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The First Man in Rome

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With extraordinary narrative power, New York Times bestselling author Colleen McCullough sweeps the reader into a whirlpool of pageantry and passion, bringing to vivid life the most glorious epoch in human history.

When the world cowered before the legions of Rome, two extraordinary men dreamed of personal glory: the military genius and wealthy rural "upstart" Marius, and Sulla, penniless and debauched but of aristocratic birth. Men of exceptional vision, courage, cunning, and ...

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With extraordinary narrative power, New York Times bestselling author Colleen McCullough sweeps the reader into a whirlpool of pageantry and passion, bringing to vivid life the most glorious epoch in human history.

When the world cowered before the legions of Rome, two extraordinary men dreamed of personal glory: the military genius and wealthy rural "upstart" Marius, and Sulla, penniless and debauched but of aristocratic birth. Men of exceptional vision, courage, cunning, and ruthless ambition, separately they faced the insurmountable opposition of powerful, vindictive foes. Yet allied they could answer the treachery of rivals, lovers, enemy generals, and senatorial vipers with intricate and merciless machinations of their own—to achieve in the end a bloody and splendid foretold destiny . . . and win the most coveted honor the Republic could bestow.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
If nothing else, this hefty tome, the first of a projected series, proves that McCullough ( The Thornbirds ) can write a serious historical novel that edifies while it entertains. Evoking with impeccably researched, meticulous detail the political and social fabric of Rome in the last days of the Republic, McCullough demonstrates a thoroughgoing understanding of an age in which birth and blood lines determine one's fate, and the auctoritas and dignitas of the Roman family mean more than any personal relationship. When the narrative opens in 110 B.C., this rigidly stratified social order has begun to erode. The protagonist, Gaius Marius, is the symbol of that gradual change. He is the embodiment of the novel's title, a genuine New Man who transcends his Italian origins and earns the ultimate political accolade--the consulship--for an unprecedented six terms. A brilliant military leader, Marius defeats the invading barbarian German tribes. Wily, shrewd and pragmatic, Marius is not above using bribery and chicanery to achieve political ends. Nor, indeed, are his fellow officials, whose sophisticated machinations are in odd juxtaposition with their penchant for jeering at one another, which leads to fisticuffs, brawls and even assassinations. As usual, McCullough tells a good story, describing political intrigue, social infighting and bloody battles with authoritative skill, interpolating domestic drama and even a soupcon of romance. The glossary alone makes fascinating reading; in it, for example, McCullough reasons that Roman men did not wear ``under-drawers.'' The narrative's measured pace, however, is further slowed by the characters' cumbersome names, which require concentrated attention. Those willing to hunker down for a stretch of close reading will be rewarded with a memorable picture of an age with many aspects that share characteristics ontemporaneous with our own. Maps and illustrations by the author. 300,000 first printing; BOMC main selection; author tour. (Oct.).
Library Journal
This big, complex novel detailing the beginnings of the downfall of the Roman Republic is a startling change of pace for McCullough ( The Thorn Birds, LJ 5/1/77). Gaius Marius, an upstart New Man from the Italian provinces, and Lucius Cornelius Sulla, a patrician Roman brought up in the slums of the Subura, are both ambitious enough to want to become First Man in Rome, despite their social handicaps. The author deftly weaves politics, family rivalries, and battle scenes into a riveting story replete with fascinating details of everyday Roman life. The research is obviously painstaking; the author includes a large glossary of more than 100 pages as well as a pronunciation key for the Roman names. Highly recommended. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/90. BOMC main selection.-- Marilyn Jordan, North Miami P.L., Fla.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061582417
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/11/2008
  • Series: Masters of Rome Series , #1
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 1152
  • Sales rank: 168,607
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Colleen McCullough is the author of The Thorn Birds, Tim, An Indecent Obsession, A Creed for the Third Millennium, The Ladies of Missalonghi, The First Man in Rome, The Grass Crown, Fortune's Favorites, Caesar's Women, Caesar, and other novels. She lives with her husband on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific.


Colleen Mccullough was born in Australia. A neurophysiologist, she established the department of neurophysiology at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, then worked as a researcher and teacher at Yale Medical School for ten years. Her writing career began with Tim, followed by The Thorn Birds, a record-breaking international best-seller. The author of nine other novels, McCullough has also written lyrics for musical theater. She lives on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific with her husband, Ric Robinson.

Author biography courtesy of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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    1. Hometown:
      Norfolk Island, 1,000 miles off the Australian coast
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 1, 1937
    2. Place of Birth:
      Wellington, New South Wales, Australia
    1. Education:
      Attended University of Sydney

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Having no personal commitment to either of the new consuls,, Gaius Julius Caesar and his sons simply tacked themselves onto the procession which started nearest to their own house, the procession of the senior consul, Marcus Minucius Rufus. Both consuls lived on the Palatine, but the house of the junior consul, Spurius Postumius Albinus, was in a more fashionable area. Rumor had it Albinus's debts were escalating dizzily, no surprise; such was the price of becoming consul.

Not that Gains Julius Caesar was worried about the heavy burden of debt incurred while ascending the political ladder; nor, it seemed likely, would his sons ever need to worry on that score. It was four hundred years since a Julius-had sat in the consul's ivory curule chair, four hundred years since a Julius had been able to scrape up that kind of money. The Julian ancestry was so stellar, so august, that opportunities to fill the family coffers had passed the succeeding generations by, and as each century finished, the family of Julius had found itself ever poorer. Consul? Impossible! Praetor, next magistracy down the ladder from consul? Impossible! No, a safe and humble backbencher's niche in the Senate was the inheritance of a Julius these days, including that branch of the. family called Caesar because of their luxuriantly thick hair.

So the toga which Gaius Julius Caesar's body servant draped about his left shoulder, wrapped about his frame, hung about his left arm, was the plain white toga of a man who had never aspired to the ivory curule chair of high office. Only his dark red shoes, his iron senator's ring, and the five-inch-wide purple stripe on the rightshoulder of his tunic distinguished his garb from that of his sons, Sextus and Gaius, who wore ordinary shoes, their seal rings only, and a thin purple knight's stripe on their tunics.

Even though dawn had not yet broken, there were little ceremonies to usher in the day. A short prayer and an offering of a salt cake at the shrine to the gods of the house in the atrium, and then, when the servant on door duty called out that he could see the torches coming down the hill, a reverence to Janus Patulcius, the god who permitted safe opening of a door.

Father and sons passed out into the narrow cobbled alley, there to separate . While the two young men joined the ranks of the knights who preceded the new senior consul, Gaius Julius Caesar himself waited until Marcus Minucius Rufus passed by with his lictors, then slid in among the ranks of the, senators who followed him.

It was Marcia who murmured a reverence to Janus Clu-sivius, the god who presided over the closing of a door,Marcia who dismissed the yawning servants to other duties.The men gone, she could see to her own little expedition.Where were the girls? A laugh gave her the answer, comingfrom the cramped ' little sitting room the girls called theirown; and there they sat, her daughters, the two Julias, break-fasting on bread thinly smeared with honey. How lovelythey were!

It had always been said that every Julia ever born was a treasure, for the Julias had the rare and fortunate gift ofmaking their men happy. And these two young Julias bade fair to keep up the family tradition.

Julia Major -- called Julia -- was almost eighteen. Tall and possessed of grave dignity, she had pale, bronzy-tawny hair pulled back into a bun on the nape of her neck, and her wide grey eyes surveyed her world seriously, yet placidly. A restful and intellectual Julia, this one.

Julia Minor -- called Julilla -- was half past sixteen. The last child of her parents' marriage, she hadn't really been a welcome addition until she became old enough to enchant her softhearted mother and father as well as her three older siblings. She was honey-colored. Skin, hair, eyes, each a I mellow gradation of amber. Of course it had been Julilla who laughed. Julilla laughed at everything. A restless and unintellectual Julia, this one.

"Ready, girls?" asked their mother.

They crammed the rest of their sticky bread into their mouths, wiggled their fingers daintily through a bowl of water and then a cloth, and followed Marcia out of the room.

"It's chilly," said their mother, plucking warm woolen cloaks from the arms of a servant. Stodgy, unglamorous cloaks.

Both girls looked disappointed, but knew better than to protest; they endured being wrapped up like caterpillars into cocoons, only their faces showing amid fawn folds of homespun; Identically swaddled herself, Marcia formed up her little, convoy of daughters and servantescort, and led it through the door into the street.

They had lived in this modest house on the lower Germalus of the Palatine since Father Sextus had bestowed it upon his younger son, Gaius, together with five hundred iugera of good land between Bovillae and Aricia -- a sufficient endowment to ensure that Gaius and his family would have the wherewithal to maintain a seat in the Senate. But not, alas, the wherewithal to climb the rungs of the cursus honorum, the ladder of honor leading up to the praetorship and consulship.

Father Sextus had had two sons and not been able to bear parting with one; a rather selfish decision, since it meant his property -already dwindled because he too had had a sentimental sire and a younger brother who also had to be provided for-was of necessity split between Sextus, his elder son, and Gaius, his younger son. It had meant that neither of his sons could attempt the cursus honorum, be praetor and consul.

Brother Sextus had not been as sentimental as Father Sextus; just as well! He and his wife, Popillia, had produced three sons, an intolerable burden for a senatorial family. So he had summoned up the necessary steel to part with his eldest...

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 32 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 32 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 26, 2009

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    The first volume of McCullough's Masters of Rome series completely floored me. The author's ability to get me into the Roman mindset and become emotionally invested in characters who do some REALLY nasty things left me in awe. Do yourself a favor and read all 7 volumes

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 30, 2009

    The beginning of a well researched piece of historical fiction about the end of the Roman republic.

    Writing about historical characters always carries the temptation to project modern attitudes onto them. In this well researched series, the author has resisted that temptation and has presented them as interesting and human.

    While sources are somewhat limited for the beginning of the series as compared to the later periods, the story is written wih a respect for the avaialble information while still making the characters intersting as people. This is not a dry history, but rather an intersting story of chatracters large and small and how their actions built a significant historical change as Rome moved from the Republic to the Empire.

    I have read the series several times and have literally worn out the hard-cover edition of this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 28, 2008

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    Historical Fiction at its Best

    Great book! I'm not sure if it's for people who don't know this period of Roman History well (Roman Revolution), perhaps someone can correct me on that. As a Classicist, I am so glad she began this series with Marius. Most skip over him and Sulla completely and start with Caesar. And truly, the fall of the Republic began with Marius and ended with Octavian who began the Empire (hence why this period is called the Roman Revolution). I am definitely reading the rest of the series, there are 7 in all. If you're interested at all in this period in history, read this!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2007


    I urge everyone to read the Masters of Rome series, starting with The First Man in Rome. As the series progresses (Fortunes Favorites, The Grass Crown, Caesars Women, Caesar, The October Horse) you are caught up in a world that has long since vanished, although today's members of the Senate remain the same. The insight which McCullouch brings to this series is masterful. I have read and reread the series, and each time I am transported back to that age that shaped the modern world.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2013

    Once I got thru the first few chapters where I didn't like the g

    Once I got thru the first few chapters where I didn't like the grammar and style of language I really started to get into it. It's nice to feel vested in characters of a story for a change even if there are several liberties of history that the author took. I will be getting the rest of the series.

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  • Posted June 27, 2010

    Epic tale of an "Italian hayseed with no Greek"

    This novel, which is based on some historical fact, covers the rise of republican Roman statesmen Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla. This early in the series they are still friends rather than enemies (that happens in the second book in the series, "The Grass Crown"). Marius is born from a non-noble family and cannot hope to get to the upper echelons of the Roman political ladder, despite being able to "buy and sell half the Senate" as he puts it. On the other hand, Sulla has an aristocratic name, but his branch of the Cornelii has run out of money and he's been living in abject poverty his whole life. They're both in the same situation because Marius has money but no name, and Sulla has a name but no money. They are brought together by fortune and by their distaste for the aristocracy that rules Rome.

    The events covered in the book include the famous Jugurthine War and the war with the German tribes invading Italy. You really root for Marius because he is the underdog, ignored by the Roman republican aristocracy but possessing far superior abilities than other Roman generals and statesmen with better names than his. In fact, Marius would be consul (like president of the republic, to misuse a modern term) seven times in his life. McCullough portrays him as a real person, and not a real schmuck like Plutarch paints him. Probably Plutarch (a Greek) looked down his nose at Marius because he spoke poor Greek. McCullough makes him an underdog that her readers will love rather than object to, and Sulla, despite his somewhat evil character and unscrupulousness, is also a good choice of protagonist. The characters seem real, the action is fluid, and the book, despite being over 1000 pages, is no longer than it really needs to be.

    I honestly believe this is one of the greatest epic novels of all time, ranking right up there with the Lord of the Rings, dare I say it.

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  • Posted December 12, 2009

    I Also Recommend:


    I read the whole series. This was a gift to a very good friend. It takes awhile to get used to all the Roman names and nomenclature but once you get going you can't put it down. I read them as She wrote them and could not wait for each book as it came out. As far as I could tell, the history is accurate ( talked about it with a professor of history from
    Rome). An absolutely wonderful read.

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  • Posted October 20, 2008

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    Hail Mccullough!

    Mccullough has brought ancient Rome to life. Her characters are brilliantly drawn. I was able to picture Marius in his armor, Sulla in his German disguise. The pain of Little Julilla. This is a MUST READ!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2006


    when i first read the book i couldnt believe it was written by a neurophysicist and trust me this is more than worth a read .this book is one of those rare books that you buy and then pass on to your kids bacause it opens up for you a world which vanished long time ago and you curse your luck that you were born in this age .

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2005

    Give it a try - you're bound to love it!

    After reading a very poorly done novel about the early yrs of Julius Caesar, I came across this 1st book of the 'Masters of Rome' series here on B& N's site. I love accurate historical novels and decided to give this one a try after reading some of it's great reviews. Boy, did I hit the jackpot! I asked for 'good' & got 'amazingly outstanding' - two thumbs WAY up! McCullough takes you on the journey of the rising Gaius Marius, a wealthy New Man labeled an 'Italian hayseed w/ no Greek', & Lucius Cornelius Sulla, a Roman patrician living on the other end of the spectrum, having nothing but his aristocratic birth, who rises out of the slums of Rome's Subura. Both marry a Julia sister (Caesar's aunts) who are their tickets into the senate. You're taken through Marius' unprecedented 6 consulships w/ Sulla at his side. this story is so well written w/ amazing detail, you're able to feel as though you're right in Rome w/ the characters. Although the story is about Marius & Sulla, I loved the book even more for not focusing just on them but letting you into their lives w/ the places they go, their family's lives & the many members of the senate. McCullough even includes maps & sketches of the characters along w/ a 100+ pg glossery explaining the meanings of Roman words & cities found in the story. Pronunciations of Roman names are also given! The book covers everything from the overthrow of King Jugurtha, Marius' 3 consulships 'in absentia' & his use of the Head Count for his armies, the defeat of the Germans, the continuous back-stabbing & bribery of the senate & finally to Marius' rise, & eventual somewhat fall, from the 'First Man in Rome' title. From you Roman history buffs to the average reader looking for something different but completely enthralling, give it a try, you're bound to love it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2005

    Outstanding Epic of Ancient Rome

    Though the book is long, it's no longer than it needs to be (which is a rare find in long books) because every page is packed with action or historical detail. You can tell both the author's passion for the subject as well as her in depth knowledge of it. The characters are well developed and you get the sense that the author almost knows them personally by the way they are brought out in detail, and the Roman Senate is brought to life as it really was quite errily, little different from its counterparts in Washington or Westminster. But most of all, McCullough actually accomplished something rare among historians: she made it absolutely fascinating. The book left me wanting to know more about the Romans, for whom I could have cared less before reading The First Man in Rome. Plus, I love stories where the underdog (like Marius) triumphs over his enemies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2004


    This is the story of Gaius Marius (157-86 BC) a novus homo (new man) from an equestrian family of landowners origin and a military genius and of Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138-78 BC) a peniless roman patrician who became partners in the army and related by marriage with the Julia sisters, Marius as a leader of the invictus roman legions and Sulla as an aprentice and close collaborator. This book covered the conquest of Numidia, the overthrown of King Jughurta, the invasion of Gaul by the german hordes, the defeat of the cimbris and teutons in 102-101 BC, the plans of Gaius Marius to establish veteran colonies outside Italy to expand the roman influence, language and culture in the new conquered territories also gives us an idea of how the romans legislate, fight and intrigue to win influence and power to rule Rome and how the citizenship were divided by classes and nationalities. Once again, Ms. McCullough gives us a wonderful story, an illustrative narrative and a detailed history class.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2004

    Captivating! Didn't think I'd like it but I did

    A friend suggested I listen to this book (audio version narrated by former M*A*S*H actor), but after reading the dust cover I put it on a back shelf and let it sit for months. I finally just now listened to it on my long commute because I had nothing else in the car, and I was astounded! I couldn't believe how it captured my interest -- I found myself wishing I had a few more miles to go each night!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2003

    Masters of Rome series

    The First Man in Rome presents an accurate, well researched account of the rise of Gaius Marius (157-86 BCE); the third-person narrative, when combined with such strong attention to detail, captivates the reader to continue. McCullough can 'make up' a dialogue between Gaius Marius and his legionaries or his fellow senators, however, her method of presentation always makes such interactions seem plausible. As a PhD student of Classical History, at the University of Edinburgh, I give 'The First Man in Rome' the full five stars.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2002

    A historical treasure!

    This series of books has been a pleasure to read. Anyone who enjoys this period of history should definitely give it a try. For those not historically inclined, give this series a chance. McCollough brings this period of time to life and the characters are captivating.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2002

    Aaahh Rome!

    Ever wished you could travel back in time? Well you will after reading this book! It's difficult to imagine a better portrait of Roman life than this. For anyone who likes history, family lives, tears of joy and sorrow, or just a good straightforward story Ms. McCullough's Roman tale has it all. Full marks!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2002

    The best piece of historical fiction since "I, Claudius"

    Colleen McCullough is one of those rare writers who is both intellectually stimulating (i.e. not Sidney Sheldon) and lacks preticiousness (i.e. not Jonathan Franzen). This book and its successors should not be missed. These books chronicle the destruction of the Roman Republic through the eyes of Marius to Sulla to Crassus, Pompey and Caesar.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2001


    A truley great book. best one I have ever read!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2000

    Outstanding Historical Fiction

    The author did an intensive research on Roman lifestyles and political practices to write this book. She writes in the appendix what in her book was fiction and what wasn't. The story is fascinating, you won't stop reading once you start. The book is part of an ongoing series of books on Rome.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 1999

    The Thorn Bird's gone Roman.

    Ive read allot of historical fiction but this took the prize for best written, best researched, best fiction, best story. What a saga this book starts. Im a big fan of historical fiction and came across this book by chance. I hesitated at first because there has been so much written about Rome already. At the time, I thought what could someone possibly write that hadn't been said already. Well, I was wrong and even though much of the story you can read about in your local historical books. This story, the maps, the people all come together and leave you wanting more. When your done reading this book, expect to be looking for its continuation. It's one of those rare occassions that you come across a book that captures your imagination and brings them to life. Outstanding job Colleen, surely your a master. Very informative, most interesting charactors, well written story, a keeper.

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