Caesar (Masters of Rome Book 5) by Colleen McCullough


A Lerxst in Wonderland
Aug 7, 2011
Caesar (Masters of Rome Book #5) by Colleen McCullough

Masters of Rome - Caesar.jpg

1998 - Head of Zeus ebook - 932 pages

Rome 54 BC:

Caesar's legions are sweeping across Gaul, brutally subduing the tribes who defy him. But, in Rome, his enemies are plotting his downfall and disgrace. Vindictive schemers like Cato and Bibulus, the spineless Cicero, the avaricious Brutus. Even Pompey, Caesar's former ally.

But all have underestimated Caesar.

When the Senate refuse to give him his due he marches upon Rome, an army prepared to die for him at his back. Rome is his destiny - a destiny that will impel him to the banks of the Rubicon, and beyond, into legend.

It's about a year since I read the previous book in this series, Caesar's Women. I found that one really heavy-going, mainly because I was burnt out on the series at the time having read four such doorstoppers in quick succession. I'd always intended to return to the series, though, and - having failed miserably with Christian Cameron's Alexander: God of War - I found I was still in the mood for some epic historical fiction.

Caesar didn't disappoint at all. Beginning some five years after the fourth book, with Caesar's second foray into Britannia drawing to a close and then taking in the sweep of his campaign in Gaul of the Long Hairs, the political machinations in Rome as various factions set out to deny him, his subsequent attempts to achieve a peaceful resolution before finally crossing the Rubicon and forcing Rome into civil war, this is a huge, sweeping, gripping tale.

I suspect a lot of authors wouldn't be up to the job, there is so much detail, so many characters, so many facts and events. McCullough is well up to it, though. She achieves this with a mixture of styles - sometimes through human drama, sometimes through pages of historical info dumps, sometimes epistolary, sometimes romantic, sometimes tragic, always with an undercurrent of mischievous humour that never fails to bring these people to life.

As you would hope, the sections about Caesar are gripping. As a character he is immense, dominating every scene in which he appears, and McCullough leaves you in no doubt as to why his men would follow and die for him, through both action and rousing, tub-thumping speeches. At times I wondered if she was perhaps deifying him a little too much, but then she'd slip in some sly character observation that makes you see a darker side, or perhaps examine his grief at the loss of loved ones back at home in Rome, whom he has not seen for years due to his campaigns on foreign soil. I found it a really impressive work of characterisation.

But it's not just about him. His cohorts include Mark Antony and Gaius Curio. Back in Rome we are party to the lives of, among others, the arrogant, ineffectual Pompey; the irritating, adversarial Cato; the simpering Cicero; the clawing, manipulative, bitter Servilia and her cowed son, Brutus. In Gaul of the Long Hairs, amidst a host of others, we have Vercingetorix, whose attempts to unite the Gaulish against Caesar see his rise to power. And then, as the story rolls back eastwards, there is Cleopatra. There are so, so many memorable characters.

In every way I can imagine, Caesar is an absolute triumph, historically accurate, breathtaking in its detail, and vivid in its characterisation. Historical fiction at its very best, and second only in my affections to Patrick O'Brian.


"Goddess Fortuna is a very jealous mistress. I propitiate her."
"One day she'll desert you."
"Oh, no. Never."
"You have enemies. They might kill you."
"I will die," said Caesar, getting to his feet, "when I am quite ready."

Suddenly he threw his head back and laughed, remembering a line from his favourite poet, Menander.
"Let the dice fly high!" he cried, and rode across the Rubicon into Italia and rebellion.