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Caesar's Legacy by Josiah Osgood

Book Review by Divi Filius

With his first publication, the young Assistant Professor at Georgetown University, Josiah Osgood, does not attempt to challenge the mainstream beliefs on the decline of the republic; nor does he propose any new theories, he makes this clear in his introduction. Instead of focusing on the very few at the top; their politics and their wars, he focuses on how all of this affected the very many on the very bottom: the men and women around the Mediterranean who lived through, or died as a result of, the turmoil engulfing the final transition between Republic and Empire. With Caesar's Legacy, Osgood has written something original, accessible and scholarly in a period of history undertaken by nearly every major historian of classical Rome.

In his introduction, Osgood gives a large summary of the various sources that illuminate the period literature: Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Propertius, Varro, the Res Gestae and Nepos, among many others; along with coinage, inscriptions, papyri, art and archeology from around the Mediterranean world. He introduces all of these sources so as to familiarize us with the material he will be reverting relying and quoting from regularly throughout the narrative. The author opens chapter one with the sense of uncertainties and insecurity that marked Rome in the period immediately following Caesar's assassination. To do this he uses the surviving letters of Cicero to his friend Atticus to give us a grounds view of the events. This is followed by the soldier's point of view: what he thinks of these civil conflicts and what prompts him to fight.

Chapters two and three are largely devoted to the proscriptions that followed the formation of the Second Triumvirate and land appropriations that tore many from their ancestral lands after Philipi. Relying mostly on surviving inscriptions and the poetry of Virgil, Osgood presents a touching image of the terror, betrayals and bravery that either divided families and friends or brought them closer together, while also giving a voice to those who gained and lost land during the redistributions. He also gives an account of the various eastern provinces that suffered from the heavy exactions demanded by the Liberators, Brutus and Cassius. We get to see that this was a world wide affair; not limited to Italy. Chapter four is devoted to the often ignored Perusian war, what Osgood views as the final period of transition between the diversified Italy of old and the Romanized one of the empire. The sympathetic treatment the granted to the Italians makes us understand why Augustus chose to omit this war from his biography.

Chapters five and six focus on Octavian's war against Pompey the Great's surviving son, Sextus Pompeius; the pardons granted to many of the proscribed; the return of land to many of those who lost it prior; and the birth of a 'new nobility' that replaced much of the old order. Here Osgood contrasts the perspectives of those hostile to the new order, who blame the meteoric rise of these men on the decline of republican values, with the views of the new nobiles and their sense of achievement. Chapters seven and eight sees Octavian gaining over Antony through the formers success against Sextus and the latter's failure against the Parthians. The author shows that Octavian's grip of Italy is a decisive bridgehead for his eventual war against Antony and Cleopatra. Finally, he rounds up the book with Octavian's propaganda both prior and following the victory at Actium, contrasting Augustus' own autobiography, the Res Gestae, to the likely realities of the time.

Josiah Osgood shows his ability to organize sources and concentrate it on his argument, primary and archaeological sources are integrated seamlessly into the narrative. He manages to bring the reader closer to the story by imbuing it with examples; on occasion he even brings in a similar modern event so as to give the reader a better perspective. Notwithstanding, the work is not without faults since: though never felt overwhelmed by what was presented, I did feel that the illustrations and quotations could have been used a little more sparingly as they did have a tendency to slow down the pace and at times even feel out of place. This is especially true for the illustrations. Osgood seems to have a liking for detail, however in such cases it just weighs down the book. It should also be noted that for every event there are many more pages devoted to the effects, there is very little detail in campaigns and battles or in the question of politics.

With the theme of the late republic being mostly a look into the actions of the very few at the top, Caesar's Legacy is a refreshing take. Josiah Osgood should be commended for the originality of his first publication. He shows talent and a promising future.

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