What is a summary of Caesar's Women by Colleen McCullough?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Caesar's Women, fourth novel in Colleen McCullough's historical fiction "Masters of Rome series," is set in Rome and covers the span of a decade, between 68 B.C. and 58 B.C., as Gaius Julius Caesar works towards his rise in power.

The novel starts with Caesar having just returned from Spain, where he defeated seven of Pompey's platoons being commanded by Marcus Petreius. Wanting to become a powerful politician, Caesar begins competing for power against Cicero and Cato. Within 10 years, Caesar has been elected Pontifex Maximus, the head priest who oversees Rome's pagan religious matters. Since his mother, Aurelia Cotta, was a noblewoman, she was very influential in helping his political career progress.

Along with his political conquests, the novel also portrays his romantic conquests. One such conquest is a long-term affair with influential noblewoman Servilia Caepionis, wife of Roman senator Marcus Junius Brutus the Elder and mother of Brutus, Caesar's close friend and future assassinator. Though Servilia becomes his life-long mistress, he is cruel to her and takes on other mistresses, which he is equally cruel to. His other romantic conquests are his three marriages: his first wife Cornelia whom he married at the age of 18; his second wife Pompeia whom he married at the age of 33, after Cornelia died in childbirth; and his third teen-aged wife Calpurnia whom he married at the age of 41, only 4 years prior to his assassination.

Though the novel depicts Caesar as being cruel to his lovers, there are several women he is described as treating kindly and being affectionate towards: his wife Calpurnia and his daughter Julia, whom he conceived with his first wife Cornelia; his dearly admired mother, whom he goes to her for advice; and the virgins of the House of Vestal Virgins, temple to the goddess Vesta, who are under his care as the Pontifex Maximus.

The book ends depicting all the women in his life left behind to mourn him after his assassination.

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