This is a chapter of Julius Caesar’s Adventure with the Pirates Who Kidnapped Him, by Henry Gilbert.
Valerius invited his guest to dine with him when they should reach his villa at Miletus in an hour.
“Thank you,” replied Caesar, “but I shall not dine today. I will ask you to lend me four galleys and all the good fighting men you can command.”
Valerius hesitated. “What do you want them for?”
“I will pay you three talents for the loan of them,” replied Caesar, “and you shall have both galleys and men back without much loss.”
“If you think to take those pirates——” began Valerius.
“I do not think about it,” replied Caesar in a polite but firm tone. “I am going to take those rascals, every one of them, and string them up like crows along the coast to scare other dirty rascals away.”
Valerius had long passed his fighting days: he was all for well-cooked meals and Greek wines now, but he knew a masterful man when he saw one, and without another word he submitted. Who was he to resist the will of this young patrician, with, so far as Valerius knew, powerful friends at Rome, and who, at any rate, was one for whom fifty talents had been paid? He agreed, therefore, to place under Caesar the command of four galleys and five hundred soldiers, two hundred of whom were tried fighting men of his own guard, the others being native auxiliaries.
“And suppose you succeed in taking those desperate rascals,” said Valerius, “but I don’t promise that you will find it an easy task — what do you propose to do with them?”
“I will bring them here and ask you to put everyone to death,” was the reply.
“And do you think that will do me any good?” asked Valerius angrily. “I shall have all my merchants railing at me. As it is, they pay their tribute to this Spartakos and their galleys go free. If you crucify him, as big a rogue will come and take his place, and my merchants will have to pay more blackmail.”
“I am sorry to threaten these pleasing commercial arrangements,” said Caesar, with a cynical smile. “Then I will save you the trouble of punishing these friends of your merchants and I will take them to Pergamum.”
“Do that, and I shall be well pleased,” replied Valerius, his good humor returning. “Let Junius the praetor have the bother. Besides, he alone has rightly the power of life and death.”
After a few more words, Caesar parted from the governor, the latter being glad to see the back of this young man who wished to disturb the comfortable relations existing between the merchants of Miletus and the pirates who patrolled that part of the coast.
Meanwhile, the pirates, having returned to the island, were deep in a great carouse to celebrate the rich haul which they had so easily made. Much heady wine was drunk, boastful speeches were made, and song and jest sped the pleasant time. Even the lookout men on the highest point of the rocks had joined in the festivity and no watch was kept upon the sea. When, therefore, with the suddenness of a tempest out of the summer sky, men rushed upon them from behind the rocks, the half-drunken pirates were able to make but little resistance against what were found to be overwhelming numbers. Those who attempted to fight were cut down; the others were surrounded and ordered to throw down their arms.
“Who commands you?” yelled Spartakos, rocking as he stood, impotent rage in his voice.
From behind a group of soldiers came the tall, slender figure of Caesar, smiling, but with a cold glitter in his eyes.
Spartakos started; then he cursed vehemently for a while, and after that was silent. Mikios looked gloomily at Caesar, and then with drunken gravity he turned to Spartakos and shook his head sagely.
“He said he’d crucify us, and — and so he will!” he ejaculated.
Surrounded by the soldiers, who stood with drawn swords ready to cut down any pirate who ventured to break away or to resist, the rascals were pinioned and then were thrust into the bottom of the galleys. Only a few had escaped by flight into the inner part of the island when the surprise had come, and the number taken amounted to about three hundred and fifty. Caesar also recovered the whole of the fifty talents which had formed his ransom.
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When all were aboard, Caesar ordered the pirate galleys to be stove in and sunk in deep water; after which, setting sail before a favorable wind, he speedily made his way to Pergamum, where dwelled the praetor, or governor general, of the province of Asia Minor.
Arrived there, he found that the praetor was away on circuit with his principal officers, judging causes in various towns. Caesar saw his captives safely lodged in the prison in the city, though its capacity was strained to accommodate them all, and then, placing over them a guard from among the soldiers of Valerius for additional security, he set out to find Junius, who was somewhere in the east of the province.
After a little search, he succeeded in finding the praetor and, having presented himself before him, he related all that had occurred. Junius, an austere, crafty-looking person, said little while the tale was being told, but on learning that Caesar had recovered the fifty talents besides other booty which had been seized and stored by the pirates, his eyes gleamed greedily. When his narrative was ended, Caesar said:
“Now, Junius, I have promised these rogues that they shall be crucified. Will you give me your letters directing your legate at Pergamum to execute them?”
Junius looked sourly at Caesar, and his shifty eyes glanced up and down this masterful young man who wished to direct the praetor of a province as to what he should do. He knew that the young patrician was a scion of the Julian clan and that he had powerful and rich friends, though at present he was hiding from possible death at the hands of the dictator, Sulla. All this, however, weighed but little with Junius; the most important thing to his greedy praetorial soul was how to obtain for himself most of the fifty talents and the spoil captured with the pirates. Like most other praetors, he had come to his province resolved to take from it all the riches he could lay his hands upon, and his fingers itched to touch the pirates’ treasure.
“The matter must take its proper course,” replied Junius. “Such a case must be decided with all due formalities. It must await my return to Pergamum. Meanwhile, I will send a messenger with orders to my legate, Minicius, to guard the pirates and their booty with all care.”
Caesar had quickly perceived what had been passing in the mind of Junius, whose face, for all his craftiness, easily betrayed his thoughts to an observant eye. He pretended to fall in with the praetor’s opinion and passed the matter off carelessly. He stayed chatting a little while on indifferent topics, so as to make it appear that the business had no real interest for him. When, however, he had taken his leave, he instantly ordered his freedman to bring the horses, and without waiting for food he left the place and took the road back to Pergamum.
His decision was already taken. The man who in later years in Gaul was to slaughter thousands of barbarians without mercy took little account of the execution of two or three hundred robbers. He reached Pergamum in the middle of the next day, and after a hurried meal he gave instructions to the soldiers on guard as to what was to be done. That same afternoon, most of the robbers were slain in prison: one by one they were ordered to come out into a small enclosure, and, as each man turned a certain sharp corner, soldiers stabbed them.
Some thirty of the chief pirates were reserved for a more formal death. These included Spartakos, Mikios, and Syrus, together with others whom Caesar had noticed to be men of more forceful character. He had these brought out and told them what he purposed doing.
“You are malefactors,” he said sternly; “your lives are forfeit to the State for many crimes of murder, robbery, and violence, and you shall now meet with your due reward. You deserve, indeed, to be crucified and to hang upon the wood until you shall miserably die from hunger and your wounds. But as I have known you and dwelled with you I will grant you this grace: you shall be crucified, but you will not be hung upon the cross alive.”
The men glared at him sullenly. Death was so near to every violent man in those hard days that it had little terror for them. Some cursed him and looked about them as if they would dearly like to make one last fight for life, but the ranks of stern soldiery with wet swords in their hands gave them no hope.
“I little reckoned you were so strong a man of your word,” said Mikios at length. “You seemed too much the dandy, you were too clean and choice in your manners. Ah, would that I had known! I would have strangled you as you sat smiling at us. But, now, see here, Caesar,” he went on, with a mocking laugh, “I prove your words to be lying words. You said that of a surety Venus would punish me with death for having violated her temple. How now can she punish me?”
“You have not escaped the vengeance of the goddess,” said Caesar sternly. “I am of the Julian clan — of the race that has sprung from the goddess. Through me, then, she works her vengeance upon you!”
When the sun, dipping his golden face in the hyacinthine sea, shone that evening with level beams along the waves and the shore, his rays threw thirty long shadows across the fields beyond the strand. The dead bodies of Spartakos and twenty-nine of his comrades hung upon the gaunt, high crosses, their sightless eyes looking at the sinking sun.
Next morning, Caesar took galley and, resuming his interrupted journey, he went on his way to Rhodes, where, placing himself under the instruction of Apollonius Molo, the great orator, he perfected himself day by day in the arts of public speaking.