The Conqueror (Constantine’s Empire)

Written by Bryan Litfin
Review by Thomas j. Howley

In the early 4th century AD, Rome is ruled by the Tetrarchy or “rule by four.” The empire is divided into geographic quadrants with four key figures, called caesars, and the augustus sharing leadership. Obviously, this makes for tumult and uncertainty. A young German son of a “barbarian” king trains to become a speculator in the ranks of the Roman army. A speculator combines the skills of special forces warrior, scout, spy and thief in a single soldier. Called Rex, he must navigate his way through rigorous martial education, Roman customs, and encountering people of the Christian faith who are just starting to be tolerated at this point by the Romans. One of the four rulers, Constantine, who becomes a mentor and sponsor for Rex, is himself on the verge of adopting Christianity.

Rex is inserted on an espionage mission into Rome which is under the control of another ruler of the Tetrarchy to pave the way for Constantine’s army. There he rescues a young Roman noblewoman who has run afoul of the anti-Christian ruling elite of the city. While protecting her, Rex must also continue his mission and enable Constantine to succeed in taking Rome.

At just under 500 pages, this is a long book. There are a few modernisms like “sleaze” and “Saddle up, soldiers.” But those are petty niggles. Conqueror is a superb account of a time of intense importance in the very early Christian era in Europe. Ironically it is also a story of innocent romance, political intrigue, dark espionage and violent combat. Helpful maps, a gazetteer of place names, and a glossary of terms attest to the professionalism of the author. The writing is fast-paced with unexpected twists and occasional flashes of humor. An enjoyable and historically worthwhile read.