Caesar's Women

by Colleen McCullough

Reviewed by David Maclaine

Caesar's Women is perhaps the most aptly named of all the volumes in Colleen McCullough's series on the breakdown of the Roman Republic. These novels are so jam-packed with incident, including frenetic political conflict, dramatic wars, and domestic intrigue, that the titles tend to highlight a single dominant thread of the densely interwoven stories. But this fourth book in the series offers something of a respite from the wars that rage in all the others. With no major campaigns to pull the action abroad, the focus of the story is on home-front dramas. Characterization is McCullough's great strength, and in this volume the female characters move to center stage.

This is not to say that important male characters don't shine as well. Cicero's discovery of a great conspiracy, and a shocking act of sacrilege by the boorish Publius Clodius are the most famous events from this era, and both unfold at length. Other key players reach manhood too. It's impossible to forget McCullough's portraits of Brutus as a pimple-faced mama's boy, and Cato the younger as a moralizing windbag whose doggedness drives everyone around him to distraction. And there's always the brilliant and charming Caesar: husband, lover, father or son of so many of these women.

But it's the women who give Caesar's Women its rich texture. Caesar's imposing mother Aurelia continues to shine, and his wife Pompeia's small part in a scandal gives rise to a famous line - "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion" - whose political relevance endures today. By the novel's end names such as Fabia, Fulvia, Clodia, Julia and Calpurnia all evoke distinct personalities. Most memorable of all is Servilla, bedmate of Caesar and mother of Brutus, a woman of fierce passions that can overflow at her lover's touch or erupt in shocking violence. This is, in short, the best novel on Roman women I've ever read. (1996, 696 pages, including an extensive Glossary with informative and fascinating paragraph-long entries on the customs and institutions of Republican Rome)

More about Caesar's Women at Powell's Books, or The Book Depository

Caesar's Women appears on the list of The 50 Best Historical Novels for a Survey of Ancient Roman History

Other novels set in Rome during Julius Caesar's youth:

A Murder on the Appian Way by Steven Saylor (1996), a mystery revolving around the death of Publius Clodius. More info

The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden (2003), about Julius Caesar as a youth, when he chooses the losing side in the struggle between Marius and Sulla to control Rome; #1 in the Emperor series. More info

Cutter's Island by Vincent Panella (2000), about Julius Caesar's experience of being kidnapped by pirates as a young man. More info

Nonfiction about Julius Caesar:

Julius Caesar by Philip Freeman (2008). More info

Caesar: Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy (2006). More info

Julius Caesar by Michael Grant (1969). More info


Aurelia Cotta, a short article about Julius Caesar's mother at Wikipedia

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