By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Adrian Goldsworthy
Narrated by: Derek Perkins
Adrian Goldsworthy’s Caesar: Life of a Colossus surprisingly reveals that Gaius Julius Caesar is a methodical builder of power and prestige. Caesar is shown to be a giant of history after years of work as a self-confident manager of people and events. Caesar is pictured as a consummate leader that manages those in high and low positions in Roman society.
Caesar’s rise to power reminds one of Lincoln or Churchill rather than Alexander or Napoleon. Lincoln and Churchill are in their middle years of life as they rise to fame as influential orators and mature men of action. Alexander and Napoleon, though certainly men of action are young shooting stars. Alexander and Napoleon are world conquerors in their 30s, while Caesar is in his 40s when fighting the Gallic wars; wars that only begin his steep climb to immortality and fame.
The Civil War and WWII solidify reputations for Lincoln and Churchill. The Gallic wars frame Caesar’s historic stature. Caesar, like Lincoln and Churchill, are seasoned by life before they become colossuses. Of course, Lincoln and Churchill are not entirely apt comparisons because Caesar created military and political loyalty at the front of combat while Lincoln and Churchill created loyalty from behind the lines.
Goldsworthy describes Caesar as a hardworking and responsible prosecuting magistrate that hones his skill as an orator under the tutelage of Apollonius, a Greek rhetorician that lived in Rhodes. Caesar is 25 years old and is being taught by a man who schooled Cicero in the art of rhetoric. Caesar gains reputation for oratorical skill that hushes crowds and holds audiences’ attention. With the support of Crassus and Pompey, Caesar is able to withstand a conservative ruling class in the Senate that is largely represented by Cato the Younger. Cato’s intermittent ally in opposition to Caesar is no less than the great orator, Cicero.
After having defeated the Gallic tribes of Europe, Caesar invades England. Goldsworthy notes Caesar’s two invasions of England are only marginally successful. Little material reward comes from the two expeditions. Caesar is nearly defeated. However, the political impact of bravely crossing the English Channel catapults Caesar into a category of great Roman’ military leaders. Caesar is in his mid-forties when he returns to the mainland.
Goldsworthy shows Caesar is aristocratically well-connected and self-confident but not hugely wealth. Goldsworthy infers Caesars only use and desire for money is to buy friends and acquire power. Goldsworthy’s research shows Caesar, in his rise to fame, carries a monumental financial debt to wealthy supporters. Goldsworthy suggests the debt is eliminated by successful campaigns in Gaul but before that time, debt threatens Caesar’s reputation. In some respect, this is tribute to Caesar’s ability and potential; however, it also suggests luck in not being historically tainted by other people’s money.
Goldsworthy clearly shows that Caesar benefits from his aristocratic upbringing. He has the luxury of an excellent education. His father is a respected elected official. His mother is a well-connected and powerful ally in his rise to fame. Goldsworthy notes that Caesar benefited from his aristocratic position. Caesar is a highly self-confident youth that fears no man while cultivating friendship with the rich and powerful.
Caesar is shown to be his own man as he refuses to divorce his first wife when Roman’ Dictator/Consul Sulla insists that he marry another. Sulla orders Caesar’s death but relents after months of failed attempts to find Caesar’s hiding places. Below is a depiction of Sulla that reflects on the character Goldsworthy describes:
At various times, the two riches men in the Roman world, Marcus Crassus (a former military commander under Lucius Sulla) and Pompey the Great (also a military leader under Sulla), support Caesar. Together, this political triumvirate promotes populist causes of the day.
Goldsworthy explains that the two great military leaders of Rome in 50 BC were Pompey the Great and Caesar. Pompey, six years older than Caesar, had conquered Spain before Caesar’s campaign began in the Gallic wars. While Caesar is in Gaul, Pompey is called to Rome to abate corruption in the senate; he uses his power and prestige to quell popular discontent and prosecute corrupt Roman’ officials. While Pompey is managing Rome’s affairs, Caesar is quelling a rebellion by Gallic tribes to solidify Roman hegemony. In the Senate, Cato the Younger rails against Caesar’s absence from Rome. At the same time, the following scene shows the support Goldsworthy infers Caesar receives from Pompey:
Through success in war, both Pompey and Caesar have created great armies that are largely beholding to their respective leaders. Caesar becomes an extraordinarily wealthy man that makes him a powerful competitor of Pompey the Great. Caesar is now 50 years old. The die is cast; i.e. two giants of war, like Hector and Achilles, prepare for battle. Though Pompey and Caesar are proven military leaders, Pompey is faced with re-establishing an army that has not fought for years. In contrast, Caesar’s forces are battle hardened veterans of recently concluded Gallic wars. Pompey is compelled to leave Rome unprotected to reassemble and train his army in Greece. The consequence is loss of face for Pompey in the eyes of many Senators and Romans. This is a “crossing the Rubicon” moment for Caesar’s storied career. It is the beginning of a Roman’ civil war because Caesar covets control of what is to become the Roman Empire.
A final confrontation between Pompey and Caesar occurs at Pharsalus in central Greece. Though Pompey has a larger military force, Caesar wins the battle and Pompey flees to Egypt with the expectation that King Ptolemy, a former ally, would protect him. However, Ptolemy favors Caesar. Pompey is assassinated at Ptolemy’s order. Though somewhat confusing, the following clip shows the same actor, who plays Caesar in the clip above, is playing Pompey in the clip below. This is a scene that shows Ptolemy’s purported treatment of Pompey on his arrival in Egypt, after Pompey fled from Greece after losing a battle with Caesar:
Goldsworthy writes that Caesar is deeply saddened by the assassination. Pompey supported Caesar in the early days of the triumvirate when Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar allied themselves against Roman’ conservatives.
Though not universally accepted by the Roman’ Senate, Caesar through military force and political guile, becomes Dictator of the Roman Republic; and, in 44 BC, for the third time, Caesar is reappointed Consul of the Roman Republic. In any case, Goldsworthy notes that Caesar is virtually the Dictator of a Rome that had no real power as a Republic with elected representatives. Five years after Caesar’s “Rubicon moment”, Caesar is assassinated. He is 56 years old. The last of the populist’ triumvirate is dead.
The main conspirators are Cassius and Brutus, both of which claim their primary intent is to return power to the Senate and remake Rome a Republic. Goldsworthy suggests this motive is muddied by Caesar’s relatively benign rule. However, dictatorship for life shows a leader who believes too unreservedly in his own judgment. One wonders if Caesar’s overweening self-confidence betrays Caesar’s belief in his irreplaceable rule. As history confirms, all rulers can be replaced whether their rule is good or bad.
Goldsworthy suggests that Caesar is one of the greatest leaders of all time. Driven by belief in his ability to understand the public, his soldiers, his competitors, and his enemies Caesar forged an empire. Through luck, skill, indefatigable energy, and intelligence, Caesar grasped power and used it to change the course of history.