Book Review: The First Man of Rome by Colleen McCullough
By Nikhil Mulani
I would definitely recommend The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough as a good read to anybody passionate about Roman history and, furthermore, to everyone working in the government as a representative of the people, whether it be our Representatives and Senators, or President Obama himself. I believe it would provide a valuable source of inspiration as to the potential of what our country can achieve, provided our leaders choose to work together rather than against one another. This book tells a vivid story of how two men served in the Senate in ancient Rome. There is no way to know with certainty what the personal dynamics between Senators of this time were, or exactly what their family lives were like.
Yet McCullough illustrates, in all-encompassing and vivid detail, an image of life of the upper echelons of Roman society that is wholly believable. A few fascinating pages are spent describing how meaningful a sagum is to a Roman soldier, many on the domestic industriousness of Julia, matriarch of the Caesars’ household, and another few spent describing the military industriousness of a young Quintus Sertorius. A complete historical education of the time period is interwoven by way of anecdotes, digressions and dialogue such that a fabulously rich and complex novel results.
The many victories of the general Gaius Marius and the soldiering of the young to-be-dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla form the core of the story. They come off to the reader as two very different men. Gaius Marius is a passionate liberal from a family that just recently obtained Roman citizenship and who climbed the ranks of the military to make it to where he is. Lucius Cornelius is a conservative aristocrat who was appointed to his military position by his fellows from old families in the Senate. McCullough masterfully illustrates, through a story centered around these two men, the place of women in ancient Roman civilization as well, with the women of the Julian family figuring prominently as well.
Sure, Sulla and Marius did engage each other in a violent civil war. But the way McCullough illustrates how such different men soon become friends as they battle the Germanic barbarians invading Rome’s territory from the north is unforgettable. As the two of them serve together on the field of battle, they realize that despite their wildly contrasting political alignments and backgrounds they both share a common vision of a better, safer and greater Roman Republic. The recognition of a common ideal and vision for the future of their civilization allows them to save Rome from a number of impending crises. Together, they stop Rome from being overtaken by the German invasions. They also quelled an insurrection led by the demagogue Saturninus that could have led to a civil war that would have destroyed the Republic.
Now, when I read the newspaper or watch the news on television, I am dismayed to see our government locked in partisan battles. Our leaders are sidetracked from combating the innumerable crises that face our nation at this moment; whether it be the war on terror, healthcare reform or economic reform. Instead, shallow differences in ideology and theory demand all of our leaders’ attention. What Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius created, in the short period that they shared imperator command of Republican armies, was a common vision born out of sincere empathy for all Roman citizens and a deep passion for a more glorious future for Rome, and yet not incompatible with their individuality.
The story is all the more inspiring because the achievements of these two Romans when they worked together is not a purely fictional illusion, but rather well-grounded in history: Together, two men of opposite beliefs and backgrounds won the war against Numidia in 107 B.C.E and also held off the Cimbri and Teutonii Germanic tribes invasions between 103 and 102 B.C.E. This is how online poker works if you are looking to play poker online from usa as explained in this US poker site. They and the other senators of their time also improved the standard of living of the common Roman drastically, leaving the Roman treasury with a surplus and distributing free grain to citizens. This story holds a valuable lesson for our country’s leaders that values the passion to improve one’s country and the compassion to care for one’s fellow citizen above any petty differences.
And their eventual civil war, history’s conclusion to an era too good to last, serves as a warning to us about the dangers of not attempting to overcome those differences in a peaceful manner.
About the Author
Nikhil Mulani loves learning more about both the mundane and
melodramatic parts of Roman history. He enjoys reading nifty classical
Latin poetry too. As a freshman at Harvard, he enjoys studying both
Classics and Computer Science and writing for the Harvard Crimson. He
originates from Lake Forest, Illinois, where his interest in Rome grew
out of a series of amazing high school Latin classes. He has his
Biology teacher to thank for introducing him to the works of Colleen