty feet in height, with a wide moat surrounding them, which could
not be bridged or crossed by an invading army. The soldiers of
Narbonadius looked with derision on the veteran forces of Cyrus,
although they were inured to the hardships and privations of incessant
war. To all appearance the city was impregnable, and could be taken only
by unusual methods. But the genius of the Persian conqueror, according
to traditional accounts, surmounted all difficulties. Who else would
have thought of diverting the Euphrates from its bed into the canals and
gigantic reservoirs which Nebuchadnezzar had built for purposes of
irrigation? Yet this seems to have been done. Taking advantage of a
festival, when the whole population were given over to bacchanalian
orgies, and therefore off their guard, Cyrus advanced, under the cover
of a dark night, by the bed of the river, now dry, and easily surprised
the drunken city, slaying the king, with a thousand of his lords, as he
was banqueting in his palace. The slightest accident or miscarriage
would have defeated so bold an operation. The success of Cyrus had all
the mystery and solemnity of a Providential event. Though no miracle was
wrought, the fall of Babylon--so strong, so proud, so defiant--was as
wonderful as the passage of the Israelites across the Red Sea, or the
crumbling walls of Jericho before the blasts of the trumpets of Joshua.

However, this account is to be taken with some reserve, since by the
discoveries of historical "cylinders,"--the clay books whereon the
Chaldaean priests and scribes recorded the main facts of the reigns of
their monarchs,--and especially one called the "Proclamation Cylinder,"
prepared for Cyrus after the fall of Babylon, it would seem that
dissension and treachery within had much to do with facilitating the
entrance of the invader. Narbonadius, the second successor of
Nebuchadnezzar, had quarrelled with the priesthood of Babylon, and
neglected the worship of Bel-Marduk and Nebo, the special patron gods of
that city. The captive Jews also, who had been now nearly fifty years in
the land, had grown more zealous for their own God and religion, more
influential and wealthy, and even had become in some sort a power in the
State. The invasion of Cyrus--a monotheist like themselves--must have
seemed to them a special providence from Jehovah; indeed, we know that
it did, from the records in II. Chronicles xxxvi. 22, 23: "The Lord
stirred up the spirit of Koresh, King of Persia, that he made a
proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing."
The same words occur in the beginning of the Book of Ezra, both
referring to the sending home of the Jews after the fall of Babylon; the
forty-sixth chapter of Isaiah also: "The Lord saith of Koresh, He is my
shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure."

Babylon was not at that time levelled with the ground, but became one of
the capitals of the Persian Empire, where the Persian monarch resided
for more than half the year. Although the Babylonian Empire began with
Nabopolassar, B.C. 625, on the destruction of Nineveh, yet Babylon was a
very ancient city and the capital of the ancient Chaldaean monarchy,
which lasted under various dynasties from about 2400 B.C. to 1300 B.C.,
when it was taken by the Assyrians under Tig Vathi-Nin. The great
Assyrian Empire, which thus absorbed ancient Babylonia, lasted between
six and seven hundred years, according to Herodotus, although recent
discoveries and inscriptions make its continuance much longer, and was
the dominant power of Asia during the most interesting period of Jewish
history, until taken by Cyaxares the Median. The limits of the empire
varied at different times, for the conquered States which composed it
were held together by a precarious tenure. But even in its greatest
strength it was inferior in size and power to the Empire of Cyrus. To
check rebellion,--a source of constant trouble and weakness,--the
warlike monarchs were obliged to reconquer, imposing not only tribute
and fealty, but overrunning the rebellious countries with fire and
sword, and carrying away captive to distant cities a large part of the
population as slaves. Thus at one time two hundred thousand Jews were
transported to Assyria, and the "Ten Tribes" were scattered over the
Eastern world, never more to return to Palestine.

On the rebellion of Nabopolassar, in 625 B.C., Babylon recovered not
only its ancient independence, but more than its ancient prestige; yet
the empire of which it was the capital lasted only about the same length
of time as Media and Lydia,--the most powerful monarchies existing when
Cyrus was born. Babylon, however, during its brief dominion, after
having been subject to Assyria for seven hundred years, reappeared in
unparalleled splendor, and was probably the most magnificent capital the
ancient world ever saw until Rome arose. Even after its occupancy by the
Persian monarchs for two hundred years, it called out the admiration of
Herodotus and Alexander alike. Its arts, its sciences, its manufactures,
to say nothing of its palaces and temples, were the admiration of
travellers. When the proud conqueror of Palestine beheld the
magnificence he had created, little did he dream that "this great
Babylon which he had built" would become such a desolation that its very
site would be uncertain,--a habitation for dragons, a dreary waste for
owls and goats and wild beasts to occupy.

We should naturally suppose that Cyrus, with the kings of Asia prostrate
before his satraps, would have been contented to enjoy the fruits of his
labors; but there is no limit to man's ambition. Like Alexander, he
sought for new worlds to conquer, and perished, as some historians
maintain, in an unsuccessful war with some unknown barbarians on the
northeastern boundaries of his empire,--even as Caesar meditated a war
with the Parthians, where he might have perished, as Crassus did.
Unbounded as is human ambition, there is a limit to human
aggrandizement. Great conquerors are raised up by Providence to
accomplish certain results for civilization, and when these are
attained, when their mission is ended, they often pass away
ingloriously,--assassinated or defeated or destroyed by self-indulgence,
as the case may be. It seems to have been the mission of Cyrus to
destroy the ascendency of the Semitic and Hamitic despotisms in western
Asia, that a new empire might be erected by nobler races, who should
establish a reign of law. For the first time in Asia there was, on the
accession of Cyrus to unlimited power, a recognition of justice, and the
adoration of one supreme deity ruling in goodness and truth.

This may be the reason why Cyrus treated the captive Jews with so great
generosity, since he recognized in their Jehovah the Ahura-Mazda,--the
Supreme God that Zoroaster taught. No political reason will account for
sending back to Palestine thousands of captives with imperial presents,
to erect once more their sacred Temple and rebuild their sacred city. He
and all the Persian monarchs were zealous adherents of the religion of
Zoroaster, the central doctrine of which was the unity of God and
Divine Providence in the world, which doctrine neither Egyptian nor
Babylonian nor Lydian monarchs recognized. What a boon to humanity was
the restoration of the Jews to their capital and country! We read of no
oppression of the Jews by the Persian monarchs. Mordecai the Jew became
the prime minister of such an effeminate monarch as Xerxes, while Daniel
before him had been the honored minister of Darius.

Of all the Persian monarchs Cyrus was the best beloved. Xenophon made
him the hero of his philosophical romance. He is represented as the
incarnation of "sweetness and light." When a mere boy he delights all
with whom he is brought into contact, by his wit and valor. The king of
Media accepts his reproofs and admires his wisdom; the nobles of Media
are won by his urbanity and magnanimity. All historians praise his
simple habits and unbounded generosity. In an age when polygamy was the
vice of kings, he was contented with one wife, whom he loved and
honored. He rejected great presents, and thought it was better to give
than to receive. He treated women with delicacy and captives with
magnanimity. He conducted war with unknown mildness, and converted the
conquered into friends. He exalted the dignity of labor, and scorned all
baseness and lies. His piety and manly virtues may have been exaggerated
by his admirers, but what we do know of him fills us with admiration.
Brilliant in intellect, lofty in character, he was an ideal man, fitted
to be the guide of a noble nation whom he led to glory and honor. Other
warriors of world-wide fame have had, like him, great excellencies,
marred by glaring defects; but no vices or crimes are ascribed to Cyrus,
such as stained the characters of David and Constantine. The worst we
can say of him is that he was ambitious, and delighted in conquest; but
he was a conqueror raised up to elevate a religious race to a higher
plane, and to find a field for the development of their energies,
whatever may be said of their subsequent degeneracy. "The grandeur of
his character is well rendered in that brief and unassuming inscription
of his, more eloquent in its lofty simplicity than anything recorded by
Assyrian and Babylonian kings: 'I am Kurush [Cyrus] the king, the
Achaemenian.'" Whether he fell in battle, or died a natural death in one
of his palaces, he was buried in the ancient but modest capital of the
ancient Persians, Pasargadae; and his tomb was intact in the time of
Alexander, who visited it,--a sort of marble chapel raised on a marble
platform thirty-six feet high, in which was deposited a gilt
sarcophagus, together with Babylonian tapestries, Persian weapons, and
rare jewels of great value. This was the inscription on his tomb: "O
man, I am Kurush, the son of Kambujiya, who founded the greatness of
Persia and ruled Asia; grudge me not this monument."

Cyrus was succeeded by his son Cambyses, who though not devoid of fine
qualities was jealous and tyrannical. He caused his own brother Smerdis
to be put to death. He completed the conquests of his father by adding
Egypt to his empire. In a fit of remorse for the murder of his brother
he committed suicide, and the empire was usurped by a Magian impostor,
called Gaumata, who claimed to be the second son of Cyrus. His reign,
however, was short, he being slain by Darius the son of Hystaspes,
belonging to another branch of the royal family. Darius was a great
general and statesman, who reorganized the empire and raised it to the
zenith of its power and glory. It extended from the Greek islands on the
west to India on the east. This monarch even penetrated to the Danube
with his armies, but made no permanent conquest in Europe. He made Susa
his chief capital, and also built Persepolis, the ruins of which attest
its ancient magnificence. It seems that he was a devout follower of
Zoroaster, and ascribed his successes to the favor of Ahura-Mazda, the
Supreme Deity.

It was during the reign of Darius that Persia came in contact with
Greece, in consequence of the revolt of the Ionian cities of Asia Minor,
which, however, was easily suppressed by the Persian satrap. Then
followed two invasions of Greece itself by the Persians under the
generals of Darius, and their defeat at Marathon by Miltiades.

Darius was succeeded by Xerxes, the Ahasuerus of the Hebrew Scriptures,
whose invasion of Greece with the largest army the world ever saw
properly belongs to Grecian history. It was reserved for the heroes of
Plataea to teach the world the lesson that the strength of armies is not
in multitudes but in discipline,--a lesson confirmed by the conquests of
Alexander and Caesar.

On the fall of the Persian Empire three hundred years after the fall of
Babylon, and the establishment of the Greek rule in Asia under the
generals of Alexander, Persia proper did not cease to be formidable.
Under the Sassanian princes the ambition of the Achaemenians was
revived. Sapor defied Rome herself, and dragged the Emperor Valerian in
disgraceful captivity to Ctesiphon, his capital. Sapor II. was the
conqueror of the Emperor Julian, and Chrosroes was an equally formidable
adversary. In the year 617 A.D. Persian warriors advanced to the walls
of Constantinople, and drove the Emperor Heraclius to despair.

Thus Persia never lost wholly its ancient prestige, and still remains,
after the rise and fall of so many dynasties, and such great
vicissitudes from Greek and Arab conquests, a powerful country twice the
size of Germany, under the rule of an independent prince. There seems
no likelihood of her ever again playing so grand a part in the world's
history as when, under the great Cyrus, she prepared the transfer of
empire from the Orient to the Occident. But "what has been, has been,
and she has had her hour."


Herodotus and Xenophon are our main authorities, though not to be fully
relied upon. Of modern works Rawlinson's Ancient Monarchies and
Rawlinson's Herodotus are the most valuable. Ragozin has written
interesting books on Media, Persia, Assyria, and Chaldaea, making
special note of the researches of European travellers in the East.
Fergusson, Layard, Sayce, and George Smith have shed light on all this
ancient region. Johnson's work is learned but indefinite. Benjamin is
the latest writer on the history of Persia; but a satisfactory life of
Cyrus has yet to be written.


* * * * *

100-44 B.C.


The most august name in the history of the old Roman world, and perhaps
of all antiquity, is that of Julius Caesar; and a new interest has of
late been created in this extraordinary man by the brilliant sketch of
his life and character by Mr. Froude, who has whitewashed him, as is the
fashion with hero-worshippers, like Carlyle in his history of Frederick
II. But it is not an easy thing to reverse the verdict of the civilized
world for two thousand years, although a man of genius can say many
interesting things and offer valuable suggestions.

In his Life of Caesar Mr. Froude seems to vindicate Imperialism, not
merely as a great necessity in the corrupt times which succeeded the
civil wars of Marius and Sulla, but as a good thing in itself. It seems
to me that while there was a general tendency to Imperialism in the
Roman world for one or two hundred years before Christ, the whole
tendency of modern governments is against it, and has been since the
second English Revolution. It still exists in Russia and Turkey,
possibly in Germany and Austria; yet constitutional forms of government
seem to be gradually taking its place. What a change in England, France,
Italy, and Spain during the last hundred years!--what a breaking up of
the old absolutism of the Bourbons! Even the imperialism of Napoleon is
held in detestation by a large class of the French nation.

It may have been necessary for such a man as Caesar to arise when the
Romans had already conquered a great part of the civilized world, and
when the various provinces which composed the Empire needed a firm,
stable, and uniform government in the hands of a single man, in order to
promote peace and law,--the first conditions of human society. But it is
one thing to recognize the majesty of divine Providence in furnishing a
remedy for the peculiar evils of an age or people, and quite another
thing to make this remedy a panacea for all the future conditions of
nations. If we believe in the moral government of this world by a divine
and supreme Intelligence whom we call God, then it is not difficult to
see in Julius Caesar, after nearly two thousand years, an instrument of
Providence like Constantine, Charlemagne, Richelieu, and Napoleon
himself. It matters nothing whether Caesar was good or bad, whether he
was a patriot or a usurper, so far as his ultimate influence is
concerned, if he was the instrument of an overruling Power; for God
chooses such instruments as he pleases. Even in human governments it is
sometimes expedient to employ rogues in order to catch rogues, or to
head off some peculiar evil that honest people do not know how to
manage. But because a bad man is selected by a higher power to do some
peculiar work, it does not follow that this bad man should be praised
for doing it, especially if the work is good only so far as it is
overruled. Both human consciousness and Christianity declare that it is
a crime to shed needless and innocent blood. If ambition prompts a man
to destroy his rivals and fill the world with miseries in order to climb
to supreme power, then it is an insult to the human understanding to
make this ambition synonymous with patriotism. A successful conqueror
may be far-sighted and enlightened, whatever his motives for conquest;
but because he is enlightened, it does not follow that he fights battles
with the supreme view of benefiting his country, like William III. and
George Washington. He may have taken the sword chiefly to elevate
himself; or, after having taken the sword with a view of rendering
important services, and having rendered these services, he may have been
diverted from his original intentions, and have fought for the
gratification of personal ambition, losing sight utterly of the cause
in which he embarked.

Now this is the popular view which the world has taken of Caesar.
Shakspeare may have been unjust in his verdict; but it is a verdict
which has been sustained by most writers and by popular sentiment during
the last three hundred years. It was also the verdict of Cicero, of the
Roman Senate, and of ancient historians. It is one of my objects to show
in this lecture how far this verdict is just. It is another object to
point out the services of Caesar to the State, which, however great and
honestly to be praised, do not offset crime.

Caius Julius Caesar belonged to one of the proudest and most ancient of
the patrician families of Rome,--a branch of the _gens Julia_, which
claimed a descent from Iules, the son of Aeneas. His father, Caius
Julius, married Aurelia, a noble matron of the Cotta family, and his
aunt Julia married the great Marius; so that, though he was a patrician
of the purest blood, his family alliances were either plebeian or on the
liberal side in politics. He was born one hundred years before Christ,
and received a good education, but was not precocious, like Cicero.
There was nothing remarkable about his childhood. "He was a tall and
handsome man, with dark, piercing eyes, sallow complexion, large nose,
full lips, refined and intellectual features, and thick neck." He was
particular about his appearance, and showed a studied negligence of
dress. His uncle Marius, in the height of his power, marked him out for
promotion, and made him a priest of Jupiter when he was fourteen years
old. On the death of his father, a man of praetorian rank, and therefore
a senator, at the age of seventeen Caesar married Cornelia, the daughter
of Cinna, which connected him still more closely with the popular party.
He was only a few years younger than Cicero and Pompey. When he was
eighteen he attracted the notice of Sulla, then dictator, who wished him
to divorce his wife and take such a one as he should propose,--which the
young man, at the risk of his life, refused to do. This boldness and
independence of course displeased the Dictator, who predicted his
future. "In this young Caesar," said he, "there are many Mariuses;" but
he did not kill him, owing to the intercession of powerful friends.

The career of Caesar may be divided into three periods, during each of
which he appeared in a different light: the first, until he began the
conquest of Gaul, at the age of forty-three; the second, the time of his
military exploits in Gaul, by which he rendered great services and
gained popularity and fame; and the third, that of his civil wars,
dictatorship, and imperial reign.

In the first period of his life, for about twenty-five years, he made a
mark indeed, but rendered no memorable services to the State and won no
especial fame. Had he died at the age of forty-three, his name would
probably not have descended to our times, except as a leading citizen, a
good lawyer, and powerful debater. He saw military service, almost as a
matter of course; but he was not particularly distinguished as a
general, nor did he select the military profession. He was eloquent,
aspiring, and able, as a young patrician; but, like Cicero, it would
seem that he sought the civil service, and made choice of the law, by
which to rise in wealth and power. He was a politician from the first;
and his ambition was to get a seat in the Senate, like all other able
and ambitious men. Senators were not hereditary, however nobly born, but
gained their seats by election to certain high offices in the gift of
the people, called curule offices, which entitled them to senatorial
position and dignity. A seat in the Senate was the great object of Roman
ambition; because the Senate was the leading power of the State, and
controlled the army, the treasury, religious worship, and the provinces.
The governors and ambassadors, as well as the dictators, were selected
by this body of aristocrats. In fact, to the Senate was intrusted the
supreme administration of the Empire, although the source of power was
technically and theoretically in the people, or those who had the right
of suffrage; and as the people elected those magistrates whose offices
entitled them to a seat in the Senate, the Senate was virtually elected
by the people. Senators held their places for life, but could be weeded
out by the censors. And as the Senate in its best days contained between
three and four hundred men, not all the curule magistrates could enter
it, unless there were vacancies; but a selection from them was made by
the censors. So the Senate, in all periods of the Roman Republic, was
composed of experienced men,--of those who had previously held the great
offices of State.

To gain a seat in the Senate, therefore, it was necessary to be elected
by the people to one of the great magistracies. In the early ages of the
Republic the people were incorruptible; but when foreign conquest,
slavery, and other influences demoralized them, they became venal and
sold their votes. Hence only rich men, ordinarily, were elected to high
office; and the rich men, as a rule, belonged to the old families. So
the Senate was made up not only of experienced men, but of the
aristocracy. There were rich men outside the Senate,--successful
plebeians, men who had made fortunes by trade, bankers, monopolists, and
others; but these, if ambitious of social position or political
influence, became gradually absorbed among the senatorial families.
Those who could afford to buy the votes of the people, and those only,
became magistrates and senators. Hence the demagogues were rich men and
belonged to the highest ranks, like Clodius and Catiline.

It thus happened that, when Julius Caesar came upon the stage, the
aristocracy controlled the elections. The people were indeed sovereign;
but they abdicated their power to those who would pay the most for it.
The constitution was popular in name; in reality it was aristocratic,
since only rich men (generally noble) could be elected to office. Rome
was ruled by aristocrats, who became rich as the people became poor. The
great source of senatorial wealth was in the control of the provinces.
The governors were chosen by the Senate and from the Senate; and it
required only one or two years to make a fortune as a governor, like
Verres. The ultimate cause which threw power into the hands of the rich
and noble was the venality of the people. The aristocratic demagogues
bought them, in the same way that rich monopolists in our day control
legislatures. The people are too numerous in this country to be directly
bought up, even if it were possible, and the prizes they confer are not
high enough to tempt rich men, as they did in Rome.

A man, therefore, who would rise to power at Rome must necessarily bribe
the people, must purchase their votes, unless he was a man of
extraordinary popularity,--some great orator like Cicero, or successful
general like Marius or Sulla; and it was difficult to get popularity
except as a lawyer and orator, or as a general.

Caesar, like Cicero and Hortensius, chose the law as a means of rising
in the world; for, though of ancient family, he was not rich. He must
make money by his profession, or he must borrow it, if he would secure
office. It seems he borrowed it. How he contrived to borrow such vast
sums as he spent on elections, I do not know. He probably made friends
of rich men like Crassus, who became security for him. He was in debt to
the amount of $1,500,000 of our money before he held office. He was a
bold political gambler, and played for high stakes. It would seem that
he had very winning and courteous manners, though he was not
distinguished for popular oratory. His terse and pregnant sentences,
however, won the admiration of his friend Cicero, a brother lawyer, and
he was very social and hospitable. He was on the liberal side in
politics, and attacked the abuses of the day, which won him popular
favor. At first he lived in a modest house with his wife and mother, in
the Subarra, without attracting much notice. The first office to which
he was elected was that of a Military Tribune, soon after his sojourn of
two years in Rhodes to learn from Apollonius the arts of oratory. His
next office was that of Quaestor, which enabled him to enter the Senate,
at the age of thirty-two; and his third office, that of Aedile, which
gave him the control of the public buildings: the Aediles were expected
to decorate the city, and this gave him opportunities of cultivating
popularity by splendor and display. The first thing which brought him
into notice as an orator was a funeral oration he pronounced on his Aunt
Julia, the widow of Marius. The next fortunate event of his life was his
marriage with Pompeia, a cousin of Pompey, who was then the foremost man
in Rome, having distinguished himself in Spain and in putting down the
slave insurrection under Spartacus; but Pompey's great career in the
East had not yet commenced, so that the future rivals at that time were
friends. Caesar glorified Pompey in the Senate, which by virtue of his
office he had lately entered. The next step to greatness was his
election by the people--through the use of immense amounts of borrowed
money--to the great office of Pontifex Maximus, which made him the pagan
Pope of Rome for life, with a grand palace to live in. Soon after he was
made Praetor, which office entitled him to a provincial government; and
he was sent by the Senate to Spain as Pro-praetor, completed the
conquest of the peninsula, and sent to Borne vast sums of money. These
services entitled him to a triumph; but, as he presented himself at the
same time as a candidate for the consulship, he was obliged to forego
the triumph, and was elected Consul without opposition: his vanity ever
yielded to his ambition.

Thus far there was nothing remarkable in Caesar's career. He had risen
by power of money, like other aristocrats, to the highest offices of the
State, showing abilities indeed, but not that extraordinary genius which
has made him immortal. He was the leader of the political party which
Sulla had put down, and yet was not a revolutionist like the Gracchi. He
was an aristocratic reformer, like Lord John Russell before the passage
of the Reform Bill, whom the people adored. He was a liberal, but not a
radical. Of course he was not a favorite with the senators, who wished
to perpetuate abuses. He was intensely disliked by Cato, a most
excellent and honest man, but narrow-minded and conservative,--a sort of
Duke of Wellington without his military abilities. The Senate would make
no concessions, would part with no privileges, and submit to no changes.
Like Lord Eldon, it "adhered to what was established, because it was

Caesar, as Consul, began his administration with conciliation; and he
had the support of Crassus with his money, and of Pompey as the
representative of the army, who was then flushed with his Eastern
conquests,--pompous, vain, and proud, but honest and incorruptible.
Cicero stood aloof,--the greatest man in the Senate, whose aristocratic
privileges he defended. He might have aided Caesar "in the speaking
department;" but as a "new man" he was jealous of his prerogatives, and
was always conservative, like Burke, whom he resembled in his eloquence
and turn of mind and fondness for literature and philosophy. Failing to
conciliate the aristocrats, Caesar became a sort of Mirabeau, and
appealed to the people, causing them to pass his celebrated "Leges
Juliae," or reform bills; the chief of which was the "land act," which
conferred portions of the public lands on Pompey's disbanded soldiers
for settlement,--a wise thing, which senators opposed, since it took
away their monopoly. Another act required the provincial governors, on
their return from office, to render an account of their stewardship and
hand in their accounts for public inspection. The Julian Laws also were
designed to prevent the plunder of the public revenues, the debasing of
the coin, the bribery of judges and of the people at elections. There
were laws also for the protection of citizens from violence, and sundry
other reforms which were enlightened and useful. In the passage of these
laws against the will of the Senate, we see that the people were still
recognized as sovereign in _legislation_. The laws were good. All
depended on their execution; and the Senate, as the administrative body,
could practically defeat their operation when Caesar's term of office
expired; and this it unwisely determined to do. The last thing it
wished was any reform whatever; and, as Mr. Froude thinks, there must
have been either reform or revolution. But this is not so clear to me.
Aristocracy was all-powerful when money could buy the people, and when
the people had no virtue, no ambition, no intelligence. The struggle at
Rome in the latter days of the Republic was not between the people and
the aristocracy, but between the aristocracy and the military chieftains
on one side, and those demagogues whom it feared on the other. The
result showed that the aristocracy feared and distrusted Caesar; and he
used the people only to advance his own ends,--of course, in the name of
reform and patriotism. And when he became Dictator, he kicked away the
ladder on which he climbed to power. It was Imperialism that he
established; neither popular rights nor aristocratic privileges. He had
no more love of the people than he had of those proud aristocrats who
afterwards murdered him.

But the empire of the world--to which Caesar at that time may, or may
not, have aspired: who can tell? but probably not--was not to be gained
by civil services, or reforms, or arguments in law courts, or by holding
great offices, or haranguing the people at the rostrum, or making
speeches in the Senate,--where he was hated for his liberal views and
enlightened mind, rather than from any fear of his overturning the
constitution,--but by military services and heroic deeds and the
devotion of a tried and disciplined regular army. Caesar was now
forty-three years of age, being in the full maturity of his powers. At
the close of his term as Consul he sought a province where military
talents were indispensable, and where he could have a long term of
office. The Senate gave him the "woods and forests,"--an unsubdued
country, where he would have hard work and unknown perils, and from
which it was probable he would never return. They sent him to Gaul. But
this was just the field for his marvellous military genius, then only
partially developed; and the second period of his career now began.

It was during this second period that he rendered his most important
services to the State and earned his greatest fame. The dangers which
threatened the Empire came from the West, and not the East. Asia was
already-subdued by Sulla, Lucullus, and Pompey, or was on the point of
being subdued. Mithridates was a formidable enemy; but he aimed at
establishing an Asiatic empire, not conquering the European provinces.
He was not so dangerous as even Pyrrhus had been. Moreover, the conquest
of the East was comparatively easy,--over worn-out races and an effete
civilization; it gave _eclat_ to Sulla and Pompey,--as the conquest of
India, with a handful of British troops, made Clive and Hastings
famous; it required no remarkable military genius, nor was it necessary
for the safety of Italy. Conquest over the Oriental monarchies meant
only spoliation. It was prompted by greed and vanity more than by a
sense of danger. Pompey brought back money enough from the East to
enrich all his generals, and the Senate besides,--or rather the State,
which a few aristocrats practically owned.

But the conquest of Gaul would be another affair. It was peopled with
hardy races, who cast their greedy eyes on the empire of the Romans, or
on some of its provinces, and who were being pushed forward to invasion
by a still braver people beyond the Rhine,--races kindred to those
Teutons whom Marius had defeated. There was no immediate danger from the
Germans; but there was ultimate danger, as proved by the union they made
in the time of Marcus Antoninus for the invasion of the Roman provinces.
It was necessary to raise a barrier against their inundations. It was
also necessary to subdue the various Celtic tribes of Gaul, who were
getting restless and uneasy. There was no money in a conquest over
barbarians, except so far as they could be sold into slavery; but there
was danger in it. The whole country was threatened with insurrections,
leagues, and invasion, from the Alps to the ocean. There was a
confederacy of hostile kings and chieftains; they commanded innumerable
forces; they controlled important posts and passes. The Gauls had long
made fixed settlements, and had built bridges and fortresses. They were
not so warlike as the Germans; but they were yet formidable enemies.
United, they were like "a volcano giving signs of approaching eruption;
and at any moment, and hardly without warning, another lava stream might
be poured down Venetia and Lombardy."

To rescue the Empire from such dangers was the work of Caesar; and it
was no small undertaking. The Senate had given him unlimited power, for
five years, over Gaul,--then a _terra incognita_,--an indefinite
country, comprising the modern States of France, Holland, Switzerland,
Belgium, and a part of Germany. Afterward the Senate extended the
governorship five years more; so difficult was the work of conquest, and
so formidable were the enemies. But it was danger which Caesar loved.
The greater the obstacles the better was he pleased, and the greater was
the scope for his genius,--which at first was not appreciated, for the
best part of his life had been passed in Rome as a lawyer and orator and
statesman. But he had a fine constitution, robust health, temperate
habits, and unbounded energies. He was free to do as he liked with
several legions, and had time to perfect his operations. And his legions
were trained to every kind of labor and hardship. They could build
bridges, cut down forests, and drain swamps, as well as march with a
weight of eighty pounds to the man. They could make their own shoes,
mend their own clothes, repair their own arms, and construct their own
tents. They were as familiar with the axe and spade as they were with
the lance and sword. They were inured to every kind of danger and
difficulty, and not one of them was personally braver than the general
who led them, or more skilful in riding a horse, or fording a river, or
climbing a mountain. No one of them could be more abstemious. Luxury is
not one of the peculiarities of successful generals in barbaric

To give a minute sketch of the various encounters with the different
tribes and nations that inhabited the vast country he was sent to
conquer and govern, would be impossible in a lecture like this. One must
read Caesar's own account of his conflicts with Helvetii, Aedui, Remi,
Nervii, Belgae, Veneti, Arverni, Aquitani, Ubii, Eubueones, Treveri, and
other nations between the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Rhine, and the sea.
Their numbers were immense, and they were well armed, and had cavalry,
military stores, efficient leaders, and indomitable courage. When beaten
in one place they sprang up in another, like the Saxons with whom
Charlemagne contended. They made treaties only to break them. They
fought with the desperation of heroes who had their wives and children,
firesides and altars, to guard; yet against them Caesar was uniformly
successful. He was at times in great peril, yet he never lost but one
battle, and this through the fault of his generals. Yet he had able
generals, whom he selected himself,--Labienus, who afterwards deserted
him, Antony, Publius Crassus, Cotta, Sabinus,--all belonging to the
aristocracy. They made mistakes, but Caesar never. They would often have
been cut off but for Caesar's timely aid.

When we consider the dangers to which he was constantly exposed, the
amazing difficulties he had to surmount, the hardships he had to
encounter, the fears he had to allay, the murmurs he was obliged to
silence, the rivers he was compelled to cross in the face of enemies,
the forests it was necessary to penetrate, the swamps and mountains and
fortresses which impeded his marches, we are amazed at his skill and
intrepidity, to say nothing of his battles with forces ten times more
numerous than his own. His fertility of resources, his lightning
rapidity of movement, his sagacity and insight, his perfection of
discipline, his careful husbandry of forces, his ceaseless diligence,
his intrepid courage, the confidence with which he inspired his
soldiers, his brilliant successes (victory after victory), with the
enormous number of captives by which he and the State became
enriched,--all these things dazzled his countrymen, and gave him a fame
such as no general had ever earned before. He conquered a population of
warriors to be numbered by millions, with no aid from charts and maps,
exposed perpetually to treachery and false information. He had to please
and content an army a thousand miles from home, without supplies, except
such as were precarious,--living on the plainest food, and doomed to
infinite labors and drudgeries, besides attacking camps and assaulting
fortresses, and fighting pitched battles. Yet he won their love, their
respect, and their admiration,--and by an urbanity, a kindness, and a
careful protection of their interests, such as no general ever showed
before. He was a hero performing perpetual wonders, as chivalrous as the
knights of the Middle Ages. No wonder he was adored, like a Moses in the
wilderness, like a Napoleon in his early conquests.

This conquest of Gaul, during which he drove the Germans back to their
forests, and inaugurated a policy of conciliation and moderation which
made the Gauls the faithful allies of Rome, and their country its most
fertile and important province, furnishing able men both for the Senate
and the Army, was not only a great feat of genius, but a great
service--a transcendent service--to the State, which entitled Caesar to
a magnificent reward. Had it been cordially rendered to him, he might
have been contented with a sort of perpetual consulship, and with the
eclat of being the foremost man of the Empire. The people would have
given him anything in their power to give, for he was as much an idol to
them as Napoleon became to the Parisians after the conquest of Italy. He
had rendered services as brilliant as those of Scipio, of Marius, of
Sulla, or of Pompey. If he did not save Italy from being subsequently
overrun by barbarians, he postponed their irruptions for two hundred
years. And he had partially civilized the country he had subdued, and
introduced Roman institutions. He had also created an army of
disciplined veterans, such as never before was seen. He perfected
military mechanism, that which kept the Empire together after all
vitality had fled. He was the greatest master of the art of war known to
antiquity. Such transcendent military excellence and such great services
entitled him to the gratitude and admiration of the whole Empire,
although he enriched himself and his soldiers with the spoils of his ten
years' war, and did not, so far as I can see, bring great sums into the
national treasury.

But the Senate was reluctant to give him the customary rewards for ten
years' successful war, and for adding Western Europe to the Empire. It
was jealous of his greatness and his renown. It also feared him, for he
had eleven legions in his pay, and was known to be ambitious. It hated
him for two reasons: first, because in his first consulship he had
introduced reforms, and had always sided with the popular and liberal
party; and secondly, because military successes of unprecedented
brilliancy had made him dangerous. So, on the conclusion of the conquest
of Gaul, it withdrew two legions from his army, and sought to deprive
him of his promised second consulate, and even to recall him before his
term of office as governor was expired. In other words, it sought to
cripple and disarm him, and raise his rival, Pompey, over him in the
command of the forces of the Empire.

It was now secret or open war, not between Caesar and the Roman people,
but between Caesar and the Senate,--between a great and triumphant
general and the Roman oligarchy of nobles, who, for nearly five hundred
years, had ruled the Empire. On the side of Caesar were the army, the
well-to-do classes, and the people; on the side of the Senate were the
forces which a powerful aristocracy could command, having the prestige
of law and power and wealth, and among whom were the great names of
the republic.

Mr. Froude ridicules and abuses this aristocracy, as unfit longer to
govern the State, as a worn-out power that deserved to fall. He
uniformly represents them as extravagant, selfish, ostentatious,
luxurious, frivolous, Epicurean in opinions and in life, oppressive in
all their social relations, haughty beyond endurance, and controlling
the popular elections by means of bribery and corruption. It would be
difficult to refute these charges. The Patricians probably gave
themselves up to all the pleasures incident to power and unbounded
wealth, in a corrupt and wicked age. They had their palaces in the city
and their villas in the country, their parks and gardens, their
fish-ponds and game-preserves, their pictures and marbles, their
expensive furniture and costly ornaments, gold and silver vessels, gems
and precious works of art. They gave luxurious banquets; they travelled
like princes; they were a body of kings, to whom the old monarchs of
conquered provinces bowed down in fear and adulation. All this does not
prove that they were incapable, although they governed for the interests
of their class. They were all experienced in affairs of State,--most of
them had been quaestors, aediles, praetors, censors, tribunes, consuls,
and governors. Most of them were highly educated, had travelled
extensively, were gentlemanly in their manners, could make speeches in
the Senate, and could fight on the field of battle when there was a
necessity. They doubtless had the common vices of the rich and proud;
but many of them were virtuous, patriotic, incorruptible, almost austere
in morals, dignified and intellectual, whom everybody respected,--men
like Cato, Brutus, Cassius, Cicero, and others. Their sin was that they
wished to conserve their powers, privileges, and fortunes, like all
aristocracies,--like the British House of Lords. Nor must it be
forgotten that it was under their regime that the conquest of the world
was made, and that Rome had become the centre of everything magnificent
and glorious on the earth.

It was doubtless shortsighted and ungrateful in these nobles to attempt
to deprive Caesar of his laurels and his promised consulship. He had
earned them by grand services, both as a general and a statesman. But
their jealousy and hatred were not unnatural. They feared, not
unreasonably, that the successful general--rich, proud, and dictatorial
from the long exercise of power, and seated in the chair of supremest
dignity--would make sweeping changes; might reduce their authority to a
shadow, and elevate himself to perpetual dictatorship; and thus, by
substituting imperialism for aristocracy, subvert the Constitution. That
is evidently what Cicero feared, as appears in his letters to Atticus.
That is what all the leading Senators feared, especially Cato. It was
known that Caesar--although urbane, merciful, enlightened, hospitable,
and disposed to govern for the public good--was unscrupulous in the use
of tools; that he had originally gained his seat in the Senate by
bribery and demagogic arts; that he was reckless as to debts, regarding
money only as a means to buy supporters; that he had appropriated vast
sums from the spoils of war for his own use, and, from being poor, had
become the richest man in the Empire; that he had given his daughter
Julia in marriage to Pompey from political ends; that he was
long-sighted in his ambition, and would be content with nothing less
than the gratification of this insatiate passion. All this was known,
and it gave great solicitude to the leaders of the aristocracy, who
resolved to put him down,--to strip him of his power, or fight him, if
necessary, in a civil war. So the aristocracy put themselves under the
protection of Pompey,--a successful but overrated general, who also
aimed at supreme power, with the nobles as his supporters, not perhaps
as Imperator, but as the agent and representative of a subservient
Senate, in whose name he would rule.

This contest between Caesar and the aristocracy under the lead of
Pompey, its successful termination in Caesar's favor, and his brilliant
reign of about four years, as Dictator and Imperator, constitute the
third period of his memorable career.

Neither Caesar nor Pompey would disband their legions, as it was
proposed by Curio in the Senate and voted by a large majority. In fact,
things had arrived at a crisis: Caesar was recalled, and he must obey
the Senate, or be decreed a public enemy; that is, the enemy of the
power that ruled the State. He would not obey, and a general levy of
troops in support of the Senate was made, and put into the hands of
Pompey with unlimited command. The Tribunes of the people, however,
sided with Caesar, and refused confirmation of the Senatorial decrees.
Caesar then no longer hesitated, but with his army crossed the Rubicon,
which was an insignificant stream, but was the Rome-ward boundary of his
province. This was the declaration of civil war. It was now "'either
anvil or hammer." The admirers of Caesar claim that his act was a
necessity, at least a public benefit, on the ground of the misrule of
the aristocracy. But it does not appear that there was anarchy at Rome,
although Milo had killed Clodius. There were aristocratic feuds, as in
the Middle Ages. Order and law--the first conditions of society--were
not in jeopardy, as in the French Revolution, when Napoleon arose. The
people were not in hostile array against the nobles, nor the nobles
against the people. The nobles only courted and bribed the people; but
so general was corruption that a change in government was deemed
necessary by the advocates of Caesar,--at least they defended it. The
gist of all the arguments in favor of the revolution is: better
imperialism than an oligarchy of corrupt nobles. It is not my province
to settle that question. It is my work only to describe events.

It is clear that Caesar resolved on seizing supreme power, in taking it
away from the nobles, on the ground probably that he could rule better
than they,--the plea of Napoleon, the plea of Cromwell, the plea of
all usurpers.

But this supreme power he could not exercise until he had conquered
Pompey and the Senate and all his enemies. It must need be that "he
should wade through slaughter to his throne." This alternative was
forced on him, and he accepted it. He accepted civil war in order to
reign. At best, he would do evil that good might come. He was doubtless
the strongest man in the world; and, according to Mr. Carlyle's theory,
the strongest ought to rule.

Much has been said about the rabble,--the democracy,--their turbulence,
corruption, and degradation, their unfitness to rule, and all that sort
of thing, which I regard as irrelevant, so far as the usurpation of
Caesar is concerned; since the struggle was not between them and the
nobles, but between a fortunate general and the aristocracy who
controlled the State. Caesar was not the representative of the people or
of their interests, as Tiberius Gracchus was, but the representative of
the Army. He had no more sympathy with the people than he had with the
nobles: he probably despised them both, as unfit to rule. He flattered
the people and bought them, but he did not love them. It was his
soldiers whom he loved, next to himself; although, as a wise and
enlightened statesman, he wished to promote the great interests of the
nation, so far as was consistent with the enjoyment of imperial rule.
This friend of the people would give them spectacles and shows,
largesses of corn,--money, even,--and extension of the suffrage, but not
political power. He was popular with them, because he was generous and
merciful, because his exploits won their admiration, and his vast public
works gave employment to them and adorned their city.

It is unnecessary to dwell on the final contest of Caesar with the
nobles, with Pompey at their head, since nothing is more familiar in
history. Plainly he was not here rendering public services, as he did in
Spain and Gaul, but taking care of his own interests. I cannot see how a
civil war was a service, unless it were a service to destroy the
aristocratic constitution and substitute imperialism, which some think
was needed with the vast extension of the Empire, and for the good
administration of the provinces,--robbed and oppressed by the governors
whom the Senate had sent out to enrich the aristocracy. It may have been
needed for the better administration of justice, for the preservation of
law and order, and a more efficient central power. Absolutism may have
proved a benefit to the Empire, as it proved a benefit to France under
Cardinal Richelieu, when he humiliated the nobles. If so, it was only a
choice of evils, for absolutism is tyranny, and tyranny is not a
blessing, except in a most demoralized state of society, which it is
claimed was the state of Rome at the time of the usurpation of Caesar.
It is certain that the whole united strength of the aristocracy could
not prevail over Caesar, although it had Pompey for its defender, with
his immense prestige and experience as a general.

After Caesar had crossed the Rubicon, and it was certain he would march
to Rome and seize the reins of government, the aristocracy fled
precipitately to Pompey's wing at Capua, fearing to find in Caesar
another Marius. Pompey did not show extraordinary ability in the crisis.
He had no courage and no purpose. He fled to Brundusium, where ships
were waiting to transport his army to Durazzo. He was afraid to face his
rival in Italy. Caesar would have pursued, but had no navy. He therefore
went to Rome, which he had not seen for ten years, took what money he
wanted from the treasury, and marched to Spain, where the larger part of
Pompey's army, under his lieutenants, were now arrayed against him.
These it was necessary first to subdue. But Caesar prevailed, and all
Spain was soon at his feet. His successes were brilliant; and Gaul,
Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia were wholly his own, as well as Spain, which
was Pompey's province. He then rapidly returned to Rome, was named
Dictator, and as such controlled the consular election, and was chosen
Consul. But Pompey held the East, and, with his ships, controlled the
Mediterranean, and was gathering forces for the invasion of Italy.
Caesar allowed himself but eleven days in Rome. It was necessary to
meet Pompey before that general could return to Italy. It was
mid-winter,--about a year after he had crossed the Rubicon. He had with
him only thirty thousand men, but these were veterans. Pompey had nine
full Roman legions, which lay at Durazzo, opposite to Brundusium,
besides auxiliaries and unlimited means; but he was hampered by
senatorial civilians, and his legions were only used to Eastern warfare.
He also controlled the sea, so that it was next to impossible for Caesar
to embark without being defeated. Yet Caesar did cross the sea amid
overwhelming obstacles, and the result was the battle of
Pharsalia,--deemed one of the decisive battles of the world, although
the forces of the combatants were comparatively small. It was gained by
the defeat of Pompey's cavalry by a fourth line of the best soldiers of
Caesar, which was kept in reserve. Pompey, on the defeat of his cavalry,
upon whom he had based his hopes, lost heart and fled. He fled to the
sea,--uncertain, vacillating, and discouraged,--and sailed for Egypt,
relying on the friendship of the young king; but was murdered
treacherously before he set foot upon the land. His fate was most
tragical. His fall was overwhelming.

This battle, in which the flower of the Roman aristocracy succumbed to
the conqueror of Gaul, with vastly inferior forces, did not end the
desperate contest. Two more bloody battles were fought--one in Africa
and one in Spain--before the supremacy of Caesar was secured. The battle
of Thapsus, between Utica and Carthage, at which the Roman nobles once
more rallied under Cato and Labienus, and the battle of Munda, in Spain,
the most bloody of all, gained by Caesar over the sons of Pompey,
settled the civil war and made Caesar supreme. He became supreme only by
the sacrifice of half of the Roman nobility and the death of their
principal leaders,--Pompey, Labienus, Lentulus, Ligarius, Metellus,
Scipio Afrarius, Cato, Petreius, and others. In one sense it was the
contest between Pompey and Caesar for the empire of the world. Cicero
said, "The success of the one meant massacre, and that of the other
slavery,"--for if Pompey had prevailed, the aristocracy would have
butchered their enemies with unrelenting vengeance; but Caesar hated
unnecessary slaughter, and sought only power. In another sense it was
the struggle between a single man--with enlightened views and vast
designs--and the Roman aristocracy, hostile to reforms, and bent on
greed and oppression. The success of Caesar was favorable to the
restoration of order and law and progressive improvements; the success
of the nobility would have entailed a still more grinding oppression of
the people, and possibly anarchy and future conflicts between fortunate
generals and the aristocracy. Destiny or Providence gave the empire of
the world to a single man, although that man was as unscrupulous as
he was able.

Henceforth imperialism was the form of government in Rome, which lasted
about four hundred years. How long an aristocratic government would have
lasted is a speculation. Caesar, in his elevation to unlimited power,
used his power beneficently. He pardoned his enemies, gave security to
property and life, restored the finances, established order, and devoted
himself to useful reforms. He cut short the grant of corn to the citizen
mob; he repaired the desolation which war had made; he rebuilt cities
and temples; he even endeavored to check luxury and extravagance and
improve morals. He reformed the courts of law, and collected libraries
in every great city. He put an end to the expensive tours of senators in
the provinces, where they had appeared as princes exacting
contributions. He formed a plan to drain the Pontine Marshes. He
reformed the calendar, making the year to begin with the first day of
January. He built new public buildings, which the enlargement of
business required. He seemed to have at heart the welfare of the State
and of the people, by whom he was adored. But he broke up the political
ascendancy of nobles, although he did not confiscate their property. He
weakened the Senate by increasing its numbers to nine hundred, and by
appointing senators himself from his army and from the provinces,--those
who would be subservient to him, who would vote what he decreed.

Caesar's ruling passion was ambition,--thirst of power; but he had no
great animosities. He pardoned his worst enemies,--Brutus, Cassius, and
Cicero, who had been in arms against him; nor did he reign as a tyrant.
His habits were simple and unostentatious. He gave easy access to his
person, was courteous in his manners, and mingled with senators as a
companion rather than as a master. Like Charlemagne, he was temperate in
eating and drinking, and abhorred gluttony and drunkenness,--the vices
of the aristocracy and of fortunate plebeians alike. He was
indefatigable in business, and paid attention to all petitions. He was
economical in his personal expenses, although he lavished vast sums upon
the people in the way of amusing or bribing them. He dispensed with
guards and pomps, and was apparently reckless of his life: anything was
better to him than to live in perpetual fear of conspirators and
traitors. There never was a braver man, and he was ever kind-hearted to
those who did not stand in his way. He was generous, magnanimous, and
unsuspicious. He was the model of an absolute prince, aside from laxity
of morals. In regard to women, of their virtue he made little account.
His favorite mistress was Servilia, sister of Cato and mother of Brutus.
Some have even supposed that Brutus was Caesar's son, which accounts
for his lenity and forbearance and affection. He was the high-priest of
the Roman worship, and yet he believed neither in the gods nor in
immortality. But he was always the gentleman,--natural, courteous,
affable, without vanity or arrogance or egotism. He was not a patriot in
the sense that Cicero and Cato were, or Trajan and Marcus Aurelius,
since his country was made subservient to his own interests and
aggrandizement. Yet he was a very interesting man, and had fewer faults
than Napoleon, with equally grand designs.

But even he could not escape a retribution, in spite of his exalted
position and his great services. The leaders of the aristocracy still
hated him, and could not be appeased for the overthrow of their power.
They resolved to assassinate him, from vengeance rather than fear.
Cicero was not among the conspirators; because his discretion could not
be relied upon, and they passed him by. But his heart was with them.
"There are many ways," said he, "in which a man may die." It was not a
wise thing to take his life; since the Constitution was already
subverted, and somebody would reign as imperator by means of the army,
and his death would necessarily lead to renewed civil wars and new
commotions and new calamities. But angry, embittered, and passionate
enemies do not listen to reason. They will not accept the inevitable.
There was no way to get rid of Caesar but by assassination, and no one
wished him out of the way but the nobles. Hence it was easy for them to
form a conspiracy. It was easy to stab him with senatorial daggers.
Caesar was not killed because he had personal enemies, nor because he
destroyed the liberties of Roman citizens, but because he had usurped
the authority of the aristocracy.

Yet he died, perhaps at the right time, at the age of fifty-six, after
an undisputed reign of only three or four years,--about the length of
that of Cromwell. He was already bending under the infirmities of a
premature old age. Epileptic fits had set in, and his constitution was
undermined by his unparalleled labors and fatigues; and then his
restless mind was planning a new expedition to Parthia, where he might
have ingloriously perished like Crassus. But such a man could not die.
His memory and deeds lived. He filled a role in history, which could not
be forgotten. He inaugurated a successful revolution. He bequeathed a
policy to last as long as the Empire lasted; and he had rendered
services of the greatest magnitude, by which he is to be ultimately
judged, as well as by his character. It is impossible for us to settle
whether or not his services overbalanced the evils of the imperialism he
established and of the civil wars by which he reached supreme command.
Whatever view we may take of the comparative merits of an aristocracy or
an imperial despotism in a corrupt age, we cannot deny to Caesar some
transcendent services and a transcendent fame. The whole matter is laid
before us in the language of Cicero to Caesar himself, in the Senate,
when he was at the height of his power; which shows that the orator was
not lacking in courage any more than in foresight and moral wisdom:--

"Your life, Caesar, is not that which is bounded by the union of your
soul and body. Your life is that which shall continue fresh in the
memory of ages to come, which posterity will cherish and eternity itself
keep guard over. Much has been done by you which men will admire; much
remains to be done which they can praise. They will read with wonder of
empires and provinces, of the Rhine, the ocean, and the Nile, of battles
without number, of amazing victories, of countless monuments and
triumphs; but unless the Commonwealth be wisely re-established in
institutions by you bestowed upon us, your name will travel widely over
the world, but will have no fixed habitation; and those who come after
you _will dispute about you_ as we have disputed. Some will extol you to
the skies; others will find something wanting, and the most important
element of all. Remember the tribunal before which you are to stand. The
ages that are to be will try you, it may be with minds less prejudiced
than ours, uninfluenced either by the desire to please you or by envy of
your greatness."

Thus spoke Cicero with heroic frankness. The ages have "disputed about"
Caesar, and will continue to dispute about him, as they do about
Cromwell and Napoleon; but the man is nothing to us in comparison with
the ideas which he fought or which he supported, and which have the same
force to-day as they had nearly two thousand years ago. He is the
representative of imperialism; which few Americans will defend, unless
it becomes a necessity which every enlightened patriot admits. The
question is, whether it was or was not a necessity at Rome fifty years
before Christ was born. It is not easy to settle in regard to the
benefit that Caesar is supposed by some--including Mr. Froude and the
late Emperor of the French--to have rendered to the cause of
civilization by overturning the aristocratic Constitution, and
substituting, not the rule of the people, but that of a single man. It
is still one of the speculations of history; it is not one of its
established facts, although the opinions of enlightened historians seem
to lean to the necessity of the Caesarian imperialism, in view of the
misrule of the aristocracy and the abject venality of the citizens who
had votes to sell. But it must be borne in mind that it was under the
aristocratic rule of senators and patricians that Rome went on from
conquering to conquer; that the governing classes were at all times the
most intelligent, experienced, and efficient in the Commonwealth; that
their very vices may have been exaggerated; and that the imperialism
which crushed them, may also have crushed out original genius,
literature, patriotism, and exalted sentiments, and even failed to have
produced greater personal security than existed under the aristocratic
Constitution at any period of its existence. All these are disputed
points of history. It may be that Caesar, far from being a national
benefactor by reorganizing the forces of the Empire, sowed the seeds of
ruin by his imperial policy; and that, while he may have given unity,
peace, and law to the Empire, he may have taken away its life. I do not
assert this, or even argue its probability. It may have been, and it may
not have been. It is an historical puzzle. There are two sides to all
great questions. But whether or not we can settle with the light of
modern knowledge such a point as this, I look upon the defence of
imperialism in itself, in preference to constitutional government with
all its imperfections, as an outrage on the whole progress of modern
civilization, and on whatever remains of dignity and intelligence among
the people.


Caesar's Commentaries, Leges Juliae, Appian, Plutarch, Suetonius, Dion
Cassius, and Cicero's Letters to Atticus are the principal original
authorities. Napoleon III. wrote a dull Life of Caesar, but it is rich
in footnotes, which it is probable he did not himself make, since
nothing is easier than the parade of learning. Rollin's Ancient History
may be read with other general histories. Merivale's History of the
Empire is able and instructive, but dry. Mr. Froude's sketch of Caesar
is the most interesting I have read, but advocates imperialism.
Niebuhr's Lectures on the History of Rome is also a standard work, as
well as Curtius's History of Rome.


* * * * *

A.D. 121-180.



Back to Full Books