It’s déjà vu all over again as we travel back with author Robert Harris to Republican Rome just before it became Imperial Rome.

In America, we complain of corruption. Lying politicians. We fear the end of our Democracy, such as it isn’t. We ponder conspiracies. We brood darkly on the failure of government to address issues of inequality.

We deplore the bribery of officials. The world, we say, is going to Hell or, depending on our point of view, has already gone to Hell.

Except that government went to Hell a long time ago. You could easily argue that government — all government — was always Hellish. Compared to Rome, our government is a clean machine, as clean as a fresh snowfall. It’s a matter of perspective.

Reading history puts in perspective the world in which we live. Whatever problems we face, the human family has faced them (or something similar) before.

Climate change is not something we have previously confronted. Never have we had to wonder if failing to do the right thing will end our species. History is not going to help us with this one.

We survived. It’s important to remember our ability to survive has, to date, been better than our ability to screw up. Of course today’s challenges are bigger, uglier, and come with a potential finality that is new to humankind. Whether of not we will survive it? Good question.

English: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rom...
Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Roma Italiano: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rome (Photo: Wikipedia)

Imperium, by Robert Harris, is about a guy named Cicero. You’ve probably heard of him. Famed as a lawyer, even more famous as an orator, Cicero rose to power during a critical cusp in history as Rome was about to change from a Republic to Imperial Rome.

Julius Caesar had just stepped onto the stage of history. It was the beginning of the greatest imperial power shift the world had seen. It was also the end of the greatest republic the world would ever know.


Marcus Cicero started his journey to power as an outsider from the provinces. His first significant legal case put him head-to-head with the dangerous, cruel, and utterly corrupt Gaius Verres, governor of provincial Sicily. Using his stunning oratorical abilities and displaying a dogged determination and persistence in the face of impossible odds, Cicero beats Verres in court. He then goes on to triumph over many powerful opponents, making some friends but more enemies along the way.

Cicero seeks ultimate power — Imperium. His allegiance is to the Republic. Cicero’s secretary and slave Tiro is the inventor of shorthand and has become the author of this biography of his master. Tiro was at Cicero’s right hand throughout his career, by his side, through triumph and catastrophe. Through his voice, the world of ancient Rome is brought to life.

It’s a fascinating story. Pompey and Julius Caesar stride across the stage of this deeply corrupt, depraved, dangerous and strangely familiar society.

imperium audible

Robert Harris is a brilliant story-teller and author of historical fiction. He lures us into a violent, treacherous world of Roman politics simultaneously exotically different from and startlingly similar to ours.

This is part one of a duology.  The second volume in the American printing is titled Conspirata. In Great Britain, the same book is titled Lustrum.

Both books are available on Kindle, paperback, and

Imperium, by Robert Harris
Random House
Sep 7, 2010
Fiction – 496 pages

Categories: Ancient history, Book Review, civilization, History, Literature

Tags: , , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. oh you’ve just reminded me of some clickbait I read only yesterday… something to do with the biggest waste of money movies of all time… right up there in 1964 or 1965 was something starring a terrible Sophia Loren (her acting left a LOT to be desired) as well as Christopher Plummer and all sorts of famous English theatre loveys… I dunno… probably Rex Harrison, Richard Burton, Roddy MacDowell…. they weren’t in it but may as well have been. The movie is about the last days of Rome or something and I have to say when it came on over XmasI kept falling asleep and waking up wondering where the good bits had gone. It was one of those optical illusion films. You always wake up *from your stupor of sheer boredom* convinced you’ve missed the best bits whereas in reality what you slept through was just as awful as what’s playing out onscreen while you’re wide awake.
    Pompey was in Cleopatra, wasn’t he? Wasn’t there talk of Pompey’s ring? And whose head did the idiot 16y/o Pharaoh put in a bloodied jar? Maybe that was Pompey. Most unpleasant.


    • Whenever Garry and I see an old movie starring half of Hollywood’s greats — but neither of us has seen it — we turn it on. We ALWAYS realize why we didn’t see it.

      Garry got personally hugged by Sophia Loren AND he got a letter from her in Italy — on perfumed paper — so she can do no wrong for him. She also had acting chops. Her problem was until she got mature, she never got to USE them. All they wanted was her body. She did her best work late — and when she got an actual script.

      I’ve never seen a good movie about old Rome. I’ve read many great books, but never seen a movie that didn’t put me into a coma or make me laugh uncontrollably. No one seems to know how to write a script or maybe they keep hiring people who don’t know any history. Personally, I think it helps to know something about what you are writing about. Call me old-fashioned.


  2. This sounds like an excellent read, Marilyn. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


    • When I think our government is as bad as governments can get, I read about Rome.

      The problem now is that our problems are so huge. Problems are bigger, populations are enormous, and the potential outcome of doing nothing or not doing enough are life and death for our species — and that IS new. Mind you I’m sure people in the 14th century facing Bubonic Plagues, a split in the Roman church (it was in those days, the only church), insane inflation, roaming bands of outlaws who killed everyone and anyone without reason probably thought the end of their world was coming too, but it wasn’t. And as Rome began to crumble, they surely thought it was the end.

      Now we face a REAL end, not by marauders, but from the planet on which we live. Whether we are up to the task is a question we have yet to begin to answer.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Marilyn, I agree with every word you have written. Life was hard, short, and violent in the past. We have now manipulated it to suit our own needs and, in theory, make our lives easier [that is another debate entirely] and in doing so we are destroying our planet. It is frightening. Steps do need to be taken to control the population but I fear it is already to late. The knock on effects of gross over population impact every facet of our lives, not only with climate change.


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