I had wanted to read Caesar's war diaries for years and had never made time to get round to it, well having finally made the time it was well worth the wait! Incredible reading, excellently written with an astounding attention to detail that shows how this man made his name. this book gives a fascinating account into his thoughts, strategies and adaptable tactics that made him not just one fo the greatest generals in history but also one who enerated phenomenal loyalty and dedication from his men and countrymen alike. If you want the story of the man behind the myth, read this. (Especially amazing when you consider the price being about £3!)
Like innumerable warlords before him, Napoleon Bonaparte recognised that logistics were the lifeblood of any military campaign. Success or failure could hang by the thread of an adequate or inadequate level of supply. Imagine Agincourt if Henry's men had exhausted their supply of arrows. Consider Rourke's drift if the redcoats had frittered away their ammunition supply.
Essential though they are to the conduct of war, they are also as dry as the proverbial bone.
In the hands of a genius, such descriptions take on a life of their own.
Caesar's skill in warfare, oratory and diplomacy, is well known. That he could write such vivid accounts of military campaigns and the logistical efforts behind them, is surely another string to his bow.
We read of troop movements, corn supplies, the construction of siege engines, the levy of troops, and occasionally, a pitched battle between Caesar's forces against those of his great rival, Pompey.
We gain insights into the machinations of Roman politics, and we see the genius of Caesar in recruiting men to his cause, the charisma and oratory skill in persuading men to fight to further his ambitions. Generous to his supporters, firm, but fair to his defeated enemies, Caesar embodied Clausewitz's maxim that a benevolent conquer only has to conquer a populace once.
For a two thousand year old account, written in the third person, to be as engaging and engrossing as any major work of history, and to be more entertaining than most works of historical analysis written in the modern era, is testament to Caesar's genius.
This review deals with the Loeb edition ‘The Civil Wars’ ascribed to Julius Caesar with some degree of confidence and translated by A. C. Peskett (1914). The truism that ‘History is written by the victors’ is certainly illustrated by this book. Caesar always manages to get himself out of tight corners, although subordinates (e.g. Curio) sometimes suffer disaster. Sometimes self-justification produces some very ‘awkward’ Latin & confusing translation – a good example being in #82 (P.112) especially ‘contra opinionem....... detrimentum afferebat’. At the end of Book 1 everybody appears to rejoice in the ending of the Ilerda campaign, overlooking the ‘error’ that many of the defeated (especially Afranius and Petreius) carried on the struggle elsewhere. Add to that the number of Caesarian subordinates who went on to wield the dagger on 15 March 44 B.C and logic might question the air of optimism. Caesar was no fool but he does paint a lopsided canvas. By Book 2 I was definitely struggling with some passages consisting of distinct ‘technical’ vocabulary (e.g. the siege of Massilia (#8-11 PP.133-9) or Curio’s excessive verbosity (# 31-33 PP. 169-75), not quite up to the harangues recorded by Livy. Again Caesar is let down by subordinates such as Curio – why did he pick him? – who’s destroyed by Juba. In this Book the action appears to move about the Mediterranean with disturbing rapidity ; however, Caesar is trying to describe CONTEMPORANEOUS struggles. Book 3 culminates in the destruction of the Pompeian cause at Pharsalus (9 Aug 48 B. C.) and so, from the start, naturally (#3-6 PP. 199-203) details the awesome strength of Pompey’s forces, just to make victory even more laudatory. This also may explain the unusually deprecatory admissions marking this book. In 60 (P.279) his leniency with Raucillus and Egus allows them to desert to Pompey with intelligence which leads to defeat at Dyrrhachium (30 May 48 B.C.), although note how in #61 he stresses how unique such desertion was. In #66 (P289) he is twice guarded about his mistakes (‘changing his plans for certain reasons’), though defeats sometimes being caused ‘vitio ducis’ (#72) is followed by the assertion to his troops that defeat was due ‘to the fault of anyone rather than himself’ (#73 P.290). He then berates them to the point of them feeling guilty – thereby driving them to greater on the battlefield to show his misjudgement. The account of Pharsalus itself is brilliant. The stupidity of Pompey’s tactics, the sudden pause in the charge of the fourth line (#93 P. 329) which really won the battle and the collapse of the Pompeians. One minor point; count up the number of military units and the number of participants Caesar records and you may be surprised how small some legions might actually be (no 6,000/10/6 = 100 men in a century). One matter of no surprise is the glossing over of Cleopatra at the end, as in ‘The Alexandrine War’ – a sequel to this work. Regarding the translation, I was somewhat irritated by constant use of the Present Simple (accurately reproducing Caesar’s own style) but that’s a quirk of mine. Sometimes the translation, trying to follow the original, appears to be struggling (e.g.in Book 2 #31 on PP.169-71). Occasionally he adds to the existing material – in Book 3 ‘militumque deditione ad Curictam’ (#10 P.208) becomes ‘and the surrender of Antonius and his troops at Curicta’; this refers to the defeat in 49 BC of C. Antonius which is not described in the surviving version of Book 2. However, the ‘extra bits’ aren’t so useful to anybody trying to follow the Latin word-for-word. Overall, though, 5 stars.
This was a really good read! I was surprised at how lucid the style was, and though the broad outline of the story was familiar the detailed account of how the campaigns and set pieces were conducted were fascinating. The introduction was doubtless correct to stress the properganda nature of the work though, it makes you smile at times...
Fascinating account of the Civil War, with Caesar trying to justify his actions against the Senate, and then a full and astonishing account in detail of the ensuing battles for supremacy, ending with the death of Pompey. The addition of the African and Spanish wars give a brilliant overall picture.
Loved reading this finally... but there are so many spelling mistakes that look like a result of poor Find and Replace document updates that it does make me question if I am reading things correctly at times.