This is a chapter of Julius Caesar’s Adventure with the Pirates Who Kidnapped Him, by Henry Gilbert.
On the poop with the chief merchant was a spare young man, a Roman by his dress, with aristocratic features and bold, confident bearing. He was dressed in a white woolen tunic, with sleeves which reached to the wrists, where they were cut into a deep fringe. The garment was slackly girdled. The fringed tunic and the loose girdle were thought to be signs of effeminacy in those days. On his feet were shoes of scarlet leather. As the young man saw the pirate galleys coming nearer and nearer, he laughed at the merchant’s woeful cries.
“It is no use your lamenting,” he said with a sneer. “If you had waited for the other merchants, you might have been able to beat these rascals off. As it is, they outnumber you by three to two.”
“But I wished to get the market before the others,” whined the greedy old merchant. “What a loss it is! These rogues will make me pay heavily for my ransom. Oh, that I had waited!”
The foppish young man turned away with a yawn. Two servants stood near, and he ordered one to ask his physician to come to him; the other he told to bring his toga and to bid the rest of his servants to come upon the poop. Then he leaned idly against the side of the vessel and looked at the rushing onset of the first galley.
The merchant, seeing escape was hopeless, had ordered his slaves to cease rowing, and his sailors were reefing the sails. Soon the merchant galleys lost their way and sat motionless upon the water. Spartakos raced his galley to within a hundred yards; then, at a word, his men ceased rowing, and the galley glided just within speaking distance.
“What ship is that?” came the question.
“The Golden Fleece, of Rhodes,” was the reply, “owned by Vinius the Lydian.”
“If Vinius the Lydian is there, let him come aboard,” came back the order. “If he is not there, let the shipmaster come to me!”
Vinius, the old merchant, thereupon got into a small boat with two of his men and, taking his money and jewels with him, was rowed to the pirate galley. Meanwhile, the young aristocrat, surrounded by his servants, sat with Cinna, his friend and physician, and, taking out a scroll from the breast fold of his toga, began discussing its contents, as if the visit of some three hundred pirates, who thought nothing of sinking galleys and the people aboard them, was an everyday occurrence.
In a little while, a boat put off from each of the pirate ships, crammed with men. They boarded the big merchant ship, and then, after quickly going through the cargo to note its value, turned their attention to the passengers on the poop.
It was Spartakos’s quick eye who singled out the young Roman gentleman in the center of his retinue. As he went along the gangway to the poop, he growled to Mikios behind him:
“Here’s some sprig from Athens or Rome who will pay for keeping for a while.”
Gaining the poop, the pirates went toward the group. The servants closed about their master, at which movement Spartakos laughed.
“Out of the way, spaniels!” he said. “I want your lord’s money, not his life.”
“What is it, Phormios?” came the drawling voice of the young Roman.
The slaves made way for the pirates, who walked up to the young exquisite. The latter, wrapped in his toga with its deep purple band, looked up with a slight air of annoyance at being disturbed.
“Who are you?” asked Spartakos harshly, disliking the haughty air of the aristocrat.
The other looked at his questioner with a patronizing smile for an instant. Then, with a gesture, he turned to his friend with the words:
“Tell the fellow, Cinna.”
The physician, an elderly man, looked haughtily at the pirate and said:
“This gentleman is Gaius Julius Caesar, of Rome.”
“What will he pay for the lives of himself and his people?” came the harsh question.
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Cinna shrugged his shoulders and looked at his master, who, however, had returned to his book. Spartakos waited for a reply, but, as neither Caesar nor Cinna appeared to think the question concerned him, and did not attempt to break the chilly silence, Spartakos, with an angry malediction, turned to Mikios and said:
“What are they worth, think you? From the pride of them, the treasure of Midas wouldn’t be enough.”
Mikios looked at the crowd of slaves and freedmen as if estimating their market value, and then muttered advice to his captain.
“I’ll double it — twenty talents is what I want,” said Spartakos.
Caesar raised his head, and a look of real anger was in his eyes.
“Twenty talents!” he said icily. “My good fellow, I am afraid neither of you knows your business. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am well worth fifty talents!”
For some moments, Spartakos was speechless with surprise. As a rule, people were anxious to get off with as low a ransom as their captors would accept, and for a prisoner to put up the price placed upon him was something unheard of. Moreover, Caesar’s valuation (equal to almost one million dollars in the 21st century) was a staggering amount. Spartakos hastened to get over his surprise and to accept the offer.
“Have it as you will,” he said, with a harsh laugh. “Fifty talents you’ll pay ere you see Rome again.”
“I will send my people with letters to Rome,” replied Caesar. “You will ship them there at once, and the money shall be in your hands by the kalends of August.”
Spartakos scowled; somehow this aristocrat seemed to be giving orders, and his captor had to obey them. The pirate growled assent and departed. In a little while the merchant galleys were turned and rowed toward the island, where in a small bay they were anchored, and the rich gear and goods were landed to add to the stores of the pirates. Caesar and the merchant and his people were housed in huts, which formed the village of the pirates, placed in a wide green field just below the high rock which formed the lookout of Spartakos and his band. There they would await the time when their ransoms were received.
In a few hours, Caesar had written his letters to friends and kinsmen at Rome, and next morning the smaller merchant vessel was manned by pirates, the freedmen and slaves of Caesar, who were to take the letters, went on board, and, the wind being favorable, a course was set for Italy. The same day, the pirates in one of their own galleys carried some of the merchant’s slaves to Miletus, which was but a few miles away on the mainland. Caesar also sent letters by these to friends of his in Asia Minor, particularly to Nicomedes, the wealthy king of Bithynia.