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I live in Bristol UK literary fiction and crime are my books of choice and when not reading I like to run

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Absolute power

Imperium - Robert Harris

The 1969/1970 comedy Up Pompeii starred British comedian Frankie Howerd as put upon slave Lurcio always ready and willing to spread a little gossip from his adopted Roman household. Now in no way am I trying to suggest or draw a comparison between Lurcio and Tiro (personal secretary to Cicero) but using a member of Cicero’s household to act as narrator we have a wonderful  “fly on the wall” storyteller. Cicero was an excellent lawyer, orator, shrewd politician and through his own speeches and letters Robert Harris is able to construct a powerful unforgettable story of Rome at a time of great turmoil and change. By using the voice of Tiro, first a slave then a freeman of Cicero, he effectively invites us the reader to enjoy a private view of the Roman Republic.


The first part of Imperium shows Cicero develop his skills both as orator and advocate using his talents to expose the tyrannical reign of Gaius Verres, Roman magistrate, notorious for his misgovernment of Sicily extorting local farmers and plundering temples for his own personal gain….”Gaius Verres has robbed the treasury and behaved like a pirate and a destroying pestilence in his province of Sicily. You have only to find this man guilty and respect in you will be rightly restored”….His most heinous crime was the crucifixion  of Publius Gavius accused of being a spy and sentenced to death….”and had Gavius stripped naked and publicly flogged before us all. Then he was tortured with hot irons. And then he was crucified”….Civis romanus sum were the only words uttered by Gabius as he slowly died.


The second half of the book is given over to Cicero’s bid to be elected one of Rome’s two governing consuls and by so doing achieved “Imperium” absolute power. It is wonderful to be party to and to understand just how difficult oppressive and cruel life could be for the ordinary populace of Rome in the latter days of the Republic. Wealth was king, wealth was the stepping stones of a life of influence, status and honour. We meet the great players of the day, Pompey and Crassus efficient killing machines, at advancing the rule of Rome spreading citizenship for and wide. Success in battle resulted in wealth, (plundered) power and influence….”Crassus, said Pompey at once his old enemy was never far from his thoughts”….”Well I suppose if you are really worried said Cicero we could always specify that the supreme commander should be an ex consul whose name begins with a P”….


Imperium is the first of a trilogy about the life of Cicero, It is a brilliant piece of writing, taut, informative, alive with the sights and sounds of everyday Rome….”Rome is not a question of blood or religion: Rome is an ideal, Rome is the highest embodiment of liberty and law that mankind has yet achieved in the ten thousand years since our ancestors came down from those mountains and learned how to live as communities under the rule of law”…

Highly, highly recommended!