Commentaries on the Wars of Julius Caesar – Napoleon Bonaparte

Synopsis:

Exiled to St. Helena, and dying of stomach cancer, Napoleon Bonaparte dictated his ideas on the wars of Julius Caesar for posterity. The work is mired in technical details comparing modern and ancient armies, as well as endless reflection on how Napoleonic era artillery would be applied to the ancient Roman battlefield. However, Napoleon’s views on the conduct of the civil war, and its aftermath for Roman society are captivating. Unsurprisingly, Napoleon believed Caesar’s dictatorship was justified, and his assassination was unjustified. He also concludes Caesar’s Parthian campaign would have been successful – had he lived – thereby extending the Roman Empire to the Indus River.

Excerpts:

“Nothing is more opposed to a national spirit, to general ideas of liberty, than the private spirit of family or village. Because of this fragmentation, it also followed that the Gauls had no trained standing army, therefore no knowledge of military science. If Caesar’s glory depended solely on his conquest of Gaul, it would be in doubt… Any nation which lost sight of the importance of a standing army ever-ready for action, and which relied on mass levies of militias, would suffer the same fate as Gaul, although without even the glory of putting up a resistance as strong as theirs, which could be attributed to the barbarism of the time and to the nature of the terrain, covered with forests, marshes and quagmires and without roads: which made it difficult to conquer and easy to defend.

“One can only despise Caesar’s treatment of the Senate of Vannes. This people had not revolted; they had provided hostages and promised to live quietly, but they were in possession of all their rights and liberties. They had indeed given Caesar grounds to make war against them, but not to violate the law of nations in their case and to misuse his victory in so atrocious a way. This conduct was not just; still less was it politic. Such means never achieve their aim; they anger and disgust the nations. The punishment of a few chief people is all that justice and policy permit; it is an important rule to treat prisoners well.

“The conduct of Cato was applauded by his contemporaries and has been admired by history; but who benefited from his death? Caesar. Who was pleased by it? Caesar. And to who was it a tragedy? To Rome and to his party. But, it is argued, he preferred to kill himself rather than bow down before Caesar. But who was forcing him to bow down? Why did he not follow the cavalry, or those members of his party who embarked at the port of Utica and rallied the party in Spain? What influence his name, his advice and his presence must surely have had among the ten legions which in the following year were to vie for the destinies of the world on the battlefield of Munda!… If the book of destiny had been presented to Cato, and he had read there that in just two years’ time, Caesar, pierced by twenty-three dagger wounds, would fall dead in the Senate at the foot of Pompey’s statue, that Cicero would take the floor and angrily denounce Antony in his Philippics, would Cato still have transfixed himself? No, he killed himself out of spleen and despair. His death was the weakness of a great soul, the error of a stoic, a blot on his life.

“Among nations and during revolutions, there is always an aristocracy. If you destroy it in the form of the nobility, it will immediately be recreated among the rich and powerful families of the Third Estate. If you destroy it among these, it will resurface among successful artisans and the people. A prince gains nothing by such a displacement of the aristocracy. On the contrary, he restores order by letting it continue in its natural state, by reconstituting the ancient families on new principles.

“Caesar did not wish to be king because he could not have wished it; he could not have wished it because, after him, for 600 years, none of his successors wished it. It would have been a strange policy to replace the curule chair of the conquerors of the world with the despised and rotten throne of the vanquished.

*All excerpts have been taken from Napoleon’s Commentaries on the Wars of Julius Caesar, Pen and Sword.

God in Man – Seneca

Synopsis:

In letter #41, Seneca observes the vitality of the Holy Spirit within the human soul. He considers human excellence, and virtue to be demonstrations of continuity with the Holy Spirit. Living in accordance with nature for Seneca is the soul in union with the Holy Spirit. A union made discordant by vice.

Excerpts:

“We do not need to lift our hands to heaven or beg the sexton for nearer access to the idol’s ear, as if he could hear us more clearly; god is near you, with you, inside you. Yes, Lucilius, there is a holy spirit abiding within us who observes our good deeds and bad and watches over us. He treats us according as we treat him. No man is good without god. Could any man rise above Fortune without his help? It is he that imparts grand and upstanding counsel.

“If you see a man undaunted in danger, untouched by passion, happy in adversity, calm in the raging storm, viewing mankind from a higher level and the gods from their own, will you not be moved by veneration? Will you not say: ‘This is too grand and lofty to be of a quality with the little body that contains it; the power that has informed that man is divine?

“A soul which is of superior stature and well governed, which deflates the imposing by passing it by and laughs at all our fears and prayers, is impelled by a celestial force. So great a thing cannot stand without a buttress of divinity. Its larger portion therefore abides at its source. Just as the rays of the sun do indeed warm the earth but remain at the source of their radiation, so a great and holy soul is lowered to earth to give us a nearer knowledge of the divine; but though it is in intercourse with us, it cleaves to its source; it is tied to it, it looks toward it, it seeks to rejoin it, and its concern with our affairs is superior and detached.

“In a vine the peculiar virtue is fertility, and in a man, too, we should praise what is peculiarly his own. He has a handsome troop of slaves, a fine house, broad acres, large investments; but none of these things is in him, they are around him. Praise what cannot be given or taken away, what is peculiarly the man’s. What is this, you ask? It is soul, and reason perfected in the soul.

“Man is a rational animal, and his good is realized if he implements the potentiality for which nature gave him being. And what does reason demand of him? A very easy thing: to live according to his nature. But general derangement makes this difficult; we shove one another into vice. And how can people be recalled to safety when there is a crowd pushing them and nobody to hold them back?

*All excerpts have been taken from The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters, W.W. Norton.

‘Delenda Carthago’ – Adrian Goldsworthy

Synopsis:

The Roman political posturing between the Second and Third Punic Wars magnified the existential fate of the Carthaginian state. Historian Adrian Goldsworthy devotes a chapter of his book on the Punic Wars to the political and military history of this interwar period, and its calamitous outcome.

Excerpts:

“The Carthaginians had proved consistently loyal allies of Rome since 201. They had supplied Roman armies with grain and in 191 sent half of their tiny navy to join the fleet operating against Antiochus III. Aided by Hannibal’s reform of the State’s finances, the annual indemnity had been paid regularly until its completion in 151. In the series of boundary disputes with Masinissa’s Numidia, Carthage had submitted to Roman arbitration, even though this had always openly or tacitly favoured the king.

“It is unclear whether or not the renewed prosperity of the city resulted in some rearmament, since although our literary sources claim that this was not so, the excavations in the naval harbour suggest otherwise. What is certain is that in the middle of the century the Carthaginians were in no position to launch a serious offensive against Rome, even if they had wanted to. Even so, it is clear that the Romans were increasingly afraid of their ally at this very period.

“The traditions of Punic warfare did not expect a defeated state, especially one which had not been conquered and absorbed, to remain forever subject to the victor. Only the Romans thought in this way. No longer were the Carthaginians unambiguously dependent allies of Rome. That a former enemy, and one who had pushed Rome to the brink of utter defeat, was once again strong and independent immediately turned her back into a threat. This was the root of the Romans’ rising fear of Carthage.

“The defeats suffered in Spain highlighted the inexperience of most Roman armies. The annual replacement of provincial governors and the rarity of pro-magistracies encouraged commanders to seek glory before they were replaced, and denied them the time necessary to turn their soldiers into an effective army. This mattered far less in the early part of the century when the quality of Rome’s manpower had been higher.

“Another prominent senator, Scipio Nasica, matched Cato by ending his own speeches with the view that Carthage should be preserved. It is claimed that he believed the presence of a strong rival would preserve the Romans’ virtue intact, an argument which became a continual lament in the next century when Rome was plunged into a series of civil wars. At the time few Romans seem to have agreed with him.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Fall of Carthage, Orion Books Ltd.

The Image of God – Origen

Synopsis:

In his essay on ‘the image of God’ the Roman Christian theologian Origen brings forth his thoughts on the image of God in Man. Utilizing Neoplatonist dynamics Origen reasons that the image of God exists in Man as the vital spirit.

Excerpts:

“Consequently that first heaven, which we have called spiritual, is our mind, which is itself spirit; it is our spiritual human being who sees and gazes upon God. But this corporeal heaven, which is called firmament, is our external human being, which sees corporeally.

“Not therefore from works does the root of justice grow, but from the root of justice grows the fruit of works.

“…the one who was made ‘in the image of God’ is our internal human, invisible and incorporeal and incorrupt and immortal.

“We are not commanded to tear out and destroy the natural impulses of the soul, but to purify them, that is, to purge and drive out the dirty and impure things which have come to them by our negligence so that the natural vitality of its own innate power might shine forth.

“We shall be like him’ (cf. Jn 3:2), this likeness is not due to nature but to grace. For example if we say that a portrait is like the one whose image is seen expressed in the portrait, the similarity is due to the quality of the expression – grace -, while in substance the two remain quite different.

*All excerpts have been taken from Origen: Spirit & Fire, The Catholic University of America Press.

The Buildings of Justinian – Procopius

Synopsis:

On Buildings by Procopius was written as a panegyric of the Roman emperor Justinian with the intent of glorifying the monumental architecture of his reign. The work is somewhat controversial, because The Secret History – which Procopius also wrote about Justinian – largely vilified the emperor. External of the panegyric elements of On Buildings there are engaging insights into the Roman architecture of the era.

Excerpts:

“The Emperor Justinian was born in our time, and succeeding to the throne when the state was decayed, added greatly to its extent and glory by driving out from it the barbarians, who for so long a time had forced their way into it, as I have briefly narrated in my History of the Wars. They say that Themistocles, the son of Neocles, prided himself on his power of making a small state great, but our Emperor has the power of adding other states to his own, for he has annexed to the Roman Empire many other states which at his accession were independent, and has founded innumerable cities which had no previous existence.

Hagia Sofia: “The entire ceiling is covered with pure gold, which adds glory to its beauty, though the rays of light reflected upon the gold from the marble surpass it in beauty; there are two porticos on each side, which do not in any way dwarf the size of the church, but add to its width. In length they reach quite to the ends, but in height they fall short of it; these also have a domed ceiling and are adorned with gold… who could tell of the beauty of the columns and marbles with which the church is adorned? One would think that one had come upon a meadow full of flowers in bloom: who would not admire the purple tints of some and the green of others, the glowing red and glittering white, and those, too, which nature, like a painter, has marked with the strongest contrasts of color?… No one ever became weary of ‘this spectacle, but those who are in the Church delight in what they see, and, when they leave it, magnify it in their talk about it; moreover, it is impossible accurately to describe the treasure of gold and silver plate and gems, which the Emperor Justinian has presented to it… That part of the church which is especially sacred, and where the priests alone are allowed to enter, which is called the Sanctuary, contains forty thousand pounds’ weight of silvers.

Column of Justinian: “…On the summit of the column there stands an enormous horse, with his face turned towards the east – a noble sight… Upon this horse sits a colossal bronze figure of the Emperor, habited as Achilles, for so his costume is called; he wears hunting-shoes, and his ankles are not covered by his greaves. He wears a corslet like an ancient hero, his head is covered by a helmet which seems to nod, and a plume glitters upon it. A poet would say that it was that ‘star of the dog-days’ mentioned in Homer. He looks towards the east, directing his course, I imagine, against the Persians; in his left hand he holds a globe, by which the sculptor signifies that all lands and seas are subject to him. He holds no sword or spear, or any other weapon, but a cross stands upon the globe, through which he has obtained his empire and victory in war; he stretches forward his right hand towards the east, and spreading out his fingers seems to bid the barbarians in that quarter to remain at home and come no further.

Roman Senate Building: “In front of the palace there is a forum surrounded with columns. The Byzantines call this forum the Augustaeum… On the eastern side of this forum stands the Senate House, which baffles description by its costliness and entire arrangement, and which was the work of the Emperor Justinian. Here at the beginning of every year the Roman Senate holds an annual festival, according to the custom of the State… Six columns stand in front of it, two of them having between them that wall of the Senate House which looks towards the west, while the four others stand a little beyond it. These columns are all white in color, and in size, I imagine, are the largest columns in the whole world. They form a portico covered by a circular dome-shaped roof. The upper parts of this portico are all adorned with marble equal in beauty to that of the columns, and are wonderfully ornamented with a number of statues standing on the roof.

The Chalke Gate to the Great Palace: “This entrance-hall is the building called Chalce; its four walls stand in a quadrangular form, and are very lofty; they are equal to one another in all respects, except that those on the north and south sides are a little shorter than the others… Above them are suspended eight arches, four of which support the roof, which rises above the whole work in a spherical form, whilst the others, two of which rest on the neighboring wall towards the south and two towards the north, support the arched roof which is suspended over those spaces. The entire ceiling is decorated with paintings, not formed of melted wax poured upon it, but composed of tiny stones adorned with all manner of colors, imitating human figures and everything else in nature…

I will now describe the subjects of these paintings. Upon either side are wars and battles, and the capture of numberless cities’, some in Italy, and some in Libya. Here the Emperor Justinian conquers by his General Belisarius; and here the General returns to the Emperor, bringing with him his entire army unscathed, and offers to him the spoils of victory, kings, and kingdoms, and all that is most valued among men. In the midst stand the Emperor and the Empress Theodora, both of them seeming to rejoice and hold high festival in honor of their victory over the kings of the Vandals and the Goths, who approach them as prisoners of war led in triumph. Around them stands the Senate of Rome, all in festal array, which is shown in the mosaic by the joy which appears on their countenances; they swell with pride and smile upon the Emperor, offering him honors as though to a demi-god, after his magnificent achievements. The whole interior, not only the upright parts, but also the floor itself, is encrusted with beautiful marbles, reaching up to the mosaics of the ceiling. Of these marbles, some are of a Spartan stone equal to emerald, while some resemble a flame of fire; the greater part of them are white, yet not a plain white, but ornamented with wavy lines of dark blue.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Complete Procopius Anthology, Bybliotech.

Empires of Trust – Thomas F. Madden

Synopsis:

Empires of Trust was published in 2008 during the low-point of the United States war in Iraq, and perhaps because of that war it sought to examine the evolution of American power in comparison with the Roman Empire. Ancient and medieval historian Thomas F. Madden goes into considerable detail propounding the complexities of Roman culture, and explaining how that empire emerged. Although Madden identifies many similarities between American and Roman civilizations he unexpectedly unmasks many more differences.

Excerpts:

“The U.S. military is larger than the militaries of all other NATO allies combined. American military bases are planted in many NATO countries, while no allied bases are in the United States at all. Yet, Americans will still insist that NATO is an alliance of equals, not a structure of an empire.

“Doubt among allies regarding the trustworthiness of the Empire of Trust is toxic. Americans cannot allow it and neither could the Romans. Hannibal understood that very well. As a result of the failure to defend Saguntum, Rome’s word already meant nothing in Spain – something that Roman envoys learned when they arrived to seek allies in the war against Hannibal.

“We believe that the normal human condition is peace, periodically disrupted by war. That illusion is the product of a large and historically rare superstructure built to keep lasting peace in existence. Without the perfect functioning of that superstructure, peace disappears.

“If it was truly the UN that was responsible for the growing peace, then the continued warfare in Africa makes little sense. UN missions to Africa are numerous. In truth, it is American apathy for the region that allows it to continue to remain violent, provided that the warfare does not affect American assets or security. Just as the Romans had only a passing interest in Germans or Celts outside of their empire, so Americans tend to ignore a sub-Saharan Africa that, while frequently in a state of crisis, poses no security threat to the United States or its allies.

“For some years the military strategy of the United States has included the ability to project significant power anywhere in the world. For the most part it has achieved that goal. These facts, in and of themselves, represent an extraordinary disparity in power. That is not to say that the United States has the power to fight the world and win. It does not. Nor does it need it. An Empire of trust only requires sufficient power to defend its allies and deter or punish aggression. In short, it must have ‘military strengths beyond challenge.’

*All excerpts have been taken from Empires of Trust: How Rome Built – and America is Building – a New World, Plume.

On the Nature of the Universe – Cicero

Synopsis:

In On the Nature of the Gods Cicero explains his own metaphysical interpretation of the universe. The soul of the interpretation is pantheistic, and he notably relies on many keen syllogisms about the universe to support his explanation.

Excerpts:

“How is it that the tides of the open sea and the narrow straits move to the waxing and waning of the moon, while the unequal orbits of the stars stay constant with each full turning of the heavens? This harmony of all parts of the universe is impossible unless they are held together by a single, divine, all-pervading spirit.

“It’s all but impossible to pollute a flowing stream, easy enough to poison a cistern. So, too, a rush of eloquence washes away objections, while a thin trickle of reasoning has a hard time protecting itself.

“Everything that lives, whether animal or product of the earth, lives thanks to the heat within it – from which we should understand that elemental heat contains a vital power that permeates the entire universe.

“It will be possible to infer, as well, that the universe possesses intelligence, for it is surely superior to any one element. Just as every individual part of our body is inferior to ourselves, so the universe must be greater than any part of the universe. But if that’s the case, then the universe must be wise, for if it weren’t, then man, who is part of the universe, would, in that he has a share of reason, be greater than the whole universe.

“Nothing can move to such a patterned rhythm without design. The orderliness of the constellations and their steadfast movement through eternity are not simply automatic…nor the work of fortune, which loves variety and rejects consistency. It follows therefore that they move of their own volition, thanks to their own judgement and divine power.

*All excerpts have been taken from Cicero: On Living and Dying Well, Penguin Classics.