Caesar on His Own

“The Republic is nothing, a mere name without form or substance,” Julius Caesar allegedly stated.  The sentiment, certainly, was validated by the end of Caesar’s life, which marked the transition from an imperial republic to an empire eclipsing republican institutions.  So bloody and tumultuous was this period, it is unsurprising that estimations of Caesar vary.

While Shakespeare portrayed Caesar as pompously benign, George Washington and his contemporaries, inspired by Joseph Addison’s play Cato: A Tragedy, considered Caesar a tyrant, a view that would have been shared by Caesar’s aristocratic peers.  Among scholars, assessments also diverge.  The 19th-century German classicist Theodor Mommsen regarded Caesar as a gifted statesman and liberal reformer of a corrupt aristocracy; Oxford don Sir Ronald Syme deemed him not a reformer with purpose but a shrewd competitor vying for power among elite factions.  To this day, other interpretations abound.

The most recent addition is Caesar: Life of a Colossus, by the British military historian Adrian Goldsworthy, author of The Roman Army at War.  Goldsworthy weaves together information from various ancient sources into a well-written and lively biography, the aim of which is “to examine Caesar’s life on its own terms, and to place it firmly within the context of Roman society in the first century bc.” ...

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