The Grass Crown (Masters of Rome Series #2)
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The Grass Crown (Masters of Rome Series #2)

4.4 13
by Colleen McCullough

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New York Times bestselling author Colleen McCullough returns us to an age of magnificent triumphs, volcanic passions, and barbaric cruelties.

Throughout the Western world, great kingdoms have fallen and despots lay crushed beneath the heels of Rome's advancing legions. But now internal rebellion threatens the stability of the mighty Republic. An aging,

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New York Times bestselling author Colleen McCullough returns us to an age of magnificent triumphs, volcanic passions, and barbaric cruelties.

Throughout the Western world, great kingdoms have fallen and despots lay crushed beneath the heels of Rome's advancing legions. But now internal rebellion threatens the stability of the mighty Republic. An aging, ailing Gaius Marius, heralded conqueror of Germany and Numidia, longs for that which was prophesied many years before: an unprecedented seventh consulship of Rome. It is a prize to be won only through treachery and with blood, pitting Marius against a new generation of assassins, power-seekers, and Senate intriguers—and setting him at odds with the ambitious, tormented Lucius Cornelius Sulla, once Marius's most trusted right-hand man, now his most dangerous rival.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Continuing the saga of the Roman Empire begun with The First Man in Rome , McCullough spins a stupendous tale of love, lust and murderous ambition. This title was cited in PW 's ``red and black'' feature as having failed significantly in hardcover to live up to publishers' sales expectations. (July)
Kirkus Reviews
Volume two of McCullough's triumphant Roman series. The First in Rome (1990) initiated the chronicle of the edgy partnership of new-man-in-Rome Gaius Marius and aristocrat Lucius Cornelius Sulla during the German wars. Here, the calamitous last hurrah of one and the violent pinnacle acts of the other twist through years of Italian wars, expeditions into Asia Minor, domestic trials and brief happinesses, terrible cruelties, and politics, always politics, in which sectors, families, and the famous fight for power—by diplomacy, manipulation, alliances, or the simple art of murder. By now (roughly 80's and 90's B.C.) Marius is in his 60s and escaping a "dull" Rome to scout Asia Minor and sniff out the purposes of the barbarian king Mithridates of Pontus. The king will be faced down, and, some years later, Sulla, in a spectacular expedition over the Euphrates, will face him down again. Meanwhile, in the Senate there is a movement to enfranchise the sophisticated neighboring Italians, a movement snapped off by an assassination and a polarizing of ruling powers—and, inevitably, there's war. It is the overwhelming victory over one of the Italian tribes that brings Sulla his highest honor (the Grass Crown). Surely he is now equal to the great general Marius, now crippled by a stroke and attended by the boy Gaius Julius Caesar Junior, his wife's nephew. (Yep. The very same.) Marius intends to fulfill an old prophecy—that he will be elected Consul for a seventh time. The inevitable conflict between Marius and Sulla explodes during an ongoing battle to dilute the power of the Senate elite. There will be a march on an unarmed Rome, screaming grabs for ascendance from an unhinged,dying Marius, and a raving Sulla, plus bloody deaths...and deaths...and deaths. Again, magnificent portraits of real beings. And, again, gamey politics, bright talk, great scenery, and gore. With glossary and maps. (Literary Guild Dual Selection for November)

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Masters of Rome Series, #2
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.98(w) x 5.28(h) x 1.99(d)

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Grass Crown

Chapter One

The most exciting thing that's happened during the last fifteen months," said Gaius Marius, "is the elephant Gaius Claudius showed at the ludi Romani."

Aelia's face lit up. "Wasn't it wonderful?" she asked, leaning forward in her chair to reach the dish of huge green olives imported from Further Spain. "To be able to stand on its back legs and walk! And dance on all four legs! And sit on a couch and feed itself with its trunk!"

Turning a contemptuous face to his wife, Lucius Cornelius Sulla said very coldly, "Why is it people are charmed to see animals aping men? The elephant is the noblest creature in the world. Gaius Claudius Pulcher's beast I found a double travesty—of man and elephant both."

The pause which followed was infinitesimal, though everyone present in the dining room was uncomfortably aware of it; then Julia diverted all eyes from the blighted Aelia by laughing merrily. "Oh, come, Lucius Cornelius, it was the absolute favorite of the whole crowd!" she said. "I know I admired it—so clever and busy!—and when it lifted its trunk and trumpeted in time to the drum—amazing! Besides," she added, "no one hurt it."

"Well, I liked its color," said Aurelia, thinking it wise to contribute her mite. "Pink!"

All of which Lucius Cornelius Sulla ignored by swiveling on his elbow and talking to Publius Rutilius Rufus.

Eyes sad, Julia sighed. "I think, Gaius Marius," she said to her husband, "that it's time we women withdrew and let you men enjoy your wine. Would you excuse us?"

Out went Marius's hand across the narrow table betweenhis couch and Julia's chair; she lifted her own hand to clasp it warmly, and tried not to feel even sadder at the sight of his warped smile. So long now! Yet still his face bore the evidence of that insidious stroke. But what the loyal and loving wife could not admit, even to herself, was that the stroke had wrought a tiny havoc within Gaius Marius's mind; the temper that now flared too easily, the increased emphasis he placed upon largely imagined slights, a hardening in his attitude toward his enemies.

She rose, disengaged her hand from Marius's with a very special smile for him, and put the hand upon Aelia's shoulder. "Come, my dear," she said, "we'll go down to the nursery."

Aelia got up. So did Aurelia. The three men did not, though their conversation ceased until the women had gone from the room. A gesture from Marius sent the servants scurrying to clear the women's chairs from the dining room after which they too vanished. Now only the three couches remained, forming a U; to make conversation easier, Sulla shifted from where he had lain beside Marius to the vacant couch facing Rutilius Rufus. Both of them were then able to see Marius as well as they could each other.

"So Piggle-wiggle is to come home at last," said Lucius Cornelius Sulla when he was sure his detested second wife was out of earshot.

Marius shifted restlessly on the middle couch, frowning, but less direfully than of yore, for the lingering paralysis gave the left half of the grimace a mournful quality.

"What do you want to hear from me by way of answer, Lucius Cornelius?" Marius asked finally.

Sulla laughed shortly. "Why should I want anything but an honest answer? Though, you know, I did not phrase what I said as a question, Gaius Marius."

"I realize that. But it required an answer nonetheless."

"True," said Sulla. "All right, I'll rephrase it. How do you feel about Piggle-wiggle's being recalled from exile?"

"Well, I'm not singing paeans of joy," said Marius, and gave Sulla a piercing glance. "Are you?"

They have drifted subtly apart, thought Publius Rutilius Rufus, reclining on the second couch. Three years ago—or even two years ago—they could not have had such a tensely wary conversation. What happened? And whose fault is it?

"Yes and no, Gaius Marius." Sulla stared down into his wine cup. "I'm bored!" he said then through clenched teeth. "At least when Piggle-wiggle returns to the Senate, things might take an interesting turn. I miss those titanic battles you and he used to have."

"In which case, Lucius Cornelius you're going to be disappointed. I'm not going to be here when Piggle-wiggle arrives in Rome."

Both Sulla and Rutilius Rufus sat up.

"Not going to be in Rome?" asked Rutilius Rufus, squeaking.

"Not going to be in Rome," said Marius again, and grinned in sour satisfaction. "I've just remembered a vow I made to the Great Goddess before I beat the Germans. That if I won, I'd make a pilgrimage to her sanctuary at Pessinus."

"Gaius Marius, you can't do that!" said Rutilius Rufus.

"Publius Rutilius, I can! And I will!"

Sulla flopped on his back, laughing. "Shades of Lucius Gavius Stichus!" he said.

"Who?" asked Rutilius Rufus, always ready to be sidetracked if there was a possibility of gossip.

"My late lamented stepmother's late lamented nephew," said Sulla, still grinning. "Many years ago he moved into my house—it belonged to my late lamented stepmother then. His aim was to get rid of me by destroying Clitumna's fondness for me, and his thinking was that if the two of us were there together in Clitumna's house, he'd show me up. So I went away. Right away from Rome. With the result that he had nobody to show up except himself— which he did very effectively. Clitumna was fed up in no time." He rolled over, belly down now. "He died not long afterward," Sulla said reflectively, and heaved a stagey sigh through the middle of his smile. "I ruined all his plans!"

"Here's hoping then that Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus Piggle-wiggle finds his return a hollow victory," said Marius.

Grass Crown. Copyright © by Colleen McCullough. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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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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Grass Crown (Masters of Rome Series #2) 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Oneira More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the first book of this series (First Man of Rome) but this way much better! It covers roughly 10 years (99 - 88 BC) and is centered around Sulla's rise to power and Marius' fall. The thing I love about the way she portrays these historical figures is that no one is utterly adored or despised. One can see both the good and bad in everyone, and even see good reasons for horrible actions. It is, in my opinion, the most fascinating period of Roman history. Called by historians The Roman Revolution, this period is plagued by civil wars and various leaders stepping forth to restore order and claim power for themselves as the Republic dwindles away with every step taken to prevent it. My favorite story line in this book, though only present in the first half, is the career of Marcus Livius Drusus. An incredible figure who was assassinated as he tried to prevent the Italian War, he was truly an incredible figure that not many people know about. Overall, though, Sulla was by far the most complex character of this chapter of the saga, as much of the book revolves around him (he did get the Grass Crown, after all). Again, I'm not sure how much someone would get from these books without an understanding of the period. Perhaps someone could inform me either way, as I most definitely have a background in the area with my degree.
LeoSh More than 1 year ago
Amazing book with many historical facts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Real History with some fiction to fill in the blanks. This is a great way to become familier with Roman History. Then read Rubicon for the real history. Ciao
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Guest More than 1 year ago
While it is every bit as good as the first, the Grass Crown does have a rather sad ending though McCullough dealt remarkably with the tragedy of Marius and his death. I won't reveal the details here but it's a pity Marius and Sulla fell out (though you saw that coming). It's full of the same intrigue and historical goodies as the first (The First Man in Rome) is. Her knowledge of the Roman Republic is extensive and you can tell she is interested in the subject. The same characters develop and new ones are added, and they 'look' like real people with real problems. The machinery of the Republic is brought to life in a way that you will never capture just by reading a history book. I never was interested in the Romans until after I had read the First Man in Rome and the Grass Crown.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This second volume of Ms McCullough's Roman series of novels is every bit as good as her first. Every level of Roman society is involved and comparisons with modern society are inevitable. The scheming, machinations of the senators are well worthy of their beltway contemporaries today! The death of Marius of particularly good, for most of his life an icon, only to end up as a half crazed madman, neither the first of his kind or the last!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This second novel in Ms McCullough's Roman series is every bit as good as the first. What a wonderfully greedy, avaricious and self-centered lot the upper echelons of Roman society were - strike any familiar bells with govt circles in D.C.? How little human nature has changed with the passing of time and how relevant the study of history is. A shame we don't sometimes learn more from it. The death of Gaius Marius is particularly poignant, a Consul six times and a national icon, by the time of his seventh and his death, already forgotten by those around him, how ephemeral is life in the fast lane! It would be difficult to imagine a more interesting read with more relevancies for today's world than these glimpses into our past. McCullough deserves her own triumph!
Guest More than 1 year ago
To understand most of this novel you will, of course, have to of read 'The First Man in Rome.' But it will be well worth your time, trust me. Although Mrs. McCollough can get a bit wordy/long-winded at times, she definitely knows how to dive the reader into a society that was lost to us long ago. Her character descriptions are sharp and her understanding of Roman culture uncanny. I must admit, I almost gave this five (5) stars, but stopped short because of a few items that annoyed me. Mainly was the portrayal of Gauis Marius' death. For a man who had been Consel seven times, even if he had lost his mind at the end, his death would have been much more widely grieved I believe. But that is neither here nor there, simply a matter of literary taste on my part. I can see the development of Cornelius Sulla into a MAJOR player for future events in Rome and I have already began to read the next book in the series---Fortune's Favorite. These books are addicting! Be careful. I do applaud Colleen McCollough's work--she has done some incredible research and found her niche in the literary community. All in all, I say, WELL DONE! Bravios!