Caesar’s Blood: Greek Tragedy in Roman Life

by Rose Williams, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers 2013, Pb 162 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0865168169 (£9.00).

Even if this is a quite confusing title, Rose Williams is in a certain way right to choose it for her book.  The book has absolutely nothing to do with theatre; it deals with the so called “gens Iulia”. As a matter of fact if you consider how things happened inside the Emperor’s family, you will easily conclude that there is nothing in it but death, blood, poison, murderers and an absolute lack of happiness.  All the compounds for a proper tragedy!

She follows the line of the dynasty starting from the mythic Julius Caesar.  He was murdered when entering the Curia. Nobody knows exactly who was the real murderer. After 23 blows of the knife he died. Blood started flowing before the astonished eyes of Roman citizens.

Each emperor deserves one specific section inside the book; as an exception only Tiberius shares his own section with Germanicus.  And if the reader pays attention to the adjective the author has used to deal with each Caesar, they will quickly realize what she really means. So Tiberius is qualified -page 57- as the Outsider; Germanicus-page 65- as The Star-crossed; Caligula is simply presented -page81- as the Orphan; Claudius instead is called -page91- the Unworthy and Nero, as expected, -page 117- the Artist. By the way, what about Octavian Augustus?  No specific adjective for him, but a longer section and a chapter under the subtitle of Master of The World –pages 31-41.

If anybody wants to know about women in such a strange, famous family, they will be forced to look for them inside each chapter, Messalina being one of the most important characters -pages 105-112.  In my opinion it would have been encouraging the story of the saga to be told by female characters.  In fact the author being a woman, a chance for a challenging enterprise has been probably missed. W. follows, as usual, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio; she writes a nice fluid prose and is able  to create a catchy atmosphere around each emperor but there is nothing in the book we did not know before.  She is right when underlining that this saga reads like a novel but without employing fictitious characters.

In this sense I very much recommend the reading of this book to students at High School or even to Undergraduate in Classics or Ancient History at University; their reading will motivate them for further research.

José Luis Navarro

Honorary Professor Universidad Autónoma Madrid