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Tracing the extraordinary trajectory of the great Roman emperor’s life, Goldsworthy covers not only the great Roman emperor’s accomplishments as charismatic orator, conquering general, and powerful dictator but also lesser-known chapters during which he was high priest of an exotic cult, captive of pirates, seducer not only of Cleopatra but also of the wives of his two main political rivals, and rebel condemned by his own country. Ultimately, Goldsworthy realizes the full complexity of Caesar’s character and shows why his political and military leadership continues to resonate some two thousand years later.
In the introduction to his biography of the great Roman emperor, Adrian Goldsworthy writes, “Caesar was at times many things, including a fugitive, prisoner, rising politician, army leader, legal advocate, rebel, dictator . . . as well as husband, father, lover and adulterer.” In this landmark biography, Goldsworthy examines Caesar as military leader, all of these roles and places his subject firmly within the context of Roman society in the first century B.C.
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A conversation with Adrian Goldsworthy
Q: What is new about your book?
A: The overall approach is new. As far as possible I have tried to write this as if it were the biography of a twentieth-century statesman, looking in as much detail as possible at every aspect of his life. One of the biggest differences with Meier—and also Gelzer, who wrote the most important biography of Caesar before Meier—is that I have tried to cover each stage of his life in equal detail. Their focus was always on the politics. Yet Caesar spent a very large part of his life at war—he was on campaign for no less than thirteen of the last fifteen years of his life. We need to understand Caesar the soldier as much as Caesar the politician because the two were so closely intertwined.
Q: What are the parallels between Ancient Rome and our own times?
A: It would be wrong to claim exact parallels between Rome in the first century B.C. and the modern world, but there are undeniable lessons to be learnt from the turbulent history of these years. One of the most important is to show the fragility of political systems. Caesar lived in the last decades of the Roman Republic, a system which was already three centuries old at the time of his birth. But less than twenty years after his death, his adopted son Octavian had turned Rome into what was a monarchy in all but name. There is perhaps a lesson for modern democracies in the danger of allowing entrenched lobby groups, political parties, and other interests to stifle real debate.
Q: Where was Caesar headed at the time of his assassination?
A: Caesar was about to set out on a series of campaigns against the Dathians and Parcians, in what is modern Iraq.
Adrian Goldsworthy read history at Oxford and is the author of The Roman Army at War, The Punic Wars, and other books about the ancient world. He lives in Wales.
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