Imperium - a Novel of Ancient Rome

"Imperium, a Novel of Ancient Rome" by Robert Harris, Simon & Schuster.

I love this genre; the well-researched, authoritative historical novel. Robert Harris has done a wonderful job of bringing the waning days of the Roman Republic to life, as seen through the eyes of Tiro, personal secretary, confidante...and slave... of Marcus Tullius Cicero, one of the greatest orators in history.

This account of the rise of Cicero, the first installment of a trilogy, follows Cicero's career from newly elected senator to the ultimate elective power of the Roman republic wielded by the Roman consuls, "imperium". The politicking that propels Cicero from lawyer to consul; populism, dirty tricks, publicity stunts, dark bargains with unsavory operatives, and realpolitik compromises; could characterize many present day political figures. This is fascinating stuff, conveyed with a steady hand and an excellent feel for drama and suspense by Harris, who specializes in "docu-novels" of ancient Rome.

Unfortunately, it appears that Harris made his own compromise with the publisher's marketing department. In fact, this is how I came to review the book. Simon & Schuster asked several political bloggers to read and review it for its advertised relevance to today's political world. It does have relevance on the strength of the descriptions of Roman politics, which are certainly similar, in a general way, to modern politics. But trying to imply direct connections between current events and Roman history is a bit of a stretch.

Using Harris' own technique of inferring unknown details from known outcomes, one can almost hear the voices at the marketing brainstorm session: "If we get the author to punch up the connection between the pirates and today's terrorists we'll give the book appeal outside the historical novel genre; security moms, pundits, political junkies..."

Alas, the pirates who plagued Rome were not "terrorists" in the Islamist mold (they were motivated by booty, and wiped out by the Romans in 43 days) and the Roman general Pompey was not an earlier version of George W. Bush. Overreaching for one-to-one allegory, Harris puts these words in Pompey's mouth (page 172) [emphasis added]: "All captured pirates are to be handed over to Roman jurisdiction. Any ruler who refuses to cooperate will be regarded as Rome's enemy. Those who are not with us are against us."

Grit your teeth and read through it. It's a small wart on an otherwise well written and highly entertaining work. I look forward to the next installment in the trilogy.

Posted by: Bluto at 01:05 PM


1 The 'with us or against us' verbiagesure sounds gratuitous and anachronistic, but the policy of 'any ruler who refuses to cooperate will be regarded as Rome's enemy' is historically acurate. The author would have been better to omit the Bushismand retain the essentially Roman element.

Posted by: ThomasD at October 15, 2006 02:26 PM

2 If you're not familiar with Stephen Saylor's Roma sub Rosa series and Lindsey Davis' Marcus Didius Falco series, I highly recommend them both. Saylor is a bit more serious, and takes place during the same era as Imperium (Cicero is a client and sponsor of the main character, Gordianus the Finder.) Falco is a bit more freewheeling but also more fun, I think. It takes place a bit later, during the time of the Emperor Vespasian.

Posted by: Eric J at October 15, 2006 03:34 PM

3 I'm glad I read this. I've read Pompeii, and I was debating whether to buy Imperium. Now I'll get it.

Posted by: Philosopher at October 15, 2006 05:59 PM

4 "Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil." Thomas Mann, as seen on THE JAWA REPORT.

Only the neoconservatives have the testicular fortitude to defeat jihadism and eradicate Al Qaeda from Iraq. Democrats and the "Withdraw Now Crowd" would tolerate Islamofascism in Iraq in exchange for "peace"...

"Lovely and honorable it is to die for one's country." -- Horace, 65 BC - 8 BC

Generally, this is not the philosophy of Democrats and leftists.

Posted by: Voting Republican at October 15, 2006 07:49 PM

5 Comrades,

yup: "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori!"

It's quite easy to wear a t-shirt with Che's picture on the front, and shout and stomp and raise one's fist oh so mightily. It's quite another to risk your life for your beliefs. Moonbats still don't get that part. They seem to think that lawyers and briefs will stop car bombs and RPG's.

The Barbarians are at the gates, and we who man the ramparts look earnestly for Charles Martel. Where is our Roland? Our Richard Couer D'Lion?



Posted by: Gwedd at October 15, 2006 08:47 PM

6 Yeah well, constant warfare worked out real well for the Romans - why not try smashing all our problems away too? Brilliant. You cite history and in the same breath forget its' lessons... If we do not assimilate the barbarians, they will win. We can sit in our castle and ignore the screams of the peasants but ask yourself, who has more to lose? They are throwing rocks and we are launching million dollar cruise missiles. Instead of million dollar bombs we should launchsewage treatment plants tokill the terrorists - anyone telling you differently is selling something.

Posted by: tbone at October 16, 2006 12:02 PM

7 The lesson of Rome is that amoral populist politicians will do anyting for power, even if it harms the country. We see in America today that one major political party is heavily invested in a US defeat in the Middle East.
Is that what you meant, tbone?

Posted by: The Dread Pundit Bluto at October 16, 2006 01:04 PM

8 TDPB, you just illuminated my point nicely. I wasn't talking about Rs but thanks for drawing the parallel - if Republicans were not so heavily invested in our defeat (they are the controlling party of all 3 branches of Government) then why are we being defeated in every M.E. country we invaded? That's a rhetorical question, they obviously want our defeat since that is what they planned for and that is what we are getting. The lesson from the Romans is: if we do not stop flailing about like a mad monsterin desperate search for an enemywe will fall into the same oubliette as the Romans- death by a thousand cuts (pirates, enemies and allies all wanted Rome taken down after the period of permanent war was started - Interesting thatRome began as a farming community, will we end as a decadent travesty also?). Anyway, way to drop the ballAmericans- China is the real threat to our standing and they own our asses whilemost peoplehave been conveniently side tracked by a side show.

Posted by: tbone at October 16, 2006 02:28 PM

Wow, that's gotta bea record for the most twisted logic yet from a lefty surrender monkey.

No, tbone, it's Dem party loyalists such as yourself who are betraying us hoping to regain power. And you betray yourself by using the vocabulary of defeat, hoping that if you repeat the lie often enough, it will come true. Truly disgusting.

Posted by: The Dread Pundit Bluto at October 16, 2006 02:39 PM

10 When did we get defeated? I must have been on vacation. How could an Army still occupying another country be defeated? Ahhhh The liberal mind. Someone has been listening to the Sheehan bitch.

Posted by: Greyrooster at October 16, 2006 04:03 PM

11 Oh, disgusting - what a cranium cracker! TDPB, try again, I am no moreleftie than you are right (or correct). Like I said, apologist, I'm sure Bill Clinton was resposible for Rome's fall also. Rome was over-stretched, seeking enemies anywhere and everywhere to stave off domestic discord. Sexual slaves and predators inthe senatewere rampant there too but you sure showed me and my idea up with your labels. No cute come back for the very real threat I mention from China or does that only concern leftie-defeatest-appeaser-whatevers?Don't delude yourself because I don't parrot your opinion sorry, I have original ideas andif you are going to use labels atleast try to be creative!

Posted by: tbone at October 16, 2006 04:03 PM

12 Sorry to break the news to you GR. Yeah, we pretty much had our asses handed to us. The US had pacified two continents in less time - smell like victory to you?

Posted by: tbone at October 16, 2006 04:07 PM

13 The Romans lasted for a thousand years. We've been top dog for less than 100. I think Rome fell because of the foreign influence. Not because of the lack of it. In Roman times numbers counted for everything. In todays world technology is king. Numbers are a handicap. Example: The Soviet block. A small country like Germany or England would wipe out the entire African continent. Israel took on the surrounding countries 3 times and easily won. The Roman analogy doesn't hold water. ahhhh liberals.

Posted by: Greyrooster at October 16, 2006 04:10 PM

14 Sorry GR, thats a pile of BS, technology was what brought Rome up above the rest while they were surrounded by subjugated nation-states. Nothing has changed except time and place.

Posted by: tbone at October 16, 2006 04:15 PM

15 "Had our asses handed to us". Which war are to talking about? Lost six hundred per year doing a police action. How many cops do we lose each year in the states? American has fought wars and lost 30,000 in a day and still won. We have merely put our soldiers in harms way because of the cry baby liberals more worried about Iraqis and terrorists than Americans. Quit smoking that shit. Or share.

Posted by: Greyrooster at October 16, 2006 04:18 PM

16 Not a lefty? "...we should launch sewage treatment plants to kill the terrorists..."
Kumbayah, my Lord, kumbayah.

Posted by: The Dread Pundit Bluto at October 16, 2006 04:34 PM

17 You don't enjoy sewage treatment? How would you feel about being occupied in a country that had sewage flowing in the streets and no electricity or *gasp* (ultra-leftie fantasy comin up) Jobs? I'd be a little pissed and so would you.

Posted by: tbone at October 16, 2006 04:37 PM

18 Would you start beheading people? If you're really concerned with history, Google "Grand Mufti" + Hitler. It might be an eye-opener for you to know that radical Muslims were eager to kill Jews before George W. Bush was born...and before there was an Israel.
And when you come back, see if you can link to a picture of one of terrorist-killing sewage plants. Maybe Popular Science has a story on them?

Posted by: The Dread Pundit Bluto at October 16, 2006 04:42 PM

19 Oh yeah...Someone's laughing, Lord, kumbayah.

Posted by: The Dread Pundit Bluto at October 16, 2006 04:43 PM

20 Liberal view of high tech. The high tech sword is longer than the low tech one.

Posted by: Greyrooster at October 16, 2006 06:28 PM

21 Sorry but you already lost the argument with over usage of labels, then you mention Hitler (ding ding ding) next you'll finish the trifecta with... 9 what what? The Sore Pundit Loser.

Posted by: tbone at October 16, 2006 06:36 PM

22 GR, their swords were actually shorter. And they knew how to use them.

Posted by: tbone at October 16, 2006 06:43 PM

23 Google it. The result will surprise you.

Posted by: The Dread Pundit Bluto at October 16, 2006 10:13 PM

24 tbone: You missed the point. I know what a gladius is. Yes he did lose when he started the Hitler thing. Normally, Hitler is followed by racist, bigot, KKK'r. Jew Killer, ya da, ya da, ya da. Never anything new. Just the same crap going round and round every month. Bluto's sore knee, which he injured in a heroic act protecting America must hurt him. Calling the disability insurance people. Calling, calling. Knee hurts, can't work. Ha, ha.

Posted by: Greyrooster at October 17, 2006 03:29 PM

25 Someone's high, .... Lord, kumbayah.

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