Caesar (Masters of Rome Series)

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Overview

In the long, fabled history of Rome, there was never one so beloved by so many—yet so feared and despised by lesser men whose power he eclipsed—than 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 Gaul—brutally subduing the united tribes who defy the Republic—his enemies at home are orchestrating his downfall and disgrace. Vindictive schemers like Cato and Bibulus would tear Rome asunder ...

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Overview

In the long, fabled history of Rome, there was never one so beloved by so many—yet so feared and despised by lesser men whose power he eclipsed—than 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 Gaul—brutally subduing the united tribes who defy the Republic—his 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 destiny—a destiny that will impel him triumphantly on the banks of the Rubicon...and beyond, into legend.

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Editorial Reviews

Allen Lincoln
Such important events...unfold as excitingly as if the history were not yet written.
The New York Times Book Review
Allen Lincoln
Such important events...unfold as excitingly as if the history were not yet written.
The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380710850
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/28/1999
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 672
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Colleen McCullough

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.

Biography

Colleen Mccullough was born in Australia. A neurophysiologist, she established the department of neurophysiology at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, then worked as a researcher and teacher at Yale Medical School for ten years. Her writing career began with Tim, followed by The Thorn Birds, a record-breaking international best-seller. The author of nine other novels, McCullough has also written lyrics for musical theater. She lives on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific with her husband, Ric Robinson.

Author biography courtesy of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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    1. Hometown:
      Norfolk Island, 1,000 miles off the Australian coast
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 1, 1937
    2. Place of Birth:
      Wellington, New South Wales, Australia
    1. Education:
      Attended University of Sydney

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.

"Why?"

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."

"Who from?"

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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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

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 directives from 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 pigeonholes 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 Gaius 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 work if 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 cavalry. 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 Labienus for his pains. Some weird and wonderful name--what was it? Dumnorix. Dumnorix ... 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.

"Why?"

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."

"Who from?"

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, giggling. 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 Longhairs 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 villages 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. Needing 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 Trinobantes, 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.

The pinnace oarsmen, eight to a side, rowed tirelessly in a perfect unison, though no hortator gave them the stroke. Each hour they rested and took a drink of water, then bent their backs again, feet propped against ridges in the boat's sloshing bottom. Their captain sat in the stern with the rudder oar and a bailing bucket, his attention expertly divided between the two.

As the soaring, striking white cliffs of Britannia came closer, King Mandubracius, stiffly and proudly sitting in the bow, grew stiffer and prouder. He was going home, though he had been no further from it than the Belgic citadel of Samarobriva, where, like many other hostages, he had been detained until Caesar decided where to send him for safekeeping.

The Roman expeditionary force to Britannia had taken over a very long, sandy beach which at its back dwindled into the Cantii marshes; the battered ships--so many!--lay behind the sand, propped up on struts and surrounded by all the incredible defenses of a Roman field camp. Ditches, walls, palisades, breastworks, towers, redoubts that seemed to go on for miles.

The camp commander, Quintus Atrius, was waiting to take charge of the nails, the little red cylinder from Pompey, and King Mandubracius. There were still several hours of daylight left; the chariot of the sun was much slower in this part of the world than in Italia. Some Trinobantes were waiting, overjoyed to see their king, slapping him on the back and kissing him on the mouth, as was their custom. He and the little red cylinder from Pompey would start out at once, for it would take several days to reach Caesar. The horses were brought; the Trinobantes and a Roman prefect of cavalry mounted and rode off through the north gate, where five hundred Aeduan horse troopers swung to enclose them in the midst of a column five horses wide and a hundred long. The prefect kicked his mount to the column's front, leaving the King and his noblemen free to talk among themselves.

"You can't be sure they don't speak something close enough to our tongue to understand," said Mandubracius, sniffing the hot damp air with relish. It smelled of home.

"Caesar and Trogus do, but surely not the others," said his cousin Trinobellunus.

"You can't be sure," the King repeated. "They've been in Gaul now for almost five years, and for most of that among the Belgae. They have women."

"Whores! Camp followers!"

"Women are women. They talk endlessly, and the words sink in."

The great forest of oak and beech which lay to the north of the Cantii marshes closed in until the rutted track over which the cavalry column rode grew dim in the distance; the Aedui troopers tensed, cocked their lances, patted their sabers, swung their small circular shields around. But then came a great clearing stubbled with the relics of wheat, the charred black bones of two or three houses standing stark against that tawny background.

"Did the Romans get the grain?" Mandubracius asked.

"In the lands of the Cantii, all of it."

"And Cassivellaunus?"

"He burned what he couldn't gather in. The Romans have been hungry north of the Tamesa."

"How have we fared?"

"We have enough. What the Romans took, they've paid for."

"Then we'd better see it's what Cassivellaunus has in store that they eat next."

Trinobellunus turned his head; in the long gold light of the clearing, the whorls and spirals of blue paint on his face and bare torso glowed eerily. "We gave our word that we'd help Caesar when we asked him to bring you back, but there is no honor in helping an enemy. We agreed among ourselves that it would be your decision, Mandubracius."

The King of the Trinobantes laughed. "We help Caesar, of course! There's a lot of Cassi land and Cassi cattle will come our way when Cassivellaunus goes down. We'll turn the Romans to good use."

The Roman prefect came back, horse dancing a little because the pace was easy and it was mettlesome. "Caesar left a good camp not far ahead," he said in slow Atrebatan Belgic.

Mandubracius raised his brows at his cousin. "What did I tell you?" he asked. And to the Roman, "Is it intact?"

"All intact between here and the Tamesa."

The Tamesa was the great river of Britannia, deep and wide and strong, but there was one place at the end of the tidal reaches where it could be forded. On its northern bank the lands of the Cassi began, but there were no Cassi to contest either the ford or the blackened fields beyond. Having crossed the Tamesa at dawn, the column rode on through rolling countryside where the hills were still tufted with groves of trees, but the lower land was either put to the plough or used for grazing. The column now bore east of north, and so, some forty miles from the river, came to the lands of the Trinobantes. Atop a good broad hill on the border between the Cassi and the Trinobantes stood Caesar's camp, the last bastion of Rome in an alien land.

Mandubracius had never seen the Great Man; he had been sent as hostage at Caesar's demand, but when he arrived at Samarobriva found that Caesar was in Italian Gaul across the Alps, an eternity away. Then Caesar had gone straight to Portus Itius, intending to sail at once. The summer had promised to be an unusually hot one, a good omen for crossing that treacherous strait. But things had not gone according to plan. The Treveri were making overtures to the Germans across the Rhenus, and the two Treveri magistrates, called vergobrets, were at loggerheads with each other. One, Cingetorix, thought it better to knuckle under to the dictates of Rome, whereas Indutiomarus thought a German-aided revolt just the solution with Caesar away in Britannia. Then Caesar himself had turned up with four legions in light marching order, moving as always faster than any Gaul could credit. The revolt never happened; the vergobrets were made to shake hands with each other; Caesar took more hostages, including the son of Indutiomarus, and then marched off back to Portus Itius and a minor gale out of the northwest that blew for twenty-five days without let. Dumnorix of the Aedui made trouble--and died for it--so, all in all, the Great Man was very crusty when his fleet finally set sail two months later than he had scheduled.

He was still crusty, as his legates well knew, but when he came to greet Mandubracius no one would have suspected it who did not come into contact with Caesar every day. Very tall for a Roman, he looked Mandubracius in the eye from the same height. But more slender, a very graceful man with the massive calf musculature all Romans seemed to own--it came of so much walking and marching, as the Romans always said. He wore a workmanlike leather cuirass and kilt of dangling leather straps, and was girt not with sword and dagger but with the scarlet sash of his high imperium ritually knotted and looped across the front of his cuirass. As fair as any Gaul! His pale gold hair was thin and combed forward from the crown, his brows equally pale, his skin weathered and creased to the color of old parchment. The mouth was full, sensuous and humorous, the nose long and bumpy. But all that one needed to know about Caesar, thought Mandubracius, was in his eyes: very pale blue ringed round with a thin band of jet, piercing. Not so much cold as omniscient. He knew, the King decided, exactly why aid would be forthcoming from the Trinobantes.

"I won't welcome you to your own country, Mandubracius," he said in good Atrebatan, "but I hope you will welcome me."

"Gladly, Gaius Julius."

At which the Great Man laughed, displaying good teeth. "No, just Caesar," he said. "Everyone knows me as Caesar."

And there was Commius suddenly at his side, grinning at Mandubracius, coming forward to whack him between the shoulder blades. But when Commius would have kissed his lips, Mandubracius turned his head just enough to deflect the salutation. Worm! Roman puppet! Caesar's pet dog. King of the Atrebates but traitor to Gaul. Busy rushing round doing Caesar's bidding: it had been Commius who recommended him as a suitable hostage, Commius who worked on all the Britannic kings to sow dissension and give Caesar his precious foothold.

The prefect of cavalry was there, holding out the little red leather cylinder which the captain of the pinnace had handled as reverently as if it had been a gift from the Roman Gods. "From Gaius Trebatius," he said, saluted and stepped back, never taking his eyes from Caesar's face.

By Dagda, how they love him! thought Mandubracius. It is true, what they say in Samarobriva. They would die for him. And he knows it, and he uses it. For he smiled at the prefect alone, and answered with the man's name. The prefect would treasure the memory, and tell his grandchildren if he lived to see them. But Commius didn't love Caesar, because no long-haired Gaul could love Caesar. The only man Commius loved was himself. What exactly was Commius after? A high kingship in Gaul the moment Caesar went back to Rome for good?

"We'll meet later to dine and talk, Mandubracius," said Caesar, lifted the little red cylinder in a farewell gesture, and walked away toward the stout leather tent standing on an artificial knoll within the camp, where the scarlet flag of the General fluttered at full mast.

The amenities inside the tent were little different from those to be found in a junior military tribune's quarters: some folding stools, several folding tables, a rack of pigeonholes for scrolls which could be disassembled in moments. At one table sat the General's private secretary, Gaius Faberius, head bent over a codex; Caesar had grown tired of having to occupy both his hands or a couple of paperweights to keep a scroll unfurled, and had taken to using single sheets of Fannian paper which he then directed be sewn along the left-hand side so that one flipped through the completed work, turning one sheet at a time. This he called a codex, swearing that more men would read what it contained than if it were unrolled. Then to make each sheet easier still to read, he divided it into three columns instead of writing clear across it. He had conceived it for his dispatches to the Senate, apostrophizing that body as a nest of semi-literate slugs, but slowly the convenient codex was coming to dominate all Caesar's paperwork. However, it had a grave disadvantage which negated its potential to replace the scroll: upon hard use the sheets tore free of the stitching and were easily lost.

At another table sat his loyalest client, Aulus Hirtius. Of humble birth but considerable ability, Hirtius had pinned himself firmly to Caesar's star. A small spry man, he combined a love for wading through mountains of paper with an equal love for combat and the exigencies of war. He ran Caesar's office of Roman communications, made sure that the General knew everything going on in Rome even when he was forty miles north of the Tamesa River at the far western end of the world.

Both men looked up when the General entered, though neither essayed a smile. The General was very crusty. Though not, it seemed, at this moment, for he smiled at both of them and brandished the little red leather cylinder.

"A letter from Pompeius," he said, going to the only truly beautiful piece of furniture in the room, the ivory curule chair of his high estate.

"You'll know everything in it," said Hirtius, smiling now.

"True," said Caesar, breaking the seal and prising the lid off, "but Pompeius has his own style, I enjoy his letters. He's not as brash and untutored as he used to be before he married my daughter, yet his style is still his own." He inserted two fingers into the cylinder and brought forth Pompey's scroll. "Ye Gods, it's long!" he exclaimed, then bent to pick up a tube of paper from the wooden floor. "No, there are two letters." He studied the outermost edges of both, grunted. "One written in Sextilis, one in September."

Down went September on the table next to his curule chair, but he didn't unroll Sextilis and begin to read; instead he lifted his chin and looked blindly through the tent flap, wide apart to admit plenty of light.

What am I doing here, contesting the possession of a few fields of wheat and some shaggy cattle with a blue-painted relic out of the verses of Homer? Who still rides into battle driven in a chariot with his mastiff dogs baying and his harper singing his praises?

Well, I know that. Because my dignitas dictated it, because last year this benighted place and its benighted people thought that they had driven Gaius Julius Caesar from their shores forever. Thought that they had beaten Caesar. I came back for no other reason than to show them that no one beats Caesar. And once I have wrung a submission and a treaty out of Cassivellaunus, I will quit this benighted place never to return. But they will remember me. I've given Cassivellaunus's harper something new to carol. The coming of Rome, the vanishing of the chariots into the fabled Druidic west. Just as I will remain in Gaul of the Long-hairs until every man in it acknowledges me--and Rome--as his master. For I am Rome. And that is something my son-in-law, who is six years older than I, will never be. Guard your gates well, good Pompeius Magnus. You won't be the First Man in Rome for much longer. Caesar is coming.

He sat, spine absolutely straight, right foot forward and left foot tucked beneath the X of the curule chair, and opened Pompey the Great's letter marked Sextilis.

I hate to say it, Caesar, but there is still no sign of a curule election. Oh, Rome will continue to exist and even have a government of sorts, since we did manage to elect some tribunes of the plebs. What a circus that was! Cato got into the act. First he used his standing as a praetor member of the Plebs to block the plebeian elections, then he issued a stern warning in that braying voice of his that he was going to be scrutinizing every tablet a voter tossed into the baskets--and that if he found one candidate fiddling the results, he'd be prosecuting. Terrified the life out of the candidates!

Of course all of this stemmed out of the pact my idiotic nevvy Memmius made with Ahenobarbus. Never in the bribery-ridden history of our consular elections have so many bribes been given and taken by so many people! Cicero jokes that the amount of money which has changed hands is so staggering that it's sent the interest rate soaring from four to eight percent. He's not far wrong, joke though it is. I think Ahenobarbus, who is the consul supervising the elections--well, Appius Claudius can't; he's a patrician--thought that he could do as he liked. And what he likes is the idea of my nevvy Memmius and Domitius Calvinus as next year's consuls. All that lot--Ahenobarbus, Cato, Bibulus--are still snuffling round like dogs in a field of turds trying to find a reason why they can prosecute you and take your provinces and command off you. Easier if they own the consuls as well as some militant tribunes of the plebs.

Best to finish the Cato story off first, I suppose. Well, as time went on and it began to look more and more as if we'll have no consuls or praetors next year, it also became vital that at least we have the tribunes of the plebs. I mean, Rome can suffer through without the senior magistrates. As long as the Senate is there to control the purse strings and there are tribunes of the plebs to push the necessary laws through, who misses the consuls and praetors? Except when the consuls are you or me. That goes without saying.

In the end the candidates for the tribunate of the plebs went as a body to see Cato and begged that he withdraw his opposition. Honestly, Caesar, how does Cato get away with it? But they went further than mere begging. They made Cato an offer: each candidate would put up half a million sesterces (to be given to Cato to hold) if Cato would not only consent to the election's being held, but personally supervise it! If Cato found a man guilty of tampering with the electoral process, then he would fine that man the half-million. Very pleased with himself, Cato agreed. Though he was too clever to take their money. He made them give him legally precise promissory notes so they couldn't accuse him of embezzlement. Cunning, eh?

Polling day came at last, a mere three nundinae late, and there was Cato watching the activity like a hawk. You have to admit he has the nose to deserve that simile! He found one candidate at fault, ordered him to step down and pay up. Probably thinking that all of Rome would fall over in a swoon at the sight of so much incorruptibility. It didn't happen that way. The leaders of the Plebs are livid. They're saying it's both unconstitutional and intolerable that a praetor should set himself up not as the judge in his own court, but as an undesignated electoral officer.

Those stalwarts of the business world, the knights, hate the very mention of Cato's name, while Rome's seething hordes deem him crazy, between his semi-nudity and his perpetual hangover. After all, he's praetor in the extortion court! He's trying people senior enough to have governed a province--people like Scaurus, the present husband of my ex-wife! A patrician of the oldest stock! But what does Cato do? Drags Scaurus's trial out and out and out, too drunk to preside if the truth is known, and when he does turn up he has no shoes on, no tunic under his toga, and his eyeballs down on his cheeks. I understand that at the dawn of the Republic men didn't wear shoes or tunics, but it's news to me that those paragons of virtue pursued their Forum careers hung over.

I asked Publius Clodius to make Cato's life a misery, and Clodius did try. But in the end he gave up, came and told me that if I really wanted to get under Cato's skin, I'd have to bring Caesar back from Gaul.

Last April, shortly after Publius Clodius came home from his debt-collecting trip to Galatia, he bought Scaurus's house for fourteen and a half million! Real estate prices are as fanciful as a Vestal wondering what it would be like to do it. You can get half a million for a cupboard with a chamber pot. But Scaurus needed the money desperately. He's been poor ever since the games he threw when he was aedile--and when he tried to pop a bit in his purse from his province last year, he wound up in Cato's court. Where he is likely to be until Cato goes out of office, things go so slow in Cato's court.

On the other hand, Publius Clodius is oozing money. Of course he had to find another house, I do see that. When Cicero rebuilt, he built so tall that Publius Clodius lost his view. Some sort of revenge, eh? Mind you, Cicero's palace is a monument to bad taste. And to think he had the gall to liken the nice little villa I tacked onto the back of my theater complex to a dinghy behind a yacht!

What it does show is that Publius Clodius got his money out of Prince Brogitarus. Nothing beats collecting in person. It is such a relief these days not to be Clodius's target. I never thought I'd survive those years just after you left for Gaul, when Clodius and his street gangs ran me ragged. I hardly dared go out of my house. Though it was a mistake to employ Milo to run street gangs in opposition to Clodius. It gave Milo big ideas. Oh, I know he's an Annius--by adoption, anyway--but he's like his name, a burly oaf fit to lift anvils and not much else.

Do you know what he did? Came and asked me to back him when he runs for consul! "My dear Milo," I said, "I can't do that! It would be admitting that you and your street gangs worked for me!" He said he and his street gangs had worked for me, and what was the matter with that? I had to get quite gruff with him before he'd go away.

I'm glad Cicero got your man Vatinius off--how Cato as court president must have hated that! I do believe that Cato would go to Hades and lop off one of Cerberus's heads if he thought that would put you in the boiling soup. The odd thing about Vatinius's trial is that Cicero used to loathe him--oh, you should have heard the Great Advocate complain about owing you millions and having to defend your creatures! But as they huddled together during the trial, something happened. They ended up like two little girls who've just met at school and can't live without each other. A strange couple, but it's really rather nice to see them giggling together. They're both brilliantly witty, so they hone each other.

We're having the hottest summer here that anyone can remember, and no rain either. The farmers are in a bad way. And those selfish bastards at Interamna decided they'd dig a channel to drain the Veline lake into the river Nar and have the water to irrigate their fields. The trouble is that the Rosea Rura dried out the moment the Veline lake emptied--can you imagine it? Italia's richest grazing land utterly devastated! Old Axius of Reate came to see me and demanded that the Senate order the Interamnans to fill the channel up, so I'm going to take it to the House, and if necessary I'll have one of my tribunes of the plebs push it into law. I mean, you and I are both military men, so we understand the importance of the Rosea Rura to Rome's armies. What other place can breed such perfect mules--or so many of them? Drought's one thing, but the Rosea Rura is quite another. Rome needs mules. But Interamna is full of asses.

Now I come to a very peculiar thing. Catullus has just died.

Caesar emitted a muffled exclamation; Hirtius and Faberius both Lanced at him, but when they saw the expression on his face their heads went back to their work immediately. When the mist cleared from before his eyes, he went back to the letter.

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2003

    The best one yet!

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2002

    When will the October Horse run?

    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

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2001

    Stunning History

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2001

    An Extrordinary Piece of Literature!!!

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2000

    Genuinely Inspired

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2000

    A Fine Historical Novel though a Little Cool to the Touch

    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.<P>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.<P>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.<P>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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2000

    Dying with anticipation

    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

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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