Imperium is the story of Cicero, a ‘new man’ without strong connections or a noble lineage, attempting to make a career and a name for himself in the ruthless politics of ancient Rome. He has one weapon, his voice, and it is with this that he eventually manages to rise from obscurity to the heights of power and success. The story is told from the point of view of Tiro, Cicero’s slave, companion and secretary.
After serving a term as a junior magistrate in Sicily, Cicero returns to Rome with lofty dreams of holding real fame and power. So when he is approached by a Sicilian named Sthenius about the corruption and mismanagement of Gaius Verres, governor of Sicily, Cicero sees his chance to take on one of his greatest rivals: for the famous orator Hortensius will be taking on the defence. This is a challenge Cicero cannot resist, but his opposition includes some of the richest and most powerful men in Rome, and they are not going to give up without a fight.
Eventually, Cicero is forced to seek out the tribunes’ help, and in doing so enters into an alliance with Pompey, earning the enmity of the powerful Crassus. Cicero promises to support Pompey’s desire to become consul, and in return Cicero’s bill is put before the people, and passed. Sthenius is now safe as long as he remains in Rome. As Cicero becomes more embroiled in the political infighting of the aristocrats, the Sicilians begin to gather more evidence against Verres. They bring their pleas once more to Cicero, and this time he agrees to prosecute.
Cicero travels to Sicily to gather as much incriminating information as he can, finding more than he bargained for. It seems that Verres has committed the ultimate crime; he has dared to put Roman citizens to death without a trial. When Cicero presents this evidence in court, not even the bribery or delaying tactics of the opposition can save Verres. Cicero has won, but now finds himself once again in the grip of Pompey. Reluctantly, he is forced to help the general push through a ‘special command’ against the pirates menacing the coasts. An unprecedented amount of power in the hands of one man, bribery and corruption in the senate and in the courts, unconstitutional triumphs and magistracies, and the sinister implications of passing laws through appealing to the mob; it seems Rome is balancing dangerously on the edge of anarchy.
Cicero moves up the political career ladder, serving as aedile, then praetor. The consulship, the pinnacle of political success, is now in sight, but there is a new threat standing in his way. Gradually, Cicero becomes aware of a plot brewing amongst some of Rome’s leading men that threatens the very constitution of the Republic. Cicero is now forced to turn to a group of people he never thought he would have to entertain: the aristocratic senators whom he has opposed and antagonised at every stage of his climb to power. With their help, Cicero is voted consul and the sinister plans of the conspirators are thwarted. Cicero is now one of the most powerful men in Rome, but as the angry conspirators watch jealously from the sidelines, it is clear that his troubles are far from over.