Julius Caesar: What’s Fact and What’s Fiction?

Southern Methodist University

Professor Melissa Dowling teaches ancient history and directs the Classical Studies program at Southern Methodist University.  She has won many teaching awards, including the Phi Beta Kappa Perrine prize and the title Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor.  She researches the political, cultural world of the Late Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire, and currently is writing a general introduction to the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis, whose worship expands across the ancient world from Egypt to Britain.  Dr. Dowling is the author of the book Clemency and Cruelty in the Roman World.



Caesar salad? Caesarian sections? Beware the Ides of March? Which of these popular items are actually connected to Julius Caesar’s extraordinary life? Caesar’s campaign in Gaul, his successes in the civil war against Pompey the Great, his liaison with Cleopatra, and his assassination by his own friends and former supporters, are all historical. But for countless artists and poets, for Shakespeare, Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, Patton, and many others across world history, Caesar has served as inspiration, model, and warning. In this course, we’ll examine Caesar’s early successes in politics and oratory, as well as his military career. We’ll also discover which legends surrounding his deeds are based in truth and which, like the salad dressing, are fictions?


Recommended Reading:

Caesar, The Conquest of Gaul, translated by S.A. Handford

Julius Caesar: Politician and Statesman, by Mattias Gelzer and Peter Needham

Caesar: Life of a Colossus, by Adrian Goldsworthy


Discussion Questions:

  1. How did Caesar transform the Roman empire and contribute to the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire ruled by autocrats?
  2. Why does Caesar offer such a powerful model of a general and leader across time?
  3. Why was Caesar assassinated by his peers and friends?  Were they justified?






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Linda Sainsbury


Great job by this Professor of summarizing/highlighting the essence of Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire.

2 years ago

Julius Caesar What's Fact and Fiction

Riveting lecture. Professor is an excellent storyteller and makes it feel like you are right there in the action.

1 year ago
Maggie Olmstead


As usual, I learned a lot. It turns out that much of what I took as fiction is actually fact, and vice-versa, of course.

11 months ago

Still 5 stars

There’s a lot of material here – so much that it was worth a second listen. I learned a few things the second time around that I had missed the first time.

9 months ago
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