Thursday, December 7, 2017

Review: The Landmark Julius Caesar

This is a review of a new book on Julius Caesar, published in The Wall Street Journal December 1, 2017. My bolded sections.

By James Romm

It’s astounding that so few fans of martial sagas like “The Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones” have found their way to the narratives of the Greek and Roman historians. In these works, too, one finds apocalyptic battles, ruthless political struggles and bizarre twists of fortune. They may lack dragons, but their intensity is amplified by the knowledge that the events they describe really happened. The story of Julius Caesar’s rise to power in the 50s and 40s B.C., first through the conquest of Gaul (modern France) and then by whirlwind campaigns throughout the Mediterranean, is as compelling as any televised drama, and indeed HBO and the BBC built the first season of their series “Rome” around exactly these events.

Who would prefer modern-day dilutions and screen adaptations to the surviving firsthand accounts of such episodes, narrated by great writers? Just about everyone, it seems, and perhaps the reasons are not so hard to find after all. The chronological gulf that separates us from the Roman world, and even more from the Greeks, can render the primary narratives blurry and indistinct. Opacities of nomenclature, geography, units of currency, measurements of distance and a dozen other pitfalls stand in the modern reader’s path. As a teacher I am always dismayed when undergraduates declare themselves bored by the Greek historian Thucydides, whose vividness as a reporter of the catastrophic Peloponnesian War ought to quicken their pulse. Despite my best efforts, some are simply unable to part the veil of time.

Edited by Kurt A. Raaflaub
Pantheon, 793 pages, $50
Similar frustrations in teaching ancient history to disengaged students led independent scholar and businessman Robert Strassler to conceive the Landmark Ancient Histories. Beginning with “The Landmark Thucydides,” published by the Free Press in 1996, Mr. Strassler showed his determination to leave no reader behind. He supplied detailed maps on nearly every third page of text and clear, full annotation that removed potential stumbling blocks. Headings kept readers oriented in time and space, as did brief summaries, running down the book’s generously wide margins, of each stage of the action. Well-curated photographs of objects and sites turned a mere encounter with the Peloponnesian War into an immersion in classical Greece. Appendix essays set new standards for readability and point. An opening chronology laid out the events of the text in sequence, and a closing index, done in unprecedented detail, provided a precise means of finding whatever item one might be looking for.
Subsequent installments in the Landmark series added new features and enriched the old, as Mr. Strassler, with the help of the editors for each volume (this writer among them), tackled the major Greek historians in turn: Herodotus, Arrian and Xenophon. Now, with “The Landmark Julius Caesar, ” the series arrives for the first time at the gates of Rome and deals with a figure who is far better known—in part through his own writings—than any Greek or Macedonian. The huge volume of evidence surviving from this book’s time span, the years 58 to 45 B.C., posed a challenge for the Landmark series. Under the expert guidance of volume editor Kurt Raaflaub, with oversight from Mr. Strassler (who remains series editor), the challenge has been met with stunning success.
The tireless devotion of both Mr. Strassler and Mr. Raaflaub, professor emeritus of classics at Brown University, is evident right from this book’s table of contents. Caesar’s best-known work, the “Gallic War,” would by itself have made up a full and satisfying volume, but “The Landmark Julius Caesar” also gives us four other narratives, descriptions of subsequent campaigns, to make up the whole of what scholars term the Corpus Caesarianum, the body of contemporaneous accounts of Caesar’s wars. These five works, only two of which are Caesar’s own compositions, have not appeared together, in English, since the early 18th century, even though their dovetailing time frames makes the set a continuous whole. To see them here between one set of covers is truly inspiring.
We begin in Gaul, with perhaps the most famous sentence in Latin literature, Caesar’s marvelously low-key “All Gaul is divided into three parts.” The “Gallic War” relates, in Caesar’s own words, the series of campaigns (58-52 B.C.) by which Gallic tribes were either brought over to Rome’s cause or defeated, one by one, then finally smashed in the decisive siege of a collective resistance at Alesia (See my post on this)... Aulus Hirtius, one of Caesar’s officers, composed a final segment to the “Gallic War” that covers some mopping-up operations in 51 and 50 B.C., bringing us to the next work, the “Civil War,” also written by Caesar himself.
The “Civil War” begins at the start of 49 B.C. with attempts by the Roman senate to strip away Caesar’s power and position, by which they felt increasingly threatened. In response, Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with his army, declaring his intention to march on Rome. The senate opposition fled across the Adriatic with their champion, Pompey Magnus, Caesar’s great rival in military brilliance. At Pharsalus (I also have a post on this), in northern Greece, Caesar put them to rout. The “Civil War” closes with a cliffhanger as Caesar, pursuing the defeated Pompey to Egypt, becomes enmeshed in a local civil war and besieged in Alexandria with his new ally and lover, Cleopatra.
That event marks the endpoint of Caesar’s own writings, but members of his staff, their names unknown to us (and their styles recognizably poorer), took up the tale. The “Alexandrian War” describes the daring moves by which Caesar broke the Egyptian siege, then swept through the eastern Mediterranean, Greece and Italy in late 48 and 47 B.C., chasing opponents and firming control. After spending only a few weeks in Rome, at the end of 47 B.C., Caesar left for North Africa to deal with the unreconciled Pompeians Scipio and Cato, and the narrator of the “African War” follows him there. Despite the opposition of a local potentate, Caesar was again victorious and returned to Rome in the summer of 46 B.C. to a hero’s welcome and a grant, by a now compliant senate, of unprecedented power.
A final campaign, described in the “Spanish War,” brought Caesar to Spain to deal with new foes, Pompey’s sons Gnaeus and Sextus, in late 46 and 45 B.C. The Corpus Caesarianum ends abruptly in April of 45 B.C., with the text of the “Spanish War” breaking off in mid-sentence. But the Pompeys had by then been defeated and Caesar’s invincibility made plain to all.
The denouement of Caesar’s story was not recounted by any surviving chronicler, but it is well known today, thanks to Plutarch and Shakespeare. Once he had returned to Rome with his fiercely loyal army, Caesar’s political future posed a dilemma to what was still, in name at least, a republic. Some wanted him made king, but monarchy stood in ill repute in Rome, so he was instead appointed dictator for life, a marginally constitutional office. Senatorial foes, defeated once in Caesar’s war against Pompey but pardoned and restored to office, disliked the appointment and also feared the power that Caesar might accrue from a planned attack on the Parthians (based in modern Iran). Just before the launching of that campaign, in the spring of 44 B.C., they assassinated him.
To edit and annotate such a diverse collection of narratives, produced by several different hands, describing intricate military maneuvers and spanning three continents in their ambit, was, by any measure, a Herculean task. Mr. Raaflaub has surpassed even the previous high standards of the Landmark series by supplying full, expert and wide-ranging notes, almost all containing his own elucidations rather than showy scholarly references. This achievement is amplified by more than 40 appendix essays, all commissioned by Mr. Raaflaub and several written by him, addressing all sorts of literary, military and biographical questions. The amplitude of these essays is such that the volume prints only four essential ones and directs the reader to a website for the others. The dimensions of the book simply could not accommodate all the knowledge it seeks to convey.
It’s rare for a scholar of Mr. Raaflaub’s standing to annotate an ancient text translated for Latinless readers, and still more rare for him to translate it himself, as Mr. Raaflaub has done here. As its holiday-season debut implies, “The Landmark Julius Caesar” is his gift, and Mr. Strassler’s, to history readers everywhere and even to professional historians, who will find much original research between its covers. Among his other devoted efforts, Mr. Raaflaub, together with University of Illinois classicist John Ramsey, has made painstaking calculations of the distances and rates of travel involved in Caesar’s movements, such that the dates accompanying the narrative could be given not just by season (as in Caesar’s own reportage) but by month and, in some cases, by day. Such precision, if not something that readers would demand, adds to the steadying sense of authority and factuality that is the trademark virtue of the Landmark series.
History buffs, classicists, fans of television’s “Rome”: Do not pass up this gift. Whether you revere Caesar as a military genius or despise him as a butcher and a tyrant, “The Landmark Julius Caesar” is an indispensable way to read his writings and understand his rise to power.
—Mr. Romm is the editor of “The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander” and the editor and translator of “How to Die: An Ancient Guide to the End of Life,” to be published next month.
I own the Landmark Xenophon and can testify to the quality of the series.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Mike Anderson’s new book

I have my first book coming out next week. Three years in the making, it’s different from the typical focus of this blog. The title of the book is, The Progressive Gene: How Genetics Influence the Morality of the Left.


As you know, I’ve been talking about antiquarian political systems for ten years: Mostly Roman and Greek with a few others thrown in (e.g. Mesopotamia, Etruria). We all understand that the Roman and Greek governments were revolutionary, fundamental to the development of Western Civilization, and they influenced all political systems that followed. The American political system was originally a copy of the Roman Republic, with the additional feature of states included in the federation.

There has been significant research done in the past decade around political morality (party preference) and the factors that influence our choice. For example, research has shown that there are physical differences in the brains of Liberals and Conservatives. Liberals have a more developed area of the brain that handles decision making and choices. Conservatives have a more developed area of the brain that processes threats (fight or flight). The conclusions drawn from this are that Liberals desire change partly because they are comfortable with it. Change does not bother them. Conservatives are more cautious because risk is always on their mind, so they tend to opt for the status quo. These characteristics are genetically determined, like height and weight, and they exhibit a range of values matching the distribution of political points of view. Progressives on the left, independents in the middle, and Conservatives on the right.

As a social animal, man had to learn how to get along in a group by developing an external morality. He did that to take advantage of what the group had to offer (safety, shared resources, etc.), so his external morality had to be tuned to the morality of the group. In the egalitarian bands of humans in a primitive state, that worked well for a group size of 50-100. But the advent of agriculture changed everything. With a guaranteed food supply, man could now live together in densely populated groups. That structure demanded a new social model to maintain order, so, governments developed to help manage the social and economic stratification that came with it. Complex society has its own morality consisting of laws and social mores, which exists apart from the personal morality of individuals. It’s dynamic and adapts over time (e.g. changing views of Homosexuality).

The political systems of antiquity represent man’s initial efforts to deal with a new social dynamic. Mesopotamia, one if the pioneering cultures, started out as a theocracy but eventually became a monarchy. Rome and Greece were also profoundly influential models: Rome with its Republic creating a balance between social and economic classes and the Greeks with their Democracy.

My book is focused on Progressives and their unique political morality (a book on Conservatives comes later) and there is plenty of history to discuss. I have chapters on Mesopotamia and Greece and Rome. There are also chapters on the creation of the American political system and the history of the Progressive Movement.

All that history forms the basis of a discussion about the Progressives, their view of government, and they influence they exert over American politics today.


I will provide a link for viewing and purchasing the book once it becomes available next week.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Academic Position Opening

ERC-project REDHIS – position for a post-doctoral researcher:

"Studio delle opere giuridiche romane nella Tarda Antichità: manoscritti e papiri" "A study of Roman legal writings in Late Antiquity: manuscripts and papyri".

Deadline for application: November 27th, 2017

The research project REDHIS (“Rediscovering the Hidden Structure. A New Appreciation of Juristic Texts and Patterns of Thought in Late Antiquity”) is opening a position for a post-doctoral researcher. The appointment will be for two years.

REDHIS is an interdisciplinary research project hosted by the Universit√† di Pavia (Italy) and funded by an ERC-advanced grant (Principal Investigator: Prof. Dario Mantovani; Senior Staff: Prof. Luigi Pellecchi). The project studies the continued existence of a high-level legal culture in Late Antiquity, as shown among other things by the copying and continued use of the writings of the classical jurists. A comprehensive understanding of legal culture includes therefore the study of the transmission of these texts and the reception of their contents. To learn more about the REDHIS Project, visit our website at http://redhis.unipv.it/

In line with the goals of the project, the appointee will be asked to contribute several well-researched chapters, written in English, to an extensive collaborative volume on the circulation, use, and reception of Roman juristic writings in Late Antiquity. Depending on her/his precise qualifications, the appointee may also be asked to contribute to the project’s annotated corpus of juristic papyri.

In pursuing her/his research, the appointed applicant will be supervised by the Principal Investigator. She/he will collaborate with other staff and post-doctoral researchers in an interdisciplinary working group. Place of work: University of Pavia, Pavia (Italy).

Preference will be given to applicants who hold a PhD awarded by a University from outside Italy, with a doctoral dissertation in one of the following scholarly areas: Classical Philology, Palaeography, Papyrology, Ancient History, Latin, and/or Roman law. The doctoral dissertation has to show that the applicant is competent in and comfortable with applying a philological approach to the study of Roman legal texts, in Latin and Greek, in order to contribute fruitfully to the research objectives of REDHIS. We are looking for someone with experience in writing in (and translating into) English.

The closing date for applications is 27 November 2017. Applicants are advised to make sure that their applications comply with Italian regulations as laid out in the official “bando” of this post, which can be found in Italian and English at  http://dsg.unipv.it/home/bandi-assegni-di-ricerca-e-co-co-co/progetto-redhis-bando-n-9-2017-per-il-conferimento-di-n-1-assegno-di-ricerca-call-for-award-of-n-1-type-b-research-grant.html

In case you have any questions or require assistance of any kind with the formalities, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Matthijs Wibier (mh.wibier@unipv.it).


Further informal enquiries may  be directed to Prof. Dario Mantovani (dario.mantovani@unipv.it)

Interesting Quora

I answer questions on Quora as someone who understands Ancient History. It’s been an interesting experience, because the readers over there are less knowledgeable about the subject matter than the people that come here. They also have different agendas. I’ve answered 160 questions since May and there are many new questions each day about ancient history.

The questions break themselves down into about four categories: Really good ones, what ifs, time machine, and do my homework.

An example of a really good question is “Why didn’t Caesar choose Marc Antony as his successor?” That person had read the history but what seemed obvious to him, wasn’t.

What ifs are questions about changing an event in ancient history. For example, “What if Caesar hadn’t been assassinated. Would the Republic have survived? Most of these are easy to answer because important trends in history develop their own momentum, which cannot be stopped by changing a single event. The Republic was doomed to fail because of inevitable failure of the Senate to control the entire landscape of the Republic.

Time machine questions are my favorites and are usually good for a laugh. For example, if the American Army went back to the ancient world, could they have defeated the Spartans? Or a variation of this is “If the Spartans had AK47s, would they have controlled all of Greece?” 

The last, and most egregious type of question is “Do my homework.” For example, “Give the three most important reasons why the Roman Empire fell and write them in complete sentences.” LOL.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Let me take you on a tour of the Roman Forum

I have just completed an  Audio Tour of the Roman Forum in conjunction with Voicemap, a company that offers audio tours of cities and famous places. The concept is interesting. You play the tour on your phone and the app uses GPS to know when to start and stop the narrative based on your location. Each stop has a story to tell and you start to hear that story as you approach.

You can have the phone in your pocket and listen to the tour with earbuds. As you move about, there is a map on your phone screen which can serve as an aid in case you lose your way.

This tour includes 32 different locations and you learn the history of the structures you see at each stop. We've made sure to cover all the most interesting structures: the Senate House, Temple of Castor and Pollux, House of the Vestal Virgins, and the Arch of Septimius Severus, to name a few.

Beginning
The Forum was originally laid out in 625 BC, when the swamp that occupied the space between the Capitoline and Palatine Hills, was drained. The sewer built to drain it, called the Cochlea Maxima is still in operation today. Later, the Capitoline Hill became the site of Rome's sacred temples and the Palatine became the home of the Caesars.

Golden Age
The Forum most likely reached its Zenith during the second century AD, sometimes called the Golden Age. There were four emperors during this period; Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. Although the personalities of these men were very different, together they succeeded in keeping the Empire stable. The Sacra Via (central roadway in the Forum) would have seen the triumphs of these men and the speeches they gave at the rostra. By that time, the Senate House had lost its standing because political power had been removed from the Senate. Still, it remained standing (as it does today), symbolizing the accomplishments of the Republic.

Fall of the Empire
The Forum met an inglorious end when the Western Empire fell. Its monuments were neglected and the marble and bronze hauled off to be used in the construction of Christian monuments. The church retained no respect for structures erected by a pagan empire, so fourteen centuries saw the Forum waste away as a Campo Vaccino (cow pasture). It wasn’t until 1898 that excavations of the Forum began in earnest. By then, a united Italy was an independent nation looking to its own history and accomplishments with pride and wanted to share them with the world. I’ve been to the Forum twice (twenty-five years apart) and the excavations that took place between those trips brought to light many new structures.

Here are the instructions for downloading the app.

1) Install VoiceMap from the iTunes App Store or Google Play, 
or by going to onelink.to/voicemap  
2) Sign up with Facebook or email
3) Select Rome from the list of cities and regions
4) Select “Rome The-roman-forum”
5) Buy the tour (The Forum tour is free right now). The download will start immediately.

VoiceMap works offline and uses GPS to play audio automatically

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Melodramatic Funeral of Julius Caesar

Almost everyone knows the story of the death of Julius Caesar, as Shakespeare has reminded us. He was assassinated on the Ides of March 44 BC by a group of disgruntled Senators who believed him to be on a path to become dictator and destroy the Republic.

The truth is Caesar was merely one of many who pushed the Republic to extinction. The collapse began in 133 BC with the murder of Tiberius Gracchus, continued through the dictatorships of Marius and Sulla, and ended with the formation of the Principate under Augustus in 30 BC. That didn’t matter to the Senate of 44 BC that was struggling to hold on to power.

Caesar’s image had been carefully cultivated by his followers prior to and after his ascension to power. His military accomplishments were advertised and his efforts on behalf of the people were socialized. Caesar was a patrician, latest member of the ancient family of the Julii, which dated to the founding of Rome. That historical link helped lend a sense of honor and stability to the name Caesar.

Caesar’s greatest offence was to put his image on Roman coins, a place previously reserved for the gods. This was calculated symbolism designed to reinforce the notion that Caesar himself was a god, and this was proven by his image on the coins.

But this was a marketing campaign aimed directly at the people and never bought into by the Senate, so they assassinated him as a threat to their power.

Appian describes Caesar’s funeral and its melodrama.

Caesar’s father-in-law, Piso brought his body to the forum and it was placed on the rostra surrounded by an armed guard. The large crowd was of one emotion and Antony saw it as his role to whip them into a fever pitch.

It is not right, my fellow-citizens, for the funeral oration in praise of so great a man to be delivered by me, a single individual, instead of by his whole country.

Antony went on to read out all the honors bestowed on Caesar, one at a time, using words like "sacrosanct", "inviolate", "father of his country", "benefactor", or "leader", a combination never used to describe another Roman.

And he read out the oaths, by which they all undertook to protect Caesar and Caesar's person with all their might… those who failed to defend him were to be accursed.

Antony turned to the body and chanted heavenly praise for the dead man,

And you", he said, "were also the only man to avenge the violence offered to your country 300 years ago, by bringing to their knees the savage peoples who were the only ones ever to break in to Rome and set fire to it." This is a reference to Caesar’s victory over the Gauls who had attacked Rome in 390 BC.

Antony took the cape that covered Caesar’s body, stuck it on a spear, and waved it about so the crowd could observe the blood stains on it. By now the crowd had worked itself into a frenzy and was demanding the death of the assassins who had struck down their leader. Suddenly a wax body of Caesar rose above the rostra for all to see. It was sitting on a platform and attached to a mechanical device which utilized a crank to make the body rotate. On it were painted 23 marks of blood showing the locations of the stab wounds on Caesar’s body. Round and round it went for all to see.

When Antony was finished, people rushed to the rostra with the intent to take Caesar’s body up Capitoline Hill and burn it at the most sacred site in the city. But the priests intervened saying that the risk of an uncontrolled fire was too great and they would not allow the body to be burned there. So the people carried Caesar’s body to the east end of Forum square intending to create a funeral pyre there. They grabbed wooden benches and broke them up to provide fuel for the fire.

After the fire was lit, it burned for twenty-four hours in the midst of a crowd of thousands. Years later, the Temple of the Divine Caesar was constructed on that site. Today, the temple is gone, and only a part of the altar remains. Still, there are Romans who place flowers there every day in honor of the great man.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Ides of March and Julius Caesar

On the eve of the Ides of March we start with a cartoon -- Caesar with a contemporary twist.


My thanks to Guido Giuntini for allowing me to use this.

Does everyone know the details of Caesar’s death? Perhaps a review would be helpful.

The Ides were one of the three calendar divisions in the Roman month. In its original version, the Roman calendar designated the date of the new moon as the start of the Kalends, the date of the half moon the start of the Nones, and the date of the full moon the Ides. Oddly, the Roman days were referenced by counting down to the next period rather than counting up. So March 2 was VI Non Mar, or six days until the first day of the Nones. When the month reached the Nones, days were counted down until the Ides. After the Ides, the days were counted down until the start of the next month. So the day after the Ides might be XV Apr – fifteen days until April.

In the year 44 BC, Caesar planned to address the Senate on the Ides but at the last minute thought of cancelling the meeting because the auspices were negative. To make matters worse, his wife had nightmares about him being assassinated on the Ides, but Caesar dismissed these superstitions and kept the meeting as scheduled.

The conspirators sent Caesar’s cousin to fetch him knowing that he would not raise any suspicion. Then, with Caesar enroute, the conspirators waited with great anxiety. They feared being discovered and could hardly endure the endless passage of time. Finally Caesar arrived and took his seat. As the session began a Senator, Marcus Tillius Cimber, requested that he be allowed to read a petition. As he moved forward, several conspirators gathered around the dictator. Suddenly, Tillius seized Caesar’s toga and pulled it down exposing his neck as a sign for the dagger blows to begin. Caesar tried to rise and, according to one account, stabbed an adversary with his stylus, before being overwhelmed. Suetonius says that Caesar shouted “this is violence!”

As the attack continued, Caesar is said to have pulled the toga over his head, after realizing he would soon die in an attempt to retain some dignity in death. Shakespeare has Caesar utter, “Et tu Brute (you too Brutus?), but these were the playwright's words written for dramatic effect. Their work complete, the conspirators fled, either through fear or shame at what they had done. Caesar's body lay alone in the chamber for some time until it was retrieved by his slaves.

A physician was called in to examine Caesar’s body and counted 23 stab wounds. Only one was lethal, the second blow struck, which entered his chest.