It never ceases to amaze me that individuals who died centuries or millenia ago can still command the attention of a modern audience. Gaius Julius Caesar is one of those remarkable individuals. Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War are worth reading both for the insight into their author’s mind and for the image the offer of Rome as it transitioned from powerful republic to world-ruling empire. The Penguin Classics edition (entitled The Conquest of Gaul) uses the translation of S.A. Handford and is a very enjoyable read. The Commentaries trace the progress of Caesar’s efforts to subdue Gaul (modern France) from 58 BC to 50 BC. This is on the eve of the civil war that will eventually lead to Caesar’s assassination and the emergence of his great-nephew Octavian (the future emperor Augustus) as a political force in Rome. The Commentaries can be confusing at times, as they are full of important people and place names. It can be difficult to keep the various Roman generals, barbarian tribes, and Gallic strongholds clear in your mind. This is true of many ancient chronicles and does not present an insurmountable obstacle. The Commentaries read like bulletins from the front. They are not encumbered by unnecessary detail, and contain many interesting anecdotes. For anyone who watched the TV series Rome, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo make their only appearance on the historical record in the fifth book of The Commentaries. If you have an interest in Rome or Caesar, The Commentaries on the Gallic War are well worth your time.
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