Time to Rethink King David

In Ancient Warfare Magazine VIII.I, regular contributor Sidney E. Dean wrote an article titled “David’s Insurgency Against Saul: The Man Who Would be King”, and it’s a challenging read for those who grew up on the Biblical stories of the great King David. History isn’t always easy to swallow, the study of it is supposed to try and find the whole picture, not just half of it, and that’s what makes Dean’s article so uncomfortable, and that’s also what makes it so fascinating. If anything, at the end of the article the hero King David is made that much more interesting, and even if not all suppositions are truth, the saintly image of David becomes more human, more relatable. My point in this summary isn’t to necessarily comment, but to share, so, if you’re not willing for your understanding of who David was to be challenged, if you’re not prepared to be made uncomfortable, stop reading. Because unlike Dean’s article, I didn’t start with harsh vocabulary almost purposefully trying to sift readers before settling into a less emotionally charged and academic argument.

Dean tells us that this emerging interpretation of King David’s life is one that is gaining momentum in the fields of Biblical studies, history, and archaeology and that these conclusions are based more on what the sources don’t tell us than what they do, and that means taking what we do know about David’s rise to power and trying to fill in those gaps based on starting and ending points. The results of this study are that David wasn’t just an innocent victim of King Saul’s jealousy, but was a man purposefully driven to gain power, allegiances, and solidify support for his ultimate goal of kingship by waging insurgent warfare even at the expense of his own people.

The primary source for David’s biography are the Biblical books of 1&2 Samuel and 1 Kings, the books of Samuel offering the bulk of the biography, and Dean points out that Samuel’s writing is similar to that of apologists. Accepting this is one of the keys for getting to know David the man rather than David the victim.  We know that David was a warrior, a man who had no problem hunting down 200 Philistines and cutting-off their foreskins for a dowry (only 100 were asked for), and the Bible remembers David as a musician, a shepherd, a man after God’s heart. Dean only adds to this image: you don’t kill and mutilate 200 men as a dowry and fight on behalf of your enemy and not have greater designs than playing a passive, survival waiting game.

Dean quickly overviews David’s transition from shepherd to a national war hero under King Saul noting that as the youngest of many sons of a wealthy land owner, David would have been well educated but his prospects of inheritance were non-existent meaning his only option for gaining wealth and advancement would be through the military. He gained Saul’s trust becoming part of his inner-circle and soon found himself promoted to leading military missions before being given the prestigious role of commanding Saul’s “men of war” which could refer to the professional portion of the army rather than the levied men each tribe was obligated to provide for campaign season.  David continued to grow in popularity winning the hearts of not only the people, but also Saul’s retinue of courtiers and royal guard, forming a deep bromance with Saul’s son, Jonathan, and eventually marrying Saul’s daughter, Michal. But Saul began to get concerned at the height to which David had risen in his court, and while Samuel writes that Saul had become paranoid, it’s not a stretch to believe that Saul had become nervous about David’s prestige as it wouldn’t be the first, or last time, that a military commander had a mind to usurp a king. It’s even less of a stretch to believe considering Israel’s geo-political division. Israel was divided into two uneven tribal groupings, Israel and Judah. Saul came from the tribe of Benjamin which was in the larger tribe pool of Israel, while David came from the tribe of Judah. Saul was accepted by all but some historians believe that Saul’s powerbase lay with his tribe rather than the nation meaning that Saul might not have been confident of his support from the entire nation should someone attempt a coup. It is not surprising then that Saul eventually began a campaign to assassinate David which forced David to flee the country. However, interestingly, had David only been scared for his life as Samuel says, David could’ve left Saul’s dominion for any number of nearby lands, not all of them hostile. But rather than finding refuge in a friendly country, David sought refuge with Israel’s chief enemy: Philistia.

Going to the Philistine city of Gath, its king wasn’t interested in accepting David so David went back to hide in Judaea and the city of Adullam which was likely a frontier fort rather than the cave the Bible calls it. Here David’s family and their households joined him (David later sending his parents into the nearby country of Moab where they were safe from Saul), and he began attracting everyone whose misfortunes made them vulnerable (the debtors, discontent, and distressed 1 Sam. 22:1-2). Soon, David had collected for himself an army of 400 men plus their families which suggests structure and order, rather than just a random group of untrained vagabonds; hardly the situation of a man who only feared for his life without further design. From Adullam David led his army into the wilderness, a harsh land ideal for guerilla warfare against a larger army where he continued to attract fighters, very likely including non-Jews and Philistines. David worked towards gaining a foothold in the land he occupied by chasing out the Philistine occupiers of the Judean town of Keilah though Samuel writes that Keilah and surrounding area was loyal to Saul. It would seem likely then that they were not overly appreciative of this “liberation”, if not resented it considering the trade of one enemy occupier for another. From the wilderness David led his small army into insurgent fighting against Saul, his own people suffering as he raided and extorted the supplies and funds he and his men needed.

You may stop reading here and protest that blessed David didn’t extort and kill his own people! But read his story closer and consider one incident Samuel records providing us with evidence that this is actually true. On one particular extortion run on wealthy Judean landowners, one tribal chief named Nabal refused to pay David the money he demanded. In immediate response, David took three-quarters of his men to make it clear to Nabal, and others who might get the same idea, that not paying was not an option as he swore to kill everyone in Nabal’s house and estate by the next morning (1Sam. 25:22). This bloodbath was only averted when Nabal’s beautiful wife, Abigail, humbly met David on the road offering him provisions and asking him to “remember his handmaiden”. This plea has made many to think that David made a deal with Abigail as Nabal suspiciously and conveniently died two weeks later, and David swiftly married his widow (dead husband, David takes the beautiful widow, sound familiar…Bathsheba?).  In this roadside meeting, Abigail hailed David as the future king of all Israel, and this is without the Bible accrediting her prophetic gifting. This of course would mean that David’s intention for the throne was known as no divine revelation was given. Even should Abigail have gotten knowledge of the private anointing ceremony Samuel had performed on David years earlier, she declared him king rather than Saul and David didn’t refuse the title. And while more subjective, it is possible that Nabal was a supporter of Saul, and as a tribal chief securing his influence would have been desirable. With Nabal’s wife now in his bed, David could hope to start exerting his own influence and leadership on the tribe. To further support this theory, it was shortly after Nabal’s death that Saul heightened his offensive against David forcing him to again flee back into the Philistine lands- Israel’s enemy, rather than a more peaceful country such as Moab where his parents were.

Coming again to the king of Gath with his army of now 600 seasoned men, the Philistine king accepted David and his company into his service giving him the town of Ziqlag to occupy giving teeth to this buffer zone. From here, David raided Philistia’s and Israel’s enemies even though the latter may have been an ally of Philistia. According to Samuel, David lied to the Philistine King about where he was getting the plunder he was handing over, and to keep his deception, he had a policy of leaving no one alive in a raid so no word of his actions could get back to the king. The truth of how selective David’s raids were have been called into question allowing for the possibility that David was okay with spilling Jewish blood, the example of Nabal giving weight to the possibility.

David served with the Philistine king for sixteen months until Philistia and Israel clashed at Mount Gilboa. Some historians are willing to suggest that David was able to gain influence with Nabal’s clan, the Calebites, and allowed the Philistine king to operate out of these lands giving him a base closer to the Israelites. If David pressed Saul from the south, and the Philistines from the west, Saul would be forced to split his forces. The Philistine king trusted that David had turned his back on his own people and that they had turned their back on him, but the other Philistine nobles were not so convinced, and David was not allowed to join the battle even as he hotly protested this exclusion. Some historians don’t wonder if David actually did stay for the battle to fight on the side of the Philistines. Regardless, the Israelites lost the battle and lost it badly. Saul and his sons died, the army was devastated, and David, though Samuel writes that he mourned Saul, didn’t waste any time in stepping up as the national leader. Saul’s crown, bracelet, and possibly his spear were brought to David giving him the royal insignias, and he gave lavish gifts to over a dozen influential Judean elders guaranteeing their support before leading his small army into the Judean capital of Hebron and occupied it where the elders anointed him king of Judah. The fact that his armed veterans were with him in Hebron should not be overlooked.

While Samuel continually implies that David had no true ambition for the throne outside of the timing of God, David’s continuing actions suggest a man not so calmly waiting for his appointed time. Should the humble and peace seeking David whom Samuel writes of be wholly accurate, then we would expect to see David wanting to work with Saul’s son and heir Ishboshet to organize a joint counter offensive to the Philistine occupiers. But outside of his pact with Jonathan, David had no sympathy for the house of Saul and a bitter war between David and Ishboshet broke out. Ishboshet was forced to relocate the Isrealite capital in face of the advancing Philistines and David continued his campaign of wooing Israelite clans and tribes to his side while also making a political alliance with Geshut (to Israel’s north) by marring the king’s daughter; Ishboshet and Israel were now almost surrounded, north, west, and south. As the war was going in David’s favour, Ishboshet’s commander Abner offered his services to David promising his defection would bring the entire Israelite army as well. David agreed to this, however, David’s own commander, Joab, wasn’t prepared to be a subordinate commander and killed Abner before the deal was done.

Ishboshet was finally assassinated by his own officers ending the war. Israel had no obvious choice for the kingship so the Israelite leaders petitioned David to become their king effectively uniting Israel’s boarders. Once in power, David took over Saul’s harem, a classic move of dominance, and destroyed the rest of Saul’s house, having Saul’s 5 grandsons killed as well as his two illegitimate sons, and though he took Michal back as his wife, he had no children with her. Jonathan’s son Mephiboshet was spared for Jonathan’s sake and brought into David’s household and a realist would say that David put him under house arrest.

This theory about David isn’t without its holes or its counter arguments but there’s enough here to present plausibility and fullness to an otherwise weighted narrative. If you’re interested in reading more, there’s a shortened reading list from Dean’s article below.

Bonus Fact: When David fled from Saul the first time, he did so so fast that he took no food or weapons with him. David lied to a priest in order to obtain both and the weapon he was given was the giant Goliath’s sword which had been kept at the temple in dedication. The Bible never mentions David returning the sword to the care of the priesthood so its reasonable to assume that David kept and used Goliath’s oversized sword as his own throughout his career . And that’s pretty freakin’ awesome. (The Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, and the Septuagint tells us that Goliath was 6’9 in height)


Select Bibliography

  1. R. Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel (New York, 1999).
  2. G. Greenberg, King David Versus Israel: How a Hebrew Tyrant Hated by the Israelites Became a Biblical Hero (New York 2009).
  3. B. Halpern, David’s Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King (Grant Rapids Michigan 2003).
  4. J. Kirsch, King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel (New York 2001).
  5. S. McKenzie, King David: A Biography (Oxford 2002).

A Tale of Two Coins

I love when history is fascinating. Let me revise that- history is almost always fascinating but I love it when the people who take the sometimes less popular parts and break it down into truly interesting, digestible pieces. So it is with this short article on inflation and the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage (aka. Hannibal). It very nicely explains how the massive devaluing of Rome’s currency during the war didn’t affect Rome nearly in the same way, or with nearly the same consequences, as the failing currency of Carthage.  Well worth the read and the 2 minutes it takes to read it.


And if you love ancient history and have never read Ancient Warfare, it is a must!

Little Man, Big Men

In the early years the relationship between ancient Rome and ancient Judaea wasn’t so bad. There was curiosity exchanged, amusement, even scandal concerning the culture of the other, but there wasn’t any overt animosity or any overly outlandish feelings of discord which could be considered out of the ordinary as far as one country being annexed by another was concerned. This early stage relationship, as we know, didn’t last- something went wrong, something went terribly wrong, and like the fall of Rome itself some centuries later, it wasn’t just one thing which went wrong. Was it a clash of religions and value systems, or cultural disrespect, suppression gone too far?

The answer is all of the above and more, and it is one of the “more” subjects which I want to highlight here for the reason that it’s a quick study on the human condition- which fundamentally never changes no matter the century. While this issue is not as obvious as the forced emperor worship, excessive taxes, and heavy handed dealings of rebellions- not unique for a Roman occupation, this issue is more subvert, that is, the lose-lose situation Judaea’s governors found themselves in. Unlike being granted a prized governorship in Hispania (Spain), or Asia Minor, Judaea was a back water country full of curious monotheists, and then after a few years, full of troublemaking monotheists. Judaea didn’t attract the best leaders from Rome and the men who did get there were mostly committed to getting out and moving up the political ladder as soon as possible. To make the situation even more inconvenient, the ruling royal household, the Hasmoneans/Herodians, a family who recognized early on where the future lay, were pretty buddy-buddy with the emperors themselves, particularly the Herodian family.

“In any case, governors will have been uneasily aware that the political clout in Rome of some members of the Herodian family was considerably greater than theirs. In the first year of his reign, in 54, Nero placed the government of Armenia Minor into the hands of Aristobulus, son of the deceased Herod of Chalcis, for no known reason apart from his royal ancestry. By contrast, all governors of Judaea were of comparatively lowly Roman status- none was a senator, and Felix, governor from c. [AD] 52 to 60, was an ex-slave.”[1]

The passage goes on to tell of how close Judaea’s Agrippa I and Agrippa II were to the emperors of their lifetime, close friends having grown up together in Rome. Eventually the Agrippas went home to Judaea to rule and the future emperors became emperors. Whenever one was in town they went out for some drinks together, caught up with how each other’s families were doing, shared stories of years gone by, and traded ideas about the role each of their respective countries was going to play on the world stage (obviously, this latter topic was a little one sided and imperialistic in its outlook, but hey, we all have a friend like that).

This incomplete triangle dynamic is fascinating because it is not often a rather low level politician gets sent to govern a low level country which was ruled by a royal family of greater clout and sway than the low-level man coming in to implement the will of Rome. Instead of being present with the full glory and might of one of the most outstanding empires in history, these appointed governors were coming in often times as somewhat of a third wheel, just with really fancy armour. Judaea was not yet a province and they were still ruled by their king who was often on better terms and in less trouble with the emperor than the governor himself because of his inability to keep Judaea quiet. Nothing strikes me more as a ripe environment of excessive muscle flexing than the little man trying to be a big man in a monstrous man’s world. Maybe this is one of the overlooked reasons why Judaean governors had such a hard hand in dealing with rebellious Jews and perpetuated a key factor in the coming war: they were hard handed not necessarily because they were exclusively getting annoyed with the Jews, but because they felt like they had to prove their worth in order to stay relevant. In one way this third wheel mentality worked, because Judaea eventually felt the full wrath of Rome and the governors gained a province to rule rather than just to occupy.

It’s something to think consider.


[1] Goodman, Martin. “Rome & Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations.” 2007. P.382

Happy Saturnalia! Wait, don’t leave yet!

I can’t think of a more appropriate way of making my first December post than by wishing everyone a happy Saturnalia! Before you give me the ‘ol one-raised-eyebrow treatment and find something less niche to fill your time with, keep reading for just a moment, I promise you will be smarter and more invested afterwards.

Happy Saturnalia everyone!! December 17th, the Ides of December + 2, marks the start of the week long Roman festival which was as popular to the Romans as Christmas is to us. Well, it was a week-ish. The holiday’s duration was flexible especially during the years surrounding the transition from the disaster which was the original Roman calendar over to the Julian calendar. Originally the festival was one day and then was it was in flux from seven days, to three, then up to five under Caligula. The seven day celebration meant that Saturnalia ended on December 23rd which launched perfectly into December 25th, a day dedicated to honour Saturn (Cronos in Greek mythology). This was a perfect cap to the whole celebration of Saturnalia which was also a celebration of Saturn, the god of seed and sowing. Since a farmer is to have finished planting his fields by this point, the origins of this holiday go back to honouring the god who would bring abundance from the seeds.

This holiday was by far the most popular amongst Romans, and that’s saying something considering how many holidays the Romans had (check it out: http://www.unrv.com/culture/roman-festivals.php). Saturnalia was SO popular in fact, that when Christianity began to really gain momentum in the Empire, Church leaders realized that they couldn’t simply deny their recent converts the ability to celebrate this pagan holiday. Instead, the Church did what the Church was so good at: they adapted the holiday for their own purposes and shifted the focus of the holiday away from the pagan god Saturn and turned the focus instead onto the birth of Christ; (this really proved which civilization the Church was raised up in, Rome was never so good at anything as taking other culture’s ideas and making them their own). Some scholars have linked December 25th with the birth of the popular god Mithras whose similarities to Jesus are striking, but this is not a universally held connection since Mithras’ own birthday is not fact1.

So what happened during Saturnalia? Besides delicious sweet poppy seed bread/cake being made, there was gift giving, candles were a popular gift, gambling was allowed in public, the traditional toga was given over to colourful robes, slaves were allowed to be served as equals at the dinner table, wear their master’s clothing, and in some cases, a complete role reversal was allowed to happen where slaves could give orders to the masters. As with any holiday the extent of the celebration varied between families, but one thing was held commonly to all, there was lots of drinking, eating, singing, and merry making which happened, and best of all, it was a statutory holiday!

So from myself to your family, I wish you a happy Saturnalia and lots of good food and drink to ring in the new year! Really, this is just the warm-up for Christmas!

And if you’re looking for a quick, but more sourced, run down on Saturnalia I would suggest here: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/calendar/saturnalia.html

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mithras_in_comparison_with_other_belief_systems Mithraism and Christianity

The Who of March?

This is the day past the Ides of March and what does that mean to you?

a) One day closer to St. Patty’s

b) Another mispronunciation of Idina Menzel

c) Vae! Vae! Vae! The first night has passed since great tragedy! (Or, if you’re Shakespeare, then the first night has passed FOR a great tragedy)

d) It’s almost Spring. Except in Canada where it’s still snowing.

While answer A is acceptable, the most correct answer is of coarse C, and also D but that’s beside the point, this is the first full day after one of the most monumental in history. The tale of Gauis Julius Caesar’s assassination has been passed down to us from the pen of the victor which automatically makes us predisposed to believing that Caesar’s early exit from life is one of the greatest  thieveries to have happened to humanity.  In 44 B.C. when Caesar was assassinated he had been in the seat of sole power for about 4 years meaning that he pretty much WAS the law. Having  non-expiring powers to override the Senate and the Roman citizens, both having been theoretical safety nets to protect the Roman people from tyrant-kings, though their ability to protect from tyrannical behaviour decreased wildly in the latter part of the Republic, Julius Caesar put himself on a mission to craft a stable and glorious Rome fixing the problems which had threatened to destroy the great empire from the inside out for over a century.

The effectiveness of Caesar’s measures can be divisive to those who study them as we’ll never know if they would have actually worked as Caesar envisioned them. The biggest question about Caesar’s reforms is once the problem of instability was fixed, would Caesar have relinquished his power back to a restabilized Senate so that the glory of the Republic could continue on again? History tells us that the odds are oppressively stacked against the belief that he would have relinquished his hard fought authority, and if he did, as his predecessor Sulla miraculously did when he seized the dictatorship to “fix” Rome , then someone else would have invariably stepped into the vacancy; at this point in history Rome was too broken to ever go back to a the ways of the Republic. Some people side with Brutus, Cassius and the other conspirators who believe Rome would have been no better off under Caesar’s reforms and it was best that he was assassinated. Others believe that Caesar was onto something great and he was one of Rome’s greatest losses. So let us take a quick look through some of Julius Caesar’s great reforms that were left incomplete by his untimely demise.

1) He wanted to rebirth a strong governing body, one not so weakened by infighting and vanity that it was held nearly useless and even detrimental. The head of the Roman senate, the consuls, changed every year by election and the rapid turnover made consistent law making and enforcement difficult at best. The Man with a Plan, Julius Caesar, made himself the constant governmental force so that the vision didn’t get lost.

2) By increasing and decreasing the powers of certain offices, Caesar restructured how political power was wielded, both by increasing the powers associated with his office as dictator, and also by minimizing the more pesky or overbloated offices.

3) The size of the senate was dramatically increased.  Decimated by civil wars and proscriptions, Caesar repopulated it at its new cap of 900 people (up from 300). These 600 new senators were loyal to Caesar and they also represented much of northern Italy and other pockets of citizens which had been in Rome’s fold for quite some time but had no representation in the Senate. Six hundred new senators also meant severely diluting the power held by the 300 traditional families beforehand.

4) Provincial governors were limited in how long they could hold office in their province having to leave office after either one or two years depending on the category of province.  While this would help curb the severe mismanagement that tended to happen, it also prevented any governor from forming a position of power with which to challenge Caesar. Which, incidentally, is exactly the path to power Ceasar had taken to get to where he was in 44 B.C.

5) Caesar took great strides to making Italy a province and tightening the bond between the different Italian tribes addressing some of the greatest grievances the Italians had against the Romans. He also tightened the bond with the other provinces creating greater equality with them. Ultimately bringing the provinces closer to Rome and increasing the relationship with them was a measure brought to deeper completion under Augustus.

6) Large land owners were forced to have at least 1/3 of their labour force to be employed freed citizens to help alleviate the jobless mob. He also founded numerous colonies to help settle many others into productive lives.

Interested in learning a bit more? While you could go to Wikipedia, I would first suggest this page here: Caesar the Dictator guaranteed to be written by someone who knows what they’re talking about, in easy language and short in length.

Happy Ides of March everyone!!

I, Caligula- Review of “Caligula”

Originally published on UNRV.com a few years ago, the recommendation still stands. Excellent little book that really plays the devil’s advocate on one of Rome’s most infamous rulers.


Crazy. Insane. Out of control. Egotistical. Blood-thirsty. Psychotic. This is just a sample of adjectives stereotypically ascribed to many of the Roman emperors, but were the emperors really as mad as common, popular belief teaches us they were? Were they honestly as looney, messed up and deranged as befitting a perfectly wild addition to a morbid rendition of “Alice in Wonderland”? Sam Wilkinson, professor of Classics at the University of London, in his 128 page pamphlet “Caligula”, does his best to weed out fact from such superficial assumptions on everyone’s favourite nefarious megalomaniac, Gaius Caligula. This study is a fascinating counterbalance to the general biographies on Caligula that tend to simply present the ancient sources and not spend sufficient energies on testing the sources for accuracy over bias.

Wilkinson sets about his myth-busting, for that is really what this book is about, by assuming that all the sources are wrong and that they must be debunked, or proven, by looking at the results of the events that were said to transpire during Caligula’s reign. He does this mostly by judging the reactions of the populace to Caligula’s measures and by checking for the continuation of the ordinances on into Claudius’ reign. In a conclusion that would have been better set as a forward to this study that challenges everything typically taught about Caligula, Wilkinson lays out his thesis that Caligula was “competent” and “intelligent” and his only real crime was not having the wisdom to properly deal with the Senate. Caligula was, in essence, an emperor before his time. As such, the insulted and rebuffed senatorial historians did their best to vilify Caligula as the mentally unstable and tyrannical despot that today we know and mostly love. This is not a revolutionary conclusion on its own, but it is the lengths to which the conclusion is mapped out which defines this pamphlet.

As a foundation to his study, Wilkinson gives a brief history of Caligula’s upbringing. The years spent with Tiberius on Caprae do not factor into his argument as much as previous studies have incorporated it as a likely birthing place for Caligula’s depravity. Wilkinson then divides Caligula’s reign into four chapter-categories which are then individually studied for either madness or rationality. These areas are Caligula’s domestic policy, foreign policy, the maiestas trials and his own assignation, and finally, his dealings with the Senate. Each section is further divided into study areas such as “Public Administration” and “Entertainment” under his domestic policy and various geographical regions such as Africa, Judaea and Britain for his foreign policy. For each section Wilkinson first looks at what the various ancient sources say about the event and then looks at the results of it from a less biased angle, such as looking backwards from Claudius’ reign.

For example, one of the theme complaints against Caligula was his spendthrift habits driving the Empire into debt and forever causing Caligula to go to new lows to try and replenish the coffers. Yet excessive spending was a stock accusation often employed by historians against authorities ill-liked. The line between private wealth and income earned as an emperor is problematic to discern, and should Caligula’s condemned personal extravagances have been taken from his private wealth, then vilification for stealing from the State is unfair. When Claudius came to power he had the funds available to heavily pay out to the praetorians- 15,000 sesterces to each praetorian, in addition to giving rich gifts to the city, a sure sign that the State was not run dry. So with points such as these Wilkinson concludes that by Caligula’s heavy spending, bankruptcy may have been a grave contemporary concern, but it did not necessarily occur.

Then there is Caligula’s bizarre trip to the Gallic beaches and his very strange attempt at an invasion of Britain. In a story that makes Caligula out to be madder than Xerxes whipping the Hellespont waters for its defiance, Wilkinson breaks Caligula’s British “war” down as thoroughly as he can giving the impression that this is the crowning moment of his study, that to bring logical rationality to Caligula’s action here would surely prove that it is possible to unwind Caligula’s entire reign into revealing a shrewd, yet very sane, man. Wilkinson does a good job trying to make sense of something that is very difficult to work around, in contrast to, say, naming his horse to the Senate being easily dismissed as ill tasted humour. Though, for me, it is here that I became a bit drowned in all the rationalizing attempts and so the concluding statement that, “Instead of a farce, we find a sensible and simple foreign policy in Gaius’ actions with….the Britons” came as something of a sideswipe and I was too overwhelmed to bother trying a second time to follow Wilkinson’s argument.

And thus, the strength of this book in forcing the ancient sources to prove themselves is also this book’s greatest weakness. Wilkinson is so intent on bringing out Caligula’s sanity that he sometimes seems to ignore the time proven test that the simple is usually more truthful than having to jump through five hoops first before it fits the theory. There are moments when you simply are not able to allow yourself to lose yourself in Wilkinson’s version of Caligula and then there are times you really let yourself believe that Caligula was not so much the problem as it was the ruling elite. Maybe it is possible that Caligula was just a despot before his time, a time when the ruling class had not given up enough of the Republic ideal to let him rest in peace for posterity; maybe? Overall this book is something of a fascinating read and truly does provide the other side of the coin. I would not suggest it as an introductory text to the emperor but would recommend it to anyone interested in investigating a more realistic Caligula.