A fresh look at one of history’s most dynamic and controversial figures.
He intends neither to bury nor overly praise Caesar (100–44 BCE), states Freeman (Classics/Luther College; The Philosopher and the Druids: A Journey Among the Ancient Celts, 2006, etc.), simply to set forth his life and times as ancient Rome’s most celebrated yet often reviled leading citizen. The recovered works of Suetonius, Caesar’s first biographer, do not cover his childhood in an aristocratic family lacking both influence and wealth. Freeman’s willingness to venture educated guesses—clearly labeled as such—on Caesar’s early schooling and training significantly help readers apprehend a human will singularly bent on destiny. The young Caesar who emerges here seems strikingly modern. Ambition and intellect drove every action; his courage was obvious, though frequently calculated for maximum effect. Freeman stresses that while he had the audacity to challenge more senior politicians and sometimes the entire Senate, Caesar always stayed on message when courting public sentiment. He combined a striking instinct for political power with palpable oratorical mojo, and he added the ability to cultivate an aura of military genius, sending elaborate dispatches from the battlefield that were publicly read aloud in Rome—to the disgust of his hapless political foes. Abstaining from moralizing, Freeman frames any judgments of Caesar in the context of his own time, when a reputation for clemency could be gained by cutting a man’s throat before his crucifixion. Caesar made himself enormously wealthy at the expense of both his enemies (selling slaves in victory) and the Roman provincial administration, the author notes, and as the Ides of March approached a man with every reason to believe no one in his world could refuse him was about to meet those who would.
Scholarly and contextually rich, yet accessible and reasonably succinct.