Imperium describes the political career of Marcus Tullius Cicero from his first cases to the time he was elected Consul of Rome at age 43. In Imperium (ISBN 13:978-0-7432-6603-1), the first historical novel of a trilogy, Robert Harris covers the life and political career of the attorney, orator, and politician Marcus Tullius Cicero, from the start of his professional journey at age 27, until the day he is elected Roman Consul at age 43.
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It is 79 BC. The 27-year-old Marcus Cicero is at the point of physical and nervous collapse. Something must be done. He leaves Rome for a trip of rest, renewal and education. He brings with him Tiro, his father's household slave, [who is said to have developed shorthand], as his secretary. A 36-year association between the two men begins, during which Cicero's career soars, and Tiro writes it all down.
At the first stop of their trip, Greece, where they study philosophy and oratory, Cicero does not get what he needs. They, then, go to Rhodes, to the brilliant lawyer Apollonius Molon, who prescribes and provides nutritious food, physical exercise and declamatory training, and, finally, tells Cicero "...go back, my boy, and conquer Rome".
To conquer Rome one must be a Senator; to become a senator one must be 31 years old (which Cicero is), and a millionaire (which Cicero is not). To get his million Cicero marries Terentia; a stormy marriage of convenience becomes a stormy political partnership. Terentia is sophisticated both financially and politically.
Beginning senators serve one year in the provinces as Quaestors (administrators of finances). Cicero serves in Sicily, where he develops a reputation for honesty, integrity and hard work.
In his first major case after returning to Rome he successfully defends a youth against charges of parricide. He won the case by promising that the young man, if acquitted, would spend the rest of his life in military service – a pledge that took everyone, including his client, by surprise.
His next case, in which Cicero prosecutes Gaius Verres, the Governor of Sicily, launches his carreer. Verres, a thief and manipulator of legal processes, charges one of his constituents, Sthenius, with being a spy, a capital offense. [Sthenius is wealthy, and Verres's motive is to steal all of Sthenius's possessions, something he does with regularity.] Cicero's succeeds in this case, his first major political triumph, by making short but brilliant speech [usually such speeches are very long] and relying on the evidence of his former constituents from Sicily. Afterwards, he is regarded regarded as the greatest orator in Rome.
He has enormous political ambition; he places politics above the study of philosophy. He climbs the political ladder rapidly, becoming Aedile (maintains public buildings and regulates public festivals) at age 37, Praetor (powerful, elected magistrate) at age 40, and, his ultimate goal, Consul (highest elected office in Rome) at age 43. He achieves all of these offices on his first attempts and at the youngest age possible.
As Praetor, Cicero speaks in favor of conferring on Pompey the command of the campaign against Mithradates VI King of Pontus [now in Turkey]. Mithradates VI is one of the stongest enemies of Rome. This speech enhaces Cicero's political fortunes.
Tiro shows us how Cicero, although not a member of Rome's highest aristocracy, achieves these remarkable goals. We accompany Tiro as he walks side by side with Cicero. We see Cicero's devotion to the ideals of Rome and his understanding of political realities. We see Cicero's honor, integrity, ingenuity, savvy political thinking, understanding of all classes of people, and unceasing work ethic.
Best part of story, including ending:
It described Cicero, Tiro and their clients in a psychologically astute and compassionate manner. It was brilliantly written.
Best scene in story:
Cicero's successful prosecution of Gaius Verres, Governor of Sicily, in which he bends all the rules [e.g., he gives a short speech instead of a long speech] and has many witnesses give evidence. His opponents did not know that he had gone to Sicily to get victims of Verres's treachery to agree to testify.
Opinion about the main character:
I like Cicero's professional manner, honor, integrity, attention to detail, hard work, savvy political ideas, compassion for the poor, and his contempt for evil.