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The Truth Perspective interviewed Tom Stevenson, author of the recent book, Julius Caesar and the Transformation of the Roman Republic. We discussed the life and times of Julius Caesar - Rome, religion, politics and war - and tried to answer the question: Did Caesar really aspire to tyranny from a young age? Or ever? What was Caesar really like, and are portrayals of him in history books and fiction really accurate?

Tom is currently Senior Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Queensland, Australia. His research focus is on the politics and ideology of the late Roman Republic and early Empire, the careers of Cicero and Caesar, and he is currently working on a book on the history and significance of the Roman emperor as Pater Patriae (father of the fatherland).

Running Time: 02:11:00

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Here's the transcript:

Harrison: Welcome everyone to the Truth Perspective. It is March 7. Today in the studio we have Elan Martin.

Elan: Hi there.

Harrison: I'm Harrison Koehli and today we are very pleased to have Dr. Tom Stevenson with us. Tom is the author of the new book that came out last November I believe, called Julius Caesar and the Transformation of the Roman Republic published by Routledge. Tom received his PhD from the University of Sydney and is currently senior lecturer in classics and ancient history at the University of Queensland, Australia. His research focuses on politics and ideology in the late Roman republic and early empire, the careers of Cicero and Caesar and he's currently working on a book on the history and significance of the Roman emperor as Pater Patriae, Father of the Fatherland.
So we're very excited to have this talk today. Tom, thanks for agreeing to be on the show and welcome.

Tom: It's a pleasure. Thank you very much for asking me Harrison.

Harrison: Before we get started I want to read two things that have some relevance I think, to your book. These are both some short excerpts from some ancient authors. So this first one is a short excerpt from Suetonius.
Some think that habit has given him a love of power and that weighing the strength of his adversaries against his own, he grasps the opportunity of usurping the despotism which had been his heart's desire from early youth.
That's Suetonius. This is Plutarch.
At all events, the man who was thought to have been the first to see beneath the surface of Caesar's public policy and to fear it as one might fear the smiling surface of the sea and who comprehended the powerful character hidden beneath his kindly and cheerful exterior, namely Cicero, said that in most of Caesar's political plans and projects he saw a tyrannical purpose. In Spain when Caesar was at leisure and reading from the history of Alexander he was lost in thought for a long time and then burst into tears. His friends were astonished and asked the reason for his tears. "Do you not think" said he, "it is a matter for sorrow that while Alexander at my age was already king of so many peoples I have yet to achieve no brilliant success."
So an image of Julius Caesar from two ancient authors. Now those two quotes, and I'm sure there are more, kind of give in a nutshell what has been the standard view of Caesar, that he was a tyrant and he sought despotic control from a very young age and then every decision he made in his life was to come to that conclusion. But we'll get into that.

On my bookshelf I've got a stack of Caesar books and every year it seems there are new ones coming out. So why another Caesar book? Tom, why did you decide to write this one?

Tom: I guess two reasons. One is that his importance hasn't diminished. The reason that there are so many books is because he's still being used as a model, his life and the consequences of his life are still with us. He's one of the great models for political leaders for instance, one of the great models for military leaders. His commentaries on the war in Gaul and the civil war are still used in military colleges around the world and if you think of it, other significance. It's less than a century since we had Czars in Russia and Kaisers in Germany with these inheritances of Caesar's name. You could even think of the name Julius or Julia or Julie, or Cesario or Cesare or something like that. Think of the calendar, think of the month of July and another good one, all the movies, the stage plays.

Harrison: HBO.

Tom: Exactly, yes. So very popular until very recently. So those sorts of thing are just a superficial indication of exactly how prominent he still is. It's also the case on another level that because of that prominence he's taught very heavily in universities and schools around the world. And you mentioned HBO there. The HBO series gave a great impetus to Caesar scholarship and Caesar interest and so naturally books come out in the wake of that.

I've got a course on Caesar here at the University of Queensland and as it happens the course is 12 weeks long and the book has 12 chapters and so you can put two-and-two together.

Harrison: It works.

Tom: One produces the other. Fingers crossed for students Caesar's career still seems to resonate with them. They have ideas that are kind of unformed about Caesar before coming to read about him. He's so much a part of popular culture. They know about Caesar. They're attracted by the name. They know that Roman emperors were all Caesar in the wake of Caesar's lifetime. There's already that kind of intrinsic interest that's there and then they come and do the course and they get a deeper appreciation, that's what I hope anyway. So basic cultural, political interest that's undiminished over the years and also the idea of wanting to write a particular kind of textbook for the courses that are taught around universities around the world and for general readers too. The book has a set of broad aims as far as readership goes. It would be very nice if undergraduates found it useful and it would also be very nice if the educated general reader that the publishers talk about, if that person thought that this was an accessible book and had some ideas that could stimulate them and maybe make them go and read more about him.

Harrison: Well I think it is. I just want to say that I personally found it to be a challenging but an easy read. You've got a very flowing style. It all makes sense. You explain everything very clearly. You give all the context necessary for, I think, a relatively aware, educated reader to just get right into it, even without a lot of background knowledge. So I think it's great for the so-called "average reader" and not just academics or undergrads or something like that. So I think you did a good job.

Tom: Thank you very much. I'd love that to be the case. It'd be great if it was thought to be accessible and people could get into it.

Harrison: It is, and a couple of the things that I personally found attractive about the book it's first of all because there are a lot of Caesar biographies out there. I've got a list of Caesar books. It's about 50 long from the past century, and that's just probably the major ones. But your book is not super-long for one, but it covers Caesar's entire life. So you could view it as kind of a biography where you get all the big details of the life and times of Julius Caesar. But at the same time you've got a specific focus that guides each of the chapters and that is looking at Caesar's career and life from a particular angle and that is relating back to the quotes from Plutarch and Suetonius that I read out at the beginning of the show - did Caesar aspire to be king of Rome and to become dictator for life and that sort of thing. At the same time that allows you to look at all the evidence so it's a really balanced look at the sometimes more than two sides of the reactions to and the opinions of what Caesar did and how he did it. So we're going to get into some of those details.

But first, in order to understand what was happening and the decisions that Caesar made and that everyone else made that led to these kind of great events in history, like the wars in Gaul or the civil wars, what was Rome like? What was it like for a politician or just the average citizen or a pleb or a person living in the provinces? Could you give a little background on what life was like in Rome?

Tom: It's a great question and one of the reason I think it's great is because it's immensely controversial. If we think of 100 BC when Caesar is born, Rome is a massive city. It either is, or will become the first million city in western history in Caesar's lifetime. So it's an incredibly large city to the ancient world. And scholarship has struggled to understand the pressures of this age. In the book I try to say that there's a traditional body of scholarship that has painted endless socio-economic problems, problems in the countryside, problems with violent mobs in the city, political processes breaking down, the murder of politicians, political murder had come to Rome with the assassination of Tiberius Gracchus in 133 BC, the famous tribune.

And so traditional scholarship then paints a picture of endless problems so that people had become so fed up that they were looking for figures like Pompey or Caesar to lead them against the corrupt, aristocratic government, get rid of that government and establish some kind of popular government that would at least give them a chance.

So that's the traditional scholarship and it has some basis in the ancient sources. But there are a number of writers now who are beginning to ask was it exactly that bad and even if it was that bad, what does that mean? So instead of talking about a picture of very rapid and very dramatic and very horrific change so that many, many disaffected people want to follow a Caesar or a Pompey and they don't mind fighting for them to the death because after all, what have they got to live for if it's so bad, scholars now are asking "What about continuity? How did things ramble on? How did the government ramble on?" And these things did ramble on. Does that imply that we've overdrawn this picture of massive change and great dislocation and trauma and political murder and so on and so forth?

And it may well be that that's the case. It's difficult to decide definitively exactly what was going on but we can certainly say that Rome is an imperial power in 100 BC. I think a salient point to think about the Romans at this time as if they were an imperial people and they were very highly conscious of it. The world is massively hierarchical and they see themselves at the top of the hierarchy. And it's a very individualistic world so that men in particular fight one another for public standing and social standing in a way that I think or I hope we would find quite extraordinary today. I think we value egalitarianism and ideas like humility and so on a fair bit more than they did.

One of the things I tell my students about Roman nobles, or in fact about Roman society in general is that if you were in a Roman room, people could pretty largely number one another from one down to however many were in the room. They had structures in place and the senate is a classic. Drawing up the senate roll it's basically the list of the top 300 people in Roman society and the names would appear on the list in terms of their order. It's an extraordinary thing.

And if you were to ask me, as my student say, "Well exactly how important is it to be number 43, or instance, up against number 10 or nine or whatever? Well I would say to them that the concept, the idea of your ranking was so important that you would cross the Rubicon to support it because dignitas is so fundamental to understanding why the civil war broke out between Pompey and Caesar. It's a world where, as I say, men in particular, if I think of somebody like Caesar being born into a patrician family, not a recently prominent patrician family but a patrician family and having all the pressures of having to forge a public career without the backing that he might have expected if his family had been more recently prominent, but being pushed, and you're not just pushed to succeed in your own generation, you're meant to top all the members of your family who have gone before. So they don't just drive you to be number one in your world, but to be number one ever. It's an extraordinary thing.

You mentioned Alexander the Great there. If you measure yourself against Alexander the Great, you hardly give yourself much opportunity for coming up short! And that's what these guys did again and again and again. You see Roman nobles behaving in ways that I hope politicians today would pull back from or military leaders today would pull back from, at least in the west anyway. The absolute drive, the competition is extraordinary at Rome and it's got a lot to do with these Roman nobles, the way that they socialize, the way their families want them to succeed, the way their clients expect them to succeed and the way they themselves feel pressure to be not just the best in their lifetime but be the best ever. It's a completely and utterly extraordinary thing.

When they arrive at their careers, for instance, it is said that they'll make clients for instance, to obeying the most handsome or the greatest conqueror or the most virtuous man who has ever lived? It's just extraordinary, the sorts of things. It makes the forging of the Roman Empire that much more explicable if you think that these guys were being driven by a social system that was way more intense in many ways, than anything I've experience for sure and that the majority of us would have experienced in our lifetime.

You asked me to set the scene a little bit. I really should probably say that we're in 100 BC, so the year that Caesar was born, and during the second century BC, maybe I should say this to set the scene, there had been some problems with the Roman military. They had defeated Hannibal at the end of the 3rd century BC. The Romans had conquered Spain. They had conquered Greece and parts of the eastern Mediterranean. So they were a very big empire. And parts of Africa as well, through the 2nd century BC. But then they got bogged down very badly in Spain and towards the end of the 2nd century BC, so not many years at all before Caesar's birth, the Romans were struggling terribly against the Germans. The invasion of the Cimbri and the Teutones was turned back with very, very great difficulty and finally really because of the extreme brilliance of the general Marius and as a result of the way that he led his men and drove them and forced them to do something better than perhaps they would have been without him.

So the military had been struggling and a series of reforms had taken place. They're not all to be credited to Marius although this is a traditional view. We often talk about the Marian reforms and the Marian Roman army, but there had been reform throughout the second century BC and the Romans did eventually defeat the Germans. They were an imperial people. In spite of these military problems they did come out on top. And the army that they produced after all their struggle was the army that Caesar would wield.

Now I've just got to say something about the land too, especially land in Italy. There was a view among scholars a couple of generations ago that when soldiers went away to fight overseas, and they were increasingly doing so as Rome expanded her empire, when they did this in the second century BC there was a thought that small farms in Italy were falling fallow because the men were not there to work them anymore and when that happened big landowners who were increasingly becoming rich as a result of the profits of the empire, these rich landowners systematically bought up these small lots or pushed the families off them and created massive estates, latifundia as they were called it, the wide lands. The people then from the countryside had nowhere to go. They supposedly drifted to the cities. They struggled to find a job there. They would join the forces of clients who were backing politicians. They would be involved in violence and they'd get handouts. It was the beginning of bread and circuses. And so we had political violence in Caesar's time.

And that picture of dislocation in the countryside and drifting to the cities and the development of political violence and the idea of having all these disenfranchised people, or these people who felt weak and angry because they'd lost everything they'd held dear and had come to the city looking for a Caesar or a Pompey or whatever, that picture now is being questioned. There's some great scholarship which is looking at land patterns in Italy in the second and first centuries BC and they are saying "There were soldiers who were going overseas but it looks as though traditional scholars have forgotten about their brothers. And more than that, it looks as though they've forgotten in particular the women of the family. They just assumed it seems that the women weren't able to contribute to the running of the farm." And nothing could be further from the truth. Women were extremely capable.

So this picture of farms falling fallow and being taken over is not quite right. And the importance of that is this; I guess you would know that the Roman army had a property qualification at this time which meant that to fight as a legionary, you had to have a stake in the same. You had to own a certain amount of land if you owned that amount of land you had your stake in the legionary that was your eligibility to be enlisted as a legionary. If these men end up losing their property, they would have been moved into the city, where they're not eligible for the legions because supposedly they've got no land. If that's not the case and we do have small land holders in big numbers in Italy then the picture of massive difficulties, the picture of Caesar just coming along and lighting a match to a situation that was immensely flammable, that begins to crumble. The beauty of that sort of idea is that you now have to think that Caesar was more influential with people, he was more charismatic, that the civil war was not inevitable, that there were other processes, that people were making decisions about the government that were not just because they were completely desperate or with no hope and so on.

I don't know if I'm doing it very well, but what's happened in scholarship in Roman history in terms of late republic in the last generation or so, it's been wonderful to have the old traditional perspectives questioned so heavily and even over time, very dramatically. I'm really quite influenced by the new scholarship that's coming along and questioning the old picture of dislocation and problem and so on. I'm not saying there were no problems, but not in the same way and they require a Caesar or a Pompey or a Sulla or a Marius who are more substantial figures; they're not just leaders; the people who followed at this time had no one else and nothing else to live for basically. It's a much more dramatic picture that's being arrived at in Roman scholarship at the moment.

Elan: Hey Tom, so one of the underlying threads that I'm still gaining an appreciation for is just how much of an overlap there is between the political leadership and moral leadership of Rome and the imperial aspirations of individuals and their ability to lead campaigns. You just spoke of the people needing a Sulla or a Marius or a Caesar or a Pompey. Can you speak a little bit about the culture of imperial designs in Rome at the time? Was it just a period that they were living with where it was eat or be eaten or was there a drive in Rome that surpassed the surrounding nations and peoples that kind of thrust them forward in that direction?

Tom: When I think of the Roman drive to expand, I think of a couple of things. One is that it was not atypical or extraordinary and what I mean by that is that there were a lot of aggressive peoples and a lot of aggressive governments in the ancient world so that conflict was endemic and we really should think that the Romans are not the only aggressive expansionist state if they get the opportunity. In fact far from it, and the pattern seems to be the other way so that we should take aggression and empire building as something that people would like to be involved in if only they could.

But what distinguishes the Romans to me as I was trying to say, is this incredible social system where the men in particular are socialized not just to be the best of their generation, but to be the best ever. I think somebody like Caesar grew up thinking he was better. This is an extraordinary thing. This is a world in which some people are born better than others. How do they know they're born better? Their names are better. Their ancestors are better. Those ancestors performed deeds on behalf of the state so the state owes them. They look better. And all these things become reinforcing because you get all this positive reinforcement and the individual concerned really begins to be socialized into living all this sort of stuff. And if you're a member of the elite you're educated better, you bear yourself better and you relate to other people from a position of superiority and so on.

This intense drive to be number one, this massive individualism, a society of individual competition with an intensity that's beyond anything that I've really scene in other ancient societies. The Greeks are massively competitive too and quite individualistic and they have leaders and models whom the Romans themselves found impressive. Alexander the Great was mentioned before. Look at Roman society; this massive push to be number one, this energy, this drive, and it's a manic energy, it's a manic drive to be number one. That stands out to me all the time, that along with attitudes that are more substantial, more socio-economic, had to do with Italy for instance. It helps enormously that Italy has this central position in the Mediterranean and I think it also helps enormously that Italy has a very big population in Caesar's lifetime. Everyone has speculated about the population figures. All I would say on the population figures is that in Caesar's lifetime and in the couple of generations after the Romans never had any trouble putting together armies more massive than had ever been put together before. It implies that there were plenty of recruits from among the rural peasants and they're the people who formed the backbone of Rome's legions because there were key examples of those people who were willing to fight and did fight in this terrible period of civil wars that Caesar lived through.

One more point. I'm a middle-aged man and I have never been in the army. I didn't even have to serve in a cadet core for instance. I haven't had military experience at all and I think of that as a very fortunate thing. Every other male in my family before me has had to serve through the First World War, the Second World War and so on. There's a real difference between me being a citizen and me being a soldier. In ancient Rome that certainly didn't apply. In so, so many ways Rome is a military state.

Even when I look at the Roman magistracies and the Roman assemblies I see the influence of the army. Michael Crawford, the English fellow has written this famous sentence about the Roman state was militarized from top to bottom. And then he goes on to describe some of the aspects of this militarization, so the assemblies for instance, like the comitia centuriata as it's called, the assembly by centuries, and that's named because of the fact that it was originally the Ionic century. And when you look at the names of magistrates and their duties, the consuls for instance, first and foremost the censors and praetors were leaders and I could go on. Again and again and again even political life, whether or not you'd be a good general, in the end if you were to rise in the far enough you would control armies. And the Romans loved to see their politicians on the attack against one another and they liked to be able to assess them and ask themselves the question "Would this man be good on the battlefield? We might well need him."

So the Roman state, thoroughly militarized and in that sense very different from anything I've known. I just keep emphasizing the unbelievable individualism of this state, that the drive that is in every man in particular, a very patriarchal state, the drive to be not just number one in your own lifetime, but number one ever. It's an extraordinary thing, quite amazing, historically massively interesting to me, that sort of drive, that sort of intensity.

Harrison: You mentioned women. Caesar's father died when he was fairly young and that left him in a family primarily of women. Could you talk a bit about the role of women, especially in Caesar's life, and how that might have shaped his aspirations or the pressures on him to advance in that social hierarchy.

Tom: That's a great question. I think it's one of the questions that more work should be done on too because when I look at Caesar's early life, you're absolutely right. His father dies in 85 BC. Caesar's around 14 or 15. At that time he's just about coming to the point that Romans think of as adulthood for a man. When you're 15 you can begin to wear the toga virilis, the manly toga and you're classed as a man. Caesar's immediate influences when he was 14 or 15 are not male. Maybe I could say that Gaius Marius, the great hero, had married into Caesar's family. He married Caesar's aunt but Marius died in 87 BC. Marius' money and influence by the way is very important to the Julians. They seem to have made a good political marriage. He wanted the social status, as patricians. He wanted the standing in society that they could give him because he was a new man or outsider. He was not someone who'd ever had ancestors who'd done anything prominent before at all. He'd never had an ancestor who'd been a magistrate at Rome. He had to rely on his own achievements and support he got from Roman nobles to make his way. But that great hero who became such a great military leader, Marius, died in 87 BC. Caesar's aunt was a widow. And then Caesar's father died. And there are no mature males around him apart from the relatives of his mother Aurelia.

What I see again and again is a man with a couple of sisters and a formidable mother. His mother Aurelia, Tacitus the historian says that she was one of the great ladies of the Roman Empire, one of the really formidable figures. And then there's Julia, Caesar's aunt who had been the wife of Marius and who always gives the impression of having been someone who had been a formidable social presence. She would have been there when important people visited Marius's house, when ambassadors visited, when politicians visited important business was being discussed. You don't hear a lot about it because it took place in the home. It wasn't in public either in the forum or in the senate. But I think these ladies saw a lot of politics done in these important houses and it was an extraordinary thing that Caesar, to me, looks to be the product of a female household to a very significant degree and a degree that we still really need to come to terms with.

There's a massive problem of course whenever you want to talk about women at Rome in particular roles, the evidence is weighted towards the elite, towards noble families, towards the top end in society, so that's one problem. And then because the society is so heavily patriarchal, it's weighted away from the women. But I get the sense that the women of Caesar's family, part of the drive for him to succeed, so they understand their world, they understand the realities of their world. They know that it's through him that the family will rise or fall and he's the only one, he's the only male. So I just keep getting the sense that they put all their hopes and their support and their drives into Caesar and that they are a big part of the reason why he was successful.

His mother Aurelia is mentioned at a couple of points in his career, very famously when he became Pontifex Maximus in 63BC. He'd used so much money for bribes, he borrowed so much money that he supposedly said to his mum as he left for the election that day that he would either return as Pontifex Maximus or he wouldn't return at all because he was so indebted he'd have to leave the city. But the way I take it too is to emphasize that he was saying that to his mother and it implies to me that she was in on all the planning for how his career should go and that she was probably a very big influence. But you don't hear about it because it's in the family home rather than in public because she's a woman and so on.

But I get the sense again and again that these ladies were extremely formidable first of all, that they had aims and ambitions for the family. They understood their society particularly well and that they are a big part of the reason why Caesar is who he is in terms of drive and political acumen and the political programs that had been worked out for him, the way to get ahead. They're all in on the planning. They know what to do and they talk clearly about it. But they were certainly praised, after their lifetime anyway.

Harrison: So we can't know a lot about the role of women, or probably as much as we would like just because they are left out of the textbooks or the history and the books that were written at the time. That brings me to another point and that is, the sources for Caesar's life themselves. Can you talk a bit about the sources because when we look at what we know or what we think we know about Caesar, we are looking at certain texts that were written at certain times and that brings up all kinds of historical problems and problems about texts and what we can actually know about Caesar. So what can we actually know with certainty and what should we take with a grain of salt when we're reading people like Plutarch or Suetonius or even Cicero?

Tom: Or even Caesar himself.

Harrison: Or even Caesar himself, exactly. (Laughter)

Tom: That's a great, great question. Source analysis is an ongoing demand of Roman history, of all history and you just put your finger on one of the most important issues of Caesar's scholarship. We have contemporary sources, so sources from his lifetime. He of course is the first one. His commentaries, the commentary on the Gallic War and commentary on the Civil War. They're presenting him in the best light possible and while the way they do that is still debated, it looks superficially to be matter-of-fact reporting.

We know that there are factors like selection going on and omission and emphasis and innuendo and so on that we're still getting a handle on. So we must read Caesar with very great care. In spite of what we often think when reading, as I say, what seems to be plain Latin, very matter-of-fact writing with an objective air, the sense that this is tilted enormously in Caesar's direction, that would be understandable of course. The great source for the late republic, the big reason why the late republic is known as a bit of an in-period in all Roman history is because the writings of Cicero had survived.

So we have Cicero's speeches and rhetorical and philosophical works. We also have his letters which are a wonderful resource and some of them are addressed to Caesar and he tells us about his interactions with Caesar. But what we have then, even from his own lifetime are sources that are about power, they're about characterizing his power, they're about either presenting it or undermining it. And that sort of pattern where you're either for him or against him or you're negotiating with him and you're easing back and forth along a sort of continuum of persuasion in dealing with this guy, that sort of pattern where you're either pro or con or negotiating sources who are pro or con, that continues after his lifetime. People have to look back at Julius Caesar and make assessments. And they make assessments very largely on what he did to become dictator and then what he did as dictator. So they're looking in particular at the last part of his life, the time that Caesar is a powerful man and I think, as I try to say in the book, that is one of the clearest examples of writing from hindsight. It's a clear example of people who are assessing his career from hindsight again and again.

So we have the poet Lucan who wrote under Nero. So essentially after Caesar's death Lucan isn't friendly to Caesar or so much to Pompey either because he's horrified by civil war. And then there are the great biographies of Suetonius and Plutarch that you've mentioned. And they're about 150 or so years after Caesar's death. They're biographies, but they're biographies of the ancient type so they very heavily are interested in virtue and vice, for instance and in human qualities, in personality qualities. Biographies written by modern people are very often not so interested in those things as they used to be in the past because you always think, these days anyway, that assessments of the person's goodness or badness are likely to be subjective and a matter of viewpoint and so on. But they were enormously influential.

And then you get sources from later centuries. If you go to European literature, literature trying to inspire kings of later ages, medieval period, middle ages and so on, using Julius Caesar as a model either positively or negatively according to the dictates of the age. And then you finally get to, for instance, the 19th century, a period of nation building, a period when writers wanted strong statesmen to look up to, to give people the rights to make strong nations. And Caesar was a great figure of the 19th century in many European countries. If I just mention a German historian of the 19th century name, Theodor Mommsen. Mommsen was a very, very great reviver.

He was a historian as I said, but the way he wrote, the way that history was thought of in that period, his word was taken as literature and he was very influential. It was read very widely. His Roman History praises Julius Caesar in a quite extraordinary way. In fact Mommsen thought that Caesar was the entire and perfect man. He thought he was the greatest genius that the Roman world had ever produced. And these sorts of statements, "the greatest genius", "the entire and perfect man", these are assessments that are made just about 150 years ago and they were made in all seriousness. It was really believed that Julius Caesar was the model for the 19th century, from Mommsen's point of view at any rate. If you were to ask me "Well how influential are the view of somebody like Theodor Mommsen"? Well Mommsen's Roman History won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1902 so it was immensely influential.

The point to make in looking at these sources is that they make judgments about Julius Caesar. They look back on him as a figure of power and they were very largely, looking back at him, from hindsight, assessing someone who became the dictator and very often then asking was he a good ruler or a bad ruler, was he a positive Roman magistrate or was he a tyrant. And of course there are sources which write either way. His supporters, people like Opius and Balbus obviously say the good things about Caesar, but his enemies, and there were plenty of those and especially those who tried to justify his assassination after his death, well they write as if he was tyrant of course, that he deserved to be killed, that he was oppressing the state, that he was overturning and undermining the traditional tenets of the Roman state and that he was selfish and aggressive and cruel and so on.

So we get this oscillating in the sources back and forth between those who appreciate him, those who don't, those who want to use him as a positive model, those who don't. And they're looking again and again and again from hindsight. It's something that was so strong, in the way that I look at Caesar scholars that you know, from having read the book, try very hard to say "Well what if we don't do that? What if we go to for instance, the Caesar as a young man and try to consider what it was like for him, not knowing that at the end of his life he would be the dictator of Rome? Could he have possibly thought to himself that that's where he would end up, given a family that hadn't recently been prominent, not great wealth at the beginning of his life, father dead, disadvantages of this kind? Could he have possibly thought that that's where he'd end up? And if he was in difficult straits, what exactly did he think? He was weaker than we might think earlier in his career, weaker in standing for instance, weaker in assets, backing than we might have thought. What does that mean for what his aims might have been?

And then I try to put together a picture of Julius Caesar's career that's less predictable, less sure, less certain where you're actually looking ahead to the next office rather than to ultimately becoming the dictator and ultimately becoming the ruler of the state and the god of the state and so on. What if you can really only look forward to the next campaign for office or the next step in your career and where there's absolutely nothing certain? You might well lose and never be heard of again. What if we do that? That's some of the things I ask in the book and try to work through with each of the chapters. What if we have a Caesar like that? Fingers crossed, I think it's a much more interesting Caesar than others that I've read anyway, to contemplate his career in that way.

Harrison: Probably a much more realistic way of looking at it too. One of the points from Caesar's early career that I wanted to ask about was kind of a speculative question along the lines of what you were just saying because Caesar was given the position of Flamen Dialis at a certain time. Is that correct?

Tom: That's right, yes. A priest of Jupiter, yes.

Harrison: And then that decision was overturned by Sulla and it's unsure if he ever actually became the Flamen Dialis or if he hadn't by the time the position was overturned, what if that decision hadn't been overturned and he had become the Flamen Dialis? What would his life might have been like if that was the case?

Tom: Isn't that an extraordinary thing to contemplate. We think of Caesar as the great man of action. We look at him and think of the great leader, the inspirational figure, the charismatic leader who does these amazing things in battle, in particular. But if he'd become the Flamen Dialis - I should just say that Flamen Dialis is a priesthood of very, very great sacredness. We've got a Caesar who's about 15 or 16 and he's from a patrician family and it's a noble family. Patricians are descended from those very early families that were prominent in very early Rome. He's noble, so he's descended from men who have become Consuls, both of these things extremely important. But his family hasn't recently been prominent and they come to prominence again and get support from Marius but it's still a family that's not as prominent as some other noble families of the time, the Metellus family for instance or the Catos, the Scipios and so on. I could go on; any number of these great Roman noble families.

So they have to work out a way to get the young Caesar to use his abilities as much as possible and to overcome the disadvantages. And it looks as though they decide on a religious strategy, because he's patrician, because they have that level of standing, he is eligible to become the Flamen Dialis. This is an extraordinary priesthood.

The evidence that we have is that it was a priesthood of such sacredness that it was surrounded by these amazing taboos. Now this is what the point of your question really is. If you were the Flamen Dialis, you were not allowed, for instance, to have knots on your body. So you couldn't fasten your toga in the way that others could do it. You couldn't fasten your shoes in the way that others could do because you couldn't have knots on your body. You were not allowed to eat beans. There were prohibitions on the amount of time you could be away from your house. Your fingernail and toenail clippings had to be ritually dealt with, ritually buried and so did your hair when they cut your hair.

And if then and the big thing for me anyway, and an important thing to contemplate for Caesar's career is that if you became the Flamen Dialis, it would be a massively sacred office and on public occasions people would treat you with very, very great reverence. You could see why a family that's not of the front rank would think that this was a great coup if they could win this office. But the big thing for me is that if you were the Flamen Dialis you couldn't see the army arrive and you couldn't ride a horse. That may have meant that the Caesar we think of, with a military career, becoming Consul, leading armies in Gaul and so on, all of that would have been lost. It wouldn't have happened. He'd be a very sacred and a very prominent figure in Roman society but he wouldn't be Caesar. It's unbelievably extraordinary to imagine that this could have happened.

I think what it says though is that we really are right to think that there were weaknesses he was dealing with, disadvantages in his family and in his standing in his early career that would make him contemplate taking an office or vying for an office like the Flamen Dialis if it meant that he couldn't do other things that he turned to have a massive aptitude for in his later life. It's another indication that thinking of Julius Caesar's career as not inevitable, that it was not inevitable that he would become what he became at the end of his life and that he could only have looked ahead to the next stage in his career and put things together and put things together and put things together and then finally have it happen the way that it did, that he reached the dictatorship.

I'll just say one more thing about this. When he was a young man Sulla was dictator, as you mentioned, and Sulla, an extremely frightening figure, marched on Rome, victor in a civil war, responsible for proscriptions, having lists of names of people to be killed and confiscations, confiscating land, property throughout Italy for his soldiers; a real reign of terror. So there are people like Sulla around. And then there are people like Pompey. Pompey had become called Pompey the Great in emulation of Alexander the Great. How could you possibly think as a young boy that you could match it with if you're conscious of some weaknesses in your family? You would want to be like them and you're subject to all the drives around manhood. But the likelihood that he was planning to be their match from very early on, it doesn't convince me as you know. It's in the book. There's another Caesar, another way to look at his career I think.

Harrison: So it looks to me like the fact that he didn't become the Flamen Dialis was kind of a stroke of luck for him. He might have seen it that way. Caesar himself had particular views of fortune or luck. I wonder if you could get into two issues, two topics; first of all a bit about Roman religion and the role that religion had in the state because I know when I did think about Rome, I'd think about military and politics, but religion was a big part of it too. So could you talk about that a little bit and how Caesar's views of himself and maybe religion in general, how that fits into it and his view of fortune and the role that played in his life.

Tom: Well again, Roman religion was one of the growth topics of Roman history over the last couple of generations. The reason that's happened and the reason that it's pertinent for Caesar is because he became Pontifex Maximus. The pope today is still called the Pontifex Maximus. But there's no way that the Pontifex Maximus in Caesar's time was anything like the papacy. The Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest, the greatest priest in Rome wasn't the leader of the Roman state religion. He was the leader of the Pontifexes, the Pontificates, the college of priests whose name was Pontifex. And it's really because of Caesar's career and what he did and how he lifted the profile of that particular office and then what his heir Augustus did in that office, that made this Roman priesthood something like what we see with the pope still called the Pontifex Maximus.

So for Caesar's career, the question's always asked "What reason remained to him to become the Pontifex Maximus. Why did he drive so hard in 63 BC why did he borrow so much money? Why become Pontifex Maximus? What did religion mean to him? Is it that he was just using the office as a political tool to gain prominence, to be in front of people and therefore to further the rest of his career? Or did he really have a sort of religious mindset in the sense of something that meant a lot to him in terms of piety and emotion and psychology and so on?"

My answer to that is to say that traditional scholars used to assess Roman religion in terms of psychology and emotion and whether there was personal belief and whether it drove him to think the way that many people today might think anyway, with religious fervour. Is the concept of belief staying prominent? Is the idea that you should have emotional connections and psychological connections with deities beyond your brain? Scholars assess religion in that way and they came up short. They said that again and again we see Roman religion bombing; all the gods and goddesses being lost from the system.

And then we get notes of scepticism in writers like Cicero and Polybius as though the Roman nobles were just exploiting religion to keep themselves in power and that it was the Roman people who were in a kind of gullible way, following along with religion and being sort of manipulated by their betters. It's sort of Marx's "Religion is the opiate of the masses" idea. It really was the view of Roman religion up until a generation or so ago in scholarship. I hope I'm sort of giving the idea about how vibrant Roman scholarship is because in the last generation or two, in my lifetime, it's really taken off with so many exciting ideas that still have relevance and significance.

When the more recent scholars came along they were very unhappy with the view that Roman religion was simply based on psychology and emotion and Romans weren't very good at it, that they didn't believe in their gods, that the elite of the society manipulated religion and the gullible masses followed. And they began to apply techniques from disciplines like sociology and psychoanalysis and so on and began to think about religion as social system. And what they would do typically was this. They would say it didn't necessarily matter what you believed, it mattered what you did. You might say one thing in a particular context and one thing in a particular context about a particular deity, but would you go along and participate in a sacrifice or in some other kind of ritual? And they were finding that again and again and again Romans did go along and they did participate in those rituals and they did move from deity to deity and they did participate in festivals and so on.

And so a different picture of Roman religion emerged and it was one in which people were participating, but it was better to be understood as a matter of power. So the Romans did believe that there were gods who had an impact on your world. There were many things that they couldn't explain, other than by thinking that gods and goddesses were controlling things in a way they couldn't necessary see, that they really should take account of because if they didn't take account of it, it could damage them.

This then is the way that religion is being understood now, not so much in terms of concepts like belief and psychology and emotion and so on. It needs that, it must be there to some degree because we're human beings, but it's also about negotiating power with gods and you know the gods are there. The Romans acknowledged them at the beginning of every public assembly. They acknowledged them at the beginning of every Roman battle. Caesar would have conducted rituals before speaking to his troops and before battle certainly. We don't hear a lot about it in the Gallic War but certainly that would have happened because it's the done thing in Rome.

So we get a sense of the Roman religious world that's much more complex and much more interesting than it was say a couple of generations ago when we were diffusing these ideas of psychology and emotion and so on and thinking the Romans were manipulators and that they came up a bit short in the belief stakes and so on. It does look as though there was a lot more intensity going on. But the way that that affects Caesar's career is well if it doesn't seem as though he's just a religious manipulator, what else could he be doing with the Pontifex Maximus office? If he's not some kind of sceptic, if he's not just using the office for political purposes, what could he be interested in?

And there I think it's really interesting that we're told that in very early Rome the Pontifex Maximus is using sacred objects and sacred rituals that were supposedly brought to Rome from Troy. And when we begin to think this way, we begin to think how it might affect the Julian family, because Aeneas comes from Troy. Aeneas' son is a boy named Iulus and the Julian family relate their ancestry back to Iulus, the Julians, because they're the family of Iulus. So the Romans believed that the Pontifex Maximus and the vestal virgins who operated with him, used sacred objects and sacred rituals which came from Troy. And the Julian family of this age could legitimately say that those objects which were being treated as state objects were in fact Julian objects.

So if Julius Caesar becomes the Pontifex Maximus he's the head of his household but in a religious sense he become the head of the Roman state, in a way that is completely different to the way we thought because the sacred objects are not just the possession of the state. He could lay a claim to them being the possession of his family. It's a way to assert a prominence in the state and a way, in a sense, make the state proud of your family. It has massive implications for the way that he might have been trying to present himself, as a religious figure of real state importance because he was a Julian. He could use these objects that were supposedly brought by Aeneas and passed on to Iulus and used by the vestal virgins and the Pontifex Maximus.

Relating them is a great field these days. Some scholars spend their whole careers looking at Roman religion. I can see exactly why they do that because it's endlessly fascinating and we're getting new ideas that are making us reassess people like Caesar, as fundamental as Caesar because this wonderful religion scholarship is giving the reason to reassess what the attitude to religion was. Again and again and again. It makes it so much more interesting to contemplate what the guy might have been doing.

Elan: I wanted to shift over a little bit to the Gallic Wars.

Tom: Alright.

Elan: So massive events, hundreds of thousands of soldiers involved, conflict that lasted for years, dispatches from the front from Caesar to Rome, holidays made in his honour for his successes. Aside from quelling rebellion, if that's an accurate way of describing it, was Caesar trying to accomplish anything of a more instructive or non-imperial intention? I was just wondering if you had any thoughts on that.

Tom: Well he would tell us that he invaded Gaul because the Gauls were dangerous neighbours, because they proved that they were dangerous in the past. They had invaded Italy. They were threatening the nearest Roman province in the north. And he would also say that they had slighted his family, they damaged his family in a previous generation and they defeated a general who was related to the Caesars. Was he doing anything constructive? I have to tell you when I think of the Gallic War I think of destruction rather than construction.

All peoples were aggressive at this time, it seems, or at least there was an aggressive impulse but Caesar's invasion of Gaul, in spite of what he said and in spite of the fact that the Gauls had invaded Italy in past generations, there had always been conflict with the Gauls from the time that Rome was founded. And part of that background it's to Caesar's advantage to win a great military repercussion. It's what you want to do if your prime job as a Roman male, once you get to a position as Consul, that you can lead armies, then you have to try to win the great campaigns and bring back the spoils in the way that great generals of the past had done. You want to put them around your house. You want to be known as being a family who has produced great generals. Military glory is the greatest of the glories. It's easily number one.

So if Caesar is going to continue to rise, even if he's going to sustain himself in the society he's in, he has to win military glory. His competitors at the time, the great men with military glory in his age are Pompey and Crassus. By the year 58 BC when Caesar invades Gaul, Pompey and Crassus are ostensibly cooperating with him but he would look at those two men and see that Pompey had conquered on three continents and as a result he was called Pompeius Magnus. He was matched to Alexander the Great.

And Crassus who was always a much less easy to know figure, I think partly because he wanted it that way, he played his cards very close to his chest did Crassus, an extremely interesting figure. But those two men had military glory that was way in excess of his. If you could ever imagine matching Pompey, conquering on three continents, Africa, Europe and Asia, matching Alexander the Great who did the same thing. Who could ever imagine that? If you're going to even sustain yourself in that world, you need military glory and you get it by attacking foreign enemies.

It doesn't actually seem that Caesar was planning to invade Gaul. When he took up the governorship of Cisalpine Gaul, it looks as though he was going to invade Illyricum which means he would have turned eastwards and invaded for instance, Croatia and the countries around there. That looks to have been the first plan. But then a migrating group called the Helvetii from where modern Switzerland is, came onto the scene. They actually asked for permission to march peacefully through the Roman province because there were pressures in their own homeland, probably from Germans. They were in search of new farmlands and a new place to settle down. And they asked him, they sent ambassadors in what I think is quite an extraordinary thing, they asked for permission to pass through the Roman province peacefully.

Caesar put them off and said he would give them an answer some time in the future, in a few days time and he used that time to bring his legions out and eventually he attacked them. That was okay from the Roman point of view. I don't think that Rome is initially rigging the Gallic War or listening with the Gallic War being read out. I don't think later they would have been distressed by this at all because they were both frightened and furious at Gauls for the previous injustices and so on.

The point I'm trying to make is that glory and the winning of glory is extremely important for understanding why Caesar goes into Gaul and again and again it's not construction, it's destruction. It's very difficult to give figures to the number of people who were killed but Plutarch mentions a million killed, a million enslaved and so on. A million is probably just a kind of symbol for fabulous number. It looks as though Caesar killed unbelievably huge numbers of Gauls. In fact we know that Gaul didn't really recover economically, at least, until the early empire, so two-and-a-half, three generations later in Caesar's age. It looks as though he crushed them so completely that they couldn't even set a tax level after his death in Gaul, they couldn't set it anywhere near what they set for other countries because there just wasn't the resources. He seems to have destroyed so much of their country and so many people that he left them in this dreadfully weakened state for a number of generations until it recovered with financial advantages of a country and people in the early imperial period.

So when I think of the Gallic War I'm again and again and again completely horrified. And that's probably worth emphasizing as well. It has been the case that the Gallic Wars being read and people are being inspired, military figures have been inspired and they've tried to ask about his generalship, what was so good about him? Why did his men follow him and win against the odds again and again as they do when they're heavily outnumbered or when they're attacked, they're ambushed without preparation and so on? That's one that you can be inspired if you appreciate winning against the odds. But the horror of the death and mayhem that he brought, and not just to men, but to men, women and children, huge numbers who were enslaved and sent back into the Mediterranean world. And imagine the horrors of being trussed up, carted off and treated in ways that you couldn't fathom.

The amount of slaves, Caesar made a huge amount of money out of Gaul and people in the past thought that a lot of his money comes from temples and gold from offerings and from great noble houses and so on. But a lot of it came because he sold so, so many slaves that he made huge amounts of money. The Gallic War was a terrible episode in human history, if you ask me. It terrifies me. There are things to make you ask about Caesar's charisma and about his command abilities and so on, and they seem to have been exceptional. And as a human episode it leaves me cold again and again and again I have to say.

Harrison: And to put that in a context in Rome at the time, how would you compare Caesar's generalship and the campaigns in Gaul with other generals? What similarities or differences would you see between, let's say a Caesar and a Pompey or anyone else that would establish themselves as a great general?

Tom: Well what Caesar himself writes about this in his Civil War when he has to actually fight Pompey, one of the points he makes again and again is that Pompey is hesitant whereas he gives the impression of being particularly decisive. And that's a quality that comes across in Gaul as well when he wasn't necessarily in conflict with Pompey. So quickness and decisiveness, speed and attack, these are fundamental principles with Caesar. You get into trouble what do you do? You attack. And you think very quickly on your feet and you have an uncanny ability to devise battle tactics which are the best that could be devised at the time.

He was just superb at deploying his units around the field in the way that would achieve the best result. He held reserves back and then again and again you see him unleash them just at that point in the battle where they can make the difference. It's an uncanny thing, it's a great feature of his command ability I think, that he could do that. Because if you imagine these ancient world battles were often so huge, extending over great expanses of territory, it was really difficult to know what was going on, not so much in Gaul but in other places there was massive amounts of dust and mayhem and noise and hubbub and people screaming and shouting. You didn't necessarily know how things were going in different parts of the field. But Caesar always kept his cool and he seems to have had that amazing ability to unleash forces at the right moment, to make the difference with the battles.

If I could say as a leader of men it does seem as though Caesar was extraordinary. It does seem as though his men had a special loyalty or affection for him which was beyond the norm. That's partly because he had a string of victories that looked impossible and he did things that just seemed beyond the pale. He went to Britain for instance. He went beyond the ocean, beyond the ancient world it was thought, into Britain of all places and was able to ride back and tell people what he'd done in Britain. Although the British invasions were not particularly successful, the actual thought of going there, I don't know what it's even like. It's like visiting this other world.

Harrison: Going to the moon.

Tom: And surviving - yes it's something like that. It's something extraordinary like that. And he did this. Maybe if I just say that after the first years campaigning in Gaul I think what Caesar did is very telling for what his aims were. For us, so what did he accomplish with his men? He invaded Gaul from Italy and France is quite a big country. It extended from the Italian Alps all the way to the Atlantic. And Caesar fights in Gaul, beats the Helvetii and then fights some German invaders of Gaul and wins the support of Gallic tribes by defeating these Germans, driving them away. And then he's at the end of that first campaigning season, what does he do? You might think that the natural answer would be to go back to Italy. After all he's from the Roman province in the south. He's the governor of the province. Why not go back?

Well he actually took his men north towards where Belgium is now and this is quite extraordinary. So it means that the Roman legions march two-thirds or seven-eighths the way into Gaul and then camp reasonably adjacent to the tribe of the Belgae, the tribe who live in what is Belgium today or near what is Belgium today. So he marches past all these Gallic tribes who were not conquered, whose friendship to him, whose toleration of him is shaky and as his men continued, in preparation for the next campaigning season, all the way north. Well why would you do that? It looks as though because his aims of conquest were developing. But to do something like that, he put his forces at the very greatest risk. They were actually attacked by the Belgae. They were ambushed and they were attacked. They fought the Belgae off. If they'd been wiped out we wouldn't think that Caesar is anything like a great commander. Not at all. We would think of him as being foolhardy and reckless and really very, very stupid to have done something like this.

Well I can tell you Caesar did things like this again and again and again. The principle of attack, the principle of frightening the opposition, the principle of getting into the attack, acting quickly, of using speed and massive damage. It's a sort of early version of shock and awe I guess, to do those sorts of things. That's what he was about. And they won. They won once and twice and once he'd builds up this succession of victories it becomes part of soldiers' thinking to think that this general can do the impossible. He must be divinely inspired. He must be backed by a fortune. He must be completely unlike anything we've experienced before. And a great charisma began to build up around him. Nothing succeeds like success they say and Caesar's career I think is a very clear indication of that.

I would just emphasize again that he gets his men into one dreadful position after another after another, he exhorts them to attack, he leads them. If they begin to run away as a couple of times even his great legions did, he himself will grab the legionary stand and run towards the enemy. And when he does that he's the general of the army, carrying the standard, running towards the enemy and his soldiers who are usually running away, they can't let the general with the standard go, so they have to turn around and support him. His leadership was extraordinary. If he'd been defeated then I would make this point about thinking of Caesar's career not from hindsight but from each individual event building forward, if he'd been defeated on any of these occasions we would think he was a poor general, that he was reckless, that he got his men into a stupid position and that he deserved everything he got. Sometimes daring and boldness pays off and when it does it can be spectacularly received. I do think this is part of Caesar's glory as a general anyway, part of his subsequent reputation.

It's not what I would recommend. He was extraordinarily lucky. But it worked for him so you have to make your own choices I guess about whether you'll take the risks.

Harrison: Well the analogy that came to mind when you were talking about that was that if he was a poker player it was like every major decision he made was all in.

Tom: Yeah.

Harrison: And right from the beginning when you mentioned what he had purportedly said to his mother on becoming Pontifex Maximus, he would either come home with the position or not at all and it seems like that repeats through his career. He goes all in and it's either he could lose everything or gain it all and then that comes back to his views on his own fortune or luck and even the gambling phrase he used when he crossed the Rubicon "The die is cast" or "Let the die be cast". So that's interesting

Tom: I couldn't agree more with what you're saying there, that the gambling analogy is a very appropriate one.

Harrison: I wanted to come back a bit to Roman religion. You'd talked about the position of Pontifex Maximus and Caesar's role in Roman society as a religious figure. And later in his life after the civil war the senators in the senate just heaped all kinds of honours on him and then after his death he was actually deified. Some people might not know that. I wonder if you could talk a bit about Caesar's deification and what that might actually have meant to his contemporaries, people in the senate or just the people in the empire.

Tom: Right. This again is a controversial issue but I think that recent scholarship the last couple of generations has helped us forward in leaps and bounds. One thing I would say is that if you think of the last couple of years of Caesar's life when he received an extraordinary list of honours, amazing things, being called the father of the country, it actually built. He got statues of all kinds. He got a month named after him and honours that are really quite extraordinary. He was incorporated into other state rituals for other gods. His name was read out and became part of hymns and so on and so forth. Extraordinary honours.

And they went as far, as you mentioned, as actually deifying him. There are probably two distinctions to make in relation to that. One is that it looks as though from Cicero that the senate actually passed a decree that Caesar would be named a god during his lifetime and he was going to be called Divus Julius so the deified Julius or the god Julius, that was going to be his name. That was what was being made in the hymns and in the rituals when they were sacrificing to him and so on.

So they gave him a name and they actually gave him a priest and the priest was going to be a Flamen. So it wouldn't be a Pontifex, for instance, or any of the other college of priests. It would be a Flamen priest. And the Flamen was the top ranking priest of Rome. I want to say it was like a cardinal or something like that, but maybe that's not a very good analogy. But at any rate, it had a particular aura about it. If you had a Flamen, you were one of the top gods of the Roman state.

So this seems to have been decreed before Caesar's death. And we know that the priest, the Flamen, was going to be Marc Antony. So all these things were decided; he was going to be a god of the state, incorporated in rituals, sacrificed to himself before his death. Now he was assassinated and probably not directly because he was going to be deified. We could maybe speak a bit more about that later, but he was assassinated and the planning hadn't gone through. So it hadn't actually happened. After his death when his heir Augustus came to Rome and sought Caesar's honours and sought power for himself, it was in Augustus' interests to have his father deified and in 42 BC Caesar was consecrated and made a god of the Roman state.

So there were temples and altars and sacrifices and rituals being conducted to him. The question that's always asked is how we should assess this idea of deifying a human being in ancient life. And I can tell you that traditional scholarship used to say "Well this proves that the Romans didn't really believe in their religion, that they were just exploiting it for political purposes. They didn't really believe that Caesar was god. They just wanted to please him. It was done in a sycophantic way and it was done as a matter of politics. They just do it because Caesar's now in control and we've lost our freedom and so we just treat him as though he's a god. And he's a megalomaniac." The thinking that goes behind this is really quite extraordinary. Caesar becomes a megalomaniac. He becomes somebody who loves this sort of attention and who accepts deification because his mindset is fundamentally a sick one in relation to religion.

Well more recently scholars have said "Okay, what about if we think about what's occurring here with the power relationships that are occurring here?" So people thinking more sociologically and anthropologically and thinking about rituals and symbols and peoples' behaviours as against necessarily their thoughts or their psychology or the things that are more difficult for us to recover. What exactly were they doing? And again it looks as though they were planning temples and sacrifices and priesthoods and so on to Julius Caesar.

And what if it's a matter of his power because at the end of his life he had an autocratic power over the state that is really unprecedented. Even Sulla who eventually stepped down from his position as dictator, even Sulla didn't have as much power and his dictatorship wasn't guardian perpetual as Caesar's was. But even so it didn't have as much power as Julius Caesar. So what if these honours are really a way of trying to deal with Caesar's power in the way that you try to deal with the overwhelming power of the gods? What if it's about negotiating with a monarch? What if it's about setting up a relationship between you and the monarch that is a bit like a relationship between a god and a man in the sense of the great social distance between god and a man? What if it is to do with power? What if they weren't really disturbed about deification in the way that we might more easily be in the modern world? What if they were negotiating something with him? What if he wasn't then the sort of sick figure who was a megalomaniac and accepted these sorts of honours because he was so dreadfully proud and so on?

Again, I would say that the whole question of his deification has become much richer, much more interesting, much more vibrant as a result of thinking in a way that anthropologists and so psychologists and sociologists in particular do. As a result of that sort of scholarship then the way we had thought about it in the past where we thought of him as the ideal of the masses and as something for the nobles to exploit. And as to Julius Caesar himself and what he thought, we can't always know what people thought. We can know what they did more easily at any rate. Even there we must be source critical.

But Caesar accepted these honours so he must have seen something positive for himself in them. And the idea is not necessarily that it satisfied his ego in a kind of dark and sick fundamental way but that it suited him to have his power over the state demonstrated in this way. He had got to the point at the end of his life where he'd become the dictator of Rome and where he could see, I think, looking around, that everything depended on him. If he was to stand down as Sulla had done, what would happen, he could have asked himself. In fact he'd need to ask himself because there were others who were telling him what would happen. "If you step down, it will be civil war. These Roman nobles will fight one another again. They've seen the example of Sulla and Marius and you and Pompey. There will be civil war again if you step down. You really can't afford to step down."

And when you get that sense, that Caesar was given advice that he really couldn't afford to step down because he was the one figure who stood between a kind of peace in the state, established through warfare, but a peace in the state, and renewed civil war. Once he got the idea that he was the pivotal figure to renewed civil war then he decides to hang on as dictator, to his detriment in the end of course because he was assassinated, as everyone knows, on the Ides of March of 44 BC.

Harrison: Maybe we can get into the assassination a bit because one direction I wanted to go in, and we can get into this after talking about the assassination, is the perception of Caesar among the so-called optimates or other members of the senate that were either pro or anti-Caesar and then the people in general. But he was assassinated by a small conspiracy of senators. Could you get into their motivations for the assassination? Why did it happen?

Tom: Yes, it's great to bring up the optimates or senators who'd take an optimate line because I think that those men were a kind of reactionary group. They're a group who want the government at Rome to emphasize senatorial leadership, emphasize leadership by the best men from the best families; the families that had previously supplied Rome's great generals and had done great deeds on behalf of the state; the men who in their view had built up political acumen and political experience and who were socially superior and who had all these advantages which meant that they should be listened to. That's the sort of thing that these men emphasize.

There were other politicians and sometimes the same politicians. They can move back and forth between an "optimate" line and a more "popular" line as I'll say. There were others who said "Look Rome exists on the principle of popular sovereignty. The Roman people make laws. We must let the Roman people make their laws. We must give them the best advice we possibly can. We must accept that at times they'll differ from us." And so on.

So to emphasize that the Roman people make laws, the senate passes decrees. The decrees are very powerful because it is a hierarchical society. But the decrees are backed by the moral authority of the senate rather than by the legal mechanisms of the state. Laws are what the people decide on, listening to the advice of the senate. I hope I'm saying this well. They were very much respectful of the advice of the senate. It's a very hierarchical society and the senate had in the past provided good leadership, especially in the days of the Andalus invasion and Rome's expansion throughout the Mediterranean. It was much more difficult in the first century BC with civil war meaning that people were choosing sides and were becoming disillusioned with all the structures and ideas.

So what we have is somebody like Caesar who is very charismatic and he's often characterized as being a popular politician, so one who appealed for the people, one who emphasized their popular sovereignty, one who gave them the sense that they should assert themselves and not just be bossed around by their betters. There is something to that. You can see him doing that on occasion, but I also think that he was very good at making connections across Roman society with peoples of all grades. One of the things I like about Colleen McCullough's book series The First Man in Rome series, if anyone knows it, the books are very large, but I like them for this reason, that they give a good sense of how Caesar made links with people from very low levels of Roman society, to mid-levels, to upper-middle levels and to the very highest levels. You do get a sense of somebody who has a web of relationships that can be brought together in his favour when he needs some support.

I'll just say a couple of things on the optimates and the outbreak of the civil war, if I can.

Harrison: Mm-hm.

Tom: When the Gauls had been defeated, so if you think of a year like 50 BC, Caesar wanted to come back to Rome and celebrate a magnificent triumph and become Consul again in 48 BC. And his achievements had been so undeniably extraordinary in military terms that he expected everybody in the state simply to acknowledge this. But he'd become a figure of such overwhelming glory and a figure of such charisma to so many people that kind of naturally this worried the arch-conservatives. So they opposed him. What do you do? He wanted to show he was on their side, he tried to appeal to them and to help them and of course Pompey doesn't mind seeing Caesar a little bit disadvantaged. It doesn't really mean he necessarily wants to fight him, but he doesn't mind seeing him under pressure. And you have political conflict. Well that's endemic at Rome. That's always there, that always happens.

The big difference here is that the arch-conservatives refused to compromise even when the majority of their fellow senators made it clear that they felt they really should. The optimates just would not back down. They had decided that Caesar was too dangerous, that potentially he was too threatening to them and their power and the things that they held dear. So in a quite managed way again and again and again they refused, they refused, they refused to give him the things he was asking for, the great triumph, the second consulship, the heroic return to Rome and so on because they were worried about his power. They wanted to damage him and because some of them had personal animosity against him.

Whatever you say about Julius Caesar and his great charisma and the way that he got people to follow him extraordinarily, a man like that is also very polarizing. So where as some loved him, some absolutely hated him. I kind of have to smile when I say this because I'm always thinking of the great conflict between Cicero and Cato the Younger. I simply can't think of a couple of public figures who hated each other as much as these two guys did and Cato was very common in among the arch-conservatives. He simply would not compromise in spite of the fact that many Romans were saying "Look, you really should. It's not such a bad thing to let him come back and triumph and hold a second consulship. Look at what he's done in Gaul. He's done enough. I wouldn't tweak the nose of the bull here. Would it really damage you so much to allow these things to happen?" They were so concerned for their position and they had this personal anger against him from personal conflicts that they wouldn't back down.

Now to understand their mindset, you have to think that they were seeing a process occurring which was not just threatening to them personally but to everything they held, to their whole idea for the way that Rome should be governed and organized. They came from great families which had always supplied consuls in the past, which had always been looked upon as the leaders of the Roman state. To them, that group of families, the noble families, they were the ones who should be in control. You shouldn't have a situation where an individual dominates all those families. In fact they'd had agreements in the past that they would share consulships, that they would share power, that power was something to be shared by the group rather than dominated by an individual. And through various circumstances, through all the developments of the first century BC they could see Sulla, they could see Marius, they could see Pompey, they could see Caesar. They were foretelling the coming of emperors. They were seeing that there were people who were gaining enough military power and enough popular support to eventually make themselves monarchs.

So they decide to fight back. They lose against Caesar. As you know he wins the civil war. But then at the end of his lifetime he has to work out how to deal with these noble families and what he did was to show them mercy, to show them mercifulness, if you like. It's his famous policy of clฤ“mentia or clemency that features in the book there. An extraordinary thing about that is that unlike Sulla who in a wholesale dreadful manner butchered his enemies, killed men from great families, took their property, divided it up among his soldiers, gained support in Italy, rather than kill his enemies, Caesar decided to show them mercy.

You might think this good and in fact Cicero talks about how personally affable he was in the latter years of his life, how he spoke very well, that he was personally very charming. So he wasn't the intimidating, cruel, terrifying figure that we get the sense that Sulla was. And I think a big part of the reason is because he was trying very hard not to be like Sulla. But something extraordinary happened.

If you show mercy to your peers, especially when they're so driven by competition and driven by the grandeur of their names and the excellence of their families and their own idea as to how they should share power in the state, if you show mercy to your defeated enemies among these noble families, it's like the mercy that a Roman general showed to defeated enemies or was even worse, it's like the behaviour of an autocrat towards their subjects.

So they're plainly not peers anymore, they're not on the same level. Even if it's better to be spared your life after the civil war than to be murdered and have your family destroyed and your property taken as Sulla had done, even if it's better to receive mercy from that point of view, you are demeaned. You're obviously lesser than the person who is extending the mercy to you. And in fact you're so much less that your life is subject to a king. And this realization towards the end of his life and the realization that Caesar wasn't going to step down from his dictatorship, from his autocratic power at Rome, that's what led to the conspiracy.

And it's again quite an amazing thing I think. Caesar was getting advice that he really shouldn't step down because if he stepped down "You're the only one stopping renewed civil war. These men don't like one another. They'll compete. And they've seen what Sulla and Marius have done and what even Pompey has done. They know if they get legionary support they could march on the state and make themselves rulers. If you step down, there'll be renewed civil war."

So he stays, but in staying he makes it clear that he has autocratic power over them and he engenders the conspiracy because they can't stand the power of a king at Rome. Sir Ronald Syme, a very great Roman historian, is somebody who thinks that Caesar was caught. He thinks that Caesar, at the end of his life at any rate, wasn't really intending necessarily to become Rome's ruler forever, but when he saw the situation, when he assessed what he was being told, and when he looked around himself, Ronald Syme's famous statement is that Caesar had wrecked the playground so that he needed to stay where he was. But in staying where he was, the nobles couldn't stand that and a conspiracy was formed against him to try to bring back the kind of state where they could all compete with one another for honours, for office or go out into the provinces and pull the benefits that come out in the provinces as they had done before Caesar was in charge.

Elan: Sprinkled throughout your book here and there and you just kind of mentioned it, was Caesar's personality and how well he was received by people on a personal basis, which in some ways stands in stark contrast to the brutality he was capable of during his campaigns. On the subject of the assassination, in your book you mentioned that Shakespeare's famous line "Et tu Brute"? You too Brutus? is inaccurately reproduced and that Suetonius is the ultimate source for this last line of his life in which he says 'Like this he was stabbed with 23 blows without uttering a word except for a groan at the first stroke. Though some have recorded that when Marcus Brutus came at him he said in Greek "You too my child?'"

I have to say when I read that, it was a far more poignant thing to hear, if it's true, than "Et tu Brute?" where maybe friendship was involved and in this case it was a paternalistic feeling that was betrayed by Brutus. I was just wondering if you had any thoughts regarding that.

Tom: That's a really sharp observation as well. Everybody thinks about the last line being "Et tu Brute?", "You too Brutus?" If it was in Greek, "kai su teknon" "and you also?" Teknon is an interesting word. It can mean boy and child. And if it's boy or child, whatever it means, how do we take it? If it's "you also Brutus?" you can get the sense that Caesar is shocked that Brutus should also participate. And that is very often a way that those words have been taken. But if he says "kai su teknon" "and you child, and you boy", how do we interpret that?

Some have thought that again, he's equally shocked that someone he looked on in an analogous position to his son, could kill him. So some have thought it's horror that somebody he looked upon so affectionately should kill him. But then others have said "Well hang on, kai su teknon, if it means 'and you boy', as though he's actually putting him down; 'And you too? Do you really think you can surpass me? Do you think you can take my place? You also?'" So the question will go on, the interpretation will go on, the debates will go on, but if we do away with "Et tu Brute?" and not in Shakespearean for a little while and think about what the sources say, then again it's richer. I don't think the possibilities are resolved but we certain get a different feel for what might have been said and the time in which it might have been said, the meaning that might have been attached to it.

Elan: Yeah, that hadn't occurred to me, so I appreciate that. Another thing that the life of Caesar kind of brings up is the question of who in contemporary history you might feel comes closest to resembling some of the characteristics of Caesar. Of course we're living in different times. Maybe it's arguable that we're not living in so different a time, but I was just wondering if you had ever looked around and thought "Well this leader sort of reminds me a little bit of Caesar" or "This is something I think Caesar would have done in his time" or something to that effect?

Tom: Yeah, I haven't seen a Caesar in my lifetime and I hope I don't. I'm a Roman historian and I do get passionately inspired by my work but I'd hope not to see it. But I don't love the Romans. That's the thing. My students often ask me "Do you love Julius Caesar?" No, I appreciate him. I am fascinated by his career but to love a Julius Caesar, no. What I've seen in the career of Julius Caesar is someone who, for personal reasons and for personal qualities and then for institutional reasons through processes of the time, produced massive mayhem and destruction. And the final results of Caesar's life were assassination and then renewed civil war. He didn't bring peace to his society or a more stable or a fairer, more reasonable, more just society. He brought a society that was condemned to further a series of civil wars of a particular horrific kind. In fact the battle of Philippi in 42 BC a couple of years after Caesar's death was the biggest by far, civil war battle ever fought in Roman history so that he didn't have results for the state that I would like a statesman to have.

As far as seeing a Caesar in the world today or seeing a Caesar in my lifetime or thinking about Caesar relating to public figures, I actually have seen it and I've thought about it on a number of occasions. I think if you go to Google now and if you were to Google Julius Caesar, my guess is that you would come up with some images of say, Mussolini. But you'd also come up with images of more recent US Presidents. I just bet that that's the case. If you were to Google Julius Caesar, you would see the younger President Bush, cartoons of him as Julius Caesar. And I think you would find President Obama portrayed as Julius Caesar, wearing Roman robes and with a laurel wreath and so on. And it's the case that Caesar is still a model for world leaders and there is concern that someone - well there are two things to say here. One is that there is sometimes very great concern that a world leader could behave like Caesar because of the aggression and the expansionism and the massive intensity and the great destruction of Caesar. So there's that concern. And if a world leader looks as though they are overstepping their boundaries or advocating expansion or advocating attacking somebody, then Caesar can (bad audio).

On the other hand, Caesar can be used in another way, as a figure of power, as a figure of charisma, as a figure of sort of pre-eminence and sustained supremacy. So it's not really advocating a particular position on something and not really advocating a particular policy, but it's just evoking a certain image of power. And I think that still happens today a very great deal. It would be interesting if we all did Google Julius Caesar and see how many world leaders are still dressed as Caesar and talked about as Julius Caesar.

I've got a story in my mind thinking about Caesar's charisma. And this analogy I'm about to make, I think you might think it's a bit unusual. I think it's a bit unusual. But there's something that's really difficult for us, given our sources, given the distance between words on the page and our reading and the centuries and our difference from the context and the processes and so on, it's really difficult for us to assess something like charisma; why it is that people are drawn to another individual. If you think of sports figures or cultural figures or rock stars or whatever, and you know that people's reactions to other human beings, for reasons that even they would admit are non-rational or irrational, it's extremely difficult to assess why that is. Why do you like the look of somebody? What have you built up in your mind about somebody? Why that particular individual?

When I think of trying to assess this impact on people, there was something that happened in my life that I was - that never occurred to me at the time anyway. I was in England. It was quite some time ago anyway and President Mandela was going to visit. And I remember that I went off for lunch and thought I'd try to see if I could see Mandela. And in fact I couldn't. There was a crowd of people and I just saw his car go past and I can't even say that I could see through the windows; that he was there. I didn't actually see him but I saw his car. And I walked a very long way to go and see him, just because I felt he was someone to admire. And that's not something I'm conscious of having done for other world leaders. And I did go because, as I say, I had something I couldn't articulate at the time, but I was impressed. I did think that he was an extraordinary leader and that it was worth taking the time to see if I could even catch a glimpse of him. It didn't actually work out but I wasn't unhappy that I'd made the effort.

Why did I do that? Well I think it has something to do with the way we get drawn to particular individual human beings, the way they activate something in us that's just about impossible for an academic to talk about. And I think that Julius Caesar, because of his extraordinary string of victories, his personal gifts, he was tall for a Roman, he had piercing dark eyes, he spoke affably, he was evidently very good as dinner company.

He was a great public speaker and Cicero was aware that if Caesar had applied himself to public speaking he would have been the best orator in Rome rather than Cicero. But of course Caesar had a more traditional career in many ways in having all this military responsibility.
But this sense of charisma about this guy, I don't very often see it around the world but when I do see people reacting extraordinarily to somebody else, it does inform the way I think about Julius Caesar. I hope that's been some kind of answer.

Elan: Oh yeah.

Tom: I don't see a Julius Caesar necessarily around the world in the major leaders in my head partly because the state and the military are divided in the countries I'm thinking of. They're not married in the way they were in ancient Rome so that even if the president for instance who's the head of the armed forces, I can still see a divide between the legislature and the military. So the countries I can think of, I don't necessarily see a Julius Caesar that I'm particularly worried about. If I did, I would be worried. I guess that's the message I'd like to put across; Caesar as being much admired, but it's not very hard to see destruction rather than construction in the way that you asked the question earlier on.

Elan: Just as a follow up to that, obviously we can't separate Caesar from the time he lived in and the fact that if there was any constructive motivation on his part it would have had to have existed many years after the wars and perhaps towards the end of his life and he was trying to instate reforms. And as you said earlier, he was deified in part because they were really afraid that there would be another civil war and that it appeared that he was the one keeping things together. I know it's difficult to separate the Caesar the military man and the imperialist. I'm just wondering if there was another strain of constructiveness or benevolence that could be detected in his life that you could point to? Or not?

Tom: Well I think if we're going to answer this question we should look at his reforms in his dictatorship. So the last couple of years of his life, what sort of reforms did he pass and how should we interpret them? Well to people like Theodor Mommsen in the 19th century, Julius Caesar drove himself to become the ruler of Rome so that he could reform the state and overturn the power of the corrupt noble families who were simply ruling for themselves and being extremely selfish and violent and so on. Caesar is meant to have been their opposite. He's meant to have wanted to be a popular leader who would come to power for the benefit of the Roman people and set the state on an even keel, that was more reasonable, more fair and more just.

And again and again and again when I look at Caesar's reforms in the last couple of years of his life, I don't see somebody who was overturning tradition in a dramatically different way. He certainly did pass reforms, but my interpretation of those reforms is that they are far more traditional in colour than revolutionary. The old view of him needing to become king so that he could sweep away the dreadfully corrupt Roman state of previous generations, I don't see that. I see a man who had more respect for tradition and the traditions or Roman government and power and more respect for his social peers than has perhaps been thought. And one of the main reasons is this: in politics for instance, Caesar did reform the senate. So the senate had been 300 men, very famously throughout most of the history of the Roman republic. And then Sulla added 300 more members, so it became a body of 600. Caesar added 300 more, so that it became a body of 900. And once it becomes a body of 900 it's a more unwieldy institution, less easy to conduct debate, less easy to analyse and to gain consensus. But the new members were coming from people who had supported Caesar in Italy and in places that were under his control.

So you might think that the new senate is an institution that supports Caesar in his new role as the dictator of Rome. Well one thing I would say maybe to counter it is to say that the senate wasn't done away with, neither were the magistrates. The traditional magistrates stayed in place, the consuls, the praetors, the aediles, the quaestors and so on. They were still there. The government still looked as though the government of previous years. There were some differences but what do you emphasize? Do you emphasize the change or do you emphasize the continuity? So the politics is one thing.

Then there's what happened in Italy. Caesar did found colonies. He founded colonies to give living areas to those soldiers who had fought for him and to others who had supported him in the civil war. Now does that mean that Italy becomes Caesarized or is it something that had been happening previously? There had been colonization in Italy from the beginnings of Roman imperialism and it was certainly the case with people like Marius and Sulla who sponsored colonies for their soldiers as well. So again, do we emphasize the change or do we emphasize the continuity?

Socially he passed some laws against extravagance and he passed some laws against perceived immorality. Why do that? Well is it to change the state? Is it to say the state had been immoral or is it to do things that had been done as had been done previously? Is it change or is it continuity? I can tell you that the Romans periodically did pass moral legislation, laws against the dowry for instance, laws against sexual licence, laws against particular kinds of displays that were thought of as being unseemly. Why did they do that? I just emphasized Caesar was by no means the only one who did that. It had been done previously and would be done later as well. Why did they do that?

I think it's an interesting feature of the ancient world in general, but when they think of historical change, they explain it as primarily being the responsibility of individual human beings. Human beings create change and very often the human beings are the great men of the society. They're responsible for the change. Rome had had civil war. Why did it have civil war? Well if you focus on individual human beings all the time you'll be saying they had civil war, which is a bad thing, because human beings had become bad. They weren't worshiping the gods properly. They weren't behaving properly in their homes. They were adulterers, they were lecherous, they were displaying themselves unseemly. So you have to act against that. It's expected by the society. It's the norm. It's one of the fault positions that you take or one of the knee-jerk actions that you take.

So again this is a reform that Caesar passed. But does it mean that he was dissatisfied and wanted to create a new state? Or is it a matter of continuity? Is it the kind of thing that the society would expect? And I think you can do this with Caesar's reforms again and again and again. He expanded citizenship, for instance, and some scholars have said "Well that shows his dissatisfaction with the shape of the previous state". And I would say that, again, you don't have to look very far to see Roman generals using their prerogatives to extend citizenship to people who have helped them. It isn't necessarily about building a brand new state. In fact it's the sort of thing that had been done by the so-called traditional state again and again and again.

So when I look at what Caesar was doing as reformist at the end of his life, the laws that he passed at any rate, they look to me to be far more traditional than revolutionary. And the old idea of him wanting a new state, of massive dissatisfaction with the previous decadence of the state dominated by the nobles is the sort of dissatisfaction that would make him want to be Rome's king from an early age so that he could get rid of all these corrupt people and corrupt practices and so on, I don't see that his reforms actually support that notion. It's again another interpretation from hindsight. For me, there's at least as much continuity as there is change, and maybe even a little more so. And more than that, I really think this is what I should emphasize about what I think that means. It doesn't look to me as though it's a long digested and long thought out series of manoeuvres to make the state more stable, more secure, more fair, more just. In fact, the laws that he passed again and again and again, look like the kind of a thing that you would just expect from Roman leaders, given past practice.

The idea of Caesar as a statesman, I think we should even question that. If you mean by a statesman somebody who has a conception of the state that would make it more secure, that would make life for its people more reasonable, more fair, more just, more prosperous, I don't actually see that happening with what Julius Caesar did. And in fact I'm not so sure that he was all that comfortable at Rome and with the power that he had and the responsibilities that he felt he now had at the end of his life. If you asked me, if he'd lived just a couple of days longer, what would he have done, well we know what he would have done. He was about to embark on a big campaign against the Parthians, to the east of the empire. He was going to go and campaign. After all the fighting that he had done, the endless series of immensely difficult campaigns, he was going to go and fight the Parthians who had invaded Roman territory, who had threatened Rome's eastern borders for some time. It looks as though he was much more comfortable at the stage in his life being away from Rome and fighting than he was passing reforms that would really cause a major difference in people's lives in a positive way.

I don't mean to demean the very great gifts of Julius Caesar. I'm very careful about this. I'm even beginning to question the whole idea that he was a great statesman. If you take this viewpoint, you should try and look at his career piecemeal from the bottom up, instead of from the top down, from the dictatorship down, but from the bottom up, his early years through to more mature years and then try and contemplate the situation as it occurred at the contemporary time.

Harrison: It looks like we've run a bit over time, so I think we'll end it there. Thank you so much Tom for talking with us and I hope that as many of our listeners as possible get hold of your book. Again, it is Julius Caesar and the Transformation of the Roman Republic. You can find it on Amazon and probably order it from your local bookstore. I really recommend it. It's a great read. I've read a few Caesar books published in the last decade or so and I think this is one of the best. So thank you Tom for writing the book and for appearing on the show.

Tom: It's my pleasure. Thank you very much for your interest and the questions. Thanks again.

Elan: Thank you.

Harrison: Alright. Thank you everyone for listening and we will see you again next week, so take care.