Tag: Julius Caesar

160. The Civil War, by Gaius Julius Caesar (c.47-45 BC)

160. The Civil War, by Gaius Julius Caesar (c.47-45 BC)

Plot:   Pompey and Caesar duke it out for control of Rome.  Penguin edition translated by Jane Gardner (0140441875)

My thoughts: 

Like his Commentaries on the Gallic War, Caesar’s version of events goes down in history, painting himself as the peace-seeking general forced for his own life and honour to protect himself from his enemies and their control of the Senate by taking his armies to Rome. Unlike the treacherous subordinates of Pompey, Caesar releases defeated forces and prisoners unharmed, even discharging and paying the beaten soldiers as if they were his own forces. If true, it shows his sensitivity to the particular nature of the horrors of civil war

Eventually Caesar’s and Pompey’s forces meet – fortunes of war swing each way until Pompey relies too heavily on his cavalry, who are routed by Caesar’s infantry. Pompey escapes to Egypt where he is quickly put to death by the henchmen of King Ptomley XIII the boy king, who is fighting his own battle for the Egyptian throne against his sister Cleopatra. As consul of Rome, Caesar offers to mediate between the two sides, but is besieged by Ptomley’s forces in one quarter of the city, starting off the Alexandrian War.

Also in this volume are descriptions of the subsequent Alexandrian War, and the mopping up of the remaining Pompeian forces (the African War and the Spanish War), continuing the thread of events; at first believed to be also written by Caesar but soon attributed to other, anonymous authors.  No mention of Caesar dallying with Cleopatra though.

Six months after defeating the Pompeians in Spain, Caesar is assassinated on the Ides of March 44BC.

Favourite lines/passages:

Caesar’s speech to his armies

“I have been your commander for nine years; under my leadership, your efforts on Rome’s behalf have been crowned with good fortune; you have won countless battles and pacified the whole of Gaul and Germany. Now, I ask you to defend my reputation and standing against the assaults of my enemies”     (page 39)

And to the Senate

“Therefore I earnestly ask you to join with me now in taking over the government of Rome; if timidity makes you shrink from the task I shall not trouble you – I shall govern by myself.

Envoys must be sent to Pompey to discuss terms. I am not frightened by his recent statement in this assembly that the sending of deputations merely enhances the prestige of those to whom they are sent and reveals the fears of the senders. These are the reflections of a weak and petty spirit. My aim is to outdo others in justice and equity, as I have previously striven to outdo them in achievement”    (pages 52-53)

Digressions and diversions

Triremes, Quadriremes and Quinqueremes ; the difference

Various types of warships employed by the Romans and others. A trireme has three banks of oars on each side, each oar rowed by a single man. Used by the Phonecians, Greeks and Romans, they were superceded by the heavier quadriremes and quinqueremes.

A quadrireme had, as the name suggests, four rows of oars, possibly with two men per oar; while the quinquereme had  three banks of oars with the top two manned by two oarsmen per oar, and the lower bank with one man per oar, a total of 300 oarsmen and also capable of carrying up to 120 marines.


Just so you don’t hop on the wrong one to take you across Sydney Harbour or the Firth of Forth.

Personal rating:  Not as exciting as the Gallic Wars, until the final confrontation and the subsequent events in Egypt. It was also difficult to keep track of who was on who’s side. Lets call it a 4.

The reads in between: 

Black cats and Butlers, by Janine Beacham: Plucky young heroine Rose and her overly dramatic proto-Goth friend Emily discover a world of graverobbers, magicians, duelling butlers, secret societies and mystical cats in an alternate version of York. First in a series for readers 10-12, this was a cracking good read but how I wish it had been written for an older audience, fleshed out with more detail – it was all over far too quickly.

Next :  Sallust’s two surviving works, The Jugurthine War and The Conspiracy of Catiline. Will he support Cicero’s versions of events regarding Catiline?

155.  The Conquest of Gaul, by Julius Caesar (58-50 BC)

155. The Conquest of Gaul, by Julius Caesar (58-50 BC)

Plot:  Caesar’s reports on his battles to subdue the Gaulish tribes, push back Germanic invaders  and reconnoitre the southeast coast of Britain.

My version is the Penguin Black Classic translated by S. A. Handford and revised by Jane Gardiner (ISBN 9780140444339)

My thoughts:

What could have been propaganda reads fairly honestly, even if written in the third person. Caesar’ success as a field General is largely based on his speedy decisions and quick marches to get into position before his enemies are aware, and yet in cases where his underlings make bad decisions, he writes it off as fortunes of war.

What is mindboggling is the sheer numbers of combatants involved. At one point, Caesar has the 53,000 survivors of a siege sold off as slaves to one bidder. On another occasion, the Gaulish supreme commander Vercingetorix raises 269,000 reinforcements from across all the Gaulish tribes. (Perhaps not too surprising as Caesar describes the Gaulish custom of torturing the last man to arrive at a muster)

Favourite lines/passages:

My favourite story is the two rival centurions Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus, who had a history of acrimonious competition for promotion against each other. In battle with the Gauls, Pullo baits Vorenus into following him over the rampart into the heaviest part of the fighting with the enemy, which results in them each rescuing the other from overwhelming numbers and returning unhurt to their lines after killing many enemies (page 125)

Diversions and digressions:

Some siege terms which might come in handy later :

Fascines : bundles of sticks or brush used to fill in trenches, allow crossing of boggy ground, or make temporary barricades

Mantlets : light portable wicker shields large enough to cover 2-3 soldiers, light enough to be easily lifted and manoeuvred.

Redoubts : walled enclosures or earthworks surrounding a more permanent fort

Personal rating: Not as riveting throughout as I had hoped, but some impressive and historically valuable descriptions of battles and tactics. 5/10.

Also in that year:  And for a few pages at least, the known world briefly turns it’s attention to a soggy island in north west Europe.

The read in between:  Needful Things by Stephen King.  A curio shop opens in the small town of Castle Rock, Maine, stocking various items, each of which is the very heart’s desire of someone in that town. And the price of these treasures is surprisingly affordable. But along with the ticketed price, the proprietor just wants each customer to play a small practical joke on a neighbour. What can be the harm in that? Like the villain, this one is a little long in the tooth but still compelling.

Next :  The poetry of Catullus.