Reading the Roman Revolution 5: The Caesarian Party

In Chapter 5: The Caesarian Party, Ronald Syme is back in his proper element. If Chatper 4: Caesar the Dictator saw some awkward digressions into narrative, historiography, and even the theory of history, Syme’s study of the Caesarian Party returns The Roman Revolution  to the more familiar ground of concise and insightful descriptions.

Syme summarizes the party of Caesar as: “senators, knights and centurions, business men and provincials, kings and dynasts” and he treats each in turn. The Nobiles of patrician stock who followed Caesar included: “the worthy Ti. Claudius Nero, whom Cicero desired for son- in-law, and the debauched P. Cornelius Dolabella, a sinister and disquieting figure, whom the choice of his wife and daughter imposed” as well as “P. Servilius was a man of some competence: Lepidus had influence but no party, ambition but not the will and the power for achievement. Caesar, offering the consulate, had captured them both…”

Among the equites, Syme paints eloquent pictures with remarkable brevity. If “Mamurra, an old Pompeian from Formiae,” was “notorious for wealth and vice”, “the phenomenal P. Ventidius” could have served in the Victorian British civil service: his “infancy had known slavery and degradation : captured by Pompeius Strabo at Asculum, he had been led or carried in a Roman triumph. From obscure years of early manhood some said that he served as a common soldier Ventidius rose to be an army contractor and attached himself to Caesar the proconsul as an expert manager of supplies and transport.” Aulus Hirtius was different: “a comfortable person of scholarly tastes, in high repute as a gourmet : it was a danger to ask him to dinner.”

Foreign elites too. “Balbus ruled his native Gades like a monarch: in Rome the alien millionaire exercised a power greater than most Roman senators.” In Cisalpine Gual: “In Verona the father of the poet Catullus, no doubt a person of substance, was the friend and host of the proconsul.” In Transalpline Gaul: “C. Valerius Troucillus,
‘homo honestissimus provinciae Galliae’, son of the tribal chieftain of the Helvii.” 

Ultimate some of these allies of Caesar as well as Pompeians to whom he showed clemency formed the basis for the new ruling class in Rome and populated the expanded Senate. As Syme is want to do, the final sentences of the chapter are precise, summative, and set the stage for what is next to come: 

“Many of Caesar’s measures were provisional in purpose ,transient in effect. This was permanent.”


The short essay is part of my Reading The Roman Revolution at 80 project. It’s so awesome that I have two hashtags: #ReadingRomanRevolution and #ReadingRonaldat80. I explain the project here. You can read the rest of the entries here.







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