Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Review: The Iron Hand of Mars by Lindsey Davis

A historical fiction review by  © 2005


I first listened to an unabridged version of Lindsey Davis' "Iron Hand of Mars" back in 2005 and wrote an article about the historical context then. But, I've incorporated and rewritten much of that information in this review following my current review format.

Of all of the Falco novels, this one turned out to be one of my favorites, probably because it included more military adventures than other Falco books and swordplay.

This tale of intrigue is set in Germania where Falco, Vespasian's agent, is tasked with attempting to derail a rebellion led by the Batavian leader Civilis and win over a mysterious prophetess. Since most of my study of Rome has concentrated on the late Republican period, I was not familiar with this major insurgency that arose during the reign of Vespasian. So, I did a little research.

Gaius Julius Civilis was the leader of the Batavian rebellion against the Romans in 69 AD. Although his name indicates he was Romanized by Augustus or one of the other Julian emperors, Civilis was twice imprisoned on a charge of rebellion, and narrowly escaped execution. During the tumult that followed the death of the emperor, Nero, Civilis took up arms under the pretense of siding with the Flavian emperor, Vespasian, and induced the inhabitants of his native country to rebel.

The Batavians, who had rendered valuable aid under the early emperors, had been well treated by subsequent emperors. They were exempt from tribute, but were obliged to supply a large number of men for the army. This conscription and the oppression of provincial governors, however, ultimately led to revolt. The Batavians were immediately joined by several neighboring German tribes, the most important of whom were the Frisii.

The Roman garrisons near the Rhine were driven out, and twenty-four ships captured. Two legions under Mummius Lupercus were defeated at Castra Vetera (near modern Xanten) and surrounded. Eight cohorts of Batavian veterans joined their countrymen, and the troops sent by Vespasian to the relief of Vetera threw in their lot with them as well.

The result of these accessions to the forces of Civilis was another uprising in Gaul. There, the Roman commander, Hordeonius Flaccus, was murdered by his troops and the remaining Roman forces were induced by two commanders of the Gallic auxiliaries--Julius Classicus and Julius Tutor--to revolt from Rome and join Civilis in a new independent kingdom of Gaul.

The conspiracy of the Batavians under Civilis by Rembrandt 1661-1662 CE.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The prophetess Veleda predicted the complete success of Civilis and the fall of the Roman Empire.   Veleda was a virginal holy woman of the Germanic tribe of the Bructeri.

"The ancient Germanic peoples discerned a divinity of prophecy in women and regarded prophetesses as true and living goddesses. In the latter half of the 1st century CE Veleda was regarded as a deity by most of the tribes in central Germany and enjoyed wide influence. She lived in a tower near the Lippe River, a tributary of the Rhine. The inhabitants of the Roman settlement of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (now Cologne) accepted her arbitration in a conflict with the Tencteri, an unfederated tribe of Germany." - Wikipedia


Veleda by Laurent-HonorĂ© Marqueste.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Like the pythia of ancient Greece, envoys were not admitted to her presence; an interpreter conveyed their messages to her and reported her pronouncements. So, it is not known whether Veleda just prophesied the victory or actively incited the rebellion.

But, ultimately, tribal disputes ended any chance for success and Vespasian was able to put down the rebellion with the arrival of Quintus Potillius Cerealis and a strong force. Civilis, himself, was defeated at Augusta Treverorum (modern Trier) and Vetera, and forced to withdraw to the island of Batavia. It is thought Civilis negotiated an agreement with Cerialis whereby his countrymen obtained certain advantages, and resumed amicable relations with Rome, although Civilis disappears from the historical record at this point, an ominous sign.  However, Cerialis, like Julius Caesar, was known for his clementia so the outcome may not have been dire after all.

As for Veleda, she was either captured by Rutillius Gallicus or "offered asylum" in 77 CE.  She is thought to have negotiated the acceptance of a pro-Roman king by her tribe, the Bructeri, in 83 or 84 CE.

Note: The chief authority for the history of the insurrection is Tacitus, Histories, iv and v, and Josephus, Bellum Judaicum, vii. 4.

So, there is quite an opportunity for Falco to strut his stuff on a scale far greater than his usual sleuthing in  back alleys.  I think that is why I was drawn into this story more than some of his other adventures.  Although I knew Falco had once served in the legions, he was far more physical in this tale than the others and his sardonic personality was kept relatively in check because of the heightened danger of his circumstances.  I highly recommend it!


Saturday, October 1, 2005

Welcome To The New Roman Times!

After struggling with the constantly changing tools to convert RSS feeds to HTML using scripts that seem to hiccup every time someone makes a change to user security or the underlying javascript, I've decided to take a new approach to publishing Roman Times.

I've embedded the columns into inline frames with scroll bars to use to see more articles about each topic group. Each column title is linked to the actual blog that I use to update the articles in that group if you wish to see a full page version. You can also scroll to the right to see the links to each group's archives. I have also consolidated all of the information onto a single (long) page. I think you will find scrolling down less confusing than clicking links to move from one page to the next.

Hopefully this blogger shell will prove to be a more efficient way to bring you the latest news in the study and enjoyment of the ancient world.