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Rome's Executioner: VESPASIAN II [Format Kindle]

Robert Fabbri

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A hero forged in battle. A legend born.

Thracia, AD30: Even after four years military service at the edge of the Roman world, Vespasian can't escape the tumultuous politics of an Empire on the brink of disintegration. His patrons in Rome have charged him with the clandestine extraction of an old enemy from a fortress on the banks of the Danube before it falls to the Roman legion besieging it.

Vespasian's mission is the key move in a deadly struggle for the right to rule the Roman Empire. The man he has been ordered to seize could be the witness that will destroy Sejanus, commander of the Praetorian Guard and ruler of the Empire in all but name. Before he completes his mission, Vespasian will face ambush in snowbound mountains, pirates on the high seas, and Sejanus's spies all around him. But by far the greatest danger lies at the rotten heart of the Empire, at the nightmarish court of Tiberius, Emperor of Rome and debauched, paranoid madman.

Biographie de l'auteur

Robert Fabbri read Drama and Theatre at London University and has worked in film and TV for 25 years. He is an assistant director and has worked on productions such as Hornblower, Hellraiser, Patriot Games and Billy Elliot. Now, his life-long passion for ancient history, especially for that of the Roman Empire, has drawn him to write the VESPASIAN series. He lives in London and Berlin.

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  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 368 pages
  • Editeur : Corvus (1 mai 2012)
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Amazon.com: 4.3 étoiles sur 5  29 commentaires
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A bit different, and just as good... 28 août 2012
Par JPS - Publié sur Amazon.com
First posted on Amazon.co.uk on 2 May 2012

This is the second volume of Fabbri's series on Vespasian, who ultimatly became emperor and reigned from 69 to 79 AD. It has the same ingredients that made volume 1 (Tribune of Rome) so successful, but also a few differences.

The main originality of this series is the choice of character, with Vespasian as the main hero. This volume (when compared to the previous one) also gives much greater importance to his elder brother Sabinus to the extent that I wondered, at times, whether there was one or rather two heroes in a Simon Scarrow kind of way (Cato and Macro, of course). Another parallel is that, just like in Scarrow's Praetorian, Rome's Excutioner is mostly about Rome's horific and ruthlessly competitive politics. The main difference is the time setting: the story here takes place under the reign of Tiberius (AD 14 to AD 37 and, more precisely for this book, between AD 29 to AD 31) and tells about the fall of Sejanus, Tiberius' praetorian prefect and right-hand man. Scarrow's piece was taking place during the last months of the reign of Claudius (AD 41 to AD 54). Both books describe the atmosphere of paranoïa and terror that exists in the higher circles, including all of the Senate, and the ruthless fights between various factions for supreme power, but Fabbri's focuses more on the terror, horrors and depravity of Roman high society.

Another deliberate originality of this book is that Robert Fabbri has chosen to maximize dramatic effects and has systematically picked the worst possible interpretations he could select for the characters of Tiberius, Caligula and even Claudius. To some, these choices may seem somewhat of a caricature, although they are grounded and extracted from the written sources. This is because, to a large extent, the sources on the reigns of these three emperors were written after the deaths of the respective emperors and may, as was very often the case in Rome, have a clear tendency to "blacken" the name of the deceased predecessor. So Tiberius - one of the most maligned Emperors is all of Rome's history - is painted as paranoïd, sexually depraved, undecisive and a madman that tends to have anything and anyone unexpected put to death. Caligula is also paranoïd and Robert Fabbri has had a bit of a field day with both his sexual excesses and his incest with his sisters, and the (alleged by his opponents) sexual excesses of Tiberius. Claudius, pretending to be the fool that he is not, is ruthless, over-ambitious, but not as clever as he think he is.

These interpretations, while adding a good deal of drama, may also raise a bit of a plausability issue. First, any of Rome's Princeps (and any of the following Emperors right to the end) would need to be - and overtime became - somewhat paranoïd. This was one of the job's requirements if you wanted to survive in it, although there were others, such as an intimate knowledge of all of the main players (the senatorial families) and their respective ambitions (to buy them of and play them of against each other), and the ability to be decisive. For instance, Tiberius, however unsympathetic he may have been, managed to remain Emperor for 23 years - that is longer than any other Emperor during the first 250 years of the Empire (up to, and including Septime-Severus) with the exception of Augustus himself. So, he very probably wasn't as awful as the book makes him up to be.

Another (very good in my view) interpretation has been to show the ambivalence of Antonia (the mother of Claudius and the daughter of Marc Antony and of Octavia - sister of Augustus). She is the archetype of the noble Roman, ready to sacrifice everything for the greater good of Rome. However, her other side is also shown. Antonia seems to have been just as power-hungry, ruthless and realistic as any of the others, as opposed to only motivated by stopping Sejanus. In reality, she is a realist and the sacrifice she makes is the price to pay to ensure the survival of the rest of her children and grand-children under the reign of Tiberius.

On the plus side, also: the book is fast paced, with something happening every 20-30 pages at least, although, contrary to what another reviewer seems to imply, there is only one battle in the whole book (the storming of a fortress on the Danube). However, it is griping because of the multiple plots and intrigues as one side tries to gather evidence against the other side which will use any means to prevent it from succeeding. Another plus is that this book has been thoroughly researched by the author. Regardless of whether you agree with the author's interpretations or not, and his tendency to give credit to all of the slanders levelled at the various members of the imprerial family, he certainly has done his "homework".

One glitch, however, which turned out to be annoying at time: there were quite a lot of typos in the copy I read. It didn't, however, stop me from finishing the book in 9 hours of solid reading. Note that this is one of these books that you should start on a Friday evening. Otherwise, you are definitly running the risk of serious sleep-deprivation!
4.0 étoiles sur 5 A young Vespasian in a Rome controlled by the sinister Sejanus 14 novembre 2015
Par Mary - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle
I didn't realize it but I guess I started this series about one of Rome's "good" emperors with book 2 of the series. However, the story, woven around the downfall of the infamous Praetorian Prefect Sejanus, stood on its own quite nicely.

There is no indication in history that Vespasian and his brother Sabinus conspired with the Lady Antonia, Tiberius' sister-in-law, to overthrow Sejanus to protect the reign of Tiberius. However, a successful conspiracy is one in which the participants remain anonymous so Fabbri takes advantage of the lack of documentation to creatively spin this tale.

Sejanus was born into the equestrian class in 20 BCE at Volsinii in Etruria. Sejanus' grandfather had improved the family's social standing by marrying a sister of the wife of Gaius Maecenas, one of the Emperor Augustus' closest political allies. Sejanus' father, Lucius Seius Strabo, also married well and his uncle Quintus Junius Blaesus distinguished himself as a military commander and became proconsul of Africa in 21 CE. Junius subsequently earned triumphal honors by crushing the rebellion of Tacfarinas, a Numidian deserter from the Roman Army who led a coalition of rebels against the forces of Rome in north Africa for 10 years.

It is thought Strabo eventually came to the notice of Augustus through his connection to Maecenas. Anyway, sometime after 2 BCE, Strabo, Sejanus' father, was appointed prefect of the Praetorian Guard.

We know little of Sejanus' early career until, according to Tacitus, Sejanus accompanies Gaius Caesar, adopted grandson of Augustus, to Armenia in 1 BCE. Gaius Caesar dies from wounds supposedly received in a campaign in Artagira, Armenia in 4 CE. Tacitus suggests there may have been foul play involved in the death of Gaius, orchestrated by Augustus' wife Livia to facilitate the accession of her own son Tiberius to the throne of the Roman principate. However, Tacitus does not point an accusing finger at Sejanus. But when Tiberius is crowned emperor in 14 CE, Sejanus is immediately appointed prefect of the Praetorian Guard as a colleague of his father.

Then when Sejanus' father is appointed to the governorship of Egypt in 15 CE, Sejanus assumes sole command of the Praetorians. He centralizes the guards into a single garrison on the outskirts of Rome, personally appoints the centurions and tribunes and increases the number of cohorts from nine to twelve, resulting in a force of 12,000 soldiers now loyal to him.

Sejanus then conspires with the wife of Drusus, Tiberius' son, to have Drusus poisoned. But when Sejanus asks permission to marry Drusus' widow, Tiberius ominously warns Sejanus not to overstep his bounds. So Sejanus sets about sowing unrest between Tiberius and the senate. Tiberius, already deeply depressed over the loss of his son, finally retreats to Campania in 26 CE then the island of Capri, leaving Sejanus to essentially rule Rome in Tiberius' absence. Sejanus then sets about eliminating anyone he deems a threat that includes many of the elite.

While matters were going thus with Sejanus, many of the other prominent men perished, among them Gaius Fufius Geminus. This man, having been accused of maiestas against Tiberius, took his will into the senate-chamber and read it, showing that he had left his inheritance in equal portions to his children and to the emperor. Upon being charged with cowardice, he went home before a vote was taken; then, when he learned that the quaestor had arrived to look after his execution, he wounded himself, and showing the wound to the official, exclaimed: “Report to the senate that it is thus one dies who is a man.” Likewise his wife, Mutilia Prisca, against whom some complaint had been lodged, entered the senate chamber and there stabbed herself with a dagger, which she had brought in secretly. - Cassius Dio, History of Rome, 58.4

Sejanus was so great a person by reason both of his excessive haughtiness and of his vast power, that, to put it briefly, he himself seemed to be emperor and Tiberius a kind of island potentate, inasmuch as the latter spent his time on the island of Capreae. - Cassius Dio, History of Rome, 58.5

Sejanus is wielding this immense power when Fabbri's story begins in Thrace where Vespasian is completing his appointment as tribune. The plot involves Sejanus' funding of a rebellion in Thrace as a strategy to weaken the empire and redirect the attention of the legions from politics in Rome to the provinces. The groundwork for these clandestine activities may have been laid in Book 1 but I had to simply accept them as described as I had not read book 1 and have not found any references to them in the ancient sources.

Fabbri's pacing of the story is good and the characters thoughtfully fleshed out. The only thing I found a bit distracting was Vespasian's use of colloquial language such as referring to "me mates". I realize Vespasian was born into a rather undistinguished family of tax farmers and debt collectors in a little village northeast of Rome but I think he would have tried to speak in a more educated manner in the presence of military legates and a Thracian queen.

The constant bickering between Vespasian and his brother Sabinus also grew tiresome, especially since I know the two Flavian brothers were actually quite close and during the tumultuous Year of the Four Emperors, Vespasian entrusted the care of his youngest son Domitian to Sabinus during a very dangerous period. But, soon the action kicked into high gear and there wasn't much time for the siblings to snipe at each other any more.

Vespasian's relationship to Antonia's slave Caenis was also more out in the open than it was portrayed in Lindsey Davis' book, "The Course of Honor". Their little trysts did provide the opening for the development of another strong female character, however, so I can understand why Fabbri plotted the story in this way.

Vespasian is portrayed as being a childhood friend of Caligula's and, although there is no evidence of this in the ancient sources, the plot device worked well to provide an inside source in Tiberius' household on Capri to enable the band of rescuers access to the emperor.

Fabbri developed Tiberius' character as described by his detractors, Suetonius and Tacitus - a sinister demented pervert. I personally think Suetonius and Tacitus' accounts of Tiberius' behavior in his last years are full of discrepancies and represent more character assassination than fact. But, from a dramatic standpoint, such a character definitely adds a heightened level of suspense to the narrative.

Fabbri appears to have intentionally changed one aspect of history. Early in his career Vespasian obtained a post as a minor magistrate in the vigintivirate. In the book, Vespasian becomes a tresviri capitales, one of three magistrates charged with managing prisons and the execution of criminals. This places him in a key position to be informed of the Senate proceedings surrounding the treason of Sejanus (since he is not a senator himself) and to witness both the execution of Sejanus and his eldest son as well as the tragic execution of Sejanus' young children (and provide the title for the book). Scholars, however, think Vespasian served as a quattuorviri viis in urbe purgandis - one of four magistrates charged with road maintenance within the city of Rome. He was so unsuccessful in this position it is said the emperor Caligula publicly stuffed fistfuls of muck down Vespasian's toga because the streets were so filthy.

All in all, though, the novel followed the history of the fall of Sejanus quite closely including the dramatic climax and the fates of key characters. I will definitely add the first book of the series and the sequel to this novel to my "to read" stack!
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Not as good as the first, but still good 13 décembre 2014
Par Staten Islander - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle
Fabbri writes excellent prose. His battle scenes are intense and thrilling, his descriptions brilliant, and his vocabulary never improper. His treatment of Roman history is admirable, and he embellishes Vespasian's life in a way that is captivating and entertaining.

His dialogue, however, leaves much to be desired. Many characters in the story have the same method of speaking, and it sometimes it would be impossible to tell who is talking, because the manner of speech for many characters is similar. Antonia and Caenis for example seemed like the exact same character when they were speaking. When a character is differentiated through their manner of speaking, it's something blatant, over-the-top and silly, like one character who is constantly referring to the testicles and tits of deities. Moreover, the characters do seem a bit two dimensional and stale, and often act in predictable manners. I also find it strange how every single character in the story is OK with murdering people who surrender. Sure, the Romans had different morals than us, but it got tiring having just about every single character outright murder someone when they got the chance. The problem is when too many characters act in a certain way, it makes it difficult for that trait to become a characterization of a character. If Vespasian for instance, is supposed to have a dark and vicious side, how can that be showcased when every single character treats wounded enemies in the same "kill them for the hell of it" attitude?

Speaking of caricatures, besides the titular character and his brother, every other character that is based on a historical figure is a caricature himself. Claudius, who would go on to become the conqueror of Britain, is portrayed as a bumbling, stuttering buffoon. Caligua, who was definitely a respected figure before he became Emperor, is creepy and perverted. Gaius (uncle of Vespasian) is an open pedophile. Rhoteces, the Thracian priest, has sharpened teeth and looks like a rat and is cowardly. Antonia has a sexual appetite where she demands boxers screw her, including the (well formed and well rounded) Magnus, one of Fabbri's original creations. Even if the Roman sources tend to hint at these personality traits, in this context these are stereotypes at best, caricatures at worse, and it gets quite tiring. Now Fabbri did base most of these characters on real historical figures, and he is well read and versed in Roman history, but it is a shame that he did not read up on scholarly articles of these historical accounts - he seems to lacks the historical eye in dealing with ancient sources, that were not written like today's history books. Ancient historians did not have the same standard of what is accurate and unbiased history telling. For example, Caligula's insanity and debauchery probably was amplified due to his poor administrative skills, rather than reality. But then again, given Caligula's reputation, what reader wants a Caligula that just sucks at micromanagement and has no people skills instead of the guano-crazy-let's-make-my-horse-a-senator Caligula we all know and love?

The treatment of religion in this work is also quite disappointing. We get to see little of the religions of antiquity except for, again, caricatures of them. Characters are constantly calling out to the balls of Mars and tits of Minerva, while funny at first, quickly got old and winnowed the immersion. Sabinus, who follows Mithras, speaks of him exactly like a modern Christian speaks of Christ (of course there are similarities, but the situation is more complex than that). The Thracians are hopelessly superstitious. You come along with the feeling that the characters don't really believe in these deities, or that the author cannot fathom that these deities were once accepted as real and worshiped by millions. Little is mentioned of how the mortals view the Gods, and how this belief affects what they do more than just omens and premonitions. Little is said of what they actually mean to the characters, and what they mean for Roman civilization (and Greek, Thracian, etc). As someone who has studied Roman history and archaeology, I am quite disappointed at how the author treated this huge aspect of antiquity.

The most fierce criticism I can lobby is that the book falls flat where it relies on dialogue to drive the plot, and this occurs far too often. When the plot of Claudius is revealed, it's pedestrian pages upon of dialogue that feels like it will never end. It's a shame, because the plot is well formed and based in historical reality, but the way it has been disseminated to us through this novel is just well, boring. What's even more of a shame is that probably the most well written, and even daunting scene in the book, when the ship Vespasian is on is attacked by pirates, has nothing to do with the plot of the book, and could have been omitted without having effect on the story, or putting a damper on character development. That being said, the author's strength is when he is describing physical and mental anguish that the characters are going through, such freezing to death in snowy Thracian mountains or watching slaves get bored to death by lampreys (taken from Roman sources, but still going to give me nightmares!).

Finally, the character of Vespasian just feels too passive in this work. I really enjoyed the first half of the first book, when we got to know Vespasian, his family, and his life. Now Vespasian just goes along with the flow for the most part, even though its his story.

For its faults, it still is an enjoyable read, and an excellent embellishment of the life of Emperor Vespasian and purported Roman historical events.
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Vespasian, a Post Modern "Hero?" 27 août 2012
Par JackLifton - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Robert Fabbri's main (series) character, Titus Flavius Vespasianus, as a young man (He, the protagonist, is 22 as this book ends) who we know will become Rome's Emperor and the founder of its short lived, but very important, second dynasty, the Flavian,is portrayed in a completely post modern way. This is the first one of Mr Fabbri's books that I have ever read, but I admit that I had bought his two previous novels in this series even before I read this one. I am a fan of fiction depicting the Flavian dynasty.

This novel does not disappoint as an action-adventure. I also admit that Mr Fabbri's background knowledge of the events and personalities of the Augustan age is as good and thorough as I am competent to judge.

My fear is that Mr Fabbri may have gotten it exactly right. His Vespasian's moral character can only be judged within its contemporary zeitgeist. Vespasian's almost cavalier attitude to killing would be to many of our myopic contemporaries a sign of a cold-blooded pathology, but in the context of the time I think that Mr Fabbri has correctly portrayed that Vespasian's attitude is simply that of a good Roman soldier who is working himself up the cursus honorum. I was at first repulsed by this and then I realized that the Hollywood version of Augustan Romans is just silly. A Vespasian who cared about a wounded enemy, or that an enemy who had injured Rome was being tortured, or that a child sentenced to be executed needed to be "devirginized' before she could be executed is a Roman who first of all believes in the rule of law, and after that his family, and his gods.

Which brings me to Vespasian's brother, Sabinus. Fabbri portrays him as the wiser older brother and in fact he figured very prominently in Vespasian's entire career even sacrificing his life to protect Vespasian's cause and his nephew, the future Emperor, Domitian, just before the newly triumphant Emperor Vespasian entered Rome in 69. Sabinus is used here also to introduce the Mithraic religion, which was the leading cult in the Roman army. Intriguingly, to me at least, Fabbri has Sabinus refer to Mithras in very Christian terms as a guiding and even loving deity in sharp contrast to the pantheon of gods in Rome and the empire which ordinary men, such as Vespasian, feared more than "loved." The ancient Romans were, in our terms, superstitious and feared the wrath of the gods; they did not seek their love only their support in return for sacrifices and donations to their temples. Sabinus is thus a pre-modern man, morally.

I find that British writers tend to portray army life in any period as if it is the same as would be experienced by a World War I British participant. The common soldiers are colorful and gruff but expendable, but the officer class no matter how boorish are not. Fabbri's Cnaeus Domitius Corbulo, as a young man, on the other hand, is described as a fop and protected by his membership in the ruling class. This seems simplistic to me, but I admit that Corbulo needs to be alive most of Vespasian's life. I admit also that I enjoyed the portrayal of the future emperor, Vitellius, as a boy toy. I can't want to see how Galba and Otho come out.

I think that the strongest leaders are cold-blooded and that Mr Fabbri has got Tius Flavius Vespasianus exactly right.

A very good read, and certainly not like any previous portrait of Vespasian at any age.
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A thoroughly entertaining sequel... 14 mai 2012
Par Felipe Wirth - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
I will start by saying this was one of my most anticipated releases in quite some time. Having read 'Tribune of Rome' I couldn't wait to read more of this great story, this great sequence of events being described so aptly by Robert Fabbri. It took some time for me to be familiar with the characters once again, since I read the first book a while ago, but once I started seeing familiar characters, the mood was set and I could enjoy fully what was an excellent ride from this wonderful new author.

To me the biggest compliment one could ever make about the writing of the book is for it to seem effortless (though I'm sure it was anything but). To be clear: if I'm not even paying attention to how much the book's writing is affecting me, then it's doing its job properly. It's somewhat easier to do in historical fiction than it is in other genres, like fantasy or sci-fi, where the writing is needed to give the book its otherworldly feel. I'm enjoying the book more if the writing is just driving me forward, if I'm just engaged to the characters' fate. That is what happened while I was reading this book, as it did when I was reading the first. I wasn't paying that much attention to the writing, but to the characters and the setting. This was a major accomplishment of the first book and it carries on to the second.

Now, storywise this is a very different book from the first one. While the first one was a crescent of action culminating in excellent Roman Legion warfare, this book is much more about intrigue. Yes, if you've read the first book and was blown away by the amount of intrigue in Roman society, this book takes that to a whole new degree, where the political climate of Rome is as tense as ever and a still young Vespasian (he's in his early twenties in this book) must traverse the political landmines all around him. I can't be the only one that's read this book and thought: Wow, if it were me in that situation I'd have been dead. You need to walk a fine line in Roman politics, and I was constantly thinking about just how much over my head the whole situation would be. And you know what: the situation is equally over Vespasian's head, and that great. It gives us a sense of: this is a real character: not perfect, with flaws that could be, and are, exploited by his enemies. There's no easy way out, no simple overcoming of obstacles: and that's just great. It does disappoint a bit that Vespasian isn't in the Legion anymore, but some action sequences in this book owe nothing to those on the first. The description of a sea battle about halfway through the book was enough to leave me on the edge of my figurative seat (since I was reading it in bed), and the infiltrating of a Getae fortress in the beggining of the book is one of the high points of the series so far.

Yet in its second half is where, for me, the book really shined. Fabbri does a good enough job to make you equally enthralled by Roman politics as you would be by Roman legions. When the political build up of two novels climaxes into, not action sequences, but really smart political moves you are right there with the characters: engrossed, involved and somewhat sickened. Fabbri does not gloss over the backlash of political upheaval. The end of the book left me with so many mixed feelings... It tells us: Roman politics and society were fascinating, but equally disturbing.

Is it perfect? No. Historical purists will feel aggrieved at some of the liberties taken for the purpose of letting the reader follow the major events in Rome at a time when Vespasian was not a big figure. But that is just it: The book is very clear that Vespasian is a pawn, a good one at that, but a pawn nonetheless. He is over his head and just there for the ride, at times. And that's perfect. I wouldn't want him to be more participant than that. He's not shaping Roman politics, he's witnessing it, and that's the perfect tone for historical fiction.

If you like historical fiction, there's no reason not to like this book.
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