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Caesar's Legacy: Civil War and the Emergence of the Roman Empire [Paperback]

Josiah Osgood

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Book Description

16 Feb 2006
In April 44 BC the eighteen-year-old Gaius Octavius landed in Italy and launched his take-over of the Roman world. Defeating first Caesar's assassins, then the son of Pompey the Great, and finally Antony and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, he dismantled the old Republic, took on the new name 'Augustus', and ruled forty years more with his equally remarkable wife Livia. Caesar's Legacy grippingly retells the story of Augustus' rise to power by focusing on how the bloody civil wars which he and his soldiers fought transformed the lives of men and women throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond. During this violent period citizens of Rome and provincials came to accept a new form of government and found ways to celebrate it. Yet they also mourned, in literary masterpieces and stories passed on to their children, the terrible losses they endured throughout the long years of fighting.

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'By close and intelligent readings of very different types of contemporary evidence, Osgood makes the reader understand the horror of those years in the lives of ordinary Romans. His mastery of a very wide range of modern scholarship is matched by an admirably direct and accessible style. Caesar's Legacy is a historical work of real distinction.' Times Literary Supplement

'… a fine achievement … A vision of the triumviral period now exists where none existed before. In his first book, Mr Osgood provides an admirable demonstration of original scholarship, and he is to be warmly congratulated.' Bryn Mawr Classical Review

'… an important book …' Journal of Classics Teaching

'… an important contribution to late-republican scholarship, and a captivating read for any Roman historian.' L'Antiquité Classique

Book Description

This book provides a gripping narrative of the rise to power of Augustus. It shows how his bloody civil wars transformed the lives of the people of the Mediterranean and how, though they would come to accept and rejoice in his rule, they mourned the losses suffered at his hands.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging but Illuminating 29 Jun 2006
By Suzanne Cross - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Every scholar of Caesar's life knows that his legacy is by far the most controversial part of his career: did he destroy the Roman Republic? Or did he set in place changes that would (through his adopted son, Augustus) help to save it?

I had looked forward to this book, but at first was taken aback to find out that it was much more about the heir, Augustus (called at this point in time Octavian to distinguish him from his adopted father). So you might say I started the book out unsure why it was called "Caesar's Legacy" rather than "What Augustus and Antony did after Caesar died." Up to perhaps the mid-point in the book, I also had problems with the fact that Osgood chooses to try to express the feelings and perceptions of normal Romans (and provincials)in this period through the literature that survived. In the awful power vacuum after Caesar's death, the Triumvirs deliberately choose to kill political enemies and seize their estates to find property for their supporters and soldiers. To dig out how this affected real people, means for Osgood that we plow through a great deal of poetry by Virgil or Horace that deals with the people's sufferings, and that has never been my strong suit.

Yet, somewhat grudgingly, I came to believe I understood what Osgood was trying to do, and his use of literary works does work well. It is so commonplace to say "the horrors of proscriptions during the Triumvirate," but that doesn't grab your emotional attention. Talking about the small men and women who suffered through this horrible period, does. And no source could be better than the great writers of the time who could speak with immediacy about the small farmers dispossessed by the "clearings" (in which Octavian and Antony gave land to their own supporters and/or their armies); the small merchants who watched their trade wither; the exactions for endless wars, first Octavian against Antony, then the two against Brutus and the assassins, then Antony against Octavian. It was 14 brutal years of war, terror, chaos - the world turned upside-down. Perhaps most movingly, you come to see (as Osgood carefully builds his book) how the very foundation of a strong society was shaken - people had believed that you could depend on some kind of continuity in life, that justice existed, that you could depend from day to day on retaining your home, savings, family. This certainty began to be destroyed. More and more, "Fortune" (chance, luck, Murphy's Law, whatever - a goddess to the Romans) embodied Roman perceptions of their lives - one day you could be living in the small farm inherited from your great-grandfather, the next day, homeless. One day your small town in Ionian Greece could be doing well, the next day one of the armies would sack it and you lost everything - including your life, or the lives of your wife, children, parents. I found this terribly poignant and a perception that no other writer had really brought home to me. Surely, in wars anywhere and everywhere, the sense that indifferent chance rules your future is destructive to everything stable civilizations say they provide.

So, also, do you see Octavian change; from the utter ruthlessness of his proscriptions, through the constant challenges of the Triumviral period, wars, disasters, rebuilding, fighting on land and sea - to someone who apparently had some sense of just how much destruction Romans had suffered, and began to come up with ideas of how to try to make reparation for that suffering with systems that would reform what was bad, and try to save what was good, about the Roman Republic.

All in all, this is not an easy book, but it significantly enhanced my understanding of this critical period; it will be one I will read again, since Osgood's ideas are not simple or commonplace. But I highly recommend it for the serious student of Roman history, who wants to go beyond the standard comments and form a sense of what it meant to live through that awful period. In the truest sense, Caesar's legacy was the war and suffering that had to be lived through to find a new perception of the Roman Empire.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for those who were left puzzled by McCullough's Antony and Cleopatra 24 July 2010
By David C. Peters - Published on
A history of the Empire from 44 BC to 30 BC charting, not Caesar's Legacy, but the rise of Octavian to power. It is a very interesting book that makes extensive use of literary works of the period. I enjoyed the broad scope of topics covered as well as the neutrality and scholarship Osgood displayed in this work.

After reading McCullough's completely unreal and strongly biased fictional treatment of the same period in Antony and Cleopatra I was confused and wanted to have a better idea about what happened. This was a great reference to set me straight, though I thought the literary analysis was a little too intense for my preference.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book 12 Feb 2011
By Split the Lark - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is clearly the result of a lot of careful research and is beautifully written. Professor Osgood knows his topic and sheds a lot of new light on this time in history. You do not have to be an academic to enjoy this excellent foray into a very significant era.
8 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History Buff 26 Jun 2006
By Stella F. Parker - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found this book to be very interesting and it gave me a different cast on the end of the Republic. This history has been written many times and this book puts a new slant on it. I enjoyed it
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