Book Review: Caesar: Life of a Colossus


by Adrian Goldsworthy

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. Pp. viii, 583. Illus., maps, chron., gloss., notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN:0-300-12048-6

A detailed, comprehensive biography of the most famous Roman of them all.Primarily an historian of the Roman military experience, the author touches upon all aspects of Caesar’s life, not merely his military career. So we have Caesar as a politician, author, advocate, lover, logistician, jurist, soldier, reformer, propagandist, orator, author, manager, and much else beside, usually in great depth. The book also provides considerable detail on military, political, and social life in the late Republic.

The section on Caesar’s early life is quite good with a discussion about his upbringing, based on fragmentary information and inference based on his background and class. There is much more on Caesar’s early military experiences than is customary; most works create the impression he had hardly any service at all before heading off the conquer the Gauls.

There are, of course, a lot of rattling good battles in here.Goldsworthy’s accounts of Caesar’s numerous fights incorporated some of the most recent evidence, bringing together not only ancient historical literature, but modern archeological finds, and even the results of “living history” experimentation.

Goldsworthy attempts to get inside Caesar’s head, trying to discern what Caesar was thinking at various times. Normally, this is not a useful exercise, being largely speculative.But Goldsworthy is pretty careful about it. He uses hints in Caesar’s writings and that of others to guide his conclusions, such as that Caesar may actually have intended to conquer the Dacians, rather than the Gauls, but changed his mind based on the way events unfolded.

The book is, of course, populated by numerous interesting folks, Cicero, Pompey, Cleopatra, Mark Antony, Servilia, Brutus, Cato, and lots more, all of whom are provided short, but interesting and often insightful portraits.

Caesarhas some excellent illustrations, that help supplement the discussion, and some very good maps. Worth reading for anyone with an interest in military history.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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