Robert Harris: Imperium

Imperium - Robert Harris

The first part of Harris’s Cicero trilogy, and both a truly fast-paced and a well-researched piece of historical writing; covering Cicero’s ascent from young Senator to Praetorian and, eventually (and against all the odds), Consul.

The first part of the book deals at length with one of Cicero’s most famous legal cases, the prosecution of the corrupt Sicilian governor Verres, and Harris shows how Cicero employed that case in order to advance his own political career.  Notably, Cicero quite ingeniously also ignored established Roman trial practice in favor of what would very much resemble modern common law practice, by making a (by the standards of the day) comparatively short opening statement — albeit a supremely argumentative one — and immediately thereafter examining his witnesses, instead of, as procedural custom would have dictated, engaging in a lengthy battle of speeches with defending counsel first.  As a result of this manoeuver, Verres was as good as convicted and fled from Rome in the space of the 9 days allotted to Cicero as prosecuting counsel to make his case.

The second part of the book examines Cicero’s unlikely but eventually victorious campaign for consulship, and his exposure of a conspiracy involving Catiline, generally believed to be the most likely victor of that year’s consular elections, who later came to be involved of conspiracies on an even greater scale, and whose condemnation in Cicero’s most famous speeches — collectively known as In Catilinam (On, or Against Catiline) — would go a great way towards securing both Cicero’s political success in his own lifetime and his lasting fame as a skilled orator.

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