Julius Caesar: Rome's Greatest Warlord

Julius Caesar: Rome's Greatest Warlord

Simon Elliott
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
Publishers are bringing out a lot of books about ancient Rome at present, so the appearance of this new military and political biography of Julius Caesar does not come as a surprise. It is one of Casemate Publishers' Short History Series, reasonably priced at 9.99 Pounds (RRP). At only 153 pages, it is ideal for anyone wishing quickly to master the basic facts of Caesar's career. The book can be read for pleasure but would also be a useful reference work for students of Ancient or Military History.

Whether you admire or detest him, Gaius Julius Caesar remains one of the greatest figures of world history; the leading politician and pre-eminent military commander of his day. In early Roman imperial times Julius was to some extent eclipsed by his great-nephew and adopted son, Augustus who, unlike Julius Caesar, survived to become the first Roman Emperor. However later generations have tended to rank Julius before Augustus as a military leader.

Caesar's conquests of Iberia and Gaul ensured that Graeco-Roman civilization, the Latin language and Roman Law should extend beyond the Mediterranean basin to the Atlantic shore, ultimately embracing much of Western Europe. Thanks to him, France, Spain, Portugal, Andorra, parts of Switzerland and Belgium all speak closely-related Romance languages and to this day use legal systems based on Roman Law, as do their respective former colonies.

Although Julius never actually used the title of Emperor – he bore the title of Dictator for Life at the time of his murder - later Emperors sought to present themselves as Caesar's worthy successors by using versions of his name as their title: not only Roman Emperors, but the Austrian and German Kaisers and Russian Tsars. King Charles VIII of France ordered a translation of Caesar's The Conquest of Gaul; The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V commissioned a map in order to better understand Caesar's strategy in Gaul. Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent translated Caesar's Commentaries into Turkish; the French Kings Henry IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV all had Caesar's works translated into French. All three of these French monarchs liked to be depicted as latter-day Caesars, wearing Roman armour and laurel crowns.

So did Napoleon I, who valued and studied Julius, above all for his skill as a strategic communicator. Napoleon's nephew, Napoleon III, wrote a three-volume History of Julius Caesar, a very detailed account of Julius's military career, which was unfinished when the former Emperor died in 1873. It is not light reading; for those who do not have limitless time on their hands, Simon Elliott's admirably concise book is preferable.

Caesar's style of leadership inspired the political ideology known as Caesarism: the unrestricted rule of a brilliant, charismatic, strong ruler. Adherents included Niccolo Machiavelli, both the Bonaparte Emperors of the French and – unsurprisingly - Benito Mussolini. Caesar's amoral, uncompromising and absolutist mentality still informs the inner councils of the EU. To this day in France and Italy Caesar is remembered as both a popular hero and a villain. We still live in the long shadow of this illustrious figure of the ancient world.

The book's author, Simon Elliott, is a well-qualified expert, with Master's degrees in War Studies and Archaeology and a PhD in Archaeology. His areas of special interest are the Roman army and navy and Roman Britain. He was formerly a defence journalist, writing for Jane's Defence Weekly and other publications.

For further reading see, for example, Rome: Republic into Empire by Paul Chrystal and Caesar's Footprints by Bijan Omrani; both recently reviewed for ARRSE. Among Roman writers, I can recommend Suetonius's short, readable The Twelve Caesars, available in English as a Penguin paperback. So are Julius Caesar's own works, including The Conquest of Gaul.

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