Book Review: Colossus Stone and Steel. The Four Emperors by David Blixt

From A.D. 54 to A.D. 68, Rome was ruled by a madman. His name was Lucius Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, commonly known as Nero. Rome at this time ruled the civilized world from Syria to Brittania. Nero killed his mother and two of his wives, Octavia and Poppaea. (Although Poppaea’s death was probably unintentional) and was probably involved in the poisonings of his step-father,the Emperor Claudius and his stepbrother Brittanicus.
Roman Rule could be benign or it could be oppressive, depending both on the emperor and the type of person he sent to govern a region. In the case of Judea, the governor was Gessius Florus, a Roman equite whose rule was rapacious and brutal even by Roman standards. But this was not the only cause of the Judean rebellion of 66 A.D. Nero had deified himself. He was a god and he was determined to be worshiped as such throughout the empire. Most of the peoples under Roman rule had no problem with this; They simply added Nero to their pantheon. The Judeans were peculiar in that they worshiped only one omnipotent god “I, the lord thy God am a jealous God. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.” This was their first commandment. Worshiping Caesar as a god represented an extreme blasphemy.
David Blixt brings this era to life in his series Colossus:Stone and Steel. The first book deals with the Roman/Judean conflict mainly from the Judean perspective. The second in the series, The Four Emperors, portrays the Roman point of view. The central character is Titus Flavius Sabinus, a nephew of Titus Flavius Vespasian, the general Nero appoints to put down the Judean revolt. Sabinus is a widower with two teen-aged sons, Titus and Clemens, and he acts as guardian to Domitian, the younger son of Vespasian. Sabinus is a fundamentally decent man in a world gone mad. How do you deal with an insane person who can destroy you at any time on a whim?
David Blixt paints a complex and intriguing picture of ancient Rome and its customs. He explores the politics, the hierarchy, the relations between master and slave, the relations between Roman and non-Roman, and the attitude of Romans toward Jews and early Christians. there are the bizarre rituals of Saturnalia, when masters and slaves pretended to reverse roles. (I don’t think this role reversal extended to slaves flogging their masters, unless the master happened to reside well on the M side of S and M.)
The book starts with the executions of Sts. Peter and Paul. St.Paul, a Roman citizen, is granted a quick death by beheading, while Symeon, AKA Peter, a non-citizen, is crucified up-side down. Peter’s longtime female companion, Abigail and her daughter Perel, are enslaved and purchased by the grand-daughter of General Corbulo. Abigail and Perel continue to practice their Christian religion in stealth.
When Nero reluctantly commits suicide to spare himself a far more unpleasant death, a power struggle ensues. Within the year there are four different emperors, Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian. Vespasian declares himself emperor while Vitellus is still on the throne. This puts Titus Flavius Sabinus and his family in mortal peril. I found The Four Emperors an enthralling read from beginning to end.

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