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CAESAR AT ALEXANDRIA 331
once to deal with Scipio and King Juba, he might easily have finished the war ere the year B.C. 48 was out. Five months of the summer and autumn were still before him, and the news of Pompey's hopeless disaster had struck terror into his foes. But Caesar chose to go off to Egypt, where he was busy for eight precious months on a trifling and unnecessary task, which became difficult and dangerous merely because he essayed it with wholly inadequate resources. If he had taken three legions instead of one to Alexandria, there would have been no Egyptian war. The whole episode is unworthy of Caesar; the conqueror of Gaul should not have placed himself in the position to be besieged for months by a Levantine rabble, and saved by an Oriental condottiere like Mithradates of Pergamus. Still less should he have lapsed into his silly and undignified entanglement with Cleopatra. It was his Alexandrian dangers and dalliance which allowed his adversaries in the west and south to recover their spirits and rally their armies. If he had sailed for Africa in August, B.C. 48, Thapsus would have been fought eighteen months sooner, and Munda would never have been fought at all. For southern Spain only slipped out of Caesar's hands after Pharsalus had been won; and if Africa had been reduced in the autumn of B.C. 48, the two sons of Pompey would never have had their chance of recovering Baetica, and rallying all the last desperate adherents of their father's cause for one final stand in the west. Caesar owed it entirely to his own carelessness that he was nearly "beaten by boys" at Munda, where (as he had to confess) "for the first time in his life he was forced to fight, not for victory, but for his bare life." In short, it must be owned that during the latter years of the Civil War, Caesar as tactician was as great as ever, but Caesar as political strategist was reckless and overweening. He seems to have grown so confident in his own skill and luck that he did not take the trouble to use common precautions, to turn all his strength to account, or to take his enemies seriously. Indeed, after Dyrrhachium and Pharsalus, all should have been child's-play to him; if it was not, the fault lay with himself.
But at last, after Munda, his "crowning mercy," as Cromwell would have called it, Caesar found no more enemies to subdue, and made his final return to Rome. He set out for the city in July, B.C. 45; he was only destined to survive till the Ides of March, B.C. 44. Of Caesar as soldier we have said enough: it only remains to consider him as the master of the world and the founder of the Imperial system. What are we to make of the few months of supreme power, during which he was at last settled down in the city,1 and laying the foundation for a permanent settlement of the Roman world?
Suetonius and Plutarch have preserved for us a large number of details concerning his civil activity in these months. One thing is undoubted. It was pure autocracy, and no mere modification of the republican constitution, that he intended to introduce. Unlike Sulla, whose career was in so many ways the antitype of his own, Caesar had fought and conquered not for his party but for himself. There was, in fact, no longer a Democratic party—the very name of party implies the existence of a body of persons who agree to act together for some common political end. But the Caesarians were nothing of this sort, they were simply the hired servants of the dictator, who humbly carried out his orders without any attempt to criticise or to understand them. The one man of the faction who showed a spirit of his own perished miserably. This was the headstrong Caelius Rufus, who against his employer's orders raised an old Democratic cry—novae tabulae, the 1 He had also been in Rome during the winter of 47-6, before Munda. THE NEW MONARCHY 333
abolition of debts—and tried to carry out some of the anarchic designs which had been dear to Catiline. Caesar was absent from Rome himself, but his agents saw to the suppression of Caelius. He was deposed from his praetorship, whereupon he fled into the south of Italy, and raised bands of slaves and debtors in the true Catilinarian style, enlisting as his lieutenant the old Optimate bravo, Milo. The rebellion proved a fiasco, and the rebels were destroyed by a regiment of Gallic horse. Those who had joined Caesar in the mere hope of plunder and proscriptions were thus warned that it was their master's programme, not their own, that was to be carried out. Those, on the other hand, who remained faithful to him, were rewarded by huge gifts of money and estates, sufficient to pay off all their debts; but they were not indulged with the novae tabulae, which would have frightened the Equestrian Order and all the capitalists whom the dictator was anxious to conciliate. However disappointed they may have been at seeing that they were to be the well-paid hirelings of their leader, and not his colleagues or councillors, the Caesarian gang had to accept the position.
A vast amount of praise has been bestowed upon Caesar for introducing good and firm government into Italy, when it had been expected that his triumph would be followed by plunder and proscriptions. But it is only a savage, or a man who has injuries to avenge, who would deliberately choose to slay those whom he might safely spare, or to destroy riches which he might safely utilise. Caesar was not in the position of Marius or Sulla; he had not been hunted round Italy by his foes like the former, nor did he return to find Rome red with the blood of his friends like the latter. He had taken the city almost before a blow had been struck in the Civil War, and had no tangible injuries to avenge; the hustling of his tribunes and his own outlawing would hardly have been made a convincing excuse for a general massacre. Indeed, the leading Optimates had evacuated Rome, and it would have heen on men of small importance, or on " moderates," like Cicero, that a proscription must have fallen. Again, a general confiscation of property would have thrown Rome and Italy into chaos and bankruptcy. But Ctesar wished to have as much money at his disposal as possible, for the equipment of the great armies that he was raising. Clearly, from the most selfish point of view, it was wiser for him not to throw the financial world into a crisis, and thereby to make enemies of all the capitalists who had not retired in the company of Pompey. There is no need to praise the magnanimity of one who acts from enlightened self-interest, and this would appear to have been the case with Caesar. So is it also with his good government, both in Italy and in the provinces. When once he had established his domination, it was to his advantage that he should rule over a wealthy and a contented rather than over a poor and disloyal empire.
There is this difference between the rule of an autocrat and that of an oligarchy, that in the first case the ruler's individual gain is best secured by the prosperity of his subjects, while in the second the personal interest of each member of the oligarchy may lead him to "feather his nest" to the grave detriment of the state, because his legitimate share of the profits of empire is comparatively a small one. It was in Rome in Caesar's day much as it was in France in the day of Bonaparte. The "Directory" whom the Corsican superseded were infinitely worse rulers than he, because their personal interest did not, like his, coincide with the interest of the majority of the French people. The change was undoubtedly beneficial to the country at large, yet we do not therefore regard Bonaparte as entitled to an enthusiastic moral approval. Any despot who is not a CESAR'S ADMINISTRATIVE REFORMS 335
lunatic will adopt the same programme, so far as he is able.
This being understood, we may grant that the practical benefits conferred by Caesar alike on the City and the Empire were enormous. If he had done nothing more than put an end to the turbulence of the Roman streets, by the institution of his prcefectus urhi backed by armed cohorts, it would have been a considerable boon. It was something that he cut down the number of the recipients of the corn-dole—though since he had posed as a Democrat he could not abolish it altogether. Still better was it to persuade as many of the citizens as possible to go forth to transmarine colonies. But any successful despot must have taken all these measures: to keep an armed force in the capital, to endeavour to distract the energies of the multitude into colonisation, were devices as old as Periander and Dionysius. As to the settlements inside the peninsula, which Caesar planned out for his veterans, they do not seem to have been much more successful than the earlier attempts of the Democrats. Agriculture in Italy, south of the Rubicon, was ruined beyond redemption. As to the legislation concerning debt and "luxury" which the dictator introduced, we cannot take it very seriously: it was a case of " Satan rebuking Sin." His own licentious extravagance in his youth, and the astounding loads of indebtedness which he had contracted, prevented him from attacking the problem with any moral weight. "No man can be made good by Act of Parliament," still less by the rescript of an autocrat. A moral reformation in the governing classes of the state was the only possible road to reform, and a Csesar was not the man to start such a movement. Bad as was the general tone of the Roman aristocracy in the first century B.C., it was to be worse in the first century A.D. Servility to the omnipotent Emperor was added to