Book Review: Napoleon’s Commentaries on the Wars of Julius Caesar

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by R. A. Maguire, tranlator and editor

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate Publishers, 2018. Pp. xiv, 130. Append., notes, index.. $34.95. ISBN: 1526716275

Napoleon’s Analysis of Caesar

This little work, composed when the former Emperor was in exile on St. Helena, and Englished by retired engineer and British military officer Maguire, offers some interesting criticism of Caesar’s campaigns and some insights into Napoleon’s own military thought.

The book is divided into two parts, as Napoleon devoted a chapter to each of Caesar’s eight books on his campaigns during the Gallic War (58-50 BC), then gives us seven chapters to the commentaries on the several campaigns during the Civil Wars (49-45 BC), and then adds his observations on the assassination of Caesar. Napoleon seems not to be aware that the final book of the Gallic Wars and the Alexandrian War, African War, and Spanish War, were probably written by Aulus Hirtius. Moreover, he seems to have used a French edition of Caesar’s war commentaries, which he ordered complied years earlier by a group of French scholars, thus seems to have missed some of the subtleties of the Latin. Nevertheless, Napoleon’s observations are often insightful, and at times quite astute.

For example, Napoleon rightly criticizes Caesar for spending far too much time at Alexandria, undoubtedly due to his dalliance with Cleopatra, thereby allowing his enemies to regroup, leading to the hard fought campaigns in Africa and Spain. In addition, unlike many ancient scholars, who praised the deed, Napoleon is quite critical of Cato’s suicide following the defeat of the Senatorials at Thapsus in Africa in 45 BC, when he could have escaped as many others had to join the final stand in Spain the following year, where his presence would have been immensely valuable. On the other hand, in his analysis of Book II of the Gallic Wars, Napoleon totally misses the fact that Caesar’s near disaster against the Nervi and other Belgic tribes on the Sambre in 57 BC was due to a carefully planned and executed ambush by the supposed barbarians.

While editor and translator Maguire has included a very useful appendix in which he discusses weights and measures, he might also have added a few maps. Nevertheless, Napoleon’s Commentaries on the Wars of Julius Caesar is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in either Caesar or Napoleon, or the though patterns of the great captains.

 

Note: Napoleon’s Commentaries on the Wars of Julius Caesar is also available in several e-editions

 

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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