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… See more details below
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
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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
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