“The Civil War” by Julius Caesar


Two of the greatest generals of Rome, Caesar and Pompey, war against each other for life, glory, honor, dominance and, above all, the fate of the Roman Republic.

The Gallic War lasted 8 years (58 BC – 51 BC), but the Civil War, from the very beginning till the decisive Battle of Pharsalus and death of Pompey, a year and a half (49 BC – 48 BC), a rather short period in comparison. Perhaps the outcome of the Civil War was a forgone conclusion, because the Roman Republic had already been in decline for quite some time. Sixty years earlier, Jugurtha had judged Rome “a city for sale and doomed to quick destruction, if it should find a buyer”(The Jugurthine War). Apparently, it found a buyer in Caesar.

Still, I wondered whether the outcome of the Civil War could have been different, as I read Caesar’s firsthand account of the vicissitude of war. It’d be very interesting to view the same events from Pompey’s perspective.

In his Commentaries, Caesar makes frequent observations that victory in war does not depend solely on the competence of the generals (military strategies, tactics, and logistics), or the courage and skills of the soldiers, or the support of the people and availability of resources. But Fortune often plays a decisive role in ways that can not be foreseen or expected. The Battle of Pharsalus is a prime example. One might argue that Pompey and Caesar were equally matched in terms of their competence in strategies and tactics, but the latter emerged a victor, because he didn’t allow himself to be unduly affected by the effects of luck, and faced both victory and defeat with equanimity and renewed efforts and enthusiasm.

It’s a pity that neither Pompey nor Caesar died on the field of battle, which would have been fitting for great generals, nor did they die in peace, as they were both assassinated by their “friends”, Pompey in 48 BC, and Caesar 44 BC. The former died so as not to suffer the aftermath of defeat, and the latter not to enjoy the fruits of his triumph.

As a side note, the editor included in this volume the anonymous Alexandrian, African and Spanish Wars. I think they are rather superfluous, because they not only add nothing to the Commentaries, but unnecessarily protract the compact structure of Caesar’s account, and dilute the effect of his grand finale.



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