From the bestselling author of Fatherland and Pompeii, comes the first novel of a trilogy about the struggle for power in ancient Rome.
In his “most accomplished work to date” (Los Angeles Times), master of historical fiction Robert Harris lures readers back in time to the compelling life of Roman Senator Marcus Cicero. The re-creation of a vanished biography written by his household slave and righthand man, Tiro, Imperium follows Cicero’s extraordinary struggle to attain supreme power in Rome.
On a cold November morning, Tiro opens the door to find a terrified, bedraggled stranger begging for help. Once a Sicilian aristocrat, the man was robbed by the corrupt Roman governor, Verres, who is now trying to convict him under false pretenses and sentence him to a violent death. The man claims that only the great senator Marcus Cicero, one of Rome’s most ambitious lawyers and spellbinding orators, can bring him justice in a crooked society manipulated by the villainous governor. But for Cicero, it is a chance to prove himself worthy of absolute power. What follows is one of the most gripping courtroom dramas in history, and the beginning of a quest for political glory by a man who fought his way to the top using only his voice—defeating the most daunting figures in Roman history.
About the Author
Robert Harris is the author of Pompeii, Enigma, and Fatherland. He has been a television correspondent with the BBC and a newspaper columnist for the London Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. His novels have sold more than ten million copies and been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Berkshire, England, with his wife and four children.
Read an Excerpt
A Novel of Ancient Rome
By Robert Harris
Simon & Schuster
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
It had been my intention to describe in detail the trial of Gaius Verres,
but now I come to set it down, I see there is no point. After Cicero's
tactical masterstroke on that first day, Verres and his advocates
resembled nothing so much as the victims of a siege: holed up in their
little fortress, surrounded by their enemies, battered day after day by a
rain of missiles, and their crumbling walls undermined by tunnels. They
had no means of fighting back. Their only hope was somehow to withstand
the onslaught for the nine days remaining, and then try to regroup during
the lull enforced by Pompey's games. Cicero's objective was equally clear:
to obliterate Verres's defenses so completely that by the time he had
finished laying out his case, not even the most corrupt senatorial jury in
Rome would dare to acquit him.
He set about this mission with his usual discipline. The prosecution team
would gather before dawn. While Cicero performed his exercises, was shaved
and dressed, I would read out the testimony of the witnesses he would be
calling that day and run through our schedule of evidence. He would then
dictate to me the rough outline of what he intended to say. For an hour or
two he would familiarize himself with the day's brief and thoroughly
memorize hisremarks, while Quintus, Frugi, and I ensured that all his
witnesses and evidence boxes were ready. We would then parade down the
hill to the Forum - and parades they were, for the general view around
Rome was that Cicero's performance in the extortion court was the greatest
show in town. The crowds were as large on the second and third days as
they had been on the first, and the witnesses' performances were often
heartbreaking, as they collapsed in tears recounting their ill treatment.
I remember in particular Dio of Halaesa, swindled out of ten thousand
sesterces, and two brothers from Agyrium forced to hand over their entire
inheritance of four thousand. There would have been more, but Lucius
Metellus had actually refused to let a dozen witnesses leave the island to
testify, among them the chief priest of Jupiter, Heraclius of Syracuse -
an outrage against justice which Cicero neatly turned to his advantage.
"Our allies' rights," he boomed, "do not even include permission to
complain of their sufferings!" Throughout all this, Hortensius, amazing to
relate, never said a word. Cicero would finish his examination of a
witness, Glabrio would offer the King of the Law Courts his chance to
cross-examine, and His Majesty would regally shake his head, or declare
grandly, "No questions for this witness." On the fourth day, Verres
pleaded illness and tried to be excused from attending, but Glabrio was
having none of it, and told him he would be carried down to the Forum on
his bed if necessary.
It was on the following afternoon that Cicero's cousin Lucius at last
returned to Rome, his mission in Sicily accomplished. Cicero was overjoyed
to find him waiting at the house when we got back from court, and he
embraced him tearfully. Without Lucius's support in dispatching witnesses
and boxes of evidence back to the mainland, Cicero's case would not have
been half as strong. But the seven-month effort had clearly exhausted
Lucius, who had not been a strong man to begin with. He was now alarmingly
thin and had developed a painful, racking cough. Even so, his commitment
to bringing Verres to justice was unwavering - so much so that he had
missed the opening of the trial in order to take a detour on his journey
back to Rome. He had stayed in Puteoli and tracked down two more
witnesses: the Roman knight, Gaius Numitorius, who had witnessed the
crucifixion of Gavius in Messana; and a friend of his, a merchant named
Marcus Annius, who had been in Syracuse when the Roman banker Herennius
had been judicially murdered.
"And where are these gentlemen?" asked Cicero eagerly.
"Here," replied Lucius. "In the tablinum. But I must warn you, they do not
want to testify."
Cicero hurried through to find two formidable men of middle age - "the
perfect witnesses from my point of view," as Cicero afterwards described
them, "prosperous, respectable, sober, and above all - not Sicilian." As
Lucius had predicted, they were reluctant to get involved. They were
businessmen, with no desire to make powerful enemies, and did not relish
the prospect of taking starring roles in Cicero's great anti-aristocratic
production in the Roman Forum. But he wore them down, for they were not
fools, either, and could see that in the ledger of profit and loss, they
stood to gain most by aligning themselves with the side that was winning.
"Do you remember what Pompey said to Sulla, when the old man tried to deny
him a triumph on his twenty-sixth birthday?" asked Cicero. "He told me
over dinner the other night: 'More people worship a rising than a setting
sun.'" This potent combination of name-dropping and appeals to patriotism
and self-interest at last brought them around, and by the time they went
in to dinner with Cicero and his family they had pledged their support.
"I knew if I had them in your company for a few moments," whispered
Lucius, "they would do whatever you wanted."
I had expected Cicero to put them on the witness stand the very next day,
but he was too smart for that. "A show must always end with a climax," he
said. He was ratcheting up the level of outrage with each new piece of
evidence, having moved on through judicial corruption, extortion, and
straightforward robbery to cruel and unusual punishment. On the eighth day
of the trial, he dealt with the testimony of two Sicilian naval captains,
Phalacrus of Centuripae and Onasus of Segesta, who described how they and
their men had escaped floggings and executions by bribing Verres's
freedman Timarchides (present in court, I am glad to say, to experience
his humiliation personally). Worse: the families of those who had not been
able to raise sufficient funds to secure the release of their relatives
had been told they would still have to pay a bribe to the official
executioner, Sextius, or he would deliberately make a mess of the
beheadings. "Think of that unbearable burden of pain," declaimed Cicero,
"of the anguish that racked those unhappy parents, thus compelled to
purchase for their children by bribery not life but a speedy death!" I
could see the senators on the jury shaking their heads at this and
muttering to one another, and each time Glabrio invited Hortensius to
cross-examine the witnesses, and Hortensius simply responded yet again,
"No questions," they groaned. Their position was becoming intolerable, and
that night the first rumors reached us that Verres had already packed up
the contents of his house and was preparing to flee into exile.
Such was the state of affairs on the ninth day, when we brought Annius and
Numitorius into court. If anything, the crowd in the Forum was bigger than
ever, for there were now only two days left until Pompey's great games.
Verres came late and obviously drunk. He stumbled as he climbed the steps
of the temple up to the tribunal, and Hortensius had to steady him as the
crowd roared with laughter. As he passed Cicero's place, he flashed him a
shattered, red-eyed look of fear and rage - the hunted, cornered look of
an animal: the Boar at bay. Cicero got straight down to business and
called as his first witness Annius, who described how he had been
inspecting a cargo down at the harbor in Syracuse one morning when a
friend had come running to tell him that their business associate,
Herennius, was in chains in the forum and pleading for his life.
"So what did you do?"
"Naturally, I went at once."
"And what was the scene?"
"There were perhaps a hundred people crying out that Herennius was a Roman
citizen and could not be executed without a proper trial."
"How did you all know that Herennius was a Roman? Was he not a banker from
"Many of us knew him personally. Although he had business in Spain, he had
been born to a Roman family in Syracuse and had grown up in the city."
"And what was Verres's response to your pleas?"
"He ordered Herennius to be beheaded immediately."
There was a groan of horror around the court.
"And who dealt the fatal blow?"
"The public executioner, Sextius."
"And did he make a clean job of it?"
"I am afraid he did not, no."
"Clearly," said Cicero, turning to the jury, "he had not paid Verres and
his gang of thieves a large enough bribe."
For most of the trial, Verres had sat slumped in his chair, but on this
morning, fired by drink, he jumped up and began shouting that he had never
taken any such bribe. Hortensius had to pull him down. Cicero ignored him
and went on calmly questioning his witness.
"This is an extraordinary situation, is it not? A hundred of you vouch for
the identity of this Roman citizen, yet Verres does not even wait an hour
to establish the truth of who he is. How do you account for it?"
"I can account for it easily, senator. Herennius was a passenger on a ship
from Spain that was impounded with all its cargo by Verres's agents. He
was sent to the Stone Quarries, along with everyone else on board, then
dragged out to be publicly executed as a pirate. What Verres did not
realize was that Herennius was not from Spain at all. He was known to the
Roman community in Syracuse and would be recognized. But by the time
Verres discovered his mistake, Herennius could not be allowed to go free,
because he knew too much about what the governor was up to."
"Forgive me, I do not understand," said Cicero, playing the innocent. "Why
would Verres want to execute an innocent passenger on a cargo ship as a
"He needed to show a sufficient number of executions."
"Because he was being paid bribes to let the real pirates go free."
Verres was on his feet again shouting that it was a lie, and this time
Cicero took a few paces toward him. "A lie, you monster? A lie? Then why
in your own prison records does it state that Herennius was released? And
why do they further state that the notorious pirate captain Heracleo was
executed, when no one on the island ever saw him die? I shall tell you why
- because you, the Roman governor, responsible for the safety of the
seas, were all the while taking bribes from the very pirates themselves!"
"Cicero, the great lawyer, who thinks himself so clever!" said Verres
bitterly, his words slurred by drink. "Who thinks he knows everything!
Well, here is something you do not know. I have Heracleo in my private
custody, here in my house in Rome, and he can tell you all himself that it
is a lie!"
Amazing now, to reflect that a man could blurt out something so foolish,
but the facts are there - they are in the record - and amid the
pandemonium in court, Cicero could be heard demanding of Glabrio that the
famous pirate be fetched from Verres's house by the lictors and placed in
proper official custody, "for the public safety." Then, while that was
being done, he called as his second witness of the day Gaius Numitorius.
Privately I thought that Cicero was rushing it too much: that he could
have milked the admission about Heracleo for more. But the great advocate
had sensed that the moment of the kill had arrived, and for months, ever
since we had first landed in Sicily, he had known exactly the blade he
wished to use. Numitorius swore an oath to tell the truth and took the
stand, and Cicero quickly led him through his testimony to establish the
essential facts about Publius Gavius: that he was a merchant traveling on
a ship from Spain; that his ship had been impounded and the passengers all
taken to the Stone Quarries, from which Gavius had somehow managed to
escape; that he had made his way to Messana to take a ship to the
mainland, had been apprehended as he went aboard, and had been handed over
to Verres when he visited the town. The silence of the listening
multitudes was intense.
"Describe to the court what happened next."
"Verres convened a tribunal in the forum of Messana," said Numitorius,
"and then he had Gavius dragged before him. He announced to everyone that
this man was a spy, for which there was only one just penalty. Then he
ordered a cross set up overlooking the straits to Regium, so that the
prisoner could gaze upon Italy as he died, and had Gavius stripped naked
and publicly flogged before us all. Then he was tortured with hot irons.
And then he was crucified."
"Did Gavius speak at all?"
"Only at the beginning, to swear that the accusation was not true. He was
not a foreign spy. He was a Roman citizen, a councillor from the town of
Consa, and a former soldier in the Roman cavalry, under the command of
"What did Verres say to that?"
"He said that these were lies and commanded that the execution begin."
"Can you describe how Gavius met his dreadful death?"
"He met it very bravely, senator."
"Like a Roman?"
"Like a Roman."
"Did he cry out at all?"
"Only while he was being whipped and he could see the irons being heated."
"And what did he say?"
"Every time a blow landed, he said, 'I am a Roman citizen.'"
"Would you repeat what he said, more loudly please, so that all can hear."
"He said, 'I am a Roman citizen.'"
"So just that?" said Cicero. "Let me be sure I understand you. A blow
lands" - he put his wrists together, raised them above his head, and
jerked forward, as if his back had just been lashed - "and he says
through gritted teeth, 'I am a Roman citizen.' A blow lands" - and again
he jerked forward - "'I am a Roman citizen.' A blow lands. 'I am a Roman
The flat words of my transcript cannot hope to convey the effect of
Cicero's performance upon those who saw it. The hush around the court
amplified his words. It was as if all of us now were witnesses to this
monstrous miscarriage of justice. Some men and women - friends of Gavius,
I believe - began to scream, and there was a growing swell of outrage
from the masses in the Forum. Yet again, Verres shook off Hortensius's
restraining hand and stood up. "He was a filthy spy!" he bellowed. "A spy!
He only said it to delay his proper punishment!"
"But he said it!" said Cicero triumphantly, wheeling on him, his finger
jabbing in outrage. "You admit he said it! Out of your own mouth I accuse
you - the man claimed to be a Roman citizen, and you did nothing! This
mention of his citizenship did not lead you to hesitate or delay, even for
a little, the infliction of this cruel and disgusting death! If you,
Verres, had been made a prisoner in Persia or the remotest part of India
and were being dragged off to execution, what cry would you be uttering,
except that you were a Roman citizen? What then of this man whom you were
hurrying to his death? Could not that statement, that claim of
citizenship, have saved him for an hour, for a day, while its truth was
checked? No it could not - not with you in the judgment seat! And yet the
poorest man, of humblest birth, in whatever savage land, has always until
now had the confidence to know that the cry 'I am a Roman citizen' is his
final defense and sanctuary. It was not Gavius, not one obscure man, whom
you nailed upon that cross of agony: it was the universal principle that
Romans are free men!"
The roar that greeted the end of Cicero's tirade was terrifying. Rather
than diminishing after a few moments, it gathered itself afresh and rose
in volume and pitch, and I became aware, at the periphery of my vision, of
a movement toward us. The awnings under which some of the spectators had
been standing began to collapse with a terrible tearing sound. A man
dropped off a balcony onto the crowd. There were screams. An unmistakable
lynch mob began storming the steps to the platform. Hortensius and Verres
stood up so quickly in their panic that they knocked over the bench behind
them. Glabrio could be heard yelling that the court was adjourned, then he
and his lictors hastened up the remaining steps toward the temple, with
the accused and his eminent counsel in undignified pursuit. Some of the
jury also fled into the sanctuary of the holy building (but not Catulus: I
distinctly remember him standing like a sharp rock, staring unflinchingly
ahead, as the current of bodies broke and swirled around him). The heavy
bronze doors slammed shut. It was left to Cicero to try to restore order
by climbing onto his own bench and gesturing for calm, but four or five
men, rough-looking fellows, ran up and seized his legs and lifted him
away. I was terrified, both for his safety and my own, but he stretched
out his arms as if he was embracing the whole world. When they had settled
him on their shoulders they spun him around to face the Forum. The blast
of applause was like the opening of a furnace door and the chant of
"Cic-er-o! Cic-er-o! Cic-er-o!" split the skies of Rome.
Excerpted from Imperium
by Robert Harris
Copyright © 2006 by Robert Harris.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Imperium is the first in a trilogy of novels about the life and times of Marcus Tullius Cicero, one of Republican Rome's most famous orators. The book is narrated by Tiro, Cicero's slave and secretary, many years after Cicero's death. Tiro existed and lived to be a hundred years old. He was famous for creating a short hand that he used for taking notes and later was adopted by the Senate. There is considerable evidence he wrote a biography of his former master, but those books are lost to history. Harris gives him back his voice. The story is primarily a political thriller-there is little physical action and only a scene or two in which there might be some physical danger. Tiro is a wonderful, sympathetic character-intelligent, loyal, hard-working; brave when he needs to be; and, at all times, discreet. His "voice," through Harris, is straightforward narrative with not a lot of reflection or poetry, but excellent descriptions of places and people-what you might expect from a person who spends his life listening, watching and recording. Harris does a good job of weaving the historical details into the narrative without boring the reader, but it still helps to have some background. There are plots within plots, shifting factions and loyalties, and the minutia of governing. Cicero walks a fine line trying not to alienate the men in power while not becoming their pawn. But with all his brilliance, he still makes enemies and, by the end, when he wins the imperium he so lusts for, they are lining up on all sides to take him down. Harris does us a favor bringing this famous Roman back to the public in such an accessible story. Since Latin is no longer required in high school or college, Cicero is fading from our collective memory, which is a shame-he profoundly affected our U.S. founding fathers. Because so many of his books and letters survived, his work became canon in studying the language and his views on a balanced government suffused the ideas of Enlightenment thinkers and are reflected in the US constitution. John Adams' first and most prized book was his Cicero. I recommend Imperium and will be looking forward to the next installment.
Robert Harris has created and excellent work of combining history with a story that is suspenseful as well as informative. I believe lawyers as well as lovers of historical fiction would enjoy this book.
Very readable story. Told by Cicero's "secretary" who apparently recorded his almost every word during his rise to power in Ancient Rome. It held my interest because I knew little about this period of history. Am currently reading the second book in the trilogy. It's not a Dan Brown "page turner" but it's worth reading.
This is from the viewpoint of the slave of Cicero the orator (Tiro). Tiro invented a shorthand method that allowed him to take down every word of the proceedings that involved his famous master. Pompey and Caesar are characters in the book, but the story is about Cicero and his rise to power. Interesting reading.
This book was truly a page turner. Just as Harris did with Pompeii, the author has written a compelling thriller. This seems odd to say, as Imperium by definition deals with ancient history. Yet I was hanging on each page and waiting to read the outcome. Even though most readers are likekly somewhat acquainted with the factual history - whether as a history buff or a Stephen Saylor reader - the history is still written with a fresh edge and cliffhangers. Plus, the narrator Tiro is a fascinating character. I hope Harris writes a sequel to cover the remainder of Cicero's life!
When I first picked up this book I wasn't sure how it was going to be written more history or more fiction. Well I have to give kudos to Mr. Robert Harris for finding a very good balance always staying true to the historical aspects of the story while interjecting bits and pieces of fiction here and there. I enjoyed the scheme of this book instead of the usual historical fiction about conquering and war that most people associate with Rome he used the incredible politics of the day to arouse the interest of the reader of the book with incredible stories of prosecution, bribery, and at some points investigative work. I enjoy the also the fact that it was written from the point of view of Tiro seeing everything through his eyes is obviously different than seeing these actions through Cicero's. Overall I really enjoyed this book it is worth every cent you would pay for it except the fact that you at some points have an interest in the politics of Rome at the time to keep your interest through tedious points. Other than that I would really recommend this book and commend Mr. Harris for his work of craftmanship.
If you ever thought politics was an arena for elite, snobbish gentlemen, Robert Harris' 'Imperium' will toss you in with the lions with only your wits as a defence. This is politics on steroids where your life may depend on which side of the fence you are attempting to straddle and the aristocracy is every bit as lethal in a close fight as a gladiator. Harris' is a superb storyteller who deftly handles a subject which is a yawner (for me) and, as in his previous novel 'Pompeii', crafts a real corker of a tale of intrigue and corruption. 'New man' in the arena is the historical Cicero who is an expert litigator with his eye on the top spot in Roman politics. When he states at the beginning that, as defense attorney, his job is to present a vigorous defence and that guilt or innocence is decided by the court you may be tempted to view him as the precursor to all the bad lawyer jokes you've ever heard. But Harris' character layering is excellent and we begin to empathize with Cicero and watching his character development is as rewarding as watching him defend a case or develop his political strategies. As fascinating in it's detail of ancient Roman political, military and domestic life as 'Pompeii', you will come to the end of this first novel of a planned trilogy cheering and looking forward to the second act.
I have read virtually all this author's books, and he just keeps getting better, both as a writer and as a teller of tales. Until Imperium I thought of Harris as a writer of high-class airport books - nothing wrong in that! - but this transcends that genre altogether. A superb, engrossing novel.
I found this book at a used book sale last fall and picked it up from my fiction pile recently because I wanted to escape from the contemporary political scene into the story of a politician long gone. The book describes the ascent of Marcus Tullius Cicero to the consulship of Rome, a position he held for the year 63 BCE. The book goes into particular detail about his elections to the office of praetor (one of eight who served the city) and then consul (one of two). Cicero was a "new man," not one of the old aristocratic families, which was a strike against him, but he was an intelligent and shrewd politician and an acclaimed orator. He also had the upport of his brother and, for a while, his cousin, as well as the services of a slave, Tiro, who narrates the story in the form of a memoir written in old age. In fact, the real Tiro did live to be 91; various writings, including a biography of Cicero, have been attributed to him, as well as a shorthand system for taking notes at meetings and in court proceedings. (The shorthand system plays a key role toward the end of the book.) He's an engaging narrator. Despite my attempt to escape current politics, I found that Harris had tried hard to draw parallels between current events (the book was published in 2006) and those of Cicero's time. For example, at one point a law is proposed to allow one man supreme command of the Mediterranean and its shores for the purpose of eradicating the pirates that preyed on ships at sea. Harris described the pirates as a new sort of menace: stateless, not bound by treaties, a "worldwide pestilence" that threatened the peace and security of Rome. The law was a response to an attack at Ostia, Rome's harbor, in which two Roman officials were kidnapped, and a nervous public, their fears played on by politicians, were willing to give unprecedented great power to a single man. A speaker against the new law argued that "ancient liberties were not to be flung aside merely because of some passing scare about pirates." The parallels with current events were clear, although I'm not sure how a historian would view them. At the same time, political dealings were quite different in some ways (fistfights in the Senate House, for example), making me realize how ugly political life could really get.The first third of the book covers a case that Cicero bravely and energetically prosecuted against a provincial governor for abuses of power committed against his subjects. Cicero comes across as dedicated and heroic here, but political considerations pushed him into some gray areas if not entirely onto the wrong side in later episodes (although I was glad to see that he did have some limits). His political ambitions dominated his decisions; at one point he says to Tiro that "Everything I do now must be viewed through the prism of that election [for praetor]." (I was reminded of something historian Will Durant said, in Caesar and Christ, about how Cicero "trimmed his wind to every sale"; I'm not sure if he was referring to any of the events in this book, but Cicero was certainly flexible in the causes he supported depending on how they would serve his career.) The tension between the right thing, the politically possible thing, and the merely politically expedient was also quite timely.The last part of the book is a vivid description of the election for consul. I found it gripping enough that I sat up late finishing it. It is a tribute to Harris's storytelling that I was totally absorbed and had to keep reading to determine the outcome of an election 2000 years ago that Wikipedia could have told me about immediately. I'm hoping that the sequel to this book, Conspirata, is that good.
This book was fantastic. I felt as though I was reading a modern biography. I was aware that Cicero was an important figure in the Rome of Caesar's day, but I gained new insight into his importance in the development of democracy. Now I am reading through some of his letters and speeches which I found in google books.
An excellent historical fiction, actually made politics interesting, and brought to life Cicero in a manner which helps one explains his writings.
You know Cicero?Yes, Cicero, the Roman statesman who is known by us today as the guy who talked and talked and did a lot of stuff with law. And oh yeah, talked. You probably had to read something by him in high school or college, so you likely have pretty bad and boring memories related to the name Marcus Tullius Cicero.So when I read that Imperium by Robert Harris was about Cicero, I gave an internal groan.A premature assumption of boredom that turned out to be totally wrong.Imperium is a great book. It¿s that simple. The story is told through the narrative of Cicero¿s ex-slave Tiro. Tiro takes us through Cicero¿s life up to the events leading into his Consulship. What Harris writes is based on truth and has some evidence to support the basics. The events Cicero finds himself a part of are quite full of power plays, intrigue, and political corruption. But to set the background, we first meet Cicero as a student of philosophy with a humble farmer background and a sharp mind and wit that has the unfortunate result of offending many of the wrong men. After his study of philosophy, we move with Cicero into his political career, where he climbs up the ladder of the state, gaining office as he becomes a champion of the people. The first half of the book involves Cicero taking on the case of Verres, a corrupt Sicilian governor who has friends in all the right places. Cicero¿s way with words and luck with evidence, attributed to his cleverness, leads to a resounding victory against all odds and popularity beyond words.But not all is good with Cicero at this point¿ prosecuting Verres puts Cicero at odds with the aristocratic foundation of the Republic. After Verres comes the grand general Pompey (the guy Caesar chased out of Rome when he crossed the Rubicon much later) and his rivalry with Crassus. Cicero gives his support to Pompey and makes a powerful enemy of Crassus, who soon engages in vote buying at a high scale to pack the government in his favor. The plan is to arrange the government so that Crassus and Caesar will have an open door to increasing their own power. Pretty clever Crassus. Naturally, Cicero finds out about the plot and exposes them before the Senate, winning a victory for Consul at the youngest age allowed.You have a lot of big names: Pomepy, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Piso, Metelleus. Since Imperium is about Cicero and his dealings, these characters are supportive in nature only and come and go as the story requires. This is just as well because there are volumes written about Caesar by everyone and their grandmother. It was quite amusing to see Caesar portrayed as a horny, shady, power hungry youngster and nothing more. Oh, I respect Caesar and am quite enamored with him as most are, but the turn of character was great. Usually Cicero is the annoying old man who won¿t shut up and Caesar is the charming hero. In Imperium Cicero was the hero, and a quite charming one at that. What about the politics and history? Was it dry and full of historical detail? Historical yes, but dry it was definitely not. I don¿t think that this is a book for your Roman novice, though. For anyone not familiar with the various political offices, names, social classes, and Republican standards, the book may be difficult to grasp. I feel that my background in Roman history helped me a lot in reading through the book as a fluid novel rather than a pause and continue that requires a bit of Google searching to understand completely.
Harris is an excellent author, painting characters that are believable and sympathetic and putting them in tight situations.
It started off OK, but it finished sort of 'meh'. Not bad, just not all that good. Very detailed, and seemed to be historically accurate (ancient Rome is not a well-known era for me), but for much of the book there really didn't seem to be anything happening. Guess political pot boilers aren't my cup of tea. I did enjoy Harris' writing style, so will probably read others of his work at some time.
The British historical novelist Robert Harris, who so famously has set novels in the World War II/Cold War era, has recently turned to the ancient world for inspiration. After a novel on Pompeii, he turns to the politics of ancient Rome with "Imperium," the story of the rise of Cicero. The first of a series of novels Harris plans to write about Cicero, the book demonstrates his political career as an up-and-coming senator in the Roman republic.Ostensibly narrated by Tiro, who was Cicero's longtime secretary and an inventor of shorthand, the book is an intimate account of Cicero's daring use of his rhetorical abilities in public trials and political deliberations. It also suggests many behind-the-scenes deliberations between ever-changing political factions, offering glimpses of other significant political figures of the time, who have prestige such that Cicero covets their support, or who are likewise fighting for the support of powerful patrons. In particular, the young Julius Caesar looms over the narrative in these years before his military glories.Like Harris' other books, it is a fascinating read, relying on a wealth of historical details to support the intricate plot. It offers Cicero as a generally likeable fellow of great potential and great ambition, relying not only on his gilded tongue but on his political cunning to advance his career. His secretary Tiro is loyal and invaluable; his wife Terentia was from a moneyed family, giving him station, but also the headaches of dealing with marrying someone from a higher class.The first half of the book focuses on a prominent political trial; the second with political intrigues over the creation of a law that allowed the Senate to name a single authoritarian leader during times of crisis (the precedent that eventually allowed Caesar to become emperor). Both are fraught with danger for Cicero -- it is clear that he is dealing with forces that could crush him and his career; these external factors effectively provide much of the narrative tension in the novel.For those poorly versed in ancient history, the book may be difficult to read: in particular it may be almost impossible to keep all of the characters straight. Those more informed will likely be more impressed. Falling in between, I found the story enjoyable, but always had the feeling I was missing out because of my lack of knowledge.
This novel traces the political ascent of the Roman statesman Cicero, from an unknown "new man" who married money to start a career to a consul of Rome. The story is told by Cicero's secretary (and slave) Tiro (who is known to have written a life of Cicero, though it is now lost), and is based on Cicero's letters and orations. Harris has tried to keep the story true to history, and it is certainly consistent with what I know of Roman history. The big plus of the book, in fact, was that it taught me more about an endlessly fascinating period than I already knew. The minus is that the book is not as good a novel as it is a history. It deals with vivid characters (so vivid that they are still remembered, more than 2000 years later) but doesn't make them seem vivid. Relationships seem thin, and it's sometimes hard to keep one senator distinct from another. A terrific story, but not all that terrifically told. One thing that the book does make very clear is that there is nothing new under the sun -- Roman republican politics were at least as dominated by money and self interest as are the politics of our own day. In that regard, it underscores a valuable lesson, when you remember what followed Cicero's era; the end of the Republic and the coming of empire. If democracy becomes too much of a blood sport, it can destroy itself.
When this book first came out, I had trouble getting into it and gave up. After learning more about Rome and Cicero, I listened to the audiobook edition and was hooked. Robert Harris is consistently good, though Enigma remains my favorite. I look forward to reading the next book in the trilogy, Conspirata.
If you do not enjoy novels of political intrigue, schemes and machinations with very little action, don¿t read this book. If you can¿t keep Roman names straight and often confuse them, this is not the novel for you. Also, if you don¿t have some grasp of Republican Rome, this might not be the place to learn. Harris writes with an assumption that his reader is familiar with the basics (such as what an aedile is) of Republican Roman society, practices, politics and personages. That being said, it¿s a pretty decent read, better than Pompeii. I do read a lot of fiction of this kind and the limited scope of this novel took some getting used to. Seeing so many pages devoted to a single trial early on, I had to remind myself that Tiro¿s narrative would end with Cicero¿s being elected Consul and no further. That the story was his rise to this position and not about what he did when he attained it.Seeing Cicero abandon and compromise many of his principles in his quest for Consul was a very realistic approach. So many historical novelists fall a bit in love with their subjects and it colors their portrayal of them. Cicero was a principled man who had to learn how to be a politician. That meant not sticking to his guns when it could advance his career. Even these days people sometimes forget that politicians are primarily in it for themselves. For millennia this has been the case and it is very much the theme here.Tiro¿s perspective was also interesting. He was resigned to his fate. He hoped to be freed one day, but did not consciously dwell on it and did not expect it any time soon. That kind of sanguinity is almost unheard of in this day and age where the concept of happiness rules everything we do and strive for. Tiro is not concerned with being happy, he¿s concerned with keeping his head above water. His meager existence is just the way things are and he does not feel like he should even aspire to want the comforts, rights and privileges of Cicero and his ilk. It must have been a difficult task to not imbue Tiro with that trait. Well done.
I enjoyed his book Pompeii more than this one, but this was pretty good, good enough for me to get through in just about 3 weeks -- pretty good for me. Interesting characters, interesting time, I love the trials and reasoned arguments!
Quite good fictionalization of the life of Cicero, as told by his slave Tiro. The dialog and characterizations all worked, the only minor complaint is that there seemed to be no unifying element to the plot. Cicero went to Sicily, spoke in court, plotted with and against various people.I could see no direct evidence that this novel is going to be part of a series, but there was a strange note in the afterword about acknowleding other sources "in due course." Hmmm.
Better than his other books. A good picture of Cicero and his life for those interested in Roman times.
In 'Imperium', Robert Harris delivers an historically highly authentic and enjoyably readable account of Marcus Tullius Cicero's rise from 'new man' Senator to the consulship. Harris uses the historical character Tiro, Cicero's slave and private secretary, to tell the tale of legal and political intrigue in the late Roman Republic. (Tiro actually wrote memoirs of his life with Cicero, which as with so much of the record of antiquity is unfortunately lost to us.) Tiro chronicles the exciting story of Cicero's risky high stakes prosecution of Gaius Verres, Roman governor of Sicily, for gross corruption and murder. We also follow Cicero's climb from mere Senator through the rungs of the 'cursus honorum' or "succession of magistracies" to aedile, praetor, and finally consul - no easy task for a man without great wealth, military valour, or patrician background. The great power granted to Pompey in order to destroy the pirates attacking the Rome - pirates who turn out to have been an overstated threat - has suggestive echoes for our own time, but no more than echoes. Harris is not trying to make an overt political statement. Along the way we encounter historical figures such as the Cicero's brother and political manager, Quintus, the giant of the law courts Hortensius, Pompey Magnus, a young Julius Caesar, wicked Cataline, the great general Crassus, and his sharp-witted patrician wife Terentia. Indeed, it is unclear whether any character in the book is actually fictional. 'Imperium' presents an interesting excursion inside the power struggles of the Roman Republic that is made the more compelling by being told from Cicero and Tiro's particular viewpoint rather than with an omniscient narrative voice. The book ends just as Cicero becomes consul at age 43 in 63 B.C. and leaves many an interesting tale untold (his role in defeating the Cataline Conspiracy, for one, and his relation with Pompey and Julius Caesar in the Civil War for another). Highest recommendation for readers of historical fiction, anyone with an interest in Roman history, and fans of Robert Harris ('Imperiium' surpasses his 'Pompeii'). Here's hoping for at least one sequel.
In no way is this a bad book and it is in fact quite entertaining at times. It is however, relatively thin in its scope and is far too short a story for the subject undertaken. In fact, inasmuch as the novel concludes with Cicero's election to Consul at age 42, I expect a followup work encompassing his remaining years, focusing of course on his relationship with the emerging Julius Caesar. The story could have been told in one work, but of course at half the sales receipts. The proliferation of double spaced, wide margin 300 page novellas is a pet peeve of mine. The subject is a good one and fertile ground. Interest in the Ancient Roman Republic is broad and the choice of Cicero as a focal point is certainly original. Telling the story through the eyes of Cicero's secretary (slave) Tiro is an interesting touch. It is an accepted historical fact that Tiro did publish a work on the life of Cicero, though the original was lost to history. I've read all of Harris's work and this book is very similar in style to his Pompeii. If you like this one you'll like it as well. Harris also has several works in the area of alternative history, his best being Archangel. If you are looking for more challenging and better developed works on the Ancient Roman Republic, I highly recommend the numerous books of Colleen McCollough on the subject.
The partially true, partially fictionalized biography of Cicero, as told by his slave and long-time secretary (and inventor of shorthand in the bargain). The story spans the period from Cicero's prosecution of Verres to his election as consul of Rome. One eagerly awaits the next volume of this series -- there should be three.
This is a fantastic novel; Harris vividly recreates the Roman world of the 1st century BC with remarkably engaging characters. He manages to make this story extremely approachable while keeping it from being overly predictable. I would recommend this to anyone.