R OME was the most powerful city in the world. The Romans had conquered all the countries on the north side of the Mediterranean Sea and most of those on the south side. They also occupied the islands of the sea and all that part of Asia that now belongs to Turkey.
Julius Cæsar, a man of wonderful courage and energy, was sent with a large army into Gaul to conquer that country also for Rome. Gaul was the region which we now call France. It was inhabited by a great many warlike tribes who fought against Cæsar with all their might but were finally forced to submit.
For nine years Cæsar and his army served Rome loyally and well. They took possession of all Gaul and made it a Roman province. They crossed the Rhine and subdued a part of Germany. They even went into Britain, which was then a wild and savage country, and were the first to make that island known to the civilized world.
But Cæsar had many enemies at home. They were jealous of him because he had done such great deeds, and because the common people in Rome and other parts of Italy praised him as a hero.
One of these persons, whose name was Pompey, had long been the most powerful man in Rome. Like Cæsar, he was the commander of a great army; but his army had done very little to win the applause of the people. Pompey saw that, unless something occurred to prevent it, Cæsar would in time be his master. He therefore began to lay plans to destroy him.
In another year the time of Cæsar's service in Gaul would end. It was understood that he would then return home and be elected consul, or ruler, of the mighty republic of which Rome was the center. He would then be the most powerful man in the world.
Pompey and other enemies of Cæsar were determined to prevent this. They induced the Roman Senate to send a command to Cæsar to leave his army in Gaul and come at once to Rome. "If you do not obey this command," said the Senate, "you shall be considered an enemy to the republic."
Cæsar knew what that meant. If he went to Rome alone, his enemies would make false accusations against him; they would try him for treason; they would not permit him to be elected consul.
He therefore called the soldiers of his favorite legion together and told them of the plot that had been made for his ruin. The war-loving veterans who had followed him through so many perils, and had helped him to win so many victories, declared they would not leave him; they would go with him to Rome and see that he received the rewards that were his due; they would serve without pay; they would even share with him the expenses of the long march. In all the legion there was only one man who proved false to Cæsar.
The march to Italy was begun. The soldiers were even more enthusiastic than Cæsar himself. They climbed mountains, waded rivers, endured fatigue, faced all kinds of danger for the sake of their great leader.
At last they came to a little river called the Rubicon. It was the boundary line of Cæsar's province of Gaul; on the other side of it was Italy. Cæsar paused a moment on the bank. He knew that to cross it would be to declare war against Pompey and the Roman Senate; it would involve all Rome in a fearful strife, the end of which no man could foresee.
But he did not hesitate long. He gave the word and rode boldly across the shallow stream.
"We have crossed the Rubicon," he cried as he reached the farther shore. "There is now no turning back."
Soon the news was carried to Rome: "Cæsar has crossed the Rubicon;" and there was great dismay among those who had plotted to destroy him. Pompey's soldiers deserted him and hastened to join themselves to Cæsar's army. The Roman senators and their friends made ready to flee from the city.
"Cæsar has crossed the Rubicon!" was shouted along the roads and byways leading to Rome; and the country people turned out to meet and hail with joy the conquering hero.
The word was carried a second time to the city: "Cæsar has crossed the Rubicon;" and the wild flight began. Senators and public officers left everything behind and hurried away to seek safety with Pompey. On foot, on horseback, in litters, in carriages, they fled for their lives—all because Cæsar had crossed the Rubicon. Pompey was unable to protect them. He hurried to the sea coast, and, with all who were able to accompany him, sailed away to Greece.
Cæsar was the master of Rome.