Monday, January 30, 2017

Julius Caesar and the pirates

New Criterion, Roger Kimball
"[Julius] Caesar cultivated a reputation for clemency towards those he defeated—provided they didn’t cross him a second time. In some respects, it is worth noting, the clemency was merely relative. When Crassus finally managed to crush the slave rebellion of Spartacus in 71 BC, he ordered that six thousand slaves he had captured be crucified in regular intervals along the Via Appia from Capua to the gates of Rome. He also ordered that the bodies of the unfortunate victims not be taken down but be left to rot as a grisly object lesson to others who might be contemplating rebellion. Six thousand rotting corpses along the main road leading south from Rome. No doubt it was a sobering sight. Contrast Caesar’s behavior. When he was still in his early twenties, he was captured by some pirates as he crossed the Aegean Sea. They held him for ransom and were amused by the jocular arrogance of their young patrician charge. He joined in their games. He claimed to be insulted that they had asked for only twenty talents for his release and demanded they increase it to fifty. And he promised that one day he would return and have them all crucified. The fifty talents were duly paid, Caesar was released, and he soon managed to raise a fleet and capture his former captors. He did have them crucified, but had their throats slit first, sparing them a long, agonizing death.
That was a sort of clemency, I suppose."

Plutarch's account of the incident:

"2 1 To begin with, then, when the pirates demanded twenty talents for his ransom, he laughed at them for not knowing who their captive was, and of his own accord agreed to give them fifty. 2 In the next place, after he had sent various followers to various cities to procure the money and was left with one friend and two attendants among Cilicians, most murderous of men, he held them in such disdain that whenever he lay down to sleep he would send and order them to stop talking. 3 For eight and thirty days, as if the men were not his watchers, but his royal body-guard, he shared in their sports and exercises with great unconcern. 4 He also wrote poems and sundry speeches which he read aloud to them, and those who did not admire these he would call to their faces illiterate Barbarians, and often laughingly threatened to hang them all. The pirates were delighted at this, and attributed his boldness of speech to a certain simplicity and boyish mirth. 5 But after his ransom had come from Miletus and he had paid it and was set free, he immediately manned vessels and put to sea from the harbor of Miletus against the robbers. He caught them, too, still lying at anchor off the island, and got most of them into his power. 6 Their money he made his booty, but the men themselves he lodged in the prison at Pergamum, and then went in person to Junius, the governor of Asia, on the ground that it belonged to him, as praetor of the province, to punish the captives. 7 But since the praetor cast longing eyes on their money, which was no small sum, and kept saying that he would consider the case of the captives at his leisure, Caesar left him to his own devices, went to Pergamum, took the robbers out of prison, and crucified them all, just as he had often warned them on the island that he would do, when they thought he was joking."

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