Review: Caesar: Life of a Colossus

Caesar: Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy

Adrian Goldsworthy’s biography of Julius Caesar is a massive undertaking. To adequately cover the life of a man as renown and influential as Caesar would demand nothing less. The author does not disappoint and delivers a tour de force.

Julius Caesar lived in challenging, transitional times. The Roman republic was dying with the empire on the horizon. The death throes of the great republic were having reverberations throughout the entire Roman world. It was a maelstrom that Caesar and his contemporaries were caught up in. The times were very ironic in that there was eloquent oratory and great literature coexisting with political payoffs, violent death, and civil war. Rome was a civilized society with a very violent undercurrent.

Caesar is sometimes viewed as the destroyer of the Roman republic, the founder of the empire, and its first emperor but he was hardly any of those things. He was a major player in the period when the republic collapsed. He was neither better nor worse than any of the other players but, being more talented and more fortunate, he ended up on top. In reality, it is almost certain that neither he nor his opponents wanted the republic to die but the combination of strong personalities and great ambition among the rivals meant that there had to be winners and losers in the conflict. Caesar made sure he won.

After consolidating power, Caesar tried to govern fairly. He refused to do the violent proscriptions (purges) that previous Roman victors had done. Though commendable, that decision probably led to his assassination by rivals who detested him and resented his accumulation of power. His death led to more civil war whereby the Roman Empire was established with Caesar’s adopted son, Augustus, as its first emperor and with more power than Caesar ever had. The Law of Unintended Consequences at work.

Julius Caesar was an extremely talented man. He was a great writer, a good orator (in a time when great oratory was valued), a gifted politician, and one of the greatest generals in military history. Nowhere in the world today do we see this combination of ability in a single person. Perhaps, that is a good thing.

This is a highly recommended book.


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