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Robert Fabbri
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
AD 68 and the Roman Empire is in turmoil, Nero dead and the Year of Four Emperors is upon us. Vespasian is in Judea putting down the revolt in a savage and bloody way to ensure that they don’t have the ability to rise up again. One of his senior military commanders is his son Tiberius who is brave, reckless and an excellent commander. It does not help Vespasian as a father having to send his son into battle, knowing that Tiberius is just doing what he himself would like to or would have done.

This book starts off with a glimpse into the future and the death of Vespasian’s brother Sabinus which sets the political scene. We then move to the siege of Jotapata which is held by fanatical Jews who are determined to fight to the death. These Jews are led by Yosef who proves to be a capable general. Vespasian, thinking he will be in the fort within a few days, is frustrated by the occupants who hold out for forty seven days. The description of the siege and the battles are excellently put by Fabbri and the tension, brutality and tactics just jump off the page. All the time this siege is going on Vespasian has to consider what is going on politically in Rome and the rest of the Empire. He is very conscious of the fact that several priests and fortune tellers have predicted great things for him and that he will be Emperor, but he has to work his way into this so that he is accepted by the Senate and populace. In this he is guided by his long term and politically astute mistress Caenis.

The siege of Jotapata over, the menfolk all slain and the women and children sold off into slavery, Vespasian turns to the remainder of Judea, especially Jerusalem where the real riches lie, the main Temple with all its gold and other riches, plus the thousands of slaves to be sold off to fill the coffers of Rome’s treasury. Vespasian though can’t devote himself to this siege yet and has to lay waste to all the other towns and villages in the area before taking on Jerusalem. The order to the troops is kill anyone who puts up any resistance – sell all the remainder off to slavery or the gladiator’s circus. Over all this is the political situation in Rome and the Western and Northern parts of the Empire. Nero dead Galba declares himself emperor, doesn’t last long and is replaced by Otho who in turn loses a battle with Vitellius and commits suicide – there does not seem to be a very good retirement plan for Roman Emperors. Vespasian, on the other hand moves to control Egypt and the grain supplies so vital to Rome and plotting to replace Vitellius. Again, Fabbri makes the tensions leap from the page and makes each bit wanting this reader to keep reading to see what is happening.

Half way through the book I popped to the back of the book where Fabbri puts an Historical Note which sets the context and explains where he has taken a wee bit of licence. I was a bit surprised to read that this is the last of the Vespasian series and was thoroughly disappointed. The whole series, which I have read, has been about the route of Vespasian to the Purple robes of Emperor and I fully expected to see the series continue in this role. Oh well, I presume Fabbri feels that the reign of Vespasian has been well covered.

The book concludes with Vespasian in Rome, worried about his sons and whether they would stand up and try to usurp him, it was a hard life being Roman Emperor! There is an afternote which takes the reader to Vespasian’s deathbed where he knows he is dying and asks his friends and son to help him stand as Emperors should die on their feet. Vespasian then comes out with the statement that made him famous in the “Famous Last Words” area with the phrase “I think I am becoming a God” which demonstrates Vespasian’s good, ironic sense of humour.

As ever, the author brings a great book, well written, easy to read putting the events of that time into words taking the factual reports of the time by Tacitus, Suetonius, Cassius Dio and Josephus (the Jew who held out at Jotapata and who Vespasian took into his household as a slave then freeman) and puts life into them. A thoroughly enjoyable read and a great story. For those who have followed Fabbri, this book is an absolute must but is in itself a great standalone story which if you like |books about Roman times you will enjoy. Fabbri points out that he started this journey with Vespasian ten years ago and finalised this book on the 10th anniversary of starting that first book!

I have rated this book a 5 Mr MRHs but that counts for the whole series which I rate just as highly.

The good news is that Fabbri is starting on a new series about the world after the death of Alexander the Great. I look forward to reading this series.

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