The Gates of Rome
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The Gates of Rome first edition cover.
|Series||Emperor (novel series)|
|January 6, 2003|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||416 pp (first edition)|
|Followed by||The Death of Kings|
The first book in the series introduces two young Romans: Gaius (Gaius Julius Caesar), son of a senator and born of noble-blood, and blood-friend Marcus (Marcus Junius Brutus), son of a high-class courtesan (Servilia Caepionis).
As the two boys begin their careers (Gaius as a senator and Brutus as a legionary), a political war is being played out in the senate between two powerful Generals: Cornelius Sulla and Gaius's uncle, Gaius Marius.
Julius and Marcus grow up as close as brothers, forming a deep and long-lasting friendship. Marcus is adopted by Gaius's parents, and is trained alongside Gaius by a famous, retired and unbeaten gladiator named Renius. In preparation for a life in the legions serving the Republic, Renius teaches them not only swordsmanship, but also how to become weapons themselves. However, Renius's training techniques sometimes have near fatal results; both Julius and Marcus nearly drown on one occasion. As the boys grow up, both start coveting the attention of Alexandria, a slave on their home estate.
At the end of their training, Renius seriously wounds Gaius in a training accident; in retaliation Marcus proves his skill with a sword, severely injuring Renius's arm.
In order to survive in the complex and ever-shifting world of Roman politics, Gaius casts his lot in with his uncle Marius, who agrees to take both Gaius and Marcus under his wing. Marius is a Consul and one of the two most powerful men in Rome, the other being his great rival Sulla. After Marius secures a Triumph for his legion Primigenia ("the First-Born") through the streets of Rome, Marcus uses a recommendation from Marius to gain a position in a legion guarding the Roman province of Macedon. After leaving with Renius (who has his injured arm amputated by his brother along the way), Marcus begins to make a name for himself in the Fourth Macedonia Legion's centuria:"Bronze Fist".
Meanwhile in Rome, Gaius accompanies Marius on his Triumph before being confirmed as a Senator in his own right. In his first session he witnesses Marius outwitting Sulla in a Senate vote by sending him and his legion, Second Alaudae off to Greece to put down a rebellion led by the Greek king: Mithridates (known as the Second Mithridatic War). After spending a night with Alexandria, Gaius makes a reputation for himself as a serious party-goer, and takes his father's name as his own: Gaius Julius Caesar (hence written Julius instead of Gaius). Sulla quickly defeats Mithridates in Greece, but spares his life on his promise "never to attack Rome as long as he [Sulla] lives". When asked by associates why he had let Mithridates live, Sulla reveals that "he is a man I know I can beat", unlike the unknown quantity of a successor.
With Marius preparing Rome and his legion Primigenia, for the return of Sulla and the inevitable civil war that would surely follow. Julius eventually falls in love with Cornelia, daughter of the wealthy and influential Senator Cinna, and marries her on the morning of Sulla's return. When Sulla strangle arrives in march formation and stops just outside his archers' range, Marius is shocked to discover that Sulla had left behind several of his men in the city and finds himself unable to warn his own men about it, whose attacked by Sulla's men from behind, disguised as firefighter slaves. Marius is quickly surrounded by Sulla's men in disguise, although he in vain struggles to free himself, he's brutally beaten and captured. Marius refuses to give up Rome and surrender his legion to Sulla, ordering his men to burn Rome with his last cry.
As the remnants of Primigenia under Orso Ferito & Bar Gallenius, fights a losing battle against the advancing Second Alaudae on the streets of Rome, Julius is captured in the chaos. Marius' wife commits suicide after freeing Alexandria. Sulla is declared Dictator of Rome by the Senate and the Assembly of the People, with no limit set on his time in office. Sulla had total control of the city and republic of Rome, except for Hispania (which Marius's general Quintus Sertorius had established as an independent state). Sulla immediately begins taking vengeance on all of Marius' friends, who are hunted down and killed. Marius's beloved Primigenia legion is stamped as traitors and removed from the senate's legion scrolls by order of Sulla. Marius and his supporter's holdings are seized and Rome is still burning. Julius is brought before the victorious dictator, and Sulla offers to spare his life if he divorces Cornelia (thereby damaging the reputation of Cinna) and swears allegiance to him. As the only one of the patrician (called "Nobleii" in the book), Julius refuses and calling for death instead. His courage, defiance and lack of fear impresses Sulla, who orders his release and instead exiles him from the city. To his stunned subordinates Sulla claims that "he [Julius] reminds me too much of myself" and that there "might be two of Marius in him".
With nothing left but his life and his name, Julius signs on with a naval legion where he finds his childhood nemesis Suetonius and swears to return once he is able to avenge his uncle. Unknown to him, Cornelia is pregnant with his child and has attracted the attention of Sulla. Marcus meanwhile has impressed his superiors with his abilities on the battlefield, and agrees to extend his enlistment and be promoted to the rank of Centurion. He signs the agreement with his full name: Marcus Brutus.
Literary significance & criticism
At times, Iggulden drifts away from historical accuracy for the purposes of storytelling, especially where the war between Marius and Sulla is concerned where fantasy is entered into, although he does explain his reason in an historical note at the end of the book. His main defence is that we don't have enough historical information especially of Caesar's childhood but still he makes huge compromises. For example in his book Caesar is the only child, when actually he had 2 sisters.
Another example is in the beginning of the book we are introduced to Brutus and Caesar as being both eight years old when in actuality, Caesar is 15 years Brutus' senior.
One of the more controversial aspects of the series is Iggulden's attribution of other people's achievements to Caesar. For example, Caesar is portrayed as having defeated the Catiline Conspiracy, which was actually the work of Cicero, who was a significant politician throughout Caesar's life, and is only a minor character in later books such as The Field of Swords and The Gods of War.
The tagline on the front of the paperback version of The Gates of Rome reads:
"If you liked Gladiator you'll love Emperor" - Sunday Times
Excellent reviews helped The Gates of Rome reach number two in the Sunday Times Best-seller list.