Adrian Goldsworthy
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Buy *Caesar: Life of a Colossus* by Adrian Goldsworthy online

Caesar: Life of a Colossus
Adrian Goldsworthy
Yale University Press
608 pages
January 2008
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Caesar: Life of a Colossus is a well-written and well-researched biography/appraisal of Caius Julius Caesar’s life. At its best, which in my opinion is the book’s coverage of Caesar’s campaigns, the Civil War, and the section on the Ides of March, author Adrian Goldsworthy shines. Caesar’s political and military genius is the highlighted, and Goldsworthy covers Caesar’s beginnings from a member of a relatively minor patrician family to being the proconsul of Gaul and dictator of Rome, the ultimate super-power of the age, to his final demise at the hands of various conspirators. Goldsworthy’s Caesar has much to recommend it and is well worth reading. However, it is also a book that averages probably a paragraph and a half per page, with some paragraphs continuing on parts of three pages (like the one that starts at the end of page 505 and continues on to the top of page 507). This does not make for ease of reading, and I wouldn’t recommend Caesar to anyone who bores easily.

Caesar was born into the world of the Roman Republic, which was already rife with corruption and bribery. Things don’t change all that much--check out the book by Lou Dobbs, War On The Middle Class, as evidence of this. Julius Caesar was no different: he formed marriage alliances, bribed influential people, created triumvirates to aid his cause, and could be extremely ruthless as necessary or expedient to further his aims. Yet (this is a word which the author uses quite often) he appeared to believe his actions would also benefit Rome, that he was serving and contributing to society:

His regime was not repressive and he pardoned and promoted many former enemies. Rome, Italy and the provinces were all better off under Caesar than they had been for some time. Yet if he governed responsibly, his rule also meant the end to free elections, and however just his rule was, in the end monarchy would lead to emperors like Caligula and Nero
The Roman Republic was already “some four centuries old” at the time of Caius Julius Caesar’s birth. The first section of Caesar: Life of a Colossus deals with Caesar’s rise to the consulship, from 100-59 BC. It covers such topics as the world at the time of Caesar’s birth, his childhood, and conspiracies and scandals that political figures of his day were involved in. All of this leads Caesar to his first big political victory, that of becoming a Consul. To achieve this, the money he’d earned as proprietor in Further Spain (Hispania Ulterior) came in handy to both pay off previous debts he’d incurred and in the campaign for the consulship itself. Still, he was forced to give up a triumph, which was “one of the greatest honours a Roman aristocrat could win, something permanently commemorated by a display of its symbols on the porch of his house.” Pompey, who along with Crassus rounded out the extremely powerful triumvirate that propelled Caesar to the heights of power, “had triumphed three times.” An arch-enemy of Caesar’s, Cato, forced him to give up his triumph by filibustering.

The second section of Adrian Goldsworthy’s book relates Caesar’s proconsulship years and military campaigns to pacify Gaul and some major stumbling blocks in the way, such as handling full-scale revolts like the one Vercingtetorix staged in 52 BC. The third section relates the events that led to the Rubicon and a major Civil War in Rome. Also, his blitzkrieg campaigns in Italy, Spain, and Macedonia are discussed in much detail, as is his involvement with the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. The play of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and its warnings of soothsayers that the middle part of March, the Ides of March, would be a dangerous time for Caesar are also covered--the prophesies of Caesar’s impending doom actually happened, and were not simply the product of a playwright’s imagination.

Caesar: Life of a Colossus is a very ambitious book. It attempts to relate the fascinating life of one of history’s best-known personages, something not so easily done. Caesar wore many hats in his lifetime, trod many different paths and jobs that led to his rise to the dictatorship of Rome. He was a lawyer and a judge. He lived through a kidnapping and ransom attempt by pirates, whom he later crucified. He was a praetor, a consul, and a proconsul. He was even the Pontifex Maximus, the “head of the college of fifteen pontiffs, one of three major priesthoods monopolised by the Roman aristocracy.” Though Caesar made many enemies in his lifetime, the people of Rome came to feel a genuine affection for this man who brought Rome to ever greater heights of glory. The majority of the conspirators involved in Julius Caesar’s death, within three years “had been defeated and were dead, often by their own hands.” Most of their names are a footnote in history when compared to Caesar’s. His is a name that will live forever, and Adrian Goldsworthy’s book, though at times difficult to slog through, is an inspired and vivid portrait in words of the man who conquered much of the known world.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Douglas R. Cobb, 2006

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