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Julius Caesar Paperback – May 14, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Historian Freeman (The Philosopher and the Druids: A Journey Among the Ancient Celts) paints a flattering portrait of Caesar in this admirable biography, exalting his cunning, military skill, political insights and allegiance to the plebeian class. In fast-paced prose and detailed historical sketches, Freeman traces Caesar's life from early youth onward, covering his marriage and service as a priest (or pontifex); his election to pontifex maximus in 63 B.C.; his command of Roman forces in the Gallic Wars; his ascension to leader of the republic; and his famous assassination. Drawing on Caesar's own writings, Freeman portrays him as a brilliant military strategist whose defense of Roman land in the Gallic Wars extended the rule of Rome from Italy to the Atlantic. Caesar returned to Italy in 49 B.C. and became dictator three years later, seeking to improve the republic through civic reforms, including the taking of a proper census, the building of a library, the codification of Roman law and the conversion of Rome to a solar calendar. Although Freeman's biography reveals little new information about Caesar, his cultural and historical knowledge bring the emperor to life and humanize him in a way no writer before him has succeeded in doing. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The character and exploits of Gaius Julius Caesar continue to fascinate both historians and laymen, with good reason. His military conquest of Gaul spread Roman civilization beyond the confines of the Mediterranean Basin. His political reforms laid the basis for the imperium established by Augustus. His personal story is loaded with drama and adventure. Freeman, a classics professor at Luther College, has written a compact but thorough account of the life and achievements of this historical giant. He traces Caesar’s family background, his patrician upbringing, and his early public career as he strove to survive in the tumult of the political chaos and civil wars that plagued the republic in the first century BCE. As Caesar’s political career advanced, he became, Freeman argues, a consummate manipulator who was prepared to take huge risks by reaching out to the plebeian class. This bold and sometimes reckless approach is even more evident in his military campaigns. Ultimately, as Freeman indicates, his willingness to challenge powerful vested interests led directly to his murder. This is a fine biography best suited for general readers. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Historical narrative often falls into one of two categories: either too in-depth for the average reader and perhaps geared more towards scholarly readers, or too shallow and prejudiced. Freeman's book should be on the must-read list for students of Latin and Classics. I especially enjoyed his chapters on Caesar’s Gallic War which, to a non-specialist like myself, improved even on Caesar himself. But my favorite element in the book is more difficult to pin down in a few words. Freeman elegantly portray this great man as the genius he was in so many ways, but a genius who succumbed to a lust for power to which we are all susceptible. He shows Caesar as a great man, indeed, one of the greatest, but a man for all that. His biography successfully evokes in the reader a real pathos for Caesar as we watch such greatness decline into almost a caricature of all the res publica detested. The reader is not angry with Caesar in his last years, only immensely disappointed as we watch the moral and political decay of such greatness. Freeman's ability to strike this marvelous emotion in his readers makes this a truly superior work. Highly recommended!
Julius Caesar was a populist (kind of like a liberal, though a self-serving one). Cato, Cicero, and others were more optimate (part of the aristocracy). Rome was a republic that had two consuls elected every year, which were somewhat like military executives, and then had the senate as a legislature, with tributes who held veto power.
Caesar lived in a period much like our own, where each “party” was out to get the other and they had fundamentally different philosophies. The big difference is that Rome was expanding into an empire. In Rome, great oration and great military leadership were the most admired qualities one could have. Julius Caesar climbed to the top because he had a surplus of both.
Philip Freeman wrote biographies about Julius Caesar and about Alexander the Great. They were very different leaders, but both were on their way to conquering the world before they died suddenly. Alexander the Great made fast progress and always won. Julius Caesar made fast progress, but lost, over and over again, but won in the end.
Julius Caesar was renowned as a great attorney and an orator along the lines of Cicero, yet he lost most important cases. He was the High Priest. He was a poet, a writer and a motivational speaker. He was an unsurpassed statesman and political strategist. He was an armchair psychologist. He was a military genius who won battles with relentless daring as often as with military strategy. He lived his long career always on the brink of utter destruction, militarily, politically and financially for the first half. Most of the most important battles he fought, he was sure to lose. Most of the elections he sought to win, he was likely to lose, and he went “all in.” He owed enough money for much of his career that if he lost any major election, he would likely have had to flee Rome to avoid becoming a slave or worse. He was boxed in by enemies and undermanned in almost every major conflict in which he partook.
Alexander the Great used tactics and long swords to win wars. Julius Caesar used daring and luck, combined with the usual Roman ability to engineer weapons and defenses during the heat of battle and to move in perfect formation and such.
This work takes you from the early days of Julius Caesar and before (Marius and Sulla) through his assassination and the formation of the Second Triumvirate immediately preceding the formation of the Roman Empire with Octavian (Augustus) as the first emperor. The main part of the text does not mention the Second Triumvirate, but it does meaning Octavian, and then the book ends. My only criticism is that it should have gone through 27 BCE for completeness. (I have not read the appendix, maybe it is there). So, from around 44 BCE through 27BCE was “skipped.” However, the book is called “Julius Caesar” and not “The Fall of The Roman Republic and Julius Caesar,” so I guess that explains it.
Freeman's book tells the story, and tells it well. The writing is clear and engaging, and it makes a great introduction for those unfamiliar with the details of Caesar's life. However, despite its overall readability, the book is somewhat light, a kind of Cole's Notes for the events and circumstances surrounding Caesar's life. Historical controversies are mentioned in passing, but for the most part, Freeman presents a fairly conventional account, taking the ancient sources at their word and painting the picture in fairly broad strokes. That's probably a positive for some (it's a popular biography after all, not a dry, academic treatise), but I would have preferred a bit more meat and analysis, even speculation. But you can't have everything -- such a biography could easily run twice the length.
So for what it is, Philip Freeman's Caesar (****) succeeds, in my opinion. But if you want more, I recommend checking out Gelzer's biography, Kahn's "Education of Julius Caesar", and even Michael Parenti's "Assassination of Julius Caesar", for more detail. Parenti's book in particular focuses on the propaganda element of the works that have come down to us since Caesar's time, and gives a better context for the things Caesar was trying to accomplish.
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A stunning life history of Julius Caesar by acclaimed author Philip Freeman.Read more