Royal Exchange Theatre

SEATS in the Royal Exchange Theatre were packed as literature fans gathered to see Robert Harris discuss power, politics, and ancient Rome on the opening night of the Manchester Literature Festival.

Harris, a journalist-turned-author whose career saw him reporting for the BBC and being political editor at The Observer, spoke with host Carol Ackroyd about his latest book Dictator, the final instalment in his Cicero trilogy which was released last week.

Since becoming an author, his nine best-selling novels have sold over 10 million copies and have been translated into 37 languages.

Harris’s interest in politics and power began long before he was a journalist. His fascination began when he was just six years old when he did a writing assignment on ‘Why me and my Dad don’t like Sir Alec Douglas-Home.’

Harris later mentioned that after he had written his 2003 novel Pompeii, he couldn’t seem to get away from writing historical fiction since it enabled him to write about power under threat.

Because ancient Rome served as a model for many elements of today’s governments, Harris was also able to comment on modern politics through his books.

“The thing that stunned me about Roman politics is that it is more vibrant than the world we live in,” he said.

“[Modern politics] is classic drama.”

The novels revolve around Cicero, a Roman politician who lived during the time of Julius Caesar. While he was not from noble or military backgrounds, Cicero was well-known for being cunning with words.

Harris admired Cicero’s character, who was one that chose to stay out of war rather than glorifying war.

“I dislike the man of destiny who is all about them and not about the people,” Harris said, later comparing some characteristics of ancient Roman leaders to former prime ministers.

When writing about Caesar himself, he found that the Roman dictator, whose charm and quest for power led to great violence, “fits the classical definition of a psychopath.”

Harris then treated the audience to a reading of his novel’s version of the assassination of Caesar before opening the floor to questions.

The Manchester Literary Festival continues until 25 October at over 40 venues across Greater Manchester. Ticket information and the programme schedule can be found at

By Martin McFarlane

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