The Masters of Rome

I’ve just finished re-reading the “Masters of Rome” series by Colleen McCullough. They comprise six books of around 1,000 pages each so are not for the faint hearted. But if you are interested in the history of that era, or like novels with political and military themes, they are a great read.

McCullough spent 13 years researching the era to write the novels, and in all but a very few areas (which she explains) they are very much in keeping with the known history of the era. However she manages to bring the characters to life in a way no history textbook can.

The first book, The First Man in Rome, is focused mainly on Gaius Marius, his battales as a general, and six of his seven consulships. Supporting characters are the grandfather of the famous Gaius Julius Caesar and Sulla.

The second book, The Grass Crown, documents the rise of Sulla and his growing rivalvy with the now elderly Marius. It ends with Marius having achieved his unprecedented seventh consulship, but dieing a few days later. He appoints a young Gaius Julius Caesar as a special priest of Jupiter, to prevent young Caesar from being able to have a military career and upstage his uncle Marius.

Book three, Fortune’s Favorites, has the return of Sulla, his dictatorship and death, plus very enjoyably his shocking of polite Roman society. Caesar is released from his priestly position and has early military sucess, displaying great arrogance to go with his ability. Pompey also enters the scene. Caesar’s capture by pirates is a very enjoyable section.

The fourth book, Caesar’s Women, is my favouriite. It has the most politics of the series and Roman Republic politics was fascinating with its various offices and balances of power to stop a man becoming sole ruler. We also see a lot of Caesar’s mother, daughter, wives and pre-eminent mistress (mother of Brutus). Cato accidentially revealing Caesar’s affair with his half sister is hilarious.

The fith novel, simply called Caesar, and has by far the most military action. It covers his proconsulship in Gaul and many of his famous battles there where he achieved victory after victory despite massives numbers against him. Then we see the Civil War against Pompey after his political foes will not allow him to keep any of his armies so they could prosecute him. It ends with victory against Pompey who flees to Egypt and is killed.

The final novel, The October Horse, chronicles his affair with Cleopatra, the remaining battles against the Pompey Republican faction including the memorable suicide of Cato his most implacable foe.

Then his governing of Rome is shown, along with the growing conspiracy to murder him which happens, as most know, on the Ides of March. We see young Gaius Octavius become Caesar’s heir and both political and military intrigue between Octavian and the assassins (or liberators as they called themselves) led by Brutus and Cassius, but also with his rivals in the Caesar faction, especially Marcus Antonius.

The series finished with the suicides of Brutus and Cassius. Octavian has not yet become the Emperor Augustus but is well on his way.

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