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The First Man in Rome (Masters of Rome Series #1)

The First Man in Rome (Masters of Rome Series #1)

4.8 33
by Colleen McCullough

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With astounding narrative power,Colleen Mccullough — author of the internationallyacclaimed #1 bestseller THE THORN BIRDS — sweeps the reader into the whirlpool of pageantry, passion, splendor, chaos and earth-shattering upheaval that was ancient Rome. Here is the story of Marius, wealthy but lowborn, and Sulla, an stocratic but, perinfless and


With astounding narrative power,Colleen Mccullough — author of the internationallyacclaimed #1 bestseller THE THORN BIRDS — sweeps the reader into the whirlpool of pageantry, passion, splendor, chaos and earth-shattering upheaval that was ancient Rome. Here is the story of Marius, wealthy but lowborn, and Sulla, an stocratic but, perinfless and debauched — extraordinary men of visionwhose ruthless ambition will lay the foundations of the most awesome and enduring enmpire known to humankind. A towering saga of great events and mortal frailties, it is peopled with a vast, and vivid cast of unforgettable men and women — soldiers and senators, mistresses and wives, kings and commoners — combined in a richly embroidered human tapestrV to bring a remarkable era to bold and breathtaking life.

Author Biography:

Colleen McCullough's name is synonymouswith bestselling fiction. She is the author of nineextraordinary novels: 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, and the acclaimed Internationalphenomenon, THE THORN BIRDS.

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.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Masters of Rome Series , #1

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The First Man in Rome

Chapter One

The First Year
(110 B.C.):

In the Consulship of Marcus Minucius Rufus and Spurius Postumius Albinus

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 Gaius 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 manwho 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 right shoulder 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 Clusivius, 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, coming from the cramped little sitting room the girls called their own; and there they sat, her daughters, the two Julias, breakfasting on bread thinly smeared with honey. How lovely they were!

It had always been said that every Julia ever born was a treasure, for the Julias had the rare and fortunate gift of making 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 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 servant escort, 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.

The First Man in Rome. Copyright © by Colleen McCullough. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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.

Brief Biography

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

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First Man in Rome 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
Cierdwyn More than 1 year ago
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
JWH More than 1 year ago
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.
Oneira More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
DAMiller More than 1 year ago
Colleen McCullough's "The First Man in Rome" is a masterpiece when it comes to historical fiction novels. She's managed to produce an excellent plot that features details about the Classical-Era and the Roman domestic life yet still keeps the reader hooked. Several main characters are introduced in the story, ranging from Gaius Marius to Sulla. The progression is not super-fast-paced nor is it excruciatingly slow. For those interested in history, especially Classical-Era Rome, this is a must-read. For those who are not avid readers of historical fiction this is high on the list of good literature, even if you are the kind of person that despises reading about history, this book should be at least somewhere on your list. Without a doubt this novel deserves any awards it receives. What’s even better is that “The First Man in Rome” is only the beginning of an excellent series of novels, each supposedly better than the last. McCullough makes sure that each entry is not only of high quality, but that it leaves you wanting more and more. Most readers of this novel would tell you that it is worth the occasional “info-dump” that occurs at points. I would give this entry in McCullough’s series a solid 5 out of 5 stars. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ColinB More than 1 year ago
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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altenmon More than 1 year ago
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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BOBPANY More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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 .
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.