Plutarch’s biography of Julius Caesar examines the moral, and intellectual dimensions of Caesar’s character. Context is a pronounced component of Plutarch’s analysis – which utilizes the underlying Roman political culture of the era as a bedrock feature of the narrative. Further, Plutarch uses biographical anecdotes to advance an image of Caesar as a world historical individual.
“Sulla, without openly objecting, took measures to see that he was not elected and discussed the question of whether or not to have him put to death. When some of his advisers said that there was no point in killing a boy like him, Sulla replied that they must be lacking in intelligence if they did not see that in this boy there were many Mariuses.
“Cicero, who is thought to have been the first to have seen beneath the surface of Caesar’s political program and to have feared it as one might fear the smiling surface of the sea, and who understood how powerful a character was hidden behind Caesar’s agreeable, good-humored manners, said that, in general, he could detect in everything that Caesar planned or undertook in politics a purpose that was aiming at absolute power.
“For the cause of the civil wars was not, as most people think, the quarrel between Caesar and Pompey; it was rather their friendship, since in the first place they worked together to destroy the power of the aristocracy and only when this had been accomplished quarreled amongst themselves.
“For when Pompey, for some reason or other (possibly over caution), instead of putting the finishing stroke to his great success, retired as soon as he had driven the routed enemy inside their camp, Caesar, who was with his friends, remarked to them as he was leaving them: ‘Today the enemy would have won , if they had a commander who was a winner.’
“Brutus fancied that he heard a noise at the entrance to the tent and, looking towards the light of the lamp which was almost out, he saw a terrible figure, like a man, though unnaturally large and with a very severe expression. He was frightened at first, but, finding that this apparition just stood silently by his bed without doing or saying anything, he said: ‘Who are you?’ Then the phantom replied: ‘Brutus, I am your evil genius. You shall see me at Philippi.
*All excerpts have been taken from Fall of the Roman Republic, Penguin Books.
The elevation – and subsequent domination – of the late Roman Empire by Constantius III came about within the context of the power vacuum generated by the execution of the Roman generalissimo Stilicho. Successful in several campaigns in Spain and Gaul, Constantius for a time managed to restore Roman power-projection in both domains. Later, he shared power with Honorius as co-emperor.
“Disease had rid Honorius of one of his chief tormentors, but it was a new arrival in the regime who delivered him from the still more pressing challenge of Constantine in Gaul. Flavius Constantius, who would dominate the next decade of western Roman history in much the same way that Stilicho had the last, was a native of Naissus.
“He played no documented role in the chaos before and after Stilicho’s execution, and emerges on the scene only in 410, perhaps as comesdomesticorum, when he orchestrated the second fall of Olympius and had him clubbed to death. Constantius was then elevated to the magisterium utriusque militiae, senior commander of the praesental army.
“In places where the imperial superstructure was restored, as it was in much of Gaul and Spain, the period of local autonomy looked like an unfortunate interlude; in places where it was not, it was remembered as a popular revolt against Rome.
“For a very brief moment, Honorius was the sole person claiming the western throne. That was in itself a triumph at this point, but the successive proclamations in most of the western dioceses revealed a pattern of entrenched warlordism that would characterise the rest of the fifth century.
“Constantius had every reason to be well pleased. He was now clearly the dominant power in the state, and the fact that we know so little about the court factions surrounding him suggests that there was none that could challenge his predominance.
*All excerpts have been taken from Imperial Tragedy: From Constantine’s Empire to the Destruction of Roman Italy, AD 363-568, Profile Books Ltd.
The tragic history of Quintus Sertorius seems to define the complexion of late Roman Republican politics. One of the most capable generals of the late Republican era, Sertorius opposed the dictatorship of Sulla – and formed a successful shadow Roman Senate as well as Army in Spain. Somewhat surprisingly, Sertorius was not a bitter-ender, and attempted many times to reconcile with the Sullan faction. Ultimately unbeaten in battle, Sertorius was eventually assassinated by one of his own subordinates.
Historian Adrian Goldsworthy chronicles late Republican politics in his biography of Sertorius, as well as how the Marian and Sullan factions interacted post-Marius.
“The same belief in the superiority of Rome that made senators by the second century BC hold themselves the equals of any king ensured that no disappointed Roman politician sought the aid of a foreign power. Senators wanted success, but that success only counted if it was achieved at Rome.
“Roman commanders and senior subordinates were expected to lead and direct their soldiers from just behind the fighting line, a style of leadership which inevitably involved considerable risk of wounding or death. Sertorius led in an especially bold fashion, inspiring his men with his contempt for the enemy and trusting to his personal skill at arms to protect himself from any attack.
“The same drive for absolute victory which made the Romans so difficult to defeat in foreign wars ensured that their internal struggles between enemies were very rare and never proved permanent.
“Sertorius was a tragic, rather romantic, figure who had the misfortune to commit himself to the losing side in a civil war… Although a ‘new man’, he should under normal circumstances have had a highly successful career. His gifts as a leader, administrator and commander were of the highest order.
“A gifted orator and with some learning in law, he began to gain a reputation in the courts before embarking with enthusiasm on a period of military service. As mentioned in the last chapter, he managed to survive the disaster at Arausio in 105, swimming the Rhone in spite of his wounds and still managing to bring away his personal weapons.
*All excerpts have been taken from In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire, Orion Publishing Group.
In Book One of his composition on free will and human action, Augustine defines authority, and wisdom. According to Augustine, wisdom arises from an ordered soul operating in synthesis with the pursuit of virtue. Alternatively, authority he splits between temporal and eternal jurisdictions.
“The law of the people merely institutes penalties sufficient for keeping the peace among ignorant human beings, and only to the extent that their actions can be regulated by human government. But those other faults deserve other penalties that I think Wisdom alone can repeal.
“If a people is well-ordered and serious minded, and carefully watches over the common good, and everyone in it values private affairs less than the public interests, is it not right to enact a law that allows this people to choose their own magistrates to look after their interests – that is, the public interest?
“When reason, mind, or spirit controls the irrational impulses of the soul, a human being is ruled by the very thing that ought to rule according to the law that we have found to be eternal.
“For I reserve the term ‘wise’ for those whom truth demands should be called wise, those who have achieved peace by placing all inordinate desire under the control of the mind.
“What is a good will? It is a will by which we desire to live upright and honorable lives and to attain the highest wisdom.
*All excerpts have been taken from On Free Choice of the Will, Hackett Publishing Company.
Rather than a rapid triumph over the Byzantines in North Africa, the Arab conquest in fact advanced at a snail’s pace over the course of many decades. In his biography of Justinian II, Peter Crawford reconstructs – as well as analyzes – the Arab conquest from multiple vantage points to highlight the operational and strategic push/pull of the conflict.
“More seriously, in Roman Lazica, a revolt broke out under the patricius Sergios, son of Barnoukios, which succeeded in handing the region over to the Arabs. Any seeming reticence from Leontios to meet the Umayyads in battle may have emboldened Abd al-Malik to target one of the empire’s overseas provinces: the Exarchate of Africa and its great bastion, Carthage.
“Such was the success of this Romano-Berber coalition in defeating Uqba and overturning much of his gains that the Liber Pontificalis, likely echoing papal/imperial propaganda, proclaimed that by 685 ‘the entire province of Africa was again totally subjugated to the Roman Empire’.
“The Exarchate of Africa was in dire straits, undermined by years of incessant Arab raids and drained through heavy tribute paid to both Damascus and Constantinople. Its brief successes were also reliant on Arab distraction and military aid from elsewhere. The Roman forces that had staged the raids on Cyrenaica and killed Zuhayr may well have been reinforcements from the central government, which could not be relied upon to always be around particularly once Justinian II had embarked on war with the Arabs, Bulgars and Slavs.
“Abd al-Malik sent up to 40,000 of his freed-up forces under Hasan b. al-Nu’man to re-establish the Arab position in Africa. With the biggest Arab army yet deployed to Africa, Hasan was to accomplish much more than that. His military achievements and administrative institutions were to create the first real Arab government in Africa, making him ‘in many ways, the real founder of Muslim North Africa’.
“As well as the battle for Carthage, Hasan also had to capture a series of forts along the north coast, such as Vaga and Hippo Regius. It could well be that there were other Roman held forts to the south of Carthage that Hasan either had to capture first or bypass en route to his showdown with John. This suggests that even with his expedition facing an existential threat in the face of a reinforced Hasan, John failed to bring together all of the forces available to him to defend Carthage.
*All excerpts have been taken from Justinian II: The Roman Emperor Who Lost His Nose and His Throne… and Regained Both!, Pen and Sword.
Origen’s exposition on the material world – and its relation to the human soul – examines the complexion of evil, the genesis of virtue, as well as the internal frictions of the middle-ground vis-à-vis human action. Origen affirms the mono-causality of wisdom, righteousness, and truth in synthesis with God.
“The never-ending thirst for wisdom must be chosen by souls as their first object. This necessarily means first of all a strong orientation inward involving the closing of one’s eyes to the outer world.
“To ask about the soul means to cast one’s gaze into the abyss of eternal eons and immeasurable waves of fate.
“Just as when our eyes rest upon something made by an artist, our mind burns to know how and in what way and to what purpose it was made, far more and beyond all comparison with such things does our spirit burn with an unspeakable longing to know the why and wherefore of the works of God which we see.
“You must understand that you are another world in miniature, and that there is in you sun and moon and also stars.
“For the body to grow and to become great lies not within our power. For the body takes its material size, whether large or small, from its genetic origin; but our soul has its own causes and its free will to make it large or small.
*All excerpts have been taken from Origen: Spirit & Fire, The Catholic University of America Press.
In letter #33, Seneca defines the balance between derivative reasoning, and novel thinking. According to Seneca, erudition functions only as a means to an end – rather than an end itself.
“All those men who never create but lurk as interpreters under the shadow of another are lacking, I believe, in independence of spirit. They never venture to do the thing they have long rehearsed. They exercise their memories on what is not their own. But to remember is one thing, to know another.
“You may recognize unevenness in a work when attention is attracted by what rises above the level. One tree is not noteworthy if the whole forest rises to the same height.
“Don’t expect, then, that you can sample the masterpieces of great minds by way of summaries; you must examine the whole, work over the whole. Their structure is a totality fitted together according to the outlines of their special genius, and if any member is removed the whole may collapse…An admired ankle or arm does not make a woman beautiful; a beautiful woman is one whose total appearance silences praise of her parts.
“If we rest content with solutions offered, the real solution will never be found. Moreover, a man who follows another not only finds nothing, he is not even looking.
*All excerpts have been taken from The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters, W.W. Norton.
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