Julius Caesar Additional Biography

Significance

(History and Literature of the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

“Veni, vidi, vinci”—“I came, I saw, I conquered”—is one of the most famous military dispatches of all time, and totally characteristic of Julius Caesar. He sent it to Rome after his defeat of King Pharnaces of Pontus in 47 b.c.e., a campaign that added greatly to Rome’s eastern power but which represented almost an interlude between Caesar’s victories in Egypt and his final triumph in the civil war. The message captures the essence of Caesar, that almost superhuman mix of energy, ability, and ambition.

This mixture fascinated his contemporaries and has enthralled the world ever since. Caesar was ambitious, but so were others, Pompey among them. He was bold, but many other bold Romans had their schemes come to nothing. He was certainly able, but the Roman world was full of men of ability.

It was Caesar, however, who united all these qualities and had them in so much fuller measure than his contemporaries that he was unique. As a writer or speaker, he could easily hold his own against acknowledged masters such as Cicero; in statesmanship and politics, he was unsurpassed; in military skill, he had no peer. When all of these qualities were brought together, they amounted to an almost transcendent genius that seemed to give Julius Caesar powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.

The central question, in 44 b.c.e. and today, is to what use—good or bad—did Caesar put those qualities and abilities? Clearly,...

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Further Reading

(History and Literature of the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Caesar, Gaius Julius. Seven Commentaries on the Gallic War. Translated by Carolyn Hammond. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Caesar’s own version of his conquest of Gaul and struggle in the civil war against Pompey. One of the masterpieces of classical literature, this work gives a vivid and exciting view of truly world-changing events by the major actor of his time. Indispensable for a full understanding of the period.

Fuller, J. F. C. Julius Caesar: Man, Soldier, and Tyrant. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1965. Written by a distinguished soldier and military theorist, this work concentrates on Caesar’s achievements on the battlefield, and why he was such an outstanding and innovative commander. The study, which is generally free of technical obscurities and military jargon, helps the reader understand the difficulties of Caesar’s triumphs.

Grant, Michael. Caesar. Chicago: Follett, 1975. Grant is one of the outstanding modern historians of ancient Rome. A well-written, well-researched biography of Caesar and his time, careful to place Caesar within the context of the fall of the Roman Republic. Caesar’s accomplishments become even more impressive when viewed as part of a larger whole, and this Grant does extremely well. The volume is well illustrated.

Grant, Michael. The Roman Emperors: A Biographical Guide to the Rulers of Imperial Rome. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1996. A brief introductory sketch of Caesar can be found in this volume. Although relatively short, it provides all the necessary information to begin an investigation of the man’s life and accomplishments.

Grant, Michael. The Twelve Caesars. New York: Penguin, 1989. Both a continuation of Suetonius’s classical biography and a commentary on it. Gives the reader a thorough understanding of what Caesar accomplished and an insight into why and how those accomplishments occurred.

Jiménez, Ramon L. Caesar Against Rome: The Great Roman Civil War. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2000. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.

Suetonius. Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Translated by Robert Graves. New York: Welcome Rain, 2001. Suetonius’s work is the essential starting point for any study of the early Roman emperors. His biography of Caesar may lack historical rigor and objectivity, but it is a fascinating source of anecdotes and character traits.