"Great men have been among us."
T WO men were now pushing their way to the forefront of affairs in Rome—men whose names were to become famous, not only in the history of their own country, but famous in the history of the whole world. Their names were Pompey and Cæsar. They were born within six years of one another, about a hundred years before the birth of Christ, and they were young men still, when they became rivals for Roman power.
Pompey first made his mark. As a child he was very beautiful, and he was ever beloved by the people of Rome for his gentle ways and his kingly manners. He early distinguished himself by fighting, for Rome had still enemies left in both Spain and Africa. On his return from the wars, though still a very young man, he was made consul of Rome.
There is a story told of him at this time, which shows how popular he was. There was an ancient custom in Rome, by which the knights, who had served their time in the wars, led their horses into the market-place, before two officers: they gave an account of their service and received their discharge, every man with honour or disgrace, according to his deserts. The knights were passing thus, before the officers, when Pompey was seen leading his horse into the Forum, wearing the dress of a consul.
"Pompey the Great," said the senior officer, "I demand of you, whether you have served the full time in the laws which is ordered by the Roman law."
"Yes," replied Pompey in a loud voice, "I have served all, and all under myself as general."
On hearing this all the people gave a great shout, and they went on shouting, till the officers rose from their judgment-seat and accompanied the hero to his home, amid the clapping of hands and shouts of joy.
When his term of office was over he was given authority, for three years, over the whole Mediterranean Sea, so that he might crush out the pirates or sea-robbers, who were ruining the trade of that great sea.
Now these sea-robbers were growing very dangerous. They had built for themselves swift-sailing ships, with which to pursue the merchant vessels; they had harbours, towers, and beacons, all round the sea-coast. Their ships had gilded masts, the sails were purple, the oars plated with silver. They were the terror of navigators from the Straits of Gibraltar, to the shores of the Black Sea; they stopped and robbed the ships bringing wheat from Sicily and Alexandria, to feed the Romans, and it was plain that something must be done.
Pompey divided the sea into thirteen parts, and sent officers and men to fight the sea-robbers in each part. Up and down the blue Mediterranean, sailed these ships, chasing the pirates, till in forty days the whole sea was cleared and Pompey was free to undertake some new work, for his country. The great kingdoms of the East were once more on the war-path, and Pompey was now sent to subdue them.
When Pompey next returned to Rome, he was at the height of his glory. He had marched a great Roman army through Syria; he had extended the Roman Empire, as far as the river Euphrates. It was small wonder, then, that Rome accorded him a two days' triumph, which exceeded in magnificence, even the triumph of Paulus. All his great deeds were set forth on bronze tablets which were carried before him. These told how he had founded cities, captured eight hundred ships, one thousand fortresses, and nearly as many towns; he had poured money wholesale into the treasury of Rome, while three hundred captive princes walked before his chariot. He returned triumphant, and dreams of kingship were already in his mind. He had left Rome but four years before, the very idol of the people.
"Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft
Have you climbed up to walls and battlements,
To towers and windows, yea, to chimney-tops,
Your infants in your arms, and there have sat
The livelong day with patient expectation
To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome;
And when you saw his chariot but appear,
Have you not made an universal shout
Till Tiber trembled underneath her banks?"
But now, as he stepped from his chariot after his triumph, Pompey the Great found himself alone; no longer was he surrounded by admirers and flatterers, no longer was he the idol of Rome.
For another favourite had enthroned himself in the hearts of the people. And that was Julius Cæsar—a far greater man than Pompey could ever be, for
"This was the greatest Roman of them all."