We moderns admire the idea of a merciful victor — in theory. So too did the ancients, and their admiration was just as qualified. The Roman general and dictator, Julius Caesar, whose name has become almost a synonym for leadership undone by overreach, attempted to practice a bold form of clemency soon after his accession to power. As historian and classicist Barry Strauss points out, however, mercy can be a very dangerous policy — a fact contemporary leaders can also learn from.
When Julius Caesar conquered Rome by winning a civil war, he encountered a problem facing any new executive: how to treat those who had opposed him on his way to the top. A new boss can hardly wipe the slate clean; he …
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Barry Strauss is Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor of Humanistic Studies and chair of the department of history at Cornell University. His latest book is The Death of Caesar: The Story of History’s Most Famous Assassination.