Lustrum – Book Review

Lustrum is the second novel in Robert Harris’s trilogy about the life of Cicero in the last years of the Roman Republic. The first Imperium, which I’ve read, deals with Cicero’s career as a lawyer and politician up to the point of his election as consul. The third book in the trilogy is yet to be published. Lustrum starts with Cicero’s year as consul in year 63BC. Lustrum, as with Imperium, is written from the point of view of Tiro, Cicero’s slave and personal secretary.

Cicero is shown to be a man of integrity and a staunch defender of the Roman Republic. However he is pragmatic and prepared to make political deals that compromise his beliefs. The first half of Lustrum deals with Cicero’s defeat of the conspiracy led by Catalina to destroy the Republic. Harris’s description of these political intrigues makes for thrilling reading. Western politicians no longer murder their rivals but apart from that every stratagem in the modern politician’s repertoire was honed by the Romans. The first half ends with Cicero ordering the extra judicial execution of some of the conspirators.

Cicero now in a state of hubris indulges in some corrupt practices to acquire a luxurious new villa. (Harris dedicates this book to Peter ā€“ does he mean British politician Peter Mandelson?) He makes a number of mistakes in particular in allowing himself to be outmanoeuvred by an alliance of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus. Caesar is very much the villain in this book. I felt the pace slowed in the second half of the book; there was less action and more of Cicero’s speeches. Although Lustrum is a good read, Imperium is better. 4 stars.


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