Fourth novel in the author's ancient Rome series. Here (68-58 B.C.), in the dwindling wakes of Marius and Sulla (Fortune's Favorites, 1993), is the Colossus, looming in ascent on his way to striding the world--Julius Caesar. Women appear in his orbit now and then, certainly, but the central action is mostly masculine. Nearing 40, Caesar, the handsome, brilliant patrician whose smile rarely reaches his eyes--a former priest, soldier, and diplomat who spent over 20 years in the senate--is back in the Forum, ready to weigh the political heft of potential foes and allies (""clout"" is a word often used). Guardians of the status quo are the viri boni (good men), among them a crafty ""flea"" and a surly Stoic and, on a shaky perimeter, Cicero, the ""golden throated"" orator whose manipulations to quell a conspiracy lead five to death without trial and draw a checkmate from Caesar. Caesar is elected head of the state-administered religion and is affectionate paterfamilias of a bevy of dutiful, decorous Vestal Virgins. And Pompey the Great, the military hero, wiser but still a shade thick and chafing over his lackluster genealogy, becomes not only one of Caesar's triumvirate but his son-in-law, rescuing Caesar's beloved daughter, Julia, from marriage to acne-ed Brutus, the son of Caesar's terrifying mistress Servilia, a woman as hard as the nails she uses to rake flesh. Caesar is winning on most senatorial fronts, and at the close his women (including admirable Aurelia, his mother, and his gentle third wife, Calpurnia) chat it up while word comes from Further Gaul--and Caesar is ""off like the wind."" Meanwhile, the politicos here, their basic fiber teased from contemporary sources, are not unfamiliar (Caesar hopes that some day the bunch ""will think more of their homeland than . . . getting back at their enemies""). A muscular, convincing re-creation of Rome's political arena--and some legendary combatants. Once again with illustrations, maps, and McCullough's chatty glossary, a pleasure to consult.