An academic study centered on the events of 49 B.C.E., when Julius Caesar marched his army into Rome and destroyed the republic.
Fezzi (Roman History/Univ. of Padua) begins with more than most readers want to know about Roman governmental structure. Although a republic (a nation without a king), it barely qualified as a democracy. Every citizen could vote, but in its complex, corrupt electoral system, only the very wealthy could win high-level positions, which were unpaid. Being a victorious general has been a vote-getter throughout history, and Caesar took full advantage. By the first century B.C.E., murderous generals dominated the republic, which was on its last legs. Fezzi examines the period after 60 B.C.E., an era that featured three strong men: Caesar, then engaged in conquering Gaul; Pompey, an older general already famous for his victories; and the fabulously wealthy Crassus. They cooperated only as far as it served their interests. Fezzi’s favorite source, Cicero, was a senator and lawyer who sometimes opposed Caesar. As a lawyer, he often prosecuted or defended and then wrote about it. Trials in ancient Rome were often open-air spectacles where crowds occasionally rioted and killed participants. Aiming to leave no stone unturned, the author recounts so many of Cicero’s legal actions that readers may lose track and likely interest. Matters came to a head in 49 B.C.E., with Crassus dead and Pompey and the Senate scheming against Caesar, still occupied in Gaul. Ordered to return, he was obligated to come alone because no general could bring his army into Italy—at that time bounded on the north by the river Rubicon. Apparently fearing for his life, he brought his army, beginning a vicious civil war that ended with his victory and, a year later, assassination. General readers take note: This is a dense, bookish history; Tom Holland’s Rubicon delivers a far more lucid but still intelligent account of this period.
For scholars of ancient history.