Friday, May 21, 2010


A review of Adrian Goldsworthy’s Caesar’s Civil War: 49-44 B.C. (2002)
Part of the Essential Histories series #42

(Rating:5 of 5)

Ever since the event happened, the conflict of the Roman Civil War had been told and retold. It is a conflict full of colorful characters and concepts. Caesar himself gave his own interpretation, as would other historians, artists, poets, and writers. One of the world’s leading experts on Rome, Adrian Goldsworthy, sums it all up in this little over ninety page work. This is a colossal tale that took place in a colossal time.

Goldsworthy’s work begins with a brief summery of what the Roman Empire had been through up until that time. He talks how the building of an empire put so much strain on the Republic that the institutions were in a state of decay and no longer provided much benefit to the average citizen either in home or in the provinces. By page 20, however we get to the actual conflict that creates one of the most famous Civil Wars in the history of the world. Caesar and Pompey, two old friends, allies, in-laws and two of the greatest military heroes in Roman history go head to head for the fate of the city and civilization that both that had devoted their lives.

“The suddenness of Caesar’s advance surprised and unnerved his opponents, just as he had intended. Pompey had left Rome in the second half of January, declaring that it could not be defended. He was followed by most of the magistrates, including the consuls, who left in such haste it suggested panic. Many Romans were still uncertain about just how firmly committed each side was to fighting, and this open admission of military weakness made many wonder whether Pompey could really be relied on to defend the Republic.” p.31

Like the other to books I reviewed in this series, the work has a textbook format with out having a textbook feel. While most textbooks are dry and devoid of real substance this work is full of life trying to describe a single—although highly significant—historical event. This work not only Goldsworthy’s extraordinary writing but also there are maps, detail analysis of battles, chapters devoted to both the military and civilians in this time period. For example, ‘Portrait of a Civilian’ covers Cicero, the greatest orator of his time. The book also takes a close look at Caesar’s centurions describing what the war was like for them. There is also at the end an overall historical analysis view of Julius Caesar’s career, overall legacy and real ambitions.

“There are essentially two ways of viewing Caesar. The first is to see him as a man perceptive enough to understand that the Republican constitution could no longer function. Throughout his career he had taken considerable interest in the conditions of the poor in Rome and the native population in Rome’s provinces, and realized that the territories could not be run simply for the selfish benefit of a tiny elite in Rome.” p.78

I would recommend this book to anyone who would like a brief but informative summery into one of the most famous military and political conflicts the world had ever seen: the Roman Civil War of Caesar and Pompey.

{Video from the History Channel's Decisive Battles series. However there is a factual error: the video states Caesar married Pompey's daughter the opposite is true. The reason the woman was named 'Julia' is because she was Caesar's daughter.}

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