Monday, November 20, 2017


Emperor series, Conn Iggulden

This five-book series by Conn Iggulden charts the life of Julius Caesar. Iggulden’s undertaken a massive job: to collate the data on Caesar and present it in a coherent and interesting form, and has succeeded. It’s still historical fiction; Iggulden reveals at the end of each book where he changed and adapted things, and he has written a gripping account.

The Gates of Rome covers Caesar’s childhood, through the eyes of best friends Gaius and Marcus. I have always enjoyed reading of Ancient Rome and Iggulden brings it to life: the senate and their intrigues, the lifestyle supported on the backs of slaves, the massive difference in wealth and influence in the city, and the extent of power exerted by Rome on the ancient world.

The Death of Kings show Caesar’s exploits around the Mediterranean, first with the Roman army and then after capture by pirates. He starts his rise to power with his charisma bringing men to his side in Greece and then later in Italy. At the same time, Brutus is gathering a legion of men to be loyal to Caesar, and to deal with ongoing enemies in Rome.

The Field of Swords charts the years of Caesar’s invasions of Gaul and England; I had no idea how long he spent away from Rome on campaign for the Empire.

Gods of War is his campaign to beat Pompey and claim Rome for himself, with increasing opposition from previously loyal friends. For those that know the line from Shakespeare “Et tu Brute?” and the significance of the Ides of March, there is an inexorable waiting to see how that plays out.

I had very little knowledge of this time, barring the main facts. But the extent of this man’s achievements provably cannot be overlooked. He conquered much of the world for Rome and eventually made his own name synonymous with King or ruler; the word Kaiser and Tsar both derived from Caesar.

The fifth book, The Blood of Gods, covers the years after Caesar as Augustus rises to power. Notably, not one of those involved in Caesar’s assassination died of natural causes.

It’s a time of bloody violence and horrible warfare. The few brief descriptions of crucifixions remind you of why it was such a feared and hated method of death. The extent of the military campaigns by Rome are astonishing, considering the distances covered and the numbers of men involved. 

I have enjoyed numerous books that tackle this period of time. Iggulden’s writing probably appeals to me the most. Many others dwell in the debauchery of the times. It’s present here too, but it isn’t a focus.  I finished the series with much more understanding of these years of the Roman Empire, and a begrudging appreciation of what was achieved by the sheer charismatic force and willpower of a few men, despite the methods often employed.

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