Caesar’s The Civil War (Part III)

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Gaius Julius Caesar was born in 100 BC into an ancient patrician family. He was a youth during the proscriptions of Marius (his father’s brother-in-law), the dictatorship of Sulla, and the early career of Pompey. Like his family before him, Caesar opposed the patrician senatorial oligarchy. Sulla imprisoned him for a short time, but he managed to maintain good relations with nobles for 10 years after his release. During the 60s BC, Caesar worked his way through the senatorial cursus honorum to the rank of praetor, while supporting the populares or “popular” side in politics. In 60 BC, he joined Crassus and Pompey in forming the First Triumvirate. In 59 BC, he was elected consul. Shortly after, he was appointed governor of Transalpine Gaul. This occupied his career for 9 years. While on campaign, differences increased between Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar, and by 52 BC Crassus had died, and Pompey was appointed sole consul. This eventually lead to civil war between Pompey and Caesar. After defeating the Pompeian faction in Spain (45 BC), Caesar returned to Rome as dictator. He tried to improve conditions for Roman citizens and increase the efficiency of the Roman government. However, once he declared himself perpetual dictator in February of 44 BC, Caesar’s enemies hatched a conspiracy against him. Gaius Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 BC.

Caesar wrote two major works, which remain for our study (The Gallic Wars and The Civil Wars). Latin students frequently study these works as examples of perfect Latin grammar in what has been labeled “The Golden Age of Latin.” In his account of his campaigns against the Gauls, Caesar discusses, criticizes, and attacks the other, the barbarian, and the enemies of Rome. On many accounts, The Gallic Wars has been labeled as almost racist. However, The Civil Wars recounts his conflict with Pompey and the Romans, who opposed him. As you read Part III of this work, consider the following:

  • Caesar refers to himself in the 3rd What affect does this have on the narrative? Why does he make this stylistic decision?
    • How do you think his audience would have commented on and perceived this stylistic choice?
  • How does Caesar characterize “the other” in this Civil War?
    • Do those that oppose him anger Caesar? Does hatred exist?
    • What vocabulary does Caesar use when discussing the forces of Pompey? Are they equals, inferior, superior, etc.?
    • More specifically, how does Caesar portray Pompey?
  • How does Caesar portray his own legions? Does Caesar clearly demonstrate their loyalty to him?
    • According to Caesar, why are his legions successful? How do they overcome their Roman counterparts on Pompey’s side?
    • Does Caesar ever lose? If so, what is his explanation? If not, why does he omit these details?
  • Does Caesar have much to say about the Senate, which has declared him a public enemy of Rome? Why or why not?
  • Why are relations developed with the Ptolemies of Egypt? Upon his visit to Alexandria, is Caesar aiming to bring Egypt under Roman control? Why or why not?
  • Does he ever waver in his decision to march on Rome? Why or why not?
  • The Battle of Pharsalus was the decisive conflict that turned the tides in Caesar’s favor. How does Caesar make this clear in his narrative? What specifics tactics allow him to defeat Pompey?
  • How does Caesar react to the death of Pompey? Is there any emotion present in the description of this event? If so, what emotions do you perceive? If not, why is it absent?
  • Are there any instances in Part III where Caesar seems to admire and even love his enemy, Pompey? Does he reflect on their past together as comrades in the First Triumvirate? Does he ever address the fact that he was related to Pompey via the marriage of his daughter Julia? Why does Caesar make these decisions?

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