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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Republicanism in crisis
I'm sure it hasn't escaped Michael Parenti's attention that those who proudly call themselves Republicans are just as keen on optimates and death squads as their imperial predecessors in the Roman senate. What is amazing, and Parenti outlines the case graphically, is how many contemporary commentators uncritically accept the values and value judgements of the Roman...
Published on 4 May 2004 by Matt CLEMENT

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good theory ...
The author seeks to demonstrate that Caesar's assassination, rather than being the act of men restoring republican liberties by eliminating a "despotic usurper" was in fact the act of men who perceived Caesar to be "a popular leader who threatened their privileged interests". That's a great theory, and I applaud the author's attempt to prove it. However, there were a...
Published 14 months ago by Keen Reader


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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Republicanism in crisis, 4 May 2004
I'm sure it hasn't escaped Michael Parenti's attention that those who proudly call themselves Republicans are just as keen on optimates and death squads as their imperial predecessors in the Roman senate. What is amazing, and Parenti outlines the case graphically, is how many contemporary commentators uncritically accept the values and value judgements of the Roman rulers of the day. Parenti demonstrates comprehensively the shameless self-seeking hypocrisy of Cicero - surely Mandelson's role model - whilst showing us how he has been lauded as the ultimate republican ever since. Caesar and many others are branded tyrants and demagogues, but by whom? Once we know about the populares reform agenda we understand the aristocrats' motives and actions much more clearly.
So much so, that for me this book was both an enticing introduction to Roman history and a warning to read critically. We need to learn more from the author about the radical tribunes and characters like Macer if, like me, you enjoy tracing the faultlines of failures in future imperial republics.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good theory ..., 10 Feb 2013
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome (Paperback)
The author seeks to demonstrate that Caesar's assassination, rather than being the act of men restoring republican liberties by eliminating a "despotic usurper" was in fact the act of men who perceived Caesar to be "a popular leader who threatened their privileged interests". That's a great theory, and I applaud the author's attempt to prove it. However, there were a number of factors that, in my opinion, stood in the way of his body of proof.

I would have had more respect for his examples, had he been more honest in the use of sources. The book states that "history reflects the age in which it was written" and invites the reader to thus take with a pinch of salt some of the things for example written by Gibbon, yet continues to use primary source examples outside the scope of the study itself - for example, Juvenal (late 1st and early 2nd century AD), Martial (b. AD 40), Marcellinus (b. late 4th century AD), Appian (b. c. AD 95). Given that Caesar died in 44 BC, these authors were writing well outside Caesar's lifetime, and were often writing in times of political unrest under later Emperors.

Secondary sources, used by the author to demonstrate blinkered thinking on such things as the life of Roman people, slavery and other "popular" matters, consisted primarily of what the author referred to as "gentlemen historians" and included Jerome Carcopino (b. 1881), Lionel Casson (b. 1914), John Balsdon (b. 1901), Ronald Syme (b. 1903), Theodor Mommsen (b. 1817), Cyril Robinson (b. 1884), H H Scullard (b. 1903), Christian Meier (b. 1929). Clearly many, if not all these men were products of a late-19th century, early-20th century education based heavily on classical sources (Cicero, Seneca etc.), but who were also writing in troubled times of their own. There were, and are many other secondary sources that the author could have used of more recent date, that would not perhaps have suited his purpose so well, and thus were ignored. For example, Thomas Wiedemann (b. 1950) who studied and wrote extensively on Roman slavery, John Clarke (b. 1945) who wrote on Roman life and society from 100 BC to AD 200, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill (b. 1951) who has written extensively on Roman culture, society and Roman history in general, Gregory Aldrete (b. 1966) who has published on life in Roman cities; and others.

There are other points which offered misrepresentation. As an example: on page 17, the author quotes a passage "observed" by the "Caledonian chief Calgacus". This was in fact a passage attributed to Calgacus in AD 83 or AD 84, by Tacitus, writing in c. AD 98. So not really representative of anything that the author seeks to demonstrate for the time of the late Republic, and more indicative of the period following the assassination of Domitian, who had persecuted Tacitus' father-in-law, Agricola, in whose life the passage is first written. Again: there is a passage on page 38 quoted from Seneca the Younger, which describes some of the "indignities endured by household slaves". Seneca the Younger was not even born until 4 BC, so again was not writing of Republican times.

It's a pity - the thesis was sound, and deserved to be explored, yet the author let himself down because of a bias that was unmistakable from the beginning of the book to the end. It was always going to be a bit of a stretch to class Caesar in with the Gracchi, Milo or Catiline, but the attempt could at least have been carried out with a bit more conviction. The result was a book that really didn't offer a fair hearing to all sides of the story - conclusion: theory unproved, in my opinion. The book is well written; it just does not use honest reasoning, nor deliver a very honest result. The theory deserves to be visited again, by another author I think.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A much welcomed unique view, 8 Sep 2011
This review is from: Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome (Paperback)
The assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar has attracted a wide range of writings. Indeed any historian of Rome or classicist was not worthy of the title lest they even at least go over it. And yet, despite all the many thousands of hours and words devoted to it, why? Why was Caesar assassinated? This is what Parenti sets out to do.
He argues that contrary to previous and often poplular notions, Caesar was not assassinated due to his establishing of a dictatorship (dictators before him such as Sulla had been tolerated by the senate and the emperors after also with a few exceptions) nor that it was simply a clash of egos. No instead Caesar was assassinated as a result of his modest reform agenda. Caesar gave peasants land, reduced debts and brought in laws for it, increased the grain dole and done other popular measures. The aristocratic optimates had different plans. Wishing to preserve their way of life since the second punic war, as the heads of the western world living in parasitic luxury spounged off of by slaves and workers, the optimates had a socio-economic motive behind the infamous murder(or famous if you belong to the brand of 'gentlemen historians' whom Parenti rightfuly critiques.)
And so this book isnot just about the assassination of Julius Caesar, indeed the act itself only receives a few pages and Caesar himself doesn't appear on stage until a hundred or so pages in. No this book is instead about the Roman empire, but through the view of the masses, the people, and not the 'gentlemen historians' and leaders whom have a disorted contempt for the masses. Here is pure iconoclasm at its best. He presents Cicero not as the liberal diffender of liberty, but as he truly was: a hypocritical snob, slumlord, cowardly turncoat and reactionary. Caesar on the other hand he presents as a reformer with a genuine interest in helping the poor. However selective he is not. He mentions Caesar's brutality in the Gallic wars, his using of women and his foreign conquests and continual wars which killed thousands.
So even if you hate Caesar or are not interested in ancient Rome, here is a great book about class struggle, the presentation of history and how history ultimately never changes.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Alternative View, 26 Mar 2008
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This review is from: Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome (Paperback)
We think we know the Julius Caesar story. Numerous films and TV programmes, Shakespeare and so on. What Michael Parenti does is look at the story from a Marxist perspective - Marx doesn't get mentioned at all, but that's not the point.

Parenti asks the simple question: what did Caesar stand for that made the group of extremely wealthy men who ran the Roman world want to kill him? The answer is that he wanted to institute a series of mild reforms that shifted a little bit, but not too much, wealth, land, property, food, housing, tax burden from the tiny number of very rich people to the much larger numbers of urban and rural poor.

In this desire, Caesar stood in the tradition of populares who had gone before him such as the Gracchi brothers. The Gracchi and all the other populares had been murdered for their efforts.

This small redistribution of wealth was too much for the optimates - the small group of wealthy aristocrats. And so they tried to undermine Caesar. And when they failed to undermine him, they murdered him.

And for more than 2,000 years the dominant view of these events has been that the wealthy murderers were really men who loved democracy, liberty and the rule of law, in other words the optimates view of history written by members of that class in the Roman world and accepted uncritically by 'gentlemen' historians down to this day.

Parenti turns that upside down - or, rather, he turns it the right way up. Excellently researched, snappily written, easily read. A joy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Parenti re-writes history, 6 Aug 2009
By 
Mr. Peter M. Speedwell (Puglia, Italy) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome (Paperback)
I studied Latin at school over forty years ago and I never realised it was so dynamic and interesting. Parenti has made the struggles between Patricians and Plebs come alive. It is especially touching to see how many renegades to the ruling classes were finally done away with. I was bored as a schoolboy listening to these pompous idiots congratulating themselves on how well they were going (especially Cicero).ANd now I realise that my instinct was right.
Thank you. I think I will start reading the classics again... After more than 30 years
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A terrific polemic, but be cautious...., 4 Oct 2011
By 
A. M. Fletcher (, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome (Paperback)
Parenti's book is written in a compelling and highly readable style. It's essentially a polemical counter narrative, a challenge to the conservative view of Caesar as an opportunistic demagogue and ambitous tyrant. Parenti strips away the ancient patina of nobility and legitimacy from the Roman Republic, revealing the naked self interest of a predatory oligarchy behind the classical facade of the constitution. Brutus, Cato and Cicero emerge as cynical and violent statesmen; the Senate is exposed as the corrupt centre of a dictatorship by reactionary aristocrats, military adventurists and predatory speculators. Parenti's work is a welcome relief from the conventional 'Gentlemen's histories' that have long dominated scholarship.

However, I think this work has some serious weaknesses. In my view the evidence presented is unable to bear even a fraction of the weight of Parenti's central thesis: that Caesar was a principled republican and heroic advocate of social justice. The history of the twentieth century is littered with ambitious leaders extolling justice while exploiting popular movements to gain state power, prestige and wealth. It seems highly unlikely that Caesar was any different in this regard from a Napoleon or a Lenin. In my view Parenti does not produce serious evidence to the contrary, and his narrative is fatally weakened by special pleading when he tries.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The truth will out, 24 Mar 2013
By 
Peter Robinson (Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome (Paperback)
The true story of events leading to the assassination of Julius Caesar needed to be told and who better than Michael Parenti?

I'm not one for history, I never was, I found it boring at school and ever afterwards; mainly due to the fact that the history I was taught was not the people's history but the history of kings and queens and of the privileged few.

The people that have written history over the centuries have portrayed Caesar unfavourably. Parenti exposes their biased and false history and shows that whereas Julius Caesar was hugely popular with the ordinary Roman people, the ruling elites and their lackeys--people like Cato and Cicero--detested him and all he stood for.

Like Tiberius Gracchus and other notable Roman populares Caesar was therefore murdered.

One used to think that "virtuous" meant morally good and that "vicious" meant morally evil; however, after reading this book I feel that being "virtuous" is more about being a member of the upper classes, the landed gentry, the oligarchical elite, the privileged few, etc., while being "vicious" is about being poor and oppressed, it is about being a member of the common people, it is a term that is applied to anyone, especially from the lower social orders, who complains about inequality and injustice; such a person is regarded as a criminal. In other words "virtuous" and "vicious" have nothing to do with morality but a great deal to do with class.

Caesar paid the price of so many who stand with the people against the status quo. I can't praise this book highly enough.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent - a fascinating alternative view, 4 Dec 2009
By 
C. Trounce "Christian Trounce" (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome (Paperback)
I've read a number of books about Julius Caesar including Adrian Goldsworthy, Philip Freeman and Christian Meier's books, and this was definitely the most engaging and enjoyable. Parenti puts forward an argument for Caesar's motivations and struggles against the ruling Senatorial Oligarchy, which while very one sided, presents a very different and thought provoking view from one presented by most historians.

I didn't agree with many of the points he made - but the book created internal dabate and made me re-think and shift some of my opinions.

This isn't the first book I'd want to read about Caesar if I was new to the subject. It will challenge some of your existing views, may frustrate you with the one-sidedness of it's argument, but I think it's essential reading for anyone interested in the man.
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Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome
Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome by Michael Parenti (Paperback - 9 Mar 2004)
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