The History Book Club discussion

ROMAN EMPIRE -THE HISTORY... > 5. HF - THE FIRST MAN IN ROME - THE FOURTH AND FIFTH YEARS (331 - 417) (10/04/10 - 10/10/10) ~ No spoilers, please

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44328 comments Mod
Hello Everyone,

Welcome to the historical fiction discussion of THE FIRST MAN IN ROME
by Colleen McCullough.

This is the reading assignment for week five - (Oct 4th, 2010 to Oct 10th, 2010)

Week 5 - Oct 4 - 10: p 331 – 417 The Fourth Year and The Fifth Year

This is the third historical fiction group selected book.

We will open up a thread for each week's reading. Please make sure to post in the particular thread dedicated to those specific chapters and page numbers to avoid spoilers if you are catching up.

This book was kicked off on September 6th; but we are now entering the fifth week of discussion

This discussion is being led by assisting moderator - Alisa. She has done an amazing job with the Supreme Court and civil rights threads and this is her first venture in moderating an historical fiction book and she is very excited to be doing this. Please support her in this effort.

We always enjoy the participation of all group members. Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other noted on line booksellers do have copies of the book and shipment can be expedited. The book can also be obtained easily at your local library, but this is not available on Kindle or audible.

This thread opens up Monday, October 4th for discussion. Although, Alisa may open this thread up earlier due to her different time zone. This is a non spoiler thread.




The First Man in Rome (Masters of Rome, #1) by Colleen McCullough by Colleen McCullough Colleen McCullough

Alisa is using the current version available to her as follows:

The First Man in Rome (Masters of Rome, #1) by Colleen McCullough

Please feel free to research the complete Table of Contents and Syllabus on this thread:

message 2: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Two short chapters in this weeks discussion but lots going on, eh? I am putting up a summary of each chapter separately but either are open for discussion. Please post your thoughts as you read along! I'll post a few observations and questions routinely but anything you wish to discuss relating to the week's pages are fair game.

Chapter four begins on the first day of Marius's consulship. After staying up all night to ensure that there are no bad omens for his inauguration day, Marius proceeds to the temple of Jupiter to be duly inducted into the consulship. The very next day, Marius calls the Senate together to hear his proposal. The Senate is packed to hear him. Most senators don't approve of a New Man being consul and they instinctively fear Marius, so they want to make sure they keep an eye on him and hear what he has to say.

Marius begins by recounting many recent defeats of the Roman army at the hands of German barbarians. In the last fifteen years, sixty thousand Roman soldiers have been killed in battle. Of course, this is a stunning loss of human life, but beyond that, it also means that Rome cannot fill the conscript forces she has relied on for so long. Metellus, recalled from Africa, brought his legions home; however, just as soon as they arrived, they were needed to defend Rome again against the Germans.

Marius, if he plans to successfully defeat Jugurtha in Africa, needs a way to raise new armies. He tells the assembled Senate that he has introduced a bill into the lower, plebeian and also law-making house, a bill to allow the property-less members of the proletariat (also called the head-count) to enlist in the army for regular pay. This suggestion scandalizes the senators present, who begin to argue vehemently with Marius. Marius, claiming that he doesn't need the blessing of the Senate since he has the law of the Plebeian house, defends himself briefly and then leaves triumphantly.

The lower house passes Marius's bill easily. Marius and Sulla then go off to find the thousands of men they will need for their upcoming African campaign against Jugurtha. Aiming to raise a total of six legions, Marius raises four very quickly. After raising the four legions he takes those legions with him to Africa, leaving Sulla in Rome to raise the other two and join him later. Marius also changes some of the structure of the legions and institutes the practice of golden eagle standard for each legion.

Julia has another son, though he dies shortly after birth. Julilla has a daughter for Sulla, though the daughter is sickly. The sisters have grown further apart over the last year and Julilla has adopted some of the opinions of her class regarding Marius; namely, that he is an upstart to be despised.

Sulla, arriving in Africa with his two legions, finds Marius in control of the Numidian war. Marius has successfully trained his troops and has conquered several Numidian cities. Jugurtha is on the run. Marius destroyed most of Jugurtha's army in a pitched battle and Jugurtha retreated to his castle in the middle of the desert. Marius eventually marches on this stronghold and, seeing that they cannot withstand the Roman onslaught, the castle surrenders after Jugurtha has fled. Despite their surrender, Marius has everyone in the castle put to death and sets fire to the stronghold.

On his arrival, Sulla brings news of Marius's co-consul Cassius's defeat at the hands of the Germans. After an initial victory, Cassius stupidly pursued his enemy deep into German territory where he was eventually attacked. Unable to defend themselves, the entire army was destroyed. Popillias Leanus, the only remaining officer, surrendered and was given amnesty with whatever troops were still alive to return to Rome. Upon returning home, the Senate decides to try Leanus for treason. The chapter ends with Marius and Sulla vowing to finish off Jugurtha quickly so they can return home and take the war to the Germans.

message 3: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Chapter five begins with the new Consul, Quintus Servilius Caepio, being tasked to subdue the Germans in Gaul. As he makes very clear in his first address, he will not be using the methods of Marius in raising his army. Rather than using head-count troops, he will raise his army the old-fashioned way—by conscripting small, land-owning farmers and merchants in Italy and Rome. Still, after all of the recent defeats of the Roman army, suitable men are hard to find. Caepio's men take to kidnapping young boys and old men to staff his legions. Soon enough, though, the legions are staffed and they head off to Gaul. After marching to Gaul, Caepio find that the Germans residing there have quarreled with the native peoples and have left. Caepio deals with the small number of barbarians left and busies himself trying to find the gold that is supposedly hidden in the area.

While leading his men on a fishing expedition at a local lake, Caepio sees what he thinks is a flash of gold in the water. Believing the famed gold to be hidden at the bottom of the lake, the consul has his engineers drain the lake. At the bottom they find huge amounts of gold and silver. The gold is much or more than the entire treasury of Rome. Caepio sends the gold in a wagon train to a city closer to Rome so that it can eventually be sent back to the capital. Along the way, a barbarian raiding party kills the guards and steals the gold. Caepio, devastated by the loss of all his gold, takes some comfort in knowing that the silver is still safe.

Meanwhile in Africa, Marius is still camped outside the town of Cirta. Marius is sticking close to Cirta but also sending expeditions out to the surrounding towns to rape and pillage them. In this way he hopes to incite Jugurtha's neighboring king to join Jugurtha's cause, forcing Jugurtha' army into the open and precipitating a battle where Marius can end the war once and for all. Marius moves his troops to camp under the high citadel of Mauretania, Jugurtha's western headquarters. The fortress is completely unapproachable because it is located on a high cliff. Marius knows that if he doesn't take the fortress in the next month, he will have to wait until next year.

A common cavalry trooper, Publius Vagiennius, finds the solution. Publius is an expert on and obsessed with snails. They are his favorite food and some day he hopes to go into the snail trade. While sitting around one day, he smells the distinct odor of snails coming from a nearby cave. After crawling and climbing into the cave, Publius finds the greatest cache of huge snails he has ever seen. Greedily looking around the cave for more snails, he accidentally finds an easy route through the cave to the fortress.

After several days of feasting on snails, Publius informs Marius of the secret route. Marius immediately builds a wooden staircase in the cave so his men can safely approach the fortress. Marius takes the citadel, with all the gold that it holds. King Bocchus, Jugurtha's neighbor, feeling the danger of the Roman advance, allies himself with Jugurtha and they attack the Romans as they head back to Cirta. In a series of pitched battles, Marius completely destroys the Mauretanian and Numidian armies. Only the two kings, Bocchus and Marius, escape. Sulla fights valiantly and earns several honorary crowns for his service. After the battle, Marius is confident that Rome will now respect his head count army.

message 4: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Before he speaks his first word there is already a significant amount of distrust in the Senate about Marius. Is it a perceived threat to power? Inherent suspicion because he is a New Man? Were they set to oppose him no matter what he said?

message 5: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) We know from the previous chapter that when Metellus last saw Marius he never expected him to make it back to Rome in time for a run at consul much less be successful in his bid. He seemed to press Marius pretty hard and have no trouble standing up to him before he left Africa. Now that he has returned all of a sudden he breaks down emotionally and as Rutilius describes "indulging in a monumental snit..." (p. 349.) Is this worse for Metellus to display weakness in public or for Marius as it will undoubtedly feed his already overblown ego?

message 6: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Marius makes a controversial move with his set-up of the volunteer army. Yet it also shows a crafty approach to changing the military landscape of the Romans. Shrewd! What do you think of Marius' growing military prowess?

message 7: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Anyone read this far in the book yet, or are we still getting caught up? I am quite intrigued by the Roman debate over the volunteer v. the paid army. It created quite a stir.

message 8: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44328 comments Mod
I did but I do not want to jump in yet. I think folks are catching up.

message 9: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (new)

Vicki Cline | 3835 comments Mod
I thought it was quite interesting that Marius mentions Gaius Gracchus early in his first address to the Senate. Gaius and his elder brother Tiberius were Tribunes of the Plebs 10 years apart and tried to do something to build up the small farmer class which was the backbone of the army in earlier times. With the Romans fighting wars in foreign lands rather than in Italy, soldiers had to be away from their farms for long times and often had to sell their land. The Gracchi legislated the give-away of public lands to farmers, but they were opposed by the big landholders who used the ager publicus for their own vast plantations. They were both killed for passing these laws. There's a good entry in the Glossary about them.

message 10: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Marius also makes the argument that by the farmers being away fighting for so long that they aren't home to make more Romans. Given their territory aspirations they need all the Romans they can get. Kind of staggering to think about the numbers of men they lost in battle. That was surprising to me.

message 11: by Garret (new)

Garret (ggannuch) Marius' political success so far is achieved by cunning, but without much of a support base. In fact he seems to be making a lot of enemies. Hard to believe he will be able to keep this going for as long as the prophecy suggests unless he manages to develop more alliances withing the Senate.

message 12: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) He will need more alliances beyond his current cadre of benefactors. There is plenty to suggest however that military success will carry him for awhile, even though his ideas about the army are controversial. If he can win with his volunteer army then Rome will be much more likely to accept him, although maybe begrudgingly.

message 13: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) The relationship between Sulla and Marius seems to be humming right along. Marius seems to be brining out, or capitalizing, on Sulla's shrewd thinking ways. And Sulla seems to enjoy the responsibilities that Marius has given him and likes the mental exercise of understanding and staying in step with Marius' thinking about war strategy. Sulla describes this as 'a holiday' and wonders aloud "When am I going to be blooded?" (p. 390.) He doesn't have to wait long, but I think Sulla simply cannot help himself when it comes to his murderous ways. It is part of the evil that is deeply ingrained in him.

message 14: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (new)

Vicki Cline | 3835 comments Mod
Actually, I think "being blooded" was an important step in learning to be a soldier. It's mentioned in connection with Marius' new troops in Africa. You don't really know what being a soldier is like until you've experienced combat, and in those days, that meant face-to-face fighting, with either you or your opponent, or both, suffering a wound or death.

message 15: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Indeed, and he wants to be viewed as a successful warrior. For Sulla though I suspect he enjoys the blooded part a little too much.

message 16: by Karol (new)

Karol Alisa wrote: "Indeed, and he wants to be viewed as a successful warrior. For Sulla though I suspect he enjoys the blooded part a little too much."

Alisa, I think you're probably right. I find it interesting, though, that Marius and Sulla are becoming rather close. Sulla seems to have the kind of personality that adjusts to his environment - Marius brings out the best in him while some of his earlier relationships brought out his absolute worst. Of course, the author points out that Sulla is trying to be on his best behavior, but that around Marius he doesn't find this difficult to do. Sulla may be an opportunist, but I think he holds some level of genuine esteem for Marius.

I found the snail part of the story rather humorous, as I'm sure we all did. It seems true-to-life, though. Sometimes, the most unusual detail can change the course of a an army. In this case, the whiff of snails to a connoisseur.

message 17: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Precisely. THe more I reflect on this part of the story line, the more I view Sulla's intent toward Marius is motivated by his desire to better his lot in life. Linking with Marius he will learn how to do that and also has much to gain through his association with him.

The scenario with the snails was funny. Little things can make a big difference, eh?

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