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.