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Julius Caesar 100 b.c.-44 b.c.

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(Full name Gaius Julius Caesar) Roman prose writer, general, and dictator.

Widely acknowledged as a military genius, Caesar extended Rome's boundary to the Atlantic by conquering Gaul, prevailed in the Roman civil war, and in 44 b.c. declared himself dictator for life. His war chronicles, hybrids of commentary and history, are classics in military thought: De Bello Gallico (before 46 b.c.; On the Gallic War) and De Bello Civili (c. 44 b.c.; On the Civil War) are praised by critics for their clarity and precision, and are important historically as the only extant record of many significant events. His exactness and economy in his use of words is best known through his description of vanquishing Zela in Asia Minor: “Veni, vidi, vici,” which translates to “I came, I saw, I conquered.” His oratorical skills were superb; it has been said that only Cicero was his superior. Caesar, Rome's most famous general, has also been immortalized through William Shakespeare's tragedy Julius Caesar. In the play Shakespeare has Cassius say of Caesar: “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world / Like a Colossus, and we petty men / Walk under his huge legs and peep about / To find ourselves dishonorable graves.”

Biographical Information

Caesar was born in Rome to Gaius Caesar and Aurelia. Although his family were aristocrats, the power of the patricians was no longer an important factor in politics. In 86 b.c. Caesar was appointed to a position of little importance by Gaius Marius, an important member of the popular party with anti-senatorial views. A couple of years later Caesar married Cornelia, the daughter of Lucius Cornelius Cinna, an associate of Marius. Caesar served with the army in Asia from 81 to 78 b.c. before returning to Rome. He unsuccessfully prosecuted two cases, which nevertheless brought him considerable public attention, and then left for Rhodes to study rhetoric with Cicero's teacher. Pirates interfered with his trip to Rhodes and kidnaped Caesar; later, Caesar hunted the pirates down and crucified them. He returned to Rome in 73 b.c., was elected a priest, and then became a senator in 70 b.c. Caesar served as governor of Farther Spain for the year 61 b.c. and then formed the first triumvirate with Crassus and the general Pompey. He was elected consul in 59 b.c., followed by governship of Roman Gaul. From 58 to 51 b.c. Caesar conquered Gallic Gaul, now part of France. Crassus had died in 53 b.c. and Caesar's good relationship with Pompey ended when Pompey was appointed sole consul in 52 b.c. by the senate. Outright civil war began in 49 b.c. when Caesar crossed the Rubicon river, which separated Gaul and Italy. Caesar conquered Italy, then Spain, and chased Pompey to Egypt, where Pompey had already been murdered by the time of Caesar's arrival. Caesar lived with Cleopatra in Alexandria and fought more campaigns against Pompey's supporters. He became elevated to a godlike level by the citizens of Rome and relished his absolute power; he had a broad vision for reform of Rome, but little time to carry out his plans. Shortly after Caesar declared himself emperor for life in 44 b.c., a group of some sixty senators (out of a total of nine hundred) who believed that Caesar was a threat to the republic, conspired to assassinate him. Caesar was attacked while sitting in his chair at the senate. Although he fended off the first attempt to kill him, a group too powerful for one man to fight rushed him and stabbed him twenty-three times. His death did not strengthen the republic, but rather plunged Rome into a civil war that lasted thirteen years and from which it never fully recovered.

Major Works

Caesar's commentaries on his campaigns are typically divided into two distinct works. Part one comprises De Bello Gallico, which describes Caesar's battles against Gaul, Britain, and Germany. Its first seven books, covering the period from 58 to 52 b.c., one volume per year, were written by Caesar, but the eighth book was written by Hirtius. The second work is De Bello Civili, which describes the war against Pompey. Its three books, covering the years 49 to 48 b.c., were also written by Caesar. The final commentaries on Caesar are composed by others: they include Bellum Alexandrium, Bellum Africum, and Bellum Hispaniense. The last three works leave off at 45 b.c.. Caesar also wrote a book on grammar, a collection of witty sayings and jokes, and some poems. Except for a few lines quoted in the writings of others, these works are no longer extant.

Critical Reception

Considerable controversy exists concerning exactly when Caesar wrote De Bello Gallico and when it was first published. If it was written during the years 52 to 51 b.c., as many historians believe, Caesar's motives for writing it would have been vastly different than if had written it years later. As C. E. Stevens and others have indicated, Caesar intended to run for office in 50 b.c.. The work was definitely published by 46 b.c.; if it was published nearer to that date than to 51 b.c., Caesar would have had less reason to distort his record, as scholars point out. This leads to another area of controversy, that of deciding what audience Caesar addressed in his writings. Another matter of interest to critics is one of genre. There has been much debate concerning how best to describe Caesar's work: notes, commentarii, annals, or historia? F. E. Adcock explains how Caesar incorporated elements from all of these genres to create a composite form. Scholars also vigorously discuss the question of how honest Caesar is in the way he describes events. While all agree that no one can be totally objective in describing events in which he himself prominently figures, some critics believe that some of Caesar's interpretations are deliberately misleading. C. E. Stevens accuses Caesar of juggling facts. John H. Collins is inclined to believe Caesar; he thinks some of the problem comes from readers reading too much into Caesar's words. Andreola Rossi, however, points out that Caesar intends his readers to reach the stretched interpretations they sometimes reach. J. P. V. D. Balsdon concludes his study of the problem of Caesar's veracity with no firm conclusion except that extremists on either side of the question are likely wrong. Caesar's lucid writing style has been criticized as being too plain, monotonous, and pedestrian, but this view is now largely being eclipsed. H. C. Gotoff, for example, credits Caesar with employing some interesting variations of Latin grammar. Military historians praise Caesar's study of the large picture of war and are fascinated by his explanation of tactics. Adcock writes regarding the way Caesar describes battles, “it is hard to imagine how better it could be done.”

Principal Works

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De Bello Gallico (history) before 46 b.c.

De Bello Civili (history) c. 44 b.c.

Caesar: The Conquest of Gaul (translated by S. A. Handford) 1951

Caesar's Gallic War (translated by Joseph Pearl) 1962

Caesar: The Civil War (translated by Jane F. Mitchell) 1967

The Battle for Gaul (translated by Anne and Peter Wiseman) 1980

Seven Commentaries on the Gallic War (translated by Carolyn Hammond) 1996

The Civil War (translated by J. M. Carter) 1997

C. E. Stevens (lecture date 1951)

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SOURCE: “The Bellum Gallicum as a Work of Propaganda,” in Latomus, Vol. 11, 1952, pp. 2-18.

[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture in 1951, Stevens examines instances in De Bello Gallico in which Caesar conceals the truth or interprets events self-servingly.]

It is not possible to consider the Bellum Gallicum as a work of propaganda unless a position can be taken up on the date of its composition. We know from external evidence only that it was published not later than 46 b. c.1, but the fact that the story of the campaign of 51 b. c. is written by another hand would lead us to suspect that Caesars's own books of the commentaries were written, as has long been the general belief of scholars2, in the winter of 52-51 b. c. The campaign of 52 b. c., though not the end (and realised by Caesar, as his legionary dispositions and his determination to winter in Gaul prove3, as not the end of the war), marked nevertheless the end of the national resistance, with the supplicatio of twenty days to crown it4. If Caesar had left the writing of the commentaries to 50 b. c., as Holmes, for instance, was inclined to believe5, we may ask why he did not complete them; book viii, even with the post-war politics from Hirtius' more prolix pen, is not a long book. I accept then the date of 52-51 b. c. for publication. I accept also the inference drawn by Nipperdey and accepted by Holmes6 and others of the simultaneous composition and publication of all seven books7.

Nevertheless there is a point to be made. Though it should be true that the seven books of our commentaries were published simultaneously, it was Caesar's duty to send regular despatches to the senate8, and on more than one occasion in the commentaries he mentions these litterae9. They would remain on the senatorial files, indeed a summary, if not the full text, could presumably be read by the public in the acta diurna. It would be impossible grossly to garble facts which were already on the record, though the point of view in presenting them could be altered (and I hope to show on one occasion that it was). Salomon Reinach10 has done good service in calling attention to these despatches, ephemerides, as they seem to have been called, with special reference to the circumstances of Caesar's first campaign, that of 58 b. c. Indeed I am not sure that the quotation of Servius (ad Aen., xi, 743)11 and perhaps the anecdote of Plutarch (Caes., xxvi, 4) which seems to go with it, may not be truly from the ephemeris behind our book vii, introduced by Caesar as rather a good joke but not thought worthy of inclusion in the commentaries12.

If we accept the simultaneous publication and the date of 52-51 b. c., an interesting point emerges. Balsdon and I have argued that Caesar intended to stand at the consular elections of 50 b. c.13. If this is so, then on the analogy of Cicero's canvass14, Caesar's should have begun in 51 b. c. He himself used to send home from Gaul commendatory documents for candidates that he favoured15. The commentaries then should be a kind of immense self-commendation to take the place of the prensatio of Caesar, absent during the canvass and to be absent by the Law of the Ten Tribunes during the election itself. It may even have overshot the mark. One would like to think that M. Marcellus' motion of recall, first broached in May 51 b. c.16,—quoniam bello confecto pax esset ac dimitti deberet victor exercitus17—was motivated precisely by the publication of the commentaries.

These circumstances of publication will perhaps bring into even clearer relief certain passages well known to scholars. In 52 b. c. Pompey, whom public opinion had expected to be consul in that year with Caesar himself as colleague18, had sold himself to the optimates, but the bargain was far from sealed. In 51 b. c. Pompey, we remember, was responsible for quashing the motion, hostile to Caesar, of M. Marcellus19; with Pompey, again if Balsdon and myself are right, Caesar was to make the negotium in the autumn of that year20. It is natural, therefore, in commentaries published in 52-51 b. c. to find Pompey complimented on the virtus with which he has restored order in 52 b. c.21, even though the restoration was accompanied by an assault against enemies of the optimate party22. Pompey is thanked for the legion which he had put at Caesar's disposal in 54-53 b. c.; his continued residence close to the city is declared to be in the public interest, and the transfer of the legion is due to private friendship and sense of the public weal23. The sense of public duty attributed to Pompey is given point by the frequent mentions of the populus Romanus, whose interests are always before Caesar as he fights24. And here it is surely the popularis, the heir of Marius who speaks. It is populus Romanus always, senatus populusque Romanus never25. Caesar avenges the honour of the populus Romanus and is pleased to note that he is at the same time avenging the honour of his wife's family, the Calpurnii Pisones26. Even his dignitas, dearer to him than life itself, as he was later to assert27, demands that the Rhine be crossed not on ships but by a bridge; but is it not his own dignitas, it is not less the dignitas of the populus Romanus28. Thus we can easily believe that, while Caesar and Pompey are both actuated by patriotism, “it is the optimates who are prepared to sacrifice their country's good for political ends. As Ariovistus is made to tell Caesar29, if he killed Caesar, he would gratify many leaders of the Roman people: this he knew for certain by messengers from them”. We are not to forget the contrast between these principes populi Romani (who have so styled themselves in correspondence with a barbarian) and Caesar, who is fighting its battles.

Not that these battles, after the difficulties of the first year have been got round, are felt to need justification. Victory, as Cicero could remind even an audience of optimate pontifices, justifies any means that the victor uses to gain for himself the position to win it30. “En deux ans”, as Camille Jullian31 well describes the campaigns of 58 and 57 b. c., “il avait combattu tour à tour pour garantir sa province, pour protéger ses alliés, pour contenir ses adversaires et pour soumettre les indifférents”. After all, the senate had in a manner ratified those actions of his, which enabled him to say pacata Gallia in 57 b. c., by an unparalleled supplicatio32, and who was he to contradict this or such jingoism as Cicero's in the senate next year33? In point of fact, the words of Cicero find no echo in Caesar's narrative. It may pay materially to be on Caesar's side, as it paid the Remi and the Aeudi34, but there is no clap-trap of an imperial mission. Dumnorix proclaims with his last breath that he is a free man and citizen of a free community35, and Vercingetorix, as he goes into captivity, proclaims (and Caesar says no word to impugn the claim) that he has taken up arms for the liberty of all36. Though we may wish to suspect that the massacre of the Usipetes and Tencteri was not really justified by the treachery of their cavalry37, the story which so horrified Cato is told straight38. Perhaps all that one can say is that an ambiguity is allowed to be present in the reader's mind on the precise signification of Gallia. While in book I and the beginning of book II it normally means the restricted, Celtican region39, its meaning slides later into that of the whole area40, as provincialised in 51 b.c.41. Indeed we are introduced to this ambiguity in the famous first chapter of book I42.

Justification after 58 b. c. then is not attempted, though points which would lead a reader to congratulate himself that Gaul was conquered are given their weight. He is not to forget the Cimbri and Teutones who are mentioned wherever relevant43 and even dragged into a rather tasteless speech in oratio recta put into the mouth of an Arvernian shut up in Alesia44. Caesar has saved Rome—Cicero had made that clear45—from repetitions of that alarm. And a trick can be picked up in praise not only of Marius, the family connexion, but of Marius' army46. Caesar is the political heir of Marius, his army the military heirs of the military machine that Marius made.

But while justification of the campaigns need not be attempted, nothing must be written which will sell Caesar short. Minor checks may be admitted, but Caesar must be seen to have the initiative throughout, and the felicitas47 which inspires his directing mind must inform all. Even the great Labienus, who realises in a crisis that in the absence of his imperator the strength of character on which he must rely is his own48, twice advises his troops (he is the only legatus who is allowed a reported speech) to fight as though the imperator were at hand49. Legions will not fight, the Gauls are made to assert, unless the imperator is back in the province50. It is the good legatus, Cotta, together with most of the tribunes and centurions, who urges that winter-quarters must not be shifted without Caesar's express permission51; and the contrary decision leads to a disaster. A slight disregard of formal instructions by Q. Cicero nearly leads to another and is gently reprimanded52. When real calamities occur, they are due to the foolishness of a legatus—Aduatuca53 or the over-confidence of soldiers—Gergovia54. Nevertheless I hope to show that on two important occasions in the Gallic war Caesar did not have the initiative. On one his plan went completely astray and he has not told us. On the other his moves conformed to those of his adversary and he has written as far as possible to show that his adversary's moves conformed to his.

The former is the Invasion of Britain. We learn from Strabo55 that the motive for the revolt of the Veneti was to stop Caesar from invading Britain and ruining their trade. According to Caesar its motive was the taking of hostages from the Veneti and their attempt to blackmail Crassus into returning them by detaining his commissaries56. It may be true to say ut sunt Gallorum subita et repentina consilia57, but it needs more than that to explain why the revolt of the Veneti was joined by precisely those states which are likely to have been interested in British trade (including the far-distant Morini and Menapii58) and why the Veneti obtained help from Britain itself59. And there may be more. Caesar tells us that he had a fleet built for this campaign. Nevertheless he attempted to subdue the Veneti by land operations without using it at all60. Of course it is true, as Caesar reminds us61, that the Romans did not like trusting themselves to the sea. Nevertheless we can see that when it became necessary to decide the campaign by naval operations, Caesar's fleet was found to be not at all satisfactory for a battle in Atlantic waters. The suspicion must surely arise that the ships that fought it were intended for a different purpose.

The suspicion is deepened when we notice that Caesar seems to be juggling with the facts about the fleet in more than one way. In one passage62 he states that he gave orders to build galleys—naves longae—on the Loire immediately on the news of the revolt. A little later, however, he tells us that he put D. Brutus in command not only of the “fleet” but of “the Gallic vessels which he had ordered to concentrate from the territories of the Pictones, the Santoni and the other pacified regions63”. But where are these regions from which ships were requisitioned which appear to be distinguished from those of the “fleet”, and what sort of ships are they likely to have been? To take the first question, we cannot place them to the south of the Garonne, for that is Aquitania, which Caesar is preparing to “pacify” at this very moment. Dio Cassius, whose narrative at this point may be independent64, seems to imply that they were constructed higher up the Loire—and this, though Caesar's narrative implies requisition rather than construction, might seem possible and has an analogy65. Nevertheless it would surely be strange if Caesar, intending a distinction between shipyards on the lower and upper reaches of the Loire, should express this distinction by the Loire simpliciter in one passage and “the other pacified regions” in the other. Moreover it would appear that Dio's remarks on the fleet are really nothing more than misreadings and misinterpretations of Caesar66. In truth it is difficult to seek these “pacified regions” except on the north coast, from which, as any yachtsman knows, it would be no attractive matter to sail them through the Four and the Raz into Venetic waters. To take the second point, Caesar makes clear that the ships of the Veneti were superior to his own in every respect save in speed and oarsmanship67. In other words is is clear that he fought the battle with the naves longae that had been built for him on the Loire. Then were the requisitioned ships naves longae too? This is surely improbable, for he tells us that naves longae were unfamiliar to the Britons whom he invaded next year68. For this invasion he embarked his troops all on 98 naves onerariae69. It is true that this fleet was partly requisitioned ex finitimis regionibus, nevertheless we must not forget that it was also composed of the fleet that he had ordered to concentrate for the compaign against the Veneti70. Remembering again the difficulty of taking ships round Finistère, we may find it likely that Caesar has been deceiving his readers. He had been requisitioning ocean going vessels some time in 56 b.c. from tribes along the Channel coast for a purpose which was not a “campaign against the Veneti” at all.

But when in 56 b. c.? Here we find Caesar juggling with the times. The purpose of my argument is to show that the Veneti had revolted because a naval force had been ordered, not that a naval force had been ordered because the Veneti had revolted; in other words that Caesar did intend to invade Britain in 56 b. c. and the Veneti knew it. Caesar could rebut that quick enough if he showed that the requisitioning of ships, which we have shown to be probably ocean going vessels from Channel ports, occurred late in 56 b. c.—too late for an invasion of Britain and thus too late to inspire a revolt of the Veneti. And one may suspect that his mind was working in that way when in book IV he dates the requisitioning to the summer of 56 b. c.71. But this will not fit his narrative of book III. Here the chronology dates the outbreak of the revolt to the winter of 57-56 b. c.72, and the order for the construction of the naves longae in the Loire while he was still away, but about to return as soon “as the season allowed”73. The order for requisitioning is not timed, but it had already been, given74 before the appointment of D. Brutus as naval commander which was among the measures taken by Caesar on his way to Brittany75. This appointment preceded the abortive land campaign which occupied him for “the great part of the summer”76. Thus by this narrative the naval concentration is not in the summer of 56 b. c. but much earlier; but the revolt is early too and so is Caesar's arrival in Gaul in response to it. This narrative is self-consistent and also avoids the suspicion of a British project in 56 b. c.; but it is not consistent with external chronology. This was the year of Luca and we can check Caesar's movements from Cicero's letters. He did not leave for Gaul “as soon as the season allowed”; he was still in Italy at least as late as the first week in April77.

Now perhaps we may be allowed to throw another small point into the scales. In his account of the winter-quarters of 57 b. c.78, Caesar states that the legions were sent to the territories of Carnutes, Andes, Turoni, “and the states which were near the areas where he had made war”. There is by no means necessarily here evidence of intent to deceive. Nevertheless we can remind ourselves that Caesar's readers had no maps79; and in fact the states must be located among the Belgae, for it is clear that here Labienus himself was posted80. Caesar has, to say the least, not helped his readers to discover that a body of his troops under his chief subordinate was not far from those Morini who joined the Veneti in revolt, who needed a campaign later in 56 b. c.81 and from whose territory there was the shortest crossing to Britain82.

Perhaps it may be permissible to attempt a reconstruction of the plan. It is possible that both the eastern and the western controllers of British trade routes, the Morini and Menapii on the one hand, the inhabitants of the Breton peninsula on the other, were simultaneously nervous because they were simultaneously affected83, that Caesar planned a double invasion, not only by the route of 55 and 54 b. c., but by the age-old prehistoric sea-route to south-west Britain84, and that the ocean-going vessels of the Veneti would have transported the western force, had not their revolt compelled Caesar to sink them. It might be plausible to suggest that the voyage of a certain P. Crassus, reported by Strabo85, was undertaken by Caesar's quaestor as a reconnaissance for it.

It may be possible to indicate the relation of this projected invasion to the political manoeuvres at Rome. In passages which will be examined below, Cicero speaks of a proposal to despatch decem legati to Gaul. A commission of ten legates is virtually invariably the precursor to the conversion of a conquered area into a province of the Roman Empire; and it would be natural to refer such a proposal to the projected provincialisation of “pacified” Gaul86. Scholars refuse it, however, and refer the words to the appointment of ten subordinate generals to work under Caesar for further Gallic campaigns87, because they cannot see how Caesar could seem to welcome the provincialisation of Gaul on the one hand and to press for an extension of command on the other. It looks, however, as though this difficulty will disappear if we are allowed the plan for an invasion of Britain in 56 b. c. The news of the pacification of Gaul, which reached Rome in the autumn of 57 b. c.88, indeed inspired on Cicero's proposal and with Pompey's approval the grant of a supplicatio, the longest ever known89; nevertheless it is unlikely that a senate whom Caesar had so flouted as consul was thus honouring him entirely for his beaux yeux. The news of pacification would lead politicians, especially hostile politicians, to think of provincialisation connoted by the despatch of these decem legati, for this could enable them to claim, at least on grounds of equity, that Caesar should come home and disband his army90. Domitius Ahenobarbus seems to have been taking this line early in 56 b. c.,91 and it even seems to have received the support of Pompey, jealous of Caesar's success92. Caesar's reply, if we have interpreted events rightly, was to make plans for an invasion of Britain in 56 b.c., a plan involving orders for the construction of galleys, recruitment of their crews and requisitioning of ocean-going craft. If he could show that an invasion of Britain was necessary to secure peace in his pacified Gaul (and he could use the sort of arguments that he uses in the commentaries to justify the later invasions93), then he could well submit to the despatch of decem legati to provincialise what he had already conquered, for he would be making new conquests further away, and would submit the more cheerfully if the decision to send them was accompanied by that approval for his plan of new conquests connoted by a grant of pay for the troops and by legal action which implied the prolongation of his command certainly until the end of 54 b. c., which would seem time enough to make the new conquests, if they proceeded with the speed of the old94. Discussions on this point would seem to have been proceding during March 56 b. c., in the shadow of the Luca agreement95, and it is to that date and surely to that motivation that we should attribute the outbreak of the revolt among the Veneti and their allies. But the revolt meant that Gaul was not pacified, ready for provincialisation and the despatch of decem legati yet. The grant of pay and the prolonged command must now be used for mopping-up operations inside Gaul, and when Cicero was put up to speak for Caesar in Gaul, this is what he said96. Not a word of an expedition to Britain from him—nor, in this year, from Caesar. He has concealed a British scheme that went astray.

And not the only time. Before ever he sailed for Britain in 54 b. c., Caesar is careful to prepare the reader for the necessity of its return by proclaiming that he feared trouble in Gaul during his absence97. Nevertheless he took more than half his legions—five out of eight—and half his cavalry98, and lets slip that he intended to winter in the island but was prevented by Gallic disturbances99. Clearly then Britain was meant to produce better results than he was able actually to report. I suspect indeed, as the late Martin Charlesworth used to say to me, that he intended to conquer not only the whole of Britain but Ireland as well in the five campaigning seasons put at his disposal by the Lex Pompeia Licinia passed the year before100, Ireland that he, like others, believed to be quite close to Spain101, close in fact to that promontory which he had visited himself102, where a lighthouse was to be erected from which, it was alleged, Britain could be seen103. And it all ended in a treaty patched up for him by his own henchman, Commius, and the uncertain prospects of tribute from Kent and Hertfordshire104.

The failure of the great expedition of 54 b. c. made it necessary to modify the account of that of the year before. This was intended, as I have argued elsewhere105, as a reconnaissance of Roman public opinion no less than of Britain, possibly to show to all the necessity and the justification of the further years of command which his triumviral colleagues were to grant him by the Lex Pompeia Licinia106. And it was a treasure hunt into the bargain (as we learn from Cicero, naturally not from Caesar)107—which, of course, would increase its propaganda value. As propaganda, therefore, for the proposed conquest, it was loudly trumpeted as the triumph over Oceanus itself, the same triumph that struck the imagination of Claudius a century later108. Caesar indeed triumphs over Oceanus in his despatches of 55 b. c., as we shall demonstrate; in the commentaries it needs a sharp eye to discover that Oceanus exists109. But when Lucan put into the mouth of Pompey in reproach of Caesar the words—Oceanumque vocans incerti stagna profundi / territa quaesitis ostendit terga Britannis110, he cannot be criticising the treatment of Oceanus in the commentaries. Authorities such as Plutarch111 place Lucan's jibe in its context. “Caesar was the first to launch a fleet upon the western ocean and to sail through the Atlantic sea carrying an army to wage war. The island … furnished matter of dispute to multitudes of writers, some of whom averred that it never had existed and did not then exist.” And Dio Cassius, using similar language112, tells us outright that this verification of the unknown was the reason why Caesar was awarded the longest supplicatio that the or any man in Roman history had ever had. Caesar stated himself that he received a supplicatio of twenty days113, but the reasons for the longest ever—he does not tell us so, but we can work it out—he does not give (nor any hint of its connexion with the Lex Pompeia Licinia), because, if I am right, it was given on receipt of despatches written as propaganda for a great conquest—which did not come off.

In the other case it is a question of Caesar's operations at Gergovia and Alesia. Caesar's account can be summarised as follows. He was besieging Vercingetorix in Gergovia and the siege was proceding with success when a mutiny of the Aeduan cavalry engineered by Litaviccus was followed by a rising of the Aedui against the Roman citizens quartered among them. He then realised that a more extended Gallic rebellion was probable and hoped accordingly to obtain some prestige success at Gergovia which would give him an excuse for raising the siege114. He would have obtained such a success, which consisted in capturing camps outside the city wall, had it not been for the indiscipline of his own soldiers. After quitting Gergovia he saves himself by extraordinary marches, defeats Vercingetorix in a cavalry battle, coops him up in Alesia, defeats the relieving force—and then it is the end. Thus Caesar, though obstructed by his own soldiers at Gergovia and by Vercingetorix and the relieving army at Alesia, in essence retains the initiative throughout.

But the picture does not fit the facts. According to Caesar an essential factor in his attempt not on Gergovia, we remember, but to obtain a prestige success at Gergovia, was the employment of 10.000 Aedui on his right flank115. Can we believe that if the state had been in open revolt, murdering Roman citizens wherever they could be found (which is what Caesar says116), he would have used so many troops whose temper must have become so unreliable simply in the hope of a prestige success? He would have risked the annihilation of his legions. And that is not all. After he had failed to obtain this prestige success, he was told by Eporedorix that the mutineer Litaviccus has gone off ad sollicitandos Haeduos, and Eporedorix asked if he could go to stop him. Etsi multis iam rebus perfidiam Haeduorum perspectam habebat atque horum discessu admaturari defectionem civitatis existimabat, says Caesar, he let him go. But admaturari defectionem civitatis is sheer nonsense. The defectio had already happened; according to Caesar himself, while the siege of Gergovia was going on, the chief magistrate of the Aedui, the Vergobret, was leading the massacre of Roman citizens117.

The truth must be that Caesar was not in the least satisfied, as he asks us to believe118, with the capture of three empty camps outside the town-wall. He did not want a prestige success; he wanted to capture Gergovia. He failed and his failure was the cause of the general rebellion of the Aedui. Caesar has magnified a mutiny of certain patriotic units among the Aedui during the siege into such a general rebellion as made it necessary to look for a prestige success; and then he blames his soldiers for overconfidence (blame which soldiers would be proud to take), because he did not get it. He has used the mutiny of certain patriots to antedate the general rebellion of the tribe which was caused in fact simply because he had suffered a serious reverse. Indeed it is possible that Dio Cassius, though his narrative is somewhat confused, has seen the truth119.

Moreover Caesar, to keep the initiative, must defeat Vercingetorix in the cavalry battle and force him to take refuge in Alesia. But Caesar's own narrative makes clear that Vercingetorix had already made preparations to stand a siege120; indeed it seems likely that the whole plan of a pan-Gallic relief force had already been conceived121. The fact is that strategically Vercingetorix had the initiative. His strategy was conceived, I submit, on simple lines. The original plan was to force the Romans out of free Gaul by a policy of scorched earth122. But this might be difficult to impose on other tribes, and his experience outside Avaricum led him to give this plan a second member. He had enticed Ceasar's troops to appear before his own—in his own absence—on unfavourable ground from which they had been forced to make an ignominious withdrawal123. I think that Vercingetorix, who had thus duped Caesar more probably than not by accident, drew a deduction. To encourage and reinforce the policy of scorched earth, Caesar should be induced to make fruitless moves against Gauls in impregnable hill-forts. With this plan he succeeded brilliantly at Gergovia and intended to try the same at Alesia, where he had made preparations accordingly. His cavalry skirmish was thus an attempt, as it were, to pick up a trick on the way, which Caesar has magnified into a decisive battle, compelling Vercingetorix to stand a siege. In fact, it is not Caesar who has trapped Vercingetorix in Alesia, but Vercingetorix who has trapped Caesar between himself in Alesia and the relieving army. And what a place Alesia was! We learn from Diodorus (not from Caesar!) that it was “honoured by the Gauls as the hearth and metropolis of the whole of Gaul”124. Vercingetorix meant to trap Caesar at the holy centre of Gaul—and he had done it. When we remember the speech put into Vercingetorix' mouth, that he “would make one council of Gaul against which the world would not prevail125”, we may be allowed to conjecture that he intended after victory to proclaim himself in Gaul's metropolis the king of Gaul. As a king who had lost, he rode grandly caparisoned (we do not hear this from Caesar) around the tribunal of Caesar, the “imperator”, who had won126. It was one of the tragic moments of the world's history if I have interpreted the story aright. How titanic then appears Caesar who could conceal it all for the stern duty of impressing his own continual felicitas and mastery of events upon the electors at the consular comitia of 50 b. c.!


  1. Cicero, Brutus, 75, 262.

  2. Holmes, Caesar's Conquest of Gaul (cited as Gaul), 202.

  3. B. G., VII, 90, 8 (All references are to the Bellum Gallicum unless otherwise specified).

  4. VII, 90, 8.

  5. Gaul, 209.

  6. Gaul, 203.

  7. The view of Halkin (Mélanges Paul Thomas, 407-416), that the commentaries were published in three instalments, books I and II, III and IV, V-VII, though accepted by Carcopino (César, 762, n. 66) is not seriously argued, and I have refuted it by implication in the text.

  8. Cicero, De Prov. Cons., 6, 14; In Pisonem, 16, 38.

  9. II, 35, 4; IV, 38, 5; VII, 90, 8.

  10. Revue de Philologie, XXXIX, 29-49.

  11. C. Julius Caesar, cum dimicaret in Gallia et ab hoste raptus equo eius portaretur armatus, occurrit cuidam ex hostibus, qui eum nosset, et insultans ait:cecos ac cesar’ (v. l.caesar caesar'), quod Gallorum linguadimitte’ significat: et ita actum est ut dimitteretur; hoc autem ipse Caesar in ephemeride sua dicit, ubi propriam commemorat felicitatem.

  12. Reinach assumes that these stories were fraudulently attributed to ephemerides by anti-Caesarian authors such as Tanusius Geminus; this seems to me neither necessary nor likely.

  13. A. J. P., LIX, 178; J. R. S., XXIX, 176.

  14. Cicero, Att., I, 1, 1.

  15. Suetonius, Divus Iulius, 23, 2.

  16. Caelius ap. Ciceron., Fam., VIII, 1, 2.

  17. Suetonius, Divus Iulius, 28, 2.

  18. Suetonius, Divus Iulius, 26, 1; Dio, XL, 50,3 - 51,1.

  19. Cicero, Att., VIII, 3, 3; Appian, B. C., II, 26.

  20. A. J. P., LIX, 178; J. R. S., XXIX, 176.

  21. VII, 6, 1.

  22. Asconius (Clark), p. 56, ll. 3-5.

  23. VI, 1, 2, 3.

  24. But not always as he writes! For the populus Romanus ceases to appear in book VII after 17, 3 (Avaricum). It looks as though the approach to a climax of the thrilling narrative caused Caesar to forget his propaganda.

  25. The contrast with Cicero, who, after early coquetting with the cause of populares, never left senatus out, is piquant—and instructive. See Mommsen's elucidation of his practice, Staatsrecht, III, 1257, 1258.

  26. I, 12, 7.

  27. B. C., I, 9, 2.

  28. IV, 17, 1.

  29. I, 44, 12.

  30. De Domo, 8, 18.

  31. Hist. Gaule, III, 276.

  32. II, 35, 1, 4.

  33. De Prov. Cons., 13, 33.

  34. VI, 12, 6-9; VII, 54, 3.

  35. V, 7, 8.

  36. VII, 89, 1.

  37. IV, 7-15.

  38. Suetonius, Divus Iulius, 24, 3; Plutarch, Caes., XXII, 3; Cato minor, LI, 1; Appian, Celtica, XVIII.

  39. Gallia means Celtican Gaul always in book I (except in the geographical introduction, I, 1) and in II, 1, 2 and II, 2, 3 (but not II, 1, 1); exceptionally, describing the Celtican empire of Celtillus, VII, 4, 1.

  40. Gallia is clearly Gaul in the wide sense (best seen perhaps in VI, 5, 4) onwards from II, 4, 2—which may, however, still exclude the Aquitani, until they have been subdued (II, 35, 1; III, 11, 3—but compare III, 20, 1).

  41. Fasti Cuprenses (Inscr. Italiae, XIII, 1, p. 244); Sallust, Hist., I, 11; Suetonius, Divus Iulius, 25, 1; Eutropius, VI, 17, 3.

  42. I, 1, 1, 2, 4-6 (I see no good reason for condemning sections 5-7).

  43. I, 33, 4; II, 4, 2; 29, 4.

  44. VII, 77, 12.

  45. De prov. cons., 13, 32.

  46. I, 40, 5. Holmes, following Meusel, is surely wrong in expelling the capital propaganda point about the army.

  47. I, 40, 13. Is there a slight hint that he must be regarded as not inferior to Pompey (compare Cicero, De Imp. Cn. Pompei, 10, 28; 16, 47)?

  48. VII, 59, 6.

  49. VI, 8, 4; VII, 62, 2.

  50. VII, 1, 7.

  51. V, 28, 3.

  52. VI, 42, 1; possibly more strongly in a letter to Marcus (Charisius, I, 126, 9—Keil; Tyrrell and Purser, VI, 295).

  53. V, 52, 6.

  54. VII, 52.

  55. IV, 4, 1, p. 194. …

  56. III, 8, 2. Moreover Caesar strains truth by calling these praefecti tribunique militum (III, 7, 3) in later passages legati (III, 16, 4 and 9. 3—the latter passage again wrongly ejected by Meusel and Holmes).

  57. III, 8, 3.

  58. On the evidence of coins for trade with south-east Britain see Brooke, Antiquity, VII, 269-274; Num. Chron., XIII, 99-107, who warns us, however, that the ascription of a type widely diffused in Britain to the Morini may be incorrect.

  59. III, 9, 10.

  60. III, 12.

  61. III, 12, 5.

  62. III, 9, 1.

  63. III, 11, 5.

  64. Jullian thinks so (Hist. Gaule, III, 297, n. 4).

  65. XXXIX, 40, 3; compare v. 5, 2.

  66. The bringing of ‘swift ships’ (? naves longae) round from the Mediterranean (XXXIX, 40, 5) looks like simple careless copying of III, 9, 1.

  67. III, 13, 7.

  68. IV, 25, 1.

  69. IV, 22, 3, 4. We are not told the number of galleys (naves longae) used in 55 b. c. In the next year he had about 600 transports and 28 naves longae (v. 2, 2).

  70. IV, 21, 4; 22, 3, 4.

  71. IV, 21, 4; quam superiore aestate ad Veneticum bellum fecerat classem.

  72. III, 7, 1.

  73. III, 9, 2 cum primum per anni tempus potuit.

  74. III, 11, 5 D. Brutum … classi Gallicisque navibus, quas ex Pictonibus et Santonis reliquisque pacatis regionibus convenire iusserat praefecit.

  75. III, 11, 5.

  76. III, 12, 5.

  77. Carcopino, César, 776; Holmes, Roman Republic, II, 295. The exact date with reference to the seasons of the year depends on the adjustment of the traditional to the Julian calendar. I choose Holmes's forensically as less favourable to my argument; Carcopino's would bring it fairly to the middle of April.

  78. II, 35, 3.

  79. Compare Cicero, Qu. fr., III, 8, 2; ubi enim isti Nervii et quam longe absint nescio.

  80. III, 11, 1, 2.

  81. III, 28.

  82. IV, 21, 3.

  83. Ireland may already have been in Caesar's mind, in which case the evidence cited below would be relevant now, and see Appendix.

  84. See most recently, Wheeler, Maiden Castle, 386. A third line of attack, to Southampton Water, as subsequently achieved in the ‘Second Belgic Invasion’ of c. 50 b. c. (on which see Hawkes, Hants Field Club, XIII, 160) is also possible, though there is no actual evidence for it.

  85. III, 5, 11, p. 176. Save that he does not make the point of reconnaissance for a projected invasion, this is more or less how Holmes (Ancient Britain, 497) looks at Strabo's account.

  86. See on this notably Balsdon, J. R. S., XXIX, 171.

  87. E. g. Holmes, Roman Republic, II, 294; Carcopino, César, 781.

  88. The time is established by the chronological series of events as Cicero gives them, Fam., I, 9, 14.

  89. II, 35, 4; Cicero, De Prov. Cons., 10, 25; 11, 27; Pro Balbo, 27, 61.

  90. Compare Suetonius, Divus Iulius, 24, 3. But I am very doubtful whether the senatus consultum really contained a clause donec debellatum foret, as Balsdon believes (J. R. S., XXIX, 170).

  91. Suetonius, Divus Iulius, 24, 1.

  92. Dio, XXXIX, 25, 2.

  93. IV, 20, 1; V, 12, 2.

  94. Cicero, Fam., I, 7, 10: nam et stipendium Caesari decretum est et decem legati et ne lege Sempronia succederetur facile perfectum est. Compare Cicero, De prov. Cons., 11, 28; Pro Balbo 27, 61; Plutarch, Caesar, XXI, 3-4 (misdated) and see Appendix.

  95. It is with these discussions, still conducted, as I believe, in the context of a projected invasion of Britain in 56 b. c. that I would connect Cicero, ad Qu. fr., II, 4, 5.

  96. De Prov. Cons., 12, 29. The speech would have been very different if the Veneti had not revolted!

  97. V, 5, 4.

  98. V, 5, 3; 8, 2.

  99. V, 22, 4.

  100. He comes near saying it in The Lost Province, 5.

  101. V, 13, 2. I believe that chapters 12-14 were copied out rapidly by Caesar from an authority (like the chapters on Druidism), but I do not think that they are spurious. Compare Tacitus, Agricola, 24, 1.

  102. Dio, XXXVII, 53, 4.

  103. Orosius, I, 2, 71, 81; compare the Irish traditions based on Orosius which Macneill examines, Phases of Irish History, 93. O'Rahilly, it may be worth noting (Early Irish History, 208), is convinced of an invasion of Ireland by refugees from Caesar's Gallic campaigns. This might well make Ireland interesting to Caesar.

  104. V, 22, 3-5.

  105. Antiquity, XXI, 3-9.

  106. This novel point needs more than a footnote; I argue it in Appendix.

  107. Att., IV, 16, 7.

  108. I. L. S., 212: iactationem gloriae prolati imperi ultra Oceanum; compare Anth. Lat., 419-426.

  109. IV, 29, 1.

  110. Pharsalia, II, 571, 572. Moreover when the panegyrist of Pan. Lat., VIII, 11, 3 states—for what he is worth—of Caesar: alium se orbem terrarum scripsit repperisse, he is attributing to Caesar what is not in the commentaries. I assume that both derive from the despatches by way of Livy, who should be the source of Eutropius' statement—contradicted implicitly by Caesar (II, 14, 4; III, 9, 10; IV, 20, 1)—that the Britons had never heard of Rome before (VI, 17, 3).

  111. Caesar, XXIII, 2.

  112. XXXIX, 53. Compare the language of the Proscription edict of 43 b. c. (not genuine, but probably an early invention) as given by Appian, b. c., IV, 8.

  113. IV, 38, 5.

  114. VII, 43, 5.

  115. VII, 34, 1; 50, 1.

  116. VII, 42, 4-6.

  117. VII, 54, 2.

  118. VII, 47, 1: consecutus id quod animo proposuerat.

  119. XL, 38, 1.

  120. VII, 69, 5; 71, 7.

  121. As Carcopino, César, 824 supports, with plausible arguments. Latomus XI. - 2.

  122. VII, 14, 4-10.

  123. VII, 19. Holmes, Gaul, 744, following Paul Menge, thinks that Vercingetorix planned to deceive Caesar. I feel doubtful.

  124. IV, 19, 2.

  125. VII, 29, 6.

  126. Florus, I, 45 (III, 11), 26; Plutarch, Caesar, XXVII, 5; Dio, XL, 41.

F. E. Adcock (essay date 1956)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 14241

SOURCE: “The Literary Form,” “The Purpose and Content of Caesar's Commentaries,” and “Style and Personality,” in Caesar as Man of Letters, Cambridge University Press, 1956, pp. 6-49, 63-76.

[In the following excerpt, Adcock explains how Caesar enlarged the genre of commentarii, examines his motivations for writing, and asserts that his plain and precise writing style accurately reflects his personality.]

The extant continuous writings of Caesar were entitled C. Iuli Caesaris commentarii rerum gestarum. After the researches of F. W. Kelsey,1 this seems to be beyond doubt, and it has not been seriously doubted. What we possess must have been contained in nine rolls—the first seven books of the Gallic War, covering the years 58-52 b.c. being rolls i-vii; then roll ix—the first two books of the Civil War covering the year 49; and roll x the third book of the Civil War describing the events of 48 b.c. until the narrative breaks off late in that year. Between roll vii and roll ix there lay the eighth book of the Gallic War, written by Hirtius, and the series of commentaries in the Caesarian Corpus was completed by the addition of three rolls containing the Bellum Alexandrinum, the Bellum Africum or Africanum, and Bellum Hispaniense. The whole series thus describes the military achievements of Caesar from the moment he arrived in Gaul in 58 b.c. to his victory over the younger Cn. Pompeius in 45 b.c. and its immediate consequences. Caesar's authorship of rolls i-vii, ix and x was no secret in his own times and it is hard to believe that it was ever concealed. They reveal at first hand the mind of the man whose exploits they describe, and it must have been at once plain that no one else can have written them. The theme of Caesar's commentaries is his res gestae whether in Gaul or in the theatres of war of that part of the Bellum Civile—or, as Caesar called it, the civilis dissensio—of which he himself wrote. By the time of Suetonius a distinction was made between Caesar's account of events in Gaul and his account of the Civil War, but, primarily, the simple description of the theme was res gestae.

A commentarius was a form of composition that already had a long history. The word corresponds in Latin to the Greek word hypomnema, which may be translated aide-mémoire, and the Greek word and its Latin equivalent are used of written matter that serves the purpose of an aide-mémoire. The origin of such writings is, primarily, official or private, and it is found in the times of Alexander the Great and his successors, an inheritance from the practice of Oriental monarchies so far as it was not the natural product of administrative convenience. On the military side, hypomnemata might be the wardiaries of generals, dispatches and reports such as have been found in a papyrus of the reign of Ptolemy VIII. In civil administration they may be memoranda or bureaucratic records. They may be Court journals in the Hellenistic kingdoms and so on. They are not, to begin with, intended for publication. In private life they may be written material for speeches—at least the word ‘commentarius’ is used in Cicero of the notes for a speech—or they may be private papers and memoranda. Thus Caelius2 sends to Cicero, then governing Cilicia, a ‘commentarius rerum urbanarum’ which contains a catalogue of events at Rome for Cicero's information. Not all of it, Caelius implies, is worth Cicero's attention: ‘ex quo tu quae digna sunt selige’. So far, it may be said that hypomnemata or commentarii are, in general, statements of facts for their own sake, so far as they are not just helps to memory; though, inevitably, they may contain the facts as they are discerned by their authors. Such are commentarii in their origin. Literary merit is not their concern. They should be precise and clear, or they would defeat their own purpose, and that is all.

In contrast to these there is historia. To the Romans, of Caesar's day and afterwards, historia was, above all, an achievement of literary art. It is to Quintilian ‘proxima poetis et quodammodo carmen solutum’.3 The author of a work of historia was, above all, a stylist: what he regarded as fine writing was his chief aim, and not the discovery of truth. This does not mean that his work should not be credible or sincere—Livy is sincere even when he cannot be judged credible—but the merit of historia and the merit of establishing truth of fact are not one merit but two. The ‘brevitas’ of Sallust, ‘primus Romana Crispus in historia’,4 is unlike enough to the ‘lactea ubertas’ of Livy, but what they are both concerned with, above all, is the same thing, a literary achievement.

Between commentarius of the original type and historia there is room for something which is not quite either the one or the other, something more than the first in content and less than the second in style. It is a development of the commentarius, and it is, as has been well observed,5 something more Roman than Greek. This intermediate stage had been attained before the time of Caesar. Commentaries of this kind may be the material which the writer of historia can take and transmute by the alchemy of his literary art. This had been realized as will be seen presently, and it finds a place in Lucian's essay Quomodo historia scribenda est.6 Such a commentarius of the intermediate stage may have absorbed or digested commentarii of the original type, or worked them together into a narrative which is not yet historia but has attained that synoptic view of events which Polybius claimed to have achieved. It is a natural process, and it is natural that it should be applied by the person most concerned with the events it describes. But it remains a commentarius until the man of letters converts it into historia. Though the author of the commentarius may describe things from his own standpoint, it still purports to be a statement of the facts for their own sake.

The development of the commentary to be the material of historia may conveniently be illustrated from a letter written by Lucius Verus to his tutor, Fronto.7 The letter was written in a.d. 165, but the practical and psychological processes are near enough to those of the last decades of the Republic. Verus had been the nominal architect of a victory over the Parthians, though the strategical plan had been devised by Marcus Aurelius and had been executed by two able generals, Avidius Cassius and Martius Verus. Lucius Verus, a prince in search of a panegyrist, writes to Fronto to say he is forwarding the dispatches of his subordinates and has directed the two generals to draw up commentarii describing their operations for Fronto's use. He then offers to prepare a commentarius of his own in whatever form his tutor suggests. ‘I am ready’, he says, ‘to fall in with your suggestions, provided my exploits are put by you in a bright light. Of course you will not overlook my orationes to the Senate and adlocutiones to my army.’ Thus Fronto will have material for the speeches that were an adornment of historia. ‘My res gestae’, Verus concludes, ‘whatever their character, are of course no greater than they actually are, but they will appear to be as great as you wish them to appear to be.’ Fronto did not refuse this naïve request, and there have survived some fragmentary specimens of the preamble to the historia, which he probably did not live to complete. The commentarius material placed at Fronto's disposal thus ranges from matter of the original type to the more advanced form. It awaits conversion into the full-dress literary form of the historia, which, to judge from the fragments of the preamble, would have been full-dress indeed.

What Lucius Verus had done, Cicero had done before him, if with less naïveté. In June 60 b.c. he wrote in Greek a commentarius consulatus sui and sent it to Poseidonius, the leading Greek man of letters of the day, with the request that he would treat of these events ‘ornatius’. Poseidonius neatly replied that when he read the commentarius he did not feel bold enough to attempt the theme.8 Four years later Cicero tried again. He encouraged the Roman man of letters, L. Lucceius, to write a historia which would include the Catilinarian conspiracy and promised to send the commentarii for it.9 Lucceius agreed, the commentarii were sent, but the historia was not written.10 Cicero's commentarius consulatus sui was, indeed, no ordinary commentarius. He writes thus to Atticus, who also had written a commentarius on the same theme:

On the first of June I met your servant. … He handed to me your letter and a commentarius on my consulship written in Greek. I am very glad that some time ago I gave to L. Cossinius to bring to you the book I had written on the same theme also in Greek, for if I had read yours first you would say I had plagiarized from you. Though yours—while I enjoyed reading it—seemed to me a trifle rough and unkempt (‘horridula atque incompta’), yet its neglect of adornment seemed an adornment in itself, and it was like women who were thought to have the best scent because they used none; whereas my book has used up all the unguents of Isocrates, all the perfumes of his pupils and a trace of Aristotelian cosmetics.

Cicero writes to his friend with a kind of apologetic self-irony. But he could not refrain from fine writing about what appeared to him, more clearly than to others, a fine subject, consulatus suus. And he was not deprived of free will by the convention of a literary form. But the traditional form for a commentarius, however far it had gone on the way to historia, was simple and matter-of-fact.

In 46 b.c. when Cicero wrote his Brutus, having read those at least of Caesar's Commentaries which treated of his exploits in Gaul, he said they were written ‘that others might have material to their hand if they composed a historia’.11 So far he is placing them in the category of commentaries that await transmutation into historia, but he adds a significant phrase ‘so that Caesar may have seemed a benefactor to the foolish who wished to take the curling-tongs to them, but that sensible men were frightened off writing on the basis of them’. Cicero may have remembered the answer of Poseidonius, and have laid a little flattering unction to his soul. So, too, Hirtius, in the preface to the Eighth Book of the Gallic War, says that Caesar's Commentaries have been published ‘that writers might not lack knowledge of these great events’, but he adds ‘and they are so approved by all men's judgement’—‘ut praerepta, non praebita facultas scriptoribus videatur’. Cicero's verdict, echoed, we may suppose, by Hirtius, is that Caesar's writings have a quality which precludes attempts by others to do better what Caesar has done so well. His Commentaries, while they remain commentaries, have a literary eminence in their own right. When Cicero wrote the Brutus he was in a rare mood of hope of Caesar as a statesman, and the all-powerful dictator would read what he had written, but Cicero was an honest critic, a dictator himself in his own field, the field of letters, and it need not be doubted that he said what he thought. To him the Commentaries approach the literary finality appropriate to the finished product of historia. When he praises them—‘nudi enim sunt, recti et venusti, omni ornatu orationis tamquam veste detracta’, he adds ‘nihil est enim in historia pura et inlustri brevitate dulcius’. It would seem that this sensitive and instructed critic of letters believed, if only for a moment, that Caesar's Commentaries challenged historia on its own ground with comparable, if not identical, qualities.

When Caesar set out for Gaul he was not yet in the first rank of generals, but he was an orator of an acknowledged eminence at a time when oratorical power was one hall-mark of literary distinction. Hortensius, the older rival of Cicero, had lost ground. Now, if Cicero was the first orator of Rome, Caesar was advancing to the second place until he found other things to do than to be an orator. Quintilian, who was fortunate enough to be able to read Caesar's speeches, says of his oratory ‘si foro tantum vacasset, non alius ex nostris contra Ciceronem nominaretur’, and adds, to justify his judgement, ‘tanta in eo vis est, id acumen, ea concitatio, ut illum eodem animo dixisse quo bellavit appareat; exornat tamen haec omnia mira sermonis, cuius proprie studiosus fuit, elegantia’.12 Caesar's force and vehemence, especially in his younger days, are well attested. For these qualities the manner of a commentarius offered little scope, though, as will be seen, they are at times discernible. But what Cicero praises as his ‘pura et inlustris brevitas’ could be attained by his ‘mira sermonis elegantia’. The simplicity appropriate to the commentarius appealed to Caesar's literary predilections. As between the florid style of the Asianic school and the austere plain style of the Atticists Caesar was inclined to the Atticists, if not slavishly or to excess. His mentor in oratory had been Apollonius Molon of Rhodes, who set himself against the redundant Asianic style. It would be rash to assume that Caesar was not capable of going his own way, but, granted that, Molon's teaching may well have been to his mind.

Another of his teachers was the grammarian Antonius Gnipho, who carried further a systematic purism inspired by the study of language and its forms that the Stoics had inaugurated, and aroused in Caesar an interest in linguistic niceties, especially in the forms of words. In 55 b.c. Cicero in his De Oratore13 had taken these doctrines lightly and had claimed for an orator a freedom to follow general use without requiring the justification of what was called analogy which would dictate the forms of words by a kind of orthographical orthodoxy. It is a reasonable conjecture14 that Caesar was moved to spend some leisure in the winter of 55/54 in writing his two books De Analogia, incidentally refuting Cicero's concessions to popular usage.

Whether or not in his commentaries Caesar insisted upon the orthographical forms of his analogistic theory it is hard to say. The MS. tradition, on the whole, suggests that he did not,15 but MS. tradition is not a certain guide. He may, however, very well have supposed that a work like his Commentaries was not the place for theoretical niceties. His famous injunction to keep clear of ‘inauditum atque insolens verbum’ was doubtless directed against neologisms, but it may have haunted him when it came to grammatical forms that had only theoretical justification. As Eduard Norden in his Antike Kunstprosa has shown, Latin had been becoming more systematic in structure and, at the same time, less luxuriant in vocabulary. To give Norden's illustration: in the second-century de Bacchanalibus of 186 b.c. four different words are used to mean ‘conspiring together’—‘coniurare, convovere, conspondere, compromittere’. Of these four, only the first ‘coniurare’ remained in use with this meaning in the Ciceronian period. It is well known how Caesar seemed at times to have decided that a particular thing is most properly described by a particular word. For him a river is always ‘flumen’ and never ‘fluvius’ or ‘amnis’. The economy of his style is in the new tradition of Latin—in Newman's phrase, ‘always the right word for the right idea and never a word too much’. The simple brevity appropriate to the commentarius form did not preclude the exercise of Caesar's ‘mira sermonis elegantia, cuius proprie studiosus fuit’.

The theme of Caesar's Commentaries is his res gestae and this fact brings in another element which is less objective than the older commentarius. It is autobiographical, or, if not that, descriptive of the events in which some eminent man had played a leading part. Great men had begun to write about their own doings in self-justification or to claim the form of immortality which Roman aristocrats prized, the memory of their services to the State. Like the ecclesiastic who set up his epitaph in anticipation of his demise, they thought it well to be their own chroniclers. When Cicero wrote the Brutus he cited two such works. One is that of M. Aemilius Scaurus de vita sua;16 the other, a book by C. Lutatius Catulus the elder, de consulatu suo et de rebus gestis suis,17 written ‘molli et Xenophontio genere sermonis’. Aemilius Scaurus had enjoyed more continuous good fortune than good repute, and his work may have been in part an ‘apologia pro vita sua’. Catulus's campaign in north Italy had been the high light of his military career, though it was overshadowed by the exploits of his colleague Marius. He dedicated his book to the poet A. Furius, and it has been plausibly conjectured18 that he hoped his friend would write an epic on the Cimbrian War in which his merits would be immortalized. Cicero says that the works of Scaurus and Catulus were no longer read in his day, but this is not to be taken au pied de la lettre. The elder Pliny, Tacitus and Valerius Maximus knew of Scaurus's autobiography, and a reference in Frontinus is probably ultimately derived from the same work. Two centuries later Fronto speaks of certain Epistulae of Catulus which are probably his dispatches to the Senate and material for his book. More relevant were Sulla's twenty-two books which, to judge from the ancient references, probably bore the title L. Cornelii Sullae commentarii rerum gestarum. It is plain from Plutarch's Lives of Marius and of Sulla that, as the dictator contemplated his rivals and enemies, he did not write ‘sine ira et studio’ and that when he wrote of himself he wrote con amore. It would be idle to suppose that in such works the author did not give himself the benefit of any doubt, or that when members of the high aristocracy of Rome read Caesar's commentarii rerum gestarum they imagined that their author had a disinterested desire to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This is a matter to be discussed later (pp. 22ff.). It is enough to say at this point that the res gestae element has to be remembered in evaluating the composite literary character of Caesar's writings.

Finally, there is an ingredient in the composition of Caesar's works which affects alike their content and their style, and that is the personality of the author. Granted that Caesar was omnium consensu a skilful man of letters, he was more than that—he was a man endowed with a ‘vivida vis animi’, of singular determination and resource, ruefully admitted to be ‘a portent of terrible vigilance, speed and application’.19 Whatever the literary form which he employed, and however well he preserved its conventions, it was not possible that his personality should not be at times visible, so that his commentaries are a plain texture shot with genius.

It is often said that Caesar had a purpose in writing his Commentaries and it is sometimes said, and more often implied, that his purpose was political or, at least, directly concerned with his own advancement. In an age in which publicity is the servant of policy and ambition it is natural for us to suppose that this would be so, and that Caesar would not neglect any means that helped found his own interests and the interests of whatever cause he wished to serve. If he has little to say about Roman politics except in self-justification at the outbreak of the Civil War, this may be regarded as the art that conceals art. Mr T. E. Page is credited with the dictum ‘Caesar's Gallic War indeed—a subtle political pamphlet beginning with the words “All Gaul is divided into three parts”’. It is a hard saying, but it is not all the truth. There is in Caesar's writings an element of propaganda, but it is not predominant, and it is not what matters most.

Propaganda does not exist in a vacuum, and it is worth while to consider to whom the propaganda, what there is of it, was addressed. When Mommsen declared that Caesar's Commentaries were the report of the democratic general to the People, he is expressing his view that Caesar was the democratic champion of the People against a blind or unworthy aristocracy. But this view does Caesar less or more than justice. He was ready to invoke the sovereignty of the People at need to overcome opposition if he could not achieve his ends, whether of personal ambition or of statesmanship, otherwise. But the voice of the People was to be an echo of his own. Like most Romans whose position made them stand for Rome, he sought the greatness of Rome against all comers. But he must have been aware that, for most of the time and in most matters, Rome was the Senate first and the People afterwards, if at all. The Senate was guided by consuls and consulars and might be hampered by tribunes. At elections all kinds of influences, reputable and disreputable, played upon the part of the electorate that voted. It was possible for tribunes to bring proposals before the Concilium Plebis, but what one tribune proposed another tribune could veto. And the Senate, by convention, settled many questions, especially the kind of questions that mattered most to a proconsul. The courts which might sit in judgement on his actions when he returned to Rome were manned by members of the upper classes, and from the decision of these courts there was no appeal. In the absence of an adequate police force, the progress of public affairs might at times be hampered or deflected by the riff-raff of the city. But the riff-raff of the city did not read books. The goodwill of the towns of Italy might be of value at elections or when some proposal was strengthened by the manifestation of a wide public opinion in its favour. But here too it was probably the local notables that counted, if they took the trouble to bring themselves and their clients to Rome. But, for most purposes at most times, public opinion was made by what senators said in the Senate or in private or wrote to their friends. Caesar was at pains to conduct a correspondence with men like Cicero, who in turn could influence this public opinion. He had a patronage that could help his friends and the friends of his friends. The wealth of rich men of the senatorial or equestrian order might be used for political ends, for votes in elections or in the courts might be bought. The governor of a province had to take account of financial interests established there so as not to offend rich men whose influence could do him harm. Caesar, in Gaul outside the old Province, had no old financial interests to consider but could help or hinder new ones. There were scattered over Italy men who had served under this general or that, though Caesar had not commanded large armies before he went to Gaul, and most of those who had served under him served with him still.

When all these things are borne in mind, and when it is remembered how small and slow would be the circulation of an ancient book, even granted that secondary circulation that comes from the diffusion of opinion by speech or private correspondence, Caesar must have known that, both for his present interests and his future reputation, he must write, primarily, for men of his own class and, above all, for the aristocracy of Rome which rated military skill and success more highly than anything else. Within his own army his influence, so far as it was not secured by the high military tradition and discipline of the legions, rested on success and the effect of his personality on his officers, from the legati downwards to the centurions in their hierarchical precedence of rank, and then on the legionaries themselves. The men of the Tenth Legion did not need to await the publication of a commentarius to know what Caesar thought of them and trusted them to achieve.

The moment when the most widespread effect was most needed was before an election to high office, and so the publication of the Commentaries may have preceded by several months the earliest moment at which Caesar may have contemplated becoming a candidate for his second consulship. But apart from any possible choice of the moment for publication, the writing of the Commentaries, if the view that this proceeded year by year is accepted, would have, in the main, the purpose of describing what happened as Caesar saw it, in part to satisfy a kind of intellectual appreciation of his own doings and that of others, in part to satisfy an interest in military technique which he shared with most men of his own class, the technique including a mastery over men as well as over things, and, finally, the promotion of his own dignitas, which is the acceptance of his claim to high office and public consideration and honours, to the opportunity to guide policy and be master of the event, and to the recognition of what he, and those who fought with him, had done to serve the greatness of Rome. He did not deny to the enemies of Rome the right to fight against her, and he did not seek to belittle or condemn them, if only because he would have done the same in their place. But he had inherited a tradition that taught him to maintain and extend the power of Rome, and he was ready to be judged by the extent to which he fulfilled that purpose. He did not need to convince himself of his own greatness; he sought to make it impossible for others to deny it, to underrate it or leave it unrewarded. This is, in a sense, propaganda, but to call Caesar's writings nothing else is to underrate alike their purpose and their quality.

It is to be remembered that, quite apart from any ulterior purpose that Caesar may have had, his Commentaries were bound to be subjective in the sense that they reveal events as Caesar saw them. The literary form, the content, the arrangement, the tradition of the Commentaries, cannot prevent their being so. Had Labienus written Commentaries on the Gallic War or Pompey Commentaries on the Civil War, they would have been different from Caesar's writings in emphasis and interpretation. No man, however sincere, however content to let the facts speak for themselves, can describe great events in which he took a leading part with perfect objectivity. They become part of himself and are seen as he sees himself in his mirror, not as others may see them or as they may see him in action. And when a great man judges the action of his helpers or his antagonists he is bound to measure them by his own standards and to see them in relation to his own fortunes and purposes. Clear-sighted as Caesar was, in order to see things as they are, it is plain that they must be seen, as it were, de haut en bas from his self-confident intellectual eminence. The acts of other men, the way things turned out, are bound to be the raw material of his res gestae.

Caesar was above ‘peacock tail-spreading vanity’ as he was above ‘hissing gander-like pride’, but he had no doubt of his own greatness, and of his inborn right to it. He is not only adroit but wholly sincere when he writes to Cicero of himself and of his enemies: ‘I desire nothing more than that I should be like myself—and they like themselves.’ This does not mean that Caesar might not be high-handed with the factual truth, which was to him a good servant but a bad master. In the justification of his acts, to himself as to others, he may give himself the benefit of the doubt, and he was not scrupulous to his own hurt. If, for example, he sent a dispatch to the Senate which would make it hard for his enemies to cavil at his actions or condemn his purposes, what he aimed at writing then need not be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And in his Commentaries he was not concerned to refute his dispatches.


With this in mind, we may turn to the Commentaries to see what they contain which assists an understanding of how things looked to Caesar, and how, with his help, they look to others, and to ourselves. The effect of the commentarius form is perhaps most clearly to be discerned in the First Book of the Gallic War. The traditional form of the commentarius was concerned with events in isolation, each event being recorded, as it were, for its own sake. The more nearly a narrative approaches this traditional form the more it is a statement of acts and the less it is concerned with the interrelation of acts. Herein there may lie an economy of the truth, conscious or unconscious. The main theme of the First Book of the Gallic War is twofold: first the operations of Caesar against the Helvetii, which lead to their defeat, second the operations of Caesar against the German Ariovistus, which lead to his defeat. Each of these is a war in its own right, in each of these Caesar is the prime agent, and thus the res gestae or autobiographical element in the Commentaries finds expression. The story of each series of operations is told with matter-of-fact brevity, with an unadorned precision of phrasing that suited Caesar's literary predilections, as it suited the traditional manner of a commentarius.

Many scholars have been critical of the First Book as a witness of truth. They have no other comparable ancient account to use as a control; Cicero's letters give no help. The military events were known to Caesar's officers, and must have been, if only briefly, reported to the Senate in accordance with the standard practice of proconsuls. There was, it is true, a tradition which declared that the defeat of the Tigurini, who were caught on the wrong side of the river Arar, was the exploit not of Caesar but of Labienus.20 This tradition, however, appears to go back to Labienus himself, who is not an impartial witness. It is not difficult to suppose that Labienus, who often led the cavalry, began the attack on Caesar's instructions, and that Caesar with three legions came up and finished it. He may have omitted to mention Labienus's share in what he represents as, in fact, a kind of family revenge for the killing by the Tigurini of his father-in-law's grandfather, L. Piso, half a century before.21 Caesar does not fail to give due credit to his legati where they are acting as independent commanders, and the incident does not make his account of military events suspect. Like most generals, Caesar, consciously or not, exaggerated the numbers of the enemy or their losses; he may have concealed mistakes, but he does not conceal the fact that the final battle with the Helvetii might well have gone the other way—‘ita ancipiti proelio diu atque acriter pugnatum est’22—or that the battle against Ariovistus was restored by the timely action of the young P. Crassus.23 He does not allege that when he turned away from following the Helvetii he hoped that they would be induced to give him the opportunity of fighting them on favourable ground, as they did.

There is no doubt that Caesar took considerable risks and that he could have protected the Roman province without attacking the Helvetii, and that the immediate interests of Rome did not require Caesar to take so strong a line with Ariovistus. The commentarius form makes it natural to keep Caesar's dealings with the Helvetii and Ariovistus separate and, as res gestae, they are just two successive exploits. But is that, or need that be, all the truth? For example, when Caesar had denied to the Helvetii a passage through the province, could he not have arranged with Ariovistus, whom he had caused to be recognized as the Friend of the Roman People, that the Sequani should be told not to open to the emigrants the pass through their territory, which Caesar says was easily defensible? The Sequani would not have dared to disobey. The Helvetii might have abandoned their project, or if they took, as they might, a more northerly route, they would pass through territory towards which Rome had no obligations. The Gauls, reinforced by the immigration of the Helvetii and their allies, might perhaps make head against the Germans, and Roman interests would, for the present at least, be secure without any exertions on Rome's part. That would be a quite traditional process of Roman statecraft. In any event, an alliance between Gauls and Germans might seem highly improbable. There are, in fact, various policies which Caesar might have adopted if his object had been limited to preserving existing Roman interests and showing some consideration for the friends and allies of Rome including ‘their brothers, the Aedui’.

How far Caesar was conscious of these possibilities it is hard to say: the commentarius form does not at least bring them to the notice of his readers. It suits Caesar's drastic methods to act as he did. Another proconsul might have acted otherwise, though when there had been an alarm at Rome in March 60 b.c. and the consul Metellus Celer had been marked out to be the next proconsul in Transalpine Gaul, Cicero says that he was disappointed when the alarm came to nothing, for he was dreaming of a triumph.24 It may be that war with the Helvetii was certain because it was the first war in Gaul which Caesar could find ready to his hand. Caesar does not need to say this, if we may assume it to be true. What he does say is that Rome did not allow barbarians to cross one of their provinces. He reminds his future readers of the last immigration, with the dangers it brought, fifty years before, and he says: ‘Caesar non exspectandum sibi statuit, dum omnibus fortunis sociorum consumptis in Santonos Helvetii pervenirent.’25 He passed beyond the province and attacked. In the end he defeats the Helvetii and compels (and allows) the major part of them and their allies to return to their homes so as not to produce a vacuum into which Germans might be drawn and so come dangerously near to the Roman province.

The communities of Central Gaul were impressed by Caesar's victory. They had suffered, or they feared to suffer, from Ariovistus with his growing power reinforced by relays of Germans from across the Rhine. There is no reason to doubt that the proRoman leader of the Aedui, Diviciacus, who had sought the help of the Senate two years before, now sought the help of Caesar. The formulation of his hopes—Caesarem vel auctoritate sua atque exercitus [vel] recenti victoria vel nomine populi Romani deterrere posse ne maior multitudo Germanorum Rhenum traducatur, Galliamque omnem ab Ariovisti iniuria posse defendere’26—may been have prearranged. It was the springboard for Caesar's next leap. Caesar assured the Gallic notables ‘magnam se habere spem, et beneficio suo et auctoritate adductum Ariovistum finem iniuriis facturum’.27 He then sets out a series of considerations which, he says, moved him ‘ad eam rem cogitandam et suscipiendam’. They are in terms suited to Roman interests, pride and fears, the old fears that had haunted Rome since the days of the Cimbri and Teutoni and even longer—‘quibus rebus quam maturrime occurrendum putabat’. They may, indeed, reflect the kind of thing Caesar wrote when he reported to the Senate the inception of this enterprise after it had succeeded. He adds the revealing sentence: ‘Ipse autem Ariovistus tantos sibi spiritus, tantam adrogantiam sumpserat, ut ferendus non videretur.’ This reflects his belief that, in fact, the only settlement would be by war. He believed he knew his Ariovistus and he was sure he knew himself. With a firm hand he guided the negotiations that followed to their destined end.

At this point, as in his account of the incipient mutiny at Vesontio and his handling of it, his personality becomes dominant. He appears to believe that Ariovistus may come to a peaceful settlement, though he has good grounds for confidence if he does not. ‘Denique hos esse eosdem quibuscum saepe numero Helvetii congressi non solum in suis sed etiam in illorum finibus plerumque superarint, qui tamen pares esse nostro exercitui non potuerint.’28 So Napoleon, in a Caesarian moment: ‘ces mêmes Prussiens qui sont aujourd'hui si vantards étaient à 3 contre 1 à Jéna et à 9 contre 1 à Montmirail’. In what follows Caesar displays his eminent understanding of the art of being a soldier's general, an art that never deserted him. There is no reason to doubt the essential truth of his report of his speech,29 least of all of its famous close: ‘Quod si praeterea nemo sequatur, tamen se cum sola decima legione iturum, de qua non dubitet, sibique eam praetoriam cohortem futuram.’ All this shows how in Caesar's hands the commentarius form could be made to convey the revelation of his own personality in the easy mastery of men. There is no rhetoric, and the note is not forced. Caesar was speaking to his aristocratic officers, and all his centurions, not only those seniors who normally attended his consilium, and to a larger audience, those Romans who had an ingrained instinct for war and an ingrained respect for those who understood the lessons of that hard teacher. And he knew what the men of the Tenth Legion would say when their centurions passed the word round. His army fought well when it came to fighting, and Ariovistus was decisively defeated. A remnant of his forces escaped across the Rhine, and the Suebi who had gathered on the river began to return to their homes.

Much has been made of the fact that the same Caesar who as consul had caused Ariovistus to be declared the Friend of the Roman People, as proconsul marched against him. It is not known when in his consulship the title was conferred, whether before or after Caesar had Transalpine Gaul added to his provincia as proconsul. If it was before, and perhaps even if it was after, that event, Caesar may have been bribed, and that was all. He needed money and Rome needed friends—for so long as it needed them. If Ariovistus was not a subservient friend he was no friend at all: amicus was as amicus did. Orators existed to cloak this fact by fine words. Had Caesar been defeated by Ariovistus he might have been prosecuted for a blunder transmuted into a crime. What mattered was success. Success meant innocence, unless he was arraigned before a court to whom guilt or innocence was of no moment. Or the naming of Ariovistus as amicus was an indication of policy—to put him on an equality with the Aedui, the long-established ‘brothers’ of Rome, to be on with the new love before being off with the old. Whichever was the reason, the amicitia of Ariovistus was a debating point in debate (as Caesar made it)30 and to the Romans a standard of conduct for Ariovistus: to Ariovistus a standard of conduct for Rome, but Caesar had not to satisfy Ariovistus but Rome, and late Republican Rome judged Romans by success, if it judged by any standard at all. How greatly the Senate was concerned about the German peril is a matter of conjecture, but its elimination, if only temporary, meant one complication the less in a world that had been becoming inconveniently more complicated for more than a generation. Whenever Caesar wrote his account of the year 58, the events of that year, taken by themselves, were an asset and not a liability in his balance sheet as it stood when that year closed—‘una aestate duobus maximis bellis confectis.’31


Even before the autumn of 58 b.c. had ended, Caesar put his legions into winter quarters in the territory of the Sequani, most probably in and around the place d'armes of Vesontio (Besançon). He retired to his other province of Cisalpine Gaul, to the peaceful jurisdiction of a Roman governor. What reasons he gave to the Senate, if he gave any, for stationing his army outside his own province, he does not reveal. The effect was to produce a hostile reaction among the great confederacy of the Belgae, whom he had described as the most warlike people of Gaul.32 The news of this was sent to him, and he raised two more legions this side the Alps and returned to his army when the season was far enough advanced to ease his supplies of food and the Belgae had time to prepare to take the field. The disunions that afflicted the national movement brought to the side of Rome the Remi, ‘qui dicerent se suaque omnia in fidem atque potestatem populi Romani permittere neque se cum Belgis reliquis consensisse neque contra populum Romanum coniurasse’.33 All was in order: there was a coniuratio of enemies of Rome; Germans this side the Rhine had joined the Belgae; and there were new subjects to protect. By wariness alternating with vigour Caesar caused the enemy concentration to break up and attacked the tribes piecemeal. For a time all went according to plan, but he was surprised by the Nervii and only just won one of the hardest battles of his career. ‘That day he overcame the Nervii.’ His account will be analysed in a later chapter (pp. 69f.). He claimed the almost complete destruction of the Nervii, and went on to deal with the Atuatuci, whose chief town was taken after they had broken the terms of a capitulation. More than fifty thousand inhabitants were sold into slavery. The campaign was a typically Roman combination of diplomatic reasonableness and military ruthlessness, which to Romans justified itself by its success. Caesar had sent the young Publius Crassus with a legion to south-west Gaul and news came that the tribes of the Atlantic seaboard had submitted to Roman power. The report proved, in the end, optimistic, but it served Caesar's purpose. Tribes beyond the Rhine, so he says, sent envoys promising to give hostages and to obey his commands, and he bade them send again at the beginning of the next summer, as he was in a hurry to go to northern Italy and Illyricum.34 He sent a dispatch to the Senate whereupon ‘a public thanks-giving of fifteen days was decreed for his achievements—a greater honour than had previously been granted to anyone’.35


So ends the Second Book with a fanfare of triumph. Events were to show that Caesar was making a large overdraft on his military credit. He may have included in his letter to the Senate that he was sending Servius Galba with a legion and some cavalry to open up the route across the Alps, wintering in the mountains if he thought it needful. Galba failed to achieve this object, and after a hard-won defensive battle withdrew to the Roman province.36

How far Caesar may have deceived himself about the position in Gaul it is hard to say. It was perhaps reasonable for him to suppose, as he says, that Gaul was pacified, at least in the sense that it contained no people who were in arms against Rome, so that the Roman province beyond the Alps was secure. He was responsible for Illyricum, and set out to acquaint himself with that region when news came that the Roman peace was broken. The maritime Veneti on the west coast of Gaul had started a strong reaction, and had taken Roman officers to exchange against the hostages they had given to Publius Crassus. Whatever Caesar may have thought before, he realized that the Gauls feared to be reduced to subjection: ‘they were easily provoked to war, and all men naturally love freedom and hate servitude’.37 The Veneti were ringed round with armies, and Caesar himself marched against them. A fleet was built, and a victory at sea ended the hopes of the Veneti, who surrendered at discretion. They had loved freedom beyond their means. Their councillors were executed and the rest of the population were sold as slaves. Even so, not all Gaul was ‘pacified’, for the coastal tribes of the Morini and Menapii between the Somme and the Rhine remained in arms. There was only enough summer left for a short campaign, and Caesar was not able to solve the military problems presented by the forests and marshes into which the enemy could retire and take refuge.

Caesar had no doubt reported to the Senate his action against the Veneti and his own success and that of his lieutenants. But, at the most, he had only made truer the claim of the previous year that Gaul was pacified and he has nothing to say of a thanksgiving granted to him. It is possible that he was beginning to believe that the Gallic problem did not end with Gaul. During the year 56 his political position had been secured by a renewed agreement with Pompey and Crassus, and his command in Gaul had been prolonged to last until 50 b.c. if not later. Thus Caesar could pursue long plans as proconsul if he wished to do so, and bring Germany and Britain within his calculations. The next year was in fact to contain three events: the sharp repulse of a German invasion, and two reconnaissances, the one across the Rhine, the other across the English Channel.


In 58 b.c. Caesar had driven the German Ariovistus out of Gaul. During the winter of 56/55 he became aware that a new invasion of Gaul was happening and that behind the invasion, and indeed the cause of it, there was the dangerous power of the Suebi, ‘the most numerous and most warlike of the German peoples’.38 He explains that they had driven from their homes two tribes, the Usipetes and Tencteri, who in the end had crossed the lower Rhine into Gallic territory to find lands to settle. He took the field earlier than usual, marched against them and destroyed them by trickery and the merciless use of force. He then decided to bridge the Rhine and enter Germany. He explains his motives: he wished to deter further German aggression by showing that the Romans were able and ready to cross the river, to impress this fact on the Sugambri on the right bank, and to encourage the Ubii, who had sought Roman protection, to believe that, with Roman help at need, they could maintain themselves against the Suebi.39 In the course of eighteen days he ravaged the country of the Sugambri, displayed his legions to the Ubii, and returned to Gaul, destroying the bridge behind him. But he did not venture to advance far enough to give battle to the Suebi, who had concentrated far back in their territory and left to him an empty country to march across. Caesar declared that he had achieved all his objects.

Then, though summer was near its end, Caesar carried out a brief invasion of Britain. He says that in almost all the campaigns in Gaul the Britons had sent help to his enemies, and that it would be an advantage to become acquainted with the land, harbours and landing-places, for of all these the Gauls knew hardly anything.40 The British help to the Gauls and the Gallic ignorance of Britain are not beyond doubt. That Caesar wished to see what could be done about a serious invasion of Britain is probable enough. There may have been another reason, to make an effect on Roman society. Cicero in his speech on the consular provinces, delivered in 56, had proclaimed not only the conquest of the old enemies of Rome but the opening of new regions of the earth.41 The admirers of Pompey had dilated on his achievements in the East in like terms a decade before. Germany was still terra incognita, and Britain was near the world's end, and stretched into mystery. The Romans, so far as they were explorers, had explored sword in hand, and if Caesar's main purposes were military rather than tinged with the spirit of inquiry that had been a part of Alexander's expedition to India, he might well have in mind the impression his enterprises might produce. Neither the demonstration into Germany nor the reconnaissance into Britain meant any significant extension of Roman power, but they had their effect, and on the news of them the Senate decreed a further thanksgiving of twenty days. And during the winter great preparations were made to carry a larger army to Britain in the next year (54 b.c.).


In Gaul itself Caesar had sought to increase the influence of the Aedui, the old allies of Rome, and to advance the local power of chieftains whom he believed he could trust. In doing so he had incurred the hostility of Indutiomarus, an able and determined chief among the Treveri. Gallic notables were to accompany the Roman army to Britain as hostages for the good behaviour of their communities, and when the Aeduan chief Dumnorix tried to escape he was pursued and killed. It was becoming plain that the best the Gallic leaders could expect was to be the clients of Rome. Although an army of three legions under Labienus watched Roman interests in Gaul, Caesar campaigned in Britain with the knowledge that he must not stay too long. The south-eastern Britons had found an able leader in Cassivelaunus, who led the national resistance until Caesar was content to admit him to a surrender which was complete enough to protect Roman prestige. And that was all. Caesar returned to the continent.

The enterprise, for all the skill and fighting power displayed in the campaign, had proved a doubtful investment of Caesar's military strength. For when Caesar returned and held a council of Gallic leaders at Samarobriva he had cause for anxiety. He distributed his legions in a wide arc in north-eastern Gaul. The reason he gave for this distribution was that there had been a poor harvest and this was the best way of securing his supplies of corn for the winter. But when he says that no two legions were more than a hundred miles apart except one that was in a perfectly peaceful district he gives a hint of danger, and he determined to stay at hand until all the legions had fortified their appointed positions. Whatever his fears, they were justified. A widespread revolt had been planned by Indutiomarus and the first blow was struck by the Eburones under an able and relentless leader, Ambiorix. A Roman army of a legion and five cohorts under his lieutenants Sabinus and Cotta was lured out of its camp and destroyed almost to a man. The Nervii, in numbers that refute Caesar's claim that he almost destroyed them three years before, attacked the camp of Quintus Cicero. He was invited to march out into safety. But he was not to be tricked and held out stoutly. How dangerous the situation was may be seen from the fact that no word had reached Caesar until a slave sent by Cicero got through to him with an appeal for help. His chief lieutenant, Labienus, was pinned down by the Treveri. Acting with great speed and resource Caesar marched to the relief of Cicero just in time. It had been a near run thing and, all that winter, Caesar stayed in Gaul beset with anxieties. Only the Aedui and the Remi could be trusted. The general readiness to revolt was, Caesar says, not so surprising: among many other reasons, it was natural that tribes, considered the bravest and most warlike of mankind, should resent bitterly the complete loss of this reputation which submission to the rule of Rome entailed.42

Whereas in the third and fourth years of his governorship of Gaul Caesar appears to have the initiative, with the winter of the fourth to fifth year he is really on the defensive. Rome had two formidable and enterprising enemies, Indutiomarus and Ambiorix, and Labienus skilfully drew Indutiomarus within his reach and killed him—‘Fortune justified the plan that human foresight had devised.’43 This success made Gaul somewhat quieter for the time being. Three legions were raised to do more than replace the loss of the army of Sabinus and Cotta. ‘This large and rapid reinforcement showed what Rome's organization and resources could accomplish.’44


In 53 b.c. Caesar himself took the field before the normal campaigning season began, and re-established Rome's control of central Gaul. Labienus reduced the Treveri to submission, and set up a loyal chieftain to rule over them. There remained Ambiorix, and Caesar was concerned to prevent his receiving help from the Menapii, who had so far shown no signs of submitting to Rome, and from Germans beyond the Rhine. He swept through the country of the Menapii and then decided to cross the Rhine for a second time. But, once more, he did not feel able to advance so far as to bring the Suebi to battle, and once more he retired, though he left part of the bridge standing to show that he might return to the German side of the river.

Then came the systematic devastation of the country of Ambiorix, the attempt to make a solitude so as to call it peace. A general invitation to all comers to plunder the territory of the Eburones was accepted by 200 horsemen of the Sugambri, who then were tempted to try their luck in a surprise attack on Q. Cicero at Atuatuca, where he guarded the impedimenta of Caesar's army. The surprise was all but successful; Cicero had become careless and the recruits he had with him were seized with panic: indeed, only the bravery of the centurions and some veterans prevented a serious disaster. Caesar complained that fortune played hhim false,45 and all the efforts he made to capture Ambiorix just missed success. He executed a Gallic chief who had plotted a revolt and outlawed others who had not waited to be tried. Two legions were posted among the Treveri, two others among the Lingones, and the remaining six were left concentrated in central Gaul. It is clear from the dispositions that Caesar was ill at ease, but he returned to Italy for the winter ‘as he had planned to do’.46


The book which follows is the climax of Caesar's own Commentaries on the Gallic War. It begins with the words ‘Quieta Gallia’, and goes on to present a chronicle of dangers which taxed Caesar's skill and courage as never before. So far as the first two words justify his absence south of the Alps ‘as he had determined’, the justification is submerged by a vivid account of the widespread resentment at the loss of Gallic freedom, of the hopes aroused by his presumed preoccupation with a political crisis at Rome, of the progress made by the national movement under a new leader before the news reached Caesar, of his perplexities and the risks he had to run to rejoin the army, so that with all his speed and resource it was hard to brave winter and his enemies with success. The striking compliment which he was to pay to his lieutenant Labienus, ‘tantis subito difficultatibus obiectis ab animi virtute auxilium petendum videbat’,47 gives the essence of his own reaction to these perplexities.

While the fighting strength of his army was at its zenith, Gaul had become a sea of enemies; the friends of Rome were few, and their loyalty was precarious. The faithful Commius48 even deserted his fidelity, the disunion of the Gauls was transmuted into a good measure of unity under Vercingetorix, the leader of the Arverni; a people who, a generation before, had held the primacy of Gaul, a general able to organize for victory and to rise superior to reverses. Caesar had pursued the traditional Roman policy of promoting friends of Rome and trusting to client princes and above all to the power of the Aedui: in this crisis the policy became a liability rather than an asset. The season did not admit of the rapid movements that might have daunted the insurgents, the siege of Avaricum succeeded but at the cost of twenty-seven precious days. The siege of Gergovia was ended by a reverse which Caesar comes short of dissembling by saying that his troops overran his own discretion, if even that is true. For all the vigour of Caesar and Labienus, it seemed impossible to grasp and retain the initiative, to bring about a decisive battle under favourable conditions.

The narrative moves with urgent, almost anxious speed. The defensive system which rested on hostages kept in the territory of the Aedui breaks down when they take the field against the Romans, and it looks as though the great adventure of the conquest of Gaul might end in failure. The Roman province has to be rapidly organized for defence and Caesar, surrounded by enemies, has to put out all his skill to find a way of restoring the military situation. Vercingetorix suffers a reverse and retires on Alesia, and Caesar risks all on the hazard of besieging him, while the Gauls raise a great army which might hope to destroy the legions. For if Caesar's defence against them failed, it was the end of him and his whole army. Had this happened it is hard to see how the province could have weathered the storm, and how nearly it happened is plain from his narrative. The climax of the battle is reached; the fighting qualities of the legions, the vigour and courage of Caesar himself achieve victory. Vercingetorix surrenders, and the campaign ends with the Roman forces disposed to make good the control of central Gaul. The last of Caesar's own Commentaries on Gaul ends with the news reaching the Senate and the voting of a final supplicatio. Caesar himself winters at Bibracte for he knows that he is needed. His lieutenant Hirtius, who describes the events of the next two years in the Eighth Book of the Commentaries begins his book with the words ‘Omni Gallia devicta’. The rest of that book shows how much has still to be done to make those words wholly true. But for whatever reason, Caesar is content to end his own story of his achievements in Gaul with the crowning mercy of Alesia.


When we turn to the Civil War, it is noticeable that it begins with the first day of a Roman year by the current calendar. For that is the day on which the first event mentioned occurred. The first two books cover roughly the events of the year 49 and between them made up one Commentarius. But some scattered operations which happened in this year are brought into the Third Book, so that the strict division of commentarii by years is not preserved any more than between the second and third books of the Gallic War (p. 35). In the earlier chapters of Book i Caesar presents his case as regards the political and constitutional aspect of the outbreak of the war. Caesar is an advocate for himself, not wholly scrupulous, but wholly sincere. It is plain that he believed that he had not received the treatment which his exploits and his dignitas deserved, and that his army shared his belief. He did not seek to overthrow the Republican constitution, but only to have it work for his interests and not against them. He was prepared to meet his enemies at least part of the way provided he did not forfeit his career, to come to terms with Pompey in a new coalition in which, however, he would be at an advantage over his former ally. The civilis dissensio need not be a bellum civile; it was not by his choosing that his enemies made it one. As he said at Pharsalus, ‘they would have it so’—‘hoc voluerunt’.49 The exposition is subtly contrived so as to be built up partly of what he said and did and what his opponents said and did, but it does not attain an objectivity in which no one could believe.

The military operations are militarily discussed with a cool evaluation of the application of ratio belli by both sides. It is taken for granted that Caesar would not sacrifice any military advantage to assist negotiations, and that his enemies would take the same line. But Caesar was anxious to show clemency where he could safely do so, to avoid bloodshed if he could advance his ends without it. The folly of Domitius Ahenobarbus at Corfinium, the pessimism of Afranius, the brutal violence of Petreius, the vacillation of Varro, the bad faith of the Massiliotes, the timidity of Varus, are revealed, but so far there is nothing that would embitter the conflict past reconciliation. There is no triumph over Pompey at his withdrawal from Italy, which Caesar no doubt judged more justly than Cicero, who complained of it, as though he understood war. There is not even a reference to the desertion of Labienus, though the fact that he was now in the opposite camp might be deduced from an incidental remark.50 The support given by Juba of Numidia to his enemies in Africa is, in a way, justified.51

The Third Book strikes a sharper note. Metellus, Scipio, Labienus, Bibulus are attacked, the thwarting of Caesar's efforts to find a way to peace by the violence of Labienus, the egotistical ambition, the partisan hatreds, the unreasoning self-confidence of the nobles are portrayed. The skill of Pompey is not denied, but the break-down of his spirit when his plan miscarried at Pharsalus is revealed—‘summae rei diffidens et tamen eventum exspectans’.52 The death of Pompey is recorded curtly after a phrase in which some critics have seen a touch of irony.53 The book seems to reflect the anxieties that beset Caesar, the strain on his troops and the courage which both needed until the victory at Pharsalus and then the reaction to triumphant self-confidence ‘confisus fama rerum gestarum’ which made him believe everywhere was safe for him.54 The anger of Caesar at finding himself in danger from the soldateska of Achillas and from the intrigues of Pothinus glows in the closing chapters of the book, which ends abruptly. If Caesar wrote the last words ‘This was the beginning of the war of Alexandria’ they seem to dismiss a topic beneath the level of Caesar's attention. It has been suggested55 that the statement of the preceding sentence that he put Pothinus to death is a kind of dramatic ending with the avenging of Pompey, but that is an over-subtlety and to the matter-of-fact Romans Pompey would not be avenged while his assassins, Achillas and Septimius, lived. The Commentarius does not contain all the history of the year's operations, and it remains, for whatever reason, formally incomplete.


What has appeared in the preceding three chapters, the plain unadorned matter-of-fact character of a commentarius, the content of which is so predominantly a narration of military events militarily viewed by a military man, would make a reader expect to find the style of the Commentaries uniform almost to the point of monotony. It would be very much the same story told in very much the same way, for it need not, or should not, be told otherwise. But there is more than this: Caesar had the habit, it would seem, of deciding what was the best word for this and that, and then never admitting any other. As is pointed out in the first chapter (p. 16) Latin had been a rather luxuriant language with several words meaning very much the same thing, but since the second century b.c. it had been pruned. This process was carried further by Caesar, so that when the same thing happens it is natural and proper to find the same words or phrases used about it. The precision of his mind works in with his interest in words and language, tends to reflect the recurrence of an idea or of an action in a repetition of words and phrases, and this helps to produce a uniformity of diction.

Granted that this is so, the intensive study by so many scholars of Caesar's vocabulary and phraseology has not been in vain. It has shown how little ambiguity or vagueness has slipped past the guard of Caesar's sharp clear mind to cloud the elegantia of his style.56 Apart from faults in the manuscript tradition of the text, there may be passages in which some report or the like by another hand has not been fully converted by Caesar into his own diction. This may be so more often in the Civil War than in the Gallic War, if, as is probable, Caesar produced parts of the Bellum Civile under pressure of haste. But when account is taken of these possibilities, the major part of the Commentaries shows the special qualities of the Caesarian style.

The precision in the use of words, the pura et inlustris brevitas which Cicero praises in Caesar's writing is a constant phenomenon. But as the Commentaries proceed, they exhibit some difference of style. It has often been observed how the First Book of the Gallic War is more formal in the commentarius manner than the Second, and that after the Second the style becomes slightly more informal in the next four books. The Seventh Book has more movement still and, as it were, flows faster, and the same is true of the books of the Civil War. The constructions and run of sentences become freer, and there are changes of a kind which suggest a change of habit rather than a reasoned change of preference in the search for the right word. Such a change of habit is hard to understand if Caesar composed the first seven books of the Gallic War in one continuous literary activity within a short space of time. It is in fact a strong, perhaps the most cogent, argument for the view that the Gallic War was written in stages over a number of years. If this is so, it may have been quite natural for Caesar to become less concerned to preserve the stylistic effect that belongs to the commentarius form. There appears, indeed, in the First Book of the Gallic War to be deliberate avoidance of literary polish. Thus in the third chapter two successive sentences begin with the phrase ‘ad eas res conficiendas’. In neither sentence can the phrase be merely struck out as an interpolation without harming the sense, and it is hard to suppose that the repetition is due to hasty writing. It appears rather to be a deliberate roughening of the style. So too there are instances in which the antecedent to a relative is repeated in the relative clause, with something of the cumbrousness which is characteristic of Roman formal documents. This kind of thing disappears in the later books of the Gallic War. In the first six books we do not find speeches in oratio recta. It is necessary to give the gist of what was said on occasion, but this is done in oratio obliqua, thus avoiding the dramatic literary effect of a fictitious speech in direct speech which is the ornament appropriate to the literary character of historia. In the Seventh Book there is one complete speech in oratio recta, that of the Gallic chief Critognatus during the siege of Alesia.57 Critognatus urges his compatriots to do as they once did when the Cimbri and Teutoni invaded them and feed upon those who are unfit for war. The striking character of this suggestion is used by Caesar to justify the insertion of the speech—‘non praetereunda videtur oratio Critognati propter eius singularem et nefariam crudelitatem’. But when one reads the speech one finds that the singular and nefarious cruelty plays a small part in it, and what one remembers is what Caesar may have meant his readers to remember—the difference between the transient raid of the Cimbri and Teutoni and the eternal yoke of iron which Rome and Caesar are placing on the necks of the Gauls.

A somewhat subtler use of the same device is to be found in the speech in the same book,58 in which Vercingetorix defends himself before his countrymen when they accuse him of treachery. The speech is in oratio obliqua except that in two places with peculiar dramatic force there is a sudden turn to oratio recta. The first is ‘“Haec ut intellegatis” inquit “a me sincere pronuntiari, audite Romanos milites”’, and the second is as dramatic—‘“Haec” inquit “a me” Vercingetorix “beneficia habetis, quem proditionis insimulatis; cuius opera sine vestro sanguine tantum exercitum victorem fame paene consumptum videtis; quem turpiter se ex hac fuga recipientem, ne qua civitas suis finibus recipiat, a me provisum est.”’ A good critic has well observed the skill with which the first ‘a me’ in this passage is thrown into relief by its position between ‘inquit’ and ‘Vercingetorix’,59 and the same device is used again to underline the self-sacrifice of the centurion Marcus Petronius,60 or the fatal plea of Sabinus at the council of war that preceded the destruction of his army.61

In the Civil War there is one speech, or rather a pair of speeches, in oratio recta—those of Curio before the disaster which befell him in Africa;62 and here Caesar violates his general rule to give an impression of the fiery spirit of his friend. Caesar plainly cared much for Curio, and the speeches are an epitaph. They are fictitious in the sense that the phrasing is Caesar's—with the brilliant ending ‘Equidem me Caesaris militem dici volui, vos me imperatoris nomine appellavistis. cuius si vos paenitet, vestrum vobis beneficium remitto, mihi meum restituite nomen, ne ad contumeliam honorem dedisse videamini.’ And there is another exception in the short speeches of Pompey and of Labienus before the battle of Pharsalus—the fanfare of pride before the cold narrative of the battle itself.63

The plainness of the narrative style, combined with the brevity in which Latin surpasses other great languages, can produce a singularly striking effect without any use of rhetorical ornament. For example, at the crisis before Alesia when the relieving army is making its final effort from without, and Vercingetorix is making a desperate sortie from within, Caesar chooses a place where he can see what is happening and dispatches help, now here, now there, to his lieutenants; until at last, when almost all seems lost, there comes the simple undramatic sentence—‘accelerat Caesar, ut proelio intersit’,64 then the one vivid touch—‘eius adventu colore vestitus cognito’. This is not for picturesque effect, it is that the colour shows the imperator himself is there in his battle-cloak. The battle reaches its climax, until in a sharp staccato come the brief sentences, like blows that hammer defeat into victory:65 ‘Nostri omissis pilis gladiis rem gerunt. repente post tergum equitatus cernitur; cohortes illae adpropinquant. hostes terga vertunt; fugientibus equites occurrunt. fit magna caedes.’ There is hardly a word that is not pure prose, but the effect is epic. Whether the effect is deliberate artistry or whether Caesar wrote down or dictated straight after the battle exactly what happened and then saw that it was good, no one can say. What is certain is that it is hard to imagine how better it could be done, and it was done within the economy of the commentarius.

The battle pieces of Caesar, indeed, stand by themselves in ancient history-writing if we except the highest efforts of Thucydides in his Seventh Book. The best worth examination is the battle with the Nervii, a desperate encounter battle.66 How concrete is the picture of the place where the Romans halt, how skilful is the suggestion that Caesar had after all done what a good general could do (despite Napoleon's strictures) in his first disposition, how sudden the attack comes; then the phrases which show what the moment needed—‘Caesari omnia uno tempore erant agenda’; then follow three chapters in which the growing confusion of the battle, the quickening of its tempo are reflected in the rhythm and in the grammatical construction of the sentences until the climax is reached when Caesar's Gallic cavalry rides for home bearing the news: ‘Romanos pulsos superatosque, castris impedimentisque eorum hostes potitos.’ In these chapters there is no word of Caesar. The battle is for the moment out of hand. And then the next chapter begins with the word ‘Caesar’, and there follows the brilliant little description of his own intervention, how he snatches a shield and rallies his troops. The tide of battle halts and then turns, and the rhythm makes it audible to the ear—first the spondees of the halt and then the movement again—‘Cuius adventu spe illata militibus ac redintegrato animo’ and so on. (It is to be remembered that ancient narrative was written, or dictated, to be read aloud.) And then Caesar again, but this time not the fighting soldier but the disposing commander—‘Caesar, cum septimam legionem, quae iuxta constiterat, item urgeri ab hoste vidisset, tribunos militum monuit.’ Then the steady advance to victory and with victory the phrases that praise the enemy—how after all they had performed what was almost a military miracle: ‘Hard it was what they had done but their high spirit had made it easy.’ The battle had been a desperate affair: it is described as no other battle in Roman literature. Pharsalus is another story: there we do not find the concreteness of the setting, still less the part that Caesar himself played in the actual engagement; instead the perfect formal description of a battle as a work of military art—almost a game of military chess, the unconscious hint of the fact that by then Caesar had become a virtuoso in the art of war, almost an impersonal directing intelligence.

Thus it may be seen that Caesar's Commentaries, whether of his set purpose or not, reflect the personality of the writer, and his mind. It is to be remembered that Caesar is not content to do no more than set down simply a string of events. By now the Romans had come to expect more than that. Hirtius had praised Caesar's ‘verissima scientia suorum consiliorum explicandorum’.67 Caesar is concerned not only with actions but with the springs and motives of actions. There had, in fact, been a reaction against the mere annalistic record of events. Fifty years before Caesar, Sempronius Asellio had written: ‘nobis non modo satis esse video, quod factum esset, id pronuntiare, sed etiam, quo consilio quaque ratione gesta essent, demonstrate.’68

While Caesar's style is in general not ornamented with rhetorical devices, the Commentaries contain passages in which there is a formal composition which might be due to the desire to produce an artistic effect. For example, it has been observed that in the opening chapter of the first book of the Civil War the personages who take part in the debate in the Senate are so enumerated as to produce a definite effect. But this may be due rather to Caesar's orderly mind than to the employment of a rhetorical arrangement for effect. If we may suppose that the stylistic effectiveness of the account of the battles against the Nervii and before Alesia is due not to conscious art but to the vividness of the events in Caesar's mind as he wrote, we may suppose that a dramatic quality in Caesar's narrative, where it is found, is the direct unartificial effect of the vivida vis animi with which he remembered as well as acted. It is the strong impact of Caesar's mind, rather than conscious art, that creates his style, where it rises to distinctiveness. It may march along, orderly as a legion, setting out intelligibly and with intelligence the course of action or the ratio belli and practical calculations that are the springs of action. Most of what happens seems to be inevitable, almost remote, without emotion. Thus, when Caesar has described the surprise attack on the Usipetes and Tencteri, he continues: ‘at reliqua multitudo puerorum mulierumque—nam cum omnibus suis domo excesserant Rhenumque transierant—passim fugere coepit, ad quos consectandos Caesar equitatum misit’.69 This is not a device to leave his readers to imagine the scene for themselves; nor is it the conscious hardening of his heart; it is that his heart is not awake. But when, at Dyrrhachium, his own army breaks so that it is out of hand, then ‘eodem quo venerant receptu sibi consulebant omniaque erant tumultus timoris fugae plena, adeo ut, cum Caesar signa fugientium manu prenderet et consistere iuberet, alii dimissis equis eundem cursum confugerent, alii ex metu etiam signa dimitterent, neque quisquam omnino consisteret’.70 Here, as Caesar lives again through this crisis in his fortunes, the plain style is for a moment infused with the vividness of his recollection. When the army of Curio is routed in Africa the climax is reached with almost the same phrase: ‘plena erant omnia timoris et luctus’.71 Here Caesar is stirred by the thought of that disaster which broke the victorious course of the war and by his sympathy for his troops, but above all he records the death of his friend in expiation of his fault—‘at Curio numquam se amisso exercitu, quem a Caesare 72

As in Caesar's account the swift achievement of victory before Alesia once the tide of battle has turned is reflected in a rapid staccato, so the urgency of speed in a supreme effort may be reflected by a use of the historic present to a degree rarely found elsewhere in the Commentaries. Once Caesar has crossed the Rubicon it is for him all-important to sweep down Italy and above all, if possible, to intercept the retreat of Pompey across the Adriatic. In the chapters which describe this effort there are found at least as many historic presents as in all the rest of his writings put together. This is to be explained not so much by the desire to impress the reader by a kind of rhetorical device as by the subconscious revelation of Caesar's own vehement desire to finish the war at a stroke. The reader would know that Caesar did not in fact achieve this purpose; what mattered was not what the reader would think but what Caesar felt and hoped and strove to attain.

Thus the study of Caesar's style may be revealing for the study of Caesar's mind and will, especially at moments of crisis. When he is describing the doings of his lieutenants the style is, in general, less emphatic, less vigorous, though even in these, as in the account of Curio's campaign or, again, in that of the disaster to the army of Sabinus and Cotta and the events that led to it, there is a more dramatic treatment of the situation. It becomes more personal as Caesar's imagination of what must have happened is engaged. On the whole, though, the operations of the legati are described so that the military quality of their actions, their consilia, so far as these are their own and not Caesar's at one remove, can be appraised, but that is all.

None the less, a close study of those parts of Caesar's narrative which rest on the reports of his lieutenants may reveal stylistic touches which are taken over in a kind of submerged quotation. Thus in the account of the siege of Massilia the texture of the narrative appears to show three strands, the matter-of-fact technical siegecraft of Trebonius, a livelier tone in the report of naval operations which would be supplied by the admiral Decimus Brutus, and the occasional comment of Caesar himself.

There is a habit of Caesar which may reflect more than one stylistic motive. When he is describing actions or the springs of action he invariably refers to himself in the third person by his name Caesar. This may in part be due to his adoption of the Commentarius form, though that form is found elsewhere to admit the use of the first person by a narrator. It is true that the use of the third person has an air of objectivity, almost of detachment, which may subtly win the reader's assent; though it may seem to be monotonous, it serves the clarity of the narrative: it perhaps needs no other explanation. But it may, at least in part, be a revealing mannerism. Here and there, outside the Commentaries, what seems to be good tradition shows Caesar referring to himself by his name, where the first person would seem more natural. The famous words ‘You carry Caesar and Caesar's fortune’ is hardly an example, for his boatman needed to be told who his passenger was. But the equally famous dictum that Caesar's wife must be above suspicion might have run ‘my wife’ or ‘the wife of a Pontifex Maximus’. To say ‘Caesar's wife’ has something that is in a way more than either, something that has a sharper impact. The effect may be illustrated, though it is no more than an illustration, by the high-riding words that Shakespeare makes Caesar use in his decision to go to the Senate House on the Ides of March, when the omens give their warning of danger:

The gods do this in shame of cowardice:
Caesar should be a beast without a heart
If he should stay at home to-day—for fear.
No, Caesar shall not: danger knows full well
That Caesar is more dangerous than he:
We are two lions litter'd in one day
And I the elder and more terrible,
And Caesar shall go forth.

To return to what is evidence. When at Pharsalus Caesar saw his enemies broken he spoke words that may well have been truly recorded by Asinius Pollio, who stood at his side. ‘Hoc voluerunt’—they would have it so; and then—‘tantis rebus gestis Gaius Caesar condemnatus essem, nisi ab exercitu auxilium petissem’.73 Here, in this cri du cœur, his name springs to his lips, it adds something, it throws into the scale his belief in his own greatness. It is thus possible that the constant use of his name in the Commentaries is not only a convention or a mask of objectiveness, but includes, as it were, the natural, almost automatic, expression of his conscious preeminence.


  1. ‘The title of Caesar's Work’, Trans. Amer. Phil. Assoc. xxxvi (1905), pp. 211-38.

  2. ad Fam. viii, 11, 4.

  3. Inst. Or. x, 1, 31.

  4. Martial, xiv, 191, 2.

  5. By F. Jacoby, Die Fragm. der griech. Historiker, ii d, pp. 639 f.

  6. 48 ff.

  7. In ad Verum Imp. ii, 3.

  8. ad Attic. ii, 1, 1-2.

  9. ad Fam. v, 12, 10.

  10. ad Attic. iv, 6, 4; iv, 11, 2.

  11. 75, 262.

  12. Inst. Or. x, 1, 114.

  13. iii, 37, 150-38, 154.

  14. See G. L. Hendrickson in Class. Philology, i (1906), pp. 97 ff.

  15. See W. A. Oldfather and G. Bloom in Class. Journ. xxii (1927), pp. 584-602.

  16. Brutus, 29, 112; Pliny, N.H. xxxiii, 21; Tacitus, Agric. i, 3; Val. Max. iv, 4, 11; Frontinus, Start. iv, 3, 13.

  17. Brutus, 35, 132.

  18. H. Peter, Hist. Rom. Rel., i, p. cclxv.

  19. ad Attic. viii, 9, 4.

  20. Plutarch, Caesar, 18, 1; Appian, Celt. 1, 3, and xv; Dio Cassius xxxviii, 32, 4; Caesar and Dio Cassius do not mention Labienus.

  21. B.G. 1, 12, 7.

  22. B.G. 1, 26, 1.

  23. B.G. 1, 52, 7.

  24. ad Attic. 1, 20, 5.

  25. B.G. 1, 11, 6.

  26. B.G. 1, 31, 16.

  27. B.G. 1, 33, 1.

  28. B.G. 1, 40, 7.

  29. Its truth is not challenged by Plutarch, Caesar, 19, or by the long harangue composed by Dio Cassius, xxxviii, 36-46.

  30. B.G. i, 43.

  31. B.G. i, 54, 2.

  32. B.G. i, 1, 2.

  33. B.G. ii, 3, 2.

  34. B.G. ii, 35, 1-2.

  35. B.G. ii, 35, 4.

  36. B.G. iii, 1-6.

  37. B.G. iii, 10, 3.

  38. B.G. iv, 1, 3.

  39. B.G. iv, 16.

  40. B.G. iv, 20, 1-2.

  41. 13, 33; see also Catullus, ii, 9-12.

  42. B.G. v, 54, 5.

  43. B.G. v, 58, 6.

  44. B.G. vi, 1, 3.

  45. B.G. vi, 43, 4.

  46. B.G. vi, 44, 3.

  47. B.G. vii, 59, 6.

  48. See below, p. 79.

  49. Suetonius, Divus Iulius, 30, 4.

  50. B.C. i, 15, 2.

  51. B.C. ii, 25, 4.

  52. B.C. iii, 94, 6.

  53. B.C. iii, 104, 3: ‘naviculam parvulam conscendit cum paucis suis; ibi ab Achilla et Septimio interficitur.’

  54. B.C. iii, 106, 3.

  55. By K. Barwick in Philologus, Suppl. xxxii, 2, p. 133f.

  56. ‘Elegantia’ imports the choice of the right word, rather than any elaboration or elevation of style. See E. E. Sikes in Camb. Anc. Hist. ix, p. 764.

  57. B.G. vii, 77, 3-16.

  58. B.G. vii, 20.

  59. H. Oppermann, Caesar, der Schriftsteller und sein Werk, p. 82.

  60. B.G. vii, 50, 4-6.

  61. B.G. v, 30.

  62. B.C. ii, 31-2.

  63. B.C. iii, 86-7.

  64. B.G. vii, 87, 3.

  65. B.G. vii, 88, 2-3.

  66. B.G. ii, 18ff.; this analysis owes much to the insight of Oppermann, op. cit., pp. 56ff.

  67. B.G. viii, Praef. 7.

  68. H. Peter, Hist. Rom. Rel. i, p. 179.

  69. B.G. iv, 14, 5.

  70. B.C. iii, 69, 4.

  71. B.C. ii, 41, 8.

  72. B.C. ii, 42, 4.

  73. Suetonius, Divus Iulius, 30, 4.

John H. Collins (essay date 1959)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7566

SOURCE: “On the Date and Interpretation of the Bellum Civile,” in American Journal of Philology, Vol. LXXX, No. 2, April, 1959, pp. 113-32.

[In the following essay, Collins argues that Caesar was a moderate rather than a revolutionary, and that most of his writings should be accepted as truth, not propaganda.]


In a fundamental article in Rheinisches Museum nearly fifty years ago, A. Klotz,1 summing up the evidence and earlier discussion and adding solid arguments of his own, showed with great probability that the Bellum Civile was not published in the lifetime of Caesar, nor from any finally revised copy, but was superficially edited and published shortly after his death by Aulus Hirtius, who had as his text the unfinished and unpolished manuscript from Caesar's literary remains. The view thus nailed down by Klotz, though attacked in the following decades by E. Kalinka2 and others, may be considered the received doctrine on the matter down to 1938, when K. Barwick published his elaborate study, Caesars Commentarii und das Corpus Caesarianum.3 In 1951 Barwick again took up the problem in his Caesars Bellum Civile. Tendenz, Abfassungszeit und Stil, and with further argument based on intensive linguistic analysis and historical reconstruction, attempted to make good the thesis that the B. C. [Bellum Civile] was written and published as part of Caesar's propaganda campaign during the war, and that it appeared in two parts, Books 1-2 as a unit at the end of the year 49, and Book 3 at the end of 48 or early in 47. Klotz had in the meantime published his Editio altera of the B. C.,4 and in his Praefatio had answered Barwick's 1938 arguments and further fortified his own earlier position. Although Barwick has convinced some scholars,5 I believe the general view of Klotz still commands a majority agreement.6

The main arguments for Klotz' theory may be briefly summarized: (1) the “rough-draft” or “skizzenhafter Zustand” of the work as a whole, especially as compared with the balanced organization and artistic finish of the Bellum Gallicum; (2) the abrupt break-off at the end, indicating that it is unfinished; (3) the silence of Cicero, who never alludes to the B. C.;7 (4) the criticism of Asinius Pollio cited by Suetonius (Caes., 56, 4): parum diligenter parumque integra veritate compositos putat, cum Caesar pleraque et quae per alios erant gesta temere crediderit et quae per se, vel consulto vel etiam memoria lapsus perperam ediderit; existimatque rescripturum et correcturum fuisse, which is apparently to be completed by the thought, “if he had lived to do it”;8 (5) the express words of Hirtius (B. G. [Bellum Gallicum], VIII, Praef. 2): novissimumque imperfectum ab rebus gestis Alexandriae confeci, since novissimum imperfectum apparently refers to B. C., III.9 It should perhaps be added that the older arguments, based on the phrases bello confecto (B. C., III, 57, 5; 60, 4) and bello perfecto (B. C., III, 18, 5) have long been discounted as of no weight.

The cumulative force of this evidence is overwhelming, nor have the counter arguments of Kalinka and Barwick been able to weaken it significantly. Barwick's case is built mainly upon his concept of the B. C. as timely propaganda requiring immediate publication for its effectiveness, but his strongest arguments indicate only that the B. C. was written during the progress of the war, or directly after Pharsalus, and prove nothing regarding the time of publication.10 Kalinka was even driven to the astonishing theory of an unauthorized or pirated publication in his attempt to meet Klotz' arguments based on the unevenness of the text.

In 1952 I reasoned11 that it was incredible that Caesar should have written the B. C. in, say, 48 or 47, and then let it lie for years without completing or publishing it. Believing further that posthumous publication had been proved by Klotz, I concluded that the work was written in the last months of Caesar's life, after the return from Spain in the late summer of 45, and was left incomplete at his death. Further reflection on the whole problem in the last few years has convinced me that this view is incorrect, and I now believe with P. Fabre12 that the B. C. was written in late 48 or early 47 in Egypt at odd intervals during the so-called Alexandrian War, that it was laid aside incomplete for reasons which are speculative but which I hope to make plausible, and that it was found among Caesar's papers after his death in approximately the condition in which we now have it. In other words, I believe that Barwick is correct in fixing an early date of composition, and that Klotz is correct in fixing a posthumous date of publication. I wish here to set this view forth with such evidence as I can bring, and to indicate certain wider consequences bearing on the historical interpretation and credibility of the work itself.


What ultimate plans for the organization of the Roman Imperium Caesar may have formed or entertained in his last months will doubtless always be discussed and can never be satisfactorily settled.13 But there can be no doubt about one thing—he had no intention of imitating Sulla by resigning the dictatorship. His own words as reported by Titus Ampius in Suetonius' account (Caes., 77): nihil esse rem publicam, appellationem modo sine corpore ac specie. Sullam nescisse litteras, qui dictaturam deposuerit fit together with his acts and omissions to act, and leave no doubt of his determination to maintain his despotic position. That he consciously intended to found a Hellenistic God-kingdom on the model of Alexander has been powerfully argued by Meyer and others;14 that he had the slightest intention of “re-establishing the republic” as Cicero publicly called upon him to do (Pro Marc., 26-7), and as Sallust also urged (Ep. ad Caes., I, 6, 3), or even of re-establishing some sort of shadow republic as Augustus later found expedient, is believed, as far as I am aware, by no one. His government after Thapsus was a humane but quite naked absolutism, conducted with conspicuous contempt for the mos maiorum,15 and the assumption of the lifetime dictatorship in early 44, against the whole weight of constitutional tradition, was an open declaration that he had done, finally and deliberately, with the old republican ideology.

With this post-Thapsus, monarchial Caesar clearly in mind (it matters little whether he laid great stress on the title Rex; his regal bearing and arrogation of royal power made mere titles of minor importance), let us turn to the B. C., and ask how well it fits the character of its author as that character reveals itself in its last phase. We shall find, I think, that the B. C. does not fit at all; that it is a work republican through and through; that it neither contains the spirit nor the foreshadowing of the “monarchial” or “imperial” idea; that even interpreted as propaganda, it is not propaganda for monarchy nor for any projected reform or re-organization of the Roman governmental system. As a product of the mind of the “late” Caesar, known to us from Suetonius, from Cicero's correspondence of the years 45-44, and from the miscellaneous anecdotes in Plutarch, Dio Cassius, Appian, and other writers, of the Caesar driving for the possession of absolute power, and in visible ways corrupted by power in the sense of Lord Acton's aphorism, the republican Gedankenwelt of the B. C. is hardly thinkable.

Since the above statements will appear radical to many, and have indeed been specifically denied,16 it is necessary to support them here by a somewhat detailed collection of the evidence.

That the B. C. does not contain any clear political “slogan” or announcement of the “imperial idea” has often been noted. U. Knoche writes:17 “Sieht man Caesars Schriften durch … so ist es bemerkenswert, wie häufig von der Fortuna die Rede ist und wie der Gedanke an ein römisches Schicksal ganz zurücktritt. Geradezu erstaunlich und erschreckened ist es aber, eine wie geringe Rolle dort überhaupt in Wirklichkeit der Reichsgedanke spielt; und es ist sonderbar, dass Caesar, der Meister der Propaganda, sich diese Parole hat entgehn lassen.” The sole instance in the B. C. of an expression that may be thought in some sense to announce a “program” or overall political plan is a phrase in a letter to Metellus Scipio urging as objectives to be sought, quietem Italiae, pacem provinciarum, salutem imperi (B. C., III, 57, 4). These words do sum up, with remarkable accuracy and insight, the great needs of the Roman world, and Gelzer18 has repeatedly cited them to show Caesar's statesmanly grasp of the problems before him, and his vision beyond the limited horizon of the old res publica incorporating merely the city-state of Rome, or at most, the citizen body of Italy. But these words in their actual context cannot be taken as a program or even as a slogan, whatever may be their value as proof of Caesar's understanding and statesman's concern. The message in which they occur is an offer of peace on the principle of return to the status quo ante bellum, that is, re-establishment of the senatorial oligarchy and the rest of the legal and customary res publica.

At no time in the B. C. does Caesar indicate a desire or intention of altering or reforming, to say nothing of revolutionizing, the old constitution. The propaganda of the work has, in fact, the exactly opposite tendency of emphasizing Caesar's defense of the old constitution. His expressed reasons for invading Italy are (1) to support the rights of the tribunes (B. C., I, 5, 1-2; 22, 5; 32, 6); (2) to free the Roman people from the factio paucorum (I, 22, 5; 85, 4); (3) to preserve his personal dignitas against the iniuriae and contumeliae of his inimici (I, 7, 1; 7-8; 22, 5; 32, 2; cf. Cic., Att., VII, 11, 1). His conditions of peace, as stated in the B. C., never require any constitutional change, but stress on the contrary his constant desire and willingness to submit to the republican laws. He is prepared to suffer all for the good of the state (I, 9, 3; 5). He asks only free elections and personal security (I, 9, 5; 85, 11; III, 10, 8-10). This picture of his demands and intentions is supplemented but not altered by the strictly contemporary evidence of the Ciceronian correspondence (note especially, Att., VIII, 9, 4: aiebat (Balbus the Younger) nihil malle Caesarem quam ut Pompeium adsequeretur … et rediret in gratiam; … Balbus quidem maior ad me scribit nihil malle Caesarem quam principe Pompeio sine metu vivere). It is the Pompeians who are accused of innovation: novum in rem publicam introductum exemplum (B. C., I, 7, 2); in se (i. e., Caesar) novi generis imperia constitui (I, 85, 8). Still more specifically the Pompeians are charged with contemptuous disregard for law and custom: Consules, quod ante id tempus accidit numquam, ex urbe proficiscuntur … contra omnia vetustatis exempla … omnia divina humanaque iura permiscentur (I, 6, 7-8).

The question of the sincerity or truth of this presentation is at the moment irrelevant; the point to be noted is that Caesar is at pains to appear as the loyal son of the republic, forced to take arms in the republic's defense, and wishing nothing as reward but the restoration of the old state of things, otium (I, 5, 5), and peace. There is not a sentence in the B. C. the political tendency of which could not be approved by Cicero, or for that matter, by Cato; there is no threat of innovation (those of Caesar's followers who entertained radical hopes of confiscation and novae tabulae were quickly disillusioned; cf. Caelius Rufus, Fam., VIII, 17, 2; hic nunc praeter faeneratores paucos nec homo nec ordo quisquam est nisi Pompeianus), and no expression of dissatisfaction with the former condition of the res publica except that the selfishness and ambition of a few men, of the factio paucorum, was preventing the system from functioning. Caesar reduces the whole political question to the level of a personal quarrel in which Pompey, supported and egged on by Caesar's inimici, preferred to throw the state into a turmoil rather than permit Caesar his well-earned place of equal dignitas (B. C., I, 4, 4. Lucan's well-known nec quemquam iam ferre potest Caesarve priorem / Pompeiusve parem does not misrepresent Caesar's own statement). The modern idea that there was a general crisis, economic and political, in the Mediterranean world that could be resolved only by a fundamental change in the governmental organization, with one-man rule replacing the old rivalry of the potentes19 for money and honores, is not remotely suggested, not even darkly hinted by Caesar.

We find this so hard to believe that we read into Caesar what we cannot find explicit in his work. L. Wickert writes of the peace propaganda of the B. C. thus:20 “Caesars Absicht war, nachzuweisen, nicht nur, dass er den Frieden gewollt habe, sondern auch, dass er im Kampfe mit den Pompeianern und im Gegenzatz zu ihnen alles getan habe, um die alte res publica zu retten” (a correct and excellent statement); “dass aber das Verhalten der Gegner und die Ereignisse selbst es ihm unmöglich gemacht hätten, diese Plan durchzuführen” (partly correct, but one sees here the beginning of subjective addition); “dass er Schritt für Schritt gegen seinen ursprünglichen Willen mit zwingender Notwendigkeit dazu geführt worden sei, die Verfassung in der Weise umzugestalten, dass die Monarchie und—können wir hinzufügen—der Reichsstaat das Ergebnis sein mussten” (for this last view there is in the B. C. no trace; it is a modern and wholly subjective interpretation based on knowledge of the actual later imperial development). The only passage in the B. C. that gives the slightest color to the last part of Wickert's sentence is that of Caesar's speech to his rump senate of 1 April 49 (B. C., I, 32, 7): Pro quibus rebus hortatur ac postulat, ut rem publicam suscipiant atque una secum administrent. Sin timore defugiant, illis se oneri non futurum et per se rem publicam administraturum. There is no announcement here of a coming Reichsstaat, or of any general constitutional reform; there is, as Gelzer21 has pointed out, a threat to act independently, and thus an attempt to force co-operation by the reluctant senate, but again there is nothing that a Cicero or a Cato could not have approved in principle. The idea of a temporary dictatorship to deal with a public emergency, whether formally tendered by a vote of the senate or taken in hand de facto by a strong consul, was one of the oldest traditions of the Roman constitution. In Caesar's words there is no break with the res publica, but rather the use of the res publica as a slogan.

In conformity with his striving to appear as the bonus civis, rei publicae natus, Caesar continually implies that his march into Italy in 49 (the touchiest point of his case: note Mommsen's struggle to justify it in the Rechtsfrage) was supported by almost universal consent. Towns and soldiers are again and again represented as eager to yield themselves, and as submitting with great impatience to control by Pompeians. A monotonous parade of surrenderers and collaborationists is set forth in B. C., I, 12-18. At Iguvium, Caesar certior factus … omnium esse … optimam erga se voluntatem. Thermus, who was holding the town for the Pompeians, flees, and milites in itinere ab eo discedunt … Curio summa omnium voluntate Iguvium recipit (I, 12, 1-3; note the tendentious recipit for capit or occupat). Practically the same formula describes the seizure of Auximum, with the addition of an honorary citation: neque se neque reliquos municipes pati posse C. Caesarem imperatorem, bene de re publica meritum, tantis rebus gestis oppido moenibusque prohiberi (I, 13, 1). In Picenum, Pompey's special stronghold, cunctae earum regionum praefecturae libentissimis animis eum recipiunt exercitumque eius omnibus rebus iuvant (I, 15, 1; a cynic may wonder how many peremptory requisitions helped the help); Etiam Cingulo, quod oppidum Labienus constituerat … ad eum legati veniunt quaeque imperaverit se cupidissime facturos pollicentur (I, 15, 2). Never was conquering army so enthusiastically greeted. If there was a sullen citizen or two who with Cicero was wondering utrum de imperatore populi Romani an de Hannibale loquimur (Att., VII, 11, 1), we should never learn the fact from Caesar.

This “bandwagon propaganda” is extended and emphasized throughout the B. C.22 In some passages it is given a definite political, even legal connotation. At Oricum L. Torquatus … conatus portis clausis oppidum defendere cum Graecos murum ascendere atque arma capere iuberet, illi autem se contra imperium populi Romani pugnaturos esse negarent (B. C., III, 11, 3-4). Again at Apollonia, where L. Staberius attempted like Torquatus to defend the town and secure hostages from the inhabitants, illi vero daturos se negare, neque portas consuli praeclusuros, neque sibi iudicium sumpturos contra atque omnis Italia populusque Romanus iudicavisset (III, 12, 2). In Syria the soldiers of Metellus Scipio threatened mutiny, ac non nullae militum voces … sese contra civem et consulem arma non laturos (III, 31, 4). Caesar urged the Massilians: debere eos Italiae totius auctoritatem sequi potius quam unius hominis voluntati obtemperare (I, 35, 1). As factual reports of words actually spoken these passages are obviously strongly colored and “stylized,” but they prove beyond cavil Caesar's keen wish to legitimate his victory in conformity with republican principles. Of similar tendency is the ostentatious deference to the comitia advertised in III, 1, 5: Statuerat enim prius hos (those exiled during Pompey's domination) iudicio populi debere restitui quam suo beneficio videri receptos, ne aut ingratus in referenda gratia aut arrogans in praeripiendo populi beneficio videretur. In his last months Caesar treated the comitia with sovereign contempt, ordering mock elections at his personal pleasure, and outraging republican feelings: Incredibile est quam turpiter mihi facere videar, qui his rebus intersim, wrote Cicero to Curius. Ille autem (i. e., Caesar), qui comitiis tributis esset auspicatus, centuriata habuit, consulem hora septima renuntiavit, qui usque ad K. Ian. esset quae erant futurae mane postridie. Ita Caninio consule scito neminem prandisse (Fam., VII, 30, 1, January 44).23

Caesar's anxiety to placate republican opinion is shown less conspicuously, but none the less significantly, in his omissions. Rambaud24 has with great plausibility suggested that the reason the name of Cicero does not appear in the B. C. is that it was precisely Caesar's failure to win Cicero to his side that made his claim to represent the old republic look thin. “D'un côté, elle [i. e., the unsuccessful sollicitation of Cicero] aide à comprendre que le Bellum Civile n'ait pas nommé Cicéron à qui César accordait tant d'importance en 49; l'abstention prudente de ce politique, son absence au sénat le premier avril, démentaient l'argumentation césarienne.” Cicero's defiance of Caesar at the interview of 28 March 49 (Att., IX, 18) was unquestionably a serious setback for Caesar's policy, and all the more painful that it was unexpected. “Menschlich gesehn ist es vielleicht die erstaunlichste Niederlage, die Caesar erlitten hat.”25 Caesar passed it over in silence in the B. C. not only because it was a psychological defeat, but because it damaged the picture of republicanism he was striving to paint. There was perhaps not another man in Italy whose judgment of the political rightness of his conduct Caesar so much valued, or whose approval would in fact have been more valuable to him.

No phase of Caesar's conduct in the civil war impressed his contemporaries (and indeed posterity) more strongly than his clementia. In the B. C. this policy is given a very prominent place and is unquestionably one of the major strands of the Caesarian propaganda. But it has often been noted that Caesar, though he rings the changes on the idea so tirelessly that a modern scholar has facetiously suggested that the book should be titled Bellum Civile, sive de Caesaris clementia,26 deliberately avoids the word; he speaks instead of lenitas, and of incolumes dimittere or incolumes conservare; his supporters speak of temperantia and humanitas (Caelius, Fam., VIII, 15, 1; Dolabella, Fam., IX, 9, 3). The reason is not far to seek. Clementia is the virtue of the legitimate monarch, not of the primus inter pares.27 It was exactly because he was unwilling to accept Caesar's clementia, unwilling to recognize any right of Caesar to exercise clementia, that Cato preferred death, and Caesar's avoidance of the word shows in striking fashion his care to stay inside the republican tradition of equality. He similarly avoids the word in his famous letter on the capitulation of Corfinium (Att., IX, 7-c), but speaks of misericordia and liberalitas, and it is his opponent Cicero who writes bitterly of insidiosa clementia (Att., VIII, 16, 2).28

All this conspicuous, not to say ostentatious republicanism of the B. C. is incompatible with the Caesar of 46-44, “the crony of Quirinus stepping down from his place among the gods” (Quid? tu hunc de pompa Quirini contubernalem his nostris moderatis epistulis laetaturum putas? Cic., Att., XIII, 28, 2). It is equally discordant and unfitting whether read as apologetic or as preparatory propaganda. As apologetic, it is too grossly contradicted by the events of 46-44, too easily turned to ridicule, to be effective; as preparatory propaganda, it prepares for the wrong thing. When one considers the deep-cutting change that took place in Caesar's character and outlook in his last phase,29 the conclusion is strongly suggested that the B. C. is a product of his earlier period.

The argument of Barwick, based on considerations of the timely character of the propaganda and tendance, and on the time-conditioned judgments of men (note especially the rather severe criticism of M. Varro, B. C., II, 17-20), reinforces the above line of thought, and points to late 48 or early 47 as the date of composition. To Barwick's evidence may be added the remarks of P. Fabre,30 who cites the fine saying of Louis XII: “Le roi de France ne venge pas les injures du duc d'Orléans,” and asks whether Caesar would have carried on his quarrel with the dead: “Après la guerre d'Espagne, et déjà même après la guerre d'Afrique, quel intérêt eût trouvé le maître absolu de Rome, le tout-puissant dicateur … à dessiner en traits satiriques et mordants des ennemis que la mort ou la soumission avait réduits à l'impuissance?” We know, indeed, that he did pursue Cato beyond the grave, but this is to be explained by Cato's special position as a symbol of continuing resistance. Is it not more likely that the persiflage with Metellus Scipio (His temporibus Scipio detrimentis quibusdam circa montem Amanum acceptis imperatorem se appellaverat, B. C., III, 31, 1) was written while this contemptible Pompeian leader was still in active opposition? The disparaging observations on Afranius (B. C., I, 84, 4; 85, 1) and Petreius (I, 75, 2) are also more fitting if written before Thapsus and the deaths of these men.

One of the remarks of Caesar quoted earlier, omnia divina humanaque iura permiscentur (B. C., I, 6, 8), inspired a comment by Eduard Meyer:31 “Caesar hat sich die schöne Schlussphrase nicht entgehen lassen” (he used it again, B. C., I, 32, 5!) “die er ebensogut auf seine eignen, ganz gleichartigen Massregeln als Monarch hätte anwenden können.” Meyer might have added that Cicero actually did apply virtually this formula to Caesar's conduct: omnia iura divina et humana pervertit propter eum quem sibi ipse opinionis errore finxerat principatum (De Off., I, 26). I suggest that what was obvious to Cicero and Meyer was probably obvious also to Caesar, and that it is unlikely that he would have allowed “die schöne Schlussphrase” to appear had he been writing at a date when it could so easily and effectively be turned to scorn.

None of these indications of the time of writing of the B. C. is decisive, but the ease with which they may be individually discounted must not be permitted to obscure the fact that they are parallel, not linked indications, so that their cumulative force is not to be despised. But it may well be asked why, if Caesar wrote the B. C. in 48-47 for political ends, did he not publish it at once? This question seemed to me unanswerable when I first considered the problem, and led me to suppose that the work could only have been written toward the end of Caesar's life, at the earliest after Thapsus. But if it can be shown that events interrupted the writing and made the original purpose obsolete, the natural objection to a widely separated date of writing and publication disappears, and the arguments of Barwick and Klotz are no longer opposed, but point together to the same conclusion: writing in 48-47; publication in 44-43.


When Caesar arrived at Alexandria some seven weeks after Pharsalus, and was shown the head of Pompey, who had been murdered a few days before, he very probably believed, with that sanguine temperament that had led him to write of the condition of Gaul at the end of 56, omnibus de causis Caesar pacatam Galliam existimaret (B. G., III, 7, 1), that the civil war was virtually over, and that he needed but show himself in Italy to find all opposition broken: Caesar confisus fama rerum gestarum infirmis auxiliis proficisci non dubitaverat aeque omnem sibi locum tutum fore existimans (B. C., III, 106, 3). The objects for which he had fought the civil war were attained; he had recovered his dignitas, and his soldiers might now expect to recover their libertas (B. C., III, 91, 2). In this spirit of optimistic self-satisfaction he had marched around the Aegean to the Hellespont, and had sailed thence to Ephesus and Rhodes, hearing and recording, with harmless pride, the stories of prodigies that circulated through the East in the wake of his victory (B. C., III, 105). From Rhodes he had crossed the Mediterranean to Alexandria. It is quite possible that he dictated part if not most of the B. C. at intervals of this journey, as we know was his custom in traveling (cf. the De Analogia and the Iter, Sueton., Caes., 56, 5). He was nominally in pursuit of Pompey, but he did not press the matter with Caesarian celeritas. For a Pompeius Magnus was hardly a fit subject for liberalitas sive misericordia.

Immediately after his arrival at Alexandria on approximately 2 October 48 (27 July by the corrected calendar), two unforeseen developments combined to turn his adventurous life to a new course: he met Cleopatra and he became involved in the dangerous struggle for the control of Egypt known as the Alexandrian war.

Our firm knowledge of the events at Alexandria rests mainly on the account of Hirtius, who was not, however, present himself, but put together his narrative from Caesar's private conversations (quae bella … ex parte nobis Caesaris sermone sunt nota, B. G., VIII, Praef. 8) supplemented no doubt by other reports written or oral. He tells us nothing of Caesar's personal life, prudently suppressing, in deference to Roman “Victorianism” and xenophobia, what he knew of Caesar's liaison with the woman he had recognized as the legitimate Egyptian queen. To eke out the purely military history of Hirtius we have some 500 lines of the tenth book of Lucan's Pharsalia, based in all probability on Livy, but of course heavily loaded with poetical invention, exaggeration, and bitter anti-Caesar partisanship. At a hardly higher level of reliability stand the brief and contradictory notices in Suetonius, Plutarch, Dio Cassius, and Appian. In the nature of the case, rumor and speculation must have embroidered the known facts. Yet there can be no question whatever that Cleopatra gained a powerful influence over Caesar, or that she continued for the rest of Caesar's life to hold a place of major importance in his plans. The failure of our main source to discuss the psychological and moral background of the Alexandrian war must not lead us to ignore, or treat as trivial gossip, the decisive importance of the Egyptian period in Caesar's personal development. With good reason has Cleopatra been called “die genialste Frau der Weltgeschichte,”32 and with good reason did the Romans fear her “as they had feared no other but Hannibal.”33

Caesar remained in Egypt some eight months, the last two of which were spent in a pleasure-trip up the Nile with Cleopatra.34 He then departed to take up again the affairs of empire, which had assumed a seriously threatening form during his period of neglect. But a year later we find Cleopatra in Rome, living in Caesar's own sumptuous residence across the Tiber, where she remained until after the murder of the dictator, caring for Caesar's son Caesarion and “playing the queen” to the rage of republican Romans (Cicero, Att., XV, 15, 2). Caesar had her statue publicly set up next to that of Venus Victrix (Genetrix), his own patron goddess, and much of the intrigue and scheming of the last months of his life—the plan to assume the title Rex outside Italy, the rumor that he intended to remove the seat of government to Alexandria, and the astonishing law which Helvius Cinna was charged with introducing to enable Caesar to marry uxores liberorum quaerendorum causa quas et quot vellet (Suet., Caes., 52, 3)—is unquestionably closely connected with his serious involvement with the Egyptian enchantress.35

It is of course impossible to know the precise manner in which the fabulous luxury and display, the excesses of power and pleasure that Caesar found at the Alexandrian court worked upon his mind, but there are many proofs that the post-Alexandrian, post-Cleopatra Caesar is a very different man from the Caesar of Corfinium and Ilerda.36 The imagination of Lucan has painted the scene in florid rhetoric, and a greater than Lucan was inspired by his description37 to write:

High on a throne of royal state, which far
Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,
Or where the gorgeous East, with richest hand,
Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold,
Satan exalted sat.

All circumstances united to turn the Roman Imperator into the oriental Rex, to harden his contempt for the stupid oligarchy that had rejected him, and to fill his soul with that superbia and delusion of grandeur which three years later made him so hateful that his old friends and camp comrades combined to murder him.

If, as has been suggested, Caesar wrote the B. C. in the period immediately following Pharsalus, partly during his leisurely journey to Egypt and partly during intervals in the palace at Alexandria (when one considers that the so-called “Alexandrian war” lasted some six months, but that the actual fighting took up only a few days, it is clear that many free intervals must have been available), it is easy to understand both the republican tone and ideology of the work and its propaganda of self-justification. It is Caesar's apologia for his conduct of the civil war, addressed to Romans; to Romans first of all of the aristocracy that had fought against him (other than the irreconcilable leaders). Its tendance is open and straightforward: to clear Caesar of any charge of attacking the republic, to set forth his deeds in the best light, to destroy the moral credit of his adversaries, to be admired, to triumph. One may see in it not unjustly a certain spirit of self-satisfied exuberance, a tempered repetition of the fiducia of 59: Quo gaudio elatus non temperavit, quin paucos post dies frequenti curia iactaret, invitis et gementibus adversariis adeptum se quae concupisset, proinde ex eo insultaturum omnium capitibus (Suet., Caes., 22, 2). It contains no subtle double-talk looking toward monarchy; the ideals and standards of conduct to which it appeals are the ideals and standards of the old republic, of Cicero and of Cato. It contains no “Caesarism” in the sense which that word has assumed in modern times, but is throughout the work of a Roman republican aristocrat, successful in the lawful game that the Roman aristocracy played, the game of competition for honors and position. Having swept the board in this game, Caesar might well say Satis diu vel naturae vixi vel gloriae.

In Egypt, however, falling increasingly under the influence of Cleopatra and of the atmosphere of oriental despotism and oriental luxury, Caesar gradually lost interest in the Roman ideal of aristocratic libertas, and became convinced that Sulla had been a simpleton when he resigned the dictatorship. When he finally returned to Italy from the East at the end of 47, he came determined to hold power in perpetuity, and to increase the pomp and splendor of his position in ways that would have seemed frivolous to the Caesar who had given his bed to Oppius and had slept on the ground.

But it was not alone the corrupting influence of refined and exotic luxury that worked upon Caesar's character during the Egyptian interlude. He visited the tomb of the great Macedonian conqueror, whose career had stimulated his imagination since his youth, and he saw in active operation the most complex and developed administrative bureaucracy of the ancient world. “Ganz gewiss hat Caesar seinen Aufenthalt in Ägypten nach der glücklichen Beendigung des Alexandrinischen Krieges nicht bloss zum Tändeln mit Kleopatra benutzt, sondern ausser anderm auch zum Studium einer Verwaltung, von der die römische unendlich viel lernen konnte.”38 A new Caesar developed in Egypt, perhaps for both better and worse, for it was in Egypt that Caesar decided not only on personal monarchy, but on many of those schemes of reform and re-organization to which his modern admirers have appealed as evidence of his statesmanship. We know that the calendar reform came from Egypt, and we may guess that many another project (one thinks of the dream of piercing the Isthmus of Corinth with a canal in imitation of the great Pharaoh) was likewise the product of the fertile Nile and its ripe civilization.

In Dio Cassius' history (XLIII, 15-18) stands a speech allegedly delivered ad Quirites on the occasion of Caesar's victorious return from Africa (and his visit to his Sardinian “farm,” Fam., IX, 7, 2). Dio's habit of manufacturing rhetorical speeches is too well known to permit anyone to accept this piece as representing with accuracy an original documentary source, but it is not probable that it is fabricated out of hand. In it Caesar announces a program of general reform under the principle that the eighteenth century called “enlightened despotism.” For what it may be worth, this doubtless garbled speech may be taken as the herald of the new Caesar, the Caesar who has given his name to “Caesarism.”

By this time the manuscript of the Bellum Civile was a forgotten paper of the past. It no longer corresponded to the psychology of its author. It remained untouched in Caesar's archives until the summer of 44, when it was resurrected by Hirtius and given over to the copyists.39 Thus the arguments of both Barwick and Klotz have their respective validity. We need assume neither that Caesar published a work in a “skizzenhafter Zustand,” nor that he pursued propaganda objectives that were long obsolete.40


If the foregoing discussion is correct in its main outlines and conclusion, consequences of no small importance to the understanding of the events of 50-49 must be reckoned with. First of all, we must not attribute to Caesar the fixed intention at the beginning of the civil war, or even after the struggle at Dyrrachium and the victory of Pharasalus, of destroying the republic and establishing a personal regnum. We must take more seriously than recent scholarship has done his comparatively modest professions of objectives as stated in the conditions given to L. Roscius and L. Caesar (B. C., I, 9, 5-6).41 We must not give a Machiavellian or even a Hitlerian twist to his claims of peaceful intentions, or to his announcement of a nova ratio vincendi, ut misericordia et liberalitate nos muniamus (Att., IX, 7-c, 1).42 His letters in the Ciceronian collection (Att., IX, 6-a; 7-c; 16, 2), and the letters of his agents Balbus and Oppius (Att., VIII, 15-a; IX, 7-a; 13-a) must be taken as more sincere and more “republican” than they have frequently been judged. We must not re-interpret the plain words of our sources with modern diplomatic subtlety, or in the light of modern knowledge of an imperial development that no man could foresee in 49 b. c. When Caesar held his famous interview with Cicero at Formiae on 28 March 49, he really meant what he said: Veni igitur et age de pace (Att., IX, 18, 1). He wanted civil peace, dignitas and otium, and he did not demand dictatorial powers for himself as their price.

The large-scale plans of reform (lex Iulia municipalis), of colonization, of vast engineering projects, and of personal government, with the striving for excessive honors and semi-divine titles, are all products of the later Caesar, and cannot be safely appealed to as evidence for his purposes in 49, to say nothing of his purposes in 59 or 60.43 One may guess that had he been granted his second consulship for the year 48, he would not have attempted to revolutionize the state, but would have been content with a proconsulship thereafter to take vengeance on the Parthian for Carrhae.

It was the stubbornness, suspiciousness, and vindictiveness of the Pompeian-Catonian opposition—Marcus Bibulus, Lucius Domitius, Metellus Scipio, Faustus Sulla, Lentulus Crus, and their amici—unwilling and temperamentally unable to believe in a moderate Caesar, a Caesar bonus civis—that drove matters to civil war, and brought to naught the peace efforts of Cicero and other reasonable men. Pompey himself, as Cicero expressly says (Victa est auctoritas mea non tam a Pompeio [nam is movebatur] quam ab iis qui duce Pompeio freti peropportunam et rebus domesticis et cupiditatibus suis illius belli victoriam fore putabant, to A. Caecina, Fam., VI, 6, 6), and as Caesar implies (Ipse Pompeius, ab inimicis Caesaris incitatus, B. C., I, 4, 4), could probably have been brought to a second Luca agreement, which would by no means necessarily have involved a despotic or “unrepublican” rule by Caesar. There was room within the constitution for orderly reform, and it is a tragedy of world history that Rome could not use for orderly reform the services of her greatest son. Through civil war the way led to military dictatorship and totalitarianism. It was the way chosen by a stiff-necked aristocracy unable to forget and unable to learn. As Caesar truly said as he gazed at the desolation of Pharsalus: Hoc voluerunt; tantis rebus gestis Gaius Caesar condemnatus essem, nisi ab exercitu auxilium petissem (Suet., Caes., 30, 4). Perhaps after all, if we could really look into the wheels and levers of history, we should find that it was not Caesar, but Cato and Cleopatra, who founded the Roman empire!


  1. “Zu Caesars Bellum Civile,” Rh. M., 1911, pp. 80 ff. Cf. R.-E., X, col. 270.

  2. “Die Herausgabe des Bellum Civile,” Wien. Stud., 1912, pp. 203 ff. Cf. Bursian Jahresberichte, CCXXIV (1927); CCLXIV (1939), with citation of additional literature.

  3. Philol., Suppl., XXXI, 2 (1938).

  4. Teubner edition, Leipzig, 1950.

  5. Lloyd W. Daly, A. J. P., 1953, p. 195; F. E. Adcock, Caesar as Man of Letters (Cambridge, 1956), is doubtful; see note 40 below.

  6. U. Knoche, “Caesars Commentarii, ihr Gegenstand und ihre Absicht,” Gymnasium, 1951, Heft 2; P. Fabre, Bellum Civile (3rd Budé edition, Paris, 1947), pp. xxiii-xxiv; M. Rambaud, L'art de la déformation historique dans les Commentaires de César (Paris, 1953). I have myself tried to show the insufficiency of some of Barwick's arguments in an appendix to my Frankfurt dissertation, Propaganda, Ethics, and Psychological Assumptions in Caesar's Writings (1952).

  7. The passage of Brut., 262 has since Nipperdey been generally recognized as applying only to the B. G., and Barwick has not shaken this res iudicata; the attempt to find echoes of the B. C. in Cicero's Pro Ligario, 18 is also unsuccessful, in that the catch-words (dignitas, contumelia) and arguments by which Caesar justified his war-making were in common circulation long before the B. C. Cicero was already complaining of Caesar's sensitive dignitas in January 49 (Att., VII, 11, 1).

  8. Cf. Knoche, op. cit. (note 6 above), p. 155, n. 30: “Das stärkste Argument für die postume Edition des BC sind m. E. die worte des Asinius Pollio.”

  9. Cf. Klotz, Cäsarstudien (Leipzig, 1910), pp. 155-6; Rice Holmes, Caesar de Bello Gallico (Oxford, 1914), p. 362, n. 2.

  10. F. Lossmann, “Zur literarischen Kritik Suetons,” Hermes, LXXXV (1957), pp. 47-58, analyzes the meaning of Suetonius' version of Pollio's criticism (it is important to note that we do not have Pollio's exact words), and its bearing on the problem of date, with great sharpness and detail. His final conclusion supports Klotz' theory of posthumous publication. See also his careful review of Barwick, Gnomon, 1956, pp. 355-62.

  11. Op. cit. (note 6), pp. 55-6.

  12. Budé edition, p. xxi. Fabre believes the B. C. was written before Thapsus. See citation at note 30 below.

  13. Cf. R. Syme, The Roman Revolution (Oxford, 1939), p. 53.

  14. Ed. Meyer, Caesars Monarchie und das Principat des Pompeius (Stuttgart-Berlin, 1918); W. Steidle, Sueton und die antike Biographie, Zetemata, Heft 1 (Munich, 1951), pp. 60 ff.

  15. In “Caesar and the Corruption of Power,” Historia, 1955, pp. 445-65, I have tried to show this contempt in some detail; here I may summarily refer to chapters 76-80 of Suetonius' Caesar, recalling their importance as a Roman moral judgment recently stressed by Steidle, op. cit. (note 14).

  16. Among better company, by me, who thought I could find evidence in the B. C. of Caesar's desire to appear as the patronus of the Roman state, op. cit. (note 6), p. 76; cf. citation from L. Wickert, note 20 below.

  17. “Die geistige Vorbereitung der augusteischen Epoche,” in Das neue Bild der Antike, ed. H. Berve (Leipzig, 1942), II, p. 213.

  18. Caesar, der Politiker und Staatsmann (4th ed., Munich, 1942), p. 262; Vom römischen Staat (Leipzig, 1943), I, p. 137; II, p. 178.

  19. certamina potentium, Tacitus, Ann., I, 2.

  20. “Zu Caesars Reichspolitik,” Klio, 1937, pp. 232 ff.

  21. “Caesar,” in Das neue Bild der Antike, II, p. 188 = Vom römischen Staat, I, p. 126.

  22. A full citation of passages with sharply critical discussion is given by Rambaud, op. cit. (note 6), pp. 277-83.

  23. Cf. further discussion of the “Legalitätstendenz” in Barwick, Caesars Bellum Civile, pp. 109-114. The preceding two paragraphs have been adapted with minor revision from my dissertation, op. cit. (note 6), pp. 78-80.

  24. Op. cit. (note 6), p. 151.

  25. O. Seel, Cicero (Stuttgart, 1953), p. 199.

  26. P. Fabre, Budé edition, p. xxx.

  27. Seneca, De Clem., II, 3, 1: Clementia est temperantia animi in potestate ulciscendi vel lenitas superioris adversus inferiorem in constituendis poenis. Cf. Rambaud, op. cit. (note 6), pp. 289-93.

  28. M. Treu, “Zur Clementia Caesaris,” M. H., 1948, pp. 197 ff., and Rambaud, op. cit. (note 6), pp. 289 ff., have strongly attacked the sincerity of Caesar's professions, and have developed the view given contemporary expression by young Curio: ipsum autem non voluntate aut natura non esse crudelem, sed quod popularem putaret esse clementiam (Att., X, 4, 8). It would require a second article to give in detail my reasons for disagreeing with this view; briefly, I may remark that Cicero, although he wrote of insidiosa clementia at the time, did not later doubt its genuineness, despite the hatred he felt for Caesar. But the question of sincerity is quite secondary here to the estimate of Caesar's “republicanism” in the B. C. Sincere or Machiavellian, Caesar presents his clementia or liberalitas as the good will of a republican nobilis, not as the condescension of a monarch.

  29. Cf. my “Caesar and the Corruption of Power.”

  30. Budé edition, 1947, p. xxi. Fabre, however, agrees with Klotz in assigning a posthumous date of publication.

  31. Op. cit. (note 14), p. 289, n. 1.

  32. Title of book by Otto van Wertheimer (1930). Cf. also Th. Birt, Frauen der Antike (Leipzig, 1932), and F. Stähelin's R.-E. article (1921).

  33. W. W. Tarn, Oxford Classical Dictionary (1949), article “Cleopatra.”

  34. Louis E. Lord, “The Date of Julius Caesar's Departure from Alexandria,” J. R. S., 1938, pp. 19-40, discredits, perhaps correctly, the alleged pleasure-trip. The point is not essential to the matter of this article.

  35. Full citation of sources and of the most important modern literature in Stähelin, R. E., XI, col. 755. F. E. Adcock, C. A. H., IX, p. 724, n. 1, rejects, without good reason, the account of the proposed law to permit polygamy. Correct view in Meyer, op. cit. (note 14), p. 518. From an obscure reference in Cicero (Att., XIV, 20, 3) it may reasonably be inferred that Cleopatra was pregnant with Caesar's second child at the date of the assassination. Cf. J. Carcopino, Cicero: the Secrets of his Correspondence (London, 1951), II, pp. 314-17, who believes, however, that the reference is to the birth of Caesarion. No one else that I know doubts that Caesarion was born in 47.

  36. Cf. my “Caesar and the Corruption of Power.”

  37. Of course I do not know this; let Milton scholars speak.

  38. H. Willrich, “Caligula,” Klio, 1903, p. 89.

  39. Rambaud, op. cit. (note 6), p. 367, supposes that the B. C. was published after Caesar's death by Antony and Faberius.

  40. F. E. Adcock, Caesar as Man of Letters, declines to commit himself definitely, but follows Barwick's general argument. His most interesting remark in connection with this paper is his suggestion that, after Pharsalus, “though Caesar did not cease to be a man of letters, he had come to care less for self-justification once he had the supreme justification of success. He seems to have become willing to leave to others the narratives of his victories. And the less he came to care for the conventions of the republic, the less he was anxious to maintain that he had preserved them.”

  41. K. von Fritz, “The Mission of L. Caesar and Roscius,” T. A. P. A., 1941, pp. 125 ff., refuses to take these proposals as offering a serious basis of peaceful compromise.

  42. As M. Treu, op. cit. (note 28).

  43. As is well known, Mommsen's brilliant portrait attributes to Caesar a conscious aiming, from his earliest youth, at the goal of statesmanly reform through the establishment of monarchy. Cicero, Phil., II, 116, says of Caesar multos annos regnare meditatus, but this, and similar attributions by opponents, need not be taken too seriously.

Addendum: After this article was submitted, there came into my hands an article by Karlhans Abel, “Zur Datierung von Cäsars Bellum Civile,” Museum Helveticum, XV (1958), pp. 56-74, who argues sharply that the so-called “Legalitätstendenz” of the B. C. cannot be used as evidence of the date of composition. His entire article should be read in connection with the line of argument offered in section II above.

Zwi Yavetz (essay date 1979)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 23084

SOURCE: “Caesar and Caesarism in the Historical Writing of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” in Julius Caesar and His Public Image, Cornell University Press, 1983, pp. 10-57.

[In the following excerpt, originally published in German in 1979, Yavetz surveys modern interpretations of Caesar, focusing on the question of whether he should be considered a dictator.]


In 1953 Hermann Strasburger startled a group of German teachers when he stated briefly and persuasively,2 that Julius Caesar, despite his image of great popularity,3 was nothing more than a lonely dictator: not a single Roman senator supported his fateful decision to cross the Rubicon.

Before he took this risk, Caesar addressed his companions, ‘My friends, if I do not cross this stream, there will be manifold distress for me; if I do cross it, it will be for all mankind.’4 This warning left his friends unmoved. Some of them, including Calpurnius Piso (his father-in-law), Publius Dolabella, Scribonius Curio, Sulpicius Rufus and Trebatius Testa, absolutely refused to cross the Rubicon; others, like Oppius, Balbus and Matius (who were reckoned in Rome to be Caesar's most trusted associates), had their own views about it. According to Strasburger, one factor was crucial: at no point did Caesar command the total devotion of his followers.

Strasburger did not concern himself with Caesar's plans, his final aims, or his place in history. He agreed with Jakob Burckhardt that, ‘so far-reaching a view, implying that Caesar's plans were on a world-wide scale, must, since it is based on false assumptions, lead to wrong conclusions.’

At the beginning of his career Caesar was merely a Roman senator,5 and it is highly debatable whether he was at that time capable of thinking of himself as an absolute monarch. Most modern historians6 reject as unhistorical Suetonius' assertion in the name of Cicero,7 ‘Caesar in his consulship established the despotism which he had already in mind when he was aedile.’

It was only after the conquest of Gaul that Caesar decided on war as the means of raising his own dignitas to a level with that of Pompey.8 Viewed from this angle, Caesar was not for one moment planning for monarchy in the year 49 bc, he was not attempting to undermine the Republic, and he was not yet thinking of transforming it into an empire by means of a ‘new order’. Caesar declared that his aims in waging war were ‘the tranquillity of Italy, the peace of the provinces, the safety of the Empire’,9 but Strasburger dismissed these as words of propaganda, and having nothing in common with the pronouncements of a manifesto. Actually, Caesar was anything but a revolutionary; it was he who suggested a spirit of co-operation in the Senate, and challenged senators to share with him the burden of leading the state.10

In assessing Caesar, Strasburger asserted that Caesar was no Augustus, no Trajan and no Hadrian: he was the last patrician of the old school.

Caesar's isolation grew from day to day. While his soldiers and the masses worshipped him like an idol, his peers, and even his closest friends, accused him of tyranny. His murderers had no alternative plans of any kind. They wanted quite simply nothing more than to be rid of the hated dictator. The fact that some of Caesar's laws remained in force even after his death proves only that there was a practical necessity for them. In the last analysis no one regretted his murder.

Thus far Strasburger.

The German teachers were shocked.11 In their view, Strasburger had ‘assassinated’ one of their great heroes, and some of them even wondered whether they were justified in continuing to teach the works of Caesar in their schools. In their perplexity, they sought advice from the great Matthias Gelzer,12 so that they could bolster their belief in the view expressed in all the editions of his book13 that Caesar was, in fact, a great statesman.

Gelzer (rightly) praised Strasburger's article as brilliant. He agreed that Caesar was, perhaps, unloved by his contemporaries, but categorically disputed the conclusion that he was nothing but an average Roman politician. To wage war on a well-established oligarchy—and a victorious one—was the act of a great statesman. In contrast to Augustus, whose motto was festina lente, Caesar was a great improviser. In his latter days he acted like a monarch, but that is not the decisive factor for an assessment of his achievement. Caesar had a plan. Tranquillity for Italy, peace for the provinces and safety for the Empire, was more than a mere slogan. It constituted a programme, ‘in so far as one should expect a programme from Roman statesmen at all’.14 Finally, Caesar's legislation was proof of his statesmanlike insight and energy.

It is to be hoped that Gelzer succeeded in allaying the fears of those teachers who felt deprived of an heroic figure. Yet, even if the ‘Gallic War’ is again being taught in those high schools that have not so far totally abolished the teaching of Latin, the controversy over Caesar has nevertheless not reached a conclusion—and never will.15

In the sixth edition of his biography of Caesar (1960),16 Gelzer was more sceptical in his assessments of the aims of the dictator than in his earlier writings. Two decades previously he had argued against Eduard Meyer, who emphasized Caesar's personal power rather than his political intentions. ‘Living ourselves at a time when the political order is in a state of evolution, we are better able to comprehend some aspects of Caesar than former generations … Caesar founded the Roman Kaisertum designated by his name,’ he wrote in 1942.17

After the war, Gelzer changed his mind,

He published no programme; a practical politician through and through, he recognized the problems in every situation and set about mastering them with a will. Our sources … give us an insight into individual cases but no certain information about his innermost thoughts. We may go so far as to assert that eventually the dictatorship for life corresponded to his wishes. But it remains obscure when … he decided on this form for his principatus. For it is not possible to determine how far the extravagant senatorial decrees which granted him this vast power were inspired by himself. We must guard against ascribing to him actions, plans and motives for which there is no authority.18

We do not know what provoked the change in Gelzer's point of view. Possibly the impact of Syme's research drove him closer to Strasburger's argument. It is also possible that his experiences under a dictatorship in World War II moved the scholar, who never overlooked a source, to take more seriously the judgment of Cicero, who remarked after Caesar's murder, ‘So great was his passion for wrong-doing that the very doing of wrong was a joy to him for its own sake even when there was no motive for it.’19 Finally, it is also possible that he was influenced by a seldom-quoted passage of Pliny, who not only praised Caesar's intellectual vitality, the extent of his benefactions and his military genius, but also pointed out that his wars cost 1,192,000 lives, which is why Caesar neglected to mention the casualty figures in his writings.20 In the last edition of the most comprehensive and important biography of Caesar written in the twentieth century, Gelzer stated that Caesar did not shrink from corruption or acts of violence to further his purposes, and that he was a man who simply had no moral scruples where politics were concerned.

Although Gelzer never questioned Caesar's greatness as a statesman, his hesitation in making a total assessment of the man was criticized by Otto Seel,21 who risked a more acute formulation of the question, namely whether Caesar was merely a successful scoundrel, or whether he should be regarded with awe, respect, enthusiasm and affection—a prototype worthy of imitation. To dismiss this question would be to debase history itself. One can understand Seel's aversion to scholars parading patient wisdom, ironic scepticism and cheerful resignation in their books, yet this appears to be caused by the fact that the days are long since gone when Theodor Mommsen could believe that Caesar's personality might be sketched either superficially or more profoundly, but not differently.22 (See also p. 37.)

Cicero was of a different opinion. In 46 bc he addressed Caesar,

Among those yet unborn there shall arise, as there has arisen among us, sharp division; some shall laud your achievements to the skies, and others shall ignore them.

(Cic., pro Marc., 29)

The problem was clearly recognized by Tacitus, ‘the killing of the dictator Caesar had seemed to some the worst, and to others the fairest, of high exploits (Ann. I, 8, 6). And Seneca found it difficult to answer Livy's question, whether it would have been better for the Republic or not if Caesar had not been born at all (Sen., Nat. Quaest. V, 18, 4).23

Historiography followed the same path. It was not enough to describe Caesar as a man with ‘two souls in but one breast’. He was no Jekyll and Hyde, but rather a phenomenon of many facets which are confirmed in iconographic studies. Likenesses of Caesar show every possible character trait: majesty, pride, disdain, audacity, reflectiveness, elegance, wit, corruption and affection.24 For two thousand years Caesar's personality has intrigued the heart of Europe.25 In time, a ‘Caesar myth’ developed, and eventually an ‘ism’ was attached to his name. This last complication makes it necessary to define this controversial concept before returning to the investigation of Caesar the man.


Historians and political scientists of the nineteenth century made more frequent use of the expression ‘Caesarism’ than their twentieth-century counterparts. W. Roscher provides a good example.26 He knew, as did numerous political scientists before him, that democracy can degenerate into military despotism. The two Napoleons come to mind: Caesarism was frequently used as a synonym for Bonapartism. What expression would Roscher have used, had he written his book after World War I can only be guessed. Fascism, perhaps. His interest lay not so much in the personality of the ruler as in his attitude to the various groupings and strata of society. Everything was promised to everyone, and only the leader's genius could preserve a certain unity. No rational acts could bridge the contradictions in his programme; it depended simply and solely on blind belief in the superhuman capabilities of the ruler.

When Napoleon created his new nobility, he said to some, ‘I guarantee revolution; this caste is highly democratic, for all the time everyone is being summoned to it.’ To the great proprietors he said, ‘It will secure the throne’; to the friends of moderate monarchy, ‘It will be opposed to the abuse of absolute power, for it is becoming influential in the country’; to the Jacobins, ‘Exult, for, the ancient nobility is completely destroyed’, and to the old aristocracy, ‘In decking yourselves with fresh honours you are reviving your own again.’27

Roscher was, in fact, talking about Napoleon I, but a similar account could easily be given of Napoleon III. Did not the latter promise, ‘l'Empire c'est la paix’, only to entangle France a few months later in the hopeless Crimean War? Did he not promise the Italian nationalists and likewise the Pope his support, only to disappoint both ultimately? Did he not promise free trade and protective tariffs, but when his position shifted was he not obliged to vindicate French prestige by a Mexican adventure? A. J. P. Taylor expresses it admirably,

The more we strip off the disguises, the more the disguises appear. Such was Louis Napoleon, the man of mystery: conspirator and statesman, dreamer and realist, despot and democrat, maker of wars and peace, creator and muddler. You can go on indefinitely.28

Was Caesar's fate any different? Did he not also enter into fateful connections with a very mixed collection of advisers, then being compelled to satisfy the desires of a motley group of dependants (see pp. 168 ff.)?29

Pompey, his great adversary, was not so clever. Cicero assessed one of Pompey's speeches as being ‘of no comfort to the poor or interest to the rascals; the rich were not pleased and the honest men were not edified’ (Cic., ad Att. I, 14). Caesar would not have let such an opportunity slip away. He would have obliged everyone, at least for a short time. And it was precisely this gift that led some political scientists to regard him as the father of modern Caesarism.

Gleichschaltung is the dictator's ideal and goal—or, in Heinrich von Treitschke's words, ‘Before the Emperor's divine blood all subjects are fundamentally alike.’30 So must Roman Caesarism have also appeared: slaves ruled their owners, freedmen their patroni, the upper classes succumbed to the strictest control and the masses were entertained with sport and the circus. One of the emperors is alleged to have said to his people, ‘Devote your leisure to games and to the races in the circus. Let me be concerned with the needs of the state, and busy yourselves with your pleasures’ (SHA, Firmus 5).31 In a letter ascribed to Sallust, we read his advice to Caesar that the common people (corrupted by the corn dole and other hand-outs) must be occupied with their own concerns, to prevent them from causing any political damage.

That was Caesarism, a form of rule, which, under the cloak of a legitimate monarchy, was in reality based on military power. The old institutions remained unchanged. The magistracies kept their former names, and the real situation was concealed under a camouflage of artful legal fictions. Government was based on an association of heterogeneous groups, often opposed to one another, from which the key position of the leader necessarily emerged, for only he could oblige everyone. Tacitus described the situation clearly: Augustus ‘conciliated the army by gratuities, the populace by cheapened corn, the world by the amenities of peace’ (Ann. I, 2).

The concept of Caesarism, however, was not yet known to Tacitus. It was used for the first time in 1850 (!) by an enthusiastic Bonapartist, Frannçcois Auguste Romieu (in Ere des Césars). Burckhardt did not take exception to this usage. In his opinion, Caesarism, as a concept, was nonetheless very well defined.32 Mommsen, too, made use of the concept of Caesarism in his History of Rome, although, in contrast to Romieu, he loathed Bonapartism. His readers misunderstood him, however, in so far as they believed he (Mommsen) supported absolute monarchy even in his own day. In the second edition of his book the celebrated historian then clarified his view by being sharply critical of autocracy. He made clear his distinction between Julius Caesar the man, on the one hand, and Caesarism as a form of government on the other.33 Some of his arguments are worth quoting:

At this point, however, it is proper expressly once and for all to postulate what the historian everywhere tacitly presumes, and to protest against the custom—common to simplicity and perfidy—of using historical praise and historical censure, dissociated from the given circumstances, as phrases of general application, and in the present case of construing the judgment respecting Caesar into a judgment concerning what is called Caesarism.

It is true that the history of past centuries ought to be the teacher of the present; but not in the vulgar sense, as if one could simply by turning over the leaves discover the conjunctures for the present from in records of the past, and collect from these the symptoms for a political diagnosis and the specifics for a prescription;34 it is instructive only in so far as the observation of older forms of culture reveals the organic conditions of civilization generally—the fundamental forces everywhere alike, and the manner of their combination everywhere different—and leads and encourages men, not to unreflecting imitation, but to independent reproduction. In this sense the history of Caesar and of Roman Imperialism, with all the unsurpassed greatness of the master-worker, with all the historical necessity of the work, is in truth a more bitter censure of modern autocracy than could be written by the hand of man (my italics, Z.Y.).

According to the same law of nature, in virtue of which the smallest organism infinitely surpasses the most artistic machine, every constitution, however defective, which gives play to the free self-determination of a majority of citizens infinitely surpasses the most brilliant and humane absolutism; for the former is capable of development and therefore living, the latter is what it is and therefore dead. This law of nature has been verified in the Roman absolute military monarchy and all the more completely verified, that, under the impulse of its creator's genius and in the absence of all extraneous material complications, that monarchy developed itself more purely and freely than any similar state.

From Caesar's time, as the sequel will show and Gibbon showed long ago, the Roman system had only an external coherence and received only a mechanical extension, while internally it became even with him utterly withered and dead. If, in the early stages of the autocracy and, above all, in Caesar's own soul, the hopeful dream of a combination of free popular development and absolute rule was still cherished, the government of the highly gifted emperors of the Julian house soon taught men in a terrible way how far it was possible to hold fire and water in the same vessel.

Caesar's work was necessary and salutary, not because it was or could be fraught with blessing in itself, but because—with the national organization of antiquity, which was based on slavery and was an utter stranger to republican-constitutional representation, and in presence of the legitimate civic constitution which in the course of five hundred years had ripened into oligarchic absolutism—absolute military monarchy was the copestone logically necessary and the least of evils.

When once the slave-holding aristocracy in Virginia and the Carolinas shall have carried matters as far as their counterparts in Sullan Rome, Caesarism will there too be legitimized at the bar of history; where it appears under other conditions of development, it is at once a caricature and a usurpation. But history will not submit to curtail the true Caesar of his due honour, because the verdict may lead simplicity astray in the presence of bad Caesars, and may give to roguery occasion for lying and fraud. She too is a Bible, and if she cannot any more than the Bible hinder the fool from misunderstanding and the devil from quoting her, she too will be able to bear with, and to requite, them both.35

After Mommsen only a few historians made use of the concept of Caesarism, although political scientists still refer to it. Roscher has already been mentioned, F. Ruestow constitutes a further example,36 as does Robert von Pöhlmann: the latter applied concepts such as communism and socialism to the classical world, and also used the concept of Caesarism where appropriate. In fact, in 1895 Pöhlmann published Die Entstehung des Caesarismus,37 which added something to the contribution of his predecessors. He was not satisfied with Roscher's statement that it is possible to find prototypes of Caesarism in Roman history (such as, for example, Scipio, Marius, Sulla and Pompey). In his view Roman Caesarism had its origin in the late Greek tyrannies. Dionysius of Syracuse, Agathocles, Euphron of Sicyon, Chaeron of Pellene, Clearchus of Heraclea and Nabis of Sparta were the models for Caesarism. As far as these rulers were concerned, Pöhlmann maintained, they were indifferent to the concepts of morality, justice and law. Therefore, it was not difficult for them to be two-faced by appearing to be absolute monarchs to some and extreme democrats to others.

In general, nineteenth-century scholars were agreed that Caesarism was the outcome of a degenerate democracy, and that the rise of a dictator is usually facilitated by unavoidable conflict between the love of freedom—characteristic of the wealthy and educated classes—and the desire for equality among the masses. These objectives are mutually exclusive, and incompatible in the long run. The appetite of the mob may be contained for a while, but in the course of time its greed grows, for, as Pöhlmann said, ‘the communist idea of sharing one another's victuals for these proletarians has become second nature’.

In these circumstances, the most able withdraw from state service and leave the field to professional politicians, the gulf between the social classes deepens and the demagogues intensify their efforts. Unrest breaks out, and eventually people begin to yearn for the benefactor as sole ruler. Of course, they desire a prudent and moderate ruler, but that does not always turn out to be the case. Usually they put up with one who is not so good, for ‘in the last resort they prefer to permit person and property to be consumed by a single lion rather than by a hundred jackals or even a thousand rats’ (Roscher).

Pöhlmann identified this type of Caesarism as being already present in fourth-century Greece, and thought that the beginnings of a Sultanism can even be traced in Alexander of Macedon and in Julius Caesar (p. 105). Therefore, Roscher's complaint in 1888 that the word Caesarism was used in an unscholarly fashion is readily understandable, as was his unwillingness to accept a definition such as that of Littré, ‘Princes brought to government by democracy, but clad with absolute power.’

And yet, the concept of Caesarism still appears in the literature of the twentieth century. Spengler believed that democracy was doomed and predicted the approach of Caesarism with firm and measured steps. Antonio Gramsci38 made use of the concepts of progressive and regressive Caesarism, and maintained that ‘Caesar and Napoleon are examples of progressive Caesarism’ because, under their regimes, the revolutionary element put the conservative in the shade.

Even if we grant that the elements sketched above are common to all Caesarisms, that every ‘Caesar’ seeks to attach himself to his predecessors, and that every sole ruler must declare, like Napoleon ‘I must remain great, glorious, and admired’; does that bring us any closer to a better understanding of this specific phenomenon?

The use of the word Caesarism, however, does not lead to a real understanding of the problem. Karl Marx had no doubt about that. In his essay, ‘Der 18. Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte’, he characterized Caesarism as a schoolboy expression and its use as a superficial analogizing of history. N. A. Maškin, one of the Soviet Union's most important historians, agrees with Marx in this respect, because he finds that an analogy between Fascism, Bonapartism, and a proletarian regime has no historical value of any kind. For all that, Maškin is unable to dismiss the question of Caesarism easily, for the expression ‘Roman Caesarism’ (whatever its worth) occurs in the works of Lenin, an authority with whom a Soviet historian will not lightly venture to argue.39

A. Momigliano could not be restrained by such inhibitions. He based his criticism of those contemporary historians who employed the concept of Caesarism on the proposition that this kind of terminology was utterly unintelligible to the man of antiquity, while at the same time it is too inexact for the modern man.40

Caesarism is a typically nineteenth-century concept, which was necessary to help explain the emotional and demagogic factors in the government of the two Napoleons. In the twentieth century, however, Caesarism is of as little use as Fascism in helping us understand Caesar.

Detailed elaborations of the differences between the world of antiquity and the modern world are superfluous. Roman equites were not capitalists and the plebs were not proletarians. The Senate was no parliament, and the Roman popular assemblies have no counterpart in the modern world. Caesar was first and foremost a Roman senator, and to be able to understand him properly he must be placed within the context of his own time, that of Rome in the last century bc. But even then, many problems remain unsolved. The fact that the concept of Caesarism has developed a diversity of meanings in modern historical writing only proves once again that ‘all history is contemporary history’ (Croce). The truth of this statement finds its expression in the assessment of Caesar as a man and a ruler.


Mention has already been made of Mommsen's Caesarism as an anti-autocratic manifesto. He did not shed a single tear over the destruction of the old corrupt republican form of government, to which Caesar dealt the coup de grâce. Mommsen, the liberal revolutionary of 1848 and arch-enemy of the Prussian aristocrats, wrote history that offered the educated reader as much pleasure as it provided provocative reflection for the scholar. To familiarize the German reader with the Roman personalities, the author of the Römisches Staatsrecht even described a Roman magistrate as Burgomaster, and compared Cato with Don Quixote, Sulla with Don Juan and the great Pompey with a sergeant-major. His view of the Roman Republic was to,

Try to imagine London with the slave population of New Orleans, the police of Constantinople, the lack of industry of present-day Rome, and agitated by politics like the Paris of 1848, and an approximate picture will be attained of the grandeur of the Republic whose decline is deplored by Cicero and his friends in their glum letters.41

Such a regime could not long endure. Yet, as luck would have it, the man responsible for its downfall was ‘a king anointed with the oil of democracy’.42 Caesar was a monarch, not a deluded dictator. His personality was flawless, he was sincere, adaptable and fair, and appears to have wanted to be nothing other than primus inter pares. He understood how to avoid the error of so many who brought the abrupt tone of military command into politics. Caesar was a great statesman and a great realist. Each of his steps was prudently planned. None of his successes should be regarded as an isolated incident because there were none. The outstanding characteristic of his life's work was its complete harmony. Caesar was the last creative genius of the ancient world and the sole one that Rome produced.

Mommsen's view found followers not only in the nineteenth century, but also in the twentieth, who carried it further with minor variations. Many of them agreed that Caesar was a great statesman, a benevolent ruler, of noble distinction, and that it was he who laid the foundation for the Roman Empire.43 Some condemned the conspiracy against him as the act of mean and envious persons.44 Others enthusiastically praised his deep understanding of his times and his clear vision of the future.45 But Hegel, himself a great admirer of Caesar, would not have accepted these paeans for one moment. In his lectures on the history of philosophy, he described him as a man,

who may be cited as a paragon of Roman adaptation of means to ends—who formed his resolves with the most unerring perspicuity, and executed them with the greatest vigor and practical skill, without passion. Caesar, in terms of history, did right, since he furnished a mediating element, and that kind of political bond which men's condition required. Caesar effected two objects; he deterred domestic strife, and at the same time developed a new struggle beyond the limits of the empire. For the conquest of the world had reached hitherto only to the circle of the Alps, but Caesar opened up a new scene of achievement: he founded the theatre which was on the point of becoming the centre of History. He then achieved universal sovereignty by a struggle which was decided not in Rome itself, but by his conquest of the whole Roman World. His position was indeed hostile to the Republic, but, properly speaking, only to its shadow; for all that remained of that Republic was entirely powerless.46

But Hegel, too, knew that Caesar, fighting for his honour and esteem, reacted instinctively to the historical constraints of the moment. Not every one of his successes was based on prudent foresight. Hegel, like Mommsen, deplored Caesar's murder and bitterly criticized that small band who did away with the great man from pure envy. For all that, Hegel would probably scarcely approve of Mommsen's view of Caesar as the last great personality of the ancient world. Later scholars too are opposed to Mommsen's view, but unfortunately a complete survey of all the disagreements is impossible in a short work. Instead, there follows a roughly schematized examination of five main theories, organized to show the principal tendencies of each. We must also add the caveat that this investigation is restricted to so-called ‘professional historians’—and cannot extend to philosophers and littérateurs, although they have made many contributions towards a more penetrating discussion of Caesar. This is why Hegel is alluded to only briefly, and not because we belittle his influence, quite the contrary.

A considerable number of historians have resisted Hegel's philosophy of history. They preferred to concern themselves with Caesar the historic figure as sketched by the sources, and not with a Caesar who served Hegel merely as an example for a paragon of Roman adaptation of means to ends.

F. Gundolf, in considering the views of Caesar from Petrarch to Nietzsche and Wagner, maintained in one of his brilliant synopses (to say it is inexact is pointless, for he had no intention of being exact) that with regard to Caesar ‘the French were best at assessing his person, the English his work, and the Germans his mind’. Yet, by means of an excursus that guides his readers from Petrarch and Dante, Montaigne and Voltaire, Klopstock and Goethe, to Mommsen and Burckhardt, Nietzsche and Wagner (to mention only the most important), he proves that European men of letters never intended to tabulate Julius Caesar in a short and narrow column.

They all went back to Petrarch, who again relied on Cicero. A man of letters himself, Cicero understood Caesar's multifaceted character, but was continually tormented by the discord between Caesar's greatness and his wantonness. Just as Petrarch could grasp that Caesar was Cupid's slave and Glory's fellow-traveller, it was unnecessary for Herder to hate Caesar in order to love Brutus; and, just as Byron tormented himself with the Caesar who wrecked the Republic, Lamartine, too, was torn between his admiration for Caesar's rich gifts and his aversion to their pernicious application.

The theme has been treated exhaustively by Gundolf in two well-known books, and although some topics could be added to the content, or alternative opinions discussed, in their genre they will remain unsurpassed for many years to come.47 Professional historians, however, were not as sophisticated.

In 1901 G. Ferrero published Grandezza e Decadenza di Roma. Caesar was, for him, a great general and a gifted writer, but never developed into a great statesman. Ferrero admired Caesar's practical thinking, well-balanced intelligence, untiring facility for achievement and quick power of decision. On the other hand, he saw in Caesar a spirit of destruction whose mission was principally one of annihilation, and who brought about the decline and break-up of the ancient world. According to Ferrero, Caesar's contemporaries could expect nothing from him, and to succeeding generations in Europe his greatest act was the conquest of Gaul, an achievement to which he himself attached very little importance.48 After Munda his dictatorship dissolved into an aimless, degenerate opportunism that recalled the fanciful intrigues of the old Republic. Ferrero maintained that Caesar had neither a political nor a legislative programme; he was an adventurer, whose only coherent plan was for the war in the east and the annexation of Parthia. Ferrero concluded, from a bust in the Louvre, that the dictator's face expressed deep physical suffering. In 44 bc Caesar was tired and exhausted.

In 1933 Ferrero wrote a preface to the English translation of his book.49 Banished from Fascist Italy, he was teaching history at the University of Geneva. He did not alter his views. Rather, he saw his book as an anti-Fascist, or, should the reader prefer it, an anti-Bolshevist history of Julius Caesar. He sharply criticized historians of the nineteenth century who appeared to be swept by waves of enthusiasm for the gifted dictator, and who were not prepared to be satisfied with a single slice of historical greatness at the beginning of the nineteenth century (Napoleon).

After 1830, when the horrors of Napoleon had been forgotten, Caesar found favour in all circles. Conservatives considered him a bulwark against the liberal and democratic tendencies of the middle and lower classes, while liberals thought of him as a weapon against traditional monarchy, the principle of dynasticism and respect for the old classes. Thus, in the historical writing of the nineteenth century, there took shape one who resembled a quasi-elder brother of Napoleon rather than the historic Caesar.

At the beginning of the twentieth century a gradual disengagement from the romanticism of the nineteenth century became apparent, and historians, too, began to see Caesar in another light. However, World War I intervened, and these ideas went awry. Revolution and changes of regime in various European countries permitted the revival once more of the old romantic illusion of the dictator as saviour. Ferrero fits in at this point. He made no secret of his opinion, and is unequivocal,

If the West fails to put an end to the fairy-tale and to introduce some clarity into the confusion of facts, it (the West) will fall victim to usurpers who are swaggering about all over Europe, Asia, and America. The West has nothing to hope for from usurpers, and should be on its guard against bombastic promises, made by people who believe they can alter the course of history.50

His hatred of all dictators won Ferrero many followers. In 1942 L. R. Taylor compared Caesar with Mussolini, and in 1948 F. R. Cowell compared him with Hitler, remarking inter alia,

Useful and important as were some of his ideas [Caesar's], they did not amount to a New Deal, still less did they offer any hope of enlarging the lives of the masses and so of filling the vacuum of Roman social life with a new moral spirit. We have seen dictators fail in our own day—despite their tremendous propaganda machines—which for a time seemed likely to wield an influence over the minds of their victims. Caesar did not form a political party. He did no more than recruit a gang. He was supported by some respectable figures—but all in all—apart from the solid ranks of his legions—he was supported only by a few personal friends. Most of his supporters came from the disaffected classes, needy debtors, failures and misfits.51

Notwithstanding the vast gulf between Mommsen and Ferrero, they do have something in common: both admitted to their political conviction either in the preface or in the body of the work. Thus, their Zeitgeist is easily detectable. In any case, it would be unjust to criticize only those who openly acknowledge their prejudice. Every historian of the past is also a man of his age, and nobody is free from bias.

Historians who wrote after World War I disclosed their personal views only rarely. Accordingly, it is not easy to judge their political motivation. Conjecture is possible, not certainty. Tacitus might have maliciously put it: the one who conceals his ways is no better than the others—‘occultior non melior’ (Hist. II, 38).

Communist and Fascist interpretations of history are the exception. They leave nothing to the reader's imagination. To Fascist historians, Caesar was the great magician of antiquity, who attempted to improve the social position of the provincials in order to achieve a supra-national or imperial homogeneous organism.

A. Ferrabino, in Cesare (Turin, 1941) was not as simple-minded. He believed not only in the indestructibility of Romanity and its universality, but also depicted Caesar as an instrument of divine will. In his view Caesar founded a new order, based on the concepts of clementia, aequitas and voluntas of the nations.

It is not surprising that a reaction set in after World War II. Italian scholars seem to have lost all interest in studying Julius Caesar, the statesman and conqueror, and concentrated instead on a thorough investigation of Caesar's writings and the Corpus Caesarianum, as well as on an analysis of his personality as it emerged from the literary stance of the commentarii. In this respect, they made a decisive contribution and yet, although there is a wealth of allusions to political and social questions to be found, we cannot concern ourselves more closely with their writings in the present context.52

Soviet researchers, on the other hand, stressed Caesar's position as the representative of the slave owners who supported his dictatorship in the hope that through it the old regime, which was being destroyed by slave uprisings and the unrest of the plebs, might be rescued. This kind of historiography is worth a special study.53


Towards the end of World War I Eduard Meyer published Caesars Monarchie und das Principat des Pompeius, one of the most authoritative works written in the first half of the twentieth century. In the first edition he did not even mention Ferrero, but in the third edition (1922) he conceded that Ferrero's work was certainly interesting and even stimulating. However, ‘if the author intended to offer us a picture true to history, he [Ferrero] failed in his aim’ (p. 330). Even Mommsen, who was Meyer's predecessor as Professor of Ancient History at the University of Berlin, was not spared. A Caesar as sketched by Mommsen had, in Meyer's view, never existed. It is no coincidence that Mommsen never wrote a fourth volume of his Roman history to embrace the foundation of the Principate. After the third volume he published a fifth, on the Roman provinces. The reason, in Meyer's view, was very simple: after Mommsen's Caesar there was no room left for Augustus.54

Meyer rejected the theory that Caesar occupied himself with plans for monarchy from the beginning of his career. He also repudiated the Shakespearean Caesar: ‘the vain, pompous, cantankerous, ageing egotist surrounded by sycophants, swayed by flatterers, suffering from a fever in Spain and from a falling sickness’.55 Meyer's Caesar had no ideals of any sort. He was fighting for a position of power (p. 468), and one who intends to achieve it must overcome opposition. After his victory over Pompey, he could not let power slip from his grasp. The conferment of royal dignity, therefore, was an attempt to legitimize usurpation and establish it on a legal basis. ‘Caesar's intentions and the steps he took to achieve the final aim are as clearly displayed as anything else in his history’ (p. 504), and no inconsistencies or Sultanic whims can be traced in his conduct (as, for example, Pöhlmann thought (p. 18)). In his latter days, it was his intention to turn himself into an absolute monarch in the oriental style and attain once more the world monarchy of Alexander. The conquest of Dacia and Parthia, the transfer of the capital from Rome to Alexandria, and the foundation of a dynasty—all were integral components of the grand master's plan. Meyer accepted Caesar's plans as described in Plutarch, Caes. 58, as authentic and concludes that Caesar consciously strove for divine honours, as reported in Suetonius (Div. Jul. 76),

For not only did he accept excessive honours, such as an uninterrupted consulship, the dictatorship for life, and the censorship of public morals, as well as the forenamed Imperator, the surname of Father of his country, a statue among those of the kings, and a raised couch in the orchestra; but he also allowed honours to be bestowed on him which were too great for mortal man: a gold throne in the House and on the judgment seat; a chariot and litter in the procession at the circus; temples, altars and statues beside those of the gods; a special priest, an additional college of the Luperci and the calling of one of the months by his name.

This passage has been arbitrarily selected to illustrate and sum up a series of honours. A full account of all such honours might suggest that Caesar's aim was for royal dignity and deification but would overload this chapter. Countless books and treatises have been written on this subject, and the abundance of material is, in truth, vast, but one striking fact emerges: the reports concerning Caesar's aim of royal dignity and deification have their origin in texts of the imperial period (the few indications in contemporary sources do not suffice to give a comprehensive picture). One cannot fail, however, to be impressed by the persistence with which these stories continue to recur. Meyer fully documented Caesar's presumption and stubborn purpose in order to emphasize the signs of kingship and divinity (p. 447).

Meyer stressed that such conduct could not be considered fortuitous, and that Mommsen was wrong in assuming that the royal title was of secondary importance to Caesar. It is precisely in the case of monarchy that the title is absolutely inseparable from the power.56 That Julius Caesar valued it highly is mentioned by Plutarch, Dio, Suetonius and Appian, and is emphasized by the historians who preceded Meyer.57 But Meyer was the first to produce a fully-fledged theory that envisaged as the final aim of Caesar's work a Hellenistic monarchy, and this signifies a state structured with an absolute ruler at its head, who enjoys divine worship.

Is it at all possible to find an explanation for this theory in Zeitgeist? Certainty is impossible; we may only hazard conjectures. Meyer, more than any other ancient historian, went to great pains to integrate the history of Greece and Rome with that of other Mediterranean and Near Eastern peoples of the time. In his view the picture of the history of the ancient world is necessarily distorted when the fate of individual nations is examined independently. His Geschichte des Altertums was intended to make good such an omission. At the same time, concerned with interpretations of historical methodology, he published various articles on the subject.58 World War I, however, prevented a visit to the East, and his universal history was never completed. Instead, he published a series of monographs, including the one on Caesar and Pompey. At that time (1918) Oswald Spengler's Untergang des Abendlandes fascinated many of the readers who identified Germany's collapse in 1918 with the decline of the West. Only a few historians agreed with Spengler. Meyer, however, while critical of details, sympathized with Spengler more than any other professional historian.59 Meyer may have been tormented for some time by the weakening of the West. Therefore, Caesar's attempt to unite West and East, to wipe out the dividing line between victors and vanquished, and to found a new regime in Rome might have impressed Meyer so forcefully that he allowed himself to accept without hesitation sources which, under other circumstances, he would have subjected to thorough-going criticism. Thus Meyer made some far-reaching generalizations that he could not document, and expressly mentioned Caesar's tendency to put citizens and non-citizens on an equal plane and to ‘subject the empire to a process of levelling down. Before the absolute ruler legal differences between subjects disappear in a subjection that affects all alike’ (p. 483).

It is, therefore, quite remarkable that Meyer, a scholar whose knowledge of the sources was unrivalled, made not a single reference to evidence that pointed out that Pompey (who, according to Meyer, was the precursor of the ‘Western’ Principate) also attempted to imitate Alexander of Macedon. Let an extract from a contemporary text (Sall., Hist. III, 88) testify, ‘Sed Pompeius a prima adulescentia sermone fautorum similem fore se credens Alexandro regi facta consultaque eius quidem aemulus erat’. Did Meyer perhaps think a ‘western’ statesman like Pompey was incapable of such an idea?60

By and large, Meyer's work was positively received, with only a few objectors to his main ideas.61 However, under the influence of recent studies of a more fundamental nature such as those of P. A. Brunt and E. Badian, C. Nicolet and C. Meier, there was a retreat from Meyer's obsolete terminology. For example, after Nicolet's monumental work L'Ordre equestre, no one would write, like Meyer, ‘Brutus belonged to the democratic party, i.e. the party of the equites’ (p. 450). The oriental (= Hellenistic, absolute) monarchy, on the other hand, became in Meyer's day one of the accepted ‘facts’, although with many variants.

J. Carcopino is a case in point. His work62 is too important and too original to be treated as a parenthesis to that of Meyer, yet in a schematic survey such as this it is not possible to give everyone his due. On the one hand, Carcopino was sharply critical of Meyer, and wrote that his book was ‘badly structured, badly written, but illuminated throughout by a splendid intelligence’ (p. 592). He decisively rejected the difference between Caesar and Augustus put forward by Meyer, and saw in Caesar the true founder of the Roman Empire, ‘Caesar created the fertile elements of this “Empire”, to which the ancients owed several centuries of beneficent peace.’ On the other hand, Carcopino was in no doubt about Caesar's intention to exercise dominion over Rome as monarch. Caesar isolated himself from the city population so that he could better rule over it; he did not stumble into monarchy, but planned it carefully. Yet Roman monarchy of the eighth to sixth centuries bc was essentially different from Caesar's monarchy. The earlier monarchy was transitory, fortuitous, elective, secular and moderate, in contrast to Caesar's monarchy, which was solidly planned, divine, absolute and based on a plebiscite.

E. Pais, in Richerche sulla Storia e sul Diritto Romano (vol. I, 1918), came to similar conclusions independently, and spoke of ‘Caesar's aspiration to the throne’, but he stressed, more strongly than Meyer, the role of Cleopatra. H. Volkmann maintained that Caesar wished to elevate himself to king and god, and described his relationship with Cleopatra as a union in which affection and political considerations were inseparably amalgamated (Kleopatra, 1953, p. 61 and 77). In Divinity of the Roman Emperor (1931) L. R. Taylor never doubted Caesar's political intentions. L. Cerfaux and J. Tondriau emphasized that Caesar strove for a ‘kingship, oriental and divine in its tendency’,63 and L. Homo, too, in Les institutions politiques Romaines, accepted Meyer's thesis completely.

The Soviet scholar N. A. Maškin followed Meyer's arguments and updated them by using Marxist terminology. C. N. Cochrane, the Canadian scholar, insisted that the sources left no room for any doubt that in the latter months of his life Caesar conclusively set his sights on the Alexandrine monarchy,64 and in 1948 E. Kornemann returned to his view, developed at the end of the nineteenth century, that Caesar's dreams of empire expressed themselves in the grandiose plan to destroy the Parthian kingdom, push forward through the Caucasus to Dacia, and, by a concentrated attack from the east and west, stab the Germans in the back.65

These few examples prove only that the attempt to classify views about Caesar according to national points of view must fail. There is no English, German, Italian or American interpretation. Anatole France and C. Jullian attached themselves to Mommsen. The views of J. Carcopino and L. Homo were closer to those of Meyer, who, for his part, was criticized by his countrymen M. Gelzer and P. Strack.66 Some English scholars, including F. E. Adcock, R. Syme and J. P. V. D. Balsdon, roundly rejected Meyer's interpretation, which leads one to refer to an ‘English view’. But the Italian, L. Pareti (just like the English) does not believe that Caesar wanted to make himself a king or god.67 The important fact is that the English scholars used different arguments from each other. In the matter of method Syme, from Oxford, was closer to the German F. Münzer than to Adcock, his Cambridge colleague.


A further wave of criticism—that opposed Mommsen's view—arose in Britain. This school ought to be designated ‘Minimalist’ rather than ‘British’, since W. W. Fowler and C. Merivale cannot be considered among its members. On the one hand, we have seen that Meyer was not prepared to concede Caesar's greatness as portrayed by Mommsen. On the other, for all the energy Meyer expended in advancing his theory of the Hellenistic monarchy, he nevertheless considered Caesar an interlude. The real precursor of Augustus' principate was Pompey, and the future state theory was already sketched in Cicero's De Republica and in his speech on behalf of Marcellus. By and large, Caesar had no grasp of the historic moment, and historical development took a path different from the one he had previously delineated.68

H. F. Pelham had quite different objections. He suggested, however, an open admission: that we have no key of any kind to the understanding of Caesar's future plans, even if we assume that he had the fundamental capability of such foresight.69 Adcock did not consider it necessary to imagine a Hellenistic monarchy, in order to explain the participation of several honourable men in the conspiracy against the dictator.70 Caesar was murdered for what he was and not for what he might perhaps have been. Meyer's Caesar was, for Syme, a mythical Caesar, conceived intellectually.71 (Actually, Meyer encountered precisely the same objection that he had levelled against Mommsen's Caesar.) If one must judge Caesar, that judgment must be based on facts and not on alleged intentions. One need not believe that Caesar planned a Hellenistic monarchy, irrespective of how one defines this concept. The simple charge of dictatorship suffices. For Syme, Caesar's final aims are uninteresting. He excluded statements about intentions from the realm of proof and counterproof:72 Caesar should be left as he is in his time and generation, and one should neither laud him for superhuman vision, nor damn him for his blind haste to pluck unripe fruit.

Syme's Roman Revolution is not a book about Caesar and Augustus. It is a study of the metamorphosis of the regime and the administrative hierarchy. Caesar set in motion a process which was to last long after his time. Many of the measures he hit upon were temporary and of limited purpose, which left behind the impression of superficial action. On the other hand, the elevation of the non-political classes73 had an effect long after his death. Syme is convinced that the history of the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Principate was that of the ruling classes. The fact that he does not mention the lower classes lies not in lack of interest but in lack of evidence. We know more about the upper classes because they had more freedom of action.74 Rome was always ruled by an oligarchy, open or concealed,75 and it is precisely this oligarchy which Syme presents to his readers. Caesar's new party is better portrayed by sketching men and their personal connections, hopes and ambitions, than by an investigation of political programmes and ideologies. Thus prosopography is a necessary instrument in Syme's hands, but it never impedes the account of events.

Syme offers technical matter for the specialist in special sections, but the more general reader has no difficulty in understanding the manifold adumbrations of the new Caesarian party. To contrast reviled good-for-nothings on the one hand and noble patriots on the other is schematic and leads to the wrong conclusions. Caesar's party was an amalgam of senators, knights, centurions, businessmen, bankers from the municipia and provinces, kings and princes. Caesar's connections with the representatives of business interests were as good as his connections with the landowners. He never preached a radical division of property. The heterogeneousness of his followers was the dictator's strength and made him independent of individual factions. Syme believed that Caesar, without benevolence, would have been a second Sulla or a Gaius Gracchus, had he not lacked a revolutionary programme. He was a true Roman, more than any other. The sources of his plans for a Hellenistic monarchy are either hostile or posthumous. Concerning his plans for the future, there is room for opinion, but no certainty. No evidence for such plans is to be found in his dictatorship, and, lastly, ‘a fabricated concatenation of unrealized intentions may be logical, artistic and persuasive—but it is not history’ (p. 271).

On this point Syme agrees with Adcock, who also argues that there is insufficient evidence to prove Caesar's official deification in his lifetime. All the honours he enjoyed can be explained as an exaggerated expression of recognition of what he had achieved.76

It is true that contemporary sources are often more valuable than posthumous ones. Nevertheless, one can scarcely imagine that Suetonius, of all people, should have invented the story of the honours offered to Caesar.

At any rate, with reference to Tiberius, he makes it abundantly clear that the princeps refused divine honours,

Of many high honours he accepted only a few of the more modest. He barely consented to allow his birthday … to be recognized by the addition of a single two-horse chariot. He forbade the voting of temples, flamens and priests without his permission; and this he gave only with the understanding that they were not to be placed among the likenesses of the gods but among the adornments of the temples. He would not allow an oath to be taken ratifying his acts, nor the name Tiberius to be given to the month of September.

(Suet., Tib. 26)77

There is no basis for the assumption that Suetonius was particularly hostile to Caesar;78 in any case there is room for serious doubt that he is indulging in his own opinions. Had Caesar refused the honours (as Tiberius did) the fact would have been recorded. Indeed, Cassius Dio and Appian frequently reported his refusal to accept certain honours. And yet Suetonius' account is rejected because he was not Caesar's contemporary. But Cicero was.

In a letter of June 45 (ad Att. XII, 45), Cicero talked about Caesar as ‘Synnaos/contubernalis Quirini’. This letter could be interpreted as a bad joke, had not Cicero's statements in the Philippics been even more pointed (II, 110). He listed certain divine honours in particular, and added, ‘As Jupiter, as Mars, as Quirinus has a flamen, so the flamen to divine Julius is Marcus Antonius’. Turning to Antony, he castigated him, ‘O detestable man, whether as priest of Caesar or of a dead man!’. This passage, weighty even in Syme's view,79 caused scholars of the 1950s and 1960s to take up a novel position on Cicero's argument. That brings us to the fourth theory, which may be termed Revisionist.


These scholars are all more sharply critical of Syme than of Meyer, and not one of them is prepared to come to terms with any diminution in Caesar's greatness. At first glance, it might be supposed that the Minimalists, who were British, would necessarily have been less enthusiastic about Caesar because they were reared on Shakespeare. They were probably undecided even in their youth whether the great hero of the drama was Caesar or Brutus.

However, that is not the case. Shakespeare modelled his tragedy on Plutarch, and accepted the latter's notion that Caesar was an ambitious man (Plut., Caes. 69). But Shakespeare was equally impressed by the tragedy of the conspirators, in that their work came to nothing even before it came to pass. Yet he did not despise Caesar, and it is no coincidence that these words were given to Antony, ‘Caesar was the noblest man that ever lived in the tide of times’. And, as Prince Edward says in Richard III,

This Julius Caesar was a famous man:
With what his valour did enrich his wit,
His wit set down to make his valour live;
Death makes no conquest of this conqueror,
For now he lives in fame, though not in life.

W. W. Fowler80 is right when he stresses that Shakespeare's Brutus never censures Caesar the man. Only lesser intellects refuse to understand clearly Caesar's eruptions of superbia, and when Antony's slave, speaking on behalf of his master, says to Brutus, ‘Caesar was mighty, bold, royal, and loving’, the reader is alerted to the fact that this is not merely Antony's opinion. Shakespeare himself probably leaned toward this view, and, as we now turn to a description of the historians we designate Revisionists, we must count among them all those who, in rejecting Meyer's idea of a Hellenistic monarchy, are nevertheless not prepared to subscribe to the statement that Caesar was no more than a regular Roman dictator and the last Roman patrician, and that his similarities to Sulla were more striking than the differences (Adcock).

In 1953 J. Vogt published a new interpretation of the passage from Cicero's Philippics81 cited above (pp. 32 f.), and came to the conclusion that Caesar really had enjoyed divine honours, and that, although the Romans would not have opposed the idea of such honours for a genius like Caesar, they would have shuddered at the title of king. V. Ehrenberg82 took Vogt's reflections a stage further. In his opinion it was not the constitutional honours and the trappings to which Caesar owed his position—so much higher than that of a regular dictator—but to his personal power which grew from day to day. Ehrenberg accepted Vogt's explanation of the significance of ‘bases for sacred statues, an enormous god-like statue in his house and his own priest’, and came to the conclusion that, in regard to Caesar's general and religious policy, Roman and non-Roman elements alike characterized his regime. As a result he was the first of the Caesars and not the last of the patricians.

K. Kraft contributed extremely detailed investigations of the coins of that period which led him to recognize that Caesar's aim was to reintroduce the old pattern of Roman kingship and not the Hellenistic—oriental—form.83 Kraft examined the wreath worn by Caesar on portrait coins and concluded that this was not the triumphator's laurel wreath, which he was permitted to wear continuously after his victory in Spain (Dio XLIII, 43, 1), but was a gold one as represented in Etruscan paintings and on coins and vases. By the time of the Lupercalia (February 15), Caesar is portrayed as wearing this wreath (coronatus) for the purpose of making clear to all present that he had in mind a ‘royal symbol in the Roman national tradition’ (p. 60). Therefore he indignantly refused the diadem offered by Antony, since gold wreath and diadem were incompatible.

Here we have the actual essence of the Revisionist school, which began to flourish after World War II. Yet even in historical research, ‘there is nothing new under the sun’. References to kingship of an old Italian style are to be found earlier in Mommsen, and also, many years later, in A. Ferrabino. As far as the history of ideas is concerned ‘Revisionism’ goes back to A. Bachofen, but he had no influence of any sort on any historian. He believed in Rome's mission to subdue the sensual materialism of the East, and, by the establishment of the patriarchal state, to replace it by the virile spirit of the West. For him, Caesar was a western hero whose building of Rome was not after a foreign pattern. The argument had come full circle, ‘from the son of the oriental Aphrodite had emerged the creator of the Western Empire’.84 But, as pointed out, Bachofen made no impression on twentieth-century historians, and the immense influence of Meyer's work allowed the theory of a Roman type of kingship to sink into oblivion. Vogt, Ehrenberg and Kraft gave it fresh impetus, and many followed in their footsteps.

L. Wickert85 positioned himself between the two camps. In his inaugural lecture in the Chair of Ancient History at Cologne, he essentially attached himself to Meyer's school. He remarked that Caesar, for all his greatness, could be considered as an interlude, ‘Yielding to a playful impulse, one might, in theory, remove from history the monarchy of the strongest master Rome had ever produced, but never the principate of Augustus.’ Likewise, he did not exclude Hellenistic influences on Caesar. But in the last resort Caesar's actual achievement is not to be derived from Hellenism. It is Caesarian and simultaneously Roman. Caesar was the first to embrace the idea of empire in an inspired fashion—he also decided to put it into practice. His most important achievement was the extension of the citizenship of Rome to citizenship of the empire. Rome, formerly head of a commonwealth, expanded to become head of an empire. The process of representation for the empire's population begins with the appointment of provincials to the Senate—in spite of the angry opposition of conservative Roman senators.

F. Vittinghoff86 proceeded in this direction. In fact, he was concerned only with Caesar's colonization and policy on citizenship, but inter alia put forward the view that for Caesar, Italy and Rome signified the fulcrum of the empire. In Strabo (V, 216) we read, ‘And at the present time … they (sc. the Italians) are all Romans’, and in Vellius Pat. (II, 15, 2) they are already ‘men of the same race and blood’. That was Caesar's idea of empire. In this respect, it is unproductive to look to the Hellenistic kings as prototypes. Caesar's work was so completely orientated towards the future that his contemporaries could not appraise it (p. 95).

In 1958 H. Oppermann, who had already proved to be a distinguished Caesarian scholar by his earlier work on Caesar as a man of letters, stated that Meyer's evidence for the Hellenistic monarchy did not always stand up to meticulous examination.87 In his opinion, a sharp distinction should be drawn between Caesar's titulature in Rome and in the Empire. The decision on Caesar's title in the area designated domi was postponed until the end of the projected Parthian war. Until 44 bc he was satisfied with the dictatorship, an entirely Roman office, which Sulla had also held. Kingship should apply only in the realm of militiae: it would appear natural to the eastern regions. Oppermann pointed out that this new form of world dominion, unlike divine kingship, was not based on the mysterious incarnation of a god in human form—a mystery that man cannot grasp, but before which he can only bend the knee—but on the greatness and majesty of the man in question. That is not a Hellenistic idea but a European one, and Caesar had fought for the leadership of the European part of the empire. His victory over Pompey signified the victory of the West in the historic struggle between Europe and Asia.

Charisma,88 F. Taeger's two-volume work, appeared two years later. Taeger had no doubts about Caesar's steadfast determination to translate his power into the form of a kingdom to be held by his house in perpetuity and of his equally firm belief in the providential nature of his undertaking. Incarnation was indispensable to his political position, and the connection of the cult of clementia with the cult of Caesar presupposed deification as an established component of the new ruling ideology. On the one hand the great Julius resembled Alexander (Taeger remained convinced that Caesar was already divus in his lifetime), yet Meyer's view that Caesar intended to introduce a Hellenistic monarchy to Rome is but a half-truth. In an attempt to demonstrate that Caesar's efforts in this direction were a product of the Roman environment rather than an import from the Orient, Taeger remarked, ‘Caesar's position aroused in his opponents and adherents attitudes that promoted him to the realm of charisma. This emotion was genuine and had its roots in Roman religion.’

R. Klein also attempted to describe a Caesar whose thought took root from the irrational and the metaphysical.89 As a pupil of Seel, he also believed that history cannot be realized without a tincture of the irrational, the tragic and the transcendental. Klein rejected Meyer's notion of a Hellenistic monarchy as well as his observation that Caesar considered religion merely as a tool to be used for political ends.90 He tended to follow B. E. Giovanetti, who stressed Caesar's attachment to the irrational.91 Romulus was not a mere model for Caesar, and in this respect the chapters in Book II of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, recognized many years previously by M. Pohlenz as a piece of political pamphleteering of the Caesarian period, served as a useful source for Klein.92 As Basileus, alongside supreme command in war, Caesar was obliged to exercise the supreme religious functions in the state. His Regnum was not an office but a sacred duty, and the people were obliged to suffer his performance of it as the rule of a deity.

Finally, J. Dobesch93 also scrutinized yet once more Caesar's deification in his lifetime and campaign for the royal title. His analysis showed that Caesar did desire royal dignity and divine status. But, in spite of his well-ordered source material and his clear and logical style, Dobesch could not produce any new evidence because it simply does not exist. Thus many readers continued to harbour doubts. As one conservative scholar opposed to the theory of divine kingship put it, ‘You cannot build a king out of a golden crown and a pair of red shoes’ (Balsdon).94

Those who reject Caesar's aims to achieve kingship prove less extreme than the exponents of such a view. It is perhaps interesting to note that the opponents of the kingship theory make use of the same arguments as those employed by Napoleon I when he composed Précis des Guerres de Jules César in exile on St Helena. Napoleon concluded that the accounts of Caesar's efforts to become king were a shameless slander on the part of his assassins, ‘To justify after the event a murder that was slipshod in its execution and ill-advised, the conspirators and their partisans alleged that Caesar wanted to make himself king, a statement obviously constituting an absurdity and calumny …’ The French emperor could hardly imagine that Caesar could be capable of seeking ‘stability and grandeur’ in the crown of a Philip, Perseus, Attalus, Mithridates, Pharnaces or Ptolemy.95

A more detailed scrutiny of the ‘revisionist’ view would unnecessarily inflate this chapter. This brief survey may satisfy the non-specialist and professional historians will turn to the sources anyway. But the exception proves the rule, for the indefatigable studies of two great scholars—A. Alföldi and S. Weinstock, who devoted virtually their whole lives to the subject—can scarcely receive their due in a few lines. They ought to be treated in somewhat greater detail.

The essential significance of Alföldi's contribution lies in the fact that he was not content to evaluate once more the literary and epigraphic material, but took pains to analyse afresh and reinterpret the evidence of the coins. He was the leading exponent in our time of the view that, even if the sole rule of an autocrat had its origins in the Greek east, ‘in the last resort this foreign element too became fused with Rome, and was eventually submerged in the political arena as on the battlefields’.

In his work on Caesar's monarchy published in 1952,96 Alföldi attempted to evaluate the complex evidence of the coinage in relation to the events of the first months of the year 44 bc. He came to the clear conclusion that Caesar did, in fact, want the title of king, but the Senate begrudged it him. All attempts to achieve it also foundered in that year, and Caesar was eventually obliged to be content with the compromise solution that he could employ the title only in the provinces but had to be satisfied with dictator perpetuo (never perpetuus!) in Rome and Italy. This compromise solution was to be announced at the meeting of the Senate on March 15 on the basis of a Sibylline oracle. This step of Caesar's did away with his obligation to abdicate.

On the basis of his work on the coinage Alföldi established an exact chronology for the events of February and March of 44 bc. Until then it was generally accepted, and, in fact, based on an express assertion in Cicero (Phil. II, 87), that Caesar was already dictator for life at the time of the Lupercalia on February 15. Alföldi rejected Cicero's statement. In his assessment of an issue of M. Mettius (with the legend caes. dict. qvart.), he found that instead of the lituus, which normally appears on the denarii of Mettius, there is clearly recognizable the diadem, which Caesar refused at the Lupercalia, and dedicated to Jupiter on the Capitol. Alföldi spotted on the coins a diadem hanging on a hook (Alföldi, loc. cit. pls 2, 5, 6), and concluded that Mettius wished to perpetuate this gesture of Caesar's, for he could have struck these coins only immediately after February 15. In fact, Caesar does not appear on these coins as dict. perp. (dictator for life), but as dict. qvart. (dictator for the fourth time).

Consequently, if Alföldi is right with his interpretation of the ‘diadem’, the exact chronology—with its far-reaching historical implications that literary sources cannot provide—appears to be:

1 January 44: denarii of the old style with ‘Sulla's dream’

2 Beginning of February until shortly after February 15: issues with Caesar's portrait and legend caes. dict. qvart.

3 March i caes. imp.

4 After March i caesar dictator perpetvo

5 All the coins struck by Macer and Maridianus with the legend caes. dict. perpetvo and caesar parens patriae, portraying Caesar with veiled head, are to be attributed, at the earliest, to the period after the Ides of March

Up to April 10, the coins with dict. perp. remained in circulation but after the abolition of the dictatorship the coins with parens patriae appeared. At that point Antony needed to show Caesar in priestly garb, to demonstrate to the Roman people that its Pontifex Maximus had been murdered. He himself appears as consul on the denarius struck by Macer, with head covered and beard unshaven as a sign of mourning. No one can still harbour doubts about Caesar's final plans, for ‘he assigned the charge of the mint and of the public revenues to his own slaves’ (Suet., Div. Jul. 76, 3), and that, too, was one of the reasons that led to his murder.

Alföldi pursued the subject further in a series of articles in Museum Helveticum, the Schweizer Münzblätter and the Schweizer Numismatische Rundschau, etc.,97 and later presented his discoveries to his followers and critics in two impressive volumes (only one of which has been published), entitled Caesar im Jahre 44.98 He remained, apparently, largely true to his former opinions, although he modified certain points in matters of detail.

Alföldi was convinced of Caesar's endeavours towards monarchy, although he attempted to prove that they were not the sudden whim of a confident autocrat. Quite the contrary. In the time of Scipio Africanus a vague vision of a saviour was awakened in the Roman people (Phoenix XXIV (1970), p. 166), while since Sulla's time monarchy had been knocking at the gates of Rome. From the turn of the last century of the Republic the saviour theory was proclaimed on the annual issues of denarii. The belief in the return of a ‘Golden Age’ became fused with the yearning of the masses for a new Romulus. Alföldi pointed out that even those in the highest circles in Rome attempted to work out the imminent return of the ideal king of antiquity through the arithmetical tricks of astrology. Prominent politicians from Sulla to Augustus wanted to be considered the new Romulus. The misgivings of lesser persons concerning a rule by a king—so dreaded by the Senate—disappeared over the years. For them the dream come true would be the return of a king, and the hated symbols of sovereignty, such as diadem, sceptre and the ruler's wreath, are concealed by the apparently guiltless garb of a king of remote antiquity. Thus a predisposition for a king's actual return is facilitated by fantasy.

In 67 bc, Pompey was reviled as Romulus by a consul, yet five years later Romulus appeared on the issues of denarii struck by M. Plaetorius Cestianus. Pompey's exaltation at the end of the Republic—an alternative to his glorification as saviour—had to be enveloped in the Romulus Allegory.99 Foundation and establishment of a new order were prized even by Cicero as acts of the highest virtue, and the concepts conditor, servator, parens and deus are inseparable from the concept of the new Romulus.

The virtues of Romulus as depicted by Dionysius of Halicarnassus are intelligible only through their adaptation to Caesar's political programme. Caesar was reviled as Romulus by Catullus (29, 5; 28, 15; 49, 1), yet Alföldi had no doubt that in the last phase of his life Caesar strove to be compared with Romulus. He wanted to derive his claim to renew Romulus' virtues as ruler from his family tradition: the red shoes, the garb of the former kings, the purple gown and white diadem100 were symbols of the Caesarian-Romulean monarchy that Caesar so fervently desired. But, since he also knew how much the appellation ‘king’ in Rome was held in odium, his real aim had to be camouflaged by the catchword parens patriae.

The old father-symbol penetrated political life in the first century bc. Even before this it was a stereotyped honour accorded to many, and thus provided an established title for one. The expression pater patriae has a different significance with reference to Cicero than with reference to Caesar, who was continuously parens but never pater, and the Brundisium inscription, ‘C. Julio Caesari pont. max. patri patriae’ (ILS 71), is, in Alföldi's opinion, a scholarly forgery. Further, Cicero was hailed as pater patriae for giving the order for the execution of the Catilinarians, and his severitas was accordingly represented as the virtue of a saviour. Caesar, on the other hand, was called parens patriae on account of his clementia. The gentle, fatherly quality of the benevolent prince is antithesized with the tyrant's anger and the mitissimus parens with the crudelis tyrannus (de dom. 94). As domestic slaves swore by the genius of the head of the household, men must now swear by Caesar's genius; and, as, according to tradition, it was a worse offence to kill a parens patriae than to kill one's own father (‘est atrocius patriae parentem quam suum occidere’). Caesar was foolish enough to discharge his bodyguard in the hope that he could rely on his legally established sacrosanctitas. That was his undoing, and Rome lost a man of unheard-of tolerance and magnanimous clementia.

Alföldi, it must be granted, never obscured his views in hazy phraseology. On the contrary, he ruthlessly judged the republican regime as ‘a collective monarchy of the nobles who were sucking the blood from the Empire like leeches’.101 It did not occur to him that Caesar broke the law by crossing the Rubicon, and he posed the question whether the frenzy of the gangs in Rome before Caesar's rise to power had been in any sense constitutional. ‘One might describe the event in terms of an analogy, as the act of conceiving outside the mother's body, in the case of the Republic—a conception outside the constitution. The emergence of the child into the world spelt certain death for the mother.’

Likewise, Caesar should not be blamed for trying to become king. The idea occurred to him only after the Senate had showered him with honours—initially against his will—which eventually led him to overstep the limits of the permissible ‘only after the chorus of time-servers had led the way’.102 In an article, ‘La divinisation de César’, Alföldi also remarked that ‘a slavish Senate’ had pronounced Caesar a god.103 In his general eulogy of Caesar he recalls the emotional style of nineteenth-century scholars, ‘He (Caesar) wanted to rule as sovereign, but preferred to expose his body to his murderers’ daggers rather than go on wasting his life away like a tyrant reliant on a bodyguard for safety. The nobile letum Catonis has its counterpart: the nobile letum Caesaris'.104

Despite the impressive collection of sources and numismatic evidence Alföldi used to support his thesis, his work attracted little attention in the English-speaking West. In E. S. Gruen's highly interesting and stimulating book, which concludes with an extensive bibliography, Alföldi is not mentioned105—whether accidentally or intentionally can only be surmised. Yet it must surely be recognized that Gruen totally disagrees with Alföldi, and rejects as ‘hindsight’ the theory that, since the time of Sulla, the idea of monarchy hovered like a bird of prey over the gates of Rome. Actually, in speaking of the Romans' longing for a great man, Alföldi reflected to some extent the remarks of Gundolf, written before Hitler's rise to power, ‘Today, since the need for a strong man is voiced, since men, weary of critics and carpers, make do with sergeants instead of generals, since, particularly in Germany, the government of the people is entrusted to any especially noteworthy talent displayed by soldiers, economists, civil servants or writers …’

Alföldi himself admitted, ‘My researches on the year 44 have been rejected without serious argument and have remained ignored.’106 There are some important reasons why this is so. In the first place, there is no agreement about the significance of pater patriae. In Alföldi's view the expression pater constitutes a superior concept, embracing the whole essence of the princeps. This title, in his opinion, is the immediate prerequisite for one man's rule; it is not merely an honorary title; it puts the whole community under an obligation to the one in power.

Most scholars reject Alföldi's position. It was Mommsen's opinion that the title pater was not essential to the emperor's position, and that no rights were associated with it.107 A. von Premerstein took it simply as an honorary title; for A. H. M. Jones it was ‘a harmless and ornamental title and office’, and even S. Weinstock attributed no decisive importance to it.108 We cannot attempt a more detailed discussion of all the different opinions on this question, but it is sufficient to say that there is no agreement on the significance of the distinction between parens and pater, nor, indeed, on the significance of the title imperator, which Caesar, in Alföldi's view, adopted after his failure to be proclaimed king on 15 February 44, since only this title remained acceptable to the republicans.109

Despite their readiness to make use of Dio, Appian, Suetonius and Plutarch as important sources for Caesar's history, modern scholars are not prepared, without further discussion, to take as gospel every statement of later sources. Alföldi, in turn, was not prepared to recognize this problem, and introduced the coinage as conclusive proof for his fundamental statements about Caesar's honours. But it is precisely here that he encountered the most decisive opposition from his fellow numismatists. Although impressed by his acuteness and originality, they did not agree that the Roman mint-masters would have worked into their coins ‘shrewdly conceived combinations of types’.110 A numismatist as remarkable as M. H. Crawford is strongly critical of Alföldi's work.111 The latter's basic argument, that it was possible to discover on the coinage of the first century bc the desire for a new Romulus, is rejected as ‘obsessed with supposed prophecies of a golden age and full of surprising assertions’.112

In a short footnote (n. 108), Weinstock, who was ideologically not far removed from Alföldi, observed that although the latter had devoted a hundred pages to an examination of the concept pater patriae only a few of them touch on the problem. Alföldi continued the argument with Weinstock—after the latter's death—and replied in a long article (Gnomon XII 1975, 154-79). Non-specialists should steer clear of such debates. Yet, the most important objections raised by experts such as C. M. Kraay and R. A. G. Carson in England, and, independently, by H. Volkmann in Germany, must be briefly mentioned.113

All scholars are united in their recognition of Alföldi's pains to work out a precise chronological table of the issues and a detailed sequence of the dictator's intentions. Kraay, however, maintained that most of Alföldi's conclusions were untenable, and that they yielded no key to Caesar's policy. Alföldi was convinced that he could prove which coins were struck before February 15, which were struck in the second half of February, and which were struck at the beginning of March. But on this point there is no agreement. These are weighty questions not to be ignored.

Carson rejected the conclusion that Caesar, convinced of the failure of his attempt to become king on February 15, allowed coins to be struck in the second half of February merely with the legend imp., and only at the beginning of March issued those with dict. perp. It is, however, expressly reported in a contemporary source such as Cicero (Phil. II, 34; 87) that Caesar was already dictator perpetuus on February 15. Why, then, throw away a reliable literary source in favour of a baseless numismatic theory? Why should the assumption of the title imperator be seen as surrender to the republicans? Was even a ten-year dictatorship so acceptable to these republicans?

Furthermore, on what ground should it be supposed that the series with caes. dict. (later replaced by pater patriae) and those with the legend caes. imp. were not struck simultaneously (1) as a normal state issue, which Caesar employed to demonstrate the offices on the basis of which he governed, or (2) to supply coinage for the Parthian wars, designed by the commander-in-chief?

Finally, even if it is generally recognized that the discovery of the Mettius denarius in the Königliches Munzkabinett at The Hague (unknown until 1952), and its description, was a brilliant stroke by Alföldi, it remains hazardous to draw very far-reaching inferences when only a single specimen is available for study. Alföldi's own analysis arouses serious doubt. Kraay is not convinced that the denarius shows Caesar's diadem hanging up in the temple, and takes it as unproven that a lituus is not here quite simply in question. Indeed, it is true that on the rest of the Mettius denarii with the legend caes. dict. qvart. a lituus inclined to the right instead of the left appears. But a lituus inclined to the left appears on Mettius denarii with the legend caes. imp., so it is not unusual.

The most important argument in opposition to Alföldi's views appeared in a long monograph by D. Felber.114 Naturally, he follows the views of Kraay and Carson relating to the chronology of the coins. However, he returns to the conclusion that Caesar became dictator for life on February 15, and rejects Alföldi's interpretation derived from ‘Sulla's Dream’, that coins with different legends are to be put in chronological order and that all the issues with the caput velatum are posthumous.

We shall return to Felber in another connection; at this point it need only be remarked that his devastating criticism could lead to the conclusion that one should not attribute an exaggerated significance to coins. It would be worth while to ponder on Jones' sensible advice, ‘If numismatists wish … to assist historians, I would suggest that they should pay less attention to the political interpretation of the coins … Latterly the value of numismatic evidence has tended to be overstrained and its interpretation has become over-subtle’.115

To sum up, it must be said that Alföldi's opponents have not actually proven any new theory, but have demolished his argument by their sceptical observations and thereby pointed in a new direction.

If one studies Alföldi's thorough criticism of Weinstock's book,116 one might be surprised that the critic and the subject of his criticism belong to the same school, here termed the Revisionist. But in fact Alföldi's criticism was not fundamental. His attack on Weinstock's numismatic analysis was the more acute, mainly because the latter had taken scarcely any notice of the results of his own research. In numerous details, inter alia in matters of ancient Roman religion, he also stands apart from Weinstock.

By and large, however, there are no differences of opinion between the two scholars, as Alföldi dealt with the question of kingship, and Weinstock concerned himself with the deification. They agree that Caesar strove for both in his lifetime, even if Weinstock's precise wording was the more cautious and reserved. His enormous knowledge was steeped in German and Italian scholarship, but in the course of a long life in the atmosphere of an Oxford college he adapted to English style and English ways of thought. Using expressions like ‘may’ and ‘might’ he frequently softened the pointedness of an argument that would doubtless have aroused antagonism in another language.

Weinstock guarded against speaking of Caesar's far-reaching schemes, but likewise did not sketch him as a child of fortune or superman. Yet he, too, agreed with the view, as did Alföldi, that it was Caesar's first task to set up a monarchy (p. 281), and that at a certain point of time he was not satisfied with it, ‘While fighting in Parthia, his rule was to be strengthened by religious means and his divinity was to be established gradually’ (p. 286). Both Alföldi and Weinstock agreed that religious honours at this point became a constitutional necessity, since actual power was transferred from the annual magistrates to the one and only ruler.117

Weinstock's position on deification mirrored Alföldi's criticism of Meyer's idea of a Hellenistic monarchy and his substitution of the idea of a western monarchy, ‘Caesar's new position in Rome was to be prepared in a Roman fashion: the influence of Greek Soteres, Gods, and kings can be felt, but what was made of it was due to the influence of an old Roman tradition’ (p. 167), and, further, ‘[Caesar] did not want to appear as an innovator, nor to spread a new philosophy of life, but to be guided by tradition—yet one who at the end radically broke with it’ (p. 411). This is the fundamental view that made Weinstock a representative of the Revisionist school. It is also the main theme of his book Divus Julius, which is not only a work on the deification of Caesar but a history of ideas, with the object of explaining how a particular atmosphere facilitated such deification. Since a mechanical incorporation of oriental rites into Rome appeared to him logically unacceptable, Weinstock described the development of the ‘cults of personified values’, concordia, salus, pietas, victoria, honos, virtus, iustitia, and finally, of course, clementia, in all their details,—one of the finest chapters in the book. The connection of these virtues with a statesman forms the core of the whole work.

In Weinstock's 450 closely-printed pages Caesar appears before us, not as the acute, tireless politician and army commander or the dictator driven by ambition, but ‘as an imaginative and daring religious reformer who created and planned new cults, accepted extraordinary honours and died when he was about to become a divine ruler’ (ibid.).

In contrast to this view Alföldi particularly stressed the enthusiasm with which the Senate compelled Caesar to accept all possible honours. But Weinstock forcefully maintained, ‘Caesar was not a passive recipient. The decrees often fulfilled his expectations’ (p. 412). ‘He was involved in detailed planning of his cult and moved first towards an accumulation of priesthoods.’ It was no accident that Caesar made every effort so that his adoptive son should inherit the office of Pontifex Maximus from him (p. 33). ‘Varro dedicated to him his Antiquitates Rerum divinarum and Granius Flaccus De indigitamentis which was probably another antiquarian survey of prayer and ritual’ (p. 32). Finally Caesar emerges as one who strove after a ‘sacred kingship’ (p. 323).

In Weinstock's favour it must be said that he warned his readers that some of his assertions were nothing more than learned conjectures, often emerging from evidence of doubtful reliability. His greatest service was to promote general public awareness of an elementary fact: that one ought not to judge Caesar without taking into account the religious background of the time (p. 260), and in this respect his work is preferable to that of B. E. Giovanetti published in 1937.

But even after a thorough study of his comprehensive work some questions remain, of which a single example may suffice. At one point Weinstock described in detail the religious tradition of the Julian family, a tradition that had its origins in Bovillae. He analysed a small incident related by Cassius Dio (XLI, 39, 2), of how Caesar set about sacrificing a bull to Fortuna, before putting to sea in pursuit of Pompey, and of how the bull eluded him. Weinstock arrived at a far-fetched interpretation—again taking assistance from the little word ‘may’, ‘He may have intended to make the bull of Bovillae as popular as the she-wolf of Rome’ (p. 7). The Julii had for years been responsible for local rites in Bovillae—and probably also in Alba. The ritual of the Feriae Latinae was celebrated on the Alban Mount by a rex, which explains why, in 45 bc, Caesar began to dress in the garb of the Alban kings.

But with the help of the word ‘may’ a different conjecture is also possible: the bull was also the ensign of the Italians, and if Vell. Pat. II, 27, 2 reports that Italian freedom was ravaged by the Roman wolves, so the Roman she-wolf's subjection by the Italian bull may be symbolically portrayed on the coinage (Hill, Hist. Roman Coins (1909), pl. XI, 49). Perhaps one should be permitted the conjecture that Caesar did not have his family emblem in mind at all, but was rather attempting to drop a hint to the Italians that their support in the war against Pompey could turn out to be profitable for them. And the question mark remains.

In addition, it is hard to be convinced that Caesar was a religious man, for Weinstock himself expressed astonishment that Caesar did not take the trouble in any of his writings to stress that he was a citizen who continually observed his religious duty (p. 26). It must also be added that Caesar—like every influential Roman—had a very good understanding indeed of how the masses could be manipulated with the aid of religion (Polyb. VI, 56), but he never allowed himself to be deterred from his purpose by religious scruples (Suet., Div. Jul. 59, 1; 81, 4).

Weinstock's assumption that Caesar treated Apollo as his ancestral god remains only a conjecture based on a passage of Dio concerning the statement of Atia to the effect that Apollo begat her son. Likewise, no one allows himself to be convinced that Caesar became Jupiter Julius in his lifetime. None of the stories that appear in Dio (such as p. 264, n. 6, on Dio XLI, 15, 4; 16, 4), can be regarded as solid fact beyond all doubt.118 All scholars from Mommsen to Adcock read these same sources, and the majority formed the conclusion that it was only after his death that Caesar legally became divus.119 But the Revisionists stubbornly stick to their view, and eventually Balsdon desisted from further discussion: ‘The truth is that in this sharp division of opinion scholars on either side preach to the converted.’120

In our view, Vogt's briefer and more penetrating article would have sufficed to present us with the insoluble problem. Some may have presumed that further discussion was futile. And yet it is not surprising that by way of reaction another group of scholars surfaced whom we term the Sceptics.


This section does not permit as simple a systematization as the earlier ones. There is no lack of common ground, yet most of the adherents of this school go their own ways. In general, it may be said that the Sceptics are usually prepared to accept the fact that even with the evidence that is available today it is impossible to penetrate to the full truth. At the outset they abandoned research into intentions and questions such as ‘Did Caesar strive after honours, or was it the Senate that showered him with honours?’, because satisfactory answers are not possible.

One has the impression that the consequences of World War II are readily discernible in the historical research of the last thirty years. Not only has Germany taken enormous strides towards the Anglo-Saxon democracies, but disapproving remarks about German historical research have disappeared from English works; on some issues an exchange of roles seems to have taken place. In fact, an extremely sceptical view on the divinity of humans might have been expected in the British Isles. Yet we read in Jocelyn Toynbee, a most distinguished archaeologist, that ‘to the Greeks and Romans men and gods were not on two completely separated differential levels, and that a mortal could move godward by ascending degrees until he reached virtual identification with an immortal god’. She thinks that, with the aid of detailed research, ‘the case of transition from man to god can be observed’.121

Precisely the opposite can be read in Carl Joachim Classen's article ‘Gottmenschen in der römischen Republik’.122 He comes to the conclusion that no individual Roman was honoured in a way that brought him nearer to the gods either in his lifetime or after his death. Contrary to the Greek conception, a deep gulf separated man and god. Genii are not divine, for there are as many genii as there are living men. Sacrifices are a way of offering honour and respect: they are also owed to gods, but not only to gods. They are a kind of thanksgiving for a particular achievement brought to fulfilment. Classen is prepared to admit that Caesar's measures were more audacious than those of all his predecessors, but no more than that.

Of course, everything cannot be blamed on World War II. E. J. Bickermann's warning, voiced in 1930, must not be forgotten, especially with regard to research into the emperor cult.123 In his opinion it was not permissible ‘to confuse ideology with the sacral law which alone determines worship, and nobody should confuse divinity and association with the divine’.124

A new view can be traced in the research of C. Habicht,125 which was also mirrored in studies of Caesar and his desire for deification. R. Cohen remarked that the ruler cult is ‘the most delicate question in the organization of monarchy’,126 and in L. Cerfaux and J. Tondriau we read, ‘A cult is a matter of feeling, and the intentions that dictate it almost always escape us. Nothing is more dangerous than to try to reconstruct, above all in matters of religion, the mentality and reasoning of a man of the ancient world.’127 These warnings were eventually heeded.

M. Liberanome, who was concerned with Caesar's aims for kingship, was much more cautious than Weinstock, although he admits the religious vitality of the people.128 Elsewhere we noted Felber's decisive objections to Alföldi's chronology derived from the coinage, but he should again be mentioned in the present context, since he can serve as a prototype for the ‘Sceptics’. Not content merely with a fresh examination of the numismatic material, Felber also reassessed the literary sources from which conclusions concerning Caesar's aim for kingship and deification may suitably be drawn, ‘It is to be doubted that Caesar, in the attire in which he showed himself to the public at the Lupercalia, was unmistakably distinguished as the new Romulus and old Roman king.’129 And, ‘the assertion that Caesar had already introduced the title imperator as a personal name and mark of the ruler in the sense of the praenomen imperatoris of the empire, is untenable’ (pp. 231 ff.).130 And, ‘the view that the dictator intended to acquire the title of king with the aid of a sibylline oracle does not hold water’ (pp. 254 ff.). And finally (from the sources at our disposal), ‘… one can get no answer to the question whether Caesar, in fact, wanted to establish a kingdom’ (p. 273).

Gustav Haber,131 a pupil of Vogt, is also doubtful about Caesar's aims regarding kingship, and in 1968 Helga Gesche, a pupil of K. Kraft, published a brief, clear, and impressive book, which provides a fundamental analysis of all the literary, epigraphic and numismatic material connected with the deification of Caesar.132 Her critics must be impressed by the meticulousness of her investigations, even if they do not agree with her conclusions.133 Frau Gesche particularly stresses the difference between the concepts Vergötterung and Vergottung, and comes to the clear conclusion that on the coins struck before Caesar's death epithets such as Deus or Divus Caesar are missing, and that the dictator was never represented as a god (p. 16, especially n. 26).

Nevertheless, Helga Gesche, for all her caution, also believes that Caesar not only strove for deification, but also planned in advance for the time after his death. Of course, there is no evidence for such a view as yet, and, therefore, it is pointless to start the discussion afresh. As the source material at our disposal does not allow for a decision, it would be preferable to abandon the question for the time being, rather than hazard further guesses. As a sceptical English scholar put it, ‘The foot of Hercules may be a sufficient clue to his stature, but we shall scarcely succeed in reconstructing him from the parings of his toe-nails.’134

The real protagonist of sober judgment in Caesar's case is Hermann Strasburger. As far back as 1937, in his review of H. Rudolph's Stadt und Staat im römischen Italien (Leipzig 1935), he warned against treating Caesar as a superman, and attempted to put him into measured perspective.135 The proper perspective, however, was achieved in his brilliant essay ‘Caesar im Urteil der Zeitgenossen’, with which we introduced this historiographic section.

W. Schmitthenner, too, in a thorough analysis of all the events preceding the assassination of Caesar, had to take into account the doubts of numerous scholars, viz. that with regard to Caesar's final plans there can be only opinion, but no certainty, despite the pains and discoveries of the numismatists. Schmitthenner's sceptical view contained a warning, ‘If we allow ourselves to be led by the search for truth, positions that are compulsorily established suddenly become open and inexact.’136

Strasburger's influence was felt as much in England as in Germany. Thus R. E. Smith, for instance, was not interested in whether Caesar really aimed at kingship, ‘Whether Caesar ever had in mind to take the name of king we cannot know, nor does it greatly matter.’137 Smith, like Strasburger, was mainly concerned with what Caesar's contemporaries thought about him, and assumed that they considered him a tyrant who put himself at the head of a Republic that stood for annual magistrates.

One finds similar conclusions, although based on a different theoretical foundation, in Christian Meier's brief remarks about Caesar.138 In his opinion, the basic reason for Caesar's failure lay in the fundamental circumstances of the world in which he lived, not in this or that mistake or attribute of the dictator. Meier finds little value in posing the question of whether Caesar intended to found a monarchy. We simply do not know that. We know only that he reigned as a monarch and possessed the full powers of a monarch. ‘He could command, dispose, forbid, establish institutions, do away with them, alter them, give laws, circumvent them, break them, elect and suspend magistrates as he willed.’

We know, too, that Caesar was given exaggerated honours, partly associated with royalty and partly with divinity, without being admittedly marked out as a king or god. Meier supposes that Caesar either had not given any thought to instituting a monarchy in Rome, or at least saw no viable way of approaching this aim. He was, above all, a pragmatist and improviser, and convinced himself that he could improve everything.

Meier stated that to Caesar and his followers the question of regnum and respublica was one and the same. His considerations were those of a typical Roman aristocrat who conceived no new constitutional ideas. ‘Had the commonwealth been a piece of clay, politics a matter of manufacture, and not a vital process of manoeuvring, then Caesar would have been quite happy.’ In truth, things appeared to be quite different. Meier pointed out that the omnipotent victor and dictator Caesar was actually powerless (ohnmächtig). That everything depended on him disturbed him no less than it vexed Cicero. Too many demands were made upon him; he felt oppressed, and as a result of ennui planned a Parthian war instead of restructuring the state and society. This was not due to Caesar's personality or character. Within Roman society there was no touchpoint which might have sparked off a direct conflict, in the course of which it might have been possible to work towards a new structure. To do this, there would have to have been some sort of articulated social group or class involved in a kind of emergency, surmountable only through a fundamental and comprehensive reform (or revolution). In the 50s and 40s of the first century bc the principle of the commonwealth was only extended, not supplanted, and Caesar's personality can be understood in the context of a crisis without an alternative.

Meier's view is contained in a popular work that until now has provoked only an insignificant response. Yet, a thorough investigation in the direction taken by this book would be desirable, although Meier himself doubted the interests of his professional colleagues in themes of this kind.

This survey would not be complete without a reference to J. H. Collins, a scholar who is not easily classified although he wrote many important works including an excellent article, ‘Caesar and the Corruption of Power’.139 An American who worked under Gelzer in Germany, he brought his critical examination of the sources to a high level, but did not hesitate to make use of the social sciences such as sociology and psychology in his research.140 Collins believed that contemporary researchers shrink from generalizations, which are reserved for chatter in the corridors and the faculty commonrooms. He was convinced that there is one Caesar for the years between 60 and 48 bc and another for the years between 46 and 44 bc. The turning-point is thus the year 47 bc, the year that brought him into contact with the East and Cleopatra. She was more than a mistress. She was, as Horace put it, ‘no ordinary woman’.

Collins maintained that Caesar's contemporaries also noticed changes in his nature and conduct. Initially they believed in him, but in the final analysis they were bitterly disappointed. Between 50 and 46 bc Sallust was still expecting Caesar to reform the Republic. Collins supported this view by reference to the Letters of Sallust, in which the writer addressed these words to Caesar,

But if you have in you the spirit which has from the very beginning dismayed the faction of the nobles, which restored the Roman commons to freedom after a grievous slavery, which in your praetorship routed your armed enemies without resort to arms, which has achieved so many and such glorious deeds at home and abroad that not even your enemies dare to make any complaint except of your greatness; if you have that spirit, pray give ear to what I shall say about our country's welfare.

(Letter to Caesar I, 2, 4)

Sallust suggested a series of ideas for reform, but later lost all hope. Caesar changed into a tyrant and was murdered. The serious doubts of H. Last, R. Syme and E. Fraenkel as to the authenticity of the letters did not prevent Collins from recognizing Sallust as the author. But Collins could have invoked the doubtless authentic work of Sallust, The Jugurthine War (3, 2), written after Caesar's death, ‘For to rule one's country or subjects by force, although you both have the power to correct abuses, and do correct them, is nevertheless tyrannical …’

Cicero's relationship with Caesar (according to Collins) was similar. In the years between 55 and 53 bc they were intimate friends. Even after the civil wars Cicero continued to hope that Caesar would restore the Republic (his speech Pro Marcello). Later came disappointment, and then the irrevocable breach.141 Cicero's mixed feelings towards Caesar were made abundantly clear in a letter of May 4, 44 (ad Att. XIV, 17). Cicero recalled that Caesar's behaviour towards him was moderate enough but otherwise unbending (de div. II, 23). Collins rightly emphasized that to Cicero Caesar was an enigma because he did not fit into any of the categories of his moral philosophy.

To sum up, in Collins' view there was sufficient evidence to suggest that Caesar's deepest political conviction was based on the old republica. Only when he began to despair of it did he feel that despotism was the only other way open to him. But his arrogance, illusions of grandeur, aggressiveness towards the Senate and respect for nobilitas of great distinction was not purely arbitrary. The view that the Republic deserted Caesar and not Caesar the Republic is the truer of the two; and, if that is right, Balsdon also deserves credit for his statement (Historia VII (1958), 86, 94) that Caesar was not murdered because he had changed, but because he had not changed.

To add further notion or surmise to this medley of opinions would be a real presumption, but I would like to suggest some thoughts that might be worthy of further study.

Caesar is one of the phenomena that appear upon the stage of history in times of crisis and hope. His rule drew support from a heterogeneous social group, a fact impressively proved by Syme's research. Yet it does not clearly emerge from all the studies we have mentioned that each of these groups expected a different solution to the acute problems of the day from Caesar. Each group saw him in a distinct way: some saw him as a man of clemency, others as the harsh ruler. Some expected a land distribution, others the cancellation of debts. Some hoped he would restore the Republic to its former greatness, others wanted its abolition once and for all. Each individual was convinced that his picture of Caesar was the right one.

Collins drew a distinction between the Caesar of the years before 46 bc and the Caesar of later years, which does not solve the problem, however, since there were ‘several Caesars’ before 46 bc as well as after it. In 49 bc Caesar crossed the Rubicon, apparently to plead for the tribunes' rights, but in the same year he himself infringed on the rights of Metellus when he tried to make himself master of the treasury in the temple of Saturn.

In 49 bc a cancellation of debts was generally expected, but towards the end of that year the money-lenders, bankers and wholesale merchants were among Caesar's most loyal followers. After the crossing of the Rubicon, there was some expectation that Caesar would reach an understanding with all the members of the nobilitas; indeed, he made extraordinary efforts to reach such an understanding with them. Many were receptive to his canvassing, and the list of consuls for the years between 49 and 44 bc proves that the firmly entrenched nobilitas understood how necessary it was to preserve their influence in the state.

Who and what, then, was Caesar? Strasburger and Balsdon, Béranger and others proved that Caesar was a tyrant.142 But that was only in the eyes of a limited group of senators in the latter days of Caesar's life. Did the people think so too? In another book143 I have attempted to explore the masses' image of Caesar. It is not easy to free oneself of the picture of Caesar as portrayed, above all, in the writings of Cicero and Sallust because the common man wrote no literary works and it is difficult to say with certainty what the masses thought. But the attempt is worth while. From close consideration of his conduct, however, there is no doubt about how Caesar wanted to appear in the eyes of the people, and that he held himself up to the plebs as the popular father-figure freed from the shackles of the Senate.

There are historians who maintain that the similarities between Caesar and Pompey are greater than the differences. Even if that is true, and the difference is much less than we suppose, the Roman plebs were not of this opinion. When Julius Caesar organized games and festivals, on a generous scale, the people were jubilant. Yet, when Pompey permitted eighteen elephants and five hundred lions to be brought into the arena, sympathy was shown for the animals and he was met with angry abuse.144 Why? How did the ideal figure of a leader appear in the eyes of the people? It is apparent that concern for the physical well-being of the masses was only one factor. All Roman rulers bribed the people with bread and circuses, and yet the one was popular and the other hated. Seneca provided us with the answer: the giving is not the decisive factor but the manner of the giving.145 ‘Idem est quod datur, sed interest quomodo detur’. The people were more easily swayed by how a ruler did than by what he did, and respected the one who at least took the trouble to appear popular.146 When Caesar decided to live in the poor quarter (before the elections!), the people saw no false altruism in the action.147 They preferred him to Pompey, who made not the slightest effort ‘to climb down to the people’. Therefore, it is not surprising that after Ilerda all ‘civil war games’ played by Roman children ended with the victory of the ‘Caesarians’.148 The vast mass of the people loathed the members of the nobilitas, but were powerless against them. The most popular political leaders (all aristocrats in origin) were those who criticized and debased the existing ‘establishment’ of senators in public and coram publico made much of the fact that they—‘although senators themselves’—were not the slaves of their class.149 The common people are not always as capricious as the sources make out. Perhaps Goethe was quite right when he wrote,

Tell me, are we doing the right thing? We must
deceive the rabble, See just how inept, how boorish, and
how transparently stupid it is! It appears inept and stupid, just
because you are deceiving it, Only be honest, and it, believe me,
is human and shrewd.

(Venetian Epigrams).

Caesar grasped every opportunity and spared no efforts to appear to be the people's friend, a man whose chief concern was the well-being of the common man.

Is that the true Caesar? I have never maintained so. I suppose there will be those who will say that my position is influenced by the conduct of those politicians in our age of mass media who are primarily interested in burnishing their personal image before the television cameras and the press.

Such criticism would be justified. Each generation writes history anew and adds its own ingredient to existing knowledge. I cannot quarrel with Friedrich Frhr. von Wieser's observation that the present is the teacher of the knowledge of the past. I have not discovered the quest for the ‘image’. It does exist in the sources, but it seems to me that insufficient attention has been paid to it. In any case, this is not the last word on Caesar's place in history, and I am far from solving the enigma of Caesar the man.

If we tried to discover how the Gauls,150 the Jews, the municipales in Italy or the merchants in Spain saw Caesar, it would become clear that there are still several ‘Caesars’. But, even if we could not know which of them is the ‘true’ Caesar, we would better understand why he remains such an enigma to the present day. ‘Maxima quaeque ambigua sunt’—it is precisely the most important state of affairs that remain ambiguous (Tac., Ann. III, 19, 2).151

However, nothing is achieved by extreme scepticism. A Cambridge modern historian explains, ‘The historian who tries to reject everything that is unproven will be rejecting much that is true. His talent lies neither in a corrosive and tiresome scepticism about everything, nor in absolute positivism, but in discernment and discrimination, best called historical understanding’.152

If we knew exactly what Caesar's intentions were, our subject would become wholly factual. But since we do not know them, we must be content with the English maxim, ‘People should be judged by facts, not by alleged intentions’. What, then, are these facts? Thirty-eight laws and measures are supposedly associated with Caesar's name. It ought to be possible, by a thorough investigation of these laws and measures, to understand how Caesar was assessed by different sections of the public? It is worth making the attempt. Moreover, can something be learned about Caesar's aims and personality from his laws?


  1. This chapter is in no way designed to be exhaustive. It is intended as a general survey for the educated reader, not for the specialist. In addition, the interested reader might like to read further in G. Walter, César, Paris 1947; M. Rambaud, L'art de déformation historique dans les commentaries de César, Paris 1966; id., ‘Rapport sur César’, Ass. G. Budé, Actes Congr. Lyons 1958, Paris 1960, pp. 205-38; J. H. Collins, ‘A Selective Survey of Caesar Scholarship since 1935’, Class. World 57 (1963/64), pp. 46-51 and pp. 81-88; H. Opperman, ‘Probleme und heutiger Stand der Caesarforschung’, ed. D. Rasmussen, Caesar, WdF. XLIII, Darmstadt 1976, pp. 485-522.

    While the present book was in preparation it was too late for me to take into account Helga Gesche, Caesar, Erträge, der Forschung, vol. LI, Darmstadt 1976. In this work Helga Gesche has collected and arranged chronologically and by subject some 2,000 titles selected from the academic literature published between 1918 and 1972-73. More important is the fact that she succeeded in overcoming an almost insurmountable task in producing not merely a survey of the literature but an accompanying critique of outstanding quality that immediately makes all other surveys of research seem out of date. In the not too distant future her work will rank as an essential component of every Caesarian scholar's library, and in the course of time the comprehensive bibliography can be cited, quite simply, by a brief reference, ‘see Gesche, No. 620’ etc. Nor was E. Wistrand's excellent study, Caesar and contemporary Roman society. Göteborg 1978, taken into account.

  2. H. Stasburger, ‘Caesar im Urteil der Zeitgenossen’, Hist. Zeitschrift 175 (1953), pp. 225-64, Darmstadt 1968.

  3. On the concept of ‘image’ in classical antiquity, see Appendix, p. 214.

  4. Plut., Caes. 32; App., BC II, 35.

  5. H. Strasburger, Caesars Eintritt in die Geschichte, Munich 1938; L. R. Taylor, ‘The Rise of Julius Caesar’, Greece and Rome IV (1957), pp. 10-18; ‘Caesar's Early Career’, Classical Philology XXXVI (1941), pp. 421 ff.

  6. Suet., Div. Jul. 9, 2.

  7. R. Syme, The Roman Revolution, Oxford 1939, p. 47, cf. J. Carcopino, Les Etapes de l'impérialisme Romain, Paris 1961, pp. 118 ff.; id., Julius César, Paris 1968.

  8. See the recently published study of Kurt Raaflaub, ‘Dignitatis contentio’, Vestigia, vol. 20, Munich 1974.

  9. Caes., BC. III, 57, 4. Similarly, too, U. Knoche in his article ‘Die geistige Vorbereitung der augustäischen Epoche’, in Das neue Bild der Antike (1942), p. 213: ‘But actually it is astonishing and shocking (sic!) how small a role the idea of empire plays at all here. And it is extraordinary that Caesar, the master of propaganda, allowed this role to escape him.’ Naturally Knoche particularly underlines Caesar's notions of leadership and following. This volume appeared at the time of the Nazi regime in Germany, and was edited by H. Berve.

  10. BC. I, 32, 7. It is noteworthy that Strasburger does not quote the second part of Caesar's suggestion, I, 32, 7, ‘But if they shrink through fear he will not burden them, and will administer the state himself.’ That is simultaneously an invitation and a threat, and it is scarcely to be supposed that the Senate was overjoyed about it. See J. H. Collins, ‘Caesar and the Corruption of Power’, Historia IV (1955), p. 445.

  11. W. den Boer, ‘Caesar zweitausend Jahre nach seinem Tod’, WdF XLIII, p. 436.

  12. M. Gelzer, ‘War Caesar ein Staatsmann?’, Hist. Zeitschrift 178 (1954), pp. 449-70 (= Kleine Schriften, Wiesbaden 1963, vol. II, pp. 286 ff.).

  13. Id., Kleine Schriften, vol. III, p. 190.

  14. Ibid. vol. II, p. 301.

  15. A. Heuss, HZ CLXXXII (1956), p. 28 (see also A. Heuss, ‘Matius als Zeuge von Caesar's staatsmännischer Größe’, Historia XI (1962), p. 118.

  16. M. Gelzer, Caesar, Stuttgart 1921. See also his article, ‘Caesars weltgeschichtliche Leistung’, Vorträge und Schriften, Preuss. Akademie d. Wiss., Heft 6, Berlin 1941 (= Vom römischen Staat II, pp. 147 ff.).

  17. Das neue Bild der Antike, vol. II, p. 199. But otherwise Gelzer preserved his academic integrity during the Nazi period. Only in a lecture ‘Caesars weltgeschichtliche Leistung’, Berlin 1941 (De Gruyter), p. 4, was there the hint that it was not easy for him in every respect. He compared Caesar with Frederick the Great, with Napoleon, Richelieu and Bismarck, ‘not to mention those who are still alive’. Is this irony or evasion? Yet there is no doubt about his general attitude. In 1928 he took up a critical position towards F. Münzer's Entstehung des römischen Prinzipats, Münster 1927, and made comments against the enthusiasm for the rule of the individual, ‘Because we have conceived of a period of history as necessary, must we also hail it as salutary?’

  18. M. Gelzer, Caesar: Politician and Statesman, tr. P. Needham, Oxford 1968, pp. 329-30 (= Caesar, Wiesbaden 1960, p. 306).

  19. Cic., de off. II, 84.

  20. Plin., NH VII, 91-2.

  21. O. Seel, ‘Zur Problematik der Grösse’, Caesarstudien, Stuttgart 1967, pp. 43-92, especially p. 57.

  22. Th. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, vol. III, Berlin 1909 edition, p. 479 (History of Rome, vol. IV, tr. W. Dickson, London 1894 edition, p. 440.

  23. J. Geiger, ‘Zum Bild Caesars in der römischen Kaiserzeit’, Historia XXIV (1975), p. 444.

  24. R. Herbig, ‘Neue Studien zur Ikonographie des Julius Caesar’, Kölner Jahrbücher für Vor und Frühgeschichte IV (1959), p. 7 = Gymnasium LXXII (1965), p. 161 = WdF XLIII (1967), p. 69. Cf. also J. M. C. Toynbee, ‘Portraits of Julius Caesar’, Greece and Rome IV (1957), p. 2; Erika Simon, ‘Neue Literatur zum Caesarporträt’, Gymnasium XXVI (1954), p. 527.

  25. J. H. Collins, Gnomon XXVI (1954), p. 527.

  26. W. Roscher, Politik, Geschichtliche Naturlehre der Monarchie, Aristokratie, Stuttgart 1893, p. 588.

  27. Mémoires de Mme de Remusat III, p. 349.

  28. A. J. P. Taylor, From Napoleon to Lenin. Historical Essays, New York 1966, pp, 12-20.

  29. Two additional passages of Cicero are worth mentioning in this connection, ad fam. XII, 18, 2, ‘for the issues of civil war are invariably such that it is not only the victor's wishes that are carried out, but those also have to be humoured by whose assistance the victory was won’, and ibid. 4, 9, 3, ‘For there are many things a victor is obliged to do even against his will at the caprice of those who helped him to victory.’

  30. L. Wickert, ‘Zu Caesars Reichspolitik’, Klio XXX (1937), pp. 232-53.

  31. Presumably in 1895 Roscher was not yet aware of the then sensational articles of Dessau in Hermes XXIV (1889), pp. 337-92; XXVII (1892), pp. 561-605, on the historical value of the SHA. In any case the passage cited above can serve only by way of illustration.

  32. Cf. A. Momigliano, ‘Per un riesame della storia dell' idea di Cesarismo’, RSI LXVIII (1956), p. 220-29, and ‘Burckhardt e la parola Cesarismo’, ibid. LXXIV (1962), pp. 369-71, and, in Hebrew, C. Wirszubski, ‘The domination of Julius Caesar’, Molad (Sept. 1957), pp. 348 ff., with similar conclusions.

  33. L. Hartmann, Theodor Mommsen, Gotha 1908, pp. 66-77. Napoleon III himself wrote a book about Caesar, but his German tutor (Froehner) was under no illusions about Napoleon's philological and historical knowledge. In his memoirs he remarked that Napoleon muddled Grammatici with Gromatici, and was absolutely convinced that he had read Livy Book XI (!).

  34. I assume that, in speaking of the vulgar sense, Mommsen would have had in mind such sentences as ‘Roman history in general, viewed in the proper light, is and remains the most trustworthy guide, not only for our time, but for all times’. This sentence comes from Hitler's Mein Kampf (1939), p. 470.

  35. Th. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, vol. III, p. 477 f. (= Eng. tr. in Everyman's Lib., Vol. IV, pp. 439-440.

  36. W. Roscher, ‘Umrisse zur Naturlehre des Caesarismus’, Abh. der Sächs. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, vol. X (1888), p. 641; F. Ruestow, Der Caesarismus, sein Wesen and Schaffen, Zürich 1879.

  37. R. v. Pöhlmann, ‘Entstehung des Caesarismus’, Altertum und Gegenwart, Munich 1895, p. 245.

  38. A. Gramsci, ‘Note sul Machiavelli, sulla politica e sullo stato moderno’, Einaudi-Jovino (1949), pp. 58-60 especially stresses the ‘conciliatory character of Caesarism’.

  39. N. A. Maškin, Printsipat Avgusta, Moscow 1949 (pp. 47 ff. German edition).

  40. Momigliano, see n. 32.

  41. Th. Mommsen, loc. cit. p. 513.

  42. It is perhaps noteworthy that Caesar's power appeared legitimate to Napoleon, ‘because it was the result … of the people's wish’ (whether Napoleon was familiar with App., BC I, 4, 16 is debatable).

  43. C. Merivale, The Fall of the Roman Republic, London 1874; W. W. Fowler, Julius Caesar and the Foundation of the Roman Imperial System, London 1892, to mention but two English examples. L. Wickert (loc. cit. p. 232) believed that an idea of empire always develops when the territory of the state grows beyond a certain limit. Caesar's plan was to reshape the Imperium Romanum, replacing the Republican state that was head of a community by a state ruled by a monarch that was head of an empire. A necessary factor in the fulfilment of this task is the absolute rule of the individual, for only the monarch who is superior to all his subjects can gain the requisite support, impossible for collegiate government in the Roman style, involving several principals.

  44. E. G. Brandes, Caesar, 2 vols, Copenhagen 1918-21; or, E. Kornemann, Weltgeschichte des Mittelmeerraumes, Munich 1948, ‘The crime of March 15th effaced forever the empire planned by the powerful Julius.’

  45. E.g. G. A. v. Mess, Caesar, Leipzig 1913, pp. 162-66, ‘His aim was legalized monarchy. He was not only an innovator, but stirred into growth and strengthened what remained strong and healthy in the old roots; he was above party politics, and was the man to put new content into the old form.’ Mess considered that Caesar's election as Pontifex Maximus (‘head of the state church’), was a ‘preparation for popular monarchy’ (p. 41).

  46. G. W. F. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte (ed. Brunstäd), Leipzig 1907 (Reclam Verlag), pp. 400-1 (= English translation by J. Sibree, New York 1944, pp. 312-13). Many nineteenth-century scholars who were not Hegelians shared this view, e.g. Droysen, who in 1834 wrote to Welcker that he had always preferred Alexander to Demosthenes and Caesar to Cato (G. Droysen, Briefwechsel (ed. R. Hübner), 1929, vol. I, p. 66.

  47. F. Gundolf, Caesar, Geschichte seines Ruhmes, Berlin 1924, and Caesar in 19. Jahrhundert, Berlin 1926.

  48. So, too, Jose Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses, New York 1950, p. 118.

  49. G. Ferrero, The Life of Caesar, London 1933, the second volume of his work Grandezza edecadenza di Roma, Turin 1904.

  50. At first glance it may seem that there were no real anti-Caesarians before Ferrero, while devotees of Julius Caesar were to be found even among the founders of American democracy. Dumas Malone, Jefferson and his Time, Boston 1951, vol. II, p. 286, maintained that Hamilton was a great admirer of Caesar. In an article that has appeared recently Thomas P. Govan has proved precisely the opposite and has convincingly demonstrated that Hamilton, in fact, championed Ferrero's ideas even during the American Revolution. In his view, Caesar was not only an efficient general and despotic autocrat, he was also a Catiline—a demagogic conspirator—who flattered the people and destroyed their freedom. To warn Washington against people of this kind, Hamilton wrote, ‘When a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, … possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits, despotic in his ordinary demeanour … is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity … it may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion, that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’

    Hamilton hated those who fostered the folly and prejudices of the people and who played on their ambitions and fears. His comparison of Jefferson with Caesar in 1792 was no compliment. (Thomas P. Govan, ‘Alexander Hamilton and Julius Caesar’, The William and Mary Quarterly, July 1975, p. 477. I am grateful to my friend Prof. T. Draper for the reference to this article).

  51. L. R. Taylor, ‘Caesar and the Roman Nobility’, TAPA LXXIII (1942), pp. 10-27; F. R. Cowell, Cicero and the Roman Republic, London 1948, pp. 203-4. This anti-Caesarian attitude is also not a new one. Since the time of Machiavelli and up to the French Revolution, conspirators whose declared aim was to free their enslaved country were highly regarded. The argument has become more intense since the time of Napoleon.

  52. The new direction of Italian research on Caesar after World War II was instituted by G. Perotta with the article ‘Cesare scrittore’, Maia I (1948), pp. 5-32. Cf. also G. Funaioli, ‘Giulio Cesare scrittore’, Studi Romani V (1957), p. 136; E. Paratore, ‘Cesare scrittore’, Cesare nel bimillianario della morte (ed. Radio Italiana), Rome 1956, p. 23; A. La Penna, Cesare—La guerra civile—Introduzione, Turin 1954.

    See also the important works of G. Pacucci, G. Funaioli, E. Paratore, A. La Penna, L. Canali (Personalità e stile di Cesare, Rome 1963); F. Semi (Il sentimento di Cesare, Padua 1966), and the extremely useful synopsis by E. Paratore, ‘Das Caesarbild des 20. Jahrhunderts in Italien’, Caesar, WdF., see n. 24. I have unfortunately been unable to obtain G. Costa, Giulio Cesare, Rome 1934. See now J. Kroymann, ‘Caesar und das Corpus Caesarianum in der neueren Forschung, ANRW I, 3, 457.

  53. As an example of Soviet literature see Maskin (n. 39). Western Marxists did not follow the path of their Soviet colleagues, and works of the Italian left (cf. n. 52) such as those of Canali and La Penna are stimulating and refreshing.

  54. See also U. v. Wilamowitz, ‘Th. Mommsen. Warum hat er den vierten Band der Römischen Geschichte nicht geschrieben?’, International Monatschrift XII (1918), p. 205, and especially the fine article by A. Wucher, ‘Mommsens unvolendete Römische Geschichte’, Saeculum IV (1953), pp. 414 ff.

  55. J. H. Collins, loc. cit. (p. 12, n. 10).

  56. This was also the view of E. Herzog, Geschichte und System der römischen Staatsverfassung, Leipzig 1884-91, II. 1, p. 44 (1887). He did not doubt that Caesar strove for sole rulership as a regular, permanent form of government, and in this connection the title never bothered him.

  57. E.g., E. Kornemann, ‘Ägyptische Einflüsse im römischen Kaiserreich’, N. Jahrb. f.d. kl. Altertumswissenschaft 1889, p. 118; J. Kaerst, Studien zur Entwicklung und theoretischen Begründung der Monarchie im Altertum, Munich 1898, especially pp. 80 ff.; H. Willrich, ‘Caligula’, Klio III (1902), p. 89. A. V. Domaszewski, ‘Kleine Beiträge zur Kaisergeschichte’, Philologus XXI (1908), p. 1.

  58. See his Kleine Schriften.

  59. E. Meyer, Spenglers Untergang des Abendlandes, Berlin 1925.

  60. O. Weippert, Alexander Imitatio und römische Geschichte in republikanischer Zeit, Augsburg 1972, pp. 56 ff.

  61. Cf., however, Gelzer's review of the year 1918, reprinted in Kleine Schriften, vol. III, p. 190.

  62. J. Carcopino, César, Paris 1935; cf. ‘La Royauté de César et de l'Empire universel’, Les Etapes de l'impérialisme Romain, Paris 1961, pp. 118 ff., with the important review of T. Gagé, ‘De César à Auguste’, RH CLXXVII (1936), pp. 279-342. Also R. Etienne, Les Ides de Mars, Paris 1973, whose interpretation is similar to Carcopino's.

  63. L. Cerfaux and J. Tondriau, Le culte des souverains, Tournay 1957.

  64. C. N. Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture, Oxford 1940.

  65. E. Kornemann, Weltgeschichte des Mittelmeerraumes, Munich 1948, vol. I, p. 478.

  66. P. Strack, ‘Zum Gottkönigtum Caesars, Probleme der augustäischen Erneuerung’, Gymnasium IV (1938), p. 21; also C. Koch, Gottheit und Mensch im Wandel der römischen Staatsform (1942), now in ‘Religio. Studien zu Kult und Glauben der Römer’, Erlanger Beiträge zur Sprache und Kunstwissenschaft, vol. VII, Nuremberg 1960, p. 94.

  67. L. Pareti, Storia di Roma e del impero Romano, 6 vols. Turin 1952-61.

  68. Cf. E. Meyer, ‘Kaiser Augustus’, Kl. Schriften, and E. Burck, ‘Staat, Volk and Dichtung im republikanischen Rom’, Hermes LXXI (1936), p. 307. Burck maintained that Augustus retreated from Caesar's notion of the Hellenistic state, embraced the old Roman tradition, and made way for a blood (blutmässig) reformation. The expression blutmässig was apparently better conceived in 1936.

  69. H. F. Pelham, Essays in Roman History. Oxford 1911, p. 27.

  70. CAH IX, p. 724.

  71. R. Syme, The Roman Revolution, Oxford 1939, p. 54.

  72. R. Syme, ‘Caesar, the Senate and Italy’, PBSR XIV (1938), p. 2.

  73. When Syme spoke of non-political classes he meant tax farmers, wealthy merchants and great landowners who had no political ambitions and supported any regime that could guarantee them economic returns.

  74. Cf., the outstanding small volume, unfortunately all too seldom cited, Colonial Elites, Oxford 1958, pp. 27, 52.

  75. R. Syme, The Roman Revolution p. 346.

  76. F. E. Adcock, CAH IX, p. 271, and also the important article by J. P. V. D. Balsdon, ‘The Ides of March’, Historia XII (1953), pp. 80-94. The most important review of Syme's work, long since recognized as ‘classic’, comes from A. Momigliano (JRS XXX (1940), p. 75). Momigliano applauded Syme's work as a masterpiece, but was critical of the one-sidedness of its prosopography, (‘prosopography is not history’), and regretted that ‘spiritual interests of people are considered much less than their marriages’. Numerous scholars have since associated themselves with Momigliano, including A. W. Sherwin-White (JRS LIX (1969), p. 287), whom Lintott praised ‘for considering ideas and actions of contestants rather than their matrimonial bulletins’. Momigliano also regretted that Syme had not attached enough importance to Roman law, and in another place he pointed out that it would have been desirable to enquire ‘… how the Romans knew and used law and constitutional practices as the tool for building an empire. The Romans did not rule the world by nepotism’ (Contributo alla storia degli Studi classici I, Rome 1955, p. 399). From another marginal comment it might be concluded that Momigliano was haunted by the question of whether Syme had in mind the rise of Fascism when he wrote the Roman Revolution, ‘A candid admission of the purpose of one's own study, a clear analysis of the implications of one's own bias helps to define the limits of one's own historical research’ (Contributo I, p. 374). In fact, it is not altogether easy to discover the Zeitgeist from Syme's text. It was easier in the case of Niebuhr. But one thing is clear: Syme learned more from Münzer than from Namier, and there is no reason for supposing that he had eighteenth-century England in mind when he wrote his Roman Revolution. He believed in the role of Dynamis and Tyche in history rather than in established trends that can be predicted, and in a period such as that before World War II, when political ideology was awash in a wave of slogans, he was more interested in the actors on the stage of history than in their warnings, ‘Bonum publicum simulantes pro sua quisque potentia certabant’.

  77. The Spartan Agesilaus likewise most vigorously refused divine honours (Plut., Mor. 210 D). Thus he once enquired of the inhabitants of Thasus whether they were in a position to change a mortal into a god. When they assented, he suggested they first make themselves into gods, then he would believe that they could also deify him (Plut., Agesilaus 21, 5; Mor. 213 A).

  78. W. Steidle, Sueton und die antike Biographie, Munich 1963, pp. 13 ff.

  79. Cf., Syme, Roman Revolution, p. 54, ‘Cic. Phil. II, 110, however, is a difficult passage’.

  80. W. W. Fowler, Roman Essays, Oxford 1920, p. 268.

  81. J. Vogt, ‘Zum Herrscherkult bei Julius Caesar’, Studies presented to D. M. Robinson, vol. II, St Louis 1953, p. 1138.

  82. V. Ehrenberg, ‘Caesar's Final Aims’, HSCP LXVIII (1969), p. 149 = Man, State and Diety 1974, 127.

  83. K. Kraft, ‘Der goldene Kranz Caesars und der Kampf um die Entlarvung des Tyrannen’, Jahrbücher für Numismatik und Geldgeschichte IV (1952), p. 7. Cf., also the critical article of D. Felber, ‘Caesars Streben nach der Königswürde’, Untersuchungen zur römischen Geschichte (ed. F. Altheim), vol. I, Frankfurt/M 1961, pp. 211 ff.

  84. F. Gundolf, Caesar im 19 Jahrhundert, Berlin 1926, p. 79.

  85. L. Wickert, ‘Caesars Monarchie und der Prinzipat des Augustus’, NJAB IV (1941), pp. 12-23.

  86. F. Vittinghoff, Römische Kolonisation und Bürgerrechtspolitik, Mainz 1951.

  87. H. Opperman, Caesar—Wegbereiter Europas, Göttingen 1958, especially pp. 96-97; 106-7.

  88. F. Taeger, Charisma, Stuttgart 1960, vol. II, pp. 50 ff., 65, 68, 70, 72.

  89. R. Klein, Königtum und Königzeit bei Cicero (diss.), Erlangen 1962, especially pp. 57-59, 67.

  90. E. Meyer, Caesars Monarchie, p. 401. Cf. F. Altheim, Römische Religionsgeschichte II, Baden-Baden 1953, p. 63.

  91. B. E. Giovanetti, La religione di Cesare, Milan 1937.

  92. M. Pohlenz, ‘Eine politische Tendenzschrift aus Caesars Zeit’, Hermes LIX (1924), p. 157. Pohlenz's view was not shared by all scholars. Some attributed the passage of Dionysius to the Augustan period (e.g. Premerstein), others to the time of Sulla (e.g. E. Gabba, ‘Studi su Dionigi da Alecarnasso’, Athenaeum XXXVIII (1960), pp. 175 ff.

  93. J. Dobesch, Caesars Apotheose zu Lebzeiten und sein Ringen um den Königstitel, Vienna 1966, reviewed in JRS VII (1967), pp. 247-48 and E. Rawson, JRS LXV (1975), p. 148.

  94. The review by J. P. V. D. Balsdon, Gnomon XXXIX (1967), pp. 150 ff. is important. See also K. W. Welwei, ‘Das Angebot des Diadems an Caesar und das Luperkalienfest’, Historia XVI (1967), p. 44.

  95. Correspondance de Napoléon I, vol. 32, p. 86, cited by Alföldi in ‘Der neue Romulus’, MH VIII (1951), p. 208.

  96. Ibid.

  97. See the bibliography of A. Alföldi, Antiquitas, series 4, vol. III, 1966, XIII.

  98. At the time of writing only vol. 2 of Das Zeugnis der Münzen, Bonn 1974 (Antiquitas, vol. XVII), was available to me.

  99. MH VII (1950), pp. 1-13.

  100. On the diadem as employed by the Persians and Alexander, see Hans-Werner Ritter, Diadem und Königsherrschaft, Munich 1965 (Vestigia 7).

  101. Phoenix XXIV (1970), p. 166.

  102. Gnom. XII (1975), p. 12.

  103. RN XV, 1973, p. 126.

  104. Phoenix XXIV (1970), p. 176.

  105. E. Gruen, The Last Generation of the Roman Republic, Berkeley-Los Angeles-London 1974, p. 544.

  106. Alföldi, loc. cit. p. 105.

  107. Staatsrecht II, p. 780.

  108. S. Weinstock, Divus Julius, Oxford 1971, p. 200, n. 4. A. H. M. Jones, JRS XLI (1951), pp. 117, 119, contra, A. Alföldi, Vater des Vaterlandes, Darmstadt 1971.

  109. E.g., R. Syme, ‘Imperator Caesar. A Study in Nomenclature’, Historia VII (1958), pp. 172-88. R. Combes, Imperator, Paris 1966. J. Deininger, ‘Von der Republik zur Monarchi’, Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt (ed. Temporini), vol. I (1972), p. 982, with the conclusion that neither the coins nor the epigraphic evidence offers any clear proof that Imperator was more than a title to Caesar.

  110. A. Alföldi, ‘Der machtverheissende Traum des Sulla’, Jahrb. d. bernischen Hist. Museums in Bern XLI-XLII (1961), p. 284.

  111. Michael H. Crawford, Roman Republican Coinage, 2 vols, Cambridge 1974. To cite only a few examples: p. 83, n. 5: ‘The arrangement proposed by A. Alföldi, JNR 1954 may safely be ignored’. Or p. 89, n. 2: ‘The attempt of Alföldi to date this issue must be regarded as a failure’. Or, ‘… the unacceptable view of Alföldi’, p. 488, n. 1.

  112. Ibid. p. 601, n. 3; p. 733, n. 2.

  113. C. M. Kraay, ‘Caesar's Quattuorviri of 44 bc: The Arrangement of their Issue’, NC XIV, Ser. 6 (1954), p. 18; R. A. G. Carson, Gnomon XXVIII (1956), pp. 181-86 and Greece and Rome IV (1957), pp. 46-53. H. Volkmann, ‘Caesars letzte Pläne im Spiegel der Münzen’, Gymnasium LXIV (1957), p. 299.

  114. D. Felber, ‘Caesars Streben nach der Königswürde’ in Untersuchungen zur römischen Geschichte (ed. F. Altheim), Frankfurt/M. 1961, vol. I, pp. 211-84.

  115. A. H. M. Jones, ‘Numismatics and History’, Essays in Roman Coinage presented to H. Mattingly (ed. R. A. G. Carson and C. H. V. Sutherland), Oxford 1956, p. 32.

  116. S. Weinstock, Divus Julius loc. cit., reviewed by A. Alföldi, Gnomon XII (1975), pp. 154-79; R. E. Palmer, Athenaeum LI (1973), p. 201, and J. A. North, JRS LXV (1975), p. 171.

  117. Weinstock, loc. cit. p. 3; Alföldi, Gnomon, loc. cit. p. 158.

  118. E.g. R. Syme, ‘Livy and Augustus’, HSCP LXIV (1959), 80, no. 85: ‘Dio's passage (LXIV, 4, 3) is a patent anachronism’.

  119. Staatsrecht II, p. 756, n. 1. Adcock. CAHM IX, 721.

  120. Gnomon XXXIX (1967), p. 155.

  121. NC VI, Ser. 6 (1947), pp. 127 ff.

  122. Gymnasium LXX (1963), pp. 312 ff. especially p. 333.

  123. E. J. Bickerman, ‘Die römische Kaiserapotheose’, Archiv für Religionswissenschaft XXVII (1930), p. 1.

  124. Id., ‘Consecratio, Culte des Souverains’, Fondation Hardt, Entretiens XIX, Geneva 1973, pp. 3-37, especially p. 7.

  125. C. Habicht, Gottmenschtum und griechische Städte, Munich 1957 (Zetemata, no. 14) (cf. n. 121), pp. 41 ff. and most recently in ‘Consecratio’.

  126. R. Cohen, La Grèce et l'Hellenisation du monde antique, Paris 1939, p. 614.

  127. Cerfaux and Tondriau, loc. cit. p. 77.

  128. M. Liberanome, ‘Alcune osservazioni su Cesare e Antonio’, RFIC XVI (1968), pp. 407 ff.

  129. Felber, loc. cit. p. 226.

  130. Cf. n. 106. and n. 111.

  131. G. Haber, Untersuchungen zu Caesars Pontifikat, Tübingen 1971.

  132. H. Gesche, Die Vergottung Caesars, Frankfurt/M. 1968.

  133. A. Alföldi, Phoenix XXIV (1970), p. 169.

  134. M. Cary, ‘The Municipal Legislation of Julius Caesar’, JRS XXVII (1937), p. 49.

  135. Gnomon XIII (1937), p. 191.

  136. W. Schmitthenner, ‘Das Attentat auf Caesar’, Gesch. i. Wiss. u. Unterr. XIII (1962), pp. 685 ff., especially p. 694.

  137. R. E. Smith, ‘Conspiracy and the Conspirators’, Greece and Rome IV (1957), p. 62.

  138. C. Meier, Entstehung des Begriffs ‘Demokratie’, vier Prolegomena zu einer historischen Theorie, Frankfurt/M. 1970, pp. 131-35.

  139. J. H. Collins, Historia IV (1955), p. 445.

  140. In his thesis, unfortunately unpublished, Propaganda, Ethics and Psychological Assumptions in Caesar's Writings (diss.), Frankfurt/M. 1952.

  141. Collins assumed that Cicero would have happily seen Caesar dead (ad Att. XII, 4; XIII, 40). Other scholars do not take these passages seriously.

  142. J. Béranger, ‘Tyrannus: Notes sur la notion de Tyrannie chez les Romains particulièrement à l'époque de César et de Cicéron’, REL XIII (1935), p. 85; ‘Cicéron précurseur politique’, Hermes LXXXVII (1959), p. 103. W. Allen, ‘Caesar's Regnum’, TAPA LXXXIV (1953), p. 227.

  143. Z. Yavetz, Plebs and Princeps, Oxford 1969, p. 38.

  144. For the evidence, ibid. p. 50.

  145. Ibid. p. 101. Idem est quod datur sed interest quomodo detur.

  146. Ibid. p. 53.

  147. Ibid. p. 99.

  148. Ibid. p. 50, n. 7.

  149. Ibid. pp. 114-16.

  150. G. Schulte-Holtey, Untersuchung zum Gallischen Widerstand gegen Caesar (diss.), Münster 1968. Others are inclined to stress the interests of Gallic merchants under Roman occupation, e.g. N. J. De Witt, ‘Toward Misunderstanding Caesar’, Studies in Honor of Ullman, St Louis 1960, p. 137; and C. Jullian, Vercingetorix, Paris, 1911, who deplores Caesar's conquest of Gaul as a conquest that arrested the development of Celtic civilization:

  151. This sceptical view has deep roots. The question had already been posed by Livy: whether it would have been better for the state for Caesar to be born or for him not to have been born (‘in incerto esse utrum illum magis nasci an non nasci rei publicae profuerit’, Sen. Nat. Quaest. 5, 18, 4). Seneca had no clear answer to this question.

  152. D. Thompson, The Aims of History, London 1969.


Abbot-Johnson: F. F. Abbot - A. Ch. Johnson, Municipal Administration in the Roman Empire, Princeton 1926.

A. N. R. W.: Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt (Hrsg. H. Temporini), Berlin-New York 1972.

A. R. S. P.: Annali della R. Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa

C. A. H.: Cambridge Ancient History

C. I. L.: Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum

E. S. A. R.: T. Frank (ed.), An Economic Survey of Ancient Rome, Paterson, N. J. 1959.

F. A. S.: Frankfurter althistorische Studien

F. G. H.: F. Jacoby (Hrsg.), Fragmente der griechischen Historiker

FIRA (Riccobono): S. Riccobono, Fontes Iuris Romani Antejustiniani

G. W. U.: Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht

I. G. R. R.: Inscriptiones Graecae ad res Romanas pertinentes

I. L. S.: Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae

M. G. W. J.: Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums

M. R. R.: T. R. S. Broughton, The Magistrates of the Roman Republic, New York 1951.

N. J. A. B.: Neue Jahrbücher für Antike und deutsche Bildung.

R. E.: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft

R. G.: Th. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte.

Rotondi: G. Rotondi, Leges Publicae Populi Romani.

R. R. (Syme): Sir Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution, Oxford 1939.

R. R. (Varro): M. Terentius Varro, de re rustica.

S. I. G.: W. Dittenberger (Hrsg.), Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum.

WdF: Wege der Forschung, (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt).

All other abbreviations (names of series, periodicals etc.) correspond to the ones used in l'Année Philolgique.

C. B. R. Pelling (essay date 1981)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9672

SOURCE: “Caesar's Battle-Descriptions and the Defeat of Ariovistus,” in Latomus, Vol. 40, No. 4, October-December, 1981, pp. 741-66.

[In the following essay, Pelling argues that many of Caesar's battles and maneuvers were too complex to be understood by his intended readers, so that he simplified his accounts accordingly.]

Caesar's military descriptions mark him out among ancient writers. He paints them in the firmest lines; he is uniquely able to communicate to his audience the important strands in the strategy of a campaign, or the tactics of a battle. This tends to inspire modern scholars with an unfortunate confidence. We have a clear and definite picture of the course of events: we expect it to be an easy matter to fit Caesar's narrative to the terrain, and to determine the exact theatre of the campaigns and battles which he describes. Most of the modern topographical discussions of his campaigns are confident and precise. And yet our expectations have proved delusive. Archaeology alone has been genuinely successful in deciding topographical issues, as (it may be argued) at Gergovia and Alesia. Where archaeological evidence is not to hand, scarcely one of Caesar's battlefields has been determined in such a manner as to quell dispute.

It is time to stop considering topographical questions in isolation, and to adopt a new approach. Caesar painted his pictures firmly; but how concerned was he to give accurate and precise detail? He was writing for an audience at Rome. That audience had no more than the vaguest notion of the geography of Gaul, and that audience had no useful maps. ‘Every day’, Caesar's successes brought new names of races, tribes, locations to Roman ears1; ‘no writing, report, or rumour’ had ever celebrated the regions which Caesar now conquered for Rome2. Who really knew anything of the Nervii, where their country lay, how far removed from Italy and Rome3? Such an audience would find it extraordinarily difficult to grasp the complexities of terrain, or of fortification, or of strategic manœuvre; it would soon grow impatient with the effort. It would be very odd, if Caesar had not sought to ease their path. A flood of complexities might too easily obscure the important points of the narrative. Caesar would naturally suppress many of the details of terrain or of military movements, and present his audience with a very simplified model.

The first part of this paper will illustrate this point from three of Caesar's more routine battle-descriptions. The second will turn to the most difficult and controversial of all his topographical accounts, that of the war with Ariovistus.


We may begin with the battle of the Aisne, fought against the Belgae in 57 (B.G. [De Bello Gallico], 2.1-11)4. After his arrival at the Belgic frontier, Caesar remained for some days in the territory of the Remi; he was probably based on Durocortorum, the main town of the Remi, for that period5. When news arrived that the Belgae were marching against him, he hurried to cross the Aisne, and encamped close to the river's right bank. Quae res … latus unum castrorum ripis fluminis muniebat (2. 5. 5). Nearby there was a bridge over the Aisne, presumably the bridge by which Caesar had crossed. He defended this with a praesidium on the right bank and a camp of six cohorts, commanded by Titurius Sabinus, on the left. The approaching Belgae meanwhile attacked the oppidum Bibrax, some eight miles away from Caesar's main camp; but Caesar sent a light-armed detachment to its defence, and the town was saved. The Belgae then arrived before Caesar's main camp, and occupied a position less than two miles distant. Their camp was more than eight miles in width.

Caesar at first restricted his troops to cavalry skirmishes: Vbi nostros non esse inferiores intellexit, loco pro castris ad aciem instruendam natura opportuno atque idoneo, quod is collis ubi castra posita erant paululum ex planitie editus tantum aduersus in latitudinem patebat quantum loci acies instructa occupare poterat, atque ex utraque parte lateris deiectus habebat et in frontem leniter fastigatus paulatim ad planitiem redibat, ab utroque latere eius collis transuersam fossam obduxit circiter passuum quadringentorum, et ad extremas fossas castella constituit ibique tormenta collocauit ne, cum aciem instruxisset, hostes, quod tantum multitudine poterant, ab lateribus pugnantes suos circumuenire possent (2. 8. 2-4). Both sides then drew up the bulk of their forces in front of their camps: a marsh then separated the two armies. Still no pitched battle was fought, and, after an indecisive cavalry engagement, Caesar led his men back to their camp. The Belgae next found a ford and tried to cross the Aisne, hoping to attack the smaller Roman camp. Titurius informed Caesar of the danger, and Caesar vigorously attacked the enemy army, wreaking such slaughter that the entire enemy force decided to withdraw. Caesar pursued on the following day with devastating effect.

This battlefield ought to be identifiable: we could scarcely hope for more detailed information. It must be very close to the right bank of the Aisne (2. 5. 5); and, if Caesar started from Reims, the battlefield should not be far from there. It probably lies close to an ancient road, for the Belgae were marching on Caesar and would naturally have taken the easiest route6. We have perhaps the most explicit natural description in the Commentaries to help us locate Caesar's camp. Two miles further from the river there should be sufficient room for the Belgic position, eight miles wide. Between the two there should be a marsh, but there should also be ground firm enough to permit cavalry manœuvres. There should be a ford close to the battlefield. Even if Bibrax cannot be securely identified7, we should surely have enough material to fix the site.

But we do not. We can certainly narrow the possibilities to just two candidates, Berry-au-Bac (Mauchamp) and Chaudardes. …8 The main road from Reims to the north seems to have passed through Berry-au-Bac9, sufficiently close to both possible sites. Whether the site be fixed as Berry or Chaudardes, a very plausible ford can be found at Gernicourt10. Both locations have plausible marshes. Both can afford eight-mile tracts suitable for the Belgic camp. But both sites also have difficulties, and the merits of the two cases are still very evenly balanced.

(1) Napoléon thought that his excavations had constituted decisive proof for Berry-au-Bac: he discovered remains of a camp and two entrenchments (see Figure 1). But his discoveries do not really meet the demands of Caesar's description11. The Roman army was drawn up pro castris and faced the enemy: we naturally assume that the Romans stood between their camp (behind them) and the Belgic army (before them). Yet Napoléon's reconstruction implies that the entire acies stood to the left of the Roman camp12. Caesar certainly leads us to expect fortifications at both sides of the hill and the battle-line (ab utroque latere eius collis), and suggests that both flanks needed protection from attack (ne ab lateribus—note the plural—pugnantes suos circumuenire possent); Napoléon leaves the left quite denuded13. It is perhaps possible that a further earthwork remains undiscovered in the region of Gernicourt, at the west of the proposed line; but Napoléon's fortifications are much too complex simply to be the right-wing construction14. Nor does the nature of the terrain correspond to Caesar's description: lateris deiectus probably implies that the west and east of the hill are marked by fairly steep slopes. It has long been noticed that the western slope is much too gentle15, and in fact the eastern slope is little better. The plateau itself seems rather too wide for Caesar's line of six legions. All this is hardly satisfactory.

(2) Chaudardes would be a more obvious site to fortify, and certainly has much to recommend it. Its descents to west and east are much steeper than the equivalents at Berry, and (pace Holmes) the plateau is almost exactly the right size to accommodate the line of six legions. That line should naturally occupy a little more than two kilometres16; Chaudardes plateau is approximately 2.5 km wide. But it too has its disadvantages. The plain to the north is today heavily forested, and it is hard to believe that it was ever good cavalry country. Nor does Caesar's in frontem leniter fastigatus paulatim ad planitiem redibat accurately reflect the complexities of the terrain. The ground immediately north of the ‘plateau’ slopes noticeably upwards from east to west. At the east the plateau frons is rather too steep, while at the west it is in parts lower than the ground immediately to the north.

It is impossible to decide between these two locations, but that is not our present concern. The important point is that, on either account, Caesar has given us a simplified model. If the battle was fought at Berry, he has disguised the position of his camp, and exaggerated the slope at the east and west ends; he has misrepresented the nature of his dispositions, which must have left gaps between both flanks and the edges of the plateau; and he has simplified the detail of his fortifications. If the battle was fought at Chaudardes, he has obscured the complexities of the frons and its relation to the adjacent terrain; and there is something odd about the description of the cavalry fighting. There is nothing surprising or sinister in this. Caesar was simply trying to help his readers. Wherever the battle was fought, the true complexities would be extraordinarily difficult and distracting to explain. Caesar preferred to concentrate on the main points of the battle, and to simplify his natural description in a manner which would make these points easier to grasp.

The next example is the battle ad Sabim, fought later in 57, where Caesar defeated the Neruii (B.G., 2. 16-28). Most discussions of this battle have started from the assumption that the Sabis should be the Sambre, but none of these reconstructions could give a plausible strategic pattern to the campaign17. It now seems likely that the equation Sabis = Sambre is no more than a fourteenth-century conjecture, and possesses no authority18.

It seems most likely that Caesar, after receiving the submission of the Ambiani (2. 15. 2), was marching along the road from Amiens through Cambrai to Bavay, the Nervian capital19. The site should presumably be sought on or near this road. The choice lies between a position on the Escaut (near Cambrai) or a position on the Selle (near Saulzoir). The Escaut site would probably be the stronger point of defence20. But it is hard to find topographical details which answer at all plausibly to Caesar's description, and the Escaut identification would imply that Caesar here confused Sabis and Scaldis21. The elaborate discussion of P. Turquin marks out a very plausible site in the environs of Saulzoir, and swings the balance of probability heavily in the Selle's favour22. If so, Caesar's description of latissimum flumen and altissimae ripae would be hyperbolic (2. 27. 5); but that, perhaps, would be no surprise.

The main difficulty for both the Escaut and the Selle identifications is presented by 2. 16. 1: cum per eorum finis triduum iter fecisset, inueniebat ex captiuis Sabim flumen ab castris suis non amplius milia passuum decem abesse. As Schmittlein insists, eorum there should certainly = Neruiorum23. The western boundary of the Neruii was probably not far west of Cambrai24. This does not make any sense at all if Sabis refers to the Escaut: Caesar could barely have crossed the frontier before he received his information, and a ‘three-day march’ is quite ridiculous. Even Saulzoir is only 16 km from Cambrai. Turquin's site can hardly have been more than 36 km from the Nervian frontier, and it should follow that three days' march had taken the Roman army only twenty kilometres. It is true that they were marching through hostile territory, and that their progress was impeded by the Nervian barriers (2. 17. 4-5); but this still seems far too short a distance. It is more likely that Caesar is again giving a simplified version, as he seeks to keep his reader's mind on essentials. He had been marching for three days against the Neruii; that was what mattered. His audience would not know or care where the Nervian frontier lay25. Caesar may not have known himself. He certainly did not want to introduce stray complications, and preferred to obscure the fact that a considerable part of that three-day march had been outside Nervian territory, before he reached the frontier. Per eorum fines was a pardonable simplification, which would at the same time emphasise the dangers of the march. He had presumably started at Amiens, or perhaps a little to the east of that city26.

The final example is Caesar's battle against the Vsipetes and Tencteri. Much of the discussion must be concerned with the manuscript text of B.G., 4. 15. 2: the defeated Germans fled ad confluentem Mosae et Rheni. Can those words mean what they say? Or must we assume that Caesar wrote (or at least should have written) Mosellae? If the text can be defended, the battlefield will presumably be near to Kleve or Goch27—though the featureless nature of the country and the variations in the course of the Meuse exclude any great precision. If Caesar means the Moselle, the battle will have to be transferred to the vicinity of Koblenz28.

This is no place for a full discussion. The point is that, on either account, Caesar has left a very great amount unsaid. The last topographical indication of the German position was 4. 6. 4: Germani latius uagabantur et in finis Eburonum et Condrusorum … peruenerant. Even that is not very clear: it is uncertain whether Caesar is there referring to the whole German army, or simply to a few wandering detachments. But it is anyway a great surprise for us to find ourselves near either Koblenz or Kleve. If the battle was near Koblenz, Caesar has left it quite obscure why the Germans chose to go there. Their detachment among the Ambiuariti (4. 9. 3) will find it difficult to rejoin them; and the natural strategy would surely be to retreat northwards, drawing Caesar as far as possible away from his reliable allies, lengthening his lines of communication. If it was the main force of the Germans which had reached the Eburones and Condrusi, we should expect them to retreat; if the main force was still near Kleve, we should expect them to stay there. Instead, we are asked to assume that they struck off south-eastwards, deep into the country of the Treueri. If they did, it is eloquent that Caesar did not think it worth explaining—or even mentioning.

But, of course, there are severe difficulties in the way of defending the manuscript text. The notion of a ‘confluence of the Meuse and the Rhine’ may itself be something of a nonsense, for 4. 10. 1 seems to make it clear that the stream of the Rhine which met the Meuse was called the Vacalus (i.e. the Waal)29. We might also be concerned by Caesar's silence about the German retreat from the Eburones and Condrusi; or by the fact that he tells us nothing of a long Roman march up the Rhine to make their bridge, which seems to have been near Andernach; or by the uncomfortably large distance of the return journey to the Vbii, which the German envoys promise to cover in just three days (4. 11. 2-3)30. These problems are just as real as those which face the Moselle identification, but in both cases the problems are of the same kind31. They rest on Caesar's silence; they rest on topographical difficulties which we, with the aid of autopsy and detailed maps, can expose. That is surely the wrong approach. Caesar's immediate audience would find no difficulty in these silences. They would not know where the Eburones and the Condrusi were to be found; they would not know how far it was to the Vbii; they would not be able to tell exactly where Caesar built his bridge. Caesar could again safely simplify his account, and omit marches and movements which would complicate his narrative and confuse the reader. Whichever location we choose, it is clear that this is what he has done.

The choice must be made on other grounds. All Caesar's narrative has suggested a site close to the Meuse. The introduction of the river's name (4. 9. 3) is immediately explained at 4. 10. 1. That explanation has its obscurities and its inaccuracies, but, given Caesar's penchant for geographical vagueness and simplification, it need not follow that it is seriously corrupt. 4. 10. 1-5 has directed our attention to the Meuse and the Rhine. If Mosellae is read at 4. 15. 2, the sudden transfer of the reader to the area of the Moselle, with the unheralded and unexplained introduction of so important a river, would be as artistically inelegant as it is strategically obscure. The inelegance is the more important point, for it is a roughness which Caesar's audience would have noticed in his narrative, and therefore a roughness which he would have taken pains to avoid. He would not have made so much of the Meuse, or he would at least have introduced a similar excursus on the Moselle itself. It seems likely that the manuscript reading at 4. 15. 2 must stand, and Caesar's silences must simply be accepted. It would follow that the battle was fought near Goch or Kleve.

The moral of all this is clear enough. As we turn to Ariovistus, examining the topography of a new campaign and a new battle, we must be prepared to find a far more complex and irregular terrain than Caesar's language would imply. We must not always expect an explanation of difficulties which are only discernible to those who know the country, or who can consult a detailed map. We may expect Caesar to have sketched the main lines, but no more, of the strategic background or of the course of the battle. We are entitled to look for a theatre which fits those main lines—but we may never be sure that Caesar has told us the whole story, and we must be particularly chary of resting any argument on Caesar's silences. It is evident that the investigation will be a difficult and delicate one, and that many questions may only be decided with a greater or smaller degree of probability.



These features of Caesar's technique evidently complicate topographical inquiry, and many cases will be quite hopeless. But, within limits, progress may still be made. The Ariovistus campaign has provoked more discussion and less agreement than any other32; but even here the possibilities may at least be narrowed.

Immediately after the army's panic at Vesontio, Caesar set out to march against Ariovistus: et itinere exquisito per Diuiciacum, quod ex aliis ei maximam fidem habebat, ut milium amplius quinquaginta circuitu locis apertis exercitum duceret, de quarta uigilia, ut dixerat, profectus est. septimo die, cum iter non intermitteret, ab exploratoribus certior factus est Ariouisti copias a nostris milibus passuum quattuor et uiginti abesse (1. 41. 4-5). Ariovistus then invited Caesar to parly, and this meeting was held at a place where planities erat magna et in ea tumulus terrenus satis grandis (1. 43. 1). No agreement was reached. A few days later Ariovistus treacherously arrested two envoys of Caesar (1. 47), and eodem die castra promouit et milibus passuum sex a Caesaris castris sub monte consedit (1. 48. 1). There is good reason to think that Caesar, too, had by now moved closer to Ariovistus33.

Postridie eius diei (Ariovistus) praeter castra Caesaris suas copias traduxit et milibus passuum duobus ultra eum castra fecit, eo consilio uti frumento commeatuque qui ex Sequanis et Aeduis supportaretur Caesarem intercluderet (1. 48. 2). For the following five days Caesar offered battle, but Ariovistus declined, restricting himself to cavalry skirmishes. Vbi eum castris se tenere Caesar intellexit, ne diutius commeatu prohiberetur, ultra eum locum, quo in loco Germani consederant, circiter passus sescentos ab his, castris idoneum locum delegit acieque triplici instructa ad eum locum uenit (1. 49. 1). Ariovistus attacked, but the camp was successfully fortified. Caesar left two legions there with some of the auxiliaries; the other four legions returned to the larger camp. On the following day Caesar tried again to provoke a battle, but did not succeed. He returned to camp around noon. Ariovistus then attacked the smaller camp with vigour, and fighting continued until evening.

The next day saw the decisive battle. Caesar drew up all his alarii in front of the smaller camp, quod minus multitudine militum legionariorum pro hostium numero ualebat, ut ad speciem alariis uteretur (1. 51. 1). He himself, triplici instructa acie, advanced to the enemy camp. This time the Germans were compelled to accept the challenge. Caesar himself a dextro cornu, quod eam partem minime firmam hostium esse animaduerterat, proelium commisit (1. 52. 2); in the sequel, cum hostium acies a sinistro cornu pulsa atque in fugam conuersa esset, a dextro cornu uehementer multitudine suorum nostram aciem premebant (1. 52. 6). These two items seem to give a coherent picture. Dextro cornu in 52. 2 seems clearly to refer to the Roman right, while sinistro and dextro in 52. 6 should naturally describe events from the German viewpoint. If so, the battle followed a characteristic pattern, and both right wings succeeded in forcing their enemy to retreat.

Roman cavalry reinforcements led by P. Crassus saved the day, and the Germans were driven into flight. The distance of their flight is important and problematic. The manuscripts of the B.G. give five miles: atque omnes hostes terga conuerterant neque prius fugere destiterunt quam ad flumen Rhenum milia passuum ex eo loco circiter quinque peruenerunt (1. 53. 1). But Plutarch (Caes., 19. 11) and Orosius (6. 7. 10) both give figures which indicate a distance of fifty miles for this flight to the Rhine. … Both writers ultimately derive much of their material from Caesar's account34. It is a natural possibility that they here reflect an early reading quinquaginta in Caesar's text. Equally, it is possible that the figure of fifty represents an error made by an intermediate source (perhaps Pollio), and inherited by Plutarch and Orosius; or the two later authors may even have suffered an identical easy corruption. Either ‘five’ or ‘fifty’ should remain possibilities, and only the identification of the battlefield itself can decide between the two.

Caesar thus gives only two place-names, Besannçon at the beginning and the Rhine at the end. It is not surprising that a multitude of sites have been suggested. … The five most favoured candidates [include]: (1) a site just south of Ribeauvillé (Stoffel, with many followers); (2) a site some fifteen kilometres east of this, near Ohnenheim (Jordan); (3) a series of sites around Cernay (many scholars since Napoléon III, especially Jullian, Hatt: the most plausible reconstruction is that of Jullian); (4) a site between Mulhouse and Basel (Bazouin, Miltner, Morgan); (5) a site in the environs of Belfort, as suggested by Napoléon I and elaborately argued by Schmittlein.


The evidence is very tenuous, and it may be helpful to list the principal pointers to the battle's location.

(1) The time taken to march from Vesontio: on the seventh day of his march, Caesar was twenty-four miles from Ariovistus' first camp. When pressed, an army could doubtless move at 15 miles a day or more; but the most likely average figure for a day's march is perhaps 10-13 Roman miles35. Caesar's speed on this occasion was probably close to the average. He was marching cautiously: he did not know of Ariovistus' precise location until the news arrived on the seventh day36, and he was sufficiently apprehensive of ambush to follow his circuitus rather than the direct route. But, equally, he would not want to dawdle. He did not grant his troops their customary rest-day (cum iter non intermitteret), doubtless hoping to reach open country as soon as possible37. We might expect him to cover something like sixty to eighty miles on the first six days; the length of the seventh march is unknown.

(2) The general probabilities of the line of march. It seems likely that Ariovistus is starting from Upper Alsace; Caesar is setting out from Vesontio. This prima facie makes a site as far north as Ribeauvillé, or as far south-east as Mulhouse-Basel, hard to explain38. Of course, here we must be careful. Any number of strategic considerations may have intervened to draw the armies away from their natural route, and we cannot be sure that Caesar would have told us about them. But this remains a factor which favours Cernay or Belfort, both of which would be natural positions for Ariovistus to reach and occupy.

(3) Sub monte at 1. 48. 1. There must be at least one mountain or hill in the region, and this should overlook the site of Ariovistus' second camp.

(4) Ariovistus' manœuvre of 1. 48. 2. This is rather odd: Caesar allows the German horde to march past his flank and cut his communications. Caesar of course had exploratores, who had been active a few days earlier (1. 41. 5), and he surely knew that Ariovistus had been on the move the day before. He must have been unusually negligent to allow this manœuvre to succeed unmolested—unless the Germans were in some way protected by the lie of the land39. Again, not a decisive point. There may have been more to this march than Caesar's language would suggest; Caesar may even have been negligent; or he may simply have suppressed mention of an unsuccessful cavalry engagement. But it would be reassuring to find a site which provided a natural explanation.

(5) Quinque or quinquaginta. This is the most specific indication, and discussion must start from here. At first sight nec prius fugere destiterunt seems to favour quinque in Caesar's text: it is hardly possible that the exhausted Germans could literally have fled without respite for fifty miles. But is it not equally unlikely that Caesar would adopt so emphatic a tone, if the Rhine were a mere five miles distant40? Fuga need not have all the breathless and hectic connotations of the English ‘flight’ or the German ‘Flucht’; fuga can be a fairly measured and prolonged affair41. Caesar quite possibly means that the Germans made no attempt to regroup, and did not stop for any length of time, before reaching the Rhine. The ‘flight’ does not in fact seem to have been too hectic: the Germans have time to look for boats (1. 53. 2-3), and it is likely that the cavalry pursuit was somewhat delayed (1. 53. 3, cf. perhaps Frontin. Strat., 2. 1. 16). The picture of ‘the Germans diving into the Rhine like lemmings’42 should anyway be abandoned. It may be that this flight was similar to that of the Heluetii (1. 26. 5), who fled day and night for four days, covering over 50 miles. Quinquaginta at 1. 53. 1 should certainly remain a possibility.

Whether ‘five’ or ‘fifty’, we should not be too confident of its accuracy. Caesar would not have known the exact distance: he would hardly instruct his legionaries to count their paces as they pursued, and the cavalry would have little idea of how far they had ridden. The figure is likely to be impressionistic guesswork, probably too low rather than too high: Caesar had no interest in minimising this fuga. Brackets of 3. 5-5. 5 miles, or 35-55 miles, might be realistic. Nor should we assume that the Germans withdrew in a single body; nor that they all took the most direct route to the Rhine.

Discussion should be based on these five points. But, before proceeding further, we should dismiss some other factors which do not provide reliable indications.

(1) In his elaborate argument for Belfort, Schmittlein rested much of his case on milium amplius quinquaginta circuitu (1. 41. 4). Following Stolle, he thought that this ‘detour of more than fifty miles’ should represent the whole length of Caesar's march43. Caesar certainly does not mean this. The clause ut … duceret defines and explains itinere exquisito: it specifies the length of detour which Diviciacus' informants recommended to Caesar when he was still at Vesontio44. A detour through open country was needed to avoid the dangerous road mentioned at 1. 39. 6, and Caesar duly informed himself of this alternative route. But he certainly would not envisage halting as soon as this detour was complete. He would stop when he received news that Ariovistus was close at hand, and this news eventually arrived on the seventh day. He could not know how far he would march while he was still at Vesontio, and could merely concern himself with avoiding the difficult early part of the route. Diviciacus' recommendations provide no pointer to the total distance which Caesar eventually marched, and Caesar's language leaves it quite possible that, once the detour was complete, his troops marched on a considerable way.

The distance by the direct route from Vesontio to Belfort is about 57 Roman miles; to Montbéliard, about 54. This circuitus would naturally add to that figure, but, as the reconstruction of Caesar's route can only be guesswork, the distance from Vesontio to either Belfort or Montbéliard by this route cannot be known.

(2) Another favourite argument has rested on the planities magna of 1. 43. 1: most have thought that this should be the plain of Alsace, in one sense the only ‘great plain’ of the region. This need not follow. ‘“Gross” ist ein sehr dehnbarer Begriff’ (Stolle), and takes its colouring from its context. A plain such as that proposed by Schmittlein, on the site of the present Belfort-Chaux airport, would certainly be possible: in the foothills of the Vosges, any plain large enough to accommodate two cavalry forces and leave room for a gap of 400 paces (1. 43. 2-3) could be described as magna45.

(3) Many searchers have started from the tumulus terrenus of 1. 43. 1, and assumed that this should still be visible. The oddity of the phrase was noticed by Holmes46: why should Caesar bother to specify terrenus? Holmes suggested that this might be an earthen barrow or mound, an artificial construction which might easily have now disappeared. This is surely possible, though equally Caesar may be constrasting this tumulus with nearby rocky eminences (cf. Livy, 38. 20. 4). Most of the suggested sites can in fact provide a tumulus, but we cannot demand this as a sine qua non.


We should start from quinque and quinquaginta. The site may be either five or fifty miles from the Rhine, and we should certainly allow a margin for erratic guesswork. Yet the traditional favourites, Ribeauvillé and Cernay, are well outside these margins, and wilfully ignore the only numbers we have: both sites are about fifteen miles from the Rhine47. This in itself is enough to exclude them. And, in both cases, the river Ill presents a second problem. Both sites are west of the Ill, and the fugitives would have to negotiate that considerable river before reaching the Rhine. It would be the Ill which occasioned the greater slaughter, the Ill which, once crossed, gave the Germans safety and respite. The only solution is to suppose that Caesar described the Ill as the Rhenus: a very unlikely ‘simplification’.

Both Ribeauvillé and Cernay have further difficulties of their own:

(1) Ribeauvillé is a long way north. It is hard to see why the armies should have gone there in the first place, and even harder to believe that Caesar could march so far in seven days. Stoffel's site is 189 km (over 120 Roman miles) from Besannçon; we earlier gave limits of sixty to eighty miles for the first six days, then the seventh day's march. Moreover, Stoffel's reconstruction makes little strategic sense. He makes Caesar encamp on the left bank of the Fecht, between Ostheim and Gemar; Ariovistus' flank march is conducted along the heights of Zellenberg. Caesar, we must remember, was the first to encamp. Stoffel leaves it hard to understand why he should thus occupy the featureless territory towards the Ill, allowing Ariovistus to pitch camp in the foothills of the Vosges. Caesar stood in fear of Ariovistus' cavalry: it would be much more sensible, and characteristic, for Caesar himself to occupy a camp in the foothills.

(2) There is little to recommend Cernay. The arguments in its favour are largely a priori, for it was a junction of major roads. It is difficult to formulate a reconstruction which explains Ariovistus' unimpeded flank march: indeed, the only attempt which squarely faces this problem is that of Jullian. He places Caesar's castra maiora some two kilometres south-west of Cernay, and thinks that Ariovistus marched along the foothills of the Vosges from Cernay to Thann. Autopsy suggests that this is not possible. The hillocks rise sharply and steeply from the plain to form individual mounds, giving no continuous ridge. The individual hillocks would be difficult enough to negotiate, and such a march would be physically impossible. Ariovistus could not have attempted to climb these hills; he would have no choice but to conduct his march along the plain at their foot. But then nothing is explained, for his army is as exposed as ever. More recently, Hatt has claimed that archaeological evidence indicates a site slightly further east: Caesar's castra maiora should be just west of Wittelsheim, and Ariovistus' flank march should have led him to a camp 3 km south-west of this. Caesar's castra minora are placed between Aspach-le-Haut and Aspach-le-Bas48. A fuller presentation of this evidence may make a reconsideration necessary, but, as reported, the finds do not make the solution attractive. They seem to be quite undated. The resulting reconstruction is unsatisfactory in detail, for it leaves the German flank march exposed, and gives an implausible strategic importance to the castra minora in the battle itself.

The choice lies between quinque and quinquaginta at 1. 53. 1. If we accept quinque, we must place the battle in the plain between the Ill and the Rhine. There is not much to be said for putting it as far north as Ohnenheim (Jordan). That makes Caesar march a very long way north; and it is hard to find a plausible mons for Ariovistus' second camp. (If Caesar means one of the Vosges hills, it is difficult to understand how Ariovistus' flank march could have been allowed to cross the Ill). And, once again, Caesar would be unwise to assume such an exposed position in the plain; he would much more naturally keep to the safer hills.

These arguments may be generalised, for there are no plausible montes between the Rhine and the Ill north of Mulhouse. The quinque figure would thus lead irresistibly to the suggestions of Miltner, and, with a different orientation, Bazouin and Morgan, preferring sites between Mulhouse and Basel49. But here, too, there are difficulties. The region is fairly flat, and the German flank march would probably be exposed; and it is still hard to find a mons which convinces50. The region is good for cavalry, and Caesar would be unwise to allow himself to be drawn to it. And the greatest problem is clearly seen by Miltner and Morgan themselves, as they try to explain how the armies came to be so far to the south-east. (a) Miltner thinks that Ariovistus was anxious to link with the Heluetii, now returned to their native land after their abortive migration: that is why Miltner places the Germans to the south of Caesar. This does not ring true. The Heluetii must now have been extraordinarily weakened, and their relations with Ariovistus had never been good51. It is not credible that he should think their help more reliable, or potentially more valuable, than the Suebian reinforcements to the north (1. 37. 3). (b) Miltner also recognises the importance of those Suebi, and suggests that Caesar had an interest in drawing Ariovistus away from them to the south52. This is more plausible; but it still hard to see why Ariovistus should allow himself to be drawn. He would have done better to adopt the waiting game which had been so successful at Magetobriga53, remaining in Upper Alsace and giving the Suebi a chance to join him. That would leave two options, either to wait for the Suebi, or to strike at Caesar's elongated and exposed communications. (c) Finally, Morgan points to the advantages to Caesar of avoiding the plain of Alsace, since he feared the German cavalry; and he suggests that Caesar may have wished to keep the option of retreating southward to the Rauraci or Heluetii, both of whom he had just subdued. But the Roman lines of communication led not to the Rauraci or the Heluetii, but to the Aedui, the Sequani, and perhaps the Leuci and Lingones54. Those would be the lines Caesar would wish to protect; those lands, not those of his recent enemies, would be his favoured directions of retreat. The Mulhouse-Basel location must leave these lines very vulnerable, especially if Caesar did not know the exact position of the Germans as he marched.

All these arguments are of course dangerous. Generals do not always read events correctly; and the preliminary manœuvres may anyway have been more complex than Caesar's words would suggest, and there may have been other factors to draw the armies to the south-east. If this solution is correct, we should have to assume that the narrative was very bare and simplified, and that vital features of the campaign were unexplained; but, by now, that would be no surprise. The Mulhouse-Basel location remains improbable: credible topographical details are hard to find, and it is difficult even to conjecture a plausible strategic background. But, given the characteristics of Caesar's narrative technique, this solution is not quite impossible.

Still, the difficulties of this reconstruction strengthen the case for quinquaginta at 1. 53. 1. That leads naturally to the solution of Schmittlein, a site in the neighbourhood of Belfort. That is the natural place for Ariovistus, coming from upper Alsace, and Caesar, coming from Vesontio, to meet; and the land to the north is far too mountainous to admit any alternative sites fifty miles from the Rhine. Schmittlein places Caesar's first camp near Montbéliard, and assumes that he moved nearer Ariovistus in the course of the negotiations. The first German camp will be near Rougemont-Lauw, the second close to Vescemont. For the final positions, see Figure 3: he places the main Roman camp on the heights of Cravanche, which have a commanding view northwards (the direction from which Ariovistus would approach); the final German camp is located on le Vallon and la Miotte; and he suggests Les Barres for Caesar's second camp, south-east of the first camp and south-west of Ariovistus.

It is not hard to find difficulties in this account. Belfort is not even fifty miles from the Rhine; the distance is about thirty-five miles. We should have to assume that the Germans took an indirect route, some perhaps fleeing north-east rather than east; or that Caesar allowed himself a generous rounding; or that he simply guessed too high. None of these assumptions is impossible, but the distance is still uncomfortably near to the lower limit which we earlier allowed. Again, some critics have thought the distance from Vesontio intolerably small—about fifty-four miles by the direct route from Vesontio to Montbéliard, where Schmittlein puts Caesar's first camp55. But here Schmittlein can be defended. Our estimate for Caesar's march gave sixty to eighty miles during the first six days, then an unknown amount on the seventh56. We cannot know what route Caesar took57; but it certainly involved the long circuitus, and might well be considerably longer than the direct road. Our estimate fits the Montbéliard identification well enough.

Graver difficulties are presented by Schmittlein's detailed suggestions. The final German camp should cut Caesar's communications (1. 48. 2). These communications stretched south-west, west, and perhaps north, to Vesontio, to the Sequani and Aedui, and perhaps to the Leuci and Lingones. A German camp on la Miotte does little to impede these. The Rougemont-Lauw and Vescemont identifications are no more than guesses. And the worst difficulties are presented by the position he suggests for the Roman castra minora, not much more than one kilometre south-east of the main camp. First, both Roman positions now lie on the same side of Ariovistus' camp: that is impossible to reconcile with ultra eum locum at 1. 49. 1. Secondly, we have seen that the items of 1. 52. 2 and 1. 52. 6 present a coherent picture, with Caesar commanding from the Roman right, and both right wings forcing their enemy to retreat. It is also likely that the detail of 1. 51. 1 (the force from the second camp minus multitudine militum legionariorum pro hostium numero ualebat) is picked up and echoed at 1. 52. 6 (in the battle the Germans a dextro cornu uehementer multitudine suorum nostram aciem premebant). If so, the German right wing seems to stand opposite the force from the Roman castra minora: it is implied that the Roman line in front of both camps is continuous, and the alarii, coming from the smaller camp, stand on the left of the main Roman force. Schmittlein finds it hard to account for this. With the two Roman camps as close as he suggests, the line will certainly be continuous, but the alarii will now be on the right of the main force. He has therefore to give a forced interpretation of 1. 52. 2 and 1. 52. 6: dextro cornu at 52. 2 now has to give the detail from the German viewpoint, so that Caesar can command from the Roman left; and the indications of 52. 6 have to be given from the Roman point of view, so that both left wings can be successful. This reverses the natural reading of both items, and Schmittlein's suggestion has not won favour58.

Yet perhaps the Belfort model can be saved. Either of two approaches might be rewarding:

(1) We might assume that Schmittlein has rightly identified the battlefield, but reversed the camps of the two sides. If Caesar had occupied la Miotte, it is quite likely that Ariovistus would occupy Cravanche, and such a camp would now genuinely hinder Caesar's communications. The Les Barres location may be retained for the castra minora, and this answers quite well to sescentos passus at 1. 49. 1. The battle would now be fought a short distance south-west of Schmittlein's proposed position.

(2) Even so, the battlefield remains cramped, and it is hard to believe that both sides could operate as if the Savoureuse did not exist. Both Cravanche and (especially) la Miotte are higher and steeper than the camps Caesar usually favoured in such circumstances59, though this is compensated by the impressive northern view which both hills command. But it is more likely that the whole battle should be transferred some way south-east, to the rather larger plain south-east and east of Danjoutin. A suitable location for Caesar's first camp would be offered by the hill on which the Fort de Vézelois now stands, some four kilometres south-east of Belfort. Its gently rising slope corresponds to the type of camp which Caesar usually preferred, and the hill has commanding views north and east-south-east. From it a strong army might easily control the Savoureuse valley. Ariovistus' second camp, six miles away and sub monte, causes no difficulty: a precise identification is impossible, but there are a number of possible sites below the Forêt de Roppe, between Valdoie and Rougemont-le-Château. Ariovistus' final camp should be two miles from Fort de Vézelois, and able to control Caesar's communications. The most likely possibility is the hillock overlooking Andelnans, some 1.5 kilometres west of Meroux, just east of the modern Belfort-Montbéliard road. The Roman castra minora might be placed on the hill a little to the south, close to Sevenans.

No especial importance need be attached to these detailed proposals: they merely illustrate that there are locations near Belfort which are not vulnerable to the objections which face Schmittlein. His general thesis remains quite plausible, and it does seem that the environs of Belfort have more to recommend them than any other proposed site. The Belfort region is the most plausible point for the two armies to meet, and the hills surrounding Belfort a natural position for Caesar to choose to occupy. The Belfort-Chaux airport presents a plausible planities. The precise route of Ariovistus' flank march cannot be recovered—but, in this land of hills, ridges, and forests, it would be odd if he could not find a route which was naturally protected against a Roman attack.

The status of this conclusion must again be stressed. We are not dealing with certainties: Caesar's narrative technique does not permit it. The strategy of the campaign, the course of the fighting, the nature of the terrain may all have been more complex than Caesar's language would suggest; and these complications may have led both generals to act, or to allow their enemy to act, in ways which we find hard to understand. It may still be that the Mulhouse-Basel solution is correct, however difficult it is to explain how the armies reached that region. Even on the Belfort identification, the figure of fifty miles is not wholly satisfactory, though it can be explained. And, on any account, the narrative remains bare and terse: note, for instance, the extreme economy of Caesar's description of the German flank march (48. 2). Given these qualifications, Belfort presents the fewest difficulties. Plutarch's [tetrakosíous] and Orosius' quinquaginta are vindicated, and quinquaginta should be read at B.G., 1. 53. 1.


  1. cic., Prov. Cons., 22.

  2. Ib., 33; cf. his similar remark concerning Cilicia, Att., 5. 20. 1.

  3. cic., Q. fr., 3. 6 (8). 2.

  4. The most important modern discussions are: napoléon III, Hist de Jules César, ii (1866), 85-94 and pl. 8; K. lehmann, N. Jb., 7 (1901), 506-9, and Klio, 6 (1906), 237-48; C. jullian, Histoire de la Gaule, iii (1909), 251, n. 5 and 253, n. 2; T. rice holmes, Caesar's Conquest of Gaul, 2nd ed. (1911), 658-68, with full references to the earlier literature; J. n. hough, CJ, 36 (1941), 337-45; G. stégen LEC, 19 (1951), 209-16, and LEC, 26 (1958), 240-2; R. schmittlein, Avec César en Gaule, i (1970), 298-304; Chr. peyre, REL, 56 (1978), 175-215.

  5. holmes, 660; cf. B.G., 6. 44. Durocortorum seems to be the modern Reims: see holmes, 354, and jullian, iii. 408.

  6. Though it is not clear where the Belgae started from: perhaps La Fère or further north (holmes, 658-9), rather than Soissons (jullian, iii. 251, n. 5).

  7. Perhaps Bièvres (lehmann, Klio, art. cit., 247-8), perhaps Vieux-Laon (napoléon, ii. 101, n. 1; holmes, 398-400; M. rambaud, comm. on B.G., ii-iii [Paris, 1965], 55). Beaurieux (jullian, iii. 253, n. 2 and 254, n. 2) is not plausible: see holmes, ib., wheeler and richardson, Hill Forts of Northern France [1957], 13 and n. 2, followed by schmittlein, 299-300, identify Bibrax with Vieux-Reims, close to the modern Condé-sur-Suippe. This is hardly plausible in view of Caesar's ex itinere (2. 6. 1), suggesting strongly that Bibrax was close to the Belgic line of march, and surely excluding the possibility that the Belgae crossed the Aisne to attack Bibrax, then re-crossed to face Caesar. Once the Belgae had crossed the river, why should they not have moved instead on the unprotected lands of the Remi, about which Caesar was so anxious (2. 5. 5)?

  8. See the judicious discussion of holmes, 659-66.

  9. Cf. lehmann, N. Jb., art. cit., 507; holmes, 665, n. 5, 666-7, and The Roman Republic, ii (1923), 337.

  10. holmes, 667-8.

  11. Cf. esp. lehmann, N. Jb., art. cit.; holmes, 660-4; stégen, lec, 19 (1951), 209-16 (on the implications of Caesar's language). hough, CJ, 36 (1941), 337-45, and, more elaborately, peyre, REL, 56 (1978), 175-215, argue that Caesar's language can be reconciled with Napoléon's discoveries, but both are forced into strained and unconvincing interpretations of the Latin: see following notes. Rambaud therefore speculates that Napoléon's fortification may represent hiberna of 52-1 b.c., and prefers the Chaudardes site (Comm. on B.G., ii-iii, 52-3). Napoléon's discoveries have recently been confirmed by aerial photographs (cf. e.g. peyre, 188-93 with Plates 4-5), but these do not prove that this was Caesar's camp in 57.

  12. Unless we assume that the Roman battle-line faced west, rather than north (jullian, iii. 255, n. 1): this is not plausible (holmes, 661-2). If the main gate of the Roman camp faced S.W. rather than N.W., there is perhaps a certain sense in which the acies was drawn up pro castris (so Hough and Peyre). Yet no-one would have guessed from Caesar's account that the line was drawn up in this way, and (as hough, 340, admits) Caesar has certainly written in a misleading and simplified way.

  13. Mr. Morgan reminds me that the curve of the Aisne would give some protection to the left, and suggests that fortification would have been unnecessary; cf. hough, 343. But (1) any advance of the Roman army would leave the left unprotected, and extremely vulnerable to the overlapping Belgic right; and (2)—the important point here—Caesar's language (ab utroque latere, lateribus) would anyway remain simplified and misleading. Most implausibly, Hough and Peyre take ab utroque latere eius collis to be the N.W. and S.E. sides of the hill: Hough adds that the frons would not be the ‘front’ which faced the enemy, but the S.W. side of the hill. If they were right, Caesar's account would again be extremely obscure and misleading: without knowledge of the country, none of his audience would have guessed that both these latera lay to the right of his acies (as Peyre insists), or that the frons did not face the enemy and the plain (so Hough). But in fact we surely take the latitudo of the hill facing the enemy (8. 2) to be the distance between the two latera; if so, the latera can only be the ‘sides’ to the N.E. and S.W.

  14. Nor do the distances seem to correspond to Caesar's passuum quadringentorum (holmes, 663; peyre, 206). But Mr. Morgan, referring to cassini, Nouvelle carte … de la France (1744), observes that the Aisne changed its course between then and 1866, when Napoléon wrote. Cf. also peyre, 192-3. This change may have obliterated the furthest extremity of the southern trench; passuum quadringentorum may thus be an accurate description.

  15. holmes, 662-3. The attempts of Hough and Peyre to refer the deiectus to the steeper N.W. and S.E. slopes are misconceived: cf. n. 13 above.

  16. holmes, 665-6; cf. J. stoffel, Guerre civile (1887), ii. 327-8. rambaud, Comm. on B.G., ii-iii, 59-60, seems to over-estimate.

  17. Esp. jullian, iii. 261, n. 2; holmes, 671-7; G. boulmont, RBPh, 3 (1924), 19-34; M. lizin, LEC, 22 (1954), 401-6; cf. the list of P. turquin, LEC, 23 (1955), 115. schmittlein, Avec César en Gaule, i. 311-30, retains the Sambre identification (cf. RIO, 15 (1963), 133-49 and 161-8), but he is no more convincing than his predecessors.

  18. M. arnould, RBPh, 20 (1941), 29-106, esp. 84-5, 91-5. The objections of schmittlein, RIO, 15 (1963), 142-49, are inconclusive. However, Arnould's further attempt to connect phonetically Sabis and Selle is less cogent: cf. schmittlein, art. cit., 138-42.

  19. Cf. schmittlein, art.cit., 134-6. For the line of this road, see A. leduque, Esquisse de topographie historique sur l'Ambiane (1972), 134-6; turquin, LEC, 23 (1955), 138-9.

  20. Cf. M. fraikin, LEC, 22 (1954), 287-90; R. verdière, RBPh, 32 (1954), 302-3, and RBPh, 53 (1975), 52.

  21. Cf. B.G., 6. 33. 3 (though that is itself confused) and the discussion of verdière, RBPh, 53 (1975), 48-51.

  22. LEC, 23 (1955), 113-56.

  23. Pace turquin, 125-6. Cf. schmittlein, RIO, 15 (1963), 164-5; Avec César en Gaule, i. 313-5. Rambaud's discussion of the passage is unnecessarily non-committal (comm. on B.G., ii-iii, 79-80).

  24. Cf. A. leduque, Recherches topo-historiques sur l'Atrébatie (1966), 31-3; G. faider-feytmans, LEC, 21 (1952), 338-58, at 347, 357-8. The diocesan evidence for the Nervian boundary is not entirely reliable, but this section of its seems firm enough: cf. J. dunlap, CP, 26 (1931), 321.

  25. Cf. cic, Q. fr., 3. 6(8). 2.

  26. turquin, 125-6 makes Caesar start from Amiens itself, which would certainly be the natural place to receive the submission of the Ambiani. But, if the Selle identification is right, this would imply a march of 76 km in three days, with the last day's route leading through hostile terrain. We should not underestimate Caesar's celeritas, but, even leaving the Nervian obstacles out of account, 76 km seems too much. See works cited at n. 36 below. If the Escaut identification is preferred, Amiens would be a more plausible starting-point.

  27. So napoléon, ii. 138-9; cf. esp. A. T. walker, CJ, 17 (1921-2), 77-86; R. dion, REL, 41 (1963), 186-209, who at 194, n. 1 has some good remarks about Caesar's technique; A. grisart, LEC, 28 (1960), 169-70, n. 87.

  28. So e.g. Cluver, Long, von Göler, Holmes.

  29. Caution is here necessary. The paradosis seems to be Mosa profluit ex monte Vosego, qui est in finibus Lingonum, et parte quadam ex Rheno recepta, quae appellatur Vacalus insulamque efficit Batavorum, in Oceanum influit, neque longius ab Oceano milibus passuum LXXX in Rhenum influit. This is evidently corrupt. The traditional healing is the deletion of -que after insulam, and of in Oceanum influit. But T. berres, Hermes, 98 (1970), 154-63, argues that Caesar wrote Mosa … Lingonum, neque longius ab Oceano milibus passuum LXXX in Rhenum influit, and that the alternative conception and formulation et parte quadam … in Oceanum influit is owed to an early recension, not to Caesar himself. Cf. rambaud, ad loc. Berres' argument is not cogent in detail (cf. e.g. n. 31, below), but this is not the place for a full discussion.

  30. See the detailed discussion of holmes, 691-706, esp. 698-702. grisart, l.c., rates these silences as decisive in favour of the Moselle.

  31. Except for the surprise of Caesar's calling the Waal the Rhenus. That is a looseness, but no more: it is clear from the paradosis of 4. 10. 1 itself that the Waal was envisaged as a part, or a continuation, of the Rhine. Cf. tac., Ann., 2. 6. 4, uerso cognomine Vahalem accolae dicunt, with Furneaux's note. berres, art. cit., exaggerates the difficulties presented by Caesar's formulation.

  32. The modern bibliography is vast. The most important items are: stoffel, Guerre de César et d'Arioviste (1890); F. stolle, Wo schlug Cäsar den Ariovist? (1899); jullian, iii. 221-41, esp. 231, n. 4; holmes, 57-68 and 636-57; A. bazouin, REL, 14 (1936), 28-9, with a necessary correction by A. dain, REL, 15 (1937), 269-72; F. miltner, Klio, 34 (1941), 181-95; Ch. jordan, Arioviste et les Germains chassés d'Alsace en 58 av. J.-C. (1951); R. schmittlein, La première campagne de César contre les Germains (1956), with extensive bibliography but omitting Miltner's important article; J. H. collins' review of Schmittlein, Gnomon, 30 (1958), 300-305; J.-J. hatt, REL, 49 (1971), 20-1; J. D. morgan, Caesar's defeat of Ariovistus, to appear.

  33. It is hard to believe that there would be time in one day for Caesar's legates to ride twenty-four miles to Ariovistus' camp; for Ariovistus ostentatiously to arrest them; for the Germans to break camp; for the full body of their force (apparently including women and children, 1. 50. 4-5, 51. 3, 53. 4) to march eighteen miles; and for them finally to pitch a new camp. Shorter distances must be involved, and it is easiest to assume that Caesar had moved nearer the enemy. Cf. esp. miltner, art. cit., 189-92.

  34. Plutarch probably found Caesar's account transmitted in Pollio: cf. my article in JHS, 99 (1979), 74-96, esp. 84-91 with nn. 77, 108. Orosius presumably derives from Livy, who himself based parts of his account on Pollio: cf. art. cit., nn. 73, 124. …

  35. This is no place for a full discussion of this complicated problem. schmittlein, La première campagne, 105-24, overstates the case for a short daily march of less than 20 km (cf. esp rambaud, REL, 35 [1957], 400, and REL, 50 [1972], 58); but some of his arguments are difficult to dismiss. Cf. stolle, art. cit., 27-40.

  36. This is the natural inference from 1. 41. 5. Note that Caesar had earlier feared that Ariovistus might reach Vesontio before the Romans (1. 38). As he eventually marched over fifty miles beyond Vesontio before establishing Ariovistus' position, it is clear that his intelligence of the German movements was limited.

  37. I owe this point to Mr. Morgan. Roman troops were normally rested every fifth day.

  38. Cf. with regard to Ribeauvillé, walker, CJ, 1 (1905-6), 213-20.

  39. This point is well made by stoffel, 94.

  40. Cf. stolle, art. cit., 10-11. Particularly after the massive Helvetian flight of 1. 26. 5, five miles does seem too small a distance to be remarked.

  41. E.g. B.G., 1. 27. 4; B.C., 3. 94. 4, with my article in Hist., 22 (1973), 259, n. 67.

  42. The phrase of collins, art. cit., 305.

  43. La première campagne, 143-8, cf. 105-24; stolle, art. cit., 3-10.

  44. Itinere exquisito per Diuiciacum suggests that Diviciacus did not know the route himself, but was asked to make inquiries on Caesar's behalf. Pace stolle, art. cit., 6-7, there is no difficulty there.

  45. Cf stolle, art. cit., 12-14; F. kroon, Mnem., 3. 5 (1937), 143; schmittlein, La première campagne, 150-1; collins, art. cit., 301-2. Mr. Morgan objects that at B.G., 3. 1. 5, non magna planitie is used of a nearby plain which extends for several square miles, and is larger than Schmittlein's site. At that point of his narrative, Caesar is preparing the scene for the assault on Galba's camp: when he is thinking of vulnerability to such an attack, a plain of this size might well seem cramped. It need not follow that Caesar would apply the same standards when describing a plain chosen for a conference.

  46. holmes, 639-40.

  47. Hence holmes, 657, proposed quindecim milia at 1. 53. 1; justly stigmatised by miltner, art. cit., 183, n. 1, as ‘jeder methodischen Grundlage entbehrende Willkür’. In his edition of 1914, Holmes more cautiously read quinquaginta.

  48. Résumé in REL, 49 (1971), 20-1.

  49. Bazouin places Caesar's camp in the reign of Rantzwiller and Magstatt, and Ariovistus to the north of this (first in the forest of Harth, then at the foot of the ‘Signal d'Illfurt’). Miltner places Caesar's first camp close to Habsheim, and Ariovistus south of this; the first German camp is placed in the region of Basel, and their flank march on the heights west of Habsheim. Morgan puts the Roman castra maiora on the Hittenberg, 1 km west of Hésingue, and the castra minora between Attenschwiller and Folgensbourg; the German camp is located at Attenschwiller. (Morgan's reconstruction is the most plausible and closely argued, with good criticisms of his two predecessors).

  50. The Signal d'Illfurt does not really ‘dominate the area’, as Bazouin claimed. Morgan places the castra sub monte at Sierentz, but here too there is no very plausible mons.

  51. Cf. 1. 1. 4, 1. 40. 7.

  52. miltner, art. cit., 186-7. This is hard to reconcile with his own thesis, placing Ariovistus south of Caesar in an unexplained manner; but it might provide a strategic explanation of the reverse reconstructions of Bazouin and Morgan.

  53. Cf. 1. 40. 8-9, 1. 44. 3.

  54. Cf. 1. 48. 2 (Aedui and Sequani), 1. 40. 11 (Leuci and Lingones). By Sequani we should of course understand that part of their country which they had retained from the encroachments of Ariovistus. Cf. holmes, 652, n. 1.

  55. The criticism is made by collins, art. cit., 304-5, and esp. by rambaud (reviews cited in n. 36); so also morgan, in his paper to appear. Schmittlein's own defence, assuming that the Romans marched a total of fifty miles, is not satisfactory: above, p. 757-758.

  56. Above, p. 754.

  57. Schmittlein's conjectural route (La première campagne, 145-8) is based on his misunderstanding of circuitu, and is not plausible.

  58. Cf. the sceptical remarks of collins, art. cit., 305; J. P. V. D. baldson, History, 43 (1958), 44-5.

  59. Cf. jullian, iii. 179, n. 3.

Christian Meier (essay date 1982)

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SOURCE: “Caesar and the War as Reflected in His Commentaries,” in Caesar, translated by David McLintock, BasicBooks, 1995, pp. 254-64.

[In the following excerpt, originally published in German in 1982, Meier explains how in De Bello Gallico Caesar triumphs by taking the offensive, presenting himself in total control, and purposely avoiding self-justification.]

Caesar's book on the Gallic War was in the tradition of reports by Roman military commanders, but at the same time quite novel in that it was composed in a style that matched the highest literary standards. Though ostensibly a campaign report, it is also a highly idiosyncratic expression of the author's personality.

Such a self-portrait naturally has an apologetic purpose. Hence, Caesar's memoir—as well as the conscious and unconscious wishes that guided it—misrepresents certain matters, passes over others in silence or treats them only cursorily, and gives a somewhat partial account of the whole. This is often hard to check, since for the most part Caesar's report is our only source. Where it is possible to check it, Caesar himself usually provides clues that help in unmasking him. For he leaves many contradictions unresolved, unlike a petty deceiver, who would have been consistent. And he reports many things that today seem discreditable—and probably did at the time. In view of Caesar's evident skill in trimming the facts to his own advantage, it seems all the more remarkable that in many cases he refrained from doing so—even where he was vulnerable on ethical grounds. This does not seem fortuitous. Strasburger speaks of a certain ‘immoralism’ in Caesar's writings.

Apart from its propagandist tendency, the work has a documentary purpose. Caesar records his deeds for posterity. For the Roman nobility, and for Caesar more than others, fame was a great spur. He sought to pit himself against transience. And while they had to enlist others to write about them, he could write about himself. Nor did he wish to draw a false picture of himself, since he was certain that he need not fear the judgement of posterity.

Caesar's account gives an impression of total objectivity. He always speaks of himself in the third person, using the first only in his authorial capacity, when admitting to ignorance or proffering a judgement. His language earned the admiration of Cicero, the most competent of his contemporaries, which is all the more noteworthy as Cicero favoured a quite different style. He found Caesar's commentaries ‘unadorned, straightforward and graceful; any oratorical devices are laid aside like a garment. But, wishing to provide only the material on which others might draw for their historical accounts, he perhaps did the foolish a favour by giving them something on which to practise their hair-waving arts, while deterring the wise from writing at all. For in historical writing nothing is more pleasing than pure, lucid brevity.’ Caesar's supporter Aulus Hirtius, who later wrote the eighth book of the Bellum Gallicum, refers to this judgement and then adds, ‘Our admiration is of course even greater than others'; for they know only how well and faultlessly he wrote, while we know with what ease and rapidity.’

The perfection of these reports may lie in their directness, their art in their artlessness, but, as Otto Seel observed, simplicity combines with subtlety of diction, cool detachment with vibrant intensity, elegance with a dryness that does not shun repetition, smooth transitions with abrupt breaks. No Latin author adheres as precisely as Caesar to the rules of grammar. ‘And yet, in spite of this, hardly any Latin style is so personal, so charged with individuality.’

Caesar's language is extremely economical. He uses less than thirteen hundred words, occasional technical terms apart. His vocabulary belongs to the language of everyday speech. As Fränkel put it, ‘an ordinary, almost spare language is used to capture extraordinary deeds, whose greatness lies not in any kind of originality, but in an instinctive grasp of what is right, in the intrepidity of total commitment, swift execution, and unflagging perseverance’.

What really interests us is Caesar's way of describing events and conditions and at the same time presenting himself. The skilful, yet at the same time artless character of Caesar's narrative argues a degree of stylization, to which of course he subjected himself too. For what we feel to be his greatness presumably has something to do with the fact that he was his own man—that his personality was shaped by his own will and that he found the sphere in which he could realize it. Will and destiny combined in him in a special way, and the former seems to have been the more potent of the two.

He shaped not only himself and his deeds, but also his account of them, in a manner at once so personal and so masterful that this account contains a special truth. To put it briefly: in the Bellum Gallicum Caesar presents himself in all innocence as a Roman governor who performs his multifarious tasks in a traditional fashion, conscientiously and circumspectly, as duty requires. He does not appear to be defending himself. Quite the contrary.

Naturally there is no mention of the fact that Caesar, as Sallust writes, ‘longed for a major command, an army, and a new war in which his energy could be brilliantly proven’. Nor do we read anything of the principle that Cicero found so laudable, even though it was quite at variance with previous practice—the principle of not merely reacting to attacks and defending the Roman province, but of bringing the whole of Gaul under Roman rule in the interest of a lasting peace. True, Caesar now and then allows us glimpses of a wider context, embracing the whole of Gaul, but he refrains from saying that he ever conceived such a grand design.

Rather, he at first lets it appear as if he proceeded step by step, adopting a fundamentally defensive stance, consonant with the principles of Rome's foreign policy. Allies must be protected and dangerous neighbours opposed. He protected Rome's allies selectively, as his interests required. And in taking preventive measures against the Helvetii he counted on the reader's lack of geographical knowledge, for the territory the Helvetii wished to conquer was nowhere contiguous with the Roman province. At first sight, then, it seems as though he moved from pure defence in isolated cases to the conquest of the whole territory—which, according to Cicero, was how things usually happened in the Roman empire. It might be said that Caesar concealed his intention to conquer. It would be more correct to say that he did not expressly state it.

For he makes no secret of it. Whatever the truth with regard to the Helvetii and Ariovistus, his intentions became clear by the first winter at the latest, when the legions took up quarters in conquered territory. According to his own account, the Belgae recognized this too. Moreover, there was no reason whatever for the conquest of Brittany and Normandy. In 56 his intention becomes quite obvious. In one of his typical sentences, in which the verb is delayed to the end, he writes: ‘At about the same time, although summer was almost spent, Caesar, seeing that after the whole of Gaul had been pacified the Morini and Menapii were still under arms and had sent no envoy to talk peace, and believing that he could quickly end this war, dispatched his army there.’ It is typical of Caesar's presentation that circumstances are introduced as motives and incorporated into the dynamic of the action, that the syntactic build-up draws the reader into the movement and that the tension is released only when the action begins. Yet this is a stylistic observation. Neither the Morini nor the Menapii had been involved in the fighting. The fact that they were ‘still under arms’ meant no more than that they were still free and had not yet surrendered to him.

Caesar's account makes it clear that he expected all the Gauls to submit. He gave them orders that they were expected to obey. Every tribe he encountered, with the exception of Rome's long-standing friends, had to submit. They all had to give hostages. If they did, Caesar usually treated them leniently. This was evidence of his clemency. Any prince or tribe who refused to submit was in the wrong and so gave Caesar a pretext for war.

All this was at odds with the Roman principle that only just wars might be waged. And a war was just only if its purpose was to right a wrong. Yet it could hardly be wrong for a foreign power to fail to do what Caesar demanded. And there was a good reason for Rome's defensive policy. After all, the Senate had instructed the governor to help the Haedui ‘if this is not detrimental to the interest of Rome’.

It is true that demands of the kind made by Caesar were sometimes addressed to Rome's neighbours, but they were not common—except in the course of a major war—and gave rise at most to minor wars. No one operated on a grand scale outside his own province as Caesar did, demanding universal obedience and submission.

Yet it is not only this demand that Caesar makes clear. More than once he reports that the Gauls wished to be free. On one occasion he states that ‘human nature is universally imbued with the desire for liberty and detests servitude.’ He understands the pride that caused brave tribes, accustomed to victory, to resist defeat. His description is generally fair and arouses the reader's sympathy for the Gauls—or at least the modern reader's. Yet it is clear that their pride and their desire for liberty were just one more reason for treating them with severity. Caesar proceeded from the premise that they must be subjugated, even if the Senate wished the Gauls to remain free.

As he makes his intention clear without declaring it, he cannot advance any reasons for it. At most he can hint at a few. Occasionally he gives the reader to understand that there was much disorder in Gaul before he intervened. He also speaks of the danger posed by the Helvetii and the Germans, which he dutifully forestalled or contained. Yet he does not go beyond hints.

Naturally one must beware of viewing Caesar's desire for conquest with modern eyes. Thoroughly Roman and unused to being challenged, he was not plagued by doubts or the need to justify Roman expansion. To this extent he did not differ from his contemporaries. Yet he was not bound by the attitudes that had constantly inhibited such expansion or made it dependent on special circumstances. Above all, even if there was no need to justify oneself for the sake of the peoples involved, it was not self-evident that one might flout the rules enjoined upon a Roman governor.

Hence, what Caesar's book reveals, with little attempt at dissimulation, was an enormity even by contemporary standards: one man decided, without authority, to conquer the whole of Gaul, simply because he felt it ought to be conquered, employing an army of eight legions, only four of which were provided by the Roman Senate and people, the other four being raised by himself and supplemented later by two more.

Yet what was he to do? Was he to admit that all this was the outcome of his own arbitrary decision and give his reasons for deeming it right? Would that not have meant severing all his links with the Senate and people? He probably thought it best neither to acknowledge nor to deny his intention, but to imply that it was self-evident—at least after his battles against the Helvetii and Ariovistus, when he found himself more deeply involved in the affairs of Gaul. Anyone who demanded further justification could be indirectly likened to the officers at Vesontio: they had no reason to question the prudence and circumspection of their commander, so why should anyone else doubt his devotion to duty or the propriety of his conduct?

Against any questions and objections Caesar sets himself and his actions. It is through these that he hopes to convince. It is these that are at issue, and ultimately the subject of his book. And by speaking of them in his own way he imposes his own perspective. He never thought to convince his opponents. He addressed himself to those senators and knights who were still undecided, relatively open-minded and impressionable.

He thus defends himself not by justifying his actions, but by rehearsing them. In other words, he adopts an offensive stance. He shows how a responsible, prudent governor must conduct himself: he must not be constrained by petty restrictions, by the need to muddle through, tolerating much, turning a blind eye, and interventing only occasionally; he must not be bound by an attitude that was utterly unimpressive, but in keeping with the current mood. Having no governmental apparatus or sizeable military forces, and therefore unable to achieve much by coercion, Rome usually had to rely on numerous contacts, showing consideration to various parties and adopting a piecemeal approach to problems, though this often went with an excessive degree of carelessness and self-interest. This is what made Caesar so different: he set out to perform his tasks comprehensively and energetically. While seeming to act step by step, as the situation evolved, and to concentrate wholly on the present, he was not content merely to react to events, but took preventive action and never lost sight of the wider context. Aware of every problem and prepared for action whenever it was called for, he set new standards, and by matching up to these standards he was able to demonstrate his superiority.

This he regarded as the proper way to act; to show no consideration, to aim for total success, to behave with generosity and forbearance when necessary, but also with appalling severity and cruelty, as he did in the later campaigns. Yet even the later severity must have seemed to him consistent with his duty. In extreme situations any means was justified. Caesar certainly could not imagine that the way in which he discharged his office would strike any fair-minded Roman as improper. Otherwise he would have been bound to have doubts about himself. His high standards would have been wrong. Time and again he proudly asserts that this or that was intolerable to him and the Roman people and contrary to Roman custom. No compromises are made, no mitigation allowed: the demands of honour are paramount. According to a Greek historian, Caesar once said that this was how the ancestors had acted—boldly, making audacious plans and risking all in their execution. To them fortune meant nothing other than doing what was necessary; inactivity would have been regarded as misfortune.

By performing his duties in this way—which was alarmingly at variance with many well-founded rules, but contrasted agreeably with the negligence and indolence that were prevalent in Rome—Caesar justified himself in a way that could hardly fail to put any would-be critic to shame. Once again, as in so many of his speeches, but this time in a form that has come down to us, he demonstrated his superiority.

In his reports, moreover, he always seems to be fully in control, circumspect and well organized. We repeatedly hear of his arranging for supplies to arrive at the right moment. Nothing disconcerts him; he always knows what is to be done. Admittedly there is much that he cannot foresee, yet he is aware of this and envisages various possibilities. He is therefore cautious, armed against contingency, able to react to any eventuality. Naturally he also has to rely on his junior commanders and his soldiers, whom he praises for doing their duty in exemplary fashion and sometimes fighting battles on their own initiative. Caesar and his soldiers—these are the special assets on Rome's balance sheet. Caesar does not obtrude his own part in military events.

It is certainly not wrong to discern, in his manner of presenting himself, the implication that, because Rome's governors normally acted differently, she needed a buffer against the Germans, her nearest and most dangerous opponents to the north.

The political isolation that forced him into his career of conquest corresponded to his dissatisfaction with the normal Roman tempo. Underlying both was Caesar's exceptional will to assert himself. His dissatisfaction gave an objective content to his determination to conquer. His weakness became his strength.


It may be presumed that Caesar's way of describing events—which was no doubt essentially how he understood them—accorded with his conception of how political and military events arise. In an extremely concentrated—and restricted—manner he writes almost solely of the actions of various subjects and ignores the wide intermediate area that normally extends between the actors and conditions their actions. Caesar rarely gives an appreciation of the overall situation, of the tasks, the opportunities and the difficulties it entails, before turning to the actions of the subjects. Conditions and situations are usually presented as circumstances determining the action: Caesar sees that such and such is the case and does this or that. Even his descriptions of the landscape are bound up with the action: one follows Caesar's gaze as he surveys the terrain before deciding on the appropriate measures: the landscape is thus drawn into the action. Difficulties are presented as tasks. The less the actors are absorbed in the conditions, the greater they appear. So clearly and sharply are they projected on the screen that they seem to occupy it completely; everything in the background is blurred and unrecognizable. What he depicts is not a total configuration to which many factors contribute, but a limited number of interacting subjects.

Every sentence is trained on a target, an action conditioned by all the foregoing circumstances. There are scarcely any periods of rest. Everything is movement. The immense dynamism of Caesar's rapid, audacious and wide-ranging campaigns is directly mirrored in his narrative. Yet although the action is described baldly, with little plasticity or graphic detail, it is easy to take in. In all essentials the configurations are presented clearly, with the special ‘vividness that a game of chess has for the inner eye of an expert and that a clearly appreciated problem or an elegant method has for the mathematician’ (Klingner). One is not aware of the observer, only of the doer, proceeding step by step from situation to situation. The opponents too are drawn in Caesar's own likeness; they have reasonable, comprehensible motives and are credited with the most intelligent intentions. The actions of individuals on the opposing side are taken into account and seen to play a large part in determining the events.

Moreover, the régime that Caesar builds up is no more than the sum of interpersonal relations. How persons relate to one another is what counts. There is no talk of institutions, of attempts at persuasion or reconciliation, of administrative problems, of establishing a system of government. The state of affairs that his conquests were aimed at is described broadly as imperium in Gallia (‘command in Gaul’). General tendencies—processes at work under the surface, as it were—find no mention. The soldiers march, camps are built, demands are issued, battles fought and conquests made. Caesar gives orders; even security and food supplies are ensured by giving orders to those who are to provide them.

Klingner speaks of a ‘ruthlessly simplified approach to things, carried to extreme lengths. Whatever does not pertain to the planning and action of the commander and the politician is excluded.’ This accounts for the exceptional clarity and perspicuity of Caesar's account. ‘No half-distinct background elements obtrude. We see nothing but the matter Caesar had in hand at any given time.’

Everything is concentrated on action and consists in action; consequently, the fact that Caesar was never entrusted with the task that he mastered so consummately is consigned to the background. Caesar directly involved his readers, like his soldiers, in the accomplishment of an enterprise upon which he himself had resolved.

Only at one point does he break out of the narrow narrative confines. This is in the sixth book, where he gives a comparative ethnology of the Gauls and the Germans. At first sight these chapters seem to have no function. By implication, however, they explain why Caesar broke off his campaign against the Germans without subjugating them: for here one reads that Germany, contrary to current opinion, is quite unlike Gaul. To conquer it would be both difficult and unrewarding. Again Caesar refrains from going beyond implication. Yet should he have said in so many words that he really wanted to conquer Germany too? He neither admits it nor denies it.

A special feature of Caesar's account is the almost total exclusion of emotion. Only the soldiers are allowed to feel fear. Caesar is seemingly immune to it. It has been said that Caesar's commentaries owe their formal assurance to the same strength that produced his actions. There is certainly much truth in this, even if this strength is unlikely to have been as effective in reality as it appears in his account. He cannot have possessed the superhuman superiority that his writings suggest.

Historians familiar with the sources can point to a difficult situation in the civil war for which we have a parallel account, probably based on a report by a member of Caesar's staff. We learn that after suffering a defeat, Caesar spent a sleepless night, tormented by dark thoughts and by the realization that his planning had been wrong. At first he believed the situation hopeless, but after much mental turmoil he finally arrived at a decision. Caesar's own account states: ‘Caesar gave up his previous plans, believing that he must change his whole strategy.’ This suggests that he was merely adapting himself to a new situation. Similarly, we learn of the doubts and scruples that assailed him before he crossed the Rubicon, but these find no place in his own account.

Yet it runs counter to all human experience to take such a self-presentation, with all its abbreviations, at face value. That such doubts are justified, even with regard to the great figures of history, is amply demonstrated by what we know of various situations in which Frederick the Great or Napoleon found themselves.

We may presume that Caesar enveloped himself in a cloak of outward serenity and superiority. One of his officers tells how on one occasion, in an almost hopeless situation, the soldiers found encouragement ‘in the expression of their commander's face, in his freshness and wonderful cheerfulness. For he appeared full of assurance and confidence.’ And this was certainly the rule rather than the exception. Caesar's superiority and serenity fascinated simple spirits, but to others they made him inscrutable and sinister, especially as they went with immense concentration. And the outward image he displayed may in large measure have determined his inner attitude. His essentially playful temperament, his wilfulness, and his faith in the fortune conferred by Venus, may have played a part too.

Yet behind this there was doubtless a degree of sensitivity, insecurity, doubt and vacillation; there must have been times when all seemed hopeless and he found himself staring spellbound at disaster. In the seventh book, which describes the great crisis of the Gallic war, he even hints that on occasion he came close to abandoning everything, lest even the old Roman province should fall victim to the Gallic onslaught. Indeed, towards the end of his book he reveals a good deal more of himself and writes with rather more freedom.

There was one question that he could hardly suppress entirely: What was the point of his unremitting activity, his subjugation of Gaul, and perhaps of the sacrifices his soldiers had to make in order to achieve it?

However, it could hardly prevail over the joy he felt at so conspicuously proving his worth: ultimately his strength and the possibilities open to him were equal to the immense task he had set himself. Overcoming all the complexities in his character, he always reverted to action, in which he found concentration and attained an effectiveness that increasingly built up a real world of his own, in which he could enjoy a multitude of opportunities and accomplish great feats, even though they might eventually cut him off from other worlds, especially the one inhabited by his peers, Rome's ruling class, including Pompey. But he would have to wait and see what happened. In 57 the real test still lay ahead, both politically and militarily.

‘I often marvel,’ wrote Stifter, ‘when I come to ponder whether to award the prize to Caesar's deeds or to his writings, how much I vacillate and how impossible I find it to decide. Both are so clear, so powerful, so assured, that we probably have little to compare with them.’ And both are presented to us in the commentaries with a naturalness that, on closer inspection, seems positively unreal, yet in a style that suggests the ultimate in objectivity.

Cynthia Damon (essay date 1994)

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SOURCE: “Caesar's Practical Prose,” in Classical Journal, Vol. 89, No. 2, December-January, 1994, pp. 183-95.

[In the following essay, Damon explains that, in reading De Bello Civili, it is important to recognize the character traits of the individuals discussed; to understand Caesar's narrative as a Roman would have; to notice repeated events; and to realize that recurrent events can lead to different outcomes.]

Thirty years ago, when Matthias Gelzer had the opportunity of addressing an audience of teachers of Latin and ancient history, he chose for his topic “Caesar as an historian.”1 He argued that Caesar was not an historian in the modern sense of the word—not objective, not dependent on inadequate sources, not university trained—but that his commentarii were, given ancient criteria for the genre, historiographical texts, something to set beside Sallust for the history of the late Republic, something to put in front of Appian and Cassius Dio. In making this claim Gelzer was attempting to quell a flood of scholarship which had fastened limpet-like on the chronological problems in the Bellum Civile and on Asinius Pollio's assertion that Caesar himself would have changed many things in the commentaries if he had lived long enough to do so, scholarship that was trying to reduce the commentarii to the category of propaganda.2 Now propaganda is a highly inflammatory label to apply to a text, and one with the worst possible associations in the events of this century. The fact that Caesar produced in the Anticato an extended piece of invective against the republican martyr lends a sort of plausibility to the label. Anyone who can tell the sort of stories about Cato that Caesar seems to have told—besides the standard remarks about drunkenness and incest there were some more creative touches, too, such as the description of Cato's sifting through the ashes of his brother's pyre to find bits of melted gold—anyone who would say this, it is felt, or who would claim divine and regal ancestry for his aunt Julia, would not shrink from tinting the account of his own res gestae rose.3 And anyone who handles such a text without the precautions needed for other forms of radioactive material is liable to be viewed as contaminated. Yet we don't have to accept the alternatives proposed so far, Gelzer's black on white “history” label or the flashing red “propaganda” label; we can open the text and sample it for ourselves.

Now much of the history of Latin pedagogy is founded upon the premise that when we open our texts we will find Latin that is clear and, what is better, pure. On the one hand no sentences which weave together a seemingly infinite number of subordinate clauses which answer the listener's qualms before he has any, which concede some points, explain away other ones, which set out the conditions for the truth of what is being said, which characterize the speaker as an eminently reliable sort and his cause as a worthy one, which make use of structural elements such as anaphora, correlatives, or lists, and which use all these devices in order to achieve their goal, getting the listener to do something that the speaker assumes he is reluctant to do. Sentences like the previous one, in fact, are not present to make the students groan. On the other hand, so the style books say, the language of Caesar is pure, no atrocities of form or vocabulary allowed. When Caesar has occasion to describe a hill, for example, he doesn't do what Cato the Elder did in his Origines and call it “a wart,” a verruca. Many criteria by which to measure the clarity and purity of Caesar's Latin have been found, for scholars have taken the fact that Caesar produced a grammatical treatise, the de Analogia, as a mandate for almost unlimited attention to matters of diction and style.4 But I want to argue that, despite the clarity, despite the purity, Caesar is one of the most challenging Latin authors, particularly in the Bellum Civile, the text on which I focus here.

Now there are really two different ways of reading the Bellum Civile—one can read the text sentence by sentence and follow Caesar and his legates from Italy to Spain to Africa to Greece to Asia to Alexandria. This is as dull and as inconsequential as my string of prepositional phrases is. Caesar's narrative has none of the dramatic tension that Herodotus achieves in Books 7-8 when he describes Xerxes' forces moving slowly but inexorably towards Athens, drinking rivers dry as they pass. This first method of reading is rather like following Ariadne's thread through a labyrinth—it is gratifying to reach the end, of course, but one retains no lasting impression of the places one has been. The other method of reading the Bellum Civile aims at fashioning a net of memory and understanding by tying the knots which link episodes and characters that are found on the long strand of narrative. This method is a good deal more arduous than the first, because Caesar, writing for readers who wanted to understand and judge recent events and the actors in them, leaves a great deal of the responsibility for interpretation to his readers. In this paper I will examine four areas of reader responsibility that I find particularly fruitful, four tasks that, if exercised diligently, make the text so much more than a repository of clear sentences and pure vocabulary.

The first responsibility is to flesh out the names. Caesar's account of the first 19 months of the civil war is far richer in names than any of the histories of the parallel tradition, and each of these names was, for Caesar, a convenient abbreviation for the personality, the goals, the achievements and the connections of an individual well known to his audience. He doesn't provide character sketches, but that is not to say that Caesar refrains from characterization—not at all. His technique is rather to report his characters' words and deeds quite fully, then to rely on his readers to judge them. (By “quite fully” I mean with considerably more detail than, say, Appian or Dio or even Plutarch do in their accounts of the same events.) A glance at Caesar's treatment of Labienus in the Bellum Civile makes the point quite clear.

If you remember your Bellum Gallicum, you will know that Labienus was Caesar's most trusted legatus in Gaul, the one with responsibility for the largest number of legions and the greatest freedom for independent action. The association between the two men went back to before Caesar's tenure in Gaul, too, for they were both involved in the trial of poor old Rabirius Postumus in 63, Labienus as the prosecutor, Caesar as a iudex.5 And from Hirtius' book 8 of the Bellum Gallicum we know that Caesar had taken careful thought for Labienus' post-bellum career as well—he wanted a consulship for Labienus in 48.6 Now 48 was a year in which Caesar himself intended to be consul—he may have hoped that Labienus would prove more cooperative than his colleague in 59, the inimitable Marcus Bibulus. Labienus was an associate of long standing, then. Yet early on in the Bellum Civile his name is mentioned in a context which shows that he is on Pompey's side.

The topic of BC [Bellum Civile] 1.15 is the open-armed reception that Caesar says his forces received in parts of Italy where one might not have expected them to be welcome. First mentioned is the territory around Picenum, that is to say, Pompey's home ground. Next he says that “even Cingulum offered support and obedience.” Why the “even”? Because, he explains, Cingulum was a town that Labienus had founded and built with his own money.7 Nothing could be less demonstrative, less emotional, but the information is there for those who care to follow Labienus through the civil war. And Labienus' desertion must have cost Caesar something or the Pompeian Cicero would not have expressed himself so enthusiastically upon hearing of it: “I call Labienus a hero,” he says on 23 January 49, “it is the finest political action we have seen for a long while. If he has achieved nothing else, he has made Caesar smart.”8 Smarting or not, Caesar made no comment; Dio, on the other hand, chooses to guide his readers' interpretation of Labienus' desertion, saying: “The reason was that when he had acquired wealth and fame he began to conduct himself more haughtily than his rank warranted, and Caesar, seeing that he put himself on the same level with his superior, ceased to be so fond of him. And so, as Labienus could not endure this change and was at the same time afraid of coming to some harm, he transferred his allegiance” (41.4.3-4). I cite this passage not so much because the explanation is convincing, but to show that the desertion cries out for interpretation, and that Caesar provides none. Caesar's reticence is not, I think, to be ascribed to indifference, or to a fixed policy of suppressing events that revealed dissatisfaction in his own camp, however; Dio, having given his set piece on perfidia, evinces almost no further interest in Labienus, but Caesar brings him front and center repeatedly.9 And at each of his appearances Labienus is behaving atrociously.

“Atrociously,” of course, is my word, not Caesar's—he reports events without labelling them. Which is not to say that Caesar reports the truth and the whole truth, of course not. Selective reporting is just as powerful a device of persuasion as colorful packaging. And when Caesar has Labienus make his entrance into the Bellum Civile swearing that he will not desert Pompey and will suffer whatever fate the future has in store for Pompey (BC 3.13), he may reasonably expect his readers to question the reliability of Labienus' oath.10 We will come back to the role of oaths in the Bellum Civile, but we are not finished with Labienus yet.

He next appears on the banks of the river Apsus, which flowed between the rival camps in Greece (3.19). The soldiers on the two sides had gotten in the habit of discussing ways and means of ending the war, making, Caesar says, limited non-aggression agreements—pactiones—to facilitate their conversations. Labienus bursts in rudely upon one such colloquium and all of a sudden there are weapons flying everywhere. Since all of the wounded are Caesarians whereas Labienus is shielded by his soldiers, there is a certain amount of pressure to conclude that it was the Pompeians who had violated the current pactio. It is Labienus, at any rate, who has the final word: “there will be no peace,” he says, “until we have Caesar's head.” End of scene.

But it is not long before the unnecessary cruelty to which Labienus—that is to say, Caesar's version of Labienus—gives expression here is shown in action again. In BC 3.71 Caesar describes the aftermath of Pompey's victory at Dyrrachium, allotting four sentences, and only four sentences, to the task. In the first two he reports the casualties to his side. In the third we learn that Pompey, the victor, was saluted as imperator by his troops, and that with uncharacteristic modesty he did not publicize the fact. Again, the word “uncharacteristic” is mine, not Caesar's. Caesar's reader, however, can supply the adjective, for Caesar has mentioned three times already the boasting reports spread about by Pompey and his legates after each even minor success.11 We will come back to this point, too, but we can't leave 3.71 just yet. The fourth and longest sentence here belongs to Labienus: “with Pompey's permission Labienus ordered that the captives be turned over to him. When they were brought out into view, he called them his ‘comrades in arms’ and asked, most insultingly, whether veterans were in the habit of turning tail. Then he killed them.”12 Labienus' brutality towards the very men that he had led to such heady successes in Gaul is startling, the more so because of the “explanation” Caesar gives for it: “the turncoat,” he says, “was trying to persuade the Pompeians of his good faith—quo maior perfugae fides haberetur. This quiet oxymoron is as close as Caesar gets to an explicit statement about character traits in the Bellum Civile.

Labienus leaves this text just before the battle of Pharsalus, departing with a boast and yet another oath: he will return to camp a victor, he swears, or not at all (3.87.5). But although neither he nor any of the other Pompeian officers who echo his oath returns to camp, they don't they die on the field, either. Some escape only to be killed by their own men (this is how Lucius Domitius meets his end [3.99.5]), others (Brutus among them) capitulate, and still others, like Labienus, escape successfully to carry on the war in new theatres.

Cruel and unreliable, that is the way Caesar characterizes Labienus, though without using either one of those adjectives. This is not the writing of an indifferent or impartial reporter, but an eminently practical selection and arrangement of incidents to achieve an utterly damning whole.

The next reader responsibility that I'd like to illustrate for you is perhaps the most burdensome for us, though the original audience would have experienced no difficulty in filling it: it is simply to read as a Roman. To be alert, for example, to contraventions of mores that Caesar doesn't trouble to footnote for you. Help on some small points is available in Plutarch and in Appian and Dio, who were writing for audiences to whom reading as Romans did not come much more easily than it does to us. Thus when Pompey, as we saw earlier, was saluted as imperator after the battle of Dyrrachium, and yet refrained from broadcasting the title, Dio explains to his 3rd-century Greek-speaking audience that “Pompey was unwilling to show exultation over the downfall of citizens” (41.52.1). Appian, an historian of the 2nd century, helps us put two other salutations in context. When the Caesarian Curio first landed his two legions in Africa, he arrived near Utica before the country dwellers had finished conveying their goods into the walled city. The commander of the Pompeian forces inside the city sent some 600 Numidian horsemen and 400 footsoldiers to the defense of these hapless folk. But Curio's men forced the Pompeians to withdraw leaving some 120 dead on the field. As a result of this engagement Curio was saluted as imperator universi exercitus conclamatione. Caesar leaves the account at that, but Appian supplies his readers with a cultural context: “The title of imperator is an honor conferred upon generals by their soldiers, who thus testify that they consider them worthy to be their commanders. It used to be that the general accepted this honor only for the greatest exploits. At present I understand that the distinction is limited to cases where at least 10,000 of the enemy have been killed” (2.7.44). Appian's figure of 10,000 may be too high, but it is abundantly clear that Curio's forces are overenthusiastic about this rather minor scuffle. The event does not reflect poorly on Curio, since Caesar does not suggest that he elicited the salutation, but it is an oddity that a Roman reader would have queried. Why were these troops so eager to show their approval of Curio? Our examination of Labienus' activities allows us to suggest an explanation, for it emerges later in the narrative of Curio's African debacle that the 2 legions he had with him were troops that Caesar had taken from Domitius at Corfinium. Perhaps these ex-Pompeians, like the ex-Caesarian Labienus, were under some pressure to give public and irrevocable proof of their enthusiasm for their new “friends.” Readers who had just lived through a civil war would have been alert to the difficulty of their situation. But I said that Appian helps us with two salutations, so let us move on to the other.

Paragraph 31 of Book 3 begins with the name Scipio. Caesar does not tell us that the man's full name was Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio, or that he was Pompey's father-in-law and a remarkably arrogant individual, but we are expected to know these facts and apply them to our reading of the event. Caesar reports that Scipio suffered some losses in his province of Syria, and had himself saluted as imperator. He doesn't expostulate here the way Cicero does at some of Verres' more innovative extortions, but then Caesar was not writing for an audience that would have to pronounce judgment within hours after hearing the narrative of events, but rather for readers who wanted to inform themselves about the origins of the Civil war and about Caesar as a participant therein. Caesar's audience had time to savor the irony palpable in the modest little sentence which begins with the ablative absolute detrimentis … acceptis and ends with the main clause imperatorem se appellaverat.

Now in fleshing out the names of Caesar's characters and in reading with Roman eyes the modern reader has to work much harder than the Roman reader, and with less hope of fully understanding the narrative. Reader responsibilities numbers 3 and 4, on the other hand, require the same effort from both types of reader and produce the same rewards for them.

Let me try to give you a taste of some of those rewards. Responsibility #3 is paying attention to recurrent events. This is where we come back to those oaths. We have already seen Labienus attempting to strengthen Pompeian resolve by instigating extraordinary oaths of loyalty on two occasions. (By extraordinary I mean something other than the soldier's regular sacramentum pledging obedience to his general.) It turns out that Caesar shows similar oath-takings on other occasions, too, and that the oath-takers are always Pompeian.13 One might suppose that Caesar's supporters never needed such artificial aids to loyalty. And one certainly should suppose that Caesar is creating this impression deliberately, for neither Dio nor Appian nor Plutarch nor Suetonius mentions any of the oaths.14

Other recurrent events that Caesar uses in aid of his characterization without adjectives are refusals to send help when one's own supporters are in difficulties—this is naturally another Pompeian trait—as are the arming of slaves, boastful reports, cruelty to captives and plundering temples. By contrast Caesar is repeatedly shown guaranteeing the safety of those of the enemy who come into his hands, winning races for strategic points, weighing alternatives rationally, and so on. Each reading of the Bellum Civile brings more to light.

Paying attention to these recurrent events greatly facilitates the exercise of reader responsibility number 4, noticing when similar situations give rise to different outcomes. This is perhaps the richest source of those connecting knots that make the Bellum Civile into such an effective fabric of representation. I said earlier that the arming of slaves was one of the recurrent events which contributed to the negative characterization of the Pompeians. Yet Caesar reports that his own supporters, the citizens of the Greek city of Salonae, did the same thing, once (3.9.3). Why would he make such a damaging admission? Precisely, I think, to give his reader a standard by which to judge Pompeian actions. The people of Salonae resort to this extremum auxilium only in the direst of straits, under siege. Too few even at the outset to defend their walls properly, they saw their situation deteriorate as the continued fighting reduced the number of effective defenders. The freeing and arming of slaves of military age was as much an index of their peril as was the fact that the only material available for the manufacture of the rope they needed was their wives' hair. Among Caesar's supporters, then, desperate straits give rise to desperate measures such as the arming of ex-slaves. Yet the Pompeians, according to Caesar anyway, armed slaves even as a precautionary measure: in January of 49, when Lentulus and Pompey, consul and proconsul respectively, that is to say officials with an almost unlimited authority for legitimate conscriptions, are holding a dilectus of all Italy, they also arm slaves.15 Of Pompey's involvement Caesar allows himself the wry remark: “He armed slaves and herdsmen and gave them horses. In this way he created some 300 cavalrymen.”16 Caesar doesn't draw attention to the contrast in situations, but it is there for the reader to see.

Book 2 of the Bellum Civile provides a contrast on a larger scale, a contrast between Pompeian and Caesarian legati. As we saw in the case of Labienus, some of Caesar's most effective writing is devoted to character portrayal. His interest in giving the reader the materials with which to judge the various actions and actors of Rome's civil war is not shared by Appian and Dio, who devote much of their narratives to standard civil war topoi—the powerful emotions aroused in combatants and non-combatants alike, the paradoxical situations that occur in civil wars, and so on. Dio's interest in Labienus, you remember, was almost exclusively in his capacity as an illustration of perfidia. Appian mentions Labienus just once. A similar disparity is to be found in the attention devoted to Marcus Terentius Varro.

Varro, the polymath author of nearly 500 books of Latin prose, the friend of Cicero and Atticus, subsequently the author of plans for Caesar's enormous new libraries, is an important figure in Roman literary history. He was less important in the history of the civil war, for all that he was Pompey's legate in further Spain, and Dio accordingly allots him a scant half-sentence reference, reporting that some of the troops that Caesar won over in Spain were from Varro's legions (41.23.2). Neither Appian nor Plutarch has any interest in the fellow whatsoever. The campaign in further Spain was a very minor affair which was won without a single battle and which delayed Caesar for only a short time before he set out for Marseilles. Caesar, however, lavishes on Varro the attention that his literary merits deserve, although, as we shall see, Varro was probably not particularly grateful for the favor.

For 5 long chapters near the beginning of Book 2 Caesar focuses on Varro's timorous tergiversations—though he doesn't call them tergiversations, nor label them timorous (2.17-21). There was not in this case, as there had been in the depiction of Labienus, any prior wrong to avenge, so one may well wonder, why the fuss? By the end of Book 2 the reader has the answer, for Varro's drifting loyalties serve as foil for the steadfastness with which Caesar endows his character Curio, the story of whose end is told in living color in the final panel of the book. And this contrasting pair itself provides a background against which to measure the behavior of Marcus Bibulus in Book 3.

Varro's position as Pompey's legate in further Spain is mentioned briefly at 1.38.1, but he has no part to play in Caesar's rather detailed account of his own struggles against the legates of hither Spain, Afranius and Petreius. It is not until 2.17 that Varro moves into the limelight. When he does, he is revealed disheartened by Pompey's withdrawal from Italy, and is speaking amicissime about Caesar. On every possible occasion and to anyone who cared to listen, says Caesar, Varro states that, though as legate he has a duty to Pompey, his personal ties with Caesar are no less strong. He claims, too, that his responsibilities as legate, which he calls a fiduciaria opera, oblige him to know the temper of his province, and this, he says, is altogether favorable to Caesar. However, when the future looks more promising for the Pompeians, Varro reacts by strengthening his military position with new levies, new stockpiles of grain, new ships, new monetary requisitions. He commits himself further by putting a dependent of the Pompeian Lucius Domitius in charge of Cadiz, where Varro is concentrating his forces. (This, incidentally, is another case where reader responsibility number two is fruitful—the new commander, Gaius Gallonius, had come to Spain to watch over Domitius' interest in the execution of a will—with legal expertise and equestrian status he was in no way qualified to command six cohorts and to have the charge of arma omnia publica ac privata which Varro gives him.) Varro makes his choice of sides the clearer by arranging assemblies in which he announces that he has heard from the best authorities that Caesar has suffered numerous reverses. Here, Caesar's readers are inclined to suppose that Varro is either credulous or mendacious, for Caesar has just said that the reports on which Varro relied were letters from Afranius about his meagre successes in hither Spain, letters whose tone was elatius atque inflatius (2.17.4). The balance turns in favor of judging the man credulous when we read that Varro—whose provincial administration is exceedingly harsh—reserves particularly harsh treatment for cities and individuals who favor Caesar. Varro is at his most Pompeian (in both loyalty and behavior) when he compels the entire province to swear an oath in sua et Pompei verba (2.18.5). However, things get sticky when Caesar turns his attention to further Spain. The provincials respond with the enthusiasm that Varro himself had noticed earlier. As had happened in Italy before and would be happening soon in Greece (at least as Caesar tells the story), town after town closed its gates to the Pompeians in order to welcome Caesar the better. Not only that, but troops, too, including half of those under the out-of-place Gallonius, declare for Caesar. Humiliation of humiliations, one of Varro's own legions offers its services to Caesar while its commander looks on, helpless to stop the desertion.17 Whereupon Varro, for all his talk about the province being a fiduciaria opera, promptly hands his other legion over to Caesar and informs him of the whereabouts of the grain, ships and money that he had amassed. All in all, it is not a flattering portrait. And it becomes even less so when set beside that of Curio.

The Curio episode is a fascinating and much studied narrative, filled with enticing incidents—sneaky Pompeian commanders urging Curio's troops to change allegiance, an assassination attempt by a courageous man from the ranks—and endowed with considerable stylistic variety, too—long speeches reported in oratio recta, for example. But for now I will ignore all of these distracting riches and focus on one sentence, the one in which Caesar reports Curio's final words. When his last tactical manoeuvre fails, Curio is urged by a staff officer to save himself. But Curio, says Caesar, insisted that, having lost the army which Caesar had entrusted to his keeping, he would never face Caesar again.18 He then plunges into the battle and dies fighting. As do his men: milites ad unum omnes interficiuntur. The contrast with Varro's easy abandonment of the army and province entrusted to him is unavoidable. (And one may assume that Varro did not share Curio's scruples about facing the commander he had failed, since we know that he proceeded from Spain to Pompey's camp at Dyrrachium.19) There is also a contrast to draw here between Curio and Lucius Domitius, the Pompeian commander who had abandoned troops and whole regions that were under his care not once but twice, at Corfinium and at Marseilles, but I have stressed the contrast with Varro because his story was so patently told for its thematic rather than its historical importance.

However, I don't want to leave you with the false impression that steadfastness was unknown in the Pompeian camp. Caesar's narrative does not cover the period of Cato's defense of Utica, but he does allow Marcus Bibulus a loyal death. Given the history of bad relations between the men who had been colleagues in the consulship of 59, however, the reader might expect to find plenty of hidden barbs.20 Again, I'll mention just one. It is a barb whose sharpness is better perceived by readers who keep in mind the contrasting behaviors of Varro and Curio. In 49, Bibulus' charge was oversight of all the ships that Pompey had mustered for the defense of Greece. Things did not go well: not only did Caesar thumb his nose at Bibulus' 110 ships and bring a good portion of his army over to Greece successfully, but once there he proceeded to keep the Pompeian ships from coming to land to resupply. Bibulus himself falls sick on board ship, where there is no medical attention to be had. Loath to give up the task he had undertaken, he stays put, and dies. Even from this brief paraphrase of the passage, you can see that Caesar makes Bibulus' behavior look less like loyalty to a cause or fidelity to Pompey and more like the same misguided and ultimately ineffective stubbornness that characterized his opposition to Caesar in 59.

Varro, Curio, Bibulus—they are offered by Caesar to the reader for judgment, as, ultimately, are the rivals about whom these lesser planets orbit.

Well, I hope I have given you a sense of why I keep coming back to the Bellum Civile. When I said that what I wanted to do was show how difficult, really, it is to read Caesar, I meant that not as a deterrent, but as a challenge, and even as lure. It is precisely because the text is difficult that it is always fresh, always yields something new to the reader. The more one knows about things Roman, the more exciting a text the Bellum Civile becomes, so although the practical-minded Caesar abandoned his commentary because he despaired of its achieving the effect he intended it to have, we can make Caesar's practical prose work for us as a cord which will raise a curtain on the spectacle of Rome at the end the Republic. The reason it is such a good text to teach is that it allows the students the satisfaction of reading the Latin with a fair degree of success, and allows class time to be spent on the fun stuff, on helping the students read the text as a story, as political rhetoric, as autobiography, as a social document, as history.21


  1. … The talk was given on 16 November 1961. It was published in Gelzer's Kleine Schriften (Wiesbaden 1963) 2.307-35, and again in D. Rasmussen, ed. Caesar. Wege der Forschung 43 (Darmstadt 1974), 438-73.

  2. Pollio Asinius parum diligenter parumque integra veritate compositos putat, cum Caesar pleraque et quae per alios erant gesta temere crediderit et quae per se, vel consulto vel etiam memoria lapsus perperam ediderit; existimatque rescripturum et correcturum fuisse (Suetonius Divus Julius 56.4). This statement may have contributed to Pollio's justification for writing a history of the period himself.

  3. The extant fragments are conveniently collected in the 3rd volume of A. Klotz' Teubner edition of Caesar.

  4. The de Analogia was written in either 55/54 or 53/52 (while Caesar was administering assizes in Cisalpina) and was dedicated to Cicero. Cicero says that its topic was de ratione Latine loquendi, and quotes a dictum from the first book: verborum dilectum originem esse eloquentiae (Brutus 253). According to Fronto Caesar wrote de nominibus declinandis, de verborum aspirationibus et rationibus (p. 210.1-2 van den Hout). The extant fragments deal with the usage of words such as arma, comitia, inimicitiae (always plural in form) and with the proper forms of 3rd declension words. One might summarize the message of the treatise as we know it as “choose the right word and use it in the proper form.”

  5. Dio 37.26ff., Suetonius Divus Julius 12.

  6. T. Labienum praefecit togatae, quo maiore commendatione conciliaretur ad consulatus petitionem, BG 8.52. There are grave textual difficulties here, however. See M. Gelzer, Caesar, Politician and Statesman, tr. P. Needham (Cambridge, MA 1968) 186 note 3.

  7. BC 1.15.2: etiam Cingulo, quod oppidum Labienus constituerat suaque pecunia exaedificaverat, ad eum legati veniunt, quaeque imperaverit, se cupidissime facturos pollicentur.

  8. Att. 7.13.1: Labienum ηρωα iudico. facinus iam diu nullum civile praeclarius qui, ut aliud nihil, hoc tamen profecit, dedit illi dolorem. Cf. Att. 7.12.5, where Cicero maintains that if Labienus had deserted before Pompey left Rome damnasse … sceleris hominem amicum rei publicae causa videretur.

  9. Dio has four passing references which show Labienus' whereabouts but little else (42.10.3, 43.2.1, 43.4.5, 43.30.4). Labienus' final appearance in Dio's text is more interesting, since it shows how Labienus was felt to be a feather in the wind. When during a battle in Spain he used a tactic which looked like a retreat, the whole Pompeian army lost heart and collapsed (43.38.2-3).

  10. princeps Labienus procedit iuratque se eum non deserturum eundemque casum subiturum quemcumque ei fortuna tribuisset (3.13.3).

  11. 2.17.4, 3.23, 3.45, cf. 3.72.

  12. at Labienus cum ab eo impetravisset, ut sibi captivos tradi iuberet, omnis productos ostentationis, ut videbatur, causa, quo maior perfugae fides haberetur, commilitones appellans et magna verborum contumelia interrogans, solerentne veterani milites fugere, in omnium conspectu interfecit (3.71.4).

  13. 1.76.2-3, 2.18.5.

  14. And even the prevention of oath-taking can illustrate the different levels of partisan enthusiasm on the two sides: Caesar requires as one of the conditions for peace in Spain that no one be made to take an oath against his will: nequis invitus sacramentum dicere cogetur a Caesare cavetur (1.86.3).

  15. 1.14, 1.24.

  16. 1.24: servos pastores armat atque iis equos attribuit. ex his circiter CCC equites confecit.

  17. This legion, incidentally, was called the legio vernacula, as having been based on the Pompeian muster of slaves.

  18. 2.42.4: at Curio numquam se amisso exercitu quem a Caesar suae fidei commissum acceperit in eius conspectum reversurum confirmat.

  19. Cic. Div. 1.68, 2.114.

  20. In Book 3 Caesar makes numerous references to Bibulus's activities: 5.4, 7.1-2, 8.3, 14.2, 15-18, 31.3.

  21. Teaching the Bellum Civile is more attractive than ever now, in view of the publication of a new commentary on Books 1-2: J. M. Carter, Julius Caesar, The Civil War Books I & II (Warminster 1991). A companion volume on Book 3 is promised.

John Henderson (essay date 1996)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 13555

SOURCE: “XPDNC / Writing Caesar,” in Classical Antiquity, Vol. 15, No. 2, October, 1996, pp. 261-88.

[In the following essay, Henderson explores how the act of writing helped to create the image of Caesar that he wanted to project of himself.]

Whereupon Henderson rose, in his place, to speak his motion (surrexit sententiae suae loco dicendae). And moved (pro sententia sua hoc censuit):1

that: Caesar's Caesar tells, undecidably, of a peace-keeping war2 which didn't have to be, yet had to be, fought over the “self-regard” the world owed him and his Caesar self (dignitas)—“not status for Caesar but something approaching self-respect” (his apologist might aver) “and knowledge of his actual worth and the offices it entitled him to seek, meaning more to him than life itself.”3 From the horse's mouth, what a Caesar is worth, is.

—that: the monological, even monomaniacal, myth of Caesar's writing puts De Bello Ciuili in denial, where fiercely dialogical contestation powers and motivates every turn of the rhetoric through its repression. The text plays host to the welter of writings occasioned by the dispute between Caesar and his world; parasitic on them, Caesar hides his parade of self.

—that: Caesar's Commentarii run, and should be read, together: notwithstanding that they are all divided into three parts.

—that: Caesar, “whose every word denied the inevitability of such an outcome,”4 wrote all over the imperium. Caesar wrote his self, Caesar, onto the world, until the world, and all the writing in it, was his. The writing that won and lost a world war.

—that: Bellum Ciuile reinforces Caesar's thinking over Caesar's thinking. In the protestation of a Roman identity, the masking/marking of iconoclasm with conformity.


The Man who is born to be a dictator is not compelled; he wills it. He is not driven forward, but drives himself. There is nothing immodest about this.6

Litteris Caesaris … “The letter from Caesar was successfully delivered to the consuls and the utmost exertions of the tribunes just about got it read out to the Senate; but nothing could get a motion arising from the letter put to the Senate. Instead, the consuls put to them the national interest.” (BC [Bellum Ciuile] 1.1.1f.) Not, then, the letter of Caesar, the letters written by Caesar, Caesar's writing; but the res publica. So begins the text of Caesar's Bellum Ciuile, at once opening the rift that would tear down SPQR and write up Caesares.

Readers are never to have this letter from Caesar to the Senate read out to them. One had to be there. Some editors cannot believe this is not the chance injustice of scribal accident.7 They cannot believe how unlucky Caesar's Bellum Ciuile has been, to be deprived of its opening paragraph, or so.8 “The contents of Caesar's letter were very important and however hastily Caesar may have written the BC it is almost inconceivable that he did not spell out the offer he was making: that either he should be allowed to retain his command, or that all holders of commands should lay them down.”9 The majority view, however, has been to accept this abrupt opening as Caesar's, to the letter.

The abruptness of the denial of debate on the matter of the letter from Caesar stands, in any event, as the symptomatic gesture that inaugurates the Bellum Ciuile, just as it initiates the civil war.10 The consuls of Rome refuse to comply with Caesar's written will. In so doing, they treat his letter as the report of a magistrate to the government; chivvied by the tribunes, they give the despatch an official hearing, despite pressing crisis; but insofar as Caesar's writing required to be handled as a proposal from afar, an in absentia representation to the Senate seeking to determine a vote, it is disallowed. Instead, a procession of senior figures produces an array of sententiae, from which the presiding consul selected the motion “that Caesar disband his army before a certain date, on pain of being seen to act against the national interest” (1.2.6). The veto from two tribunes on this successfully carried proposal was a week later dealt with by passage of the emergency decree (illud extremum atque ultimum senatus consultum), according to which the magistrates should “protect the national interest from damage” (dent operam … ne quid res publica detrimenti capiat), and the “inscription” of this declaration of martial law (perscribuntur) issued instantly in the “flight of tribunes the tribunes”= to Caesar” at Ravenna (profugiunt, 1.2.7, 5.3). The consul who blocked Caesar's written will was Lentulus Crus. He is to die a short way from the end of Caesar's text, “arrested by a king,” the Pharaoh of Egypt, “and executed in confinement” (3.104.3).11 The proposer of the motion against Caesar was Metellus Scipio, joined in his resistance by Cato, through discussions convened by Pompey in an after-dusk unofficial meeting of senators (1.4.1-3). Both of these survive Caesar's text, though not before Cato has been humiliated when he flees Sicily before a shot was fired, complaining of being “abandoned and betrayed” by Pompey (1.30.5),12 and Scipio satirized as first a “self-proclaimed imperator” after some setbacks in Syria, then the would-be despoiler of Ephesian Diana, and finally hubristic contender for Caesar's priesthood, counting chickens before Pharsalus (3.31.1, 33.1f., 83.1f.).13 Caesar's text is to cease—abruptly—with Pompey's killer, Pothinus the Pharaoh's eunuch guardian, himself “put to death by Caesar” (the last words of BC, 3.112.12, … a Caesare est interfectus; Pompey killed at 3.104.3). Yes, up to a point, the Civil War hangs together. Caesar picks off both the villains he stigmatized to begin with and the villains he picked out along the way.

All Caesar's writing in the BC constitutes a commentary on that first, slighted, text of his, suppressed from the historical (i.e. written) record by the enemies of Caesar in the Senate. This is indeed Caesar's own claim, regularly and insistently reiterated throughout the three books. His text bears witness to his keenness to propose a cessation of hostilities, until this becomes the theme of his prebattle speech to his army before do-or-die Pharsalus (3.90). Much of the text's business is taken up with supplying terms for that missing, and/or suppressed, opening letter from Caesar, from the paraphrase he gives to intermediaries to take to Pompey at the outset, “when he sent a letter to the Senate ‘that all should leave their armies,’ he couldn't even get that” (1.9.3, ut omnes ab exercitibus discederent).14 The lists and précis lengthen and shift, asserting, or betraying, a range of self-estimations: “… asserting the right to freedom of himself and the Roman People from oppression by a minority wedge” (… ut se et populum Romanum factione paucorum oppressum in libertatem uindicaret, 1.22.5), for example; or “… the senators should prosecute the national interest and govern together with himself; but if they ducked it for fear, he wouldn't shirk the burden and would govern the nation on his own account” (… ut rem publicam suscipiant atque una secum administrent. sin timore defugiant illi, se oneri non defuturum et per se rem publicam administraturum, 32.7).15 Caesar himself sails close to the wind at Massilia: “You should follow the authority of all Italy rather than defer to the will of a single person” (… debere eos Italiae totius auctoritatem sequi potius quam unius hominis uoluntati obtemperare, 35.1). And the game is all but up in Greece, when Caesar tries to give his final warning through Vibullius and his message shows Pompey his alter ego as would-be cosmocrat: “if fortune gives just a bit to one of the two rivals, the one who seemed superior would not abide by the peace terms and the one who was confident that he was going to be master of the universe would not be content with even shares” (… neque aequa parte contentum qui se omnia habiturum uideretur, 3.10.7).16 As shall be seen, the telegraphing of terms comes to founder on talks about talks, the slippery, “practical,” business of framing the exchange of terms. But terms are formulated, throughout this process of deferral, terms that set Caesar's self before the Roman state.

If every action in the text is a shot in the word war, each ascription of a view, position, or identity also colors its representation dialectically. The writing of Bellum Ciuile is strung, like all discourse, between (i) the selection of actional terms that determine reality and its mutation, and (ii) the supply of relational terms which establish a modal set toward the contest of wills:17 thus (i) Caesar, of course, plainly polarizes (his own) “set-back” against (their) “disaster,” “elimination” against “massacre”; (Pompeian) “flight” against (Caesarian) “withdrawal,” “boast” vs. “pledge,” & c.; but (ii) he also implants attitude, by dramatizing acts of judgment, reactions and responses: his account of his adversaries shows them to think, speak and write in self-seeking hatefulness. They brutalize themselves, they drag everyone they can down with them, they monger war from nothing; whereas Caesar wants no enemy, reinstates order and ideals, stays warm, human and social. All the solidary sentiments are his, the violence and tyranny theirs. This work of euphemism and denigration is passed off as description, while Caesar creates a profile for his Caesar from negative ventriloquist representation of his opponents. His Caesar thus depends dialogically on the projection of unattractive images of power and knowledge onto the othered. Not Caesar but Cornelius Lentulus, for a start, lets the biggest cat out of the bag: “hyping himself to his cronies as a/the second Sulla, for imperial mastery to revisit” (seque alterum fore Sullam inter suos gloriatur ad quem summa imperii redeat, 1.4.2).18

In the course of the narrative, it becomes clear how writing has, if it has, a role to play in Bellum Ciuile. On the one hand, letters are centrally important, and the letters that compose them carry the brunt of the campaign; for this war is, before all, a war of words, where the prize at stake in the Kriegschuldfrage is, more than diplomatic victory in psychological warfare, the very stairway to world supremacy.19 The stated, proclaimed, bandied platforms formulated by the combatants would win, accredit or dispute, and would set the seal on, interpret and calibrate, the victory. Moreover, Caesar's own text is itself nothing other than the most lengthy version of the case he put forward before the Senate, before the descent into hostilities, before the text could start. The vindication of the “truth” of Caesar's glaringly missing, or (let it be plainly said) purloined, letter is the work set for the narration at the outset.

The writing of letters plays a shaping role in the fighting, as the war accumulates archival substance for the eventual writing: this dictator could dictate four letters to four different scribes at once—something of a strategic advantage, the smart weapon of smartness.20 In this world, commanders report to base, just as proconsul Caesar had written his despatches from Gaul to the Senate through the 50s bce. They communicate and share knowledge—to provide for detailed calculations of movements and counter-moves, and (counter-)intelligence on both sides. But most typically they bear orders, or requests for orders, and are themselves borne by messengers as the most authentic versions of the will of the generalissimos. Letters are written and conveyed by messengers; the messengers carry mandata, whether in writing or for oral delivery is often unclear, and perhaps still more often an immaterial triviality; crucially, most of the messages are in the imperative, and, harbingers of an imperial future of fiat and decree, they make things happen—if only their delivery. But, even so, in this world writing is also, paradoxically, at a discount. This is a world of action and of reactions, where the œuvre of Caesar displays not the literate orator and man of writing-culture, but his giant maneuvers athwart the empire. A chief-of-staff's ciphers must deliver on this, or be dead letters.

Yet, since the Iliad, the business of war-correspondence has always inescapably moralized culture through the blockage of communication, through the blockade on colloquy. Thus, a certain L. Caesar began the invasion (so to say)21 by arriving at Ariminum with business to discuss (1.8.2-11.3): “he finished the conversation that was the reason why he had come, then indicated he was instructed by Pompey to speak to Caesar on private business (mandata priuati officii). Pompey wanted to be clean in Caesar's eyes, in case he took for an insult what Pompey had done for the nation (rei publicae causa): he had always held public interest above private ties” (rei publicae commoda priuatis necessitudinibus potiora). Further assurances of the same kind were added by praetor Roscius. Caesar's response is a paradigmatic display of acuity wrapped in statesmanlike courtesy, marked by his characteristic concessionary gesture,22 despite his own better judgment: “although these doings seemed without relevance for easing the wrongs done Caesar, nevertheless he took the opportunity of these suitable people to be intermediaries for delivering his will to Pompey. He asked the pair of them, since they had brought Pompey's message to him (mandata), not to shirk taking his demands back to Pompey too (postulata), in case with an ounce of effort they might be able to get rid of a vast quarrel and so free all Italy from terror. … So that all this might come about more easily and on settled terms, and be sworn on oath, either Pompey should come closer himself or allow Caesar to come; it would turn out that all the quarrel would be settled by talking with each other.” No cloak-and-dagger shabbiness from Caesar, but all the graces, and, congruently, the offer to short-circuit hostility and hostilities with face-to-face companionability. The ethos at the other end of this mission earns writing Caesar's ire: “taking the instructions, Roscius with (scripta … mandata), summarized as follows: Caesar return to Gaul, quit Ariminum, dismiss troops; if he did this, Pompey go to Spain. Meantime, till pledge were received that Caesar would do what he promised, consuls and Pompey not to desist from levying.” Where Caesar self-deprecates his fraternal greetings as postulata but dignifies the terse insults that returned as mandata, the generosity of his fulsome self-declaration to the go-betweens damns the cold inhumanity of his adversaries' intransigence not least by the modality encoded in the contrast in syntax. As the Commentarius comments, “An unequal exchange, these demands …” (erat iniqua condicio postulare …). Dutifully rebutting the proposal point-by-point, Caesar saw the strangled message screaming through the laconic formality: “Not to find time for talking together and not to promise to come brought it across that there was serious giving up on peace.” With the famous pendent “therefore” at this juncture (itaque, 1.11.4), the drive is on, and will not stop before Suez. So see how it all started here, when Pompey traded on the separation of young L. Caesar from his father, Caesar's legate, and their need to talk, but himself failed to meet even the basic etiquette of agreeing to meet with his old partner.

At the end of the road, Pompey will find himself obliged to “send a request to be received in the name of guest-friendship and friendship with the host's father. … The people sent by Pompey did their diplomatic job, but then started chatting all too freely with the guards.” The result: “those who were sent by Pompey were given a generous up-front reply (palam) and were told to tell him to come. But the same people began a plot and sent on the quiet (clam)—a pair of heavies to kill Pompey” (3.103.3-104.2). Messages bring finality.

Between these moments, letters and instructions divide the sides in antipathy, even as they both pull their separate business together. “Domitius sent to Pompey in Apulia people who knew the area, for a large bonus, plus a letter to beg and pray for help. … When the town was mostly enveloped, those sent to Pompey returned. After reading the letter, Domitius started acting. … Pompey had written back that … if there was any chance, Domitius should come to him with all his resources.—Not that he could …” (1.17-19). The letter gets through, but only to draw a blank, or worse, and decipher as betrayal.

Later, the grand pattern of hubris is marked by “the letter and messengers that brought word to Rome” (litteris nuntiisque), “written out by Afranius and Petreius and friends in anything but the plain and dry style” (pleniora etiam atque uberiora … perscribebant). This started a dash of runners to Pompey in Greece, “some bent on being first to bring such news, others worried they might seem to have waited on the out-turn of the war, or to have come at the end of the queue” (1.53).

The same communiqué, “written out really expansively and windily by Afranius,” set Varro in further Spain “to dance to fortune's dance” into self-deflating mockery of resistance to Caesar. His downfall is sealed by a letter from the people of Gades to say that they were joining Caesar, which prompted him to “send to Caesar that he was ready to hand his remaining legion over to anyone he told him to” (2.17.4-20.7). Script for a farce.23

The tragic equivalent: “Caesar's messengers and letter announcing (genuine) victory in Spain,” which inspired his lieutenant Curio to fatal over-confidence in Africa—disregarding the messages that reached Curio and his opponent at the same moment, to the effect that Juba's vast hordes were at hand (2.37.1f.).

Readers regain the narrative track when “Caesar's letter arrived, informing Calenus that the ports and shorelines were all occupied by the other side's fleet,” just as he put out to sea with the reinforcements embarked, “in accordance with Caesar's orders.” One private vessel under its own steam went ahead: every last human on board was executed, to the very last one (3.14). This was, truly, a red letter day.

Polarized parallelism between the principals goes on through the contrasts between their correspondence: “Pompey's admirals were torn off a strip (castigabantur) by a volley of letters for failing to stop Caesar's crossing”; “troubled by developments, Caesar wrote pretty strictly to his men in Brundisium” (3.25.2f.). In his bureau as in all else, Pompey is an outmaneuvered but considerable opposite number—worth writing a war with, a decent way to write Caesar, the best of a bad job.24

Through all the deadlock and circling, the consul Caesar parlays unilaterally, for the duration. Two matching episodes tell of perfidy within the business of negotiation: first Caesar picks twice-pardoned Vibullius “to send with instructions to Pompey, summarized as: both men to bring their obstinacy to an end, walk away from war and risk fortune no further. … Vibullius heard the account and thought it no less necessary for Pompey to be informed of Caesar's sudden approach (aduentu Caesaris), so that he could take counsel for that, before any dealings began on the instructions” (3.10.2-11.1). Then, “informed by letter about the demands of Libo and Bibulus,” Caesar calls them “for talks.” Caesar had to excuse Bibulus, “whose reason for shunning the talks was in case a matter of the greatest hope and greatest expediency might be hog-tied by his wrath.” They said they wanted “to learn Caesar's demands and send to C.-in-C. Pompey,” but Caesar sussed them out by requiring personally supervised “safe-conduct for representatives to Pompey”; Libo “would not receive Caesar's representatives nor assure their safety, but referred the whole matter to Pompey.” So “Caesar realized that Libo had started up the whole scheme in view of the danger he was in … and was coming across with no hope or term for peace” (3.16.2-17.6). Waffungstillstandsunterredung was only a pretext for playing for time.

Furthermore, when Scipio entered the frame, Caesar “didn't forget his original strategy,” but sent him a mutual friend, Clodius, “handing him a letter and giving him instructions for Scipio, which summarizes as: Caesar had tried everything for peace, and reckoned that the zero progress was the fault of the people he had wanted to take responsibility for the business, because they were afraid to carry his instructions to Pompey at a bad moment. … Clodius delivered these instructions to Scipio,” but “he wasn't allowed to join any talks … and went back to Caesar in failure” (3.57). The breakdown in communication has now itself broken down. And, this time, Caesar's message is a masquerade—really a string of bare insults.

But the mail will get through, eventually: though Pompey “never got used to writing-in his acclamation as imperator as his letter-head” (3.71.3), the victory he won it for was quite wrongly diagnosed by his officers, who therefore turned it into defeat (in analysis)25 and the occasion of their own fatal and final hubris: “just as if they had won by their own courage and as if no change of fortune could occur, they celebrated that day's victory all through planet earth, by word of mouth and by letter” (fama ac litteris, 72.4). Now this climax to Caesar's chain of dramatic tales of reversal26 makes big big waves: “Pompey had sent out letters through every province and township about the battle at Dyrrhachium, and rumor had hustled far more extensively and windily than what had actually happened: Caesar repelled and on the run, most all his forces lost” (79.4). This hype, the telltale miscommunication that betokens a fake sociality, the Pompeians' spurious bid to speak to and for their country, and not the actual battle at Dyrrhachium, threatened to break the inexorable pattern of the narrative. Caesar was obliged to force it back into shape, encouraging a fresh spate of loyalty to himself by sensational but (he has said) “controlled” aggression. As Henderson will have demonstrated, they must have brought it on themselves, when Caesar must take out a people's town: regrets, he had a few, but then again, almost too few to mention.

So Caesar writes his instructions, demands, letters. They invite readers to come to talk, if only about talks. His Commentarii do not pretend to be other than documentary drafts, a condensed saturation of documentation, intermediate between the utilitarian pragmatics of the performative world of reports to GCHQ and orders to units, and the elaborated synthesis of a historian's finished text.

The Commentarii, that is to say, pretend to be no other than rough drafts, a provisional string of raw documents, indeterminate between the signals telegraphed from generals to soldiers and back and the clamorous prosecution of a raft of conditions for a new political order.

“In a real sense, as long as Caesar could write this narrative, the Republic still existed. For such writing would show it was still possible to know the public interest rather than simply to idealize it.”27 Or, rather, as any less partisan view would have it, writing Caesar turns on disavowed will to power.


As when <Shakespeare= said in the person of Caesar, one speaking to him, “Caesar, thou dost me wrong”—he replied: “Caesar did never wrong but with just cause.”28

Like many who believe their own propaganda, often used the Caesarean third person.29

The most obvious place to look for Caesar's missing letter is not in the putative preliminary lacuna, where the reader was not privileged or entitled to hear its wording before the senatorial meeting despatched it to the rapidly filling wastebasket of Republican history's might-have-beens, but rather in every letter he goes on to write as commentary on his claimed attempt to stave off the need to fight, write and right the Civil War. Caesar has hidden the letter of his law where it is most easily overlooked, on display through the pages of his public record.30

His account might easily read as, exactly, confirmation that his initial representation of the sending of this first-ditch letter as an attempt to pull everyone back from the brink to safety was itself the prototype for all his subsequent barrage of déformations of the historical record.31 In any event—and this is the point, certainly the predicament readers are in—every re-formulation of Caesar's terms in the course of the three books is put across as a raise on the same stakes he began with. Readers begin with the question of his sincerity, the authorial sincerity embodied in the promissory terms of the pledges he vouches for. As the opening episode means to suggest or impose, this intersects with the question whether sincerity from Caesar could affect the reception it was possible to give him, once the Senate conspired to cross its Rubicon and quarantine contacts from him. This compounded question will never be left behind: it extends, unfolds and articulates to become the question of the BC.

So can be read the first displacement operated by this project of writing Caesar in that opening blockage of any motion based on Caesar's letter. According to Caesar, even those who blocked serious consideration of the missive, Lentulus and Scipio, told the house they and Pompey might or might not do a deal of some sort with Caesar, take it or leave it; and a series of senators nevertheless ventured proposals pacific or appeasing (1.1.2-2.4). The text indeed wades straight into efforts by the players to interpret Caesar's will and read Caesar—while the attendant events were being shaped to exclude effective moves to meet him half-way. By the time Caesar supplies readers with that first, foregrounded, summary of his letter's drift (1.9.3), he has shown how irretrievable a situation had (been) developed, and has obliged his reader to reflect on the momentum endemic to the escalation from entrenched antagonism to all-out war.

The letter of Caesar had been a text and an affidavit: could he be held to it, or did the spirit which prompted its sentiments belong strictly to that determinate instant of history? Could letters hold on to what they meant in a context of slide and slippage into crisis—or could no one dare credit them with meaning what they 32 A letter belongs to its moment, even if that moment never arrived. However, this absent letter presences the eternal moment of Caesar's text.

Now the momentaneous Caesar the Romans of the time were “reading,” and the Caesar that he was and is writing, were not invented from scratch. That is, at least, first base or bivouac in Caesar's self-presentation. Rather, this is the proconsul of Rome, victor over Gaul and Germany, proved in a series of wars and ordeals against the age-old barbarian threat to Roman Italy, the unprecedentedly acclaimed imperator. This is the hero of a thousand despatches, written up as the mastermind of the sevenfold Gallic Wars, equally apt to write as to fight. This same exemplary citizen and would-be servant of Rome is now the victim of his own success. Writing just one more epistle back home, he is feared and cold-shouldered. As if he leads a Gallic tumult, or as if the Roman government were tribal chieftains intimidated by the approach of the Roman Caesar they had learned to know and (rightly) fear. Yes, the trace of Gaul will persist in De Bello Ciuili.

In time, Caesar's lieutenant and amanuensis Hirtius would ape the hupomnêmata of Alexander's marshals, plug the gap in his leader's story, in his text and in his rhetoric. But when he did that, with De Bello Gallico VIII, the Caesar he would be writing for would have moved on many a mile. The project had become to complete the record of Caesar's progress to full “rationalization” of the Republican system of a bouleutic Senate supervising its temporary and inducted magisterial representatives—and the eventual nemesis of assassination by former associates and adversaries in coalition. The loyal Caesarian Hirtius' mimetic project of marching behind Caesar in filling out the record of his campaigns,33 provisionally working up the most suitable primary despatches he could solder together into a supplementary Commentarius, may have been completed under the aegis of the dictator, as he seems to claim. Or the project may have been finished after Caesar's example, by the compilation of the remaining episodes in the corpus Caesarianum, up to and including, or down to, Caesar's ultimate battle of Munda, at the world's edge (BG [De Bello Gallico] 8 Praef.). Something an administrator could delegate, perhaps. The effect, at any rate, is to complete the soldierly biography of the soldier Caesar, as if the completion of his world conquest remained primarily a military matter, the progressive consolidation of exploits from prouincia to prouincia. But, it is patent to all, the geopolitics of Caesar's career invaginate any such portrait.

At any rate, the story Caesar made true by fighting, then writing, the Civil War down to his victory over, and vengeance for, Pompey made Caesar himself into an over-achieving imperator who could scarcely—and this on the most optimistic reckoning—take one more step without confirming the fears he has rejected so firmly from the outset.34

By the end of Book III, the fame of Caesar meant the world was his oyster. As he (correctly as ever) reckoned, “all space shall be indifferently secure for Caesar” (3.106.3, aeque omnem sibi locum tutum fore), even if he does contrive to camouflage this new omnipotence adequately behind his cliffhanger of a finale: Caesar's back to the wall in Egypt. Romans must see that he is the new Savior: Pompeius—never Magnus in BC—has (it could seem) been cut down to size in the city that is the necropolis of Alexander, whose degenerate Ptolemaic wardens must be punished for the hubris they dare commit on the person of the great Roman Pompey, and then on the majesty of the serving consul of the populus Romanus, Caesar. (The Alexandrians killed Pompey “because the fasces paraded before Caesar … This was treason against the <videlicet Egyptian= crown,” 3.106.4: quod fasces anteferrentur … maiestatem regiam minui.) At this juncture, Caesar, come from the other end of the earth and its untamed barbarians of Britain all the way to the corrupt hyperculture of Egypt's eunuchs, queens and boy-kings, stands forth as beacon to all those in peril on the political main: he takes charge of the Pharus (112)—though, ironically, he could not himself sail out of Alexandria against the prevailing winds (107.1), the political winds that had blown him clean across the map, blowing with him until the end-point where he had prevailed over his Roman adversaries.

On the one hand, the victory at Pharsalus turned Caesar into the (double) savior of Ephesian Diana (105.1-3), blessed by annunciation across the Hellenistic East of the Macedonian diadochoi—from Olympia to Antioch to Ptolemais to Pergamum to Tralles—blessed, that is, with the charisma of a new super-Alexander (105.3-6). On the other, Caesar finds himself, for the first and last time in the text but, fatally, not for the last time in his life, as over-confident as any of his Roman adversaries had proved, and by “trusting in fama” gets outnumbered and bottled up “with troops no way numerous enough to trust in” (106.3, 109.2). For all the world, if one knew no better, like some second-rate Pompey. Like some Hector caught by his swift-footed Achillas?

As Caesar plays the perfect Roman magistrate in Alexandria, he gets the chance to re-play, his way, the Lentulus scene where he and writing Caesar came in. In Egypt there is, naturally, civil war, fought between kin. First, brother and sister; then another sister joins in, but soon disputes break out de principatu, and the united front needed to face the alien Roman teeters on the edge of collapse—just as the text gives out. These disputants were all reges—whereas Julius would continue, less and less plausibly from this moment on, to repeat to his subjects Caesaremse, non regem, esse.35 Caesar thought the quarrel “involved the national interest and his own, as invested in his office” (ad populum Romanum et ad se, quod esset consul, pertinere). He also had a personal stake of honor, in the shape of past connections with the disputants (107.2)—just as in that opening chapter of BC Lentulus had, he said, had with Caesar (1.1.3). Caesar knew the solution: “Our recommendation is that Ptolemy R. and Cleopatra his sister dismiss the armies they have, and negotiate their differences before himself at law rather than between themselves at arms” (107.2, sibi placere regem Ptolomaeum atque eius sororem Cleopatram exercitus quos haberent dimittere et de controuersiis iure apud se potius quam inter se armis disceptare; cf. Bell. Gall. 8.55, ad fin., quoad sibi spes aliqua relinqueretur iure potius disceptandi quam belli gerendi, and 1.9.3-5, omnes ab exercitibus discederent … ipsi exercitus dimittant …, etc.). In the text, the threatened fusion of se with se here surely tells tales on the repressed investment in this work of boundarying the self against the disowned selves that are scheduled for abjection. Caesar cannot quite rise above his own rhetoric. Meantime, in the action, the solution doesn't work, for this state is indeed truly rotten, and needs saving from itself.

Caesar in Egypt faces the classic impurity of molten civil war: a rabble of Gabinius' former troops now married to natives, spawning hybrids as they unlearned “the name and norms of the Roman people” (nomen disciplinamque populi Romani) and turned to Alexandrian ways of license. Add a heap of bandits and robbers from all over, rootless flux. Stir in lots of criminals with a price on their heads, chuck-out exiles. Every runaway Roman slave made a bee-line for the foreign legion at Alex. Long decadence had made civil war a way of life: in the anti-politics of chaos, these forces stuck together, settling the hash of courtiers, extorting bonuses from the palace and even king-making.

These experienced mercenary muckers made of Caesar what civil war threatens to make of any commander, or disputant: a street-fighter, Caesar must descend to messy working from house to house, must turn the apparatus of orderly civic life into so many sordid fortifications and foxholes—theater, palace, harbor, docks, lighthouse. Egypt ultimately makes of Caesar 36

But this, the start of the Bellum Alexandrinum, was not a Roman civil war.37 Here, Caesar could insist, was Caesar the servant of Rome still, carrying on where he left off in the wastes of the north, down in the post-civilized pit of the south, standard-bearer for the ethical center of the Roman world, upholding the order of Republican institutions. Best if the writer Caesar desists here. Rather than take his readers and his notes up the Nile, to serve Clio by living it up and writing it up on Cleo's barge!

Besides, the wars to come, in Africa and Spain, were both easy and impossible to tell as unCivil Wars, with too many eminent Roman deaths, among them the suicides of the greatest Republican names alive, the aristocrat in spades, Metellus Scipio, and the walking legend Cato the martyr; and worse to come, with the unglamorous chore of mopping up Pompey's litter. No doubt it could be done, by Caesar, rather than botched as it is by his loyal lieutenants. But whatever the causation, the question should be asked, just what flows from the fact that Caesar's text stops where it does, delegating the task of completing the campaign report to adjutant acolytes in the secretariat?38

Henderson's story had to be that the débâcle in Alexandria caps Caesar's denial that he has fought a civil war. He may have been dragged involuntarily into circumstances that look mighty like civil war, but anyone who should take the trouble and take up the challenge to write up these drafted Commentarii will find that Caesar has consistently and resolutely engaged (us) in, at most, an involuntary series of bella minus quam ciuilia (“Wars this side of civil”).

There is Civil War in the Bellum Ciuile. But it appears just where Caesar doesn't. Inside the walls of Corfinium, under Caesar's blockade (1.20.3); in the mutual destruction of ships bent on battering the enemy in Massilian naumachy (2.6.4); and in Thessaly, where the Pompeian leader must be a ueteris homo potentiae, and his Caesarian rival a summae nobilitatis adulescens (3.35.2). The pattern where fraternization threatens to dissolve hostility into integration, but is foiled by desperate officers, does threaten to bring the horror too close to Caesar: in Spain, “civil war,” a sedition within the opponents' camp, has the troops “look out and call for anyone in Caesar's camp they knew or who came from the same town … complaining of bearing arms against people who were close to them and related by blood.” “Two camps were just looking like one,” when the Pompeian generals returned, to turn it round with savage war-crimes and cursed oaths (1.74-6). In return, as was noticed, Curio off in Africa had to scotch Varus' efforts to seduce the former Pompeian soldiers he once messed with at Corfinium (2.28). And in Greece, “between the two camps of Pompey and of Caesar, there was one river alone.” The soldiers kept talking to each other. Caesar sent Vatinius to the bank to yell out awkward questions about “why citizens couldn't send representatives to citizens … especially when the object was to stop citizens fighting a decisive war with citizens …” (ciuibus ad ciues … ciues cum ciuibus). Talks got as far as fixing venue and time, hopes ran high, but BC's villain, Labienus, pounced, as mysterious missiles hailed down, and told them off: “Stop talking about a settlement; for there can be no peace for us without fetching Caesar's head back with us” (3.19: capite relato). This “near thing” is twinned with Pompey's immediately preceding declaration, in response to proposals to discuss Caesar's instructions: “he interrupted him in full flow and barred him from another word, saying, ‘What use do I have for life or citizen status if I seem to have them by Caesar's favor? That opinion of the matter will be ineradicable, when … I'm thought to have been brought back to Italy […]’” (3.18.4f., reductus). So Civil War is waged in Pompey's camp; and Caesar is involved only as disputant trying (so Caesar writes) to end the dispute.

Otherwise, so Henderson observed, civil war in BC abides where it should—in downtown Alexandria. And Caesar searches only for “a farewell to arms on equal terms” (aequis condicionibus ab armis discedatur, 1.26.4), as he is led west to “learn the lie of the land / his opponents' position” (cognita locorum natura … ubi cognouit per Afranium stare quominus proelio dimicaretur) and offer battle in Spain “on equal ground” (aequo loco, 1.41.2f.), then as consul establishes “evenness” in the civil administration (aequitate decreti, 3.20.2), pleads for an armistice while the balance between the two sides was still “even” (aequa parte, 10.7), and still, at the death, offers battle “on even ground” against Pompey in Greece (aequum in locum, 55.1): although Pompey “kept drawing up his line at the roots of his hill, waiting to see if Caesar would subject himself to uneven ground” (iniquis locis), “one fine day Pompey's line advanced a little further beyond its daily routine, so it seemed possible for the fight to be on ground that was not uneven” (non iniquo loco, 85.1, 3). Pompey had all along “refused to let anyone get even with him in dignity” (neminem dignitate secum exaequari uolebat, 1.4.4). The rest, the text leaves to be gathered, is history.


Soy esa torpe intensidad que es un alma40

ut de suis homines laudibus libenter praedicant41

In 42 the precision of his circumvallations, the organization of supply, engineering, logistics.43 And performatively his writing gives the order to relate his orders to the national interest. This, Caesar's message runs, is how these three books of writing-talk come to exist.

The author Caesar does not tell all that Caesar the actor did or was. In particular, his Caesar is not sighted composing the two books De Analogia on crossing the Alps between winter quarters and the front (Spring 54 bce). Here Caesar the purist Man of Letters once told Cicero's Empire how to speak Latin, in no uncertain terms.44 He could make words stick to the world, close up description and prescription so tight that nomen and nominatum must bond in unique propriety.45Commentarii in this stylistics could slough or veil their definitionally subjective particularity as a species of memoirs, for their narration blanks out marks of personality, limiting the narrative to an ascetic régime of reportage paradedly shorn of palpable mentalité. What was done, not what was being thought of; tactics not strategy; a world of detail, observation, specification, not overview, impression, valorization.

The proconsul in this field is but primus inter pares among the characters, an agent with the same strong exteriority of an officer-administrator's accounts; the narrator with the omniscience of retrospect writes a Caesar strictly intent on his business, dividing and ruling tribes and chiefs in the time-honored manner of the Roman commander.46Any officer might be compiling these reports from the frontier? Almost.47 But the writing Caesar twins with the written Caesar in their shared manner,48 of swift, forceful, precise, pointed application to the matter in hand, customized rhetoric indistinguishable from impassive dash—“il velo dell'impassibilità, dietro il quale lo scrittore si nasconde.”49 One signifier per signified. And in the BC, the dyad will shoot the moon.

That tenacious construction, the conqueror of Gaul, must become the reserve of credit that the Bellum Ciuile draws on. One complete set of Commentarii, one narrated Bellum, one Caesar. By analogical theory, BG and BC must bear the same referentiality, formal and actual, across the textual wound that is to be sutured by Hirtius. In this poetics, there will be no holding the boundary between Gaul and Italy, which Caesar and his texts must cross and re-cross as they progress their work.50 The seven hundred and seventy five occurrences of “the letters of C-æ-s-a-r” (the letters of Caesar's name) that line up through BG and BC are one, in seamlessness.51

The narrative works hard to make the theory bite: features of BG litter the stages of BC. Guerrilla warfare in Spain has rubbed off on the legions “because they have got used to fighting Lusitanians and other barbarians in a barbarian-style of battle: this is something that generally happens, that soldiers are greatly affected by the habit of the regions in which soldiers have matured” (1.44.2). Lusitanian and local troops found it “easy to swim a river, because the habit of all of them is not to go on campaign without skins déjà vu feeling is completed when Juba deploys the “two thousand Spanish and Gallic horse” of his bodyguard, who did the traditional maneuver of fake retreat, before the sucker-punch (40f.). Greece had “barbarians” of its own, of course, as at Salonae (3.9.1), but wherever Caesar, or indeed Pompey, go, still the familiar old braves who have stayed the whole distance in writing Caesar ride in from the pages of the BG: most memorably the two Allobrog troopers, “men of unmatched courage, on whose top-quality services, best of warriors, Caesar had capitalized in all his Gallic Wars” (3.59.1f.; cf. 63.5, 79.6, 84.5). With the assistance of these old totems, Caesar's old wars are reinscribed to make up the Bellum <quam minime= Ciuile (“The War non-Civil”).


In short, you can beat personality tests.52

Crude, violent, barbarous, the enemy has been cleanly divided from Rome; the mission of the imperium, a secure future behind pacified borders, has been celebrated for Latinitas; the moral center has repelled extremism far away to the Atlantic margins, rectified by Roman order: such are the grand mythologizations of the “realist” story of proconsular res gestae—the Caesaris … monimenta magni.53 Now the Bellum Gallicum's greatest accomplishment, Caesar, must make himself count in a world bent on othering him, with ritual, with ridicule, and with righteousness. Caesar is The One, the same, in the field and on the page. His meanings must prevail, as before.

The authorities at Rome determined to prevent Caesar from articulating his case. They ruled out his criteria for making an intervention, effectively banishing him from the res publica: “they no longer lived in the same worlds, even though the words they spoke, barely now more than a convention, sounded the same.”54 Like Coriolanus, Caesar must invent a one-man collectivity where he may retort in defiance, “I banish you.” If this was to respond to elimination outside the state by setting himself in its place,55 he must transform the basis of his claim to serve the Republic still, the proconsul's solidarity with his legions, into a revisionary dispensation where Rome was retrieved from inimical déformation and distorting Tendenz. Caesar's victories will say what goes, what is what, and straighten out the rules for wor(l)d-dealing in Rome.56 It wasn't Caesar's fault. It wasn't Rome's. Just a misguided cabal of losers.

So the arrogation of power for a Caesarian logonomy must amount to a complete bouleversement, tearing up the codes of his defeated enemies, reversing their verdicts, and yet, finally, dissolving the claim that any revolution has occurred. No, Caesar was never enemy to Rome; his vindication of the res publica brought no nouae tabulae; rather, he brought restoration, repair and renewal to the city. Those lost ones had done “what had never happened before” and gone “against all parallels from Antiquity,” “introduced the political novelty of armed quashing of tribunician veto,” “uttered new-fangled orders” (1.6.7f., 7.2, 85.8). All over Italy, “funds were extracted from the townships, lifted from consecrated shrines—throwing the divine and human rulebooks into confusion” (1.6.8).57 Contrast Caesar, who saved that “holy of holies, the Roman treasury” (1.14.1), as he will restore his bullion and dedications to Hercules of Gades (2.21.3); later, a letter's opportune arrival from Pompey, urgent because of Caesar's lightning approach, “saved Diana of Ephesus' ancient vaults” from Scipio—shortly before another timely letter, from Favonius, turned Scipio's course, and “so Domitius' energy saved Cassius, Scipio's velocity saved Favonius” (3.33, … haec res Ephesiae pecuniae salutem attulit, 36.6f., … ita Cassio industria Domiti, Fauonio Scipionis celeritas salutem adtulit). Finally, as was remarked, “Caesar saved Ephesus' treasures a second time” (105.2, ita duobus temporibus Ephesiae pecuniae Caesar auxilium tulit). The one-and-only, true, Caesar.

That “Caesar's arrival caused panic flight” of his opponent as he violated every code (“arrival,” or “epiphany”: interpellatum aduentu Caesaris profugisse, 105.1) is the refrain established from the very start, where Caesar's adversaries are swept away in flight by his very proximity (1.13.1-3, aduentu Caesaris cognito … Varus … profugit, 15.3, Lentulus Spinther … Caesaris aduentu cognito profugit, 3.12.1-3, [Caesaris] aduentu audito L. Staberius … profugit).58 So all fund-raising opportunities come not from Caesar, who only rewards his troops' efforts above and beyond the call of duty, but are, without exception, desecration: illegal expropriations meant to bribe the world's population to face Caesar.59

Caesar's sanctity (he was, since 63, pontifex maximus) is further entrusted to narrative in military dress through the medium of the military oath of loyalty, named religio (1.67.3): his opponents stopped fraternization between the two camps dead by exacting “an oath not to desert or betray the army and generals, and not to plan their own individual salvation”; combined with their terroristic reprisals, the “unprecedented sanction of the oath” prevented progress to peace (iusiurandum; crudelitas in supplicio, noua religio iuris iurandi, 1.76.2-5). On the other hand, when their old commander Varus talks over the former Pompeian troops by recalling their “first memory of taking the oath,” the failed Caesar-clone Curio bucks up his panicky squad by discrediting “the oath dissolved by their surrender” in favor of the “fresh oath” sworn to serve Caesar; in the teeth of disaster, he himself refused to come back without the army entrusted him by Caesar and went down fighting (primam sacramenti … memoriam; sacramentum; noua religio, 2.28.2, 32.9f.; 42.5).60 To stop his panicking army in Greece bolting from Caesar's approach, “Labienus swore he would not desert Pompey and would take his chances with him, and the rest then followed suit” (3.13.3f.). But when crews surrendered on receipt of Otacilius' “oath not to harm them, they were all led out and executed before his very eyes, in violation of the oath's sanction” (iureiurando; contra religionem iurisiurandi, 3.28.4): when his town came out for Caesar, Otacilius at once took to his heels (fugit, 29.1). For the climax of Pharsalus, Labienus again dashingly “took an oath that he would not return to camp unless victorious,” and got the rest, including Pompey himself, to follow suit (iurauit, 3.87.5f.). Pompey precisely fled back to camp, in the “rout” (fuga) that ensued, whereas the Caesarian hero Crastinus showed how it should be done, with the simplicity of a promise—minus the histrionics of oath-taking—“I shall see today, my general, that you thank me alive or dead” (91.3). In the event, Crastinus (Tomorrow's man of the present moment: cras, cf. hodie), “was killed in combat, when a sword stabbed his face/mouth: and so it came true, all he'd said on his way to the fight …” (99.2f., gladio in os aduersum coniecto). Here the savage justice of slaughter through the mouth seals the “truth” of his appeal to his ole buddies: “Follow me, … and give your general the service you pledged” (uestro imperatori quam constituistis operam date, 91.2). Self-reflexively, the character books his place in Caesar's heart, and record: an exemplum to be mentioned in despatches: BC is, not least, figured as Caesar's homage to his army, written fides.

Finally, “the edict signed by Pompey, which told all males of serviceable age to enlist, whether Greeks or Roman citizens,” failed, as Pompey was shooed onwards by Caesar's relentless approach and his “flight” (fuga) continued past shut city-gates as “the word of Caesar's approach spread through city on city” (iurandi causa; cognito Caesarisque aduentu ex eo loco discessit, iamque de Caesaris aduentu fama ad ciuitates perferebatur, 102.2, 4, 8). The only place on earth which would take Pompey in, perverse Egypt, duly did take him in, and treacherously executed him, too, at the hands of the Egyptian minion and of Pompey's former aide “against the pirates,” now turned pirate, not on the high seas but in a “toy dinghy”—the state that Pompey's ship had shrunk to (bello praedonum; nauiculam paruulam, 104.3). The ultimate poetic irony, then, is when (it has already been observed) Caesar's “approach” behind his consular fasces stirs this one township's population against Caesar, while he is kept from flight by the winds and, more than taken in by treacherous Alexandria's open door, he is holed up there at journey's end!

Now all this combination of sacrality and finance, words and bonds, that Henderson has rehearsed, goes to prove this was never a tale of civil war. Caesar did not engage in any such abomination, however it may have threatened to engulf and stain his majestic state procession bringing peace on earth. Those self-dramatizing oaths always figured in tragical narrative structures as prelude to nemesis, after fortune has oppressed Caesar, then capsized to punish his rivals for hubristic over-confidence on a Herodotean scale.61

Caesar made his righteousness plain to doubters among his readers when he assumed the fasces at Rome to inaugurate, bless, and commandeer BC Book III. As who did not know?, debt cancellation “habitually follows wars and civil fallout” (fere bella et ciuiles dissensiones sequi consueuit); the unjustly condemned victims of Pompey's law Caesar “put back into one piece again” (in integrum restituit), by due process of magisterial legislation ad populum. When these unfortunates offered him their services initio belli ciuilis (3.1.4)—one of the very few concessions Caesar ever makes to the stakes of his title and his predicament62he did no such thing. Rather, he acted as if he had taken up their offer, though he had never fought dirty from the beginning of the troubles onwards. “He had decided they should be restored by the verdict of the Roman People rather than rescued by favor of Caesar” (3.1.3-5).63

This from Caesar as legitimate and acknowledged dictator of Rome, and duly elected consul designate, to boot. Now for a negative proof, if proof could be needed. While he religiously held the elections and the Latin festival before duly abdicating the temporary crisis post of dictator and setting off to campaign abroad, his own aide, Caelius Rufus, tried to stir up, as praetor, resentment against Caesar's new equity; failing to find cracks here, Caelius turned to legislative intervention but was suppressed and suspended from office by consul and Senate; resorting to an unholy alliance with Pompey's discredited and banished former aide, Milo, he tried to stir up rebellion in Italy, while pretending to join Caesar. Their gladiators and pastores, debtors and armed slaves, and attempts to bribe Caesar's Gallic and Spanish cavalry, were scotched by local citizenry and a legion. Milo was killed by a rock flung from a town-wall; Caelius by Caesar's troopers. “So it was that this overture to world-shaking events … had a lightning and effortless finale” (3.20-22, Ita magnarum initia rerum … celerem et facilem exitum habuerunt). Here, in microcosm, is the turmoil and contamination of civil war—what could have filled the pages of the Bellum Ciuile. A caricature because a miniature, a storm in a might-have-been teacup; but, for all that, an exemplary lesson in the temperate abstention of the Pompey-Caesar dissension from the anticipated brew of social anarchy, opportunistic terrorism and cataclysmic mischief.

Above all, Caesar uses the Caelius-Milo sideshow to displace from himself the mindset of devilment. The minions ape the comradely conduct of war which the leaders manage to preserve between them through the narrative, as if by concerted arrangement. And Caesar begins his show-down campaign against Pompey as the moderate and balanced representative of legitimate Roman authority, impossible to confuse with any traitorous trouble-maker such as the hostis renegade Caelius (3.21.5). The “secret messages” from Caelius to Milo (clam nuntiis, 21.4) Caelius dissimulated virtually at once; Milo's “letter,” circulated to claim he acted under Pompey's “orders” as the commission brought to him by an intermediary (litteris … mandata, 22.1), cut no ice, so he dropped the idea on the instant. Contrast these botched perversions with Caesar's crusade of honest negotiation and sincere self-positioning …

Well on the way to becoming Caesar, the consul installs the “representational economy” of his self, plotting self-action in relation to his progressive escape from the bind of his framing as invader of his country, toward transcendence of the parameters within which civic identities should abide.64 When writing Caesar prepares to leave him ice-cold in Alex, he has, for the first time, been disjoined from his armies. No longer the soldiers' soldier, he has not yet the autarky of the autonomous imperial ruler; but, now that there is no need to defeat Pompey, he must float upstream, and get ready to re-negotiate the terms of his interactive sociality with the rest of his world's ciues Romani. Readers know how far he is to travel toward arrogating the Pharaonic preeminence that commands official history in any autocracy. Caesar will dispense and own justice, his will to power coincident with the political will. For a short pancratic while, before the first Ides of March in Julian temporality initiated his ascension to divinity as Diuus Iulius, Caesar could try out less deprecatory selves for size. It would be left for Lucan to read/write back into the Civil War zone the prefiguration of every monarch of the West by “Julius Caesar (the memorable Roman Emperor).”65

Yet in the anathematic Caesarian third person narration,66 there already lurks the logic of a subservience of the world of writing Caesar to the writing of Caesar. The narrator's devotion to first-hand “I”-witness depiction of the generalissimo in the ascendant threatens to model already the exclusive focusing of history on a Sun-King's autofellatory self-orbiting.67


Empires do not suffer emptiness of purpose at the time of their creation. It is when they have become established that aims are lost and replaced by vague ritual.68

All latin masters hav one joke.

Caesar ad sum jam forte.69

Writing Caesar necessarily paints himself into a complex and contradictory corner between conflicting discourses. On the one hand, the armies he led were “incomparably superior to any forces at the disposal of his adversaries.”70 The celerity which gave him a bloodless occupation of Italy was not simply a genius' trademark;71 it also labels the expediency of his cause: “[H]e would not yield the advantage that the rapidity of his offensive gave him …, never prepared to lose the momentum of his offensive.”72 Military superiority must be veiled: this is not why Caesar would march on his country. Not that he ever did any such thing, nor does it in (that misnomer) the De Bello Ciuili.

No. Caesar has nothing to hide. Just not his style. As Henderson has noted and Caesar told, he nailed his colors to the mast, catalogues the Italian communities that spontaneously, enthusiastically, convincedly came over. Call it “bandwagon propaganda,”73 but these peoples of Italy were won over by the justice of his case, his forbearance, sensitivity, authenticity. The (discredited) government representatives disqualified themselves: they turned tail, ditched their men, abandoned their vaunts, saved their skins because they were found out, cowardly, inept, hypocritical. None of this was the result of the imminent approach of the largest fighting force on the planet (= Caesar), veterans of no holds barred massacre and all-out scourging of the Hun and the Gaul, not at all.74

Nothing to fear from their rapacity, not with this proconsul disciplinarian at the reins (actually, Caesar admits it once, “urgently instructing Trebonius per litteras not to let the town be forcibly stormed, in case the soldiers … killed all the adults, which they were threatening to do, and were with difficulty held from bursting into the town,” 2.13.3f.).75 Nothing to fear, for those who learned the dual lesson of the twin Thessalian towns of (1) Gomphi, where the approaching Caesar's response to being misunderstood and refused entry was exemplary terrorism pour encourager les autres, as “he yielded the township to the troops for plunder” (reliquis ciuitatibus huius urbis exemplo inferre terrorem … ad diripiendum militibus concessit, 3.80.6f.); and (2) Metropolis, which was indeed encouraged by the chomping and gnashing of Gomphoi to admit Caesar, escape the same fate and provide the rest of Thessaly, and indeed the Roman and every soi-disant metropolis, with the moral (3.81). So: Caesar's men only behaved like those who crushed Gaul so they did not need to crush anyone (else). And, to read those who write on Caesar, it need never be known that this was a one-man superpower that tells the world it (he) was. That is not what the row of flag waving townsfolk lined their streets to say when they volunteered “to do the things he ordered” (quaeque imperauerat se cupidissime facturos, 1.15.2, sese paratos esse … quaeque imperauerat facere, 20.5, quae imperaret facturos, seseque imperata facturos, 60.1, 3.12.4, ciuitates imperata facturas, 34.2)—for all that this 76 is what it (and they?) meant: sc. (1) what the losers of Gomphi wanted to tell Caesar when they thought him beaten and shut their gates on him (3.80.); (2) the correlative of what the people of Antioch and its Roman citizens told the Pompeian fugitives, once beaten: “If you approach, it will gravely endanger your necks” (3.102.6, ne Antiochiam adirent; id si fecissent, magno eorum capitis periculo futurum); (3) denique (writes Caesar) what Alexandria did to fallen Pompey: “just the way disaster regularly turns friends to enemies” (ut plerumque in calamitate ex amicis inimici exsistunt, 104.1).

It was not that Caesar's lightning trajectory promised all the world in his path that an open arms welcome would help speed him on his way, the low-cost wait-and-see policy of prudence. Why, no one in the Bellum Ciuile supposes that this renegade Alexander controlled only his next host, while those in his wake hoped (erroneously) that Caesar could not be everywhere at once. The regrouping of government troops in the West behind Caesar's lines awaits Hirtius' sequel, after the initial sortie to hunt Pompey down is brought to a satisfactory conclusion. Nor had Caesar, in pursuit of the soonest cessation of the troubles, left the new provincial front-line unforgivably bereft of legions—as he would accuse irresponsible Scipio of doing when he left the Parthians rampant in his rear, and his men muttered, “We'll go if we're led at the enemy, but we ain't gonna shoot no citizen, nor no consul, neither” (sese, contra hostem si ducerentur, ituros, contra ciuem et consulem arma non laturos, 3.31.3f.).

For dutiful Caesar took care to leave regiments behind in Gaul, and had fresh outfits raised among the tribesmen. Not—not only—to block any assault from Spain (2.37, 39). Caesar's prompt siege also took Massilia out of the war, have mercy, as the obvious port and springboard for any counter-invasion of Italy from the West. That this plan, the plan to save Italy, continued seamlessly from the campaigns against the barbarians, except that success in Gaul had brought Caesar enormous fresh reserves of recruits and levies to use against Rome, was a fact that must both be obscured and yet also, for other considerations, paraded.77

Caesar's command of his men rested on the mutual solidarity of loyal Roman vets. who had been through hell and high water together on an unconscionably prolonged tour of duty—“Nine long years,”78 “something that had never ever happened in the army of Caesar,”79 “Alesia and Avaricum—conquerors of most mighty nations,”80 “just like Gergovia”81—they had seen many a close-run scrap. He was one of the boys, engrossing them within his own name-and-fame (e.g. frumentum … reliqui si quid fuerat, Caesar superioribus diebus consumpserat, 1.48.5, as if Caesar wolfed the lot), and never once tagging them Caesariani, but always nostri, in flagrant violation of his self-denying third-person autodiegetic narrative form.82 His proconsular dignity did at the outset repose on this guaranteed domain of mass approval: “a victorious general who had served the state well,” as the counselors of Auximum imperatorem bene de re publica meritum tantis rebus gestis, 1.13.1). One day's march was doubtless much the same as another, whether it took the standards into forbidden Italy or anywhere else. But this shower were not simply Caesar's might; this 'orrible lot (must somehow) model also his right.83 Not just because they were bonded by transgression, as full of mercy as anyone with a price on their head. Not just—

Well. The same general who had (this must be so) mobilized and summoned his crack units from their original encampments to join him at the double, on the worst-case scenario, or the long-prepared plan,84 of immediately overrunning all Italy, to wage his non-war of non-aggression, also made a virtue of his military ethos: straight talking and no taking needless risks or treating men as expendable cannon-fodder. This became and becomes the kernel of his pitch that he would avoid loss of life on both sides.85

Far from setting a fearful horde on the civilians back home, Caesar would fight the good fight, no fight. Not unless it was picked with him. Far from prosecuting energetic Blitzkrieg, Caesar was not even at war—let alone civil war. Instead, the diplomatic mission to secure fair treatment for himself and his band of triumphant heroes rested on a solid bedrock of orderly communications, a word that was his bond, orders that kept his myriads in order. Streets rumbling with tanks? What tanks? What rapid reaction force? What peace-keepers?

Written Caesar stands on his dignity, from unopposed pacifier of Gaul to consul cornered in the suburbs of Egypt. His writer sees to that any which way, somehow. Rhyming writer-reader relations with officer-men rapport, until none can either discern the last proconsular conqueror of the Republic or discriminate the first writer and mythographer of the Empire. Only (the titular) “LETTER[S] OF CAESAR.”

imagine that a general electroencephalocardiosomatopsychogram were possible.86


  1. The sections of Henderson's essay articulate terms for this initial motion, cursively and cursorily as Caesar. Explicit recapitulation is as foreign to this pleading as capitulation.

  2. Caesar “fights for peace,” Collins (1972) 957. For the liveliest introduction to BC, see Richter 166-79. On the opening chapters, cf. H. Oppermann, “Aufbau. Anfang des Bellum Civile,” in Rasmussen 138-64.

  3. Raditsa 450f.

  4. Ibid. 448.

  5. “First do, and then justify.” For Caesar's “ben calcolata reticenza” on the Rubicon, cf. Pascucci 519f.

  6. A. Hitler, Der Hitler-Prozess, in A. Bullock, Hitler, A Study in Tyranny (Harmondsworth, 1962) 117.

  7. To start with consules is the Roman way; but unnamed consuls are an odd way to begin—as adrift as the Republican calendar, which Caesar would soon reform: the timing of the Bellum Ciuile would then require re-scheduling, commandeered by Julian temporality from 46 bce.

  8. Esp. Carter 28, “All surviving manuscripts … lack the beginning of the work”; cf. 153f. for “strong reasons for believing that at least several sentences have been lost from the start of the book.” M. Gelzer, Caesar. Politician and Statesman (Oxford, 1969) 190 n. 5, “Unfortunately the beginning of Caesar's bellum civile as preserved in our manuscripts is defective, and the end of Hirtius' b.G. 8 is also missing.” Brunt 18, “The end of Hirtius' narrative and the beginning of Caesar's are both lost.” Raditsa 439, “The mutilated state of the end of bG 8 and the beginning of bc 1 make it difficult to assert with full confidence that Caesar omitted the contents of his letter to the Senate.” The MSS have the irritating intrusion a Fabio C. between the opening … litteris and Caesaris (= a Curione? Cf. Richter 175).

  9. Carter 153.

  10. Barwick 17f. argues that Caesar withholds the contents of his letter because, or lest, they might seem tantamount to menacing arrogance.

  11. This event is marked out by necare, a solitarium in BC (I. Opelt, “‘Töten’ und ‘Sterben’ in Caesars Sprache,” Glotta 58 (1980) 103-119, at 112.

  12. Cf. LaPenna 194.

  13. Cf. Eden 115f.

  14. ne id quidem impetrauisse here amounts to a back reference to the opening sentence of BC. Cf. the version in Suet. Div. Iul. 29.2, ne sibi beneficium populi adimeretur, aut ut ceteri quoque imperatores ab exercitibus discederent. Appian Bell. Ciu. 2.32.128 claims the letter “included a proud account of all Caesar had done from the start, plus a challenge to Pompey to resign simultaneously”; cf. Dio 41.1.3f. (See F. Kraner, F. Hofmann, H. Meusel, H. Oppermann, C. Iulii Caesaris Commentarii De Bello Ciuli [Berlin, 1959] 12f.)

  15. “Half way between a threat and a promise,” comments Collins (1972) 957. That is, a threat; all the way (docet, wrote Caesar, 32.2).

  16. For the terms stipulated by Caesar, cf. LaPenna 196-98, Barwick 47-70. Suet. Iul. 86 underscores Caesar's New Order: non tam sua quam rei publicae interesse uti saluus esset; se iam pridem potentiae gloriaeque abunde adeptum, rem publicam si quid sibi eueniret, neque quietam fore et aliquanto deteriore condicione ciuilia bella subituram.

  17. See R. Hodge and G. Kress, Language as Ideology (London, 1993) 162-64.

  18. On the Sullan typology, cf. Collins (1972) 961f. Prejudice for “the One” over “the Many” is coterminous with Caesarism, surfacing again e.g. at 3.18.2, where the summa imperii went to no one admiral after the death of butcher Bibulus. Prelude to the squabbling marshals counting their chickens before Pharsalus (3.83).

  19. Cf. Collins (1972) 945f.

  20. Plin Nat. Hist. 7.91. Cf. Rambaud 23.

  21. For close reading of 1.8.1, cf. Pascucci 517-19.

  22. See the important paper of W. W. Batstone, “Etsi: A Tendentious Hypotaxis in Caesar's Plain Style,” AJPh 111 (1990) 348-60.

  23. For the farcical treatment of Varro, cf. A. Haury, “Ce brave Varron … (César, Ciu., II, 17-21),” in Mélanges d'archéologie, d'épigraphie et d'histoire offerts à Jérome Carcopino (Paris, 1966) 507-513; LaPenna 194; Eden 116. See Rowe for the articulation between the dramas in nearer and further Spain.

  24. “Tear off a strip” is colloquial for “rebuke” (as sergeant-major to ordinary soldiers). Respect for Pompey: Collins (1972) 954; irony: Perrotta 20f.; satire: LaPenna 193f. In BC III, Caesar writes the pair Caesar and Pompey into all but parodic parallelism, e.g. 45.1f., 76.1f.

  25. Explained well by Eden 108.

  26. Rowe.

  27. Raditsa 434.

  28. B. Jonson, Discoveries, in J. D. Wilson, “Ben Jonson and ‘Julius Caesar,’” in P. Ure, Shakespeare, Julius Caesar: A Selection of Critical Essays (London, 1969) 241-52, at 245.

  29. S. Sebag Montefiore, King's Parade (Harmondsworth, 1992) 67.

  30. The modeling of the transference, the repetition compulsion, within reading staged in Poe's The Purloined Letter, the “figure in the text, something hidden in full view as one reads,” is summarized effectively in E. Wright, Psychoanalytic Criticism: Theory in Practice (London, 1984) 66f., 113, 114-16; cf. J. Henderson, “Becoming a Heroine (IST): Penelope's Ovid,” LCM 11 (1986) 7-10, 21-24, 37-40, 67-70, 81-85, 114-20, on epistoliterarity.

  31. The classic prosecution of the guilt of Caesar scriptor compounding that of Caesar imperator is Rambaud.

  32. Raditsa 439f. shows brilliantly, as Caesarian partisan, how the narrative mimes the impact of the events on interpretation of those events.

  33. Cf. J. Tatum, Xenophon's Imperial Fiction: On the Education of Cyrus (Princeton, 1989) 208 for the compulsive drive of the bioscript primer: at the end, “The text of the Cyropaedia dissolves in mimetic replication of Cyrus, with his lieutenants and satraps doing what Xenophon's readers may now do in turn: imitate Cyrus.”

  34. Contrast Collins (1959) 117, “BC is a work republican through and through; … it neither contains the spirit nor the foreshadowing of the ‘monarchial’ or ‘imperial’ idea” (discussed by Mutschler 198f.).

  35. Suet. Diu. Iul. 79.2: “Caesar,” that is, “—not some dime-a-dozen king.”

  36. Anarchic confusion in arming slaves formulaically tars the opposition with making war on the ciuitas, e.g. 1.24.1, 3.22.2, 3.103.1, Rambaud 339, Collins (1972) 953.

  37. Cf. F. Ahl, Lucan: An Introduction (Cornell, 1976) 307. R. M. Ogilvie, “Caesar,” in E. J. Kenney and W. V. Clausen, eds., The Cambridge History of Classical Literature, Vol. II (Cambridge, 1982) 281-85, at 284f. accepts the incomplete state and status of BC III. Barwick 93-106 argues cogently (if only the uncanny or poetic be banished from our order of history) that BC is a finished, not an uncompleted, work. J. M. Carter, Julius Caesar, The Civil War Book III (Warminster, 1993) 233 notes laconically, “Caesar's narrative stops here, in mid-course.”

  38. The argument that Caesar's greatest reader and interpreter, Lucan, makes much of the point of termination of Caesar's BC in his own bella plus quam ciuilia is more than presentably set out in J. Masters, Poetry and Civil War in Lucan's “Bellum Civile” (Cambridge, 1992) 216-59, “The Endlessness of the Civil War.”

  39. See Marin 206-214, esp. 213, “to paint the king's portrait is to make the portrait of all possible future kings.”

  40. “I am this groping intensity that is a soul,” J. L. Borges, Selected Poems 1923-1967 (Harmondsworth, 1962) 54: “Mi Vida Entera” (= “My Whole Life”).

  41. suos ordines seruare, e.g. 1.44.3 and passim—military morality.

  42. Caesar writes of engineering feats, instead of Caesar fighting, from Corfinium (1.21.4f., 19.5) and Brundisium (25.5), to Spanish ditch without rampart (41.4: a ruse), multi-channel ford (61), or the staple uallo fossaque (81.6; cf. Rambaud 248-50, “Travaux et Flottes”). War at Massilia, when out of the shipyards, consists in fanatically devoted description of fiendish towers and ramps (2.8-13.1, 15f.). In Greece, the war is a sapper's paradise: erat noua et inusitata belli ratio … in nouo genere belli nouae ab utrisque bellandi rationes reperiebantur (3.47.1, 50.1, cf. 39f., 43.2, 44.3, 46.1, 54, 58, 63.1). Beats civil war (like other ways in which mass killing can be recharged in telling of derring-do: for example, the race for the pass in Spain, 1.70, and the cross-country dash, 1.79).

  43. Cf. E. Rawson, Intellectual Life in the Late Republic (London, 1985) 122, G. L. Hendrickson, “The De Analogia of Julius Caesar: Its Occasion, Nature, and Date, with additional Fragments,” CPh 1 (1906) 97-120, W. A. Oldfather and G. Bloom, “Caesar's Grammatical Theories and his own Practise,” CJ 22 (1926-1927) 584-602; for political grammar, cf. P. Sinclair, “Political Declensions in Latin Grammar and Oratory, 55 bce-ce 39,” in A. J. Boyle, ed., Roman Literature and Ideology: Essays for J. P. Sullivan (Victoria, 1995 = Ramus 24.1) 92-109, at 93.

  44. E.g. Eden 86, “the same words for the same situations.” The Caesar of the Classical canon models (a) cultural politics where normative logocentrism is worn as the badge of semiotic power: “Caesar seems to have viewed the anarchic growth of language with disfavor, and in trying to bring order out of chaos to have applied almost a logician's insistence on having only one symbol for one concept or relationship” (ibid. 97; cf. Pascucci 493, 501). Readers need not imagine a cosmos of Caesarian Newspeak, but should rather trace the Caesarian texts' trading on the legend of their monologism from continual and cardinal violation to violation. The old style of scientistic study of Caesarian purism (e.g. J.J. Schlicher, “The Development of Caesar's Narrative Style,” CPh 31 (1936) 212-24: “the low percentage of dominant verbs preceded by two or more subordinate clauses or phrases in Books i and ii is probably due to the greater brevity and simplicity of the sentences, which average 30.3 per 100 lines”) has yielded to a more recent quest to tease out the self-disguised art of a plain stylist (H. C. Gotoff, “Towards a Practical Criticism of Caesar's Prose Style,” ICS 9 (1984) 1-18: “Obviously the Commentaries are a form of self-advertisement; what form of self-advertisement is less obvious. … It may be that Caesar has succeeded all too well in disguising his art; that centuries of readers … have failed to notice his diversity, his deceptiveness, and his power” (5f.). “Caesarian prose style,” that is to say, still gathers formalist panegyric (cf. M. F. Williams, “Caesar's Bibracte Narrative and the Aims of Caesarian Style,” ICS 10 (1985) 215-26) that is dead set against invasion by the politics of discourse. But what got written in 1942 as N. J. deWitt, “The Non-Political Nature of Caesar's Commentaries,” TAPA 73 (1942) 341-52? And what in 1948, as Perrotta 29, “Egli è il più grande Romano di tutti i tempi e riassume in sè tutta la gloria di Roma: ha l'impeto guerriero di Mario e il senno politico di Silla, l'audacia riformatrice dei Gracchi e l'aristocratica saggezza degli Scipioni”?

  45. Cf. R. R. Dyer, “Rhetoric and Intention in Cicero's Pro Marcello,” JRS 80 (1990) 17-30, at 18 for the idea that Caesar's treatment of pacified Rome was on a continuum with the way he had earlier treated Gaul.

  46. See Bérard esp. 93, “Il ne s'agit donc pas d'une autobiographie … mais d'un autoportrait.”

  47. For the classic account of Caesar's style as mimetic of his generalship, see H. Fränkel, “Über philologische Interpretation am Beispiel von Caesars Gallischem Krieg,” Rasmussen, 165-88, esp. 182ff.

  48. Perrotta 27. Cf. Bérard 94, “deux personnages, l'auteur-narrateur et le proconsul-protagoniste, qui se cachent mutuellement.” F. E. Adcock, Caesar as a Man of Letters (Cambridge, 1956) 76, manages to speak of written Caesar as “the natural, almost automatic, expression of his conscious pre-eminence.” Raditsa, who took the notion that there must have been a Machtsfrage behind the Caesarian Rechtsfrage seriously: “Such statements have consequences. One sees them in the faces of one's students” (440 n. 68)—admired Caesar because he “distinguished thought from feeling but did not suffer their opposition,” adding in a footnote, “Hans Oppermann (Berlin, 1933: repeated in “Probleme und heutiger Stand der Caesarforschung,” in Rasmussen 485-522, at 497) has beautifully put this … : ‘Der wichtigste (reason for the resistance to and murder of Caesar) ist vielleicht die Einheit von Caesars Persönlichkeit … ist Caesar die letzte Verkörperung der Lebensganzheit in der Antike’” (442 and n. 74).

  49. Esp. Collins (1972) 932f., 942, puts notable effort into severing the limbs of the Caesarian corpus.

  50. The often-repeated count was made by Rambaud 196f.; Caesar is normatively salient in its sense-units, cf. M. Rambaud, “Essai sur le style du Bellum Ciuile,” IL 14 (1962) 60-69, 108-113, at 67f. …

  51. D. Huff, Score: The Strategy of Taking Tests (Harmondsworth, 1964) 110.

  52. Catull. 11.10, “Caesar the Great's legacy.”

  53. Raditsa 449.

  54. Cf. S. Petrey, Speech Acts and Literary Theory (London, 1990) 95f., 98f., S. Cavell, Disowning Knowledge: In Six Plays of Shakespeare (Cambridge, 1987) 143-77, “Coriolanus and Interpretations of Politics (‘Who does the wolf love?’).” Raditsa 439 bites the bullet, to show it isn't one: “the Senate grew incapable of negotiations with Caesar, and took unilateral steps toward war. It collapsed completely when it passed the senatus ultimum consultum. In its threat, it forced Caesar, who did not take threats lightly, to act.”

  55. Caesar stresses he is the very model of the military passim, but esp. with his tactical play with the Roman reveille: “uasa” militari more conclamari (1.66.1: a ruse), ne conclamatis quidem “uasis” vs. “uasis” que militari more conclamatis (3.37.5 vs. 38.1: bungle vs. ruse). Disgrace at Dyrrhachium hurt, quod ante in exercitu Caesaris non accidit, ut rei militaris dedecus admittatur (3.64.4), but Caesar's “Up and at 'em” speech before Pharsalus was perfect: exercitum cum militari more ad pugnam cohortaretur … (3.90.1).

  56. Cf. 1.32.5, omnia permisceri mallent

  57. See the powerful blueprint of W. W. Batstone, “A Narrative Gestalt and the Force of Caesar's Style,” Mnemosyne 44 (1991) 126-36, esp. 128f.; Rambaud 254f. saw how the formula encompassed the entire narrative.

  58. See M. McDonnell, “Borrowing to Bribe Soldiers: Caesar's De Bello Civili 1.39,” Hermes 118 (1990) 55-66.

  59. Seeing Caesar's Curio as “ein jungeres Abbild seiner selbst,” H. Oppermann, “Curio—Miles Caesaris?” Hermes 105 (1977) 351-68, at 352, cf. Gärtner 122-25.

  60. See Rowe 404 (but cf. the critique in Mutschler 222 and n. 1).

  61. The Bellum Ciuile, first called bellum at 1.25.3 (Pompey), 26.6 (Caesar; cf. 35.1, etc.). As throughout Latinity (V. Rosenberger, Bella et Expeditiones. Die antike Terminologie der Kriege Roms [Stuttgart, 1992] 150-60, esp. 158), euphemisms predominate, e.g. conficiendi negotii, initio dissensionis (1.29.1, 3.88.2; cf. Rambaud 66). At times Caesar talks as a military expert of “War,” simpliciter, for all the world as if circumstances don't alter cases (1.21.1, quod saepe in bello paruis momentis magni casus intercederent, 3.32.5, quod in bello plerumque accidere consueuit, 92.4f., est quaedam animi incitatio atque alacritas naturaliter innata omnibus, quae studio pugnae incenditur … neque frustra antiquitus institutum est …). Very rarely, Caesar steels himself to slip in pontification that does belong in a Bellum Ciuile: quod perterritus miles in ciuili dissensione timori magis quam religioni consulere consuerit (1.67.3), and qui fere bella et ciuiles dissensiones sequi consueuit (3.1.3). In the latter outrage, one can't even tell whether to read in ciuilia with bella.

  62. On Caesar's financial moderation, mimetically captured in the apt syntax of et ad timorem nouarum tabularum tollendum minuendumue … et ad debitorum tuendam existimationem esse aptissimum existimauit (3.1.2), cf. LaPenna 198-200.

  63. Cf. D. Battaglia, ed., Rhetorics of Self-Making (Berkeley, 1995), “Problematizing the Self: A Thematic Introduction,” 2-4 for interesting (anthropological) rehearsal of this critique/jargon.

  64. W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, 1066 and All That (Harmondsworth, 1960) 9.

  65. “We thought him too cold or—shall we say?—‘icily regular’. We cursed his eternal third person.” (H. P. Cooke, In the Days of our Youth (London, 1925) 12, cit. C. Stray, “The Smell of Latin Grammar: Contrary Imaginings in English Classrooms,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library of Manchester 76 (1994) 201-220, at 204). This is all about power and the normative didaxis figured in this sadodispassionate “set book”: “The first author read is Caesar—particularly adapted to disgust a twelve-year-old boy with Latin.” (E. R. Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages [London, 1953] 51 n. Cf. E. Owen, “Caesar in American Schools Prior to 1860,” CJ 31 [1935-1936] 212-22.) Writing out of Berkeley, R. T. Lakoff, Talking Power: The Politics of Language (New York, 1990) 239-53, “Winning Hearts and Minds: Pragmatic Homonymy and Beyond” compares and contrasts Caesar's third person with that of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North: North “uses it to create emotional identification,” Caesar “detachment. But the positive impact of intimacy in a liteness style precisely parallels that of aloofness for a gravitas culture. The impact of each on its intended audience is similar. Both engender trust: this is a good person. … The plots are the same for both, and both shows are smash hits.”

  66. Cf. Marin 39-88, “The King's Narrative, or How to Write History.”

  67. F. Herbert, Dune Messiah (London, 1969) 47: “Words of Muad'dib by Princess Irulan.

  68. G. Willans and R. Searle, Down with Skool! (London, 1973) 47.

  69. Brunt 13, citing Cic. Ad Fam. 8.14.3.

  70. For Caesar's mastery of the time-space-socio-political continuum, cf. H. Fugier, “Un thème de la propagande Césarienne dans le De Bello Ciuili: César, Maître du Temps,” Bulletin de la Faculté de Lettres à Strasbourg 47 (1968) 127-33.

  71. Brunt 21, 22.

  72. Collins (1959) 120f., (1972) 958f.

  73. See Collins (1972) 933f., for Caesar's atrocities and “ethnic cleansing” in Gaul, esp. BG 4.11.5. Caesar would hold the world record for scalps in battle: 1,192,000 (Plin. Nat. Hist. 7.92).

  74. This was Massilia, symbolic home of the free, as Caesar indicates, when “he preserved them more for their name and fame in Ancient History than the way they'd treated him,” 2.22.6; for Caesarian troops bent on plunder, cf. 1.21.2, 3.97.1.

  75. The terms belong in the minds if not the mouths of Caesar's soldiers, cf. 3.6.1, imperaret quod uellet, quodcumque imperauisset, se aequo animo esse facturos.

  76. E.g. the brace of Gallic chieftains who desert Caesar, 3.59; who later tip off Domitius, 80.7, cf. 84.4. Turncoat Labienus is wrong as ever, “Do not think, Pompey, that this is the army that flattened Gaul and Germany …,” 87.1.

  77. As Caesar told his troops, who roar approval, 1.7.7f. Cf. 1.39.2.

  78. 3.64.4.

  79. 3.47.5.

  80. 3.73.6: an intertextual signal, cf. Gärtner 127.

  81. Cf. Perrotta 14f.

  82. These expressions are more army slang, from sarge to privates.

  83. This suspicion is unsuccessfully neutralized by displacement onto Pompey: Caesar tells his troops the Spanish armies were “fostered against him for full many a year. … The whole shooting-match was readied against Caesar” (1.85.5, 8).

  84. E.g. LaPenna 200 and Collins (1972) 960f. examine Caesar's abjuration of bloodshed (1.72, 74, 76, 3.90, 98 …), but without (I think) getting the point: linkage.

  85. J. Derrida, “Dialanguages,” in Points (Stanford, 1995) 144.


Barwick, K. 1951. Cæsars Bellum Civile: Tendenz, Aufbau, Abfassungszeit und Stil. Berlin.

Bérard, F. 1993. “Les Commentaires de César: Autobiographie, Mémoires ou Histoire?” In M.-F. Baslez, P. Hoffmann, L. Pernot, eds., L'Invention de l'Autobiographie d'Hésiode à Saint Augustin. Paris. (= Études de Littérature Ancienne 5: 85-95.)

Brunt, P. A. 1986. “Cicero's Officium in the Civil War.” JRS 76: 12-32.

Carter, J. M. 1991. Julius Cæsar, The Civil War Books I & II. Warminster.

Collins, J. H. 1959. “On the Date and Interpretation of the Bellum Civile.AJPh 60: 113-32.

———. 1972. “Cæsar as Political Propagandist.” ANRW I.1: 922-66.

Eden, P. T. 1962. “Cæsar's Style: Inheritance versus Intelligence.” Glotta 40: 74- 117.

Gärtner, H. A. 1975. Beobachtungen zu Bauelementen in der antiken Historiographie, besonders bei Livius und Cæsar. Historia Einzelschriften 25.

LaPenna, A. 1952. “Tendenze e arte del Bellum civile di Cesare.” Maia 5: 191-233.

Marin, L. 1988. Portrait of the King. Basingstoke.

Mutschler, F.-H. 1975. Erzählstil und Propaganda in Cæsars Kommentarien. Heidelberg.

Pascucci, G. 1973. “Interpretazione linguistica e stilistica del Cesare autentico.” ANRW I.3: 488-522.

Perrotta, G. 1948. “Cesare Scrittore.” Maia 1: 5-32.

Raditsa, L. 1973. “Julius Cæsar and his Writings.” ANRW I.3: 417-56.

Rambaud, M. 1953 (1966). L'Art de la Déformation Historique dans les Commentaires de César. Paris.

Rasmussen, D. 1967. Caesar. Darmstadt. (= Wege der Forschung, Bd. 43)

Richter, W. 1977. Cæsar als Darsteller seiner Taten. Heidelberg.

Rowe, G. O. 1967. “Dramatic Structures in Cæsar's Bellum Civile.TAPA 98: 399-414.

J. E. Lendon (essay date 1999)

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SOURCE: “The Rhetoric of Combat: Greek Military Theory and Roman Culture in Julius Caesar's Battle Descriptions,” in Classical Antiquity, Vol. 18, No. 2, October, 1999, pp. 273-329.

[In the following essay, Lendon explains how Caesar adapted Greek theories of warfare to better reflect Roman values and culture, particularly the Roman emphasis on courage.]

War eclipses all other subjects in the classical historians: not without reason did the Cretan in Plato's Laws (625e) describe war as the permanent condition of mankind. Battle descriptions in ancient authors are legion; Xenophon's Hellenica alone describes or mentions over one hundred and fifty military engagements.1 So too is modern interest in old battles perennial. A gigantic scholarly literature seeks to locate ancient battlefields, to reconstruct the movements of armies upon them, and to divine the strategies of the great captains. Methods improve with time: the floppy sun-hat of today's wanderer over ancient fields shelters modern instruments of source-comparison far more sensitive than the clumsy engines cooled by the trim kepi of his nineteenth-century predecessor. Yet the intellectual underpinnings (to say nothing of the motivations) of this project remain firmly rooted in the nineteenth century. “How very much superior to Caesar's is Thucydides' style of battle narrative,” writes the military historian John Keegan, exemplifying the easy assumption that there is a timeless ideal towards which military history tends, and that each ancient writer, and each battle description in that writer, can be evaluated in terms of how closely that ideal is approached.2 But that timeless ideal is a mirage: nothing more, in fact, than our own conception of how battles work, a historically contingent vision not necessarily any less freighted with the arbitrary than the vision of any generation before. For battle descriptions are by nature highly artificial, ours no less than theirs, and both our and ancient conventions of battle description are products as much of culture as of observation.

No one is born able to describe what happens in a battle, and the experience of battle does not in itself supply the necessary language. “What was Iwo Jima like? It was … it was … it was fucking rough, man! I know that, but what was it like? Really … really … really tough!”3 Yet since earliest times men have talked about battles even more than they have fought them, and so in every land an idiom has grown up to abet such talk, a treasury of images and metaphors, the creation and resource of soldiers—armed or armchair—and historians, of epic poets and drunks in bars. This inherited way of talking and writing about battle, this rhetoric of combat, seems perfectly natural to those who use it, a polished mirror held up to reality. Yet in fact it has many arbitrary and fanciful elements: where (nowadays) is the pushing when troops push forward? Where is the pulling when they pull back? More than a half-awareness of this artificiality, is, of course, impossible because this rhetoric is not merely a machine to convert experience into words, but the very armature upon which that experience is organized and made sense of. For the soldier the raw experience of battle is one of sights, noises, terrors, and alimentary misadventures. But when he mentally files those experiences under “the decisive flank-battle near Ypres during the retirement to Dunkirk” he is already ensorcelled by the inherited rhetoric of battle description.4

Noticing the differences between our own ways of describing battle and those of other lands and the past should make us notice the unreality of both. Yet these differences are easy to miss, since they are not instantly shocking and revolting, like pulling in a three-eyed trout. Modern readers can read and understand battle descriptions in Greek or Latin authors quite without the baffled frustration with which they greet ancient technical descriptions of music, or classical poetry's ubiquitous weaving metaphors. The mind does not like to be confused, and so insensibly shunts the minecarts of alien concepts onto familiar tracks. The abiding similarity of the experience described, as well as cultural influence over many centuries, have ensured a high degree of likeness over time and borders in the way battles are thought about in the Western tradition. And the universalizing claims of the modern theory of war discourage notice of cultural eccentricity: if military science is a science indeed, its algebra can hardly be different in different lands.

The first purpose of this paper is to convey a sense of the alienness of battle description in an alien culture. At its heart lies a detailed exposition of the mechanics of battle description in Julius Caesar's accounts of his Gallic and Civil Wars. From the broad use made of Caesar in sixteenth- through nineteenth-century military thinking, one might imagine him the classical author whose conceptions of battle translated most easily into modern terms.5 But this expectation is confounded: analysis of Caesar's way of understanding battles reveals that his conceptions are further from our own than are those of his Greek predecessors. What is described in a battle description depends on unconscious cultural and conscious intellectual decisions about what it is important to describe, and Greek decisions were closer to ours than were Caesar's.

If battle description reflects culture, moreover, the study of Roman battle description promises insight into Roman culture. Traditional military history, where the exact details of battle are the object of inquiry, can be turned on its head: the way ancient authors describe the details of battle can tell us about the mental rigging of the societies in which they lived.

Understanding the mechanics of battle in ancient authors also offers a corrective to traditional methods of reconstructing ancient battles. Very rarely have the battle pieces of ancient historians been studied as a group within the work of an author, or as a group compared to those of other authors. Scholarship in ancient military history has traditionally proceeded battle by battle, and often with a tone of austere fault-finding, carping about the incompleteness and topographical inexactness of ancient authors' accounts. Modern authors become grumpy because ancient authors often do not write in accord with modern conventions of battle description. But comparison of many ancient battle descriptions reveals that ancient authors have their own conventions with which to accord: not merely obvious large-scale stylistic models like the invented paired harangues with which some classical historians adorn their battles, but deep-seated inherited convictions about what factors were decisive in battle, what details ought to be related, and how the narrative of events should be structured. These grand intellectual heirlooms are assembled from small-scale hand-me-down metaphorical schemata, like the “push” of the Greek phalanx, which guide authors' understanding of battles unawares. No one now would study speeches in the classical historians without a knowledge of their conventions, and few would judge such speeches except within the bounds of those conventions. No one should study or judge ancient battle descriptions—in the very same historians—as unproblematic attempts to depict reality, independent of convention and ideology. For the reader who does so may mistake for observed fact what convention shrilly demands, and accept as absent what convention blindly excludes. Study of ancient convention may, at the same time, offer insight into ancient realities which the arrogant imposition of modern convention hides: Caesar offers a broader set of explanations for victory in battle than our modern convention allows.

Caesar's battle descriptions are interesting also because he stands at the end of a tradition of soldier-authors: Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, and Caesar had all witnessed battles, and all had a professional interest in how they worked. The tradition of battle descriptions flows on after Caesar, indeed rises to a torrent in Livy, but often as a purely literary tradition, historians learning how to describe battles from reading other historians.6 The tradition from Thucydides to Caesar, on the other hand, is far richer. These writers may have read and directly influenced each other, or read other lost accounts of battles (it makes little difference), but, more important, they also borrowed naturally from the talk of the camp, and, from Xenophon's day on, consciously or unconsciously from the thinking and writing of professional Greek military experts. This paper also attempts to trace the many-skeined intellectual tradition of ancient military thinking, to follow its progress over the boundary from Greece to Rome, and to investigate how it was received in a foreign land. This is done by contrasting Caesar's battle descriptions with those of Greek predecessors, especially Xenophon and Polybius. The success of Greek military thinking at Rome is a particularly interesting case of Hellenization: war was hardly an area—like bucolic poetry, for example—where the Romans had no tradition of their own. And Caesar is uniquely suited to be the subject of such a study: at once a bilingual Hellenistic intellectual with broad cultural interests7 (in this, super-typical of his age), and at the same time a Roman marshal who reports, by and large, on events he himself has seen, ensuring that the mix of Roman and Greek ideas that appears in his work also existed in his head, and was not the incidental result of a patchwork composition from Greek and Roman sources.

Finally, Caesar's conquest of Gaul—so many nations and millions subdued with so modest a force in so few years—is an astonishing military achievement. A close examination of how Caesar describes battle may reveal how he understands battle, and how Caesar understands battle may offer a path towards understanding his military genius and the success of Roman arms in the late Republic.


Clausewitz had little patience for those who larded their military treatises with classical examples. “Vanity and charlatanism” were at the bottom of it, he suspected, and classical allusions were usually “embellishments to cover up holes and errors.”8 Yet it might have eased his dyspepsia somewhat to realize that the author of a favorite treasury of such classical persiflage, Julius Caesar, wrestled in his own writings with problems similar to those of Clausewitz. For Clausewitz was a Romantic, a Schiller with cannon, a thinker who violently rejected the materialist military theories of Enlightenment military sages. Away with von Bölow's doctrine of the base, and his fallacious reduction of warfare to geometry! Away with Jomini's doctrine of interior lines! Such theories “direct their attention only to physical quantities, while all of military action is shot through with psychological forces and effects.” Yet the very fact of their unquantifiability makes the incorporation of such non-material elements into theory problematic: Clausewitz's solution was to view military theory not as an arid set of rules to be applied but as a body of historical knowledge upon which the commander might draw.9 To both Clausewitz's Romanticism and his method Caesar would have been sympathetic: despite his debt to inherited ways of making sense of combat, the Roman stood in opposition to contemporary materialist strains of military thinking and offered a narrative of his campaigns which, en passant, armed its reader with a more powerful set of intellectual tools with which to understand the complex and ever-changing phenomena of battle.10

Although one of the classical historians' most typical enterprises, describing battles was hardly the easiest.11 Remarking on the confusion of a night engagement, Thucydides observes that battles by day are hard enough to reconstruct, since each witness only knows what goes on in his own vicinity (7.44.1). And however conscientious the classical historian is in gathering information, he must still structure his account: select the events to describe, and both order and rank his material, deciding which of many incidents were important to the outcome of the battle and which were worth telling for their own sake, perhaps imposing an armature of cause and effect, perhaps creating a linear account out of simultaneous events. Thus, however accurately the historian represents a battle, and however mundane the results of his effort may be, all battle descriptions are works of artistry. Caesar's battle descriptions are not works of fiction, but attempts to reduce the chaos of reality to understandable narrative, perhaps favorable to himself and his men. For this he necessarily relies upon preconceived models for interpreting his and his army's experience of combat. He makes use of preexisting schemes, however implicit, about how battles work.12 In a dismissive context Sallust reveals the intellectual tradition upon which Caesar—or any other late-Republican Roman writer—could draw for such theories: “the records of our ancestors and the military precepts of the Greeks” (acta maiorum et Graecorum militaria praecepta, Jug. 85.12).13 But Roman records that might have influenced Caesar—Latin battle descriptions written before Caesar's day—have almost entirely perished.14 And vanished without a trace as well is the rough wisdom of the generations of centurions that would have formed the basis of the military knowledge of those who, like Sallust's Marius, learned about battle from fighting rather than reading (Jug. 85.7-14; cf. Pliny Ep. 8.14.4-5).15 No firm conclusions, therefore, can be drawn about Caesar's originality in the Latin tradition.16 Yet Sallust says that Romans relied also on Greek military writers, and it was to them that a correspondent of Cicero's turned when writing to the orator with advice about his command in Cilicia (ad Fam. 9.25.1).17 Indeed, any late-Republican Roman seeking theoretical works on warfare necessarily resorted to Greek authors, since technical Latin military writing seems to have dwindled after its founding in Cato the Elder's (lost) second-century bc de Re Militari, and only revives under the empire.18 And about this Greek tradition we know a great deal, both because works in it survive and because of its influence on Greek historians, especially Polybius. Yet in the end, although profoundly indebted to the Greek tradition of military theory,19 Caesar went far beyond it, creating in his battle descriptions an artistic unity that blended Greek theory with aspects of traditional Roman military thinking and his own experience. If Caesar's battles are often frustrating to the modern military historian to reconstruct, it is because his conceptions about what was important in battle are so very different from ours, and so different too from those of his Greek predecessors.20


Caesar's method of battle description, and some of the problems it poses, are vividly on display in his depiction of the battle of Pharsalus (C [Bellum Civile] 3.85-95).21 Caesar is quite clear about the reason for his victory, but much of Caesar's narrative seems implicitly to contradict his explicit statement about why he won the battle.

As Caesar tells it, when he realizes that Pompey is willing to offer battle, he addresses a few remarks to his troops: they are to make themselves ready in animus, in spirit, or morale, for the fray. Next, Caesar's brief harangue is balanced by a report of a council of the Pompeian leaders some days earlier. Pompey there discussed tactics—he preened over the prospect of a flanking move by his much superior cavalry that would win the battle before the legions engaged. His stated motivation for explaining his plan was to encourage his officers, in order that they might go into battle with a stouter animus; he too urged them to make themselves ready in animus for the struggle. Labienus' remarks that followed were on the same theme. He explained that Caesar's army was—because of casualties and wastage—much inferior to that which conquered Gaul. The conference broke up “in great hopefulness and universal high spirits.” Now Caesar leaves the animus theme and describes in detail the dispositions of both armies on the field, noting that he, Caesar, arranged a special reserve—a fourth line in addition to the usual three of a legionary deployment—to face the flanking Pompeian cavalry, exhorting this force in particular that victory would depend on their virtus, their bravery. He also gives strict instructions that his third line especially should not engage without specific orders from himself. Then he returns to the animus theme, exhorting the rest of the army, so that his troops are “burning with enthusiasm for the fight” (studio pugnae ardentibus), and then gives the signal for the attack. An excursus then follows, describing the boasting of C. Crastinus, formerly first centurion of Caesar's Tenth Legion, a man of unique virtus (vir singulari virtute). “Today, imperator, I will give you reason to thank me, whether I am living or dead,” says he, and bravely charges the enemy with one hundred and twenty volunteers. The high virtus of Caesar's soldiers is confirmed.

We learn next, however, that Pompey has made a terrible mistake. On the advice of C. Triarius, Pompey ordered his legionaries to receive the charge of Caesar's legions at a stand, in order to face with undisrupted formation an enemy whose ranks had become disordered by their rapid advance. Pompey reasoned that his own infantry would also be better protected against Caesar's javelins in close formation, and Caesar's troops would be tired out by the run. Caesar singles out this plan for criticism, editorializing—with a rare reference to himself in the first person—that

it seems to me that in this Pompey acted against the dictates of reason, for there is a certain excitement of animus and enthusiasm [alacritas] naturally innate to all men, which is kindled by eagerness for the fight. Commanders ought to increase this, rather than repress it. It was not in vain that the ancients ordained that signals ring out in every direction and that the whole army raise a cry, thinking that the foe would thereby be terrified [terreri] and their own men inspirited [incitari].

(C 3.92)

Caesar, in short, thinks Pompey took a tactically blinkered view of the situation and failed to consider the psychological dimension of his orders. The reader expects this striking homily, the climax of extensive attention to morale in this battle description, to bring on the climax of the battle as well: the inspired Caesarians should charge the deflated Pompeians and victory should be theirs. But nothing of the sort happens. The Caesarians do charge (because of their great experience they deftly stop to rest halfway to the enemy, so as not to arrive exhausted), but the Pompeians receive their attack and resist, fighting at close quarters. Caesar's account now shifts to the flank. Here Pompey's cavalry begin to surround Caesar's army and meets the fourth line, the reserve that Caesar had provided against them, which charges the cavalry with such force (tanta vi) that they are driven from the field. This reserve then begins to surround Pompey's army in turn and attack it in the rear. Now Caesar releases the third line of his legionaries into the stalemate of the legionary battle, replacing exhausted (defessi) men with those he had carefully kept fresh (integri). Finally the Pompeians, attacked both front and rear, break. Caesar remarks with some complacency that he “had not erred in thinking that victory would originate from those cohorts which he had posted opposite the cavalry in the fourth line, as he had said when he was exhorting the troops.”

Why Caesar thinks he won—the encirclement of Pompey's legions by Caesar's deftly deployed fourth line at the same time that they were being attacked from the front by fresh troops—seems clear. Caesar concluded that he had won because of his superior tactics, a judgment confirmed by the expert Frontinus (Strat. 2.3.22). Yet there is much in Caesar's account which seems to tell in other directions. First there is Caesar's remarkable finger-wagging at the moral consequences of Pompey's not letting his troops charge. What is the relationship of that passage to the actual outcome of the battle? Why, more generally, in a battle that Caesar depicts as turning on his tactical expertise, is he so careful to describe at length the measures of both sides to ensure the morale, animus, of their soldiers? Why, finally, do we hear so much about the courage—virtus—of Crastinus, to whom Caesar returns after his account of the surrender of Pompey's army in the wake of the battle proper, to offer an epitaph. “Caesar judged that Crastinus had shown the highest virtus in that battle, and judged that he had received a very great favor from him” (C 3.99). All this talk of virtus recalls Caesar's exhortation to his fourth line, that victory would depend on their virtus, courage.

It is attractive to attribute this seemingly irrelevant material—sallies against Pompey's stupidity and arrogance and praise for the courage of Caesar's soldiers—to propagandistic aims in Caesar's narrative.22 To do so accords with the widest skein of twentieth-century scholarship on Caesar's writing, the relentless quest to show that Caesar's accounts are deeply tendentious, the truth ingeniously concealed and transformed for political ends.23 Nor will the myriad snufflers after this succulent truffle be put off the scent by the objection that attacks on Pompey's generalship might actually detract from Caesar's achievement in defeating him, or that Caesar's praise of his soldiers might plant in his reader's mind the unwelcome suspicion that their excellence, rather than their marshal's, was decisive. Yet even assuming a devious and thorough-going Tendenz on Caesar's part, that exhausted conclusion demands an answer to a more interesting prior question. Why, given the infinity of possible ways of deforming or falsifying the narrative of a battle, does Caesar choose to emphasize morale and courage in addition to tactics? Perhaps Caesar's battle descriptions are tendentious, but to tell lies Caesar must have a grammar of battle description from which to build the lies, a grammar which exists before the lies. How does that grammar work and where does it come from? To understand why Caesar describes battles as he does it is necessary to trace through his writings the three themes that articulate his account of the battle of Pharsalus—tactics, animus, and virtus—while investigating Caesar's relationship to older traditions of military thinking; and finally to consider how he uses those three themes to assemble battle descriptions that reflect his vision of generalship.


Understanding the detailed mechanics of battle and how to describe those mechanics in writing is learned, not natural. The Greeks had evolved a metaphorical system to understand and depict the ordering, movement, and clash of troops on the field of battle. Julius Caesar uses a similar system, probably adapted from the Greeks, but with significant differences based on Roman experience.


Caesar's criticism of the immobility of Pompey's legions at Pharsalus leaps out at the modern reader, just as it leapt out at Caesar's ancient readers, Plutarch (Caes. 44.4, Pomp. 69.5) and Appian (BC 2.79), so many centuries ago. Caesar notes that this foolish plan was pressed upon Pompey by one C. Triarius.24 But where did C. Triarius, that “very serious and learned young man” (Cic. Fin. 1.5.13), get it? Plutarch attributes the decision to fear that Pompey's inexperienced legions would fall into disorder (Pomp. 69.4), while Appian observes that “some persons praise this stratagem as the best thing to do when encircled.” Plutarch's concern with disorder and Appian's allusion to an erudite “some” guide us into a stream of Greek military science that emphasized proper deployment and formation, … and the maintenance of good order, … as the keys to victory. The seeds of this outlook can be detected in Herodotus. Although his descriptions of battle by land and sea often make the reader feel he has wandered into the heroic world of the Iliad, nevertheless the historian puts down Greek survival at Artemisium to the confusion into which the Persian fleet fell (8.16) and attributes the Greek victory at Salamis to the same cause, “since the Greeks fought with proper discipline and in ordered ranks, and the barbarians with no order” (8.86 …). The Persian loss at Plataea should not be set down to inferiority in courage or strength, he notes, but to inferior equipment, skill, and tactics, since they hurled themselves against the Spartan line in small groups (9.62-63). To Thucydides falling into disorder is the most common cause of defeat in battle (5.10.6-8, 7.23.3, 7.36.6, 7.43.7-44.1, 8.105.2-3),25 a fate that especially befalls those inferior in practice and military experience, a favorite theme of Thucydides (2.84.3, 2.91.4-92.1 [with 2.87-89], 6.72). Seeing his forces fall into disorder, the wise general withdraws his army before the onset (7.3.3). To Xenophon too disorder is disastrous (Anab. 3.4.19, 6.5.9, Cyr. 1.6.35).26

These historians' analyses are based on an understanding of the realities of sea and land battle in their time—in engagements between tight lines of oared galleys or heavy infantry closely arrayed in the phalanx, keeping proper order was essential. But perhaps to be associated with the rise of professional experts in tactics in the late fifth century bc27 was the transformation of such observations into doctrine and the elevation of such doctrines of deployment and formation—tactics narrowly conceived—to be queen of the intellectual battlefield. The earliest Greek tactical manual that survives, the first-century bc treatise of Asclepiodotus, stands in a tradition old by its day.28 He teaches the proper order and formation of an army based on the Macedonian phalanx, conceived in highly abstract mathematical and geometrical terms.29

The historian Polybius—also the author of a lost manual on tactics (9.20.4)30—is an inheritor of this same tradition, albeit a less doctrinaire one, and when he asks himself in his Histories “why it has occurred that the Romans have prevailed and borne away first place in the contests of war” (18.28.4), it is to questions of formation and armament—the phalanx against the deployment of the Roman legion—that he naturally turns. Nose to nose on a flat battlefield the phalanx is irresistible, he says; but its tight formation is easily broken up by irregular terrain or enemy action, and the phalanx becomes ineffective in confusion. That is why the Romans win (18.29-32). Just as in Thucydides and Xenophon, the disorder of one side or the other in a battle is often decisive in Polybius (1.19.10, 1.40.13-14, 10.39.6-8).31 Indeed, order's pivotal role is so natural that its consequences can simply be assumed. “As he [the Carthaginian admiral] was rounding the Cape of Italy he came upon the enemy sailing in good order and formation, and he lost most of his ships” … 1.21.11; cf. 1.25.1-4; Thuc. 4.129.4, 6.97.4; Xen. Hell. 1.5.14, 4.8.18-19), writes Polybius, confident that the causal connection between order and victory, disorder and defeat, will be understood. So Philopoemen's careful training of the Achaean cavalry to ride in formation and keep station meets with Polybian approval, with his hero naturally “taking it for granted that there is nothing more dangerous or useless, than for cavalry who have broken their formation … in squadrons to essay to engage in combat” (10.23.8).32

To prevent (potentially decisive) disorder in his own army, and inflict it upon the foe, the Polybian general must attend particularly to his deployment. When Hannibal arranges a perfect deployment at Zama, but loses anyway, Polybius must appeal to fortune for an explanation (15.15-16). Different formations and armaments work differently on different terrain, and the general who fails to deploy in a fashion appropriate to the terrain will lose. Aratus foolishly decided to face the Aetolians on rough ground, with gloomy consequences: “the result of the battle was that which follows naturally on such an outset” (4.11.7-9 with 4.14.6; cf. 1.30, 2.68). Thus “in most battles by land and sea in a war differences of position cause defeat,” and it is the duty of the historian to report knowledgeably about topography (5.21.3-9). Indeed to Polybius the essential duty of an historian when describing a battle is to lay out the physical deployment—the formations and evolutions (… 12.25f.3)—of the forces on the field. The wretched Callisthenes (12.17-22), Ephorus (12.25f), and Zeno (16.18-19), all too ignorant to get such descriptions right, are severely castigated. The expert Polybius sometimes offers criticism of the deployments he describes: Regulus did well to deploy a deep infantry line against elephants, but against the numerous Carthaginian cavalry his arrangements were hopeless (1.33.10; cf. 1.26.16, 2.28.6, 2.33). This Greek conception of tactics—generalship conceived as a matter of order, deployment, formation, and terrain—is a deep structure which undergirds Polybius' battle descriptions.

Polybius' account of the battle of Cynoscephalae, which is followed (and implicitly explained) by his contrast between the legion and phalanx, illustrates Polybius' tactical conception of battle, and offers a tour of the analytical concepts and terminology the Greeks had developed to understand battle conceived in this light (18.21-26).33 The Macedonian army of Philip V and the Roman army of T. Flamininus were groping for one another in the fog. Advance parties of both armies met unexpectedly and were briefly “thrown into confusion.” … Recovering, they fought, but “in the close struggle (… [also embrace or intertwining]), the Romans were over-weighed … and suffered badly.” But Flamininus sent help, and the Macedonians “were pressed … in their turn and over-weighed …” and fled to the heights, sending to Philip for aid. He sent reinforcements, and having added to their number a “heavy band” (… a homericism), the Macedonians “pressed upon” … the Romans and drove them from the high ground. Flamininus then arrayed his whole force in line of battle, and Philip, despite his well-grounded concern about the unsuitability of the terrain for his phalanx, was lured into a general engagement by the sanguine reports of messengers. The Roman legionaries now supported their light-armed troops, and the latter, “taking advantage of the additional help thrown into the scale, as it were …, and pressing the enemy heavily …, they killed many of them.” To recover the situation Philip charges with his phalanx, although all his heavy troops have yet to come over the hill. “His right wing acquitted itself brilliantly in the fight, making its onset from an advantageous position …, being superior in the weight of their formation (… cf. 2.3.5-6, 2.68.9), and excelling greatly because of the difference in armament (theirs being suited to the occasion)” (cf. 2.30.7-8, 2.33; Xen. Hell. 3.4.14). So the Roman left was “squeezed back”. … But on the other flank the Macedonians were still crossing the hill and there Flamininus attacked with his elephants leading the Roman troops. “The Macedonians, having no-one to give them orders, were unable to form up and assume the formation suitable for the phalanx both because of the difficulty of the ground and because, busy making an approach to those fighting, they were in marching order rather than in line of battle …, and so they did not even receive the Romans into hand-to-hand combat, but gave way terrified and broken up by the elephants alone.” Now the Roman left—which the Macedonian phalanx was “pressing with its weight” …—was rescued. Romans from the victorious right took the phalanx in the rear with terrible slaughter: a phalanx cannot turn about, nor can its members fight individually, Polybius notes. This unanswerable attack put the victorious phalanx to flight, and the day belonged to the Romans.

This selective summary of Polybius' account of Cynoscephalae highlights his focus on formation and order, the dangers of disorder, and the physical metaphors—weight and pressing—that he uses to describe combat. These metaphors are not fanciful in their origins, but drawn from Greek experience. For battles which pitted phalanx against phalanx often involved a good deal of actual pushing of one side against another.34 And thus to conceive the action of bodies of troops upon one another in terms of weight, as here, or mass or power …, was natural.35 But in Polybius' mental world not only phalanxes push and weigh, at Cynoscephalae light troops and Romans with their more open formations do as well, as elsewhere do ships (1.51.5, 1.51.8; cf. Xen. Hell. 4.6.8, 5.4.42-43). A set of metaphors drawn from experience has been elaborated into a physical theory of battle.36 And that theory of order and physical forces produces highly geometrical battle descriptions, like those of Cannae by land (3.113-16) and Ecnomus by sea (1.26-8).


The tactical mechanics of Caesar's battle descriptions betray a debt to Greek theories of tactics, but Caesar bases his metaphorical system on Roman rather than Greek methods of fighting. This Roman scheme is elaborated to cover the same phenomena as Greek tactical science—disorder, deployment, formation, maneuver, terrain—but its elements fit in Caesar's mechanical system differently and receive different emphasis.

Like that of the Greeks, Caesar's conception of combat depends upon physical metaphors. An attack exerts vis, force (C 3.93; cf. B.Afr. 69-70)37 … The pressing metaphor, so common in Greek battle descriptions, is prominent as well.38 Caesar's bilingual education allowed him to draw upon Greek thinking and theory for a metaphorical arsenal to describe the mechanics of combat.39 But Caesar adapts Greek conceptions to his experience of Roman reality: unlike the Greeks, Caesar tends to envisage the fundamental mechanics of battle not as the pushing of a weight but as the crash of one moving force, an impetus, against a stationary one, which must sustain (sustinere, G [De Bello Gallico] 1.24, 26, 4.37) or bear (ferre, G 5.21, C 2.25) that force.40 Battle is envisaged as a bare-knuckle boxing match, where fast fists crash into immobile jaws, until one jaw or the other breaks. “Caesar's horsemen made an impetus against the cohorts, and men with small shields could not long sustain (sustinere) the vis of the cavalry. They were all surrounded by the cavalry … and slain” (C 1.70). This structure manifests itself by sea as well as by land (C 2.6, 3.101). So dominating, indeed, is this metaphor that Caesar relies on it even when both armies are in rapid motion towards each other, as at the battle against Ariovistus when

our men made their impetus upon the enemy so fiercely … and the enemy ran to the attack (procurrerunt) so suddenly and fast, that there was no space to throw javelins at the enemy. With javelins cast aside the fighting was with swords at close quarters. But in accord with their custom the Germans quickly formed a tight formation (phalange facta) and successfully sustained the impetus of the swords.

(G 1.52)

Caesar assigns the impetus to the Romans; yet it would have been equally true, in this collision of mutually charging soldiers, to imagine the Romans as sustaining the German impetus.

Into this basic physical model of battle Caesar integrates the events and phenomena of combat. A hail of missiles exerts a vis (C 2.6; cf. G 5.43; B.Alex. 20), and numbers push: “on the right wing they pressed our battle line forcefully by virtue of the multitude of them” (vehementer multitudine suorum nostram aciem premebant, G 1.52; cf. C 1.46, G 7.80; vim multitudinis, B.Afr. 66, 52). Cavalry can push as well (C 1.70, premeretur). The physical strength, vires, of soldiers tends to be conflated in Caesar's mind with the metaphorical vis of the impetus or of resistance to it. When the Seduni and Veragri attack Galba's camp in the Alps, they imagine that the Romans “could not even sustain their first impetus” (G 3.2). They charge the camp (G 3.4-5; cf. 7.48; B.Afr. 78), but “at first our men resisted strongly with their strength intact” (integris viribus fortiter repugnare), and “whatever part of the camp, denuded of defenders, seemed pressed (premi), they rushed there and bore aid.” Yet as the day advanced the alpine tribesmen could replace their wounded and tired with fresh men, which, because of their scanty numbers, the Romans could not. “Now the fighting had gone on continually for more than six hours, and not only our vires but our missiles were running out, and the enemy pressed more violently (instarent acrius), and began to break down the rampart and fill the trenches as our men became more tired” (languidioribusque nostris). The Romans are going to lose this imagined pushing match, and a change of tactics is needed to win the day. Caesar tends to conflate wounds and exhaustion (thus vulneribus defessi, “worn out by wounds,” G 1.25) since their result, the reduction of vires, and thus pressure to the front, is the same. “The soldiers of the Ninth and Tenth Legions … cast their javelins and at the charge from high ground quickly drove the Atrebates … fatigued with tiredness and exhausted by wounds, into the river” (lassitudine exanimatos vulneribusque confectos, G 2.23).

Other factors that might weaken an impetus, or the resistance to it, Caesar classifies in two broad overlapping categories: forces are impediti, encumbered, or perturbati, in confusion (C 2.26 for the pair). Two enemy ships have rammed each other: “the ships … close by … made an impetus against those ships that were impediti, and quickly sank them” (C 2.6). By land an army in line of march with its baggage is encumbered (G 6.8, 7.66, C 3.75), as are soldiers carrying stuff to fill up Roman trenches (G 3.19) or bearing shields pierced by javelins (G 1.25). Confusion consists of inability to maintain formation or follow the correct standards (G 4.26), and it may result from receiving an impetus (G 5.37), a hail of missiles (G 1.25; cf. Polyb. 11.12.5), and especially from being attacked unexpectedly (G 4.12, 4.32, C 3.101 at sea). It is partially to benefit from the hoped-for confusion of Caesar's ranks that Pompey commands that his legions should hold their ground at Pharsalus, “to allow the [Caesarian] line to break up” during their long charge, “in order that the first onslaught and vis be broken and the line of battle spread out, and for Pompey's men, properly arranged in their ranks, to assail scattered troops” (C 3.92). Close formation, like that of Ariovistus' Germans, makes it easier to sustain an impetus (cf. G 1.24). But for soldiers to be pressed so close together that they cannot ply their weapons is a form of confusion (G 4.32) and encumberment (G 2.25); it makes it impossible to avoid missiles cast at them (G 5.35).

Integrated too into Caesar's physics of battle is terrain, whether natural or man-made.41 At Alesia during the final Gallic assault “neither earthworks nor trenches could sustain the force (vim) of the enemies” (G 7.87). But at Massilia later Caesar's besieging soldiers built a brick tower near the walls of the city. “It was to here they used to retire, and it was from here, if a greater vis crushed against them (oppresserat), they fought back” (C 2.8). On the opposite side of the Thames ford stands an army of Britons; they have fortified the bank with stakes and hidden others under the water. Caesar orders the attack. “The soldiers moved with such speed (celeritate) and momentum (impetu), even though only their heads were above water, that the enemy could not sustain the impetus of the legions and the cavalry, quitted the bank, and fled” (G 5.18). Water, then, is expected to soften an impetus. Those fighting from a river (G 2.10) or the sea (G 4.26) or a swamp (G 2.9) against those on dry land fight impediti, encumbered. Terrain which produces this effect—forest (G 3.28, 5.19), or swamp (G 6.34, 7.19), or river banks (C 3.75, 3.88)—is itself by projection an encumbered place, an impeditus locus.42

Caesar's simplifying physical conception of battle allows him to reduce most considerations of terrain to the category of locus iniquus, where the lay of the land places one side at a disadvantage.43 A place can simply be described thus, with no indication of exactly in what the iniquitas consists (C 1.81). A place offering only a narrow approach against the enemy, where only a few men can fight, and where relief of the exhausted will be difficult, is a locus iniquus (C 1.45). But the most common form of locus iniquus is a lower position on a slope (e.g. G 2.23, C 3.51). A charge up a hill is exhausting (G 3.19), and the higher army can cast its javelins with greater force and accuracy (C 1.45, G 3.4; cf. Xen. Hell. 2.4.15-16). At the battle against the Helvetti the Gauls advance in close formation (phalange) against Caesar's army on a hillside. But the Romans' javelins were thrown from the higher ground and thus easily broke the Gallic mass; indeed some with such force that they pierced two Gallic shields, encumbering their bearers when the Romans made their impetus against the disordered Helvetii (G 1.25). The same advantage with missiles is gained by casting them from sea-side cliffs (G 4.23), entrenchments (G 3.4, 3.25; Hirt. BG 8.9), a wagon laager (G 1.26), high ships (G 3.14), or a pile of bodies (G 2.27). If it is easy to throw downwards, it is hard to throw upwards (G 3.14). In general, an impetus made downhill is expected to be very hard for the enemy to sustain (G 3.2); those higher press (premere) on those lower (C 1.45).

In a battle conceived according to this tactical schema the business of the general is cerebral management of physical realities. As the Gauls probe Caesar's great double ring of defenses at Alesia for weak points, as they shift their points of attack, Caesar secures a position with a broad outlook and from there artfully doles out reinforcements to wherever the Romans are hard-pressed (G 7.85-87). Where his troops are outnumbered the tactical general sends up reinforcements (G 1.52); he takes measures to prevent the units of his army from being outflanked (G 2.8, 3.28, C 1.40; cf. B.Afr. 15, 17, 58) especially on the right, shieldless, “open” side, where the soldiers are especially vulnerable to missiles (G 4.26, 5.35), and contrives to outflank and surround his enemy (G 3.26, C 3.86; cf. B.Afr. 59; Xen. Hell. 4.2.22) and cast missiles upon their open side (G 4.25). He attends to the vires of his troops—replacing the wounded and the tired (C 1.45), avoiding battle when his army is exhausted (C 1.65; cf. B.Afr. 42), and striving to tire out his enemy (C 3.85; cf. B.Afr. 75). Since the vires of soldiers lessen when they run short of food (G 7.20, C 1.52), Caesar attends carefully to the supplies of his army (C 3.42, 3.85), maneuvering to ensure that they are not disrupted, and maneuvers as well to cut off the supplies of his enemy (G 3.23: this tactic is the consuetudo populi Romani; G 6.10, C 3.41, 3.58). Plotting and maneuvering to place the enemy in a locus iniquus and to avoid one himself, the tactical general is acutely sensitive to the lay of the land, and must “take counsel from the nature of the place” (C 3.43; cf. G 7.74), as Caesar puts it.

It seems highly likely (although it cannot, of course, be proved) that Caesar's sophisticated tactical physics was an adaptation (by him or lost Latin predecessors) of the Greek conception of battle to Roman experience. Caesar depends on the Greeks for the fundamental metaphors, that of pressing, and the conception of the clash of arms in terms of force. … It is on the nature of the force exerted that Caesar diverges from the Greek tradition. For the ruling Greek weight metaphor did not describe the impact of the Roman legion, more loosely deployed than the massive Greek phalanx.44 Thus Caesar's physical conception of battle is naturally less one of weighing than of crashing. Caesar's metaphorical system ramifies from the impetus of the legionary charge. … Caesar's physics is based on moving forces, the Greek conception, in essence, on stationary, pushing forces. Differences in the basic conceptual model, moreover, create differences of emphasis in battle description. Polybius mentions terrain which might cause disorder (the nemesis of pushing weight) to the easily disordered phalanx. His fastidiousness about topographical reporting—however congenial to us—is the result of tactical thinking that arises from a certain method of fighting. Disorder is less dangerous to Caesar's legions, and the lay of the land simply less important to him: terrain is primarily interesting to Caesar if it slows (or speeds up) the impetus of troops moving across it. Caesar's model of the physics of battle does not demand Polybius' topographical precision.

Drawing on the Greeks, we too use metaphors drawn from physics to think about battle. The Greek theory of battle elaborated from the push of the phalanx still influences our conceptions: military forces push, press, weigh, and give way in our minds much as once they did in Greek minds. Yet the comfortable familiarity of such metaphorical weapons to the modern hand must not conceal the fact that they, like spears and rifles, had to be invented, and once invented adapted to the experience of their users. Julius Caesar offers one such adaptation; comparing his mechanics of battle with Polybius' and our own produces a vivid sense of the artificiality of all of them.


To receive Caesar's charge at a stand was against the dictates of reason, wrote Caesar in his criticism of Pompey at Pharsalus, for that was to ignore the psychological dimension of the impetus. He attacks the elevation of formation over psychology elsewhere too: in 54 bc a detachment of Caesar's army under Sabinus and Cotta was ambushed on the road by the Gauls (G 5.32-37), and Cotta made the decision to abandon the baggage and form a defensive circle (orbis). “This plan, which is hardly to be scorned in such a situation, nevertheless turned out badly. For it reduced the hope of our troops and made the enemy more eager for the fight (ad pugnam alacriores effecit), since it could not be done without creating the appearance of the greatest fear and desperation” (G 5.33; cf. 2.17 on the moral effect of loss of the baggage). This was the beginning of disaster, and Caesar uses the occasion to editorialize on the inadequacy of command conceived as too narrowly tactical—command which might approve the abandonment of the baggage regardless of the psychological consequences—and to call for a kind of generalship that gave due attention to the relative morale of the armies in contention, to the animus of the troops.45


In insisting upon the salience of psychological factors in battle, Caesar enters on one side of an old Greek argument. “He taught me drawing up soldiers …—and nothing else,” complains a character in Xenophon about an early military sophist (Mem. 3.1.5), and then has Socrates dilate on other aspects of military knowledge the professional failed to teach. Xenophon expands his attack on this narrowly tactical conception of military education in the Cyropaedia, when he imagines Cyrus asking his father to pay a similar expert who had promised to teach him generalship (Cyr. 1.6.12-14).46 Was his training any use? asked his father. Had the professional taught him about supplies, or health, and “had he taught me so that I would be able to instill enthusiasm … in an army, noting that in every undertaking enthusiasm or discouragement … made a tremendous difference?” (cf. Cyr. 1.6.19). The hired expert had not, and it was left to Cyrus' father to make clear to the young conqueror “that formations … were only a small part of generalship” (cf. Cyr. 8.5.15).

Xenophon was attacking a strain of Greek military thinking which survives to us in the tradition of the Greek tactical manuals, and, to a lesser degree, in Polybius.47 For battle conceived strictly as a matter of forms and forces was covertly reductionist and totalizing. “These, in short, are the principles of the tactician,” writes Asclepiodotus in conclusion to his tactical work, “they bring safety to those who employ them, and danger to those who do not” (12.11). So, he implies, victory is simply a matter of drawing up troops, since that is all he discusses.

Xenophon, by contrast, thought that “neither numbers nor physical strength make for victory in war, but whichever side—with the gods' help—advances upon the enemy stouter in spirit …, their foes usually do not stand against them” (Xen. Anab. 3.1.42; cf. Cyr. 3.3.19). Xenophon's stated opinion was that psychology was the most important factor in winning battles. A survey of his writings suggests that he has overstated his case in the passion of controversy. For Xenophon was no scorner of tactics: he often stops his narrative for detailed dissertations on formation and drill in the spirit of the later tactical manuals (Anab. 3.4.19-23, 4.3.26-29, 4.8.10-13, Cyr. 2.3.21-22, 2.4.2-4, Lac. Pol. 11.5-10).48 And a great many of his battle descriptions are austerely tactical, or have psychology sprinkled here and there as decoration like the confectioner's sugar of a stingy pastry chef (e.g. Hell. 1.6.29-34, 2.4.32-34, 4.2.13-23, 6.4.9-14, Cyr. 6.3.18-7.1.40). But there are plenty of battle descriptions in Xenophon—both of historical battles (Hell. 4.4.9-12, 4.5.13-17, 5.4.42-45, 7.1.31, 7.2.22-23) and an imagined battle in the Cyropaedia (3.3.25-67)—where psychological factors are decisive.

Just as schemata the Greeks used for describing battle in physical terms are visible in Polybius, so Xenophon offers a tour of the simplifying assumptions with which Greeks made a science of the psychology of soldiers in battle. Xenophon's machinery of military psychology … is founded on a dichotomy between … confidence, boldness, martial enthusiasm, and … fear or panic (Anab. 3.2.16, Cyr. 3.3.19, 5.2.33, 5.3.47, Eq. Mag. 5.3). Almost synonymous is the polarity between … high spirits and … low spirits (Anab. 3.1.39-41, Hell. 7.4.24, Cyr. 1.6.13). … Reciprocity operates between the opposite ends of the axis: the extreme high spirits of one army can be enough alone to produce panic in the other army (Cyr. 3.3.59-63, Hell. 7.2.21-23; cf. Cyr. 3.3.30), while signs of fear raise the spirits of the enemy (Hell. 3.5.22, Anab. 4.6.9). Soldiers' very high spirits shade in Xenophon's mind into the insolent aggressiveness of hybris (Hell. 3.5.22-24): contempt … for the enemy is valuable because it makes soldiers fight more boldly in battle (Hell. 3.4.19, Cyr. 3.3.31), but it can be dangerous because contemptuous soldiers are careless (Hell. 4.1.17, 5.3.1).

The Greeks had an old, deep-rooted respect for the terrifying irrationality of the moods of soldiers in battle, a respect manifested in cults to Pan, the god of panic, and sacrifices to Artemis.49 Drawing upon this tradition, Xenophon knows that states of high and low spirits can be wholly irrational.50 The gods may bring high spirits (Hell. 7.1.31, 7.2.21, Anab. 3.1.42), and panic may crash down like a thunderbolt from a clear sky (Anab. 2.2.19-21).51 Panics are contagious (Hell. 5.2.41, 5.4.45, 7.5.24; cf. Thuc. 4.96), and psychological effects … are exaggerated in large bodies of men (Cyr. 5.2.33-34). …

Thus casualties inspire the side inflicting them (Hell. 4.5.16) and demoralize the side suffering them, especially if the fallen are generals or men of distinction (Hell. 7.4.24, 7.5.25). Situations dangerous in the battle conceived tactically cause fear in the battle viewed psychologically: seeing one's battle line fall into disorder (Anab. 4.8.10), being surrounded (Cyr. 7.1.24), or having enemies behind (Anab. 3.4.20, Hell. 4.4.11-12, 7.5.24), thinking one is being ambushed or that the enemy is receiving reinforcements (Eq. Mag. 5.8, 8.20).

Xenophon has an interlocutor of Cyrus urge him to raise the spirits of his army before battle with a speech, but Xenophon has Cyrus reply that careful training beforehand is much more significant to the psychology of soldiers in battle than oratory on the field (Cyr. 3.3.49-55). By the way Xenophon treats the subject, the utility of the pre-battle harangue was evidently controversial in his day, and Xenophon takes a pessimistic view.52 Oratory is more useful for reviving the spirits of a discouraged army (Anab. 3.1.39-42; cf. Onasander 1.13-14), an end which can also be accomplished by rest or victory (Cyr. 5.2.32, 5.2.34, Hell. 7.1.19, Anab. 6.5.30).

More than giving speeches, Xenophon's general is most often found devising and employing psychological tricks and stratagems.53 In this, Xenophon was carried along by powerful Greek intellectual currents: besides tactics, the second great stream of Greek military thinking was the collection of cunning stratagems, the systematic application of metis to warfare.54 Herodotus hastens to point out warlike tricks (e.g. 1.21-22, 8.22, 8.75) and a systematic interest in stratagem can be detected in Thucydides.55 In the Hellenistic period stratagem collections began to be compiled and two Roman-era collections of ancient military stratagems survive.56 Appian describes the immobility of Pompey's infantry at Pharsalus as a stratagem, and many Greek stratagems were tactical in nature, but Greek collections of stratagems represented an anecdotal tradition independent of Greek tactical science that comprehended, indeed emphasized, the psychological aspects of warfare.57 It is to a great extent through Greek interest in military trickery that psychology makes its way onto the Greek mental battlefield.58

Xenophon's description of the battle of Mantinea in 362 bc (Hell. 7.5.20-25) is an excellent instance of the integration of psychological factors into battle description through the medium of stratagem. Epaminondas' first trick is to form his army into line of battle—to give the impression that he intended to fight that day—but then to move away and pretend to make camp. “By doing this he caused a relaxation in the enemy's psychological readiness for the fight …, and a relaxation of their formation. …” And indeed when Epaminondas ordered the attack he fell upon an enemy unprepared both in order and spirit: “all were like men about to suffer, rather than accomplish, something” (cf. Cyr. 7.5.21, Hell. 4.8.38). Before the onset Epaminondas deepened the left wing of his phalanx, replicating his famous tactic at Leuctra (Xen. Hell. 6.4.12; cf. Cyr. 7.5.3), and drew his weaker right wing back to protect it from early engagement. But the rationale Xenophon attributes to Epaminondas for this arrangement at Mantinea is psychological: the moral consequences of the first clash of arms, he thought, were contagious, and if his weak right wing were put to flight, it would discourage the rest of his army and strengthen the enemy. The same logic dictated the stratagem of strengthening his cavalry with a leavening of infantry. It was essential to win the first encounter, he thought, “for it is hard to find men willing to hold their positions, when they see any of their own side fleeing.” Finally, to prevent the enemy troops opposed to his lagging right from assisting those attacked by his powerful left, Epaminondas posted froops on hills overlooking them, to place them in fear … of being attacked from the rear if they went to help their allies. And Epaminondas was correct in all his psychological strategizing. “By gaining mastery where he struck, he made the whole of the enemy flee.”

The salience of psychological factors in this battle description is striking, but no less striking is the nexus between those factors and stratagem. Xenophon's interest in military psychology is greatest where he is not just reporting panics and the like, but pointing out the stratagems that gave rise to them. One of the two great imaginary battles in the Cyropaedia is conceived as a tutorial in psychological stratagems (Cyr. 3.3.12-67; the other, 6.3.18-7.1.40, is a tutorial on tactics): among the topics covered are the terror inspired by the offensive (3.3.18-19), by revealing one's strength all at once (3.3.28), the need to conceal one's small numbers lest the enemy have contempt for one's army and be reassured (3.3.31), as well as the futility of oratory before battle in contrast to training (3.3.49-55), already mentioned. So utter is Cyrus' psychological mastery that the enemy flees without a blow (3.3.63).

In contrast to Xenophon's enthusiasm for military psychology, the austere Polybius looks first to tactics and only second to psychology to understand battles: his is a middle position between Xenophon and the tactical writers, who tend to ignore psychology. Polybius may have the widest general interest in human psychology of all the surviving classical historians,59 but the prominence of psychology in his battle descriptions is not proportionate to his expansiveness on psychology in general. On the eve of Pharsalus, Brutus sat making an epitome of Polybius (Plut. Brutus 4.4). If C. Triarius had been reading Polybius' description of Cynoscephalae over Brutus' shoulder that would certainly explain the advice he gave to Pompey about the primacy of formation over psychology to oppose Caesar's charge. Where psychology does feature in Polybius' descriptions of battles, it is often poorly integrated into the chain of causation that leads to victory: in Polybius' account of Drepanum, for example, Adherbal's encouragement of the Carthaginians is depicted, as well as the resulting lather of martial enthusiasm (1.49.10-11), but Carthaginian high spirits have no role in Polybius' careful analysis of the reasons the Carthaginians win (1.51), all of them tactical (cf. 1.32-34). The nexus between military psychology and stratagem, moreover, is even more marked in Polybius than in Xenophon (e.g. 3.116.8, 11.16, 11.22.1-4, and 24.6); in Polybius, for the most part, psychological events occur because generals plan for them. Polybius describes how the stratagems of Hamilcar Barca produced panic in his foes during the Carthaginian war against their mercenaries (1.84.8; cf. 1.75-76).60 At the siege of New Carthage, just as Scipio sounded the attack, Mago cunningly launched a sortie to astound … the Romans. But Scipio had foreseen this stratagem and countered with one of his own: he planned to lure the enemy troops far from the walls, so that, destroying them, he would demoralize … the defenders of the town and ensure that they would never sortie again (10.12.4-7). Scipio encouraged his troops by his presence, arousing their enthusiasm …, and thus contributed greatly to the victory (cf. 5.85.8). Yet this too is conceived as a stratagem: he had arranged to be protected by three men bearing large shields (10.13.1-5). To Xenophon stratagem is a useful avenue to military psychology, but Polybius finds it hard to turn off that road. The science of stratagem could be a constraint on Greek understanding of soldiers' psychology, because it encouraged Greeks to look for psychology only where stratagem could also be found. Experts who thought along Polybius' lines were confident that their science of stratagem offered the general mastery of human emotion.

The ironic end of Xenophon's Mantinea might be conceived as Xenophon's answer to Polybius: Epaminondas' death at the moment of triumph deprived his side of a decisive victory, because the fall of the master of psychological stratagem threw his army into an unplanned-for panic. The victorious hoplites of Epaminondas' left simply stopped where they were, and his victorious cavalry “escaped through the fleeing enemy like beaten and terrified men.” The end result was that although everyone predicted a decisive battle, and a clear decision as to who should be master of Greece, “the god so arranged it that both sides should set up a trophy as victors … and in Greece there was even more confusion and chaos after the battle than before” (Hell. 7.5.25-27). So Xenophon reasserts the essential irrationality of military psychology. Although interested in stratagem, Xenophon is not prepared to confine his understanding of soldiers' moods in battle to the inherited structures of that science.


Caesar's strictures on Pompey's plan at Pharsalus signify his participation in the Greek debate on the importance of psychology in battle and signal that on this question he sailed the same intellectual currents as Xenophon.61 To Caesar morale was not to be ignored, nor was it a sporadic, occasional concern (as conceiving it narrowly in terms of stratagem implicitly made it): to Caesar morale was a constant preoccupation.62 The outlines of Caesar's understanding of animus … are very similar to, and probably borrowed from, the Greeks. Both gather all forms of low morale—from quiet discouragement, to defeatism, to fear, to desperate irrational panic—into one broad functional category. … Similarly both gather high morale, god-sent inspiration, the thrill of victory, and the mad joy of the attack into another omnibus category. There is nothing inevitable about either grouping: the similarity suggests Greek influence. In describing morale Caesar and Xenophon are often describing the same or similar real phenomena. But even allowing for the consequent natural similarity of their depictions, Caesar's treatment of morale, and his intermittent editorial remarks upon it, are strikingly similar to Xenophon's.

Caesar gives even greater prominence to the theme of morale than Xenophon: no ancient writer who had actually seen a battle gives psychology a larger role in his battle descriptions than Caesar,63 and no ancient writer offers as extensive or elaborated a treatment of the phenomena.64 Thus in Caesar we can see how many themes which are treated tersely in Greek authors play out in detail. … Like Xenophon, Caesar too has much to say about the internal logic of panic (C 2.29, G 1.39, 6.37, 7.84) and its disastrous consequences. At the announcement of the defeat of Curio the remnant of his army in Africa, snug and for the moment unthreatened in their well-fortified camp, fell into a panic. “So great was everyone's fear (terror), that some said that Juba's forces were approaching, others that Varus' legions were pressing upon them, and that they could see the dust from their approach, when nothing of the kind was happening. Yet others feared that the enemy fleet would quickly fall upon them” (C 2.43). The Caesarian warships flee, the cargo ships with them, soldiers rush aboard the few remaining vessels and, overloading them, sink some. The army surrenders (C 2.43-44). One of Caesar's continuators refers to “combat and shouting (congressus … et clamor), the two chief ways an enemy becomes terrified” (B.Hisp. 31). But soldiers in Caesar are easily alarmed by any surprise (G 6.39, 7.28; cf. B.Afr. 29) or anything unfamiliar, by British chariots (G 4.33; cf. Polyb. 2.29.5-9); by the catch-as-catch-can tactics of the Pompeians in Spain, learned from the Lusitanians (C 1.44-45); by having to fight half-submerged in the English Channel (G 4.24), a crisis which Caesar reverses by sending Roman warships, bristling with artillery, against the Britons on the shore, which frighten them as unfamiliar in turn (G 4.25). Green troops are especially vulnerable to such panic (G 6.39), while long experience provides some protection against it (C 3.84).

Just as in Xenophon, the aspects of battle conceived tactically cast reflections in the world of morale, because they may inspire terror. The prospect of being outnumbered may inspire fear (C 1.56, 3.84), while fighting encumbered with baggage is expected to reduce the animus of the soldiers (G 3.24). But these are the huge, misshapen, and terrifying reflections of fun-house mirrors, for soldiers' reactions are often far out of proportion to the real danger, the consequences of their panic sometimes much more dangerous than what they feared. Having seen some of their light-armed troops surrounded and exterminated by Curio's cavalry, the whole Pompeian army near Utica abandons its advantageous position: “the animus of Attius' soldiers, seized by fear (timor) and flight and the slaughter of their comrades, gave no thought to resistance. All thought they were even now being surrounded by cavalry” (C 2.34; cf. B.Alex. 18). They take to flight before Curio's men can land a blow. Vercingetorix's Gauls are also given to such exaggerated panics at the prospect of being surrounded (G 7.67, 7.82). Similarly, soldiers are extremely nervous about being outflanked on their open side. During the civil war in Spain the rushes of small numbers of Pompeian troops play to this fear, which in turn infects much of Caesar's line of battle (C 1.44-45). Before Gergovia friendly Gauls appearing on the latus apertum are transformed into enemies by the Roman soldiers' dread (G 7.50).

Like the strategmatic Greek general, Caesar's general must attend to the animus of his troops before, during, and after the battle. When deciding whether to offer battle, a general always must attend closely to the relative animus of his own and the enemy's army, since it governs their fighting quality. In Spain Caesar's cavalry have ridden down some Pompeian skirmishers.

There was an opportunity for success. It did not escape Caesar that an army terrified (perterritum) by such a loss in full sight could not resist (sustinere), especially when surrounded on all sides by cavalry, if the conflict was in a flat and open place. Battle was begged of him from every quarter. The legati, centurions and military tribunes ran up: he should not hesitate to commit to battle. The animi of all the soldiers were ready as could be. But Afranius' troops gave many indications of fear (timor): they had not helped their own men, they would not come down from the hill, they were hardly sustaining the attacks of the cavalry and they were crammed together with all the standards collected in one place, observing neither their ranks nor their standards.

(C 1.71; cf. C 2.34; Polyb. 1.33.5, 1.45.1-2)

Caesar refuses battle, not because he discountenances the psychological analysis provided by his officers, but because he hopes that the psychological dominance of his army is so great that the enemy will surrender without bloodshed.

In the opposite case, if the enemy has the advantage in animus—if they are elated (G 1.15) or Caesar's own troops are cast down—battle is avoided until the balance is restored or a moral advantage can be gained (cf. Front. Strat. 2.1.3). Very great decisions, like Caesar's withdrawal from Dyrrachium, are properly made on this basis—Caesar judges his army terrified and retreats (C 3.74), and is not prepared to seek a general engagement with Pompey until he is confident that the passage of time has restored his soldiers' spirits (C 3.84). The general uses skirmishing before a battle to test the animus of his soldiers (G 7.36) and, if successful, to increase it (C 3.84).65 For just as in Xenophon, the low spirits of one army exhilarate the other (C 2.31; cf. B.Alex. 31). Rattled units are kept in the rear (G 4.13). A rattled enemy, on the other hand, is an invitation to attack (G 2.12; cf. B.Afr. 82), and when soldiers become aware of the enemy's timidity they also become more eager to fight, an enthusiasm of which advantage can be taken (G 3.24).

Just as he is alert to theirs, so too Caesar's enemies are alert to the animus of his army and make their decisions on the same basis (G 1.23). For this reason bad morale may need to be hidden (C 2.31) and a bold front maintained (C 3.48). But the enemy's eagerness to take advantage of superiority in animus can offer the general opportunities for stratagems, since low spirits can be feigned and the enemy induced to attack at a disadvantage. The general pretends that his army is terrified—keeping within his camp, ordering the rampart to be built higher, the gates to be barricaded, confusion and fear to be simulated in the process. This lures the enemy to cross a river and to advance up a hill under the walls of Caesar's camp—lures them into a locus iniquus where a sally from the camp destroys them (G 5.50-51; cf. 5.57-58).

When battle looms, animus prescribes duties to the general. In the Gallic ambush of 54 Caesar thinks Cotta's decision to abandon the baggage (cf. Xen. Anab. 7.8.16) and form a circle was lamentable. But Caesar does praise Cotta, not for his tactics, but for his oratory: it is chiefly in encouraging the soldiers that Cotta “does his duty as a commander” (G 5.33). To Caesar, harangues to his soldiers before battle are an indispensable part of generalship, a conventional “military custom” (militari more, C 3.90).66 At the battle of the Sambre the Romans were caught by the rapidity of the Gauls' attack. “Caesar had to do everything in a moment: hoist the standard for the call to arms, sound the trumpet, recall the soldiers from entrenching … form the line of battle, encourage the soldiers, give the signal” (G 2.20). The signals given, encouragement is his next priority, and he harangues the Tenth Legion upon which he happened in the confusion (G 2.21, 2.25). Given its importance to the animus of the troops, the harangue is not sacrificed even when time is most critical. Xenophon discountenances the speech before battle, while Caesar approves of it. They are both participants in a comfortable old Greek controversy.

Just like Xenophon's Epaminondas, Caesar deploys and maneuvers for psychological reasons, to hurt the animus of his foes and to increase that of his own soldiers. When the enemy is trying to fortify a camp, a general might send forth cavalry to attempt to throw them into a state of terror (C 1.42; cf. B.Alex. 14; B.Afr. 70), and the opposing general might dig a trench to prevent just that (C 1.41). If an army seems to cower in its camp, cavalry are sent around it to terrify them further (G 5.57). So that Vercingetorix's cavalry will fight maiore animo, the Gallic captain deploys all his forces in front of the enemy camp to strike terror into the Romans (G 7.66). To counter him Caesar draws up his line, to reassure his cavalry (G 7.67). At Alesia Caesar draws up his legions behind the horse, with the result that “the animus of our men was increased” (G 7.70, nostris animus augetur). As battle progresses, when the animus general recognizes that his opponents have fallen into a state of panic, he knows to press his advantage. “You see the foe panic-stricken, Curio! Why do you hesitate to take advantage of the opportunity?” (C 2.34; cf. 3.95; B.Alex. 30; Xen. Cyr. 5.2.32, Anab. 6.5.30). And so Curio leads his men to the charge and the foe flees.

Finally, in the event of defeat, the general—just like Xenophon's general—turns immediately to restoring the crushed animus of his soldiers. He calls an assembly and explains it away, telling them not to take it to heart—attributes it to fortune or over-boldness, and recalls their previous victories (C 3.73, G 7.52-53). Caesar understands that skirmishes between small forces, especially if witnessed by the whole army, can have a great effect on animus. And so before withdrawing from the field after his failure at Gergovia Caesar arranges cavalry skirmishes, which the Romans win. “When he judged that the Gauls' boasting had been diminished and the animi of his soldiers firmed up (confirmandos), he moved his camp into the territory of the Aedui” (G 7.53).

Caesar's depiction of military psychology is fuller than that provided by surviving Greek authors, but for the most part similar to, and very probably derivative from, the strain of Greek military thinking that survives to us in Xenophon. Yet as with Caesar's adaptation of Greek tactical models, his Roman experience led him to modify and elaborate what he inherited from the Greeks, and those modifications have ramifications for the way he describes battles.

Polybius describes—in some surprise—the qualities the Romans looked for in a centurion. “They do not want centurions to be bold and danger-loving … as much as authoritative and steady and wise of spirit” (… 6.24.9). Plutarch allows us to interpret this passage when he expands upon the very similar ethos of the Spartans, which he thinks equally unusual (Lyc. 22.3). The Spartans advance to battle “marching in step to the rhythm of the flute with no confusion in their spirits …, but going calmly … and cheerfully into danger to the music of their hymn. Nor is it likely that excessive fear or passion … will befall men so disposed, but rather stability of mind. …” This military ethic—which Greek authors saw in both Spartans and Romans—tried to avoid both positive and negative excesses of morale. A strand of Greek military thinking, traces of which survive in Onasander's first-century ad Greek work on generalship (14.1), advocated this position. But among Greeks it remained controversial: Onasander must assure his reader that working to frighten overconfident soldiers will not make them terrified, but merely steady. … His view stood against the broader Greek preference for high morale: one of the qualities a Greek like Polybius looks for in an effective officer is “Hellenic ardor” … which permits a leader to whip up his soldiers into a froth of enthusiasm (5.64.5-7).

In the Roman case, by contrast, Polybius alludes to a military culture which had a deep strain of admiration for steadiness and calm in battle at the expense of extravagant emotion. This strain of thinking hardly dominated. Roman armies did not enter battle with Quaker solemnity, and Caesar is perfectly aware that elevated spirits made their possessors hard to resist in battle, and criticizes Pompey for ignoring that fact (C 3.92; cf. G 5.47). But this ethos of calm was prominent enough in the Roman context to manifest itself in the deep structure of the way Caesar thinks about morale. Xenophon's schema is a very Greek polarity: two categories, high spirits and low, which are good and bad respectively. Caesar, free from the Greek cultural prison of polarities, works with a three-level model: between high spirits, “elated (elati) by hope of a speedy victory, the flight of the enemy, and by successful engagements previously” (G 7.47), and low, panic (terror, timor), there is an intermediate state of calm, animus aequus (C 1.58; cf. 3.6, 3.41). When troops recover from a panic in Caesar they are “firmed up” in spirit (firmare or confirmare; esp. C 3.65), returned to the middle state of calm. … For the most part, in Caesar, it is this intermediate state of calm that is desirable: “it is the universal vice of human nature,” Caesar editorializes, “that in unusual and unfamiliar circumstances we are too confident or too violently terrified” (C 2.4; cf. Hirt. BG 8.13). Caesar agreed all too well with Xenophon on the dangers presented by high and low spirits: high spirits can produce bad judgment and lead their possessors into dangerous places (G 7.47, C 3.72; cf. B.Afr. 82-83); panic or low spirits pose the same hazards of flight and defeat they do in Greek authors.

The impact of Caesar's three-level scheme of morale on battle description is especially well illustrated by his account of the climactic engagement at Dyrrachium (C 3.62-71). Caesar loses at Dyrrachium and eventually has to withdraw from the field to restore the morale of his shaken army. His account of the battle may therefore be apologetic: Caesar blames fortune for disasters for which fortune might well reproach Caesar (C 3.68). But apologetic or not, his is not an account which could easily have been constructed by a Greek on the basis of Xenophon's conception of military psychology.

At Dyrrachium Caesar has a double set of entrenchments running down to the sea, but the envisioned cross-wall is not finished. Using ships to move his soldiers, Pompey attacks both faces of both walls and puts their defenders to flight. Now Caesar's lieutenant Marcellinus sends up some cohorts in support.

But these, seeing the fleeing men, could not firm them up (confirmare) by their coming nor themselves bear the impetus of the enemies. Whatever additional help was sent was corrupted by the terror (timor) of those fleeing and added to the fear (terror) and the peril. … Now the Pompeians were approaching the camp of Marcellinus with great slaughter, and no slight terror rushed upon our remaining cohorts. But M. Antonius, who held the closest position among the guard posts when he heard the news, was seen descending from higher ground with twelve cohorts. His arrival stopped the Pompeians and firmed up (firmavit) our men, so that they recovered themselves from the extremity of fear (timor).

(C 3.64-65)

Just as in Xenophon, terror is extremely contagious and leaps from unit to unit as terrified men infect those they meet (cf. G 6.40, 7.47, C 1.45; Hirt. BG 8.13). But factors are at work to restore a state of calm, which eventually prevails. The situation is bad: there is, of course, no question of elation among the Caesarians, merely of liberation from panic. Caesar uses his three-level model of morale to depict a limited movement between panic fear and the intermediate state of aequus animus. Caesar's scheme notices smaller changes in morale than Xenophon's scheme.

Attention to smaller changes, in turn, requires attention to smaller causes for those changes. Most of the large-scale reasons for improvement in morale in Caesar can be paralleled in Greek authors. In Caesar a respite from fighting can “firm up” (G 6.38, C 3.84) the terrified, just like a rest can improve morale in Xenophon. In Caesar as in Polybius the arrival of a commander (G 2.25, 4.34, 6.41; cf. Polyb. 5.85.8) or (as here) the prospect of reinforcement (cf. C 3.69; 18, 52; Polyb. 1.28.8, 3.105.6) can also be cheering. But what is striking in Caesar's description of Dyrrachium is not the conventional fact of the reassuring effect of reinforcements, but the topographical detail that accompanies them—the reinforcements firm up Caesar's soldiers because they are seen approaching on the high ground. In Caesar landscape is described not only because of its significance to a battle described tactically, which is why Greek authors usually include it in battle descriptions, but because of its psychological significance.

Caesar's account of Dyracchium continues with an extended topographical description of an abandoned camp on the battlefield, of a smaller camp within that camp, and of an earthwork running from that camp down to the river (C 3.66). This passage is unusual in Caesar for its length and detail. Pompeian troops have occupied the camp: some of the topographical detail is needed to understand Caesar's tactical description of his attack on them. But the major importance of the topographical description is to explain the psychological events that ruin his attack. Taking the Pompeians by surprise, Caesar's troops break into the camp. The cohorts of Caesar's right wing and his cavalry break a narrow passage through the earthwork extending to the river (C 3.67-68). But now Pompey arrives with five legions.

At the same moment his cavalry approached our horse, and his formed line of battle came into sight of our troops who were occupying the camp. Suddenly everything was changed. The Pompeian legion [in the camp], firmed up (confirmata) by hope that it would soon be helped, attempted to resist at the decuman gate, and on its own made an impetus at our men. Caesar's horse, because it had ascended the earthwork by a narrow path, feared for its retreat and began to flee. The right wing, because it was cut off from the left, having noticed the terror of the cavalry, began to withdraw over that part of the earthwork it had thrown down, in order not to be overwhelmed within the fortifications. And many of them, lest they get caught up in the narrow spaces, jumped from the ten-foot parapet into the trenches. When these first men fell the others tried to gain safety and escape over their bodies. The soldiers of the left wing, when they saw from the rampart the approach of Pompey and the flight of our men, feared lest they get caught up in narrow spaces, with an enemy both inside and outside the camp, and took their own counsel for retreat by the way they had entered. Everything was full of tumult, fear (timor), and flight, to the extent that when Caesar seized the standards of those in flight and ordered them to halt, some gave their horses their head and fled right on, some released the standards in fear, and not one of them stopped.

(C 3.69)

There is almost no actual fighting here. Caesar's troops fall into a snowballing terror at the thought of what might happen if they are caught in a locus iniquus, and disaster ensues. We understand the origin of their fear from Caesar's careful topographical introduction to his narrative of the catastrophe. Landscape viewed through the lens of animus is a monstrously exaggerated version of the tactical landscape, the terrifying high and leaping shadows cast by a fire into a dark wood by night (cf. G 1.39). Mixed with those terrible features of terrain are the points of vantage—hilltops and ridge lines—where objects of fear or reassurance come into view or from where they can be seen (cf. Hirt. BG 8.29; B.Afr. 40). The animus landscape is a place of hauntings too. The panic of Roman soldiers when attacked unexpectedly by Germans is added to by the memory that Sabinus and Cotta marched to disaster from that very fort in which the Romans cower (G 6.37). In his systematic attribution of psychological consequences to topographical features, and in his description of topographical features because of their psychological—rather than strictly tactical—significance, Caesar goes beyond his Greek models. He does so because his Roman experience suggested a different model of soldiers' psychology, which demanded in turn a more nuanced understanding of exactly how psychological events in battle come about.

Among Greek military experts, there was an old controversy about the role of psychology in battle, and about how that psychology ought to be understood and managed. At one dismissive extreme stood the tactical purists, confident that their science of formations and deployment, their physics of battle, was the key to victory. More open to psychology were those officers—like Polybius—who collected strategems to get the better of their enemies. Since many stratagems were psychological in nature, psychology was part of their military art. Yet stratagem also constrained their conception of psychology, tending to reduce psychology to a function of stratagem. At the other Greek extreme Xenophon represents to us a tradition of thinking that elevated psychology to parity with tactics, even to superiority over tactics in the heat of argument. Such thinking was interested in stratagem, psychological and otherwise, but was also keenly aware of the importance of unplanned psychological events, of psychology as it existed outside the box of stratagem, not bound to the agency of a specific individual.

It was from the Greek position on military psychology that survives to us in Xenophon that Julius Caesar set out. There are striking similarities between Caesar's conception of morale and Xenophon's: as with Caesar's conception of tactics, the fundamental intellectual machinery Caesar uses to imagine military psychology is probably borrowed—by Caesar or his Roman predecessors—from the Greeks. Caesar's position as a military intellectual in the Greek tradition is suggested also by his systematic interest in stratagem: his continuator Hirtius notes that Caesar wrote so as to highlight his cunning planning (consilia, BG 8. pr),67 associating him with the Greek stratagem tradition, and the pages of Caesar are filled with tricks and deceptions.68 The familiar Greek nexus between stratagem and psychology is also plainly evident in Caesar (G 4.25, 7.66-67, C 1.41-42). But, like Xenophon, Caesar refused to view psychology strictly as a function of stratagem. With his comments about Pompey at Pharsalus, Caesar takes sides in a Greek debate about the importance of morale in battle, and he situates his writing in a Greek tradition which emphasized morale as a perennial factor to be managed rather than an exceptional factor which came into play when the opportunity for a stratagem presented itself. The most striking quality about Caesar's treatment of morale is simply how extensive it is, and how much more important morale is in Caesar's battle descriptions than in the battle descriptions of earlier Greek writers, even Xenophon.

Yet just as Roman experience with the legion suggested a metaphorical system ramifying from the crash rather than the push of the phalanx, Roman military culture suggested modifications to inherited Greek schemes for understanding military psychology. Although fully aware of the advantages of elation in battle, Roman soldiers esteemed also a calm state of mind situated between the Greek categories of high and low morale. The consequence of this outlook, in Caesar's hands, is a different model of soldiers' psychology than that of the Greeks, which results in turn in a more subtle understanding of the causes of psychological phenomena and the significance of terrain. In Caesar's battle description this psychological vision of battle mixes and mingles with his tactical vision, to produce battle descriptions that would have pleased Clausewitz as “shot through with psychological forces and effects.”


The third theme in Caesar's description of Pharsalus is that of courage, virtus. In a post-psychoanalytic age we are not very comfortable with a distinction between courage, an abiding—perhaps inborn—aspect of character, and flighty morale, a subdivision of psychology. But ancient psychology was less imperialistic than modern. And ancient men were happier than modern to think that their contemporaries acted thus and so because it was their singular nature to do so: ancient men thought in terms of permanent character, we in terms of fungible personality. In a military context, Greeks and Romans saw no difficulty drawing a sharp categorical line between morale, … or animus, and courage, … or virtus. But on the significance of courage in battle Caesar parted company with the Greeks. The two main traditions of Greek military thinking, tactics and stratagem, were dismissive of courage as a decisive factor in battle. Caesar's Roman tradition, by contrast, was conflicted, admiring both victory by guile and victory by sheer bravery. In describing the role of bravery in battle, and in his analysis of that role, Caesar reaches furthest beyond the tradition of Greek military thinking to which he is otherwise so indebted.


Drawing upon their epic past, Greek historians felt that one of the functions of a battle description was to relate … individuals' glorious deeds of courage. This is especially striking in Herodotus, where, for example, the historian lists those who conducted themselves most bravely at the battle of Plataea (9.71-74; cf. 6.114, 7.181, 7.226-27, 8.17, 8.93, 9.105),69 but the custom is still very much alive in Xenophon (Hell. 1.2.10, 1.6.32, 4.3.19, 4.8.32, 7.5.16) and Polybius (10.49.14, 11.2.1, 11.18.1-4, 16.5; cf. 16.30.3).70 Caesar follows in this tradition with his tale of Crastinus at Pharsalus, and with other aristeai, most strikingly that of the centurions Vorenus and Pullo (G 5.44; cf. G 7.25, 7.47, 7.50).71 But to conceive of battle in terms of physical tactics, or in terms of stratagems, did not encourage Greek military thinkers to root victory or defeat in the bravery of individuals or the differences in bravery between military units, armies, or peoples. From Herodotus' depictions of Salamis and Plataea on, Greek military thinking manifested itself in a strain of Greek historical writing that tended to wall off bravery—although usually worth recording in its own right—from the outcome of battles.72 This is especially the lesson of Thucydides' account of Phormio's second victory in the gulf of Corinth. The Peloponnesian commander gives a speech urging his men to rely on their superior courage (… 2.87) and discounting the Athenian advantage in experience in fighting at sea; but in his speech the Athenian commander Phormio assails the Peloponnesian thinking, stressing instead Athenian experience in naval tactics; indeed bravery, he argues, is merely a function of experience (2.89).73 The Athenians win the battle against great odds, settling the controversy for the reader (2.90-92; cf. 6.69.1). Viewing bravery as a function of knowledge seems to have been a Socratic position (Arist. NE 3.8.6 [=116b]; cf. Xen. Mem. 3.9.2; Plato Laches 193-99, Prot. 349-51, 359-60),74 and Xenophon offers a variation on it when he has Cyrus argue that it is chiefly training that distinguishes the brave man … from the coward … (Cyr. 3.3.50, 3.3.55, 7.5.75).75

This strain of hostility to the agency of bravery is especially striking if one compares the battle descriptions of Xenophon and Polybius to those of Caesar's Greek contemporary Diodorus Siculus, participant in and heir to a more rhetorical historical tradition. Diodorus diverges from the experts Xenophon and Polybius in his regular attribution of a pivotal role in battle to sheer courage (18.15.2-3, 18.45.2, 19.30.5, 20.38.5, …). “In fights on land,” he writes, “courage … becomes evident, because it can gain the upper hand if no accidents intrude” (20.51.5). In Polybius, much closer to the tradition of theoretical Greek military thinking, bravery is sometimes used as a shorthand to explain a victory upon which the author does not then choose to dwell (2.9.5, 2.55.4), or to explain, in general terms, the overall outcome of wars (5.76.11; cf. Xen. Hell. 2.4.40-41), like Rome's victories over Carthage. In that context Polybius argues that Italians are by nature stronger and braver than Phoenicians and Libyans; that citizens are braver than mercenaries and become even braver in defeat; and that the customs of the Romans (such as the great aristocratic funerals, which he then describes) make them braver still (6.52; cf. 1.64.6).76 But as Polybius' descriptions of warfare move from the distant and general to the closer and specific—to detailed depictions of individual battles—bravery tends to find itself outside the chain of causation that leads to victory, displaced by the tactical conception of battle and discountenanced by the strategmatic outlook, which set victory by art above victory by brute courage. Of the Punic wars, Polybius writes, “in naval matters the Romans are much inferior in experience … but win on the whole because of the bravery of their men … ; for although nautical skill contributes largely to battles on the sea, nevertheless the bravery of the marines … weighs most in the scales of victory” (6.52.8-9). Yet this general diagnosis is hardly consistent with his highly tactical depictions of the sea battles of the First Punic War (1.23, 1.25, 1.26-28, 1.50-51), where the superior bravery of the Roman marines merits only a passing mention (1.61.3).77 Standing close to the military tradition, Polybius' battles generally turn on tactics and stratagems rather than bravery.78 His, instead, is a world where “at first the mercenaries prevailed by virtue of their skill and courage …, and wounded many of the Romans, but relying on the exactness of their formation and their armament … the Romans kept advancing” (15.13.1-2). In Polybian battle descriptions bravery is more often than not the desperate resort of those who are going to lose (1.30.11-12, 1.84.5, 3.115.4-5, 5.100.1-2, 18.21.8; cf. Herod. 1.176, 5.2).

There is even less discussion of bravery in Xenophon's battles than in Polybius'. Bravery makes its appearance in harangues before battle (Anab. 1.7.3, 3.2.15, 6.5.24), but in one such context Xenophon alludes to the artificiality and conventionality of such rhetoric (Cyr. 7.1.17-18). Otherwise, bravery appears in paradoxical contexts, as when the traditionally despised Eleans overcome the Arcadians, Argives, and Athenians (Hell. 7.4.30), or when Athenian horse overcomes the celebrated Thessalian cavalry (Hell. 7.5.16-17). It is almost as if Xenophon is mocking traditional Greek concepts of bravery.

The tenor of Greek military thinking was, thus, to render differences in bravery beside the point. In this tradition the bravery of his army is the involuntary refuge of the inept general, the general who had been bettered in tactics or stratagem. In Thucydides' description of Mantinea, the Spartans, cast into confusion by the imbecile orders of their king, and “utterly worsted in skill” …, nevertheless won by bravery (… 5.72.2). The Roman deployment against the Insubres was deeply foolish, Polybius complains, but nevertheless the Romans won by their bravery (… 2.33.9).


There are distinct echoes of this dismissive Greek attitude to courage in Caesar. Servius Galba's Twelfth Legion sorties from its camp, “placing all hope of safety in virtus” (G 3.5), and routs the enemy. But this desperate sortie was needed because Galba's idiocy had left the legion cut off in the Alps, wintering in an incomplete, badly placed camp. Attacked by Alpine tribesmen, outnumbered, exhausted, wounded, and out of missiles, the Romans are saved by bravery—in pointed contrast to the preparations of their general (cf. Livy 6.30.5-6, 35.6.9-10). And when bravery takes the place of proper planning or good order, in Caesar, it is more usually futile: when the foolishness of Titurius Sabinus has led the Romans into a Gallic ambush, “our soldiers, deserted by their leader and by fortune, nevertheless placed all hope for their safety in virtus” (G 5.34). Yet by the cunning of the ambush the Romans were surrounded in a valley and crammed together in a small area. “There was no room left for virtus” (nec virtuti locus relinquebatur, G 5.35), and the Romans were destroyed. Having foolishly led an outnumbered and exhausted army into battle against impossible odds, Caesar's marshal Curio “encourages his men to repose all hope in virtus.” “Nor was virtus lacking for the fight,” notes Caesar, despite the troops' scantiness and exhaustion, and they drove back the Numidians, until, surrounded, exhausted, and hopeless, their spirit broke, and they took to “bewailing their own deaths, and commending their parents to those whom fortune might preserve from danger. Everything was fear and wailing” (C 2.41). They were slaughtered.

Caesar uses his description of his defeat at the battle of Gergovia (G 7.45-52) as an opportunity for a homily on the danger of foolish reliance on unreasoning virtus. Having contrived by stratagem to draw the Gauls away from their camps on the slope beneath the town, he ordered a limited attack, carefully instructing his legates to hold back the troops—if they advanced too far they would proceed on to disadvantageous ground and be at the mercy of the Gauls. Catching the Gauls by surprise, the Romans rapidly occupy their appointed objectives, but ignoring the recall and the efforts of Caesar's legates and the military tribunes to call them back, they continue to advance “elated by hope of a speedy victory, the flight of the enemy and by successful engagements previously, and thought nothing so difficult that it could not be done by courage (virtus).” The centurion Lucius Fabius mounts the wall, and the demoralization of the Gauls is stressed by a warm description of the hysterical terror of their women. But now the Gauls, overcoming their initial panic, begin to wax in number. “For the Romans the contest was equal in neither ground nor number. Men tired out by the run and the length of the battle could not easily resist men who were fresh and sound.” “The battle was fought most ferociously at close quarters, the enemy trusting to the ground and their numbers, our men to courage (virtus).” And the ground and numbers overcame virtus, especially when the Romans fell into an alarm because of the approach of the Aedui, allies mistaken for enemies. The Romans are pushed back with losses, and the disaster is rendered vivid by notices of the death of Lucius Fabius and another brave, foolish centurion. The next day Caesar calls his army to assembly, and lectures them (and us). “Although he greatly admired the greatness of spirit (animi magnitudinem, used more or less synonymously with virtus)79 of those whom no camp fortifications, no height of hill, no town wall could slow … he wanted obedience and self-control (modestiam et continentiam) no less than virtus and greatness of spirit” (C 7.52).

So far Caesar seems loyal to the Greek military tradition, esteeming artful generalship and sparing of men. Urged to battle by his army, he thinks, “why should he try fortune? Especially when it was no less the role of the imperator to overcome by planning than by the sword” (consilio superare quam gladio, C 1.72; cf. G 7.19; B.Afr. 14). But this Greek conception stands in striking contrast—in contradiction—to another, more Roman, understanding of the role of virtus in battle, which is no less prominent in Caesar's writings. This manifests itself in Caesar's account of the sea fight in 49 bc between his commander Decimus Brutus and the Pompeian L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, commanding Massilian ships (C 1.56-58; cf. B.Alex. 15-16). Caesar describes the disadvantages under which his side labored: the Massilian fleet was much larger and manned by better seamen, while the Caesarian ships were badly built and slow. The Massilians naturally attempted the sophisticated naval tactics by which a skilled fleet of galleys could press its advantage against an unskilled. But liberal provision of grappling hooks on the Caesarian side created a land battle by sea. For this too the Pompeians were hardly unprepared, having shipped savage warriors of the Albici, barbarians from the hills around Massilia, as marines. “When [the Pompeians] by necessity came closer, instead of the science and tricks of their steersmen they had resort to the virtus of the mountaineers.” But Caesar had manned his ships with picked centurions and legionaries, the bravest (fortissimi) men in his army. “The fighting was carried on with the greatest bravery and intensity (fortissime atque acerrime) on both sides, nor did the Albici—harsh mountaineers, practiced in arms—yield much to our men in virtus.” Not much, perhaps, but enough. And the Caesarians calmly (animo aequo) boarded and captured ship after ship.

To Caesar what decided this battle was the difference in virtus between his men and the Albici. Nor was this because his officer Decimus Brutus had failed in his duty: the deft maneuvers of the skilled Massilian steersmen (analogous to Caesar's own maneuvers on so many occasions) are sneered at as “tricks,” artificia, obscurely illegitimate. They are distractions from the crux of the matter, the hand-to-hand combat in which virtus reveals itself. The most systematic presentation of this way of conceiving warfare can be found in remarks Caesar attributes to Divico, leader of the Helvetii, warning the Roman general against fighting that tribe.

He ought to remember the old disaster of the Romans [at the hands of the Helvetii, in 107 bc] and the unblemished virtus of the Helvetii. He [Caesar, in a recent victory] had set upon one canton unexpectedly when those who had crossed the river could not help them; thus he should not merely on that account rate his own virtus highly nor despise them. They had learned from their fathers and ancestors to fight on the basis of virtus, rather than tricks and ambushes (magis virtute quam dolo contenderent aut insidiis niterentur).

(G 1.13; cf. B.Afr. 73)

Virtus is expected to be decisive, and everything that gets in the way of virtus—tricks and ambushes—is sordid (cf. B.Alex. 29). Caesar has Vercingetorix reecho this sentiment, telling his army after Avaricum not to be disheartened. “The Romans had not won by virtus or in a pitched battle, but by trickery and knowledge of siegecraft” (G 7.29, sed artificio quodam et scientia oppugnationis).

This is no barbarian gasconade, but the traditional code of the Romans.80 Sallust presents Metellus, fighting Jugurtha in Africa, as badly outmaneuvered. “On Metellus' side was the virtus of his soldiers, but the ground was against him; Jugurtha had all advantages except in soldiers” (Jug. 52.2). Metellus' eventual victory is received with special satisfaction at Rome, “because he had led his army in the ancestral manner: although in a bad position he had been victorious by virtus nonetheless” (Jug. 55.1). “Our ancestors did not wage war by ambushes or night battles, nor by pretended flight and unforeseen return to an enemy off his guard, that they might glory in cunning rather than real virtus,” Livy has old senators grumble, about the dubious diplomacy of Marcius Philippus and Aulus Attius in Greece in 171 bc (42.47.5; cf. Tac. Ann. 2.88). And Polybius contrasts the Greek enthusiasm for military trickery with a lingering Roman distaste for it, and notes the Roman preference for hard fighting at close quarters (Polyb. 13.3.7; cf. 36.9.9). Despite a venerable Roman tradition of admiration for cunning in battle,81 there survived a strong sense that Romans ought to prevail by bravery unadorned, that the truest victory was by virtus, and that only a defeat by virtus was a true defeat.

Caesar picks up this strand after his own defeat at Gergovia, telling his troops not to be downhearted, since they were defeated by the locus iniquus rather than the Gauls' virtus (G 7.53). Similarly, Caesar notes that the Pompeians should not have become overconfident after his setback at Dyrrachium. They were acting as if they had been victorious by virtus rather than by the fortuitous panic of Caesar's men (C 3.72). In the sea battle against the Massilians Caesar betrays a certain satisfaction when the extraneous particularities of battle—of number, of position, of animus—are swept away, and courage wrestles undistracted against courage. Like Romans in general,82 at some level Caesar thinks that battles are supposed to be fought by virtus. Like Romans in general, he does not resolve the contradiction between conceptions of battle dependent on virtus and on stratagem. Indeed, as an author Caesar may rely upon that contradiction in the minds of his Roman reader: he and his army can appear in a good light both in battles won by craft and in battles won by hard fighting. If a battle be lost, he can portray his men fighting admirably in one realm, in virtus, even if they are defeated in strategy.

In thinking about battle in terms of virtus, Caesar draws upon a very old stratum of Roman thinking about warfare.83 Usually translated “bravery,” virtus comes close to “masculinity”: it denotes the competitive male excellence of traditional Mediterranean societies. As such it must be constantly proved and reasserted, and the old custom of the Romans was to do so not in small-scale internal violence (as many feuding peoples do), but instead primarily in war.84 As well as being conceived as a matter of physical realities and the vertiginous see-sawing of animus, battle in Caesar manifests itself as a contest for masculine dominance, a battle of roosters or of drunkards in a bar, a Florentine duel or a Sicilian vendetta.

The virtus battle tests masculine excellence in the eyes of a real or imagined public. In the realm of virtus the constant preoccupation of the soldier is with what people will think. “Since the fighting occurred in view of everyone, and nothing done well or shamefully could be concealed, lust for praise and fear of ignominy drove both sides to virtus” (G 7.80, laudis cupiditas et timor ignominiae ad virtutem excitabant; cf. Hirt. BG 8.42; Xen. Hell. 7.1.30). The display of virtus over time earns a reputation, a reputation of which soldiers are fiercely protective. Attacked by surprise by Germans, Caesar's green legionaries fall apart. Not so their centurions. Promoted to their positions because of their virtus, they die fighting bravely, “lest they lose the renown for military accomplishment which they had won in the past” (G 6.40, rei militaris laudem; cf. C 3.28, 3.101; Thuc. 2.11.2; Xen. Hell. 7.5.16; Polyb. 15.11.12). At the siege of Avaricum, Caesar tells his soldiers that he will withdraw if the scarcity of food becomes too severe. “All of them begged him not to: they had served many years under his command without incurring any disgrace (ignominia), never abandoning anything unachieved. And they would deem it a disgrace if they gave up a siege they had begun” (G 7.17). Having established a standard of conduct by their previous performance, soldiers cannot bear to imagine what the world will think of them if they fall away from it (cf. B.Alex. 16). Caesar notes with approval that, when starving, his soldiers “say nothing unworthy of the majesty of the Roman people and their own previous victories” (G 7.17; cf. 5.35).

Warfare is a contest of masculinity. If an individual like the Pompeian Antistius Turpio jeers that no Caesarian is equal to him, a Caesarian, Q. Pompeius Niger, will accept his challenge to single combat (B.Hisp. 25).85 So similarly for a commander to offer battle—frequently by coming out of camp or down from a hill to a space where battle will occur on equal terms—is a challenge to the masculinity of the enemy commander and his army.

Sabinus kept himself in camp. … Viridovix camped against him two miles away and every day led out his forces to give him the opportunity to fight, so that Sabinus not only fell into contempt among the enemy, but even was somewhat jeered at by our own soldiers.

(G 3.17; cf. C 3.37; Livy 3.60.8; Thuc. 8.27)

To fail to respond to challenges to masculinity of this type is to fall into contempt, to surrender before the watching world one's claim to be a man. Just like a brawler picking a fight thrusts his intended foe back with light nudges, so the challenging army moves closer and closer (C 3.84; cf. B.Afr. 30-32). If those in camp do not come out, their humiliation is redoubled by the jeers of their enemies (G 5.58, magna cum contumelia verborum; cf. B.Afr. 31; Plut. Marius 16.3; Front. Strat. 1.11.1).86 “The foe mocks us with every kind of insult (omnibus contumeliis), just as if we were women hiding behind the rampart,” says a centurion in Livy (7.13.6), drawing an explicit connection between keeping in camp, enemy mockery, and deficiency in masculinity. And so generals do come out, even against their better judgment.

Every day thereafter [Caesar] drew up his army in line of battle on a flat/fair place (aequum locum), in case Pompey should desire to fight a battle. He brought up his legions almost to Pompey's camp, so that his first line was only so far from the rampart that it could not be hit by a bolt from an artillery piece. Pompey, in order to maintain his fame and repute in the eyes of men (famam opinionemque hominum teneret), deployed his army in front of his camp so that the third line abutted the rampart, and so that the whole drawn-up formation could be protected by missiles cast from the rampart.

(C 3.55; cf. 1.82; Tac. Ann. 3.20)

Pompey comes out as little as his concern for his reputation for virtus will allow him to. At Ruspina, Caesar (badly outnumbered and leading inexperienced troops) did not take the field against the taunting Scipio. His continuator felt he had to explain away this passivity: it is not that Caesar was not confident of victory (he asserts loyally), but that Caesar felt his reputation demanded big victories (B.Afr. 31). The continuator's evident discomfort reflects the strength of the expectation that under the code of virtus challenges to battle had to be met.

The fierce competition for primacy in masculinity makes soldiers yearn to expunge any taint. The besieged Massilians, having sued for a truce, take up arms again and surprise the Caesarian soldiers, burning their siegeworks. But Caesar's men erect replacements in record time, “for it grieved them that with the truce broken by a crime their virtus would be a subject of ridicule” (C 2.15, suam virtutem irrisui fore). By resisting at all, the Massilians had shown contempt (contemptione sui) for Caesar's legions, and this was one of the reasons that a massacre was to be expected if the town fell (C 2.13). “For them to go on boasting so long in our sight is very disgraceful and painful for us,” growls a Rhodian ship-captain (but no feeble Greek—“to be compared to our men rather than the Greeks in greatness of spirit and virtus”) in one of Caesar's continuators; “leave it in our hands, we'll keep up our side” (B.Alex. 15; cf. Front. Strat. 1.11.1).

In the wake of a lost battle soldiers are overwhelmed with a desire to try their luck again “to repair the disgrace” (C 3.74; cf. Xen. Hell. 6.4.14) with virtus (C 3.73) or to depart from the scene of their shame (C 3.24; cf. 3.100; Hirt. BG 8.13). In battle itself, flight (C 3.24; cf. B.Afr. 66, 75; Xen. Hell. 1.6.32; Polyb. 5.96.3), or the loss of a standard (G 4.25, C 3.64) or ships (C 3.100; cf. B.Alex. 11), is conceived as a disgrace. Since retreating is shameful (C 1.44) a commander might order a retreat to proceed “as honorably as possible” (B.Afr. 31, quam honestissime; cf. Xen. Hell. 7.4.13). At the Sambre the cavalry, having recovered their nerve, fight bravely “to wipe out the disgrace of their flight with virtus” (G 2.27, turpitudinem fugae virtute delerent). An enemy's advance in battle can be conceived of as insolent (insolenter, C 3.46; cf. B.Alex. 8, 27; Xen. Hell. 5.3.3), which drives their opponents to counter-attack. They charge unwisely into a locus iniquus (C 1.45). After battle both sides total up their claims to virtus, to establish who is best. After Ilerda,

each side thought it had parted as superior. Afranius' men based their claim on the fact that, although they were by general consent thought inferior, they had held their ground for so long in hand-to-hand combat, resisted our men's impetus, that at the beginning they captured the place and hill which was the cause of the fighting and at the first clash made our men turn their backs in flight. Our men grounded their claim on the fact that they had sustained a battle for five hours in a locus iniquus and outnumbered, that they had ascended the hill with drawn swords and put their adversaries (who were fighting from a higher position) to flight and driven them into the town.

(C 1.47)

The more difficult and challenging the circumstances in which they fought, the greater the soldiers' claim to virtus. In Caesar's continuators booty stands witness to such claims (B.Alex. 42), as do grisly trophies like the severed heads of enemies, insignia of virtus when impaled on sword points, and set to regard a besieged town (B.Hisp. 32).87

The code of virtus was not a strange archaic element of soldierly motivation, merely to be understood and accommodated by sophisticated commanders: virtus was a day-to-day practical concern of Caesar as general. One of the first duties of generalship is to establish the relative virtus of his army, and that of the enemy, for it is a factor in deciding whether he should offer battle (G 2.8, 3.24, C 2.16, 3.24). He knows from experience that the units of his own army have different virtus (G 1.40; cf. Hirt. BG 8.8), and each of the mass of tribes in Gaul has a particular martial reputation (opinio virtutis, G 7.59, 7.83; gloria belli, G 1.2), which can be found out by asking other Gauls (G 2.15). But such reputations are hardly infallible (G 2.24), and some—like that of Ariovistus' Germans, who so terrified Caesar's officers—were highly inflated. So Caesar also reckons virtus by logic, on the basis of Roman experience. “Is it of your own virtus or my zeal that you despair?” Caesar asks his panicked officers before marching against the Germans, and then proceeds to mobilize historical arguments to prove the Romans' superiority in virtus: Marius' army beat Germans—the Cimbri and Teutones—in the past; the Romans defeated the forces of Spartacus (many of them of German origin, we are expected to know); his own army beat the Helvetii, who had regularly defeated the Germans in their turn. True, Ariovistus' Germans had established an ascendancy over other Gauls, but they had taken them by surprise, “defeated them more by planning and craft than by virtus” (magis ratione et consilio quam virtute vicisse, G 1.40). Finally, if inquiry and logic fail to reveal the relative virtus of Romans and tribesmen, experiment is resorted to:

Caesar at first decided to abstain from battle because of the multitude of the enemy and their reputation for virtus (opinionem virtutis). But by cavalry skirmishes every day he tried out what the enemy could accomplish by virtus and what our men could dare. When he had come to understand that ours were not inferior he chose a place in front of his camp opportune and suitable for drawing up a line of battle.

(G 2.8; cf. 7.36)

All possible measures, in short, are undertaken to form an estimate of the virtus of the enemy.

When the relative virtus of friend and foe have been assessed, and the decision to join battle has been made, the general does what he can to call upon the virtus of his troops. The unchanging martial quality of his soldiers, virtus cannot be whipped up like animus, the volatile morale of the moment (cf. Sal. Cat. 58.1-2; Jug. 85.50). In his speech before battle the general urges upon his troops “to remember their virtus in the past (suae pristinae virtutis) and their very successful battles” (G 7.62; cf. 2.21; Sal. Cat. 58.12). That is, he reminds them of the reputation they have earned, so that they will strive harder not to lose it. With this done, the general's main duty (viewed from a virtus point of view) is to watch the battle—for virtus is public excellence, and is brought to the fore by an audience (G 7.80).88 Thus in the Romans' sea battle against the Veneti of Brittany, once Roman machinery had mangled the rigging of the Gauls' prodigious sailing ships, “the rest of the contest lay in virtus; in which our soldiers easily excelled, the more so since the e events transpired in sight of Caesar and the whole army, so that no deed braver than others could lie hidden” (G 3.14; cf. Polyb. 2.69.4). For the same reason, before the battle with Ariovistus, Caesar “placed each of his legates and his quaestor in charge of an individual legion, so that each man might have them as witnesses to his virtus” (G 1.52; cf. Diod. 19.83.5). When Caesar is not present at a battle, his lieutenants urge his soldiers to imagine that he was there, watching them. “Display under my command that same virtus that you have so often shown to our imperator, and imagine that he is present and watching with his own eyes” (G 6.8; cf. 7.62).

In Caesar's universe, the virtus outlook is shared by his army and by his enemies. Foes display predictable virtus behavior, which can be ruthlessly exploited by the cunning stratagem-minded general. Indeed, the unresolved contradiction between Caesar's conceptions of the role of virtus and stratagem in warfare yawns widest when he proudly reports stratagems which take advantage of his opponents' preoccupation with virtus. Outnumbered by the Treveri across a deep river from his camp, and fearing an accession to them of German reinforcements, Labienus pretends terror and orders his camp struck amidst noise and confusion so that his departure will resemble flight. “It was intolerable to their [the Treveri's] dignity (dignitas) if they did not dare to attack with such great forces so small a force, especially when fleeing and encumbered. And they did not hesitate to cross the river and commit to battle in a locus iniquus” (G 6.8). Naturally Labienus thrashes them.

To take advantage of the enemy's virtus outlook does not always require such guile. Having decided that the virtus of the Belgae is not invincible, Caesar draws up his army to offer them battle, but only if they are willing to fight in an appalling locus iniquus. To get to him the Gauls will have to cross a marsh and advance up a hill against a Roman army with its flanks protected by entrenchments (G 2.8-9). Why does Caesar think they might attack nonetheless despite the disadvantages? What Caesar expects is that the Belgae will react just as his own soldiers did when facing Vercingetorix's host occupying a hill behind a swamp, when to attack them would have been to fight in a similar locus iniquus.

Whoever saw how close they were together might have thought them prepared to fight a battle on equal terms (aequo Marte), but whoever considered the inequality of the situation realized that this was a display of empty pretense. The soldiers of Caesar considered it an offense to their dignity (indignantes) that the enemy could endure the sight of them with such a small space in between, and begged for the signal for battle.

(G 7.19; cf. B.Alex. 29)

Naturally Caesar refuses to give the signal, refusing to sacrifice the men that an assault on such unequal conditions would require. But, as Caesar tells it, the Gauls nevertheless claimed this as indicative of their superiority in virtus, with Vercingetorix crowing that “this enables them to despise the virtus of those who did not dare to engage and shamefully retreated to their camp” (G 7.20). Thus Caesar had every reason to think that a people with an opinio virtutis like that of the Belgae would find the challenge of battle irresistible, and contemplation of their humiliation from failing to attack intolerable to their pride. Indeed, to the virtus-minded warrior, a locus iniquus might appear to make an attack more attractive, not less. For the worse the circumstances, the greater the display of virtus. At the siege of the stronghold of the Aduatuci the Gauls make a desperate night attack on the Roman siegeworks. “The enemy fought fiercely (acriter), as was meet (debuit) for brave men (viris fortibus) in the last extremity of hope fighting in a locus iniquus against men who threw missiles from rampart and towers, when all hope of safety was lodged in virtus alone” (G 2.33). It is the very difficulty of the situation, including the impossible lay of the ground, that demands the exercise of virtus, and that allows its display. It is the fact of their attack uphill in a restricted space, their fighting in a locus iniquus, that gives Caesar's soldiers the right to claim that they came off better in virtus at Ilerda (C 1.47, and see above). To the soldier bent on displaying virtus the terrain of the battlefield looks exactly like that of the battlefield of the tactical general—the slopes which help missiles fall heavy and true, the sucking swamps, the impeding rivers—but its significance is inverted. The more the tactical general would shy away from a locus iniquus, the more the soldier eager to display virtus yearns to assail it. For conceived in terms of virtus landscape takes on a memorial function. Caesar arrives at the camp where Q. Cicero was besieged. “He marveled at the towers erected, the mantlets, and the fortifications of the enemy”; only one Roman in ten is unwounded. “From all these things he judged how great the danger was and with how great virtus the affair had been carried on” (G 5.52). Or, alarmingly, the Helvetian Divico warns Caesar, “do not let this place, where they were meeting, take a famous name from or perpetuate the memory of a disaster of the Roman people and the destruction of an army” (G 1.13; cf. B.Alex. 72). Do not, he is saying, let the place become a monument to our virtus at your expense.

Greek battle descriptions were filled with accounts of the brave deeds of individuals and groups. Many of the roles bravery plays in Caesar's battles can be paralleled in scattered references in Greek authors. To a historian near the mainstream of Hellenistic history-writing, like Diodorus Siculus, the pivotal role of courage in battle was an easy assumption. But bravery fell uneasily into the categories in which Greek military experts—like Xenophon and Polybius—thought about how battles were won, and despite a strain of Greek political thinking which sought the origins of high bravery in civic customs and institutions (esp. Xen. Lac. Pol.; Polyb. 6.52-55; cf. Arist. NE 3.8 [=1116a-b]), the Greek military tradition never entirely succeeded in integrating courage into its conception of battle.

Wistful Greek longing for an honest day before the triumph of stratagem (Polyb. 13.3.2-3)89 re-echoed thunderously at Rome. For there, reliance on stratagem—although old and respectable—crashed into a powerful contemporary sentiment that proper battles were won by virtus and that victory was greater in proportion to how out-generaled the Romans had been. In his failure to reconcile his reliance on stratagem with his conception of the importance of virtus, Caesar simply reproduces the wider conflict of his society. But the conflict betrays the fact that bravery was much more central to the Roman conception of battle than it was in Greek theory, and Caesar fully integrates virtus into his battle descriptions. To Caesar bravery is not just something to be admired in passing, or a convenient generalizing short-hand; it is not decoration or deus ex machina. It is an essential—potentially decisive—cog in the mechanics of battle, important from minute to minute as a motivation of the troops and commanders, and carefully thought about by generals, who use it as the basis of stratagems. Like tactics and animus, virtus imposes its own significance upon the topography of the battlefield. It is in his understanding of the workings of bravery that Caesar reaches furthest beyond the Greek military tradition.

To a student of Tendenz in Caesar the marshal's attention to the bravery of his soldiers smacks of being a political project: it was upon the loyalty of his soldiers, after all, that Caesar's political predominance rested. Yet a Polybian treatment of bravery in battle—praising it in passing in the course of battle descriptions which hinge on other factors—would have been perfectly adequate for any strictly political end. Caesar may well use his understanding of virtus for devious purposes, to make himself and his army appear in a good light, to deflect attention from his mistakes, to deceive his reader. But he can do so because he and his prospective Roman reader share a pre-existing expectation that sheer courage is an important factor at every stage of battle. That shared expectation—an aspect of Roman culture—ramifies into Caesar's understanding of virtus on the battlefield. Caesar departs from the Greek understanding of courage not because he is Caesar the politician, but because he is Caesar the Roman.


Greek historians, heavily influenced by a tactical conception of combat, usually used that model as the structuring armature of their accounts of battles: the formation, deployment, and movement of forces tend to form the backbone of the narrative, with other material—stratagems, the brave deeds of individuals, remarkable occurrences like panics, paradoxes, and touching stories—included intermittently along the way. Caesar has similar descriptions—Alesia is conceived in this way—but he struggles against the domination of tactical schemata, and strives to give animus and virtus their proper prominence as well. Thus, as is true of Caesar's description of Pharsalus, the building blocks of his battle descriptions tend to be segments of narrative hanging upon all three of these themes; his depictions therefore often lack the firm tactical girdering of so many of Polybius' battles. This shifting of the camera between these different points of view, combined with the rushing speed of Caesar's narrative, produces accounts of battle that are highly artistic and impressionistic, series of self-contained vignettes, rapid slide-shows rather than movies, where the causal relationship between vignettes is often implied rather than stated.90

Caesar's conception of the relationship between tactics, animus, and virtus is fundamentally paratactic. To Caesar, these factors ideally combine to produce victory. This is nowhere more evident, and Caesar's method of describing a battle is nowhere more vividly displayed, than in his highly elaborated account of the battle of the Sambre against the Nervii.91 Caesar begins with a description of the battlefield. The Roman route of approach, we learn first, was hampered by the formidable hedges characteristic of the country of the Nervii (G 2.17).

This was the nature of the place which our men chose for the camp: a hill sloped down to the edge of the River Sabis … the angle of the slope consistent from the summit. Opposite and over against it a hill of equal slope arose from the river, the lower part open for two hundred paces, the upper part wooded, so that it could not easily be seen into. In those woods the enemy held themselves in hiding; next to the river on the open ground a few posts of cavalry were to be seen. The river was about three feet in depth.

(G 2.18)

The opening of the battle is conceived primarily in tactical terms, and the tactical significance of each of the topographical details Caesar has provided quickly becomes evident. Caesar's cavalry and light troops cross the river and attack the enemy horse, but the trees on the enemy hill limit their pursuit to the open hillside and permit the enemy infantry, already in formation, to attack the whole Roman army simultaneously at the moment the first of the Roman baggage crests the hill. Now Caesar emphasizes the twin tactical themes of the speed of the enemy and the disorder of the Romans. “Suddenly they flew forth with all their forces and made an impetus upon our cavalry. Having easily repulsed and disordered (pulsis ac proturbatis) these they ran down to the river with incredible quickness, so that almost at the same moment the foe were seen at the tree line, in the river, at close quarters. And with the same speed they hastened up hill at our camp and those busy entrenching it” (G 2.19). Caesar, assisted by his legates and the experience of the troops, tries to create order out of chaos, but there is great confusion (G 2.20-21). The “nature of the ground and the slope of the hill” (which we learned about in the description of the field), as well as the speed of the enemy attack, divide the legions, which fight independently. The hedges (also previously advertised) block the view to the front and make it hard to deploy reinforcements and command the various elements of the Roman army. The situation is critical (G 2.22, in tanta rerum iniquitate).

Events now occur simultaneously at various places on the battlefield, and Caesar must put aside his roughly chronological narrative structure for a topographical one. He begins on the left, where the Ninth and Tenth Legions take advantage of the higher ground to drive back the exhausted and wounded Atrebates into the river, slaughter them while they are impediti in the water, and pursue them up the opposite hill (in locum iniquum). Caesar's eyes then sweep to the center where the Eleventh and Eighth Legions similarly advance downhill to the edge of the water, driving those opposed to them before them. But in so doing the legions uncover the flank of the Twelfth and Seventh Legions on the right (to which Caesar now directs his attention) and break a hole in the Roman line, uncovering the Roman camp. Packed in close formation the Nervii exploit this hole, occupy the Roman camp, and take the Twelfth and Seventh Legions in the flank (G 2.23).

Now suddenly the focus, and the significance of the description of the battlefield, shifts from tactics—order and disorder, charges down hills, formations—to animus. Since the Roman camp was on the crest of a hill, those in it could see and be seen by all. Observing the Romans advancing across the river in victory, the Roman camp-servants (the calones, a stern and pragmatic body of men, expected to defend the camp in a crisis) left the camp to plunder. When the Nervii became visible in the denuded camp they inspired desperate panic in the camp-servants, the retreating auxiliaries, and in the baggage train. A great snowballing terror seizes all except the legionaries (G 2.24). But suddenly the fortunes of battle turn. Caesar's focus now shifts back to the right wing where his personal intervention delivers from fear, and firms up the animi of, the Twelfth and Seventh Legions (G 2.25-26). When Caesar arrived at the Twelfth the legion had taken heavy casualties among its centurions, and lost a standard. Caesar saw that the situation was at a crisis—but diagnosed the crisis as one of spirit. “The rest of the men were becoming slower, and some from the rearmost ranks were deserting the battle, retiring to avoid the missiles.” The men were closely packed together, hampering each other's fighting, and had gathered all the standards in a mass. We know from elsewhere (C 1.71; Hirt. BG 8.18) that these were well-understood signs of fear. Caesar's solution was to seize a shield and plunge into the front line, shouting encouragement to the troops. “His arrival inspired hope in the soldiers and revived their animus. Each man, even in extremity, wanted of his own accord to do his duty under the eyes of the imperator. The impetus of the enemy was slowed a bit.”

The Gauls were still lapping around the edges of the legions, and so Caesar ordered the Seventh, neighbor to the Twelfth, to wheel behind the Twelfth Legion and stand back to back with it. “This done, each bore aid to the other, and not fearing that they would be surrounded by the enemy from the rear, they began to resist more bravely and fight more strongly.” Again the danger Caesar diagnosed in encirclement was psychological, and he ordered a maneuver to bring psychological relief.

Meanwhile the two legions guarding the baggage crest the hill and come into sight, and from the opposite hill Titus Labienus, having taken the Gallic camp, and seeing what was going on from his own high ground, sends the Tenth Legion back to assist. This effects a revolution in the morale of the Roman forces. “Even our men who were lying down worn out by wounds renewed the fight propped on their shields; the camp-servants, seeing the enemy terrified (perterritos), attacked the armed foe even unarmed; and the cavalry fought at all points in rivalry with the legionaries, in order to obliterate the disgrace of their flight by virtus” (G 2.27).

And so to close the battle the focus—and with it the significance of the terrain—shifts once again, this time from animus to virtus. The reader already knows that the Nervii are men of outstanding virtus: shortly before he begins his account of the battle Caesar drives this point home by mentioning their scorn for civilized luxuries and their contempt for those who had surrendered to the Romans and thereby “cast away their ancestral virtus” (G 2.15). Now Caesar turns from the revival of the animus of the Romans to describe the last stand of the Nervii.

The enemy, even with hope of safety gone, showed so great a virtus, that when the first rank fell, those behind them stood upon their lying bodies and fought from them, and when they fell, and the corpses were piled up, those who survived threw missiles at us and threw back our javelins as if from a mound. It is not without reason, therefore, that they must be judged to have been men of gigantic virtus, since they dared to cross a wide river, climb high banks, and ascend a locus iniquus. Greatness of soul (magnitudo animi [=virtus]) made the most difficult tasks easy.

(G 2.27)

Such is Caesar's epitaph upon the Roman victory “which brought the race and name of the Nervii nearly to utter extermination” (G 2.28). The landscape, important at the beginning of the account to understanding the physics of the battle, then to the see-sawing morale of the sides, finally becomes a monument to the virtus of the Nervii.

Caesar's account takes the reader directly from the revival of the spirits of the Romans to the heroic last stand of the Nervii. But when exactly did the Nervii lose the battle so as to require a last stand? Where, indeed, was the last stand? Against which Roman units? The latest indication had the Nervii in the Roman camp, but if they were defending the camp (as Cassius Dio [39.3.2] interpreted Caesar's account) they would hardly need to fight on a mound of their own dead. Where too are the Eleventh and Eighth Legions, which pushed their way to the river? Combatants in the part of the battle described tactically, they simply vanish when Caesar's attention turns to animus. Such questions torment military historians trying to reconstruct the tactical progress of Caesar's battles. But so strictly tactical—so Polybian—a conception of battle is what Caesar is trying to avoid, because it would paint a false picture of the events. By describing the battle as he does, Caesar is trying to convey the deeper truth that there came a point in the battle where the location of troops—conceived tactically—was no longer very important; that suddenly what mattered was who could see what from where, and the psychological consequences of it. Then, as topographical indicators fall away altogether from his account, Caesar wants his reader to understand that what is important now is the action of virtus upon virtus; now he uses the terrain to illustrate that point. The story Caesar is telling is not just that of military movements, blunders, flank attacks, tactics. The story Caesar is telling is signaled early in the battle by his exhortation to his troops “that they should maintain a memory of their ancient virtus, that they should not be perturbed in animus, and that they should bravely sustain the impetus of the enemies (impetum fortiter sustinerent)” (G 2.21; cf. 3.19). To Caesar tactics (impetus), animus, and virtus share the battle equally, and by dividing the battle description into tactical, animus, and virtus segments, the very structure of the Roman general's account elegantly reflects that fact. To Caesar the best victory is victory in tactics, animus, and virtus all at once.

If Caesar's description of the battle of the Sambre illustrates his distance from the Greek tradition, his depiction of Pharsalus shows his proximity to it. Caesar explicitly describes Pharsalus as a tactical victory, and the diversions to tell the tale of the virtus of Crastinus, not clearly related to the outcome of the battle, would be at home in a Greek narrative. The main problem the narrative presents is the attention Caesar gives to animus, culminating in his denunciation of Pompey for his failure to understand the psychology of the charge. This passage interrupts the movement towards a tactical victory, but after it the battle description proceeds to its tactical conclusion. Animus is exalted, and then abandoned.

Perhaps Caesar's discussion of animus has a political motive, as discreditable to Pompey. But Caesar was also tempted to turn aside from his tactical narrative to comment on military psychology for intellectual reasons. For Caesar's tactical victory at Pharsalus placed him in the ironic danger of becoming a prominent exemplum for a view of generalship he did not share. The natural lesson of Pharsalus was that what matters most in battle is tactics and deployment. That is certainly the lesson Frontinus took away from the battle (Strat. 2.3.22), offering up Caesar's deployment to be admired and emulated. But Caesar was not prepared to become the hollow-cheeked poster-child of that narrow doctrine. Caesar was a general who took Xenophon's view of battle: to Caesar psychology was as important as tactics. The importance of considering the psychological consequences of one's orders was a polemical point which Caesar intended to make regardless of whether it confused the narrative of the battle.

And confuse the narrative it did: Caesar's criticism of Pompey had singular consequences for later Greek descriptions of the battle of Pharsalus. The criticism attracted notice: given Caesar's emphasis upon it, Pompey's failure cried out to be an important factor in his defeat. But Caesar had not made this connection, so those who followed him would have to do so themselves. Appian—who specifically mentions that he had read Caesar's account (BC 2.79)—tries to bridge the logical gap between Caesar's reproach of Pompey and the tactical conclusion to the battle. In his version Caesar's fourth line drives away Pompey's cavalry, thus uncovering the flank of Pompey's legions. Next Appian elaborates Caesar's criticism of Pompey for not letting his legionaries charge, and the bad consequences of such a policy. “And so it fell out on that occasion,” Appian writes, when the Tenth Legion, inspired by being allowed to charge, took Pompey's legions, deflated by their immobility and with flank uncovered, from the flank. This threw them into confusion, routed them, “and began the victory” (BC 2.79). The charge of the inspired Tenth Legion against the Pompeians' uncovered flank elegantly connects the morale of the charge to Caesar's eventual victory. But the flank charge of the Tenth is an event of which neither Caesar—in whom the fourth line makes the attack on flank and rear—nor any other surviving author knows. Appian has had to go a long way from Caesar's narrative to make sense of it.

Even stranger than Appian's reconciliation of Caesar's tactical and animus themes is the tradition that takes center stage in Plutarch's account. Here again the intervention of Caesar's fourth line is decisive. Its attack on Pompey's cavalry turns them to flight, and their flight “destroys everything” (Caes. 45.1-5). But Pompey's cavalry flee because of a psychological stratagem of Caesar's: according to this well-attested tale Caesar had told the legionaries facing the cavalry not to throw their javelins, but to thrust them into the faces of the young and beautiful cavalrymen, who would flee rather than face disfigurement (Caes. 45.2-3, Pomp. 69.3, 71.4-5; cf. Appian BC 2.76, 2.78; [Front.] Strat. 4.7.32; Polyaenus 8.23.25). The exact origin of this odd story can hardly be known: perhaps it arises from some dismissive remark Caesar actually made about Pompey's cavalry, reported in an independent tradition. But the elevation of the tale to the battle's decisive psychological stratagem may well be another solution to Appian's aporia: having read Caesar's passionate defense of psychological generalship in his criticism of Pompey—as Plutarch, for one, had (Caes. 44.8, Pomp. 69.5)—the reader looks around for a clear psychological decision to the battle, and what Caesar failed to supply, ingenuity did.

It was Julius Caesar who, by turning aside from his narrative to enter a Greek theoretical controversy, introduced psychology into the deepest stratum of the tradition of describing the battle of Pharsalus. The striking quality of this detour caused his narrative to be thoroughly misunderstood by Greek authors who came to describe the battle after him. Caesar's editorial comment prevailed over his tactical narrative: in the Greek tradition Pharsalus was remembered as a psychological victory. Appian refers to tactical thinkers who defended Pompey's plan on tactical grounds (BC 2.79). But in the face of that knowledge Appian preferred to follow—and try to repair—what he took to be Caesar's account. As a recorder of events Caesar failed, if success be defined as imposing his version on future generations. But as a military thinker in the Greek tradition who advocated a controversial point of view about the importance of psychology in battle, he won his point with posterity.


dNa/dt = -NddPd(r)

Model of Infantry Attack on Well Defended Position92

From the fifth century bc there can be detected in descriptions of battles in the Greek historians a substratum of shared assumptions about the factors that were decisive in combat. Soon those shared assumptions were elaborated into a tradition of written theory that stressed above all the importance of tactics—formation and deployment—and also the use of cunning stratagems to confound the enemy. Historical battle descriptions influenced by this tradition carefully described the tactics and stratagems of both sides and traced their consequences through to the outcome of the battle. The domination of this theory over Greek battle descriptions was, however, never complete. Other currents, artistic and rhetorical, were always influential, and authors near the mainstream of Hellenistic history writing often strove for extreme emotional effects, describing, for example, the expressions on the faces of severed heads (Diod. 17.58.5). Even sober authors close to the military tradition—Thucydides, himself a general, and Polybius, the author of a treatise on tactics—were not immune. The locus classicus of rhetorical battle description is Thucydides' much-imitated account of the climactic battle in the harbor at Syracuse (7.60-72), with its splendid paired speeches of encouragement, its pathetic depiction of the terrors of those watching the battle from the shore, and its absolute failure to reveal why the Syracusans won. Polybius' account of the battle of Chios (16.2-7), with only the sketchiest indication of the deployment, a mass of strange paradoxes, and much about the great deeds of the contending kings, can rank as a characteristically tumid Hellenistic effort (cf. 3.84.8-10, 5.48.9, 16.30-34).93

Julius Caesar was a participant in this lively tradition of Greek battle description. In his account of the battle of Tauroeis (C 2.4), the Massilians pathetically besiege their temples to implore the gods for victory, their desperation suspiciously similar to that of the watchers on the shore at Thucydides' Syracuse; and the Massilians' wailing when they hear of their loss (C 2.7) may nod at that of the Athenians in Xenophon hearing of the disaster at Aegospotami (Hell. 2.2.3-4).94 But Caesar was not an uncritical heir to any part of this legacy. The core of the Greek tradition was a physical theory of battle elaborated from centuries of experience with the phalanx. This theory insensibly downplayed the significance of other factors in battle, with the paradoxical consequence that bravery was more prominent in the battle descriptions of less well-informed Greek historians (like Diodorus and some of his sources) than in those of military experts (like Xenophon and Polybius). Caesar's Roman background was less dismissive of courage than Greek military theory was. Greek interest in stratagem—the second great stream of Greek military thinking—offered an entrée for other factors, like military psychology, into Greek thinking about battle. But it could also restrict that thinking, and always threatened to reduce military psychology to a special case, only occasionally important. Caesar allied himself with Greek military thinkers who gave psychology pride of place when thinking about battle: Caesar's command of Roman armies made him deem the management of morale (although conceived somewhat differently than by the Greeks) as important as tactics, evidently a polemical position given the stress he places upon it. Finally, Caesar's (or his lost Latin predecessors') experience of battle encouraged him to elaborate a tactical theory from the crash of the legionary charge, rather than the weighty push of the phalanx, and elaborate a psychological theory which incorporated the Roman military ethos of steadiness. Caesar, in short, adapts a Greek model of tactics, chooses (and adapts) a Greek position on psychology, and rejects the Greek dismissal of bravery. Caesar's conception of the mechanics of battle is a mixture of Greek and Roman, an adaptation rather than outright translation of Greek concepts, closer in spirit to the use of Greek models by Plautus than by Terence. Greek theory yields to Roman reality and Roman cultural expectations.

To the cultural historian, it is Caesar's split with the Greeks on the subject of bravery that stands out. Wondering about the significance of gladiatorial combat to Roman identity, Thomas Wiedemann points to the gladiator as the personification of the fundamental Roman value of virtus.95 But as well as admiring virtus from their seats, many Romans of Caesar's day lived according to its stern code. Caesar's full integration of virtus into the mechanics of battle shows that virtus was not merely an adornment to please readers with a purely literary taste for Roman pluck, and not just a mechanism for flattering his soldiers. Virtus was a real part of the motivation of Roman soldiers and their élite officers. So Caesar's treatment of virtus, and its ramifications, helps us understand Roman behavior in arenas other than the battlefield. Roman competitiveness, stiff-necked pride, and vengefulness—the offspring of virtus—are evident both in the Roman forum and in the forum of Roman foreign relations.

The differences between Caesar's and Greek conceptions of how battles work, moreover, and the differences among Greek authors as well, let us look back at all ancient battle descriptions with a wiser eye. Behind a Greek battle description involving pushing and weight there may indeed lie a bloody squash on an historical battlefield. But it will always be hard to know, since the Greek rhetoric of battle was rich with pushing metaphors and might impose them regardless of physical reality. In Polybius' Cynoscephalae tactics are decisive. But Polybius had decided that tactics were, in general, the decisive factor in battles long before he came to describe Cynoscephalae. Xenophon identified a tactical stratagem as decisive at Leuctra (Hell. 6.4.12-14), while Diodorus attributes the ultimate victory to … the bravery … of the Theban picked men (Diod. 15.56.2). No doubt Xenophon is right, but it is unsettling that he (like other Greek military experts) was inclined to exclude bravery from the results of battles long before he came to write about Leuctra. … All ancient battle descriptions, in short, reflect a series of decisions made beforehand—many of them highly controversial in their own time—about how battles worked, decisions which guided how battle was depicted. When reconstructing an ancient battle, the first necessity is to ascertain the set of conventions the sources are using, to find out what they may be predisposed to see, and to determine what they may be predisposed to ignore. The reconstruction of an ancient battle must be attended with a sense both of how ancient conventions of battle description channel ancient narrative, and with a humble sense of how modern conventions of battle description channel our own evaluation of that narrative.

For if it is hard to reconstruct Caesar's battles, that is because our conception of battle is more like that of a Greek tactical thinker—a Polybius—than a Caesar. Despite Clausewitz and Ardant du Picq, the tenor of modern conceptions of battle is ardently materialist. At the natural end of modern thinking lies the project of conceiving battle in terms of mathematical equations,96 and such an understanding necessarily guides the eyes of the reporter on battle to what can be quantified. Even in less arid modern conceptions, the vertiginous psychology of soldiers in battle is sanitized and scientized as “morale,” and modern students of war have even less use than the Greeks for Caesar's category of virtus, tending—as the Greeks sometimes did—to confound it with psychology.97 To Polybius, or us, exact topography is an essential part of an historian's description of a battle conceived primarily in physical, geometrical terms. But Caesar's divergence from this Greek tradition liberated him from Greek expectations about topographical exactitude. To Caesar the movement of troops over terrain was not necessarily the most important aspect of battle, the description of those movements and that terrain not necessarily the most useful way of getting at the heart of what happened in battle. Caesar's understanding of warfare suggested to him alternative topographies—those that psychology and bravery inscribe upon the land. If we have difficulty finding Caesar's battlefields on modern maps it is because he saw battlefields differently than we do, and sometimes many battlefields where we see only one.

Finally, an understanding of the way Caesar understood battle presents historical questions. The excellence of the Roman army has traditionally been explained in terms of its organization, discipline, and professionalism, the army imagined in mechanical terms, as a thundering turbine agleam with oil or as a more perfect Wehrmacht. The Roman army of late Republic and Empire conquered as the only modern institution in a primitive, ad hoc, world.98 Recently, Adrian Goldsworthy has argued that the Roman army's success must be viewed less in tactical, mechanical terms and more in psychological terms.99 As usual, ancient history is behind the times: stress on psychological as well as organizational factors in the excellence of Hitler's Wehrmacht is years old.100 Caesar might chuckle at our debate about the Romans, so similar to the Greek debate he was familiar with about the primacy of tactics or morale. Comparing Caesar's conception of battle to that of the Greeks does confirm the need for attention to morale, but it is Caesar's theory of virtus that draws the eye as unfamiliar. Perhaps, then, an understanding of the excellence of the Roman army may require attention not only to Roman drill, not only to the wild psychology of the battlefield, but also to the abiding militarism of Roman culture, to the Roman ability to preserve in the camp and display on later battlefields the drunken atavistic bravery of Rome's early, terrible, centuries. If the Roman army excelled as the only modern institution in a savage world, could it be that it excelled also by preserving the culture of a savage tribe in an increasingly modern world? So too the victories of a great Roman marshal, of a Julius Caesar, may not find their full explanation in terms of strategy, tactics, or morale, but also in cultural terms, in deep habits of thought and structures of emotion. Caesar stands between cultures, or was a member of a culture which itself stood between. He looks with a native Roman gleam upon the fiery-eyed world of virtus, the world of primitive masculine competition which his soldiers and his enemies share. But at the same time he views that world distantly and dispassionately, as Polybius blandly regards the mechanical evolutions of troops. Perhaps Caesar's Greek education not only equipped him with intellectual means to understand tactics and morale, but encouraged him to devise his own means to understand virtus in the same systematic terms. Perhaps Caesar's conquest of barbarians in Gaul depended in part on his ability to fathom what was barbarous in his own army, and the barbarian in himself.


  1. Tuplin 1986: 37.

  2. Keegan 1976: 68.

  3. Frankel and Smith 1978: 74.

  4. Cf. Keegan 1976: 36 and Fussell 1975: 169-90.

  5. On Caesar's later influence, references gathered by Loreto 1993[1990]: n. 6. See also Keegan 1976: 63-66.

  6. Velleius Paterculus, Josephus, Arrian, and Ammianus Marcellinus are, of course, exceptions.

  7. On Caesar's education and interests, conveniently, Zecchini 1990: 449-53.

  8. Vom Kriege bk. 2 ch. 6.

  9. Vom Kriege bk. 2 ch. 2. On Clausewitz and the tradition he was reacting against, Gat 1989.

  10. For speculation on the didactic purpose of Caesar's work and esp. his battle descriptions, Rüpke 1992: 209; cf. Adcock 1956: 22-23 and Loreto 1993[1990]: 311, 333-35; and for the didactic purpose of another kind of commentarii (pontifical), Linderski 1985: 215-22.

  11. See Polybius' strictures on his predecessors, Polyb. 12.17-22, 12.25f, 16.18-20; and cf. Whatley 1964: 120-23.

  12. As any writer describing a battle must, Keegan 1976: 36-46, and esp. 63 (of later European use of Caesar): “[b]attles are extremely confusing; and confronted with the need to make sense of something he does not understand, even the cleverest, indeed pre-eminently the cleverest man, realizing his need for a language and metaphor he does not possess, will turn to look at what someone else has made of a similar set of events to guide his own pen.”

  13. For speculations on Caesar's military reading, Loreto 1993[1990]: 243-44.

  14. With a few exceptions (extended passages are Cato fr. 83 [Peter] = Aul. Gell. 3.7; Claudius Quadrigarius fr. 10b [Peter] = Aul. Gell. 9.13.6-19; fr. 12 [Peter; authorship uncertain] = Aul. Gell. 9.11; and see the parody in Plaut. Amph. 188-261). In writing commentarii (the genre is much discussed, Gesche 1976: 70 gathers references), Caesar was preceded by great men like M. Aemilius Scaurus and Sulla, whose works fail to survive. Livy describes many early battles, often drawing on Latin predecessors, but his style in such descriptions depends heavily on Caesar (Walsh 1961: 43), and so renders deduction about the pre-Caesarian Latin tradition problematic.

  15. For the military tenor of aristocratic education during the Republic, Harris 1979: 14-15.

  16. Thus for “Caesar” below it may often be necessary to read, “the lost Latin tradition that Caesar inherited.” Some insight into that Latin tradition may be possible by triangulating between Caesar and his contemporaries, Sallust, Hirtius (=Hirt. BG), and the anonymous chroniclers of Caesar's Alexandrian (=B.Alex.), African (=B.Afr.), and Spanish wars (=B.Hisp.); but it is impossible to establish the independence from Caesarian influence of these battle descriptions written by Caesar's friends. Best, then, to use these works as comparanda only.

  17. More generally on the late-Republican use of military handbooks, Campbell 1987: 21.

  18. For the fragments of Cato's de Re Militari (on which see Astin 1978: 184-85, 204-205), Jordan 1860: 80-82. Note also the (inconclusive) attempts of Schenk 1930 to distill some Cato from Vegetius. Some have detected signs of other early Roman works: it has been suggested that Polybius' description of the Roman army (6.19-42) may draw upon a Roman handbook for military tribunes (Rawson 1971: 14-15) and that Val. Max. 2.3.2 may allude to a military handbook of the Marian period (Neumann 1956: col. 356).

  19. As he was to many other Greek models: for Caesar's debt to the conventions of Hellenistic history writing, see Feller 1929 and Gärtner 1975: 63-134. For tragic motifs, Rowe 1967 and Mutschler 1975; and for his ethnography, references are gathered in Mensching 1988: 39.

  20. Caesarian battles have called forth a vast topographical literature, dedicated to locating the battlefields and explaining the military movements of the armies engaged. Gesche 1976: 247-57, 269-73, 277-79, 286-87 gathers many references. To gauge the difficulties see (e.g.) Béquignon 1970: cols. 1073-74 for eight proposed locations for the battle of Pharsalus, or Pelling 1981: 754 for five candidates for the location of the defeat of Ariovistus. For other interpretations of Caesar's topographical vagueness, Rambaud 1966: 40-43, 63-64 (a result of the official reports Caesar drew upon in his writing); Rambaud 1954/1955: 347-50 (purposefully vague from Tendenz); Rambaud 1967: 193 (simplified for aesthetic reasons); Pelling 1981: 741-42 (simplified for an impatient Roman audience ignorant of topography); Rüpke 1992: 209 (simplified for didactic purposes). All may well be right.

  21. On this battle description see Rasmussen 1963: 119-29, Gärtner 1975: 130-33, and Rambaud 1954/1955 (to be used with care).

  22. E.g. Rambaud 1954/1955: 353 for Crastinus and Rambaud 1966: 356-57 for Pompey.

  23. See Richter 1977: 96 n. 3 and Gesche 1976: 71-78 with 257-58 and 124-25 with 279-80 for catalogues of the vast literature. Most recently, see the papers collected in Welch and Powell 1998.

  24. RE 8A/1: col. 234 s.v. Valerius nr. 365.

  25. Cf. de Romilly 1956: 168-72.

  26. Cf. Dillery 1995: 28-29.

  27. On professors of tactics, and their lessons, Anderson 1970: 94-110, Wheeler 1983, and Whitehead 1990: 34-35.

  28. Bauer 1893 and Wheeler 1983: nn. 30-31 collect references to Hellenistic theorists. And despite his late date Asclepiodotus did not stand at the end of the tradition. The Roman imperial tactical works of Aelian and Arrian draw heavily (although perhaps indirectly) upon Asclepiodotus' own source, probably Poseidonius (see Dain 1946: 26-40 and Stadter 1978: 118; but contra Wheeler 1978: n. 9), although they wrote at an even greater remove from the world of Hellenistic warfare that was a fading memory even in Asclepiodotus' day.

  29. Some Greek philosophers—and the Peripatetics were especially interested in tactics—considered tactics a branch of mathematics, and treated it as such: see Wheeler 1988a: 179.

  30. For thoughts on the relationship between Polybius' tactical work and his Histories, Sacks 1981: 125-32. Polybius' Tactica has also been proposed as the root source of the later Greek tactical manuals, Devine 1995.

  31. Poznanski 1994: 33-34.

  32. Cf. Eckstein 1995: 161-93 for the (164) “Polybian ideology of command in war as the imposition of order and control—upon oneself, upon others, upon battle.”

  33. Generally on the Greek vocabulary of battle, Pritchett 1985: 44-93.

  34. Hanson 1989: 171-84 and Pritchett 1985: 65-68, who notes (29) that the push image can be traced back to Homer, and Homer will have influenced later accounts. How much actual pushing occurred in the usual hoplite battle is controversial (see the literature collected in Goldsworthy 1997), but irrelevant to this argument.

  35. Pritchett 1985: 67-68.

  36. Cf. Krentz 1985: 55-56.

  37. See the lexicons, Merguet 1886, Menge and Preuss 1890, and Meusel 1887-93 s.v. vis for more references.

  38. Many instances infra, and see the lexicons (supra, n. 37) s. v. insto and premo.

  39. There is no direct evidence that Caesar had read Polybius, but see Loreto 1993[1990]: 243-44 for speculations on some Polybian echoes.

  40. See the lexicons (supra, n. 37) s.v. impetus. Contrast the range of words—with various connotations—that Greeks used to describe the onset, Lindauer 1889: 10-11.

  41. For a more general treatment of Caesar's conception of the physical space of his battlefields, Rambaud 1974.

  42. Cf. Rambaud 1954/1955: 361.

  43. The opposite, the locus aequus, is sometimes a fair field, where neither side has an advantage, C 1.41, but often where the enemy is in a locus iniquus, G 3.17, C 2.33-34. On the locus iniquus in Caesar cf. Loreto 1993[1990]: n. 203. By contrast the Greek tradition elaborated a doctrine of the position of advantage, … usually a higher position on a slope; see Pritchett 1985: 76-81.

  44. Cf. Goldsworthy 1996: 207-208. Which is not to say that Romans did not sometimes fight in very close order, Wheeler 1979: 303-18.

  45. For morale in the Roman army, see R. MacMullen 1984[1990], Goldsworthy 1996 passim, and Lee 1996.

  46. The Cyropaedia is a didactic work posing as an historical account of the life of Cyrus: Due 1989: 10-12, Gera 1993: 2, and esp. for the similarity of military material in the Cyropaedia to Spartan practice, see Anderson 1970: 11-12, 43-44, 75-78, 84-85, 96-104, and 165-91.

  47. Cf. Delatte 1933: 23-24.

  48. Cf. Breitenbach 1967: 1722, 1732-37 and Anderson 1970: 96-110, 165-91.

  49. Pan, Borgeaud 1988: 133-37; Artemis, Vernant 1991.

  50. See Eckstein 1995: 168-71 for similar observations in Polybius.

  51. On Greek conceptions of military panic, Wheeler 1988a: 172-81; see esp. Thuc. 7.80; Aeneas Tacticus 27; Polyaenus 1.2.

  52. That Xenophon (an expert) discountenances the speech before battle is ample proof that such speeches were regularly given (pace Hansen 1993), whatever the historicity of the actual speeches which appear in the historians. For why criticize something that people did not do?

  53. On Xenophon and stratagem, Wheeler 1988b: 11. See especially Xenophon's Hipparchicus; and cf. the contemporary work of Aeneas Tacticus (with Whitehead 1990: 36-37 on the similarity of his outlook to Xenophon's).

  54. For the tradition see Lammert 1931, Wheeler 1988c, 1988b: 11-13, and for their importance, esp. Xen. Cyr. 1.6.27, 1.6.37-41, Hell. 5.1.4, 6.1.15; Polyb. 9.12.2.

  55. Herodotus, Krentz 1997: 58-59; Thucydides, Heza 1974 and Krentz 1997: 57-58.

  56. The Strategica of Polyaenus and the Strategemata of Frontinus. On both, conveniently, Wheeler 1988b: 12-13 and Campbell 1987: 14-16.

  57. Emphasizing the contrast between tactics and stratagem in the Greek mind, Polybius depicts Aratus as a genius at stratagems but hopeless in pitched battles (4.8.3-5).

  58. For the psychological dimension of stratagem, Wheeler 1988a: 174-76.

  59. Wunderer 1905, Pédech 1964: 210-53, and Davidson 1991.

  60. On the inculcation of fear in Polybius, Guelfucci 1986: 232-33.

  61. For what it is worth, Suetonius (Jul. 87) says that Caesar knew the Cyropaedia; it was much read in his generation (Cic. Brutus 112), and Cicero used it as a guide during his campaign in Cilicia (ad Fam. 9.25.1). See Münscher 1920: 74-83.

  62. On Caesar's military psychology, cf. Loreto 1993[1990]: 297-98.

  63. Cf. Goldsworthy 1996: 245.

  64. Cf. Collins 1952: 107-25.

  65. Cf. Goldsworthy 1996: 145.

  66. Soldiers also encourage each other (G 6.40, 7.80; cf. Polyb. 1.76.2). Gauls and Germans share the custom of relying upon their weeping women to inspire the men (G 1.51, 7.48); when their city is under siege, the old men and women of the Massilians serve the same function (C 2.4).

  67. On consilium as a stratagem word, see Wheeler 1988c: 52-55.

  68. On Caesar and stratagems, Feller 1929: 21-24.

  69. de Romilly 1956: 113-15, Pritchett 1974: 283-86.

  70. On Polybius' admiration for courage, Eckstein 1995: 28-55. But the austere Thucydides did not systematically describe deeds of valor.

  71. On aristeai in Caesar, Feller 1929: 38-41, and Rasmussen 1963 collects instances where they are made more vivid with passages of direct discourse. Aristeai are prominent in the pre-Caesarian Roman tradition from what we can see of it (supra, n. 14), and there is no reason to think Caesar is directly following Greek models.

  72. Cf. Wheeler 1991: 137-38.

  73. de Romilly 1956: 142-43 and Crane 1998: 225-29.

  74. de Romilly 1980: 309-15 compares the speech of Phormio in Thucydides to Plato's Laches and Protagoras.

  75. For the mixture of birth and education in Xenophon's conception of [courage], Due 1989: 181, 184.

  76. Cf. Pédech 1964: 424-25.

  77. And sometimes seems to be denied, Polyb. 1.31.1, 1.51.3.

  78. There are, of course, exceptions where bravery is important, e.g. Polyb. 5.23.9-10, 10.39.2. For Polybius' lexicon of bravery, Lindauer 1889: 19-20.

  79. Cf. Knoche 1962[1935]: 39 and Hellegouarc'h 1963: 291.

  80. On virtus, Eisenhut 1973 (with 44-46 on Caesar), but see the strictures of Harris 1979: 20 n. 3. On the role of virtus in Roman military thinking, Rosenstein 1990: 94. For virtus in Caesar cf. Rawlings 1998: 177-80.

  81. Wheeler 1988d. Wheeler argues (193) that the Roman suspicion of cunning came late.

  82. Perhaps the keen attention to virtus of the (rather unimaginative) author of the B.Hisp. reflects conventional soldierly views (7, 14, 16, 17, 19, 23-25, 31, 32).

  83. Cf. Eisenhut 1973: 40-43. Virtus is much emphasized in the handful of surviving pre-Caesarian Latin battle descriptions, see supra n. 14.

  84. Such competition characterized the Greeks as well, of course, but while a Greek like Xenophon emphasized competition in pιλоτιμία between individual soldiers on the same side (Cyr. 3.3.10, 7.1.18, Anab. 4.7.12, 5.2.11), Caesar stresses that between generals, armies, and units (but see G. 5.44, 7.47, 7.50 for individuals), so its consequences are much greater in Caesar.

  85. On the wriggling necessary to refuse a challenge to single combat without loss of face, [Front.] Strat. 4.7.5.

  86. Pritchett 1974: 153 gathers examples of taunting in the Greek tradition.

  87. On Roman taking of heads, Goldsworthy 1996: 271-73.

  88. Cf. Goldsworthy 1996: 153-54 for generals watching battles.

  89. Pritchett 1974: 148, 174-76 gathers references to distaste for trickery in the Greek tradition.

  90. Keegan 1976: 65 terms Caesar's style “disjunctive.”

  91. Discussion of the literary construction of this battle description begins with Oppermann 1933: 37-41, 56-64, 85-89. Later writing is collected by Görler 1980: n. 7. The “Battle of the Sambre” is a conventional name; the actual location of the battle is disputed: Gesche 1976: 249-51 gathers references.

  92. Weiss 1983: 83.

  93. On literary devices in Polybius' battle descriptions, D'Huys 1990.

  94. Rambaud 1966: 230.

  95. Wiedemann 1992: 35-38 and 1996.

  96. Grounded (in Anglo-Saxon lands) on the equations of F. W. Lanchester, accessible in Lanchester 1916; used in many technical military publications, and subject to continual refinement: e.g. Dupuy 1979 and 1987.

  97. See van Creveld's (1982: 11-17) dismissive treatment of “national character.”

  98. For summary of this view, Goldsworthy 1996: 1-2, 8-9, 283-84.

  99. Goldsworthy 1996: 10, 244-46, 285-86.

  100. E.g. van Creveld 1982 passim.


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Andreola Rossi (essay date 2000)

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SOURCE: “The Camp of Pompey: Strategy of Representation in Caesar's Bellum Ciuile,” in Classical Journal, Vol. 95, No. 3, February-March, 2000, pp. 239-56.

[In the following essay, Rossi contends that Caesar used established rhetorical models and types as a way of leading his readers towards the conclusions he wished them to reach.]

Asinius' Pollio damaging judgment on the historical inaccuracy of Caesar's Commentarii1 has for a long time led many scholars to dismiss Caesar's historical works as an almost free-composed historical fiction, where events are, at best, systematically distorted, or even fabricated altogether.2 It is only in recent years that scholars have begun a slow process of rehabilitation. On the one hand, they have called attention to the limited presence of large scale historical falsification in the Commentarii; and on the other, they have started to highlight the sophisticated nature of the narrative structure,3 hidden behind a prose that Cicero had praised for its elegant clarity and directness of style.4 It is what we may call Caesar's strategy of representation of events, not their falsification, which forces upon the reader the desired reading and interpretation. In a recent article, Damon5 has studied one of these narrative strategies adopted by Caesar. She points out how in BC [De Bellum Civili] Caesar presents events and characters in a way that “aims at fashioning in the reader a net of memory and understanding by tying the knots which link episodes and characters that are found on the long strand of narrative.”6 It is this method, she argues, that leaves a great deal of the responsibility for interpretation to the readers.

Following this line of interpretation, I explore how this “net of memory,” which Caesar aims at fashioning in his readers' mind, extends beyond the limits of his own text. As an example I analyze Caesar's description of Pompey's camp after the battle of Pharsalus. Employing a type scene, a topos, familiar in the historiographic tradition, Caesar builds a network of correspondences with other events, thereby broadening and universalizing the significance of the narrated episode. It is through this device that he weaves efficaciously into his narrative an important ideological and political subtext that informs the narrative of BC.

After the historical debacle of Pharsalus, the Pompeians are dispersed and, while a panic-stricken Pompey abandons the region in flight, Caesar, with his usual rapidity of action, strikes the Pompeians a final blow. He attacks their camp and, after a short skirmish with the Thracians and other barbarians who had been left in charge of it, Caesar and his soldiers finally get the better of their enemy.7 What follows in the narration is a detailed description of the camp, in which a spectacle of lavishness is offered to the gaze of Caesar and his men (BC 3.96.1-2):

In castris Pompei uidere licuit trichilas structas, magnum argenti pondus expositum, recentibus caespitibus tabernacula constrata, L. etiam Lentuli et non nullorum tabernacula protecta hedera, multaque praeterea quae nimiam luxuriam et uictoriae fiduciam designarent, ut facile existimari posset nihil eos de euentu eius diei timuisse, qui non necessarias conquirerent uoluptates. At hi miserrimo ac patientissimo exercitui Caesaris luxuriem obiciebant, cui semper omnia ad necessarium usum defuissent.8

“In Pompey's camp could be viewed artificial bowers, great quantities of silver laid out, tents floored with freshly cut turf, the tents of Lucius Lentulus and some others wreathed with ivy, and much else to indicate excessive luxury and confidence of victory. It was easy to deduce from their pursuit of inessential pleasures that they had no misgivings about the outcome of the day. Yet these were men who accused Caesar's wretched and long-suffering army of luxury, when it had never enjoyed sufficiency in its everyday needs.”9

Significantly all the other historians who describe the aftermath of the battle of Pharsalus do not seem to follow Caesar in this description. Dio (41.61-63) and Velleius (2.52), although both reporting Caesar's acts of clementia following the battle of Pharsalus, omit altogether the description of Pompey's camp. Appian (BC 2.81) reports briefly its capture, but does not make any mention of its lavishness. He only reports that Caesar and his men ate the supper which had been prepared to celebrate the upcoming victory (2.69) and that the entire army feasted at the enemy's expenses. A similar description is found in Plutarch (Pomp.72.4) where again the emphasis is not on luxuria; the Pompeians are rather charged with vanity … and folly …, for the adornments found in the camp were those of men who had sacrificed and were holding festivals rather than that of men who were arming themselves for battle.

What were Caesar's reasons to describe the camp of Pompey in such a fashion?

This passage, prima facie, could be compared to others of BC, where Caesar emphasizes the moral and military shortcomings of his enemy, for Pompey's camp, as Caesar himself points out, is a perfect reflection of the nimia luxuria and the excessive confidence in victory of the Pompeians.10 We may cite one other such example. In BC 3.31-33 Caesar describes the Pompeians' mobilization of the resources of Syria and Asia under the authority of the then governor of Syria, Metellus Scipio, who in 52 had become both Pompey's consular colleague and his father-in-law.11 The harsh and unfair exacting of such contributions, which Caesar describes in detail in BC 3.32, is labeled as a perfect exemplum of another important moral flaw of Pompey and his associates: auaritia.12 The terminology employed here and in the previous passage is not fortuitous. Even a brief glimpse at contemporary authors shows how these two terms were loaded with moral and social significance in Roman political debate of the time. Sallust in his Bellum Catilinae presents Catiline, the enemy of the State, as a man spurred on by the corruption of public morals, which were ruined, according to Sallust, by two great evils, precisely luxuria and auaritia.13 Likewise, Livy, a generation later, in the preface of his work accounts for the moral degeneration of Rome in similar terms. The reasons for Roman decline are “the immigration” of avarice and luxury in the Republic.14

Hence in Rome's contemporary political context, these two episodes may be interpreted as two paradigmatic exempla. They serve not only to highlight Pompeians' moral flaws and shortcomings, but they also cast them as the real menace for that Roman Republic that they supposedly embody in the war against Caesar. A reading of the episode along these lines fits perfectly the political and ideological program that many scholars have seen as the foundation of BC, namely to represent Caesar as the savior of the Republic, while the Pompeians are convicted of contemptuous disregard for Roman laws and customs.15 Yet by employing a type scene familiar in the historiographic tradition Caesar is also able to build a network of correspondences with other events, thus directing the reader towards an even more damaging interpretation of the un-Republican behavior of the Pompeians.

Descriptions of conquered camps were not an unusual topic in historical accounts. Nonetheless Caesar's account here seems to follow a particular tradition, whose archetype may in meaningful ways be traced back to the famous description of Mardonius' camp after the Greek victory at Plataea, “the most glorious of victories ever known to men,” as Herodotus hailed it.16 In Herodotus' account, as the battle draws finally to a close and the Persians are put to flight, the Greeks, led by Pausanias, arrive in the Persian camp. Here they are greeted by a spectacle of opulence: the tents are adorned with gold and silver, the couches are gilded and silver-plated; everywhere there are golden bowls, cups and other drinking vessels and sacks with cauldrons of gold and silver.17 The famous anecdote that follows, where the lavish Persian meal served with all the magnificence of a banquet is compared to the frugal Spartan diet, builds an even stronger antithesis between the Greeks and the barbaroi and so stresses the polarity of their behavior.18 The former is fashioned on parsimonia, the latter on immoderate luxury. …19 Though the story may be exquisitely Herodotean, surely the characterization of the Persians is not, for it finds precise parallels in contemporary Athenian representation of the Persians. As Hall rightly suggests in her study on the representation of the barbarian in Greek tragedy, luxuria had become one of the traits that shaped the ethnicity of the Persians in antithesis to the Greeks' own sense of identity. Various terms used in the Persae of Aeschylus to evoke the luxury of the Persian court were to become closely associated with the barbarian ethos,20 especially … “luxury” and the concept of αβρоsύνη or αβρóτηz, an untranslatable term combining the senses of softness, delicacy and lack of restraint. It is for this reason that the Herodotean description of the Persian camp acquires deeper meaning: such a description becomes in Herodotus an important sign of Persian ethnicity. It is in this capacity that this representation becomes an important literary model, a sort of topos, dynamically re-employed and re-adapted by other historians to characterize the Asiatic East in antithesis to its Western opponents. This representation becomes, to use Hinds' terminology, a topos-code within which endlessly active (and endlessly interpretable) allusive variations can be contained.21

A case in point. As Alexander the Great moves against the Persian empire and wins a crucial victory at Issus against Darius,22 soon to be the last monarch of the Persian Empire, a similar description follows. The description, although varying slightly from one historian to the other, shares all the principal Herodotean features. As Alexander and his men enter the camp, the wealth of the Persian camp is described in rich detail.23 But in addition to the abundance of wealth, the Persian camp also betrays a more damaging flaw of Persian national character: their luxurious way of living. This concept is clearly expressed in Diodorus, for whom the camp and its wealth become a reflection of Persian luxuria,24 τρυpη. Likewise Curtius defines the wealth in the Persian camp as an instrument of luxury, not of war. (Ingens auri argentique pondus, non belli, sed luxuriae apparatum).25

The same theme, although not explicitly expressed, is reiterated by Plutarch. In his account, as soon as Alexander and his men enter Darius' tent, they are met by a spectacle of lavishness: again we find basins and pitchers and tubs and caskets, all of gold, and expertly fashioned, while the apartment was fragrant with spices and unguents. Plutarch also reports that as soon as Alexander passed from this tent into another one amazing for size, height, and the furniture it contained, he looked to his companions and exclaimed: “This, as it would seem, is to be a king.”26 As noted by Hamilton,27 the anecdote, in Herodotean fashion, is so constructed to highlight the polarity of behavior and attitude between Alexander and the Asian king, a polarity soon reinforced in the following narrative by various examples of the … frugality, of Alexander.28 Alexander, when asked by a woman named Ada to hire her bakers and cooks, is said by Plutarch, to have replied that he had been given better cooks by his tutor, Leonidas; namely for his breakfast a night march, and for his supper, a light breakfast. Alexander adds that Leonidas “used to come and open my chests of bedding and clothing, to see that my mother did not hide there for me some luxury and superfluity. …”29

We may now return to Caesar. From the examples cited above, it seems quite obvious that the description of Pompey's camp in Caesar's narrative follows a set of models, employed largely by Greek writers to characterize Persian ethnicity.30 Thus, by fashioning his description of Pompey's camp in such a manner, Caesar implicitly assimilates Pompey's camp to that of an Oriental king.

But Pompey and his men are not merely likened to Orientals. As Caesar clearly states, they have inherited the most important trait of Oriental ethnicity: nimia luxuria. The un-Roman moral and political shortcomings of the Pompeians therefore assume a different nuance as they are directly assimilated to a foreign ethnicity. Accordingly Caesar's crucial refusal to plunder Pompey's camp31 and the emphasis on the hardships to which his men are accustomed (miserrimo ac patientissimo exercitui … omnia a d necessarium usum defuissent) becomes emblematic of the polarity of behavior between the Caesarians and the now orientalized Pompeians.32 New protagonists have been cast into old roles as they reflect the polarity of behavior between Easterners and Westerners distinctive of the topos.33

What was Caesar's aim in fashioning the episode in such a manner? The bitter irony of assimilating Pompey, the great conqueror of the East, to a defeated Oriental king is self-evident, especially since Romans would still have a sharp recollection of Pompey's magnificent third triumph at the end of the long wars in the East, celebrated in Rome just a few years earlier, in 61 bce. The triumph, we are told by our ancient sources, exceeded in brilliancy any that had gone before and lasted for two full days.34 Many nations were represented, but the most significant feature of the triumph was the imposing statue of Mithridates Eupator, the scion of the Royal house of Persia, which was eight cubits high and made of solid gold. With it came Mithridates' throne and scepter and, to stress the comparison between Pompey and Alexander the Great, the couch of King Darius I, the greater ancestor of the Persian monarch, whose empire had been conquered by Alexander. At the head of the procession, before Pompey himself, were led the five sons of Mithridates bearing the evocative names of Artaphernes, Cyrus, Oxathres, Darius and Xerxes as living representatives of the conquered East.35 Thanks to this representation, Pompey the Great, who had likened his res gestae to those of Alexander, is implicitly cast in the role of these Oriental monarchs, as he is now defeated by a new Alexander: Caesar.36

But Caesar's representation of Pompey's camp has probably a more subtle propagandistic purpose and it is this description that may help us to unravel the important ideological and political message that permeates the work in its entirety.

The opening words of Lucan's Pharsalia defined the civil wars between Caesar and Pompey as bella plus quam civilia,37 wars worse than civil wars, and time and again Lucan's epic borrows terminology and images from human anatomy to represent the res publica as a metaphorical body which has been torn apart as a result of internecine conflicts.38 Lucan's emphasis in representing the civil war between Caesar and Pompey lies exactly on its status as a bellum internum. Because of it the ties that link the most sacrosanct relationships in a society are suddenly shattered: son kills father,39socer wages war against gener,40 brother kills brother as Lucan's imagery brings to full circle the history of the city of Rome whose foundation is linked inextricably to Remus' death at the hands of his brother Romulus.41

As Latin poetry42 articulates its description of the civil war between Pompey and Caesar as a fratricide, Caesar's political discourse in BC moves in the opposite direction: it tends towards a process of de-familiarization of the enemy, of de-romanization. It is through this strategy that the description of Pompey's camp and of his behavior assumes crucial ideological significance. Via this representation, the Pompeians are stripped altogether of their national identity as Romans, for their behavior becomes specifically linked to a foreign and, more specifically, to Oriental ethnicity.

To verify our interpretation of the passage we may now observe the ways in which this process of de-romanization and Orientalization of the Pompeians is operative in another section of BC.

Early in book 3 of BC, as Caesar is about to cross the Adriatic for a final confrontation with Pompey, he lists Pompey's forces at great length for three consecutive chapters.43 He attempts no analysis of his own, nor does he make any explicit statement about his enemy's strength and weakness. As noted by Carter,44 one of his aims, by presenting the majestic proportion of Pompey's army, is that of portraying Pompey as a Goliath and himself as a David. But Caesar's listing of Pompey's force has probably also another more important purpose. While there is no need to doubt the accuracy of Caesar's statistics, a comparison with our other sources shows how Caesar's list gives an exaggerated impression of the non-Italian preponderance in Pompey's army. A case in point. After listing Pompey's fleet assembled from Asia, the Cycladic islands, Corcyra, Athens, Pontus, Bithynia, Syria, Cilicia, Phoenicia, and Egypt,45 Caesar moves on to list Pompey's legions, his archers, and finally his cavalry which is said to have amounted to 7000 men comprising the following contingents: Deiotarus had brought 600 Gauls, Ariobarzanes 500 from Cappadocia; Cotys 500 from Thrace; from Macedonia there were 200 under Rhascypolis, from Alexandria Pompey's son had brought 500 Gauls and Germans; Pompey himself had conscribed 800 from his slaves and shepherds; 300 had been given by Tarcondarius from Galatia, 200 mounted archers had been sent from Syria by Antiochus of Commagene. To these Pompey had added Dardani and Bessi, likewise Macedonians, Thessalians and men belonging to other tribes and states, and so he had reached the number mentioned above.46

As the contributions from foreign nations total 3600, the rest is just dismissed as Dardani, Bessi, Macedonians, Thessalians and “men of other nations and states” (ac reliquarum gentium et ciuitatum adiecerat). No mention is made that among the other nations and states the largest contributor was Rome itself, as is clearly reported by Appian,47 Dio,48 and Plutarch. Plutarch actually goes as far as to say that Pompey's cavalry was “the flower of Rome and Italy, preeminent in lineage, wealth, and courage.”49 Caesar's inclusion of the Italian and Roman contingent under the heading “men of other nations and states” is pointedly evasive.

As Pompey had been made the embodiment of an Oriental king, similarly, as part of the same strategic design of representation, the war against him assumes the connotation no longer of a civil war, but it is represented as bellum externum against a foreign enemy.50 In a narrative once again highly evocative of Herodotus' description of the Persian forces, in Caesar's BC, Pompey, the new King of Kings as he was called by some of his detractors,51 threatens the West and what the West embodied now by Rome represents, at the head of a huge and heterogeneous barbarian army, in the fashion of a nouvelle Xerxes.52

What was the effectiveness of such a representation in Rome's political climate of the time? Surely Caesar's BC exploits some of the criticisms leveled against Pompey at the time. Pliny views the extravagant triumph of Pompey in 61 bce over Asia as a victory of luxury over austerity (Pliny, NH 37.14 seueritate uicta et ueriore luxuriae triumpho) and he could be reechoing some of the complaints of Pompey's contemporaries. Already in 61, Pompey was spending his fortune on the building of a great palace, inspired by the paradeisoi of Oriental palaces and Plutarch (Pomp. 67.3), as we have seen previously, reports that Domitius Ahenobarbus called Pompey derisively King of Kings, a reference presumably to the Great King of Persia.53 And also the army assembled by Pompey had raised the suspicions of the Romans. Some of Cicero's letters express his uneasiness about the foreign army assembled by Pompey and perceived as a threat to Rome. Although on the whole Cicero views Pompey as the champion of the Republican cause, and will eventually side with him, in his correspondence he nevertheless expresses his concerns. In his letter to Atticus dated Feb. 27, 49, written from Formiae, while Cicero was still deciding which course of action to follow, he voices his own doubts on Pompey's intention. He argues that Pompey has not abandoned Rome because it was impossible to defend it. It was Pompey's idea from the first to plunge the world into war, to stir up barbarous princes (reges barbaros) and to bring savage tribes (gentes feras) under arms into Italy.54 In a letter of the following month (March 18, 49), addressed again to Atticus from Formiae, a similar concern reemerges. Siding with Pompey would mean bringing hordes of Getae, Armenians and Colchians against Rome.55 A letter from Brundisium on November 27, 48, after the battle of Pharsalus, expresses a similar dislike for the too close alliance that he had witnessed in Pompey's camp between the Pompeians and the barbarians.56

More specifically, though, it is the presentation of the Pompeians as embodiment of oriental luxuria that exploits current Roman fears about the East and the threat it poses to Rome's national identity. We had seen at the beginning of this study how the term luxuria had important political and ideological overtones in the writings of Livy and Sallust. Luxuria was perceived by these authors as the moral flaw responsible for endangering that social and moral stamina on which Rome had flourished and because of which it had been successful for so many centuries. This luxuria, viewed as foreign to Roman national identity, had begun to insinuate itself corrosively into the fabric of the Roman State as Rome had begun to come into close contact with the East. Roman contemporary political discourse viewed luxuria therefore as conjoined to Eastern ethnicity and recognized in Rome's interaction with the East the main reason for the present decline of Roman mores.

For Sallust, luxuria is a comparatively late development in the process of decline of Rome and in the Bellum Catilinae he voices the idea that the agent of the first importation of luxuria was precisely an army from Asia. The army was that of Sulla, who, in order to secure the loyalty of the army that he had led into Asia, had allowed it a luxury and license foreign to the manners of Roman forefathers. It was there that a Roman army had first learned to indulge in a luxurious way of living (huc accedebat quod L. Sulla exercitum quem in Asia ductauerat, quo sibi fidum faceret, contra morem maiorum luxuriose nimisque liberaliter habuerat. Loca amoena, uoluptaria facile in otio ferocis militum animos molliuerant).57 But the idea may claim an even older tradition. In Livy, Cato's speech against the repeal of the lex Oppia argues notably the same idea, though Greece, too, is now charged by Cato with sharing that same ethos, that for Hellenic culture, had been a characterizing trait of Oriental ethnicity, in antithesis to their own.58

Apart from the speech of Cato, Livy himself, following most likely an earlier annalistic tradition, agrees with Sallust: the agent of the first importation of luxuria was an army from Asia.59 In Livy and in the annalistic tradition that he represents, though, the army was that of Manlius Vulso. Livy exploits the theme in the opening chapter of book 39, creating a juxtaposition between the Roman military campaigns against the Ligurians on the one hand, and the military campaign against Asia on the other. The former had the effect of making the troops keener to show their valor (nec alia prouincia militem ad uirtutem acuebat).60 The military campaign against Asia had achieved the opposite effect. As a result of the attractive nature of its cities, the abundance of provisions from land and sea, the effeminacy of its people, and the royal wealth, it had made Roman armies richer, rather than more courageous (ditiores quam fortiores exercitus faciebat).61 This military decline, was soon followed by a moral one as Vulso's troops, returning in Rome to celebrate their triumph, introduced in the city for the first time Asian luxury (Livy, 39.6.6-9):62

Neque ea sola infamiae erant quae in prouincia procul ab oculis facta narrabantur, sed ea etiam magis quae in militibus eius cotidie conspiciebantur. Luxuriae enim peregrinae origo ab exercitu Asiatico inuecta in urbem est. Ii primum lectos aeratos, uesfem stragulam pretiosam, plagulas et alia textilia, et quae tum magnificae supellectilis habebantur, monopodia et abacos Romam aduexerunt … epulae quoque ipsae et cura et sumptu maiore apparari coeptae. Tum coquus, uilissimum antiquis mancipium et aestimatione et usu, in pretio esse, et quod ministerium fuerat ars haberi coepta.

“Contributing to this notoriety were not merely the events reported as having taken place in his province far from Roman eyes, but even more the daily evidences among the soldiers, for the beginnings of foreign luxury were introduced into the city by the army from Asia. These soldiers were the first to bring to Rome bronze couches, costly coverlets, counterpanes and other woven cloths, as well as what was regarded at the time as sumptuous furniture—tables supported on a single pedestal, and sideboards … and the feasts themselves also began to be prepared with greater care and expense. Thereafter the cook, regarded by men of old as the paltriest of slaves both in monetary worth and in employment, began to be highly valued; what had been considered drudgery began to be accounted an art.”

After listing these accessories of luxuria, introduced then for the first time in Rome, Livy concludes in a rather somber tone stating that the signs then appearing were merely the seeds of the luxuria to follow (uix tamen illa quae tum conspiciebantur semina erant futurae luxuriae).63

It is in this political context, when Rome was questioning itself seriously about the nature and the reasons of its moral decadence, that we may better understand the effectiveness of Pompey's representation in BC.64 Taking advantage and exploiting Roman fears about the East and the threat that the corruptive influence of Oriental luxuria poses to Rome's national and moral identity, Caesar in BC casts a portrait of Pompey in such a like fashion. By describing Pompey's camp, according to a well-recognizable typology of representation of the Orientals, Pompey himself in BC becomes the embodiment of this Eastern threat. The great conqueror of the East has been conquered by the corruptive influence of the East and, in turn, has become the living embodiment of oriental luxuria. The fear expressed by Cato the Elder that Asia would sooner conquer Rome, than Rome Asia, finds its realization in Caesar's characterization of the Pompeians.65 Conquered by Oriental luxuria, Pompey, with his heterogeneous and huge army, not only threatens the security of the state, but, at a deeper level, represents also a menace for the national and moral identity of the country which Caesar is now called to defend: Rome. Hence the battle of Pharsalus becomes, in Caesar's representation, not only a victory over Pompey but a great victory of the West over the East, exactly like Plataea 400 hundred years earlier.

Yet things were soon to change and the tables were soon turned. Caesar himself in the years following the battle of Pharsalus will become the target of a similar propaganda by his enemy. Un-Roman honors were bestowed upon him soon after his return to Rome and he began to enjoy a semi divine status in the fashion of an Oriental monarch.66 And he was not discouraging such an assimilation. As pointed out by Weinstock it may well be that Caesar drove into Rome in his triumph chariot with white horses precisely because that was how the Persian kings used to appear. Later, he wore, or planned to wear, the Eastern tunic and wanted to wear a diadem, which, together with the tiara, was the principal attribute of the Persian kings.67 Suetonius even reports the rumour, most likely unfounded and spread by his detractors, that Caesar had the intention of moving the capital of the empire from Rome to Alexandria.68 Soon after the battle of Pharsalus, Rome and its political and cultural tradition was again threatened by the East, but this time, the threat was not Pompey, but Caesar himself.

Collins, following Barwick, fixed the date of BC in late 48 or early in 4769 for the “legalitätstendenz” and the Republican tones of the work do not suit Caesar's later policy. The representation of Pompey's camp may further support their hypothesis. Even if BC was indeed published after Caesar's death, as many scholars suggest, most likely the work was written and completed by Caesar by the end of 47. After the year 47, a representation of Pompey as the incarnation of the Oriental threat would have just reminded the audience and the readers all too well of the threat that the now orientalized Caesar posed to the Roman system.

Artful reporter Caesar in his BC exploited the fears of a society who more and more saw the East as a potential threat to its own security and identity and he skillfully casts his enemy as the embodiment of this threat. At the end he himself will become victim of his own game but the representation of Pompey in BC, as an Eastern monarch, will have important consequences for it lays the foundation of the political propaganda of a generation later. As civil wars break out again in Rome, Augustus, during the war against Antony, will follow precisely in the footsteps of his predecessor. This time though, if not more skillful, Augustus will prove more successful than his adoptive father.


  1. Suet. Jul. 56.4 Pollio Asinius parum diligenter parumque integra ueritate compositos putat, cum Caesar pleraque et quae per alios erant gesta temere crediderit et quae per se, uel consulto uel etiam memoria lapsus perperam ediderit; existimatque rescripturum et correcturum fuisse.

  2. The most extreme statement of this view is that propounded by Rambaud. For a more moderate position see Balsdon 19-28; Stevens 3-18; 165-79.

  3. This type of approach for BG is particularly evident in Welch and Powell. For BC, cf. La Penna 191-233; Rowe 399-414; Gotoff 1-18; Williams 215-226; Carter (1991) 16-27.

  4. Cic. Brut. 262 nudi enim sunt, recti et uenusti, omni ornatu orationis tamquam ueste detracta. But on this passage see also Eden 74-75 who argues for the possibility that Cicero is here referring ruefully to the reception accorded his own Commentarii. Gotoff 2 raises instead the possibility that Cicero may be “groveling” in the Brutus passage. On the passage see also Williams 215. Whether Cicero is being disingenuous in this passage remains debatable, but Cicero's view, as it stands, was not shared by some modern scholars. Cf. for example Nettleship 47 who judges Caesar's Commentarii carelessly written. For a similar view cf. also Schlicher 212.

  5. Damon 183-195.

  6. Damon 185.

  7. BC 95.

  8. On this passage see Kraner, Hofmann, Meusel ad loc. Cf also Carter (1993) ad loc. Cf. also Rowe 411 who interprets Caesar's description of the camp's luxurious appearance and overconfidence of the enemy as a useful narrative device to underscore the reversal of fortunes of the Pompeians.

  9. In poetry Lucan will describe the episode in 7.728-760 but in his account the emphasis will be on the plunder of the camp as a reflection of the cupiditas of the Caesarians. See especially 757-760 ut rapiant, paruo scelus hoc uenisse putabunt. / cum sibi Tarpeias uictor desponderit arces, / cum spe Romanae promiserit omnia praedae / decipitur quod castra rapit.

  10. As noted by one of the referees, the term avaritia does not appear anywhere else in BC, making its double presence in 3.96 all the more relevant.

  11. It is not clear whether the exactions detailed in BC 3.32 took place in Syria or in Asia or in both and, if in Asia, on whose authority. On the topic see Carter (1993) ad. loc. For a portrait of Scipio in Caesar see also BC 1.4.3, where he is accused of ostentatio and adulatio.

  12. BC 3.32.1 interim acerbissime imperatae pecuniae tota prouincia exigebantur. multa praeterea generatim ad auaritiam excogitabantur.

  13. Sal. Cat. 5.8 incitabant praeterea corrupti ciuitatis mores, quos pessuma ac diuorsa inter se mala, luxuria atque auaritia, uexabant. For a similar idea cf. Sal. Cat. 12.2. On this passage see McGushin ad loc.

  14. Livy, Praef. 11-12 Ceterum aut me amor negotii suscepti fallit, aut nulla unquam res publica nec maior nec sanctior nec bonis exemplis ditior fuit, nec in quam ciuitatem tam serae auaritia luxuriaque immigrauerint, nec ubi tantus ac tam diu paupertati ac parsimoniae honos fuerit. Adeo quanto rerum minus, tanto minus cupiditatis erat: nuper diuitiae auaritiam et abundantes uoluptates desiderium per luxum atque libidinem pereundi perdendique omnia inuexere. On Roman concern about luxuria and auaritia see Edwards 176ff. The backgrounds to this idea are traced by Earl 44ff. and Luce 271-275. See also Feldherr 37-50.

  15. For a detailed discussion see Collins 113-132 who stresses how Caesar in BC strives to appear as a bonus civis, rei publicae natus. For a similar interpretation see Carter (1991) 18 and La Penna 195 ff.

  16. Hdt. 9.64.1.

  17. Hdt. 9.80 1ff. … For a similar description of the Persian camp see also 7.119 and 7. 190.

  18. Hdt. 9.82. On this passage cf. also. How - Wells ad loc. and more in general on the representation of the Persians in Herodotus see Flory 81-119. See also Briant 69-105.

  19. Hdt. 9.82.

  20. Hall 80 ff. …

  21. Hinds 42.

  22. On the importance of the battle of Issus and its renown in antiquity see Polyb. 12.17.1.

  23. Diod. 17.35.1-4; Curtius 3.11.20; Plut. Alex. 20.6-8. Among our ancient sources Arrian is the only one who reports that Alexander found only three thousand talents in the camp, but he adds that all the money and everything else a great king takes with him even on campaign for his extravagant way of living … he had already sent to Damascus (Arr. An. 2.11.10).

  24. Diod. 35.4.

  25. Curt. 3.11.20.

  26. Plut. Alex. 20. 7-8.

  27. Hamilton ad loc., who rightly points out that Alexander is here expressing pity for Darius for thinking that royalty consisted in mere wealth.

  28. Plut. Alex. 22.4-5.

  29. Plut. Alex. 22.5.

  30. A similar account is found significantly in Livy (36.11.1-5), in his description of the winter quarters of Antiochus the Great, when Romans came for the first time in close contact with Asia. Again, the description of the camp of the Oriental king is seen as a reflection of Oriental luxury (cepit luxuria). Cf. also Diod. 29.2. On Livy's passage and his sources see Briscoe ad loc.

  31. BC 3.97.1 Caesar castris potitus a militibus contendit ne in praeda occupati reliqui negotii gerendi facultatem dimitterent. qua re impetrata montem opere circummunire instituit. On this passage see Carter (1993) ad loc. who rightly notes that one can only guess what the relation of this idealized picture may be to what actually happened when Caesar insisted on pursuing the Pompeians. For a different account of Caesar's usual behavior in battle and after victory see Suet. Jul. 67 Ac non numquam post magnam pugnam atque victoriam, remisso officiorum munere, licentiam omnem passim lasciuiendi permittebat, iactare solitus milites suos etiam unguentatos bene pugnare posse … habebatque tam cultos, ut argento et auro politis armis ornaret, simul et ad speciem, et quo tenaciores eorum in proelio essent metu damni.

  32. BC 96.2.

  33. As noted by one of the referees, Caesar will adopt a different strategy of representation in BG, where he will be at pains to portray his own most important foreign opponents, the Germans and the Belgians, as far removed from the softening effects of luxury. On the topic see also Rambaud 334-339.

  34. On the magnificence of the triumph, all ancient sources seem to agree Cf. Plut. Pomp. 45.1-46.1; App. Mith. 116-117; Dio, 37.21; Vell. 2.40.3; Pliny, NH 7.97-99 and 37.11ff.

  35. See Greenhalgh 168ff., who believes that the theme of the whole display was to compare Pompey and Alexander.

  36. On Caesar as a new Alexander see Weinstock 83-90; 186-8.

  37. Lucan, 1. See also Getty ad loc.

  38. On this aspect of Lucan's poetry cf. Bartsch 10-12; 15-17; 20-22.

  39. Cf. for example Lucan's description of the battle of Pharsalus 7.625-630 quis cruor emissis perruperit aëra uenis / inque hostis cadat arma sui, quis pectora fratris / caedat et, ut notum possit spoliare cadaver, / abscisum longe mittat caput, ora parentis / quis laceret nimiaque probet spectantibus ira / quem iugulat, non esse patrem.

  40. Lucan, 1.111-20. On the passage and its meaning see Bartsch 15.

  41. The link between the civil war and the foundation of Rome is made explicit by Lucan at 1. 94-97.

  42. Lucan is not the first one to describe civil wars in such a fashion. In Catullus, Virgil and Lucretius the image of a brother who kills a brother becomes a convenient paradigm for civil wars. See for example Lucr. 3.70-72 sanguine ciuili rem conflant … / crudeles gaudent in tristi funere fratris; Cat. 64.399 perfudere manus fraterno sanguine fratres; Verg. G. 2.496 infidos agitans discordia fratres; 510 gaudent perfusi sanguine fratrum. On these two passages see Thomas ad loc. On the topic see also Hardie 29-32; 53-56; 67-68.

  43. BC 3.3-5.

  44. Carter ad loc.

  45. BC 3.3.1-2.

  46. BC 3.4.3-6.

  47. App. BC 2.49. We may also notice that Appian specifies that Pompey intended to use auxiliaries mainly in garrison duty, in building fortifications, and in other services for the Italian soldiers, so that no one of the latter was kept away from the battles.

  48. Dio, 41.55.2.

  49. Plut. Pomp. 64.1 …

  50. On the important difference between Bellum Civile and Bellum Externum in Roman culture see Jal 19-27. For other passages where Caesar stresses the heterogeneity and non-Roman nature of Pompey's army see Rambaud 340.

  51. Plut. Pomp. 67.3 reports that this nickname, given to him by Ahenobarbus, made Pompey odious.

  52. For a similar representation of Xerxes' and Darius' army with an emphasis on their majestic proportions and heterogeneity see respectively Hdt. 7.61-96 and Arr. An. 2.8.5-8.

  53. On the topic see Van Ooteghem 317ff.; Bowie 470-481.

  54. Cic. Att. 8.11.2. On the passage cf. Shackleton Bailey ad loc.

  55. Cic. Att. 9.10.3 me, quem non nulli conseruatorem istius urbis, parentemque esse dixerunt, Getarum et Armeniorum et Colchorum copias ad eam adducere? See also Shackleton Bailey ad loc.

  56. Cic. Att. 11.6.2 me discessisse ab armis numquam paenituit; tanta erat in illis crudelitas, tanta cum barbaris gentibus coniunctio … Cf. also Fam. 7.3.2 for similar ideas. Cf. also Att. 11.7.3 for Cicero's judgment on the alliance with Juba in the African war (non esse barbaris auxiliis fallacissimae gentis rem publicam defendendam).

  57. Sal. Cat. 11.5. See also P. McGushin ad loc.

  58. Livy, 34.4.3 Haec ego, quo melior laetiorque in dies fortuna rei publicae est, quo magis imperium crescit—et iam in Graeciam Asiamque transcendimus omnibus libidinum inlecebris repletas et regias etiam adtrectamus gazas—, eo plus horreo, ne illae magis res nos ceperint, quam nos illas. On this passage and on Livy's sources for the speech see Briscoe ad loc.

  59. On the relation between Sallust's account and Livy's see Earl 46ff. Earl notices the similarities between the two accounts both in their descriptions of the lax discipline of the armies and in listing articles of luxury. He then explains Sallust's postdating the various stages of moral decline as an effort on Sallust's part to be consistent, since his over-concentration on concordia has led him to reject the tradition of the growth of luxuria in the earlier second century. For a similar idea in Sallust see Jug. 41-42.

  60. Livy, 39.1.3.

  61. Livy, 39.1.4.

  62. Walsh ad loc. rightly points out that this allegation already goes back to the annalist L. Piso. According to the Elder Pliny (NH 34.14=Piso fr. 34 P) he specifically mentioned the bronze couches, one-legged tables and sideboards imported into Rome to grace Vulso's triumph. For a full treatment of the idea of luxuria in Livy as a corrupting element that contributed to Rome's decline, see Luce 250-275. For other examples of the same theme linking luxuria to Oriental ethnicity see Cic. ad Q. Frat. 1.1.19; Tac. Agr. 6.2. Pliny, NH 34. 34.

  63. Livy, 39.6.9.

  64. On the seriousness of Roman concern about their moral decadence see Edwards 176.

  65. Livy, 34. 4.3 eo plus horreo, ne illae magis res nos ceperint quam nos illas.

  66. For a detailed list of all the honors bestowed on Caesar from 47 to 44 and the origins of such honors see Weinstock who rightly suggests that it was probably on his Eastern campaigns that Caesar conceived the plan of a Roman version of the ruler cult (413): “There it was a political and religious necessity to claim for himself what had been due to kings of the East … These preparations were intensified when the Parthian campaign became imminent. In Parthia Caesar meant to appear as a legitimate king, the heir to all its political and religious traditions, and he wished to be honored accordingly.” On the topic see also Collins 127-28.

  67. Weinstock 333 with relevant bibliography

  68. Suet. Jul. 79 Quin etiam uaria fama percrebuit migraturum Alexandream uel Ilium … Cf also 52.3 where Elvius Cinna was charged with introducing an astonishing law which would enable Caesar to marry uxores liberorum quaerendorum causa quas et quot uellet.

  69. The date of BC has always been controversial. Klotz showed with great probability that BC was not published in the lifetime of Caesar but was edited and published shortly after his death by Aulus Hirtius. The view was attacked by Kalinka and Barwick who believed that BC was written and published as part of Caesar's propaganda campaign during the war, and that it appeared in two parts, books 1-2 as a unit at the end of 49, and book 3 at the end of 48 or early in 47. Collins 130 adopts instead a middle ground position: the work was indeed written earlier (48) but, since, soon after it was written it no longer fit the new propaganda objectives of Caesar, it remained untouched in Caesar's archives until the summer of 44 when it was resurrected by Hirtius and given over to the copyists. Cf. also La Penna 231, who believes that BC was published by Caesar in 47-46, but that the later chapters (3.101 to the end) were probably written at a later date, for in those later chapters La Penna notices signs of a changed policy, especially in chapter 3.105 where: “Cesare … prepara il terreno nell'opinione pubblica per un potere assoluto di carattere orientale e teocratico.”


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Further Reading

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 299


Brown, Virginia. The Textual Transmission of Caesar's “Civil War.” Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1972, 96p.

Examines and describes assorted manuscripts of De Bello Civili.


Fuller, J. F. C. Julius Caesar: Man, Soldier, Tyrant. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1965, 114 p.

Uses classical sources in assessing Caesar's career as a general as sometimes brilliant, but sometimes blundering.

Gelzer, Matthias, Caesar: Politician and Statesman. Translated by Peter Needham, 1921. Reprint. Harvard University Press, 1985, 368 p.

Standard biography originally published in German.

Kahn, Arthur D. The Education of Julius Caesar: A Biography, A Reconstruction. New York: Schocken Books, 1986, 514 p.

Explores the life of Caesar in the context of his times.


Balsdon, J. P. V. D. “The Veracity of Caesar.” Greece and Rome 4 (1957): 19-28.

Explores problems that arise in determining the truthfulness of Caesar's writings.

Eden, P. T. “Caesar's Style: Inheritance versus Intelligence. Glotta 40 (1962): 74-117.

Examines how and why Caesar developed his chronicles from the traditional annales.

Gotoff, H. C. “Towards a Practical Criticism of Caesar's Prose Style.” Illinois Classical Studies 9 (Spring, 1984): 1-18.

Argues that Caesar's sentence structure and overall writing style are not so plain as many critics believe.

Schlicher, J. J. “The Development of Caesar's Narrative Style.” Classical Philology 21, No. 3 (July 1936): 212-24.

Traces the evolution of Caesar's style from its early conservativeness to its following of contemporaneous rhetorical trends.

Wardle, D. “‘The Sainted Julius’: Valerius Maximus and the Dictator.” Classical Philology 92, No. 4 (October 1997): 323-45.

Assesses the importance of Valerius Maximus's portrayal of Caesar.

White, Peter. “Julius Caesar in Augustan Rome.” Phoenix 42 (Winter 1988): 334-56.

Examines Augustus's treatment of Caesar by way of monuments, ceremonies, and writing.

Williams, Mark F. “Caesar's Bibracte Narrative and the Aims of Caesarian Style.” Illinois Classical Studies 10 (Fall, 1985): 215-26.

Contends that scholars perform a disservice to Caesar's writings when they judge them according to standards of Ciceronian style.

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Critical Commentary


Julius Caesar (Vol. 50)

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