Sunday, May 23, 2010


A review of Julius Caesar’s The Civil War (40s B.C.?)
Translated by Jane F. Gardner (1967 A.D.)

(Rating: 5 of 5)

History is written by the winners. In this case it is truer then most, however, I do not believe one should naturally discount it for that reason, but it does need to be mentioned. With that said, this second famous work by Julius Caesar is a remarkable read. It is great political document where Caesar not only reports on the events that happened but also presents his case to why his cause should prevail. The war was caused by a political situation that had boiling for years and was now going to boil over the cause of Caesar and the populares and the optimates now being championed by Caesar’s former friend and ally, Gnaeus Pompeius, also known as Pompey the Great.

Caesar had just wrapped up his campaign in Gaul, and was fast becoming the most popular man in Rome. Caesar wanted to be the consul again but his enemies would not have it. The optimates demanded that Caesar resign his pro-consulship of Gaul and retire. Caesar agreed to resign his command and disband his army only if the Pompey agreed to do the same. The Senate refused, supported Pompey’s time as sole consul, and approved his pro-consulship of the Spanish provinces. Caesar feeling boxed in crossed the Rubicon and marched on Rome proclaiming ‘the die is cast.’

“However for the sake of Rome I bore this loss of privilege with a good grace. When I wrote to the Senate suggesting a general demobilization, I was not allowed even that. Troops are being raised all over Italy, my two legions, which were taken from me on the pretext of a Parthian campaign, are being retained, and the whole State is in arms. What is the aim of all these preparations but my destruction?” p.40

Ancient warfare was extremely brutal and by modern day standards would be consider criminal. In this respect Caesar was no different than any other, in fact, considering his success as general, who could argued to be the most brutal. Decided to try something different, he offered clemency to those who had fought against him and took no action to those who had chosen to remain neutral. This helped him win over the population that he was now going to rule.

“Their departure left the soldiers free to fraternize. There was a general exodus from the Pompeian camp; the men began asking after personal friends and fellow-townsmen in Caesar’s camp, and called them out. Firstly, they all expressed their thanks to all of our men for having spared them the day before, when they were utterly terror-stricken. ‘We owe our lives to you,’ they said. They then asked weather Caesar could be trusted, and whether they would be right to put themselves in his hands; they expressed regret for not having done so in the first place and having joined battle with their own friends and kinsmen.” p.72

Like his book on the Gallic War, Caesar likes to quote dialogues that there was no way he could have been privy to. Granted, later defectors could have given him such information but it is still very unlikely that he could have known what they would have said word for word. It is also interesting the Caesar, of course, keeps out the famous Egyptian queen, Cleopatra. It is said that he did not later chapters such as the Alexandrian War and the African War, but I could not see any differences when I was reading them.

“If at any time Pompey acted with particular slowness or deliberation, they would say that the business need keep them only a single day, and that Pompey took pleasure from being in command and was treating ex-consuls and ex-praetors as if they were his slaves. They were already starting to squabble openly among themselves about rewards and priesthoods and were assigning the consul ships for years to come, while some were claiming houses and property of those in Caesar’s camp.” p.148

I highly enjoyed this book and I recommend it to anyone interested in the time period, I would also recommend Adrian Goldsworthy small work Caesar’s Civil War as a reference guide while reading.

{Video is from the all ready classic HBO series Rome}

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