Recently, I finished reading an exemplary book on Julius Caesar, named “Emperor-Gates of Rome” by Conn Iggulden, which compelled me to share my feelings through this review.
The book is laden with almost every emotion conceivable to humans, be it desperation, euphoria, grief, rage, deception, helplessness, friendship etc. Also, it shows the grandiose architecture, customs and the daily life of Romans in the ancient days. It captures the early life of Julius Caesar in the most animated and illustrious fashion and provides fodder to all sorts of imagination.
I was transformed to the period when Gaius Julius Caesar was a blue eyed young boy of 10. The author showcases him as a carefree, immature lad who loves to climb trees, chase hares in the forest, ride ponies, all with his buddy, Marcus Brutus. Brutus was born to a courtesan, Servilia, who abandoned him at birth. They live on the outskirts of the city of Rome in a huge estate, run by slaves and managed by a former gladiator, Tubruk. Gaius’ father is a member of the Senate often led a nomadic life, shuttling between the city and the estate.
Gaius and Marcus spend most of their childhood in the care of Tubruk, who was implicitly the caretaker of the boys. Both the boys stay with each other through thick and thin.
When Julius is ten years old, his father takes him to the city to watch a gladiatorial combat in the famous and incredibly vast Roman Amphitheatre. Here, the writer, through the eyes of the young boys, shows the city of Rome, its cobbled streets, bustle of people haggling with peddlers, the cacophony of waifs, the circuitous alleys, the filth of the lower city which provides shelter to the poorest class, the magnificent temple of Jupiter, the high palaces of the nobilitas(or the upper class) and many other aspects of this bustling city. The gladiatorial combats form the most interesting aspect wherein two seasoned warriors with gladius(or swords) fight each other to the point of drawing blood, adding fuel to the already excited crowd of spectators.
Julius’ father decides to hire a gladiator, named Renius, as a tutor to train both the boys as warriors. Brutus goes on to become an excellent swordsman.
Under the tutelage of Renius, Gaius learns several techniques which form the blood and bones of his later conquests.
When Rome gets embroiled in a civil war and the city is in chaotic disarray, Julius is forced to fight the rebels to protect his estate and loses his father to the conflict.
Here, the writer captures vividly, the clueless helplessness and despair of a young boy who just witnessed his father getting stabbed and is suddenly forced to shoulder the responsibility of his entire estate and family at an age when his peers are carefree and well protected by their parents.
Not knowing what to do, he seeks the help of his Uncle, Marius, the consul of Rome, leaving the handling of the estate to Tobruk. In those days, Rome used to have one or two consuls who were diplomats appointed by the Senate to protect its commercial interests and help its citizens in a foreign country.
There were two consuls in Rome at the time. One being Marius, other was Cornelius Sulla, Marius’ rival.
Gaius moves to Rome and stays under the patronage of his uncle. His uncle introduces him to become a member of the Senate. Here, the author unravels the myriad deceptions, intricacies, enmity among members of the Senate and how Julius is thrown into a world of lies and deception with utter cluelessness to differentiate between allies and foes,
When news arrives that the Roman legions in Greece are in peril due to a rebellion led by the local Greek king Mithridates, Sulla is ordered to take his legion west, to crush the Greek rebellion.
Meanwhile, Julius falls in love with the daughter of a prominent senator and gets married to her.
With the only competitor being called to go on war, Marius seizes the opportunity of taking Rome under his control. Fearing a war when Sulla returns to Rome, Marius plans for the impending attack by building fortifications and preparing the city for the siege to come. But unfortunately, Marius dies in the war that follows and Julius is forced to abandon his wife and defect to Egypt lest he be killed by Sulla.
All these incidents hardened him and made him a force to reckon with.
All through the book, I’ve gone through a plethora of feelings, empathizing with Caesar, fascinated by his cryptic behaviour, greatly moved by his commendable composure and handling of intense emotions, inspired by his burning passion and ambition, and amazed by his exemplary fighting skills.
Reading this book has been an experience in itself as I learned a great deal. After all, history often repeats itself and there is no better way to further one’s self than by learning from the mistakes committed by our ancestors.