Manly W. Mumford

Delivered to The Fortnightly of Chicago and The Chicago Literary Club
March 2, 2001

To cross this puny stream they call the Rubicon should not trouble me. Yet it troubles me more than did crossing the Rhine. It would defy the government of Rome, and commit the most egregious mutiny; for the higher the rank of a mutineer the more vile is his act. I must review the circumstances, consider what is best for me, and determine what is best for Rome.

From my boyhood, the clique that now rules in the Senate have been the enemies of my family. My Aunt Julia's husband, Marius, was a consul justly beloved by the people of Rome, but not by the nobility. Our ancestors, the Julii, were as notable as theirs, or more, being descended from Aeneas himself. Yet the fact that we look to the common people of Rome for political support frightens and alienates them.

When I was 19, Sulla, with his army, took control of Rome and tried to make me divorce my wife Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna who had been consul at the same time as my Uncle Marius. I refused, so he confiscated her dowry. On learning that Sulla was deciding whether I should be put to death I hid, but fell into the hands of Sulla's soldiers. A bribe of two talents persauded their captain to let me go. I then went to Bythinia and returned to Rome after Sulla's death. (1)

I have generally gotten political support from those whom others might avoid. One of the worst of my supporters was that scoundrel Clodius. During the feast of Bona, when all men leave the house and the women perform all the rites, he disguised himself as a girl and entered my house with the intent of seducing my wife, Pompeia. He would have succeeded had not my servants and mother caught him; my wife was aware of the plan, as was her maid. When Clodius (who was very popular with the people) was tried, I said I had nothing to charge him with. When asked why I had divorced Pompeia, I said, "I wished my wife to be above suspicion."

I held various public offices in Rome. After my Praetorship I was given the government of the province of Spain, but in order to accept it I had to prevail on Crassus, the richest man in Rome, to satisfy my creditors; I had spent a great deal of money gaining political support one way or another. In Spain I became rich, and having enriched my soldiers as well, received from them the honorary title of Imperator.

On returning to Rome, I managed to reconcile Crassus and Pompey, who had quarreled. Then with their support I was elected Consul when I was 40. Later, to further cement the bond between Pompey and me, I broke my daughter Julia's engagement to Servilius Caepio, and betrothed her to Pompey, and told Servilius he should have Pompey's daughter, who had been promised to Sylla's son, Faustus. After that, I married Calpurnia, the daughter of Piso, and had Piso made consul for the year following. Cato, the leader of the nobles in the Senate, protested vigorously, saying that it was intolerable for the government to be prostituted by marriages, and for Pompey, Crassus, and me to advance one another to the commands of armies, provinces, and other great posts, by means of women. He protested in vain.

Following my consulship Pompey secured for me the government of all Gaul and the command of four legions for five years. I subdued Gaul, but the Gauls would not remain subdued. I required and was granted another five years. To assure the loyalty of those Gauls whom we conquered, it was necessary to protect them from their neighboring tribes and also from the Germans who would cross the Rhine to attack and pillage our allies. Thus I was the first Roman General to lead an army across the Rhine.

In almost all of the Gallic campaigns the Gauls had received reinforcements from the Britons. I mounted an expedition Britain to see what its inhabitants were like, (2) and to learn the lie of the land, the harbors, and the landing places. I was the first Roman to bring a navy into the western ocean, or an army to invade an island in it. (3) In two trips and several battles I did more harm to the natives than service to myself, for the islanders were so miserably poor that they had nothing worth plundering. Further, Britons never, never, never, will be slaves -- of any value.

On returning from Britain, I learned to my dismay that my daughter Julia had died giving birth to Pompey' s child. The child also died. Both Pompey and I were sorely grieved, both for the loss of his wife and my daughter, and for the bond that united the two most powerful men of Rome, Crassus having been killed fighting the Parthians. This union had kept the peace.

My army grew very numerous, so I dispersed them into various camps for their winter-quarters, and myself went, as usual, to Italy. In my absence a general outbreak throughout Gaul commenced. I immediately returned and subdued the rebellion, but only after much bloodshed.

Meanwhile, in Rome, Pompey and my enemies in the Senate moved closer together. They were insolently boasting that Lucius Lentulus and Gaius Marcellus had been made consuls for the purpose of depriving me of all official standing and prestige. Servius Galba had been robbed of the consulship, despite his far greater popularity and larger number of votes, because he was closely connected with me both as a friend and as a general.

I decided to keep the tribes in Gaul loyal and to see that none had any pretext for revolt or any hope of profiting by it so I would not to have to fight a campaign immediately before my departure. I made their subjection more tolerable by addressing the tribal governments in complimentary terms, refraining from the imposition of any fresh burdens, and bestowing rich presents upon the principal citizens. Thus I induced a people exhausted by so many defeats to live at peace.

A senatorial decree ordered Pompey and me each to contribute one legion to the Parthian campaign. This meant that I lost two legions, for Pompey contributed, as though from his own army, the 1st legion, which was levied in my province and which he had lent to me. Then the consul Marcellus turned both legions over to Pompey and kept them in Italy. However, I encouraged the soldiers of the 1st legion to remember me favorably by giving each of them the sum of 250 denarii about two years' pay. I replaced them with recruits, and one of my legions continues to be stationed in northern Italy.

My love of honor (which I value more highly than my life) and passion for distinction are inspired into my soldiers and cherished in them by unsparing distribution of money and honors. I show them that I do not pile up wealth from the wars for my own luxury or pleasure, but that all I receive is a fund to reward and encourage their valor. And there is no danger to which I do not expose myself as well as my soldiers. (4)

Sallust sent me a memorandum describing the unbearable reign of terror of the clique around Pompey. He asks me to intervene at once, and by sweeping reforms to again enable the people and the Senate to fulfill their constitutional roles. The unjustified power of the present nobility and the rule of money must be broken in order to recreate the dignity of the old Roman state.

So much must be done for the people of Rome. Our faithful soldiers must be given lands in conquered provinces to satisfy promises made when they enlisted. The calendar has accumulated so many errors that the priests, to make the feasts fall when they should, have created an arbitrary and unpredictable intercalary month. The best mathematicians and philosophers should be employed correct the calendar. Perhaps they will name a month after me. That would be better than any marble monument.

Now the Senate has voted that I am to disarm my army by a fixed date upon pain of being regarded as a public enemy. So if I return to Rome I shall be available for my enemies to instigate the criminal proceedings for which they yearn. The current subservience of the judges leaves no doubt of the outcome. Further diplomatic moves can succeed only if I show that my military prospects are not hopeless by mounting a speedy attack.

Yet even under these circumstances, can my mutiny be justified? It would set the worst possible example for my soldiers, whom I have always led by example.

My own life is at stake, as my enemies will surely find a way to have me executed, if not outright murdered in the absence of my army. Yet I have often commanded my soldiers to face death, and have faced death with them. Perhaps it is my turn, now, to face it without them.

Should I overthrow the very government under which I hold office? My ancestors, along with those of my enemies, have long lived and prospered under that government. Does their current perversion justify me in overthrowing that government?

How do I start to answer this question?

Where do I find the principles to guide my thoughts?

I must look at the purpose of government itself. What is that purpose?

That purpose should be to preserve the lives and the rights of the people. If a government destroys those lives and rights, have the people a right to alter or abolish it? I believe they do, as the founders of our republic deposed the kings.

Can the people do this without leadership? No.

Who is best able to furnish that leadership? I am.

I do not leave my province with intent to harm anybody. I merely want to protect myself against the slanders of my enemies, to restore to their rightful positions the tribunes of the people, who have been expelled because of their involvement in my cause, and to reclaim for myself and for the Roman people independence from the domination of a small clique. I will immediately launch five cohorts towards Ariminum and the other five towards Arretium in Etruria. Will I succeed? Luck is the greatest power in all things and especially in war. Yet human endeavor can help luck, and I will not be found wanting in this respect.

The die is cast!


(1) Later I went to Rhodes, and on my return journey was captured by pirates who demanded a ransom of twenty talents. I accused them of not knowing how valuable I was, and arranged to gather fifty talents which I gave them. Then they believed I was a simpleton when I told them I would have them crucified. When released I procured ships and men, captured most of the pirates, took their money as a prize, and offered to let the governor of the Roman province in Asia determine their punishment. He seemed more interested in obtaining the pirates' ransom than in punishing them, so I promptly had them crucified.

(2) Most of the tribes in the interior do not grow corn but live on milk and meat, and wear skins. All the Britons dye their bodies with woad, which produces a blue color, and shave the whole of their bodies except the head and upper lip. Wives are shared between groups of ten or twelve men, especially between brothers and between fathers and sons; but the offsprings of these unions are counted as the children of the man with whom a particular woman cohabited first.

(3) The reported extent of that island had made its existence a matter of controversy among historians, many of whom questioned whether it were not a mere name and fiction, not a real place. Thus I might be said to have carried the Roman empire beyond the limits of the known world.

(4) I succeeded in binding men to me by strong ties of loyalty; I did this by making a point of close personal contact with small sections, if not with every individual, in the army. Particular instances of good service were noted and recalled when appropriate; and I took pains to be acquainted with the centurions of my legions, treating them not merely as subordinates but as experienced soldiers whose advice was to be heeded and respected. This policy reaped its rewards

(5) Once, talking big in the Senate, Pompey told the Senators not to trouble themselves about making any preparations for war with me because he himself, with one stamp of his foot, would fill all Italy with soldiers.


The Conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar, translated by S.A. Hanford; revised with a new introduction by Jane F. Gardner, Penguin Books, London, 1951, 1982.

The Civil War by Julius Caesar, translated by Jane F. Gardner, Penguin Books, London, 1967

Caesar by Plutarch, Translated by John Dryden, Provided by The Internet Classics Archive,.

Caesar, Politician and Statesman by Matthias Gelzer, 1959, translated by Peter Needham; Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968.