The New York Times Book Review
Caesar (Masters of Rome Series #5)by Colleen McCullough
In the long, fabled history of Rome, there was never one so beloved by so manyyet so feared and despised by lesser men whose power he eclipsedthan Gaius Julius Caesar. On the field of battle, he is invincible, and those who fight at his side would gladly give their lives for his glory. But even as Caesar sweeps across Gaulbrutally subduing the
In the long, fabled history of Rome, there was never one so beloved by so manyyet so feared and despised by lesser men whose power he eclipsedthan Gaius Julius Caesar. On the field of battle, he is invincible, and those who fight at his side would gladly give their lives for his glory. But even as Caesar sweeps across Gaulbrutally subduing the united tribes who defy the Republichis enemies at home are orchestrating his downfall and disgrace. Vindictive schemers like Cato and Bibulus would tear Rome asunder just to destroy her greatest champion, using their wiles, position and false promises to seduce others into the fold: the spineless Cicero, the avaricious Brutus...even Pompey the Great, First Man in Rome and Caesar's former ally. But ill fortune can only come to the "Good Men" who underestimate Caesar. For rome is his destinya destiny that will impel him triumphantly on the banks of the Rubicon...and beyond, into legend.
The New York Times Book Review
Read an Excerpt
The orders were that while Caesar and the major part of his army were in Britannia, none but the most urgent communications were to be sent to him; even directivesfrom the Senate had to wait in Portus Itius on the Gallic mainland until Caesar returned from his second expedition to the island at the western end of the world, a place almost as mysterious as Serica.
But this was a letter from Pompey the Great, who was the First Man in Rome-and Caesar's son-in-law. So when Gaius Trebatius in Caesar's office of Roman communications took delivery of the little red leather cylinder bearing Pompey's seal, he did not post it in one of the pigeon-holes to wait for that return from Britannia. Instead he sighed and got to his feet, plump and taut like his ankles because he spent the vastest part of his life sitting or eating. He went through the door and out into the settlement which had been thrown up upon the bones of last year's army camp, a smaller compound. Not a pretty place! Rows and rows and rows of wooden houses, well-packed earthen streets, even the occasional shop or two. Treeless, straight, regimented.
Now if this were only Rome, he thought, commencing the long traipse of the Via Principalis, I could hail me a sedan chair and be carried in comfort. But there were no sedan chairs in Caesar's camps, so Gajus Trebatius, hugely promising young lawyer, walked. Hating it and the system which said that he could do more for his burgeoning career by working for a soldier in the field than he could by strolling-or sedan-chairing-around the Forum Romanum. He didn't even dare depute a more junior someone else to do this errand. Caesar was a stickler for a man's doing his own dirty workif there was the remotest chance that delegation might lead to a stuff-up, to use crude army vernacular.
Oh, bother! Bother, bother! Almost Trebatius turned to go back, then tucked his left hand among the folds of toga arranged on his left shoulder, looked important, and waddled on. Titus Labienus, the reins of a patient horse looped through the crook of one elbow, lounged up against the wall of his house, talking to some hulking Gaul hung with gold and blazing colors. Litaviccus, the recently appointed leader of the Aedui cav-alry. The pair of them were probably still deploring the fate of the last leader of the Aedui cavalry, who had fled rather than be dragged across those heaving waters to Britannia. And had been cut down by Titus Lab-ienus for his pains. Some weird and wonderful name-what was it? Dumnorix. Du~orix... Why did he think that name was connected with a scandal involving Caesar and a woman? He hadn't been in Gaul long enough to get it all sorted out in his mind, that was the trouble.
Typical Labienus, to prefer talking to a Gaul. What a true barbarian the man was! No Roman he. Tight, curly black hair. Dark skin with big, oily pores. Fierce yet cold black eyes. And a nose like a Semite's, hooked, with nostrils that looked as if someone had enlarged them with a knife. An eagle. Labienus was an eagle. He belonged under the standards
"Walking some of the fat off, Trebatius?" the barbarian Roman asked, grinning to show teeth as big as his horse's.
"Down to the dock," said Trebatius with dignity.
Trebatius itched to inform Labienus that it was none of his business, but he gave a sick smile and answered; Labienus was, after all, the general in the absence of the General. "I'm hoping to catch the nail pinnace. A letter for Caesar."
The Gaul Litaviccus was following the conversation, bright-eyed. He spoke Latin, then. Not unusual among the Aedui. They'd been under Rome for generations.
"Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus.""Ah!" Labienus hawked and spat, a habit he'd picked up from too many years hobnobbing with Gauls. Disgusting.
But he lost interest the moment Pompey's name was said, turned back to Litaviccus with a shrug. Oh, of course! It had been Labienus who trifled with Pompey's then wife, Mucia Tertia. Or so Cicero swore, gig-gling. But she hadn't married Labienus after the divorce. Not good enough. She'd married young Scaurus. At least he had been young at the time.
Breathing hard, Trebatius walked on until he emerged from the camp gate at the far end of the Via Principalis and entered the village of Portus Itius. A grand name for a fishing village. Who knew what name it had among the Morini, the Gauls in whose territory it lay? Caesar had simply entered it in the army's books as Journey's End-or Journey's Beginning. Take your pick.
The sweat was rolling down his back, soaking into the fine wool of his tunic; he had been told that the weather in Further Gaul of the Long-hairs was cool and clement, but not this year! Extremely hot, the air laden with moisture. So Portus Itius stank of fish. And Gauls. He hated them. He hated this work. And if he didn't quite hate Caesar, he had come very close to hating Cicero, who had used his influence to obtain this hotly contested posting for his dear friend, the hugely promising young lawyer Gaius Trebatius Testa.
Portus Itius didn't look like any of those delightful little fishing vil-lages along the shores of the Tuscan Sea, with their shady vines outside the wine shops, and an air of having been there since King Aeneas had leaped down from his Trojan ship a millennium before. The songs, the laughter, the intimacy. Whereas here was all wind and blowing sand, strappy grasses plastered against the dunes, the thin wild keening of a thousand thousand gulls.
But there, still tied up, was the sleek oared pinnace he had hoped to catch before it put out, its Roman crew busy loading the last of a dozen kegs of nails, all it was carrying-or, at its size, could hope to carry.
When it came to Britannia, Caesar's fabled luck seemed permanently out; for the second year in a row his ships had been wrecked in a gale more terrible than any gale which blew down the length and breadth of Our Sea. Oh, and this time Caesar had been so sure he had positioned those eight hundred ships in complete safety! But the winds and the tides-what could one do with alien phenomena like tides?-had come along and picked them up and thrown them about like toys. Broken. Still, they belonged to Caesar. Who didn't rant and rave and call down curses on all winds and tides. Instead, he proceeded to gather up the pieces and put the ships back together again. Hence the nails. Millions of them. No time or personnel for sophisticated shipwrights' work; the army had to be back in Gaul before winter.
"Nail 'em!" said Caesar. "All they have to do is make it across thirty-odd miles of Oceanus Atlanticus. Then they can sink, for all I care."
Handy for the office of Roman communications, the pinnace which rowed back and forth between Portus Itius and Britannia with a dozen kegs of nails going out and messages going in.
And to think I might have been over there! said Trebatius to himself, shivering despite the heat, the humidity, and the weight of a toga. Need-ing a good paper man, Caesar had put him down for the expedition. But at the last moment Aulus Hirtius had taken a fancy to go, all the Gods look after him forever! Portus Itius might be Journey's End for Gaius Trebatius, but better that than Journey's Beginning.
Today they had a passenger; as he and Trogus had organized it (in the colossal hurry Caesar always demanded), Trebatius knew who the Gaul was-or Briton, rather. Mandubracius, King of the Britannic Trin-obantes, whom Caesar was returning to his people in return for their assistance. A blue Belgic, quite horrific. His gear was checked in mossy greens and shadowy blues, into which his skin, painted in a complex pattern with rich blue woad, seemed to merge. They did it in Britannia, so Caesar said, to blend into their interminable forests; you could be scant feet from one and never see him. And to frighten each other in battle.
Trebatius handed the little red cylinder to the-captain? was that the correct term?-and turned to walk back to the office. Thinking, with a sudden rush of saliva, of the roast goose he was going to have for his dinner. There wasn't much one could say in favor of the Morini, except that their geese were the best in the whole wide world. Not only did the Morini stuff snails, slugs and bread down their throats, they made the poor creatures walk-oh, walking!-until their flesh was so tender it melted in the mouth.
Copyright © 1997 by Colleen McCullough
Meet the Author
Colleen McCullough is the author of The Thorn Birds, Tim, An Indecent Obsession, A Creed for the Third Millennium, The Ladies of Missalonghi, The First Man in Rome, The Grass Crown, Fortune's Favorites, Caesar's Women, Caesar, and other novels. She lives with her husband on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific.
- Norfolk Island, 1,000 miles off the Australian coast
- Date of Birth:
- June 1, 1937
- Place of Birth:
- Wellington, New South Wales, Australia
- Attended University of Sydney
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great outstanding i love her work an yearn for more maybe of greece like steven pressfield so often writes about
Of the five books written in this series, this is the best one. I loved how Ms. Mucullough switched back and forth between Caesar and Pompey. She also kept the suspense at a high level of when the two armies were going to actually fight even though I knew exactly when they did fight. This is an outstanding series, and anyone interested in ancient Rome should read all of the books.
From the time that Marius first contemplated his consulships I have followed this series, immersing for a time in the final days of the first republic. Because of this story I have also read Seutorius and the first 15 chapters of (The Decline and Fall...). Each book McCollough writes is like an installment of a Saturday morning cliffhanger. Now we have reached the final summit before the fall. Ms. McCollough,let the horse run and the race be called so that we may all know the final glory and fate of the man and era that you so obviously love. PS - And hurry, a sea eagle might drop a shell on my head tomorrow and I would never know how the story ends
This novel was the first one I read of the series and I have to say it is one of her best. Colleen McCullough brings to life the legend and the life of Julius Caesar in a way that I have never experienced before. She brings this man to light in such a way that I feel like I know Caesar personally. He's becomes more than just a voice from the past but as a man who acheived unbelievable recognition but experienced the same heartship and pain that everyone else goes through. To me, he becomes human. This book is a good way to connect with a world that we have never known. It's one of my favorite books and I intend to read all the books in the series.
The other books in the series are just as good and I recommend reading them first. I am in awe of the master work McCullough has constructed with this series. This is short because I am just here looking for the next book in the series, which sadly doesn't seem to be out yet. I am hoping she'll continue through at least into Augustas' reign, where I Claudius starts. McCullough is more thorough than Graves. Admitted these books are not light reading. I wish I took notes as I read because it isn't easy keeping the less significant characters straight. But I don't and I still enjoy them immensely. I tend to re-read them every few years.
I started reading historical fiction some time ago. I would find an author, read every book available, and come away feeling thirsty for more. This book was a capstone to the first four that made the whole series like a succulent Thanksgiving dinner - you've already had more than enough, but you just can't stop eating. This author is such a gifted storyteller - as an ametuer Roman history buff, I stand in awe of the incredible masterpiece and beg for more. These are truly the best books I have ever read.
Caesar, as presented here, comes vividly to life, a near-perfect man with no match in ancient Rome or elsewhere in his Mediterrannean world. Hard to believe that the other Romans, or at least those who opposed him, were as incompetent and unable to measure up as Ms. McCullough portrays them here. It kind of makes one wonder how Rome did what it did, both before and after Caesar. On the other hand, Ms. McCullough has certainly recreated the Roman world in vivid colors though it also seems a trifle distant, at times, and not entirely engaging. I found it easy to lay this book aside when I needed to, most of the time, though was inevitably drawn back to it again.In the end the story of Casear's dogged machinations to reclaim his 'dignitas' from the 'nothings' who would deny it to him out of some misguided concern for preserving the republic (or their own privileges within it), is also a story about the need for order, both in one's thinking and in the world. Caesar, here (and perhaps in reality for the portrayal is convincing), is a man who thinks of everything, the very secret of his magificent generalship. That, of course, plus his ability to think and react quickly to changed circumstances and to inspire loyalty and trust and the supreme effort from his men are what sets him apart. And the confidence with which he seems to know just how much above all the others he is set through possession of these virtues.Republican politics (not the GOP sort in this context), on the other hand, here leads to all sorts of bumbling excesses and omissions as the many smart fellows who unwisely think more of themselves than of their opponent Caesar, bang up against one another like some classical 'three stooges' trying to disconnect Caesar from his natural constituency and sources of power.But it is the confused and overly ambitious Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus) who claims our sympathies and our hearts at the final curtain -- not the obviously invincible general out of the west. It is Pompey who, realizing too late that he is no match for Caesar despite his own history of military victories and the celebration of these by the Roman patrician class, must do all he can to escape the shadow of the conqueror and, in doing so, stumbles into the hands of lesser men and into history. It was Pompey, at last, who moved me, as I think the author intended it to be. For this Caesar in her Rome is a natural force, in fact a supernatural one, a veritable god on earth and it is not for men like these that we feel most deeply. It is men like ourselves, like Pompey, men with hopes and illusions and ultimately the failings of mortality, who move us most strongly at the end of the day.
Superb book. The best history lesson ever. Don't start this book on a weekday, otherwise you'll be up till 5:30 a.m., like me, reading and then will have to stumble into work at 9:30. Can't wait for October Horse to come out