In 1865, Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, published his History of Julius Caesar. The book was a sweeping appropriation of the legacy of Caesar, who was conscripted in Napoleon III’s battle to rebuild the glory of France. Napoleon’s Caesar attracted notice not so much as a narrative of the ancient past, but as a heavily symbolic statement of national and imperial intent. It was designed to validate – to audiences around the world – Napoleon’s personal power, his imperial system, and his ambitions for France. Reactions to it were filtered through discourses of nationalism, from America to Germany. For Walter Bagehot (1889 [vol. 2]: 440), “Julius Caesar was the first who tried on an imperial scale the characteristic principles of the French Empire as the first Napoleon revived them, as the third Napoleon has consolidated them.” This chapter explores the grand ambitions of this unique history and its reception across the world – particularly in Karl Marx’s Der achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte. The legacy of Caesar became an intensely contested battleground, following the publication of Napoleon’s work – but the History of Julius Caesar ultimately became a marker of the limitations, rather than the extent, of the Emperor’s power.
Richardson, E. (2016). The Emperor’s Caesar: Napoleon III, Karl Marx and the History of Julius Caesar. In T. Fögen, & R. Warren (Eds.), Graeco-Roman antiquity and the idea of nationalism in the 19th century : case studies (113-130). De Gruyter. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110473490-006