The Death of Caesar: The Story of History's Most Famous Assassination

The Death of Caesar: The Story of History's Most Famous Assassination

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by Barry Strauss
     
 

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The exciting, dramatic story of one of history’s most famous events—the death of Julius Caesar—now placed in full context of Rome’s civil wars by eminent historian Barry Strauss.

Thanks to William Shakespeare, the death of Julius Caesar is the most famous assassination in history. But what actually happened on March 15, 44 BC is even…  See more details below

Overview

The exciting, dramatic story of one of history’s most famous events—the death of Julius Caesar—now placed in full context of Rome’s civil wars by eminent historian Barry Strauss.

Thanks to William Shakespeare, the death of Julius Caesar is the most famous assassination in history. But what actually happened on March 15, 44 BC is even more gripping than Shakespeare’s play. In this thrilling new book, Barry Strauss tells the real story.

Shakespeare shows Caesar’s assassination to be an amateur and idealistic affair. The real killing, however, was a carefully planned paramilitary operation, a generals’ plot, put together by Caesar’s disaffected officers and designed with precision. There were even gladiators on hand to protect the assassins from vengeance by Caesar’s friends. Brutus and Cassius were indeed key players, as Shakespeare has it, but they had the help of a third man—Decimus. He was the mole in Caesar’s entourage, one of Caesar’s leading generals, and a lifelong friend. It was he, not Brutus, who truly betrayed Caesar.

Caesar’s assassins saw him as a military dictator who wanted to be king. He threatened a permanent change in the Roman way of life and in the power of senators. The assassins rallied support among the common people, but they underestimated Caesar’s soldiers, who flooded Rome. The assassins were vanquished; their beloved Republic became the Roman Empire.

An original, fresh perspective on an event that seems well known, Barry Strauss’s book sheds new light on this fascinating, pivotal moment in world history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
02/23/2015
Strauss (Masters of Command), a professor of history and classics at Cornell University, provides a glimpse of the events surrounding March 15, 44 B.C.E., when Julius Caesar, Roman "dictator in perpetuity," was stabbed to death in the Senate chambers by a crowd of conspirators. With a keen focus on the conspiracy itself, Strauss examines Caesar's rise to power while looking closely at his colleagues, soldiers, and friends (many of whom turned on him). He runs through the many reasons the perpetrators had for committing such a shocking act, outlines the various alliances and honor codes, and addresses the assassination's aftermath. The political intrigue receives ample attention, as Strauss follows players such as Brutus, Cassius, and Decimus through subsequent political and cultural events. He also goes into detail about what the immediate scene might have looked like, covering funeral customs of the day: the wax masks of the deceased worn by actors walking in the procession, the roles different figures played in the funeral. Strauss's writing is stilted and the material may be most accessible to those with some knowledge of ancient Rome, but most readers will find this an informative and dramatic tale. Agent: Cathy Hemming, McCormick & Williams Literary Agency. (Mar.)
Time - Lev Grossman
"[A] compelling, clarifying account of one of history's most dramatic assassinations. . . . [Strauss] conveys the complexity of late republican Roman politics while keeping up a lively pace."
The Wall Street Journal - Greg Woolf
“[A] page-turner. . . . Detail after detail clothes the familiar facts of Caesar’s seemingly inevitable murder with fresh images. . . . The last bloody day of the Republic has never been painted so brilliantly."
The Philadelphia Inquirer - Scott Manning
“The superb storytelling of Barry Strauss shows that the details of history's most famous assassination are just as fascinating as why it happened. . . . The Death of Caesar provides a fresh look at a well-trodden event, with storytelling sure to inspire awe.”
The Times (London) - Catherine Nixey
“This history of Caesar by the American academic Barry Strauss is a romp, yes, but a glorious one, through the final months of Rome’s most famous ruler. . . . One of the most riveting hour-by-hour accounts of Caesar’s final day I have read. . . . An absolutely marvelous read.”
The Boston Globe - Katharine Whittemore
“A classics thriller. . . . The Death of Caesar teases apart this paramilitary operation of 60 or more conspirators and, in reporting the facts, revokes much of Shakespeare’s poetic license in ‘Julius Caesar.’”
The Los Angeles Review of Books - Nick Ochwar
"A fresh, accessible account of the archetypal assassination. . . .Strauss underscores [the conspirators'] dilemma with an urgency that makes each page crackle with suspense. . . . The Death of Caesar serves us both as an entertaining, vital act of preservation for those details and figures glossed over by other historians and as a reminder of a plot so daring it would be unthinkable today.”"
Victor Davis Hanson
"Barry Strauss, as both sleuth and classicist, guides us through the why and how of the killing of Julius Caesar. A riveting blow-by-blow account by a masterful scholar and story-teller of a human drama that changed the course of Western history."
Andrew Roberts
"This stupendous book has all the pace and action of a top-quality thriller—murder, lust, betrayal and high politics—yet it's all true, and comes from the pen of the world's senior academic expert in the field. A lifetime's study of the ancient sources has gone into Barry Strauss's utterly gripping account of the day that the course of human history radically changed. Superbly researched, wittily written, but above all driven by a truly exciting narrative that never lets up, this is history-writing at its best. Our understanding of what happened on the Ides of March and its chaotic, bloody aftermath is forever changed, and this will be the standard work for decades to come."
Steven Pressfield
“I always knew the plunging of those fatal daggers was an epochal moment in Western Civ, but I never knew why – until now. Barry Strauss is our all-knowing Vergil, escorting us across the dim landscape of history, enlightening us with precious insight.”
Adrian Goldsworthy
“With keen historical insights and the pace of a thriller, Barry Strauss brings vividly to life the Rome of 44 B.C., the final days of Julius Caesar, and the men who killed him. This is history as it should be written—a deeply human story of all the men and women caught up in these famous events.”
Anthony Everitt
“I have never read so detailed an account of the world’s most famous assassination—how the plot was planned, the many personalities, the killing itself and the bitter aftermath. The Death of Caesar brings back all the suspense of an extraordinary story, as if we weren’t sure what was going to happen next. An unputdownable book.”
From the Publisher
"Strauss takes us deep into the psyche of ancient history in an exciting, twisted tale that is sure to please." —Kirkus Starred Review
Stephen Greenblatt
"Barry Strauss has a rare gift for the crafting of narrative history: in his hands, figures who had seemed forever frozen in marble breathe again. The Death of Caesar deftly depicts a world in which tangled motives, Machiavellian strategies, and a dose of sheer accident conspired to bring down the most powerful man in the world."
Barron's - Joe Queenan
“This engrossing account of that pivotal event is exhaustive, yet surprisingly easy to read. . . . The Death of Caesar is brimming with memorable facts.”
Robert Harris
“Strauss’ account of the world’s most famous assassination is as thrilling as any novel.”
Library Journal
★ 02/01/2015
Strauss (classics, history, Cornell Univ.; Spartacus War) presents a riveting portrayal of Caesar's assassination on the Ides of March, 44 BCE. The author explains successfully very complicated political situations in laymen's terms, propelling the reader through Caesar's dramatic rise to his shocking murder in Pompey's Senate House, and its messy fallout. The work is divided into three parts documenting Caesar's dominant stance in Rome's military-political structure, the conspiracy and assassination, and the struggle afterward between republican and Caesarian factions. Thus, the book skillfully fleshes out a solid context for a general audience. The motives of important republicans and Caesarists are thoroughly discussed, including that of Decimus, a key conspirator who is often overlooked. Strauss has a superlative handle on the ancient sources, routinely comparing and contrasting the events through the writings of Suetonius, Plutarch, Cicero, and others. The author provides a handy biographical reference regarding the main personages involved, as well as a convenient chronological listing of important events. Useful maps and a thorough annotated bibliography round out the volume. VERDICT Both enriching and exciting to read, this work will interest and enlighten both classicists and general readers with a interest in history or political philosophy.—Jeffrey Meyer, Mt. Pleasant P.L., IA
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-12-11
Master historian Strauss (History and Classics/Cornell Univ.; Masters of Command: Hannibal, Alexander, Caesar and the Genius of Leadership, 2012, etc.) zeroes in on the few years surrounding Julius Caesar's assassination and delves into the strengths of the characters involved.The author traces five of the best sources: Nicolaus of Damascus, Plutarch, Suetonius, Cassius Dio and Appian. Everyone knows what happened on the ides of March, but Strauss goes deeper in his investigation of how Caesar had ill omens and decided not to attend the senate meeting he had called. It was Decimus, longtime supporter, friend and fellow diner the night before, who literally led Caesar by the hand into the senate. Of the conspirators, Decimus was the most important and the most vilified. Cassius and Brutus completed the leadership of the plot. They were supporters of Pompey and the Republic against Caesar during the recent civil war, and each had his own ambition. Brutus "wanted to kill Caesar without launching a revolution or disturbing the peace—an impossible ambition." The author shows us a side of Caesar beyond the military genius, a man despised by Cato, Cicero and all who longed for the Republic. Ostensibly a non-noble populist who pushed for change and championed the poor, he also was wise enough to keep his army and the citizens loyal with land grants and money. Even the great Caesar was capable of making mistakes, and Strauss points to three that sealed his fate: He disrespected the senate, flirted with monarchy and dispensed with the people's tribunes. Caesar, now a perpetual dictator, god, and a man dismissive of the senate and the people, was headed for a big fall. The author explains how Caesar's funeral was even more dramatic than Shakespeare's version—especially Mark Antony's eulogy. Once again, Strauss takes us deep into the psyche of ancient history in an exciting, twisted tale that is sure to please.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781451668827
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
03/03/2015
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
87,632
File size:
21 MB
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This product may take a few minutes to download.

Read an Excerpt

Death of Caesar

1

RIDING WITH CAESAR


IN AUGUST 45 B.C., SEVEN months before the Ides of March, a procession entered the city of Mediolanum, modern Milan, in the hot and steamy northern Italian plain. Two chariots led the march. In the first stood Dictator Gaius Julius Caesar, glowing with his victory over rebel forces in Hispania (Spain).

In the position of honor beside Caesar was Marcus Antonius—better known today as Mark Antony. He was Caesar’s candidate to be one of Rome’s two consuls next year, the highest-ranking public officials after the dictator. Behind them came Caesar’s protégé, Decimus, fresh from a term as governor of Gaul (roughly, France). Beside him was Gaius Octavius, better known as Octavian. At the age of only seventeen, Caesar’s grandnephew Octavian was already a man to be reckoned with.

The four men had met in southern Gaul and traveled together over the Alps. They took the Via Domitia, an old road full of doom and destiny—Hannibal’s invasion route and, according to myth, Hercules’ road to Spain.

Caesar was heading for Rome. For the second time in little over a year, he was planning to enter the capital in triumph, proclaiming military victory and an end to the civil war that began four years earlier, at the start of 49 B.C. But it was not easy to end the war, because its roots went deep. It was in fact the second civil war to tear Rome apart in Caesar’s lifetime. Each war reflected the overwhelming problems that beset Rome, from poverty in Italy to oppression in the provinces, from the purblind selfishness and reactionary politics of the old nobility to the appeal of a charismatic dictator for getting things done. And behind it all lay the dawning and uncomfortable reality that the real power in Rome lay not with the Senate or the people but with the army.

Dark-eyed and silver-tongued, sensual and violent, Caesar possessed supreme practical ability. He used it to change the world, driven by his love for Rome and his lust for domination. Caesar’s armies killed or enslaved millions, many of them women and children. Yet after these bloodbaths he pardoned his enemies at home and abroad. These overtures of goodwill raised suspicions—could the conqueror be a conciliator?—but most had no choice but to acquiesce.

Of all the Romans in his entourage, Caesar chose these three men—Antony, Decimus, and Octavian—for places of honor on his reentry to Italy. Why? And why would one of them betray him within seven months? And why, after Caesar’s death, were the three men able to raise armies and turn on each other in a new war that retraced their route from northern Italy into southern Gaul?

Consider how each of these men came to Caesar in the years before 45 B.C.

THE RISE OF DECIMUS


Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, to use his full name, was a close friend of Caesar. They had worked together for at least a decade, beginning in 56 B.C. In that year, when Decimus was about twenty-five years of age, he made a sensation as Caesar’s admiral in Gaul. He won the Battle of the Atlantic, which conquered Brittany and opened the door to the invasion of England.

First impressions are important and, in this case, accurate. War, Gaul, and Caesar were Decimus’s trademarks. He was speedy, vigorous, resourceful, and he loved to fight. He was proud, competitive, and eager for fame. Like other ambitious men of his class, he won elected office in Rome, but the capital and its corridors of power never captivated him as the Gallic frontier did.

Decimus was born on April 21, around 81 B.C. He came from a noble family that claimed descent from the founder of the Roman republic, Lucius Junius Brutus. Decimus’s grandfather was a great general and statesman but his father was no soldier and his mother was a flirt who dallied with revolution and adultery and perhaps with Caesar, who seduced many of the married noble ladies in Rome. A great historian suggested that Decimus was Caesar’s illegitimate son. Intriguing as this theory is, it is not supported by the evidence.

In any case, young Decimus found his way to Caesar’s staff. The military suited Decimus. By hitching his wagon to Caesar’s bright star he restored his family’s name for armed might. He was Caesar’s man as much as any Roman was.

We don’t know what Decimus looked like. He might have been attractive like his mother, a well-known beauty, and as tall as one of the Gauls whom he once impersonated. The dozen of Decimus’s letters that survive mix the coarse atmosphere of the camp with the formal politeness and self-assurance of a Roman noble. Elegant at times, his prose also includes clumsy phrases like, “just take the bit between your teeth and start talking.” Perhaps some of the roughness of his gladiators—Decimus owned a troupe—rubbed off on him but, if so, it didn’t stop him from trading pleasantries with Rome’s greatest orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero.

In Gaul, Decimus joined the greatest military adventure of his generation. It took Caesar only eight years (58–50 B.C.) to conquer the big, populous, warlike region that the Romans called “Long-Haired Gaul,” after the flowing tresses of its people—an area that comprised most of France, all of Belgium, part of the Netherlands, and a sliver of Germany (the Provence region of France was already a Roman province). (He also invaded Britain.) With its gold, agricultural produce, and potential slaves, Gaul made Caesar the richest man in Rome. He shared the wealth with officers like Decimus.

After his victory at sea off Brittany in 56 B.C., Decimus next appears in 52 B.C., when a great Gallic revolt almost broke Roman rule. Decimus took part in the most dramatic day of the war at the siege of Alesia (in today’s Burgundy). As Caesar tells the story, Decimus began the countercharge against a Gallic offensive and Caesar followed, conspicuous in his reddish purple cloak. The enemy collapsed and the war was over except for mopping-up operations the following year.

In 50 B.C. Decimus was back in Rome for his first elective office—quaestor, a financial official. That same year, in April, Decimus married Paula Valeria, who came from a noble family. There was scandal here to wink at because in order to marry Decimus she divorced her previous husband, a prominent man, on the very day he was scheduled to come back from service in a province abroad.

A year after Decimus and Paula married, in 49 B.C., civil war broke out between Caesar and his oligarchic opponents. They considered him a power-hungry, populist demagogue who threatened their way of life. He found them narrow-minded reactionaries who insulted his honor—and no one paid more attention to honor than a Roman noble.

Caesar’s chief opponents were Pompey and Cato. Pompey the Great—Cnaeus Pompeius Magnus—was no ideologue; in fact, he was Caesar’s former political ally and son-in-law. A conqueror whose career took him to Hispania, Roman Asia (modern Turkey), and the Levant, Pompey was Rome’s greatest living general until Caesar. Marcus Porcius Cato, also known as Cato the Younger, was a prominent senator, loyal to the old-fashioned notion of a free state guided by a wise and wealthy elite. Rigid and doctrinaire, he was mocked for thinking that Rome was the Republic of Plato when others regarded it as the Sewer of Romulus. He was Caesar’s archenemy.

Most of Decimus’s family tended to sympathize with Pompey and Cato, and his wife’s brothers fought for them. As an adult, Decimus was adopted into the family of Postumius Albinus, a patrician clan that claimed an ancestor opposed to Rome’s kings, and his adoptive family had conservative leanings, too. Yet Decimus remained in Caesar’s camp. It was probably early in 49 B.C. that Decimus issued coins celebrating his victories in Gaul, his loyalty, his sense of duty and spirit of unity—all propaganda themes of Caesar’s in the civil war.

That same year Caesar named Decimus admiral for the siege of the city of Massilia (Marseille), an important seaport and naval base on Gaul’s Mediterranean coast that supported Caesar’s enemies. In the six-month struggle that followed, Decimus destroyed Massilia’s fleet. He won Caesar’s praise for his vigor, spirit, oratorical skill, foresight, and speed in combat. He gave Caesar’s cause a propaganda boost because until then, Pompey had monopolized naval glory.

Caesar now returned to Italy and then turned east for a showdown with Pompey. He left Decimus in Massilia to serve as governor of Gaul through 45 B.C. as his deputy. Decimus then acquired additional military renown by defeating the rebellious Bellovaci, said to be Gaul’s best warriors.

Decimus seems as hard as the country in which he spent much of his adult life. He was one of those Romans—they were rare, but probably less rare than the sources admit—who took on the manners and customs of the barbarians he fought. He spoke the Gaulish language, which few Romans did, and he knew the country well enough to be able to put on Gallic clothes and pass as a local.

Around July 45 B.C. Decimus met Caesar in southern Gaul on his way back from Hispania. There Decimus no doubt rendered his accounts of the province that he had governed in the dictator’s absence. That Caesar was well pleased with Decimus is clear from the position of honor that Caesar gave him on the return to Italy.

After more than a decade in Caesar’s service, Decimus came home rich, a hero, and on the rise. He was about to take office as one of the praetors (high judicial officials) in Rome for the rest of 45 B.C. Caesar had chosen him as governor-designate of Italian Gaul (that is, roughly, northern Italy) for 44 B.C. and consul-designate for 42 B.C.

In short, Decimus was well on his way to restoring his family’s fame. There was only one hitch. Decimus’s father and grandfather held office by the free choice of the Roman people and at the command of the Senate. Decimus did everything on Caesar’s say-so. That accorded poorly with the cherished ideal of every Roman noble, dignitas. It’s a difficult word to translate. In addition to “dignity,” it means “worth,” “prestige,” and “honor.” Perhaps the best single translation is “rank.”

The question now for Decimus was whether he would be satisfied to remain in Caesar’s shadow or whether he would insist on being his own man.

MARK ANTONY


As Caesar entered Mediolanum on his return homeward, Mark Antony stood beside him in his chariot. Antony looked the part of a hero. Born on January 14, ca. 83 B.C., he was in the prime of life. He was handsome, strong, and athletic. He wore a beard in imitation of Hercules, the demigod whom his family claimed as an ancestor. The Romans connected Hercules with Hispania, which gave symbolic significance to Antony’s presence. His personality conveyed vigor. He was gregarious, intelligent, and self-assured. He drank lustily and in public and endeared himself to his soldiers by eating with them. If Caesar’s health had declined at all over the years, as some say, then the robust presence of Antony would prove reassuring.

Antony came from a senatorial family. His father’s people, the Antonii, tended to be moderate conservatives, but Antony’s mother, Julia, was Julius Caesar’s third cousin. Perhaps that was his ticket to Caesar’s staff in Gaul, which Antony joined in 54 B.C.

As a youth, Antony had cut a wide swath in Rome, where he became notorious for drinking, womanizing, racking up debts, and keeping bad company. By his mid-twenties, Antony was over his wild ways. He studied oratory in Greece and distinguished himself as a cavalry commander in the East between 58 B.C. and 55 B.C. Already in his earliest armed encounter, he was the first man on the wall during a siege, and he went on in numerous battles to display courage and win victories.

Antony’s early service for Caesar in Gaul is unrecorded, but it was probably impressive because Caesar sent him back to Rome in 53 B.C. to run for quaestor—an election that he won. He then returned to Gaul as one of Caesar’s generals and, like Decimus, left with a record full of promise.

Also like Decimus, Antony held elective office in Rome in 50 B.C. As one of the ten People’s Tribunes, elected each year to represent ordinary people’s interests, Antony played a role in that year’s fateful clash between Caesar and his opponents in the Senate. Led by Cato, the Senate stripped Caesar of his governorship of Gaul and denied him the chance to run for a second consulship. Caesar feared that, if he returned to Rome, he would be put on trial and unfairly convicted by his enemies. Antony tried to stop the Senate from its moves against Caesar, but he was rebuffed and fled Rome for Caesar’s camp.

Antony emerged in the Civil War with Pompey as Caesar’s best general and an indispensable political operative. He received such key assignments as organizing the defense of Italy, bringing Caesar’s legions across an enemy-infested Adriatic Sea, and linking up with Caesar in Roman Macedonia. Antony played his most important role at the Battle of Pharsalus in central Greece on August 9, 48 B.C., when he commanded Caesar’s left flank in the decisive battle against Pompey. When Caesar’s veterans broke Pompey’s ranks, Antony’s cavalry chased the fleeing enemy.

It was a sudden and terrible defeat for Caesar’s enemies. They still had cards to play—hundreds of warships, thousands of soldiers, major allies, and plenty of money. But with the sight of thousands of Pompey’s dead soldiers at the end of the Battle of Pharsalus, you could almost hear the sound of the political tide turning in the Sewer of Romulus.

While he spent the next year in the East, winning allies, raising money, conquering rebels, and wooing a new mistress, Caesar sent Antony back to Rome. There Antony arranged for Caesar to be dictator for the year and for himself to be Master of the Horse (Magister Equitum), as a dictator’s second-in-command was called. This was Caesar’s second dictatorship. It dismayed lovers of liberty. Meanwhile, traditionalists took offense at Antony’s rowdy and degenerate lifestyle, which he resumed with abandon. The sources speak of wild nights, public hangovers, vomiting in the Forum, and chariots pulled by lions. It was hard to miss his affair with an actress and ex-slave with the stage name of Cytheris, “Venus’s Girl,” since she and Antony traveled together in public in a litter.

Both civil and military politics in Rome slipped out of Antony’s hands. When proponents of debt relief and rent control turned violent, Antony sent troops into the Forum and blood flowed—the troops killed eight hundred men. Meanwhile, some of Caesar’s veteran legions, now back in Italy, mutinied for pay and demobilization.

The situation called for Caesar’s firm hand, and he returned to Rome in the fall. He put down the mutiny and agreed to reduce rents, although he refused to cancel debts. As for Antony, Caesar always knew how to turn people’s weaknesses to his advantage. After speaking against Antony in the Senate, Caesar turned around and gave him a new assignment.

It was a job that most Romans would have turned down, but not Antony. He lacked political finesse, but he didn’t mind getting his hands dirty and he was loyal. Caesar gave Antony the job of selling all of Pompey’s confiscated assets to various private bidders. Pompey was the second-richest man in Rome, surpassed only by Caesar. Antony was a sector, literally, a “cutter,” that is, someone who bought confiscated property at a public auction and sold it off piecemeal at a profit. The Romans considered that an ignoble profession, not suitable for a man of Antony’s birth. It was not only a dirty business but a dangerous one because in 47 B.C. Pompey’s allies and sons were still armed and at large. A soldier like Antony would surely prefer to win glory in the campaigns in Africa and Spain. Instead, he stayed in Rome through early 45 B.C. raising the money through his sales that Caesar needed to pay his troops. Antony was constantly short of funds and no doubt Caesar allowed him to skim a little off the top for himself.

Antony now mended his ways once more by marrying again after a divorce, this time choosing a twice-widowed noblewoman, Fulvia. Of all the powerful women of the era, Fulvia is in a class of her own. She alone once wore a sword and recruited an army, which earned her the backhanded compliment of having her name inscribed on her enemy’s sling bullets along with rude references to her body parts. But she did most of her fighting with words. A populist through and through, Fulvia married three politicians in turn: the street-fighting demagogue Clodius, Curio—a People’s Tribune who supported Caesar—and finally and most fatefully, Antony. Antony’s enemies claimed that Fulvia controlled him, which is not true. But this strong woman probably stiffened his spine and she almost certainly shared with Antony the political skills learned from her two earlier husbands.

When Antony joined Caesar on his return to Italy in August 45 B.C., he was back in the dictator’s favor. As he stood beside Caesar and entered Mediolanum, basking in the public’s acclaim, Antony might have imagined a glorious future. But obstacles lay on the road ahead.

OCTAVIAN


The third man in Caesar’s entourage was Octavian. He was born on September 23, 63 B.C. A good twenty years younger than Antony or Decimus, he projected an authority beyond his years. If Antony was Hercules then Octavian was a short-statured Apollo: very handsome, bright-eyed, and with slightly curly blond hair. Only the bad teeth and indifferent hair grooming betrayed the reality of a man who scorned appearances and cut to the heart of things. It was an inner strength that compensated for a less than herculean physique.

Neither Antony nor Decimus had been with Caesar in Hispania but Octavian had. He arrived too late for the fighting, however, because a serious illness kept him bedridden. Octavian was never the healthiest of men. When he recovered he and his companions reached Caesar in Hispania after a shipwreck and a dangerous trip through hostile country, which earned the dictator’s admiration—a quality that only increased as he spent time with the clever and talented young man. Caesar now gave his grandnephew the honor of sharing his carriage in Hispania. It was not the first time that Caesar showed his esteem for Octavian, but then again, the youth had long showed promise.

In 51 B.C., at the age of only twelve, Octavian gave the funeral oration for his grandmother Julia—Caesar’s sister—on the Speaker’s Platform in Rome. Soon after turning fifteen in 48 B.C. he was elected as one of Rome’s highest-ranking priests. One of his responsibilities was temporarily serving as chief magistrate, and he made quite a sight at his age sitting on the tribunal in the Forum and handing out judgments. In 46 B.C. Caesar returned to Rome and celebrated a series of triumphs for his victories in Gaul and the civil war. In one of them, he allowed Octavian to follow behind his triumphal chariot (presumably on horseback), wearing an officer’s insignia, even though Octavian had not even taken part in the campaign. Since this honor usually went to the sons of a triumphing general, it suggested that Caesar thought of his seventeen-year-old grandnephew as practically his son. It was an interesting choice.

Unlike Antony, Decimus, or Caesar himself, Octavian was not the pure product of the old Roman nobility. Octavian was of noble descent only on his mother’s side—his mother, Atia, was the daughter of Caesar’s sister Julia. Octavian’s father, Gaius Octavius, came from a wealthy but not quite top-tier background; from a family of Roman knights, that is, a social order of Romans who were wealthy but not senators. Gaius Octavius was his family’s first senator. The Octavii came from Velitrae (modern Velletri), a small and insignificant place in the Alban Hills outside Rome, an origin offering plenty of material for snobs to look down at. Gaius Octavius had a successful military and political career cut short by his death in 59 B.C. around the age of forty.

Yet young Octavian had something special about him. He was Caesar’s blood relative, but other qualities recommended Octavian to Caesar. Octavian’s cousins Quintus Pedius and Lucius Pinarius were also descended from Caesar’s sister Julia, but they did not inspire the same esteem. Young Octavian no doubt already showed signs of the intelligence, the ambition, the fingertip feel for politics, the strategic vision, and the ruthlessness—in short, the genius—that would eventually take him to the height of power.

THE FOUR HORSEMEN


The four men in the chariots entering Mediolanum were not united. Three of them wanted Caesar’s favor but only one could be the favorite. Antony was about to become consul with Caesar’s blessing. Decimus was about to become a praetor in Rome and had Caesar’s nod for another important governorship next and then, two years later, the consulship. But Octavian would shortly get an equally high office and even better access to the sources of power.

How did Antony and Decimus react to the sudden rise of a young rival? We can only guess. Romans had little respect for youth and less for relatively low birth, so maybe they underestimated him. Yet experienced men like Antony and Decimus certainly noticed Octavian’s place in Caesar’s entourage. Octavian could be charming, but Decimus might well have recognized his chariot-mate’s coldblooded ambition. Decimus claimed descent from the founder of the Republic, but the grandson of a local politician Velitrae was muscling him out in the eyes of the man who ran Rome. Jealousy might be too strong a term, but Decimus was a Roman, and honor mattered to him.

Cicero alleged that Antony was behind an assassination attempt on Caesar in 46 B.C. That sounds like a Roman orator’s usual slander but an event in 45 B.C. is more plausible. According to Cicero, when Antony went to southern Gaul to meet Caesar that summer 45 B.C., he heard a colleague’s cautious suggestion about assassinating the dictator. Antony was not interested, but neither did he report the danger to Caesar as a loyal friend would. Instead, Antony kept it to himself.

As the victory parade entered Mediolanum, the men projected unity but behind the veneer they were jostling for power. The dictator could not afford to ignore this but he did. For now, he had dozens of men to see, prominent Romans who had hurried northward to greet him. No one among them was more important or more paradoxical than Marcus Junius Brutus (not to be confused with Decimus Brutus). In a few short years Brutus had gone from Caesar’s enemy to his friend and deputy. Always in the background was the figure that united them: Servilia, Brutus’s mother and Caesar’s former mistress.

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Barry Strauss, professor of history and classics at Cornell University, is a leading expert on ancient military history. He has written or edited several books, including The Battle of Salamis, The Trojan War, and The Spartacus War. Visit BarryStrauss.com.

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The Death of Caesar: The Story of History's Most Famous Assassination 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
BuckeyeAngel More than 1 year ago
**I received an ARC of this story in exchange for an honest review This book is the true story of the great Roman General Julius Caesar and the day he died. It goes into detail the different people that were his rivals, his betrayals, as well as his allies. It culminates everything that builds up to that one act of betrayal. The author did an excellent job recreating the complete background and character buildup for an event that affected two different nations. I would recommend this book to anyone that likes true history and/or is a fan of one the biggest figures in history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent adventure.. a great read! A history book with the pacing of a mystery novel. 
Paul_in_Richland More than 1 year ago
With The Death of Caesar, Barry Strauss has produced another of his fast paced narratives on a critical time in ancient history. Thankfully unlike Masters of Command, this 30,000 foot view contains fewer factual errors. A few examples: • Page 33, “Cato was an original”. This fanciful comment ignores Cato’s great grandfather, Cato the Elder. In addition to names, these two shared much in political and social views • Page 110, Caesar’s second wife “was divorced after adultery”. • Page 66, “On December 19, 44 B.C., after Caesar spent the morning working and taking a walk on the beach, he arrived as Cicero’s.” Caesar was dead at this point. But my most substantial comment on this book is the amount of conjecture. It makes for a lively story, but maybe not the most educated reader. Strauss should follow his advice on page 124, “Historians in ancient times did not hesitate to invent dialogue, reporting what the speaker “should” have said”. Strauss provides indication many of his thoughts are not really supported by hard evidence in the sources, but it is very hard at such a fast pace to discriminate. For example on page 55, “Perhaps the old fox sensed that Octavian’s blood ran even colder than Anthony’s, and if so, surely Caesar approved.” In my mind it is more likely that Caesar was not impressed with the way Anthony ran Italy while Caesar was in Egypt. It is a fun book to read and gives you a sense of the major events, but if you enjoy the subject I encourage you to read something that is a bit meatier.
Deor More than 1 year ago
The Death of Caesar: The Story of History's Most Famous Assassination by Barry Strauss is a fantastic book for a reader's first foray into the history of the assassination of Julius Caesar. Most readers will likely be at least somewhat familiar with the major historical figures surrounding this event, but even the reader is not, this book is a great place to start. Why I love this book: Its an interesting and thorough read about fascinating historical figures.. The prose is clear and, while very informative, never veers off into dense academic writing while not over simplifying the history. I believe, any mature (High School or above) reader can follow Strauss's writing. Additionally, the author's passion and sense of humor came through in his writing. It is incredibly well organized. He introduces all the significant historical figures individually as well as specific topics within his text which are very helpful. If the reader is using this book to only read about certain aspects of the assassination, this organization scheme would prove most useful. Additionally, the author's organizational efforts make it easy to go back and double check who is who (several of the people have similar names, or similar combinations of first, middle, and/or family names). He explains things well and informs the reader on how he makes his decisions. By reading this book, the reader will gain some basic understanding of solid historical research methods and the limitations of ancient sources. This aspect is woven skillfully into the text and in a way that piques the readers interest. I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated for my review, and I was not required to write a positive review. The opinion expressed here is my own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I read this book I could feel the Knowledge
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My nook has put that book on my library and on the top of the first page it says Buy but I dont want to buy it is that normal?