You are here

Caesar

It is hoped that the following readings might provide a general starting point for teachers who are eager to refresh their knowledge and understanding of Caesar and his works, and who wish to become more familiar with recent scholarly approaches to his writings.

I. Background to Life and Career

  • W. J. Tatum, “Caesar and Roman Society: A Very Brief Introduction,” in Always I am Caesar (Blackwell 2008) 5–12. After some preliminary explanations of Roman names and money, these few pages offer a useful and succinct outline of Caesar’s career: his early offices and military achievements in Spain; his relationship to the Catilinarian conspiracy; his campaigns in Gaul; his civil war with Pompey; the dictatorship; and his death at the hands of the assassins.
  • L. R. Taylor, “Catonism and Caesarism,” in Party Politics in the Age of Caesar (Berkeley 1949) ch. 7. This, the last chapter in Taylor’s classic account of late Republican politics, begins by asserting that the civil war between Caesar and Pompey was not a clash of ideologies but was, in essence, a struggle between the personal parties of two great military leaders. Taylor then traces the aftermath of the war: Cato’s transformation after death into martyred saint of the republic; Caesar’s absolutism and assassination; and, finally, Augustus’s creation of a totalitarian state disguised by the trappings of Catonian republicanism.
  • W. J. Tatum, “Great Men and Impersonal Groundswells: The Civil Wars,” in Always I am Caesar (Blackwell 2008) 122–44. This chapter offers a detailed but lucid explanation of the causes of the civil war between Caesar and Pompey. It explains the nature of Caesar’s Gallic command, the issues surrounding the expiration of Caesar’s proconsulship, and the relations between Caesar and Pompey while the former was in Gaul and the latter in Rome. It treats the legal uncertainties in the case (controversial in the ancient world as well as the modern), the machinations but also misunderstandings of Pompey, and the feelings of the common soldiers in their support of Caesar. Throughout, Tatum is alert to possible alternative scenarios that could have avoided civil war, and he explains how Caesar’s own nature would not allow him to be second to Pompey and thus forced a war that the majority of Romans did not want.

II. Introduction to literary issues in the Bellum Gallicum and Bellum Civile

  • C. S. Kraus, “Bellum Gallicum,” in M. Griffin, ed., Companion to Julius Caesar (Blackwell 2009) 159-74. The author deals with several of a number of difficulties surrounding our understanding of the BG: first, “genre, narrative voice, and style;” and, second, “the BG’s place in the traditions of ancient military narrative.” In the first section Kraus notes the difficulty of making any generalizations at all about the content and style of the genre of commentarii, then discusses Caesar’s unusual choice to refer to himself in the third person. In the second section she explores how Caesar makes sense for his readers of the potentially chaotic events of the war in Gaul by manipulating already established literary traditions of military narrative. Kraus is a good example of recent work that sees Caesar’s text as an example neither of wholesale propaganda nor of straightforward military reporting, but of a complex literary art able to transform events into a “coherent, plausible literary representation of experience” while maintaining an overall reliability.  A copy of this chapter is provided here courtesy of Wiley-Blackwell. To see full details for A Companion to Julius Caesar, edited by Miriam Griffin, please visit them online at www.wiley.com
  • K. Raaflaub, “Bellum Civile,” in M. Griffin, ed., Companion to Julius Caesar (Blackwell 2009) 175-91. After an outline summary of the contents of the three books of BC, Raaflaub discusses the questions surrounding the publication of the work and its incomplete state. He briefly surveys the style of the BC, and then discusses the work’s reliability, noting that the portraits of both Caesar’s supporters and opponents are intimately tied in with his overall political goals in the period, in particular his desire to portray his conflict as one not against the state itself but rather against his personal enemies. Caesar highlights his desire for peace and his leniency (famous for his clementia, Caesar never uses the word in the BC, choosing lenitas instead), while portraying his enemies as staunchly opposed to conceding to Caesar what was his due, even if it meant destroying the state.
  • W. Batstone and C. Damon, “Choices: Genre, Content, Style” in W. Batstone & C. Damon, Caesar’s Civil War (Oxford 2006) 8-32. In this chapter on the Bellum Civile, the authors consider briefly: 1) Genre, in which they conclude that contemporary readers of historical commentarii expected a generally unadorned work affirming and defending the res gestae of some prominent figure (although others, like Cicero, had produced commentarii that did not meet these expectations); 2) Content, showing how Caesar “focuses his reader’s attention” through treatment of events (using Caesar’s victory at Corfinium as an example) and people (noting Caesar’s technique of subordinating reference to individuals to narration of events); and 3) Style, demonstrating Caesar’s use of a plain style through comparison of his account of Pompey’s death with Appian’s. A short final section takes up the question of why the work remained unfinished. A PDF of this chapter appears here courtesy of Oxford University Press.

III. Style, Structure, and Presentation

  • C. Damon, “Caesar’s Practical Prose,” in Classical Journal 89.2 (December-January 1994) 183-95. Damon examines the Bellum Civile as a text that requires particular kinds of engagement by the reader. As she remarks, “The more one know about things Roman, the more exciting a text the Bellum Civile becomes.” Thus the reader 1) must bring to the names of actors in the narrative a wider knowledge of their status and actions, as well as sensitivity to Caesar’s technique of characterization through “selection and arrangement of incidents;” 2) must be alert to Roman cultural mores left unexplained by Caesar; 3) must take note of recurrent events; and 4) must take particular note of parallel but contrasting events (such as the actions of Varro and Curio when each is faced with defeat).
  • R. D. Brown, “Two Caesarian Battle-Descriptions: A Study in Contrast,” in Classical Journal 94.4 (April-May 1999) 329-357. Brown discusses the different approaches by Caesar the narrator to the battles of Sabis in 57 and that of Pharsalus in 48, explaining that Caesar could not portray war against fellow citizens in the same way as war against a foreign enemy, and highlighting the different narrative strategies that Caesar employed in each case. For the battle of Sabis, Caesar emphasizes the virtus of Rome’s opponents but also the spirit of his own Roman soldiers and the masterly control over events shown by their general (i.e., Caesar). For Pharsalus, by contrast, Caesar portrays the leaders (but, importantly, not the common soldiers) as morally flawed, untrustworthy in the extreme (as in the case of the traitor Labienus), and addicted to greed and luxury (as in the description of the Pompeians’ tent). Pompey is portrayed not as evil but as naïve and weak, while Caesar and his men are shown as devoted to the libertas of the Roman people.
  • A. Goldsworthy, “‘Instinctive Genius’: The Depiction of Caesar the General,” in K. Welch & A. Powell, eds., Julius Caesar as Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (Duckworth & Classical Press of Wales 1998) 193-219. Caesar presents himself to his audience not only as a great general but as a great Roman general, i.e., embodying characteristics that his audience would have wanted to see in their generals. Caesar was not uniquely gifted; rather, his boldness (bordering on recklessness) can be paralleled in many other Roman generals, as can his general interest in supplies and logistics. Caesar took care to present himself as nearly always in the right place at the right time, and, when he encountered reverses, as making immediate decisions that corrected such failures. The resulting picture is of an ideal Roman commander: a man who not only displays physical bravery and intelligence in tactical manoeuvring, but also moral courage, faith in his men, and the certainty that he and his cause will be victorious.

IV. Visual Arts

V. Primary Sources

  • Plutarch’s Life of Julius Caesar
  • Suetonius’s Life of Julius Caesar
  • Cicero’s letters to and from Caesar

John Marincola

Ann Vasaly

Share This Page

© 2019, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy