Masters of Rome Series – Colleen McCullough

This is an imposing series of six novels by the author of The Thorn Birds. It chronicles in extraordinary detail the time when Rome lost its Republic, from the creation of armies loyal to generals rather than the state to the series of civil wars that ripped the place apart. The core character is of course Julius Caesar, who is presented as a politician trying to prevent the loss of the Republic, but in the process he catalyzes the rise of Empire.

I found the parallels to today disturbing. The essential problem of the Republic -that the politics of a city-state were obsolete for an Empire, an Empire which fell to Rome somewhat reluctantly at first – may be foreshadowing our current dilemma, that the US seems ill-prepared in its new role of nation building and being the sole superpower. Caesar saw this failing and attempted to fix it, but fell into a bitter fight with the landed aristocracy (which had held power for 500 years). Caesar proposed sensible reforms: to allow better governance of overseas provinces, to maintain the army under the control of the Senate (through land reform to give veterans property to farm when they retired), and to broaden the ruling class to include provincials. In the end he took the expedient path of Dictatorship to institute the reforms, and the Republic was lost.

We have been handed, somewhat reluctantly, the responsibility of Empire. Our military power is unprecedented. But we seem to lack the talent & disposition to manage multinational organizations. Like the little Roman city-state, our leaders still listen to domestic politics to get elected. The Unilateralists, who support unchecked American power, are in control. Shades of the Roman aristocracy! With Homeland Security we have handed the Unilateralists the power to restrict domestic liberty. Whether we have a Caesar who can rise to the challenge of bridging the US into a truly multilateral world without losing the Republic is very unclear.

The Masters of Rome series is best read from beginning to end, beginning with the best book in the series, The First Man in Rome.

3 thoughts on “Masters of Rome Series – Colleen McCullough

  1. A Caesar will rise, or our power will lessen. One or the other must happen. When a need is fullfilled, somehow. It is the way of things.

    What is so wrong with Empire? Only one thing, it hasnt been done correctly. Perhaps someone will know how, and will get his chance.

  2. I am a 13 yr old high school student from New Zealand and I have read the entire Masters Of Rome as well as Morgans Run, The Ladies Of Missalongi and The Thorn Birds. Lets just compare The Masters of Rome series to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series, I think it would be a wonderful idea for Colleen McCollough to write a book similar in construction to Tolkien’s The Silmarriallion which started at the creation of middle earth, in this case the foundation of Rome, right up to the war of the War of the Ring, M’s of Rome, and slightly beyond. I also think that it would a good idea to write something about the origins of the Ceasars and the fall of Alba Longa. Last of all myself and all of the McCollough fans that I know would really appreciate a second series following in the footseps of the M’s of Rome.



  3. I started reading McCollough’s Rome series a few years back and each time I delved into one of the books it seemed that she picked me up and plopped me down in the first century BC. I was already in Rome, where I live and work. The series made the city come to life for me — I would be reading on my way to work and look up to realize that I was passing by one of the locations I was reading about. Caesar’s world was made so real to me, and the characters so lifelike, that now when I hear or read something about one of the leading characters, I find myself thinking — that is not how Caesar or Pompey or Cicero were, because I KNEW them, having met the real people through these books.

Comments are closed.