Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Review: Thunder of the Gods - Empire VIII by Anthony Riches

Historical resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2017

When we left Marcus Valerius Aquila and the Tungrian auxiliaries in Book 7, they had returned to Rome to expose the corruption of Praetorian Prefect Sextus Tigidius Perennis. While there, Marcus also ferreted out the names of the Prefect's assassins responsible for the deaths of his family members and taken brutal revenge on all of them except the despicable emperor Commodus, himself.

Although glad to be rid of the "Emperor's Knives", the emperor's chamberlain Cleander considers Marcus to be a valuable but dangerous asset who might attempt to take ultimate revenge on the emperor as well. So, as Book 8 opens, Cleander has decreed that heretofore Tribune Rutilius Scaurus is promoted to Legatus and Marcus  is appointed his equestrian-level tribune. Together with any Tungrians who wished to accompany them, they have been ordered to Syria. There, Legatus Scaurus is ordered to take command of Legio III Gallica, root out the corruption that has flourished under the current governor, and relieve a Parthian siege of the important Roman stronghold of Nisibis (modern Nusaybin, Turkey).

One of my favorite historical novels, "Fire in the East", by Harry Sidebottom, takes place in Roman Syria so I was already familiar with many of the obstacles Marcus and his Legatus would face there including the lethal armored cataphracts and the deadly archers with their perfected "Parthian shot".

The action is driven by the historical events of an uprising of Parthian client kings against both Rome and their own ruler, Vologases IV. Although I could not find a particular reference to a siege of the contested stronghold of Nisibis during this time period, it could have very well occurred during attempts by Osroes II, King of Media, to overthrow his father, the King of Kings, Vologases IV, and prevent the succession of his brother Vologases V. Osroes II, as well as his ally, Narsai of Adiabene were both historical figures that appear in this installment.  The author does an outstanding job of bringing this struggle to life since the ancient sources are rather sketchy on the details of events that transpired during this period.

File:Coin of Vologases IV of Parthia.jpg
Silver coin of Vologases IV

The first major battle that occurs while the troops make their way to Nisibis, is nothing less than thrilling as Legatus Scaurus uses every tactic he has read about to thwart destruction of his forces - specially laminated shields, improved body armor, portable bolt throwers, lengthened thrusting spears and, of course, deadly caltrops. Scaurus has left nothing to chance, drilling his men for weeks before they finally set out on the march. As it turns out, the Tungrians must use every ounce of that training to drive back the Parthians and keep them at bay until they can finally reach the relative safety of the stolid Roman outpost.

But, how will Scaurus and Marcus lift the siege and return this part of the Roman frontier to a respectful stalemate? It will take another valiant defense against almost impossible odds as well as the blessings of Fortuna on a clandestine attempt by Marcus to negotiate a settlement with the King of Kings himself!

Highly recommended!

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