The year is 69 A.D. and the great Roman Emperor Nero is dead. He has left no heir. What begins is a bloody civil war that sees no less than four different contenders win Rulership of The Roman Empire before peace and stability are finally found again.
Tacticus is a prominent Roman Senator who gives his respected slave Actis, a Scribe, the job of finding witnesses to tell their sides of events several years after they happened, so he can then record them for his own Histories. Tacticus decides people are more likely to talk to someone in the lower ranking of society than they are to him, so to get a real perspective of what happened that fateful year Actis embarks on a journey that takes him many miles and through a series of encounters with very different observers, and as he does so he begins to piece together the threads of this chaotic period of transformation.
It does not take Actis long to decide to write his own book, a more thorough and coarse version than one Tacticus would pen, so what follows is a series of interviews that describe in vivid detail the horrors of a war that forgot Politics and became nothing but bloodshed and annihilation.
Through the eyes of the onlookers you get a very real sense of what it felt like to live through the time, each of them being in servitude to their various masters and therefore in close proximity to the central characters, through overhearing dinner discussions, drunken confessions and seeing first hand themselves, the bloodshed. It is a chronological account of the tyranny, debauchery and greed that was the ‘Year of the Four Emperors’, Galba, Otho, Vitellius and finally Vespasian, the first Ruler of the Flavian dynasty.
Paul Cunningham has cleverly wound a story together that keeps you interested. He does not sweeten the narrative to make it less galling, nor does he fixate on battles and death. You meet witnesses who describe in detail their craft and position, who may sometimes have let the years cloud their judgements, but you leave this novel feeling very educated in an albeit subliminal way. The book will appeal to anyone interested in the Roman era.