The First Man of Rome – Masters of Rome Series – Book 1 by Colleen McCullough
Masters of Rome consists of seven books spanning history from 110 BC to 27 BC… a time when the Republic of Rome was suffering a downward spiral. It was a continual fight of unending battles to conquer land and maintain control over Italy and adjoining territories of which the majority of population were not eligible to become citizens of Rome. Though Rome was called a Republic from 509 BC, with new leadership voted in annually and democratic checks and balances within the system, one had to be an aristocrat with Roman citizenship and enough money to fund their own campaign and candidacy. The series ends in 27 BC when the Republic came to an end and Augustus Caesar became the Roman Emperor.
With a massive amount of research, McCullough writes these historical novels based closely on fact. All seven volumes have an extensive glossary explaining useful Latin words, unfamiliar terms, maps, and illustrations. In addition, the first two volumes begin with a list of the main characters – and how they relate to one another – which is absolutely necessary because of the vast quantity of people involved and the repetitious use of names of the Roman nobility.
The First Man of Rome covers ten years – 110 BC to 100 BC – featuring two primary characters, Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Marius lacks a noble heritage and the wealth to hold an important office but gains power through his military exploits and marriage into the Caesar family. Sulla, in contrast, comes from a noble background but has a less than pristine reputation – homosexuality, wild parties, and rumors of having murdered to attain his wealth. He also marries into the Caesar family. Thus Marius and Sulla – both egotistical and competitive – and both wanting to become the “First Man” of Rome, become friends.
The First Man of Rome is about politics and pageantry, military campaigns, the Roman culture and customs, marriages and relationships. Although the marriages and relationships play a major role in the development of the plot, they are by no means the dominating subject of the story. Women’s roles in life were too restricted for that. This is clearly not a chick-lit series.
It is truly amazing to read about a culture that existed 2000 years ago. McCullough does a magnificent job bringing these historical times to life; it’s like giving the reader entrance to a time capsule. She does a wonderful job providing detailed descriptions of everything from wardrobes, architecture, geographic landscapes, the political process, the faceless masses of poor people, barbaric battles of hand to hand combat, and the rhetorical debates of pompous self-serving aristocrats.
Surprisingly – being an anti-war, non-violent person – I found the battles to be intense and exciting. I was astonished to realize it was more about logistics – the planning and strategy – rather than physical strength and might. And in The First Man of Rome you get the initial glimpse of the changing times… the shortage of Roman soldiers in a system where every male is drafted into the service at age 17, depleted food supplies, the decline of moral codes, social unrest, violence and intrigue.
I highly recommend The First Man of Rome for anyone who is interested in Roman history, even if there is no intention of reading the entire series.
Rated 5 Stars