Cover image of "Conspirata," a novel of politics in Ancient Rome

Conspirata tells the tale of the immortal Roman orator, politician, and lawyer Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 BCE) at the key inflection point of his long career. During the fateful year 63 BCE, he served as Roman consul (a sort of co-president). In the following years tragic consequences overtook Cicero and all of the Republic. Cicero’s long-standing secretary, the slave Tiro, tells this gripping story of politics in Ancient Rome. Conspirata is the second book in a trilogy about Cicero that began with Imperium and concluded with Dictator.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The stars shine on ancient Rome

In the hands of such an able writer as Robert Harris, Cicero’s fascinating and fateful story emerges on the page in all its drama, and Cicero’s famous contemporaries—Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE) and Pompey the Great (106-48 BCE)—come to light in the full bloom of their outsize personalities. In the broadest sense, Conspirata relates the historically momentous intersection of two men’s careers, the then-young Caesar and the aging Cicero. The novel’s action unfolds between Cicero’s inauguration as consul in 63 BCE and Caesar departed with his legions for Gaul in 58 B.C.E.

Conspirata is a political thriller pitting two consummate political strategists against each other. It’s a tale threaded throughout with tension and suspense—a gripping read.

Conspirata (Ancient Rome Trilogy #2) by Robert Harris (2001) 401 pages ★★★★☆

Painting of Cicero in the Senate, a fateful event in this novel of politics in Ancient Rome
Cicero in the Senate accusing Caitilina of conjuring. Image: Hans W. Schmidt – Art America

What history tells us

Cicero wrote more than three-quarters of the surviving Latin literature that historians have recovered spanning the years of his lifetime. Thus his writing style had an outsize influence on the Latin language as we know it. And his interpretation of the events that transpired then looms largest in our understanding of the time. But it is established fact that during his consulship he thwarted a conspiracy to overthrow the Roman Republic with the help of a tribe of Gauls. He drove the conspiracy’s leader, Lucius Sergius Catilina (known to English-speakers as Catiline), out of Rome with a series of four legendary speeches in the Senate. Politics in Ancient Rome was for keeps.

Cicero’s entanglement with Caesar’s career began three years after he left the consulship. In 60 BCE, Caesar invited him to join in partnership with him, Pompey, and Marcus Licinius Crassus. When Cicero declined, the trio later came to be called the First Triumvirate. He fell into disfavor with the group and ended in exile.

About the author

Photo of Robert Harris, author of this novel of politics in Ancient Rome
Robert Harris. Image: David Levene – The Guardian

You know Robert Harris‘ work if you’ve seen the 2010 Roman Polanski film, The Ghost Writer, or read the novel The Ghost on which it was based. Harris, an English writer and former journalist for the BBC, The Observer, and other British publications, turned to fiction with Fatherland, an international best-seller that explored an alternate world in which Nazi Germany had won World War II. That 1992 novel and many since then have also been adapted to film or television.

Harris was born in 1957 and raised in public housing in Nottingham, England. He “read English” at Cambridge University, where he served as president of the legendary Cambridge Union and was editor of the student newspaper at his college. After writing nonfiction from 1982 to 1990, he turned to fiction. To date, he has published fifteen novels.

This is one of The spellbinding thrillers of Robert Harris. You’ll find the sequel to this novel there.

For another mystery set in the same period, see The Silver Pigs (Marcus Didius Falco #1 of 20) by Lindsey Davis (Imperial Rome is the setting for this intriguing mystery).

If you enjoy reading history in fictional form, check out 20 most enlightening historical novels. And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers.

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