|Caesar: Life of a Colossus
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As Adrian Goldsworthy writes in the introduction to this book, “in his fifty-six years, Caesar was at times many things, including a fugitive, prisoner, rising politician, army leader, legal advocate, rebel, dictator . . . as well as husband, father, lover and adulterer.” In this landmark biography, Goldsworthy examines all of these roles and places his subject firmly within the context of Roman society in the first century B.C.
Tracing the extraordinary trajectory of Caesar’s life from birth through assassination, Goldsworthy covers not only Caesar’s accomplishments as charismatic orator, conquering general, and powerful dictator but also lesser-known chapters during which he was high priest of an exotic cult, captive of pirates, seducer not only of Cleopatra but also of the wives of his two main political rivals, and rebel condemned by his own country. Ultimately, Goldsworthy realizes the full complexity of Caesar’s character and shows why his political and military leadership continues to resonate some two thousand years later.
- Brings the Marble Man to Life
Goldsworthy's Caesar is an extraordinarily well-written one-volume biography. Some who have sniffed that Goldsworthy's treatment is not comprehensive enough miss the point - this is supposed to be a one-volume biography of Caesar and the book is 519 pages as is without chasing after the disputes between Crassus and Pompey. The author shows remarkable discipline in not wandering off down the many enticing pathways offered by the late Roman Republic. Goldsworthy specifically cautioned at the beginning that he intends to stay focused on Caesar and Caesar alone and that is what he does.
Writing a biography of Caesar presents the formidable challenge of humanizing the subject - much like writing about Napoleon or Robert E. Lee. They are the 'marble men' in Shelby Foote's phrasing. Goldsworthy succeeds admirably in this regard. He repeatedly cautions the reader not to regard the events of Caesar's life as inevitable. The reader gets the sense of Caesar as a man who strove to succeed above all else, but could have failed.
His lively writing style paints an engaging portrait of Caesar (much more so than Anthony Everritt's 'Augustus', for example). Crisply described battle scenes give the reader a good sense of what happened and why, whether against the Gauls at Alesia or Pompey at Pharsalus.
Contrary to some other reviewers, I found that Goldsworthy's background as a preeminent military historian serves him well. At Caesar's most successful he was above all a Roman general and spent most of the last 15 years of his life fighting wars first against Rome's enemies and later against other Romans. True, Caesar was nearly 40 before he embarked on the victories that made his place in history, but we remember him for those years as a military leader not for his role as praetor or pontifex maximus.
A remarkable one-volume biography. I'd give it more than 5 stars if I could. Highest recommendation.
- 10-STAR Historiography...
It's pretty difficult to retell an old story of a great and famous man, and I didn't think anyone could outdo Gelzer Caesar: Politician and Statesman or Meier Caesar with C?sar, but Goldsworthy definitely pulls it off with intelligence, dignity, and panache.
Goldsworthy is extremely knowledgeable of his subject. He writes very well in an entertaining and informative manner. He very clearly and briskly explicates the intricacies of Roman governance and society.
This is how the discipline of history is properly done. Highly recommended.
- absolutely first rate critical bio, in full context, from the evidence
This is one of the best biographies I have ever read, from the first Roman period that offered the richest assortment of literary sources and archeological evidence. It covers all of the things that Caesar did, from his political career to his military exploits. Every single page is fresh and engaging, never bogged down in academic trivia or obscure scholarly disputes, but always sticking to the essence of what we can know and indicating what we can't due to lack of evidence. It is dense and utterly fascinating, bringing to life a time but also an exceptional career and life.
First, we get the context of the republic, which is in decline due to the unwieldliness of its procedures and the fatuous intrigues of its Senators and aristocracy; the issues (of empire) it is facing are also increasingly diverse and complex, requiring a steadier hand from an executive. Due to the amount of access points that could be used to block actions, from the auguries of Caesar's mortal enemy Bibilus that were judged "bad" and hence should block all political activity to vetos from Tribunes. The intricacies are all explained with clarity as well as in vivid stories of various incidents. In particular, it became clear to me how important individuals were, rather than parties: alliances were ephemeral, a function of each person's pursuit of personal glory rather than a reflection of any coherent ideology.
Second, there is the particular Roman politico-cultural context. After a series of increasingly brutal civil wars, the ruling class had been decimated, denuded of both high quality politicians and, perhaps worse, the accepted traditions that used to limit their exercise of power (checks and balances via ostracism, but there is much more). In addition, there was the traditional importance of family honor, which went back several generations. While it was a constraint on behavior, it also created an obligation to live up to past glories and offices, both increasing responsibility but also nakedly ruthless ambition. The republic was akin to a religion, to avoid too much control by a king, which was associated with autocratic repression. It is similar to American respect for democracy and alternation of power via parties.
Third, we get to know the unique personality that was Caius Julius Caesar, an aristocrat from a long-declining family that lacked honor (in highest office) for nearly a century. From an early age, he was precocious in astonishing ways. For example, he was captured by pirates while barely older than a student adolescent, but he laughingly partied with them while telling them he would return to crucify them and sell their families into slavery. Once ransomed, he did - at enormous profit from slave and booty revenues.
Nonetheless, as a tribute to Goldsworthy's art as biographer, we see Caesar as only one of the typical kind of brilliant aristocrat of his time, just another ambitious youth willing to risk his life to advance. Throughout his entire career, he was one step ahead of utterly ruinous catastrophe. Yet though his innermost thoughts and drives remain a complete mystery, he was always thinking ahead, to the long-term prospects of his pursuit of glory and power. It is as intimate a portrait as possible, subtle, and just this perspective is worth the price of admission.
Fourth, Goldsworthy follows the trajectory of Caesar's career. As a struggling politician to the age of 40, with occasional military missions, he built a client base by providing services and cultivating an image as a "popularis", i.e. champion of the working class. In this time, we see his friendships with Pompey, Cicero, and many others, in addition to his implacable enemies, such as Cato (a rigid fool, if you ask me) and Bibilus. He also gained an impressive array of lovers, including Sevilia, the mother of Brutus, which was also a political act.
Caesar was a poltical genius, rarely making mistakes and always planning his next accomplishment, which always advanced his prospects. Though born relatively poor, he became immensely rich, risking everything with his debts - incurred to entertain the masses, then finding military opportunity to exploit in Spain. To run for highest office, he also gave up a triumph, one of the greatest honors possible, which has been denied through administrative procedure by his enemies.
Fifth, Caesar's military genius is microscopically examined, which is utterly fascinating and a good half of the book. You get his strategy and tactics, but most interestingly his leadership style. In this respect, Pompey, his great competitor, comes off as an unimaginative master of mass confrontation (overwhelming adversaries by superior force and organization), whereas Caesar is a creative underdog, often badly outnumbered, seeking advantage in terrain, tactics, and by understanding the assumptions behind his adversaries behavior; there are so many leadership lessons that I cannot do them justice here.
Regarding his leadership, Caesar cultivated good subordinates that could never equal his fundamental creativity; this required him to make most of the big decsions, of which they were consistently incapable. In this regard, you witness Cicero's brother, Marc Anthony, Labienus, etc. He also respected his adversaries to recognize their own self-interest, which explains his clemency and lack of cruelty, but also his ability to entice enemies to give up without fighting to the death as they expected mercy. Again, very subtle stuff, which nonetheless led to his assassination.
Sixth, with the civil war, the reader learns of Caesar's immense egotism. To preserve his dignitas, which his senatorial adveraries threatened via trivial lawsuits in my view, he was prepared to plunge the empire into civil war, resulting in untold thousands of deaths: rather than humiliation, exile and the end of his career, he used military force to smash his adversaries.
Seventh, once all his adversaries were subject to his rule, we see his governance, all the while campaigning in such disparate locations as SPain and Egypt. Here, Caesar may have been a reformer of genius, riding rough shod over problems that had festered for decades under the immobile republic. While Goldsworthy continually reminds us of how little we can actually know, he gives a balanced view of what we know Caesar to have stood for. Once again, we feel awe at the depth of his genius, in particular surpassing Alexander the Great in this domain.
Eighth, we get a glimpse of his literary genius. While traveling, he would dictate correspondence and his book-length commentaries to three full-time secretaries. In the process, he created both a new level in the art of political propaganda and refined the accepted style of written Latin, challenging Cicero as the premier writer of his time. Again, unbelievable accomplishment.
Finally, as Caesar had flouted so many conventions and mortally offended so many, we see his assassination. Interestingly, throughout the entire book, the author always demonstrates that Caesar could have lost everything with a single misstep, most obviously in the military domain. In the last instance, he took one risk too many, in trusting those he pardoned.
I was astonished to see how much more of a gambler he was than I had imagined, after reading more than a dozen histories of Rome. This in my view is the true art of biography: you feel you are seeing the life as people did at the time, even if you know what happened in the end.
This is absolutely brilliant popular history. I will have to read more by this gifted author, one of the best I have ever read on the Classical era. Recommended with the greatest enthusiasm....more info
- Life of a Collosus
I find this book very well documented,and informative. This is not a "dry" book of history; the exellent prose makes for easy and pleasurable reading....more info
- The Definitive Caesar Biography of Our Time
Adrian Goldsworthy's aptly titled "Caesar: Life of a Colossus" is an outstanding effort at explaining to a modern audience the source of Gaius Julius Caesar's enduring greatness and continuing relevance. Through his tremendous knowledge and passion, and gift at making the arcane relatable, Goldsworthy sweeps the reader up and transports him to late Republican Rome, making one feel as if a contemporary of Caesar. Reading this book, it is impossible to walk away unconvinced that one has gotten to know Caesar the man as fully and intimately as the historical record permits. As such, this is the definitive Caesar biography of our time.
The book, like Caesar wrote of Gaul, is divided into three parts, each in the neighborhood of 170 pages long. Part I spans the 41 years from Caesar's birth all the way through his first consulship in 59 B.C., as these are the least documented years of his life. Part II covers the conquest of Gaul and, owing to the existence of Caesar's timeless first-hand account, is perhaps the most detailed section of the book. Part III begins with the fateful crossing of the Rubicon and ends with Caesar's dramatic assassination in the Theater of Pompey. Supplementing the main body of work are a short introduction and epilogue. Also included are a timeline of events, a helpful glossary of Latin terms, maps of major battles and the Roman world (the utility of which varies considerably), and several pages of black-and-white photographs.
Though it logs in at a robust 520 pages, "Life of a Colossus" never lags. Goldsworthy narrates the life of the great Roman with verve and lucidity, bringing both subject and setting to life in three dimensions. The author displays equal skill at political and military analysis and is adept at explaining technical concepts in a way that is informative but never condescending or pompous. His intellectual honesty is also admirable and refreshing - he takes great pains to refrain from speculation and is always forthright with the reader about what is not known. Likewise, when two or more sources conflict, he discloses the discrepancy and provides a reasoned argument for why, in his opinion, one is likely more credible on the point than the other.
To the extent the book has a shortcoming, it is that while a good deal of time and effort is devoted to examining Roman military and political life, comparatively little is spent on Roman society. It could have benefited from focusing a bit on day-to-day life in Rome.
Overall, this is a sympathetic but balanced treatment of Caesar. Goldsworthy views his subject and his ascendancy to the dictatorship as symptomatic of the late Republic rather than the cause of its destruction. In contextualizing Caesar's actions and motivations, he emphasizes the debilitating dysfunction that had come to plague the oligarchic political system by the first century B.C., manifesting itself in the form of petty personal rivalries, institutionalized jealousy, politicized prosecutions, pervasive corruption, and increasing acceptance of the use of force as a means to solve political conflict. Caesar came of age during this turbulent period and, undoubtedly influenced by the examples of Marius and Sulla, among others, reacted similarly when he felt himself unfairly endangered by his political enemies.
Where Caesar differentiated himself, though, was in the way he ruled once he defeated the Optimates. Though it is arguable whether he was a "tyrant" under the technical definition (one who seizes power illegally), he certainly was not in the modern sense. He freely granted clemency to his opponents, did not proscribe his critics as Marius and Sulla had done, and passed reasonable laws that benefited the public. As Goldsworthy explains, not even Caesar's enemies ever really attacked the substance of his laws, and it is impossible to argue that the people were not tangibly better off under his rule than before.
Caesar's real problem was that he had completely eclipsed everyone else. His star shone too bright in a rotting environment of hyper-jealousy. His spectacular victories in Gaul, Britannia, Egypt, and Pontus, combined with his unabashedly populist politics, which emphasized land reform and greater expansion of citizenship to the provinces, and his great popularity among the public, made him a mortal threat to the senatorial elite and the established order. He was torn down by inferior men because he had become too great, and therein lies the tragedy.
While Goldsworthy clearly views Caesar as a great man of history, he does not deify him or cloak him in infallibility. He acknowledges Caesar's brilliant generalship, but offers mild criticism of some of his decisions at Sabis and Gregovia. Likewise, he acknowledges some of Caesar's more ruthless actions in Gaul, such as ordering that the right hands of the defeated warriors at Uxellodunum be severed, but also points out that these stood in contrast to his generally clement nature and were unexceptional within the context of the brutality of ancient warfare.
Caesar has been a complicated subject for biographers through the ages, as critical assessment of him has tended to depend almost entirely upon the political prism of the times. Objective biographies of the man have been rare, and even the classical sources are tinged with bias one way or the other. "Life of a Colossus" succeeds largely because Goldsworthy presents Caesar's accomplishments dispassionately and never divorces the man from his times, allowing the reader to reach the inevitable conclusion himself. A true colossus, Caesar requires no embellishment to convince the world of his greatness....more info
Goldsworthy provides a fast moving in depth read on a subject worthy of such an effort. Cicero would approve this balanced account I do believe.
The Roman Senate in its own thirst for power and the brutality of the end of Caesar as a man could not contain the legacy he left. Defeating a great man in his own city after he had defeated so many abroad is all too ironic. Caesar's efforts to bring honor and glory to Rome as well as himself, while deftly sharing the glory would appear to be a true ideal of citizenship for the people. I believe the conspirators missed the point and Rome was left to decide who was right...one man with power that served the people or the Senate who served themselves in the name of the people?...more info
The ancients believed that life was cyclical.
They would cry in the middle of triumph
- certain that misfortune would follow
inevitably after the heights of triumph.
And they could braze themselves with stoical, austere
fortitude in times of crisis, certain
that bad would eventually give way and good would return.
Now, as a society, we no longer believe in a cyclical
world. Instead we believe in progress! Onwards and upwards!
Yet, human nature does not seem to improve as
reliablely as technology.
Goldsworthy takes us through the last years of the Roman Republic.
As Caesar - brilliant politician and military genious -
turns the Republic into an empire.
We learn how a little corruption gives away to more,
with the death of free men as a consequence. We
see how personal ambition and greed ruins a
good society - and how, if controlled better, it could have
made the republic grow.
Essential knowledge if we want
human nature to be something else than just
endlessly repeating patterns
of corruption and other malpractices - followed
by death and, eventually, reconstruction of society.
Adrian Goldsworthys book takes away much of the ignorance.
And gives us the patterns and the consequences
of the ancient world.
With that follows questions to our own world:
How should society manage personal ambition? How should
society deal with corruption? Can a just society have slaves?
Or people without influence?
Questions we better answer if we dont want to
suffer the same consequences as the ancients.
If successful we might prove the ancients wrong
even when it comes to human nature.
It might actually be possible to improve
human nature little by little, instead of just having
repeating patterns of justice followed by corruption
Adrian Goldsworthy begins the story in 753 BC.
The year Rome was founded. The year 1 where later events
were dated as so many years from foundation of the city
(ab urbe condita).
The story of Caesar begins much later: July 13th 100 BC.
A man who possessed the full tria nomina or three names
of a roman citizen. Caius Julius Caesar.
The first name (praenomen)
identifies the individual member of a family
in informal conversation.
The second name (nomen) is the name of the clan
or broad group of families to which a man belonged.
The third name (cognomen) specified the particular
branch of this wider grouping.
The Julii were patricians .They were said to have
settled in Rome in the middle of the seventh century BC.
Derived from Iulus, leader of Trojan exiles.
A Julius Caesar - the first man to have had that cognomen -
reached the praetorship during the second punic war.
Some claimed he took that name because he killed an
elephant in battle and that Caesar was copied from the punic
word for elephant.
Caesar lived in the Suburu, a rather unfashionable
district of Rome. At some distance
from the main Forum. A place with large areas of slum housing,
disreputable activities, such as prostitution.
As he began seeking office he would wear
the Toga Candidatus - a whitened Toga,
intended to make candidates stand out as they
walked around the Forum.
A normal beginning for a Roman senator.
Eventually leading to the military and
civilian tasks to be performed throughout a career.
Both being a normal part of public life.
Caesars times were violent times of civil war.
Yet it had little to do with conflicting
ideology or policies, but were violent extensions
of traditional competition between individuals.
Politics was essential an individual struggle, where
everybody else was a competitor.
The politician could then woo the electorate by lavish expenditure.
Obviously only a few would flurish under this system.
but certainly those who did saw no reason to change
it. So it is in all times.It is common for those who
flurish under any system
to think that failure of others is deserved.
Around 61-60 BC Caesar sees a statue of
Alexander the Great in the Temple of Hercules
and is distressed, because he has done so little
at an age when the Macedonian king had conquered
half the world.
More distressing still is a dream where he rapes his
mother Aurelia. He consults a soothsayer
who tells him "that he is destined to rule the Earth,
since the mother he has ravished is mother Earth
- parent of all."
Encouraged, he could continue his career.
He runs for election to the post of Pontifex Maximus,
Chief priest of the Roman state religion,
after the death of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius,
who had been appointed to the post by Sulla.
His opponents are two powerful optimates,
the former consuls Quintus Lutatius Catulus and
Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus.
There were accusations of bribery by all sides.
Caesar is said to have told his mother on the morning
of the election that he would return as Pontifex Maximus
or not at all, expecting to be forced into exile by the
enormous debts he had run up to fund his campaign.
In any event he won comfortably, despite his opponents
greater experience and standing,
possibly because the two older men split their votes.
It greatly increases his Auctoritas - the prestige and influence
of a Roman senator.
Privately he is married three times.
In marriages designed for political purposes.
Perhaps with rituals not unlike the ones
we see today. E.g. in his days - the bride was
carried over the threshold, a gesture that was believed
to go back to the rape of the Sabine women, when the
first Romans had only been able to find wifes
by kidnapping the daughters of the neighboring
But there are many more women in his life.
Caesar may well have amused himself with courtesans,
slave girls - such behaviour was not considered especially significant.
He also seduced many distinguished women. Wives of important
senators. Suetonius lists 5.
His relationship with Servilia was special -
as she was loved before all others.
Servilia was attractive, intelligent, well educated, sophisticated
and ambitious. And apart from the affair with
Caesar Servilia was otherwise faithful to her husbond.
Obviosuly, there was also the affair with queen Cleopatra.
In 58 BC he sets of to Gaul.
It should be noted that the great noble families
of Rome were not part of Caesars staff for the Gaul
campaign. Well established men did not need to tie
themselves to Caesar in the beginning if the Gaul campaign.
Eventually Gaul is conquered. And peace restored.
I.e. Pax was the outcome of a Roman victory.
Caesar often makes use of the of the verb pacare -
which means to pacify, and was used for defeat of any
people who did not summit to Roman authority.
Losses are enormous though. Historians speak
of as many as a million dead, and as many taken slaves,
in a population of perhaps 15 million.
In one final Gaul rebellion centered around
the hill town of Uxellodunum more outrage.
When rebel defenders came out to surrender,
Caesar decides to make an example of them -
each of the warriors had his hands cut off
and was then set free as a warning to others.
Returning home he is not treated as he sees fit.
He utters the famous Iacta alea est
and the road to civil war begins.
His soldiers trust him more than senators
in Rome. Afterall, Legions like The Thirteenth had
served him for seven years
and trusted him to bring vicory,
as he had always done in the past.
They remembered the generosity with spoils.
Caesar believed he - and by extension they -
had been mistreated by a group of senators
whose own behaviour made it difficult to see
them as the legitimate leaders of the republic.
A sense of what right, along with old loyalty and self interest,
combined to ensure that Caesars army had no hesitation to fight other
And off we go to the
battle at Pharsalus.
Where Battle in Civil war is especially confusing.
To reduce the chance of mistaking friend for enemy and vice
versa each side issued a password.
Caesars side used "Venus the bringer of Victory", the
Pompeians used "Hercules the unconquered"
In the end all his opponents foreign and domestic
are dead. And the Imperator can return to Rome.
So, at least according to custom:
After an especially great victory, an army's troops in the
field would proclaim their commander imperator,
an acclamation necessary for a general to apply to the Senate
for a triumph. After being acclaimed imperator,
the victorious general had a right to use the title
after his name until the time of his triumph,
where he would relinquish the title as well as his imperium.
But Caesar of course had no intention of relinquishing
Not a popular move.
Ultimately no Roman senator liked to see another man excelling
him in glory and influence.
It was not so much what Caesar had done - if only not
one individual gained so much glory.
Men from established families were raised to believed
that they were to lead the
Republic, but Caesars eminence robbed them
of much of this role.
One man possessing as much permanent power as Caesar
is incompatible with a free republic.
The state should be led by elected magistrates
holding office for a limited term and guided by
a senate whose debates were open. Under Caesar
many decisions were made behind closed
doors by the dictator and his close advisors,
not the way a republic was supposed to work.
Eventually, 60 Senators (7 % of the Senators) joins
the plot to kill Caesar-
But within three years after Caesars murder all
the conspirators are defeated and dead, and
the senatorial and equestrian orders
purged by new proscriptions.
Eventualy Octavian becomes emperor of the Roman
world - age 32.
Still, it all starts with Caesar.
The politician who outshone everybody else.
So, for two thousand years after Julius Caesar's assassination,
there was at least one head of state bearing his name.
Hoping to get a little of his glory.
Caesars days might have been the days
of a dying Republic. But themes and human characters
from Caesars world is still with us.
Surely we need to know how everything played out back then,
so we can hope for a better outcome this time around.
An absolutely brilliant book by Adrian Goldsworthy.
Surely it is about Caesar, but in the end it
is as much about ourselves and our days.
The questions any society needs to address
to make the best of human nature.
So we can actually make human nature a noble thing.
Something that improves little by little.
- too much war, but still a great read
This is a masterful and scholarly work while remaining very readable. My main objection is that there were far too many pages on the details of Caesar's war campaigns. I realize that this is a very large part of Caesar's life and accomplishments. However, Goldsworthy wrote at least one previous book dedicated to Caesar's battles. There was no need to go into them again in such detail. I agree with a previous reviewer in that I would have much preferred more detail about the daily lives of Caesar and his contemporaries.
That said, this was an extremely interesting book, filling in the details and giving the truth, where it is known, to the many false interpretations about Caesar's life and motives that have come down to us through the centuries. From Shakespeare to Hollywood, Goldsworthy finally smashes those myths and gives us just the facts. He is quite strict about this position, refusing to guess at things that are not strictly known from the sources. He does interpret, making a good case for his conclusions, most of which give us a positive view. Goldsworthy is very forthright in his admiration for Caesar and asserts positve motives for his actions for almost every major event.
Goldworthy speaks highly of Colleen McCullough's Master of Rome series, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in Ancient Rome and partial to historical fiction. McCullough stays remarkably true to the facts while bringing these ancient characters to life....more info
- A vastly entertaining read!
I had read Goldsworthy's "In The Name Of Rome" previously on a business trip and couldn't put it down. The same goes for "Caesar: Life of a Colossus". It's a fast and entertaining read. One thing Goldsworthy excels at is saying a lot with only a few words. He is one of those rare historians that can communicate his points and concepts in a very fluid and enjoyable way. Sometimes his writing can be profound and almost poetic. Here are some of my favorites from "Caesar: Life of a Colossus":
"It is common for those who flourish under any system to feel the failure of others is deserved."
"There was a remarkable elasticity in the main institutions of the Republic, which tended to continue running in some form under almost any circumstances, interrupted only temporarily by riot and bloodshed."
There are many more gems just like these scattered throughout the book. I highly recommend it.
- Success, qualified
Caesar is a major work, describing the events and life of a man that may have done more to shape the world around him that any other man in history. The book is a success. We get a front seat into his relationships, his battles, his conquests, and his death. What a snake pit of politics and power he excelled in. As we all know, Caesar was assasinated in the Senate, and yet knowing that before I even started reading didn't detract from the enjoyment of learning about all the amazing battles, strategy, and rivalries that made Caesar the controversial figure that he was.
On the negative side the book seemed to have some degree of aloof observation about it, more a clinical detachment. There was the opportunity to let us know more about life in Rome and the Empire of 100 -44 B.C. What was the life-expectancy? How did Caesar get back and forth from Rome to Gaul: walk, ride horses, get carried in a litter? Did they freeze in the winter and comb out lice in mud huts waiting for the snow to melt? We know chonologically what he did, and a little of his character, but what was it like back then? Also, the author is clearly very conversant in Roman life and times. But we are not. We don't know what a "triplex acies" is. It's clearly a battle formation and probably three-pronged, but since Caesar used this frequently with great success, why not tell us troop deployment strategy? Then there are the aediles, praetors, consuls, proconsuls and so on. They are all explained at the back of the book in the glossary, but even a simple diagram of government positions in the front of the book would have given us greater familiarity with the offices Caesar held, and the power of each. All and all a good read for history.
Pierce Scranton M.D.
author, Death on the Learning Curve...more info
- Caesar: His Life and Times
This is the second book by Adrian Goldsworthy that I've read and once again he does not disappoint. This is a substantial biography on one of the most established figures in history. Established in the sense that people have heard the name and for the connotations the name brings forth to different people, even if they (we) have not really studied that much about Caius Julius Caesar. Goldsworthy is an excellent historian on Roman history, particularly on the military and political aspects of that once powerful city and its empire.
I'm not going to recite Julius Caesar's life journey in detail, read the book for that. This is a very well-rounded and complete (as far as is probably possible) portrait of the man and the times he lived in, from his youth to his death at the hands of the conspirators in 44 BC. Regardless of what impressions you have or final judgements you make, and I agree with Goldsworthy's conclusion in that most people will probably have a mixed opinion, you can't deny his extraordinary abilities, especially in the military sphere. It was absolutely astonishing to read of the staggering casualties his army inflicted on all his various opponents from the Gallic War to the Civil War and the comparatively minor casualties his army incurred. However, these numbers, as the author mentioned, could easily be exaggerated. Caesar made mistakes, but boy did he win and win big, time after time.
But in addition to his famed military prowess, Caesar was a shrewd politician. What Goldsworthy likes to stress throughout this book is that Caesar, compared to other dictators and leaders was known for his clemency. Of course this could have all been purely for calculated political purposes, but nevertheless, those who opposed Caesar fared better than say those who opposed Sulla in the previous Civil War. This is a fair point, but does not skew the fact that he could be ruthless in times of war, but as Goldsworthy believes, even that ruthlessness was not necessarily for cruelty's sake. The author is certainly trying to put Caesar in a somewhat sympathetic or more favorable light than others might, but he also admirably places Caesar within the context of the times he lived in.
This biography isn't as purely focused on Caesar as some might assume it would be. Goldsworthy gives a fair amount of attention to Roman political life in this age as well, which is necessary. The turbulent times in Roman history that transpired throughout Julius Caesar's life, who some of the other players were, the changing dynamics of Roman society, and so forth are all incorporated into this fascinating and well written book. Whatever conclusions one may reach about Caesar or Roman life and its politics in general, you surely can't deny the impact this conspicuous Roman had and how that legacy continues to fascinate us today, though we are so far removed in time from that turbulent and dramatic age. There is much we don't learn in this book and most likely will never know, which is probably another reason why many people, including myself, are drawn to this period in history. A commendable book by an eminent historian and writer....more info
- A Decent Biography
If you want a decent introduction to Caesar, this book will certainly do. It covers all of the highlights of Caesar's life, provides insight into his personality, explains the milieu and context in which he operated, and provides an explanation of why he did what he did.
At any given point, you could wish for more -- more information about Roman religion and Caesar's role as pontifex maximus, more information about the Gallic campaigns, and particularly about Vercingetorix and the last great Gaullish rebellion, more information about his relationships with Pompeii, Cicero, Cato, Crassus, etc. or the relationships and political intertwinings inherited from Marius and Sulla, but those are trade-offs, and the author clearly had his eye on the general lay reader.
The other thing I like about this is that it doesn't over-promise or over-speculate -- the author is very clear about what is known and what isn't, and doesn't try to dramatize a helpful homicide in contrast to a recent book on Augustus which I also just read. While Everett is a more fluid writer, this is a more measured look at a great man, who was indeed, a colossus.
This is a very good introduction....more info
- Julius Caesar was the greatest Roman of All ! Goldsworthy's book is a gem of research, writing and insight.
As a Presbyterian minister I have a lively interest in the events of the ancient world. In this new biography of Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) British scholar Adrian Goldsworthy has authored the best popular history on the subject. The book is a modern classic deserving attention by the discerning reader of Roman history.
Caesar is the best known person in ancient history. His story is a saga in which we see him excel in war, politics; oratory; authorship and
rulership over the powerful Roman Empire. Caesar was born to a noble but modestly weathly family. He grew up in the last days of the Roman Republic which had existed for five centuries. During his youth he avoided being executed by the dictator Sulla; was captured by pirates; won his spurs as a soldier and rose to prominence in the Roman Senate.
Caesar won major wars for the Roman cause on three continents: Europe,
Asia and Africa. His greatest accomplishment was the conquering of Gaul in several years of warfare. He wrote about this experience in 10 books of his matchless Commentaries. Gaul is present day France, Belgium and Holland. He was vain of his appearance but often lenient to his enemies.
Caesar formed the first trimuvirate alongside the wealthy Crassus. The second member was Pompey the Great. Pompey and Caesar engaged in a merciless civil war in which Caesar defeated his powerful advesary in Spain, Africa and in the eastern empire. Caesar was assassinated by enemies in the Senate on March 15, 44 BC. Following his death the empire was forced to endure more horrible bloodshed in the civil war between Caesar's relative and adopted son Octavian (he became the first Roman emperor "Augustus" and his rival for power Mark Antony. Antony and his lover Cleopatra of Egypt (a quondam lover of Caesar and possibly the mother of one of his illegitimate children)were defeated leading to their suicide.
Goldsworthy tells the complex tale featuring dozens of main players with clairty and insight. We meet such fascinating characters as Cicero, Sulla, Marius, Brutus, Mark Antony and Pompey. All of these men like Caesar were ambitious politicians in a brutal age of bloodshed, war and glory.
Caesar was amoral. He had countless affairs with Roman noblewomen most of whom were married. He also had mistresses in Gaul and elsewhere. His most famous liason was with Cleopatra. His only daughter Julia died early It is ironic that her husband was Pompey later to be Caesar's most
formidable opponent on the field of battle.
The book is well illustrated containing several maps which explain the battles discussed in the text. Goldsworthy is a detailed historian who along the way gives us insight on the way the Romans lived, fought, worshipped, ate, died and governed a worldwide empire.Goldsworthy is a young historian who has made the ancient world and her greatest man Julius Caesar come alive! Well recommended to the general reader.
- A good military biography, but of limited scope
Perhaps writing a biography of a man who died over 2,000 years ago, even if about the most written about of the Romans, the limitation of the sources makes a truly deep biography impossible. Or perhaps Mr. Goldsworthy, as able and talented a military historian as any currently writing focused on the area he knew best. Whatever the reason, Caesar: The Colossus works only so well and so far. Julius Caesar the general comes blazing through here, with well detailed strategic and tactical analysis. Where the author's work proves less successful is in describing the other theatre of battle in which his subject excelled politics.
With a quick but informative review, Goldsworthy lays out the structure of the Roman state and the ambitions of its great men. Yet, as people these important figures, Pompey, Carassus, Cicero, and even Caesar never truly come to life. In the limitations of the work even the Table of Contents is revealing, Caesar's years of dictator, the reforms he enacted, and his efforts all discussed in less than forty pages.
Some may see this to Mr. Goldsworthy's credit, that he eschews interpretive leaps or raising the drama of the story. Yet the stories or Rome, the struggle's between Caesar and Pompey, the wealth of Crassus so great that even 2,000 years later his very name proves a descriptive -- "rich as Crassus" -- were nothing if not stuff of epics. Maybe such things are best left to the works of poets and novelists, but for this reader, one wished to see more of the human drama of these figures whose stories have transcended time.
- The Greatest Biography on the Great Man Ever
Adrian Goldsworthy is known as a Roman military historian of the finest grade. His books on the Roman army and the Punic Wars are some of the best ever written. In this book he tackles the big man himself: Julius Caesar. J.C. is the second most famous man with those initials in history, and the other was born almost exactly 100 years after him. And he earned his spot. Goldsworthy shows that he is more than just a military historian, capturing the political and social situation of his day just as well as he captures Caesar's military campaigns. Speaking of those campaigns he includes extremely helpful diagrams to make his texts clearer. It's nice to see his military side taken so seriously. A lot of biographies skip that. The politics of the Republic can be confusing for people, and they do seem simplified somewhat here, but the book maintains such a tight focus on Caesar throughout that it would be irrelevant to explain aspects of Roman civilization that Caesar wouldn't have dealt with.
As a character study Goldsworthy treats Caesar too kindly, never hiding his darker qualities, but emphasizing the ones that made him great. It seems that most biographers tend to either glorify or vilify their subject so it's understandable, and he doesn't take it as far as some. Reading Mieirs biography and his concerted attacks on Caesar even when he was behaving well (Caesar's ribbing of the soothsayer on the Senate steps was considered a cruel mockery) made it hard to read. Goldsworthy's take is more balanced. If you ever wanted to know about the man who brought an end to the Roman Republic and left such an indelible impression on history (Both kaisar and tsar come from Caesar) then you can't do much better than this book....more info
- Not Quite a Colossal Book, but Readable and Useful
There is nothing new in this book, but probably it would be very difficult to get any novelty about its matter. Caesar was not the next guy in Rome history, but an staggering pesonality that has deserved the efussions of many historians, writers, poets, etc along the centuries.
So Goldsworthy, with good reasons and with no more data that his antecesors, did not even try to dig new deeps and/or postulate hysterical thesis, but just to present an equilibrated, well thought vision of the man and the epoch. So Adrian's book moves along a middle course avoiding any extreme. Certainly he knows how to offer what we could call the most probable reason and purpose of the acts of such a particular individual.
Well writen and not overwheelmed with foot notes and scholarly and heavy disgressions, it is a very good book for anyone facing for the first time the epoch of Caear and perhaps a good memory refreshener and reading for more acquainted readers. ...more info
- Ancient History Book
This book contains much "big picture" information that I already knew, but there are many smaller details and facts that I did not know prior. Although only about halfway through, I can state that imo the author knows his field, writes smoothly, does not go overboard with minutiae, and conveys a sense of presence during those ancient times. It is ancient history that has corrected some of the impressions that I have gained through historical fiction - which I will also continue to read....more info
- Drawn from "contemporary" sources
This is the first book by this author that I've read, although I am in the process of finding and reading his earlier material.
Long ago I majored in Ancient History and my professors disallowed virtually all of the sources used by Goldsworthy in piecing together the life of Caesar. Most of the source authors lived within a century or two of Mr C and were considered too biased or "gossipy" (e.g. Suetonius, or even Plutarch) or otherwise "unreliable". Thus, it is interesting to me that not all profs think alike. I have read at least some of them myself - Plutarch, Suetonius, Cicero, Caesar's own works, and other sources from that age - and I personally think they should be studied.
This book is not an exciting read but nor is it a dry scholarly treatise; it is a readable explanation of how his life unfolded and with an emphasis on the times and mores that produced him. The author correctly points out that nothing in C's life was inevitable and that all events could quite easily have taken a different course.
I note that some modern historians have a strong and too-politicized bias against C, super-imposing their own contemporary political beliefs upon a very different world of over two thousand years ago. Goldsworthy by contrast is quite fair and balanced in my view, both with respect to the political circumstances of that age as well as with the lives and deeds of others in C's time, including his "competitors" (Pompey et al) and antagonists (Cato et al).
Overall, I highly recommended this book.
- Caesar: still a marble bust
Adrian Goldsworthy has in several fascinating books shown that he knows the Roman history inside out. In these more than 500 pages he tries to cover all of Caesar's life, not only the politician or war leader. Goldsworthy is fully aware of the difficulty to create a person out of Caesar who did not give us his thought, emotions, doubts or conscience. So we can almost feel how the author rejoice when Caesar on a single occasion state that "Caesar rejoiced".
The first 180 pages consist of a long list of main and subordinate characters that gather around the Forum, and are a long yawn. No charchter is left unnamed, despite mentioned only once, and there are too many that remain shaows. The various positions and structure of decaying semi-democratic Roman republic are less clear presented. Whom were the rulers, who had the responsibility for that, which institutions had the executive power?
The colorful part is the 9-year campaign in Gaul, De Bello Gallica or Caesar's own commentaries to the Gallic Wars. The author writes as the insipred militory historian he indeed is. Battles, skirmishes, sieges, fights against Ariovistus and other Gaulish leaders until Vercingetorix is captured and "all Gaul is conquered" are well described, as are the campaigns to Britain where the Roman's meet war chariots, but as possibly expected from Caesar, no pearls. We become familiar with Caesar's favourite legion, the "Legio X", and would like to know more about chief lietenant Titus Labienus. After the several years together with Caesar in Gaul and been the decesive part of Romans victories, Labienus left Caear after the Rubicon. We would appreciate to have more of the author's opinion about Labienus in Gaul and the reasons why he left Caesar and joined Pompay (the Great) and his allied.
Caesar's few years in Italy, Spain, Macedonia, Egypt, the East, and Africa are mostly well-written military history. I don's see that Goldsworthy tell us where in Africa the wars took place. These parts of the provide little new information, neither do the latest period and the "Ides of March" assination.
This book is the best attempt to cover all aspects of Caesar's life; the politician, war leader, womaniser, dictator, and one of contemporary gamblers. As a professional historian Goldsworthy keep close to the sources and tell us what he feels but nothing more. A little detachment and improvising from the sources and condensing the material would probably make this a more living story and Caesar to become less distant. The present version is more like a sourcebook you take from the shelf now and then. Goldsworthy will probably be even better if he once more reads Theodor Mommsen's "History of Rome", right or wrong, and noticed that Mommsen received the Nobel Price. ...more info
- One of the First Great Men
Adrian Goldsworthy gives us an important examination of the one of the earlier men that 19th Century historians labelled "great men." And, as the author shows, this was a man of extraordinary ambition, political skill, and ruthlessness. He was not a man of "vision" (in the modern sense of that word), but he was the master politician. One of the pleasing things about this book is the author is frank to say what we know and don't know, what we can guess was going on, and what it is probably unsafe to assume. One result is that we come away with a very honest, detailed, and interesting view of Roman politics and society at the end of the Republic. ...more info