Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Review of Empire Betryaed: The Fall of Sejanus

Book Review of Empire Betryaed:   
       The Fall of Sejanus
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Blurb : 
 Empire Betrayed
The Fall of Sejanus

In 29 A.D., Emperor Tiberius Caesar, living in self-imposed exile on the Isle of Capri, entrusts his Praetorian Prefect, Lucius Aelius Sejanus, with the administration of the vast Roman Empire. Under Sejanus’ iron fist, and unbeknownst to Tiberius, the ranks of the Senate and equites are subsequently purged of the Praetorian’s enemies. Treason trials, once prohibited in Rome, have become commonplace as Sejanus relentlessly punishes any who would defy him in his quest for power.

After many years of commanding the cavalry of the Army of the Rhine, Tribune Aulus Nautius Cursor at last returns to Rome, amidst the turmoil. Two years later is elected as a Tribune of the Plebs; the representatives of the people who hold the power of veto over the Senate. It is Cursor who discovers Sejanus’ sinister plans; that he seeks to overthrow Tiberius and name himself Emperor.

Duty bound to save the Empire from falling further under a tyrannical usurper, Cursor resolves to unravel the conspiracy and bring the perpetrators to justice. Aiding him is an old friend; a retired Master Centurion named Gaius Calvinus. Regrettably, they know that if successful, Tiberius’ retribution will be swift and brutal, sparing neither the innocent nor the guilty. This leaves only two dark paths for Cursor and Calvinus; either allow the pending reign of terror under a ruthless usurper, or unleash the unholy vengeance of an Emperor betrayed.

About the Author:

Born in Edmonds, Washington, author James Mace is currently a resident of Meridian, Idaho. He enlisted in the United States Air Force out of high school; three years later transferring over to the U.S. Army. After a career as a Soldier that included deploying to Iraq, in 2011 he left his full-time position with the Army National Guard to devote himself to writing.

His well-received series, "Soldier of Rome - The Artorian Chronicles," is a perennial best-seller in ancient history on Amazon. In his latest endeavors, he also branched into writing about the Napoleonic Wars. After he finishes the last of The Artorian Chronicles in 2013, he looks to expand into a series about the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.


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Chapter I: All Roads to Rome
August, 29 A.D.

The sun had just started to break over the hills to the east as the Eternal City came into view. The well-worn road the small group travelled on was known as the Via Aurelia, or Aurelian Way. It was nearly three hundred years old and served as the main thoroughfare from Rome to the west coast of Italia. At the head of the entourage rode a man dressed in a Tribune’s armor, complete with muscled breastplate, with white leather trappings, a dark red cloak, and an ornate helmet, decorated with a lion’s head on the crown and with a magnificent red crest running front-to-back. Far from being just ceremonial, his armor had seen battle on many occasions, and even constant polishing and buffing could not eliminate the scouring from the blows of countless enemy weapons.
His name was Aulus Nautius Cursor. Taller than most men, he had a pronounced nose that was common among many of the nobility, though it was devoid of the aquiline hook. His frame was lean and more designed for speed and agility, rather than brute power. Having gone completely bald at a young age, the padded skull cap beneath his helmet was doubly important. Now in his late thirties, he’d spent nearly twenty years as a military Tribune with the Army of the Rhine; substantially longer than many of his peers. All members of the lesser-nobles of the Roman Empire, known as the Equites, were required to perform a minimum of six months with the legions. Though many stayed on longer than the compulsory time required, especially if other political or magisterial postings proved scarce, few ever made the army their primary career path. Being neither legionaries from the ranks, nor with ever having any opportunity to command legions as legates, Tribunes were confined to mostly staff duties. If one were lucky, he’d get command of a cohort of auxiliaries; the non-citizens who augmented the Roman Army with the promise of being awarded citizenship after twenty-five years of service.
For Cursor, his path had been much different. Though his name literally meant ‘runner’, and he was indeed quite nimble and fast on his feet, his true skill lay in horsemanship. His riding skills, plus natural ability for coordinating large bodies of fighting men, led to his assignment as a cavalry officer, under the tutelage of the now-legendary Commander Julius Indus. He’d also done his mandatory time as a staff officer, and was fortunate enough to have served directly under the late great, Germanicus Caesar. During the wars against the Germanic Alliance, following the disastrous ambush in Teutoburger Wald, Germanicus had demanded that all of his officers would first and foremost lead their men by their own example. In one of the few times he ever fought on foot, Cursor had accompanied his commanding general during the assault on a barbarian stronghold at Angrivarii; a terrible battle which thankfully brought the wars to an end.
Despite the accolades given to him for his bravery at Angrivarii, it was with the cavalry that the Tribune excelled, and it was following a rebellion in Gaul that he was given command of all mounted forces within the Rhine army. This was expanded even further during the Frisian Rebellion, when Cursor was handed operational control over all auxiliary forces during the campaign. With a force of ten thousand men, he had more soldiers under his charge than even the senatorial Legates who commanded the legions. It was at the Battle of Braduhenna that Cursor achieved his greatest glory, though he personally viewed it as his utmost tragedy.

“We’ve been away for far too long,” his wife, Adela Theodora, said as the city came into view over the horizon. The River Tiber stretched before them, running north to south. Just beyond was the Campus Martius, also known as the Field of Mars. A plethora of foreign temples and cults were housed here, as it also served as a place to greet dignitaries who could not for cultural reasons pass into the city proper. The most dominating feature of this district was the massive Baths of Agrippa. Beyond the field was the Capitoline; one of the famous Seven Hills that dominated Rome. The magnificent Temple of Jupiter rose from atop this hill and accented the skyline.
 “To be honest, my love,” Cursor replied, “It was on the Rhine, leading my regiments, that I felt most alive.”
“And if you were still there, we should remain unmarried,” his wife replied.
“Ours was indeed an unusual courtship,” Cursor chuckled. Though arranged in the traditional sense by contract between Cursor and Adela’s father, Theodorus, Adela herself had adamantly refused to follow through with the marriage as long as Cursor was still leading men into battle.
“Father relented once he saw that I would not budge, and that you were willing to wait for me.” She had three sisters, two of whom had been widowed within their first couple years of marriage, when their husbands were killed in battle. The eldest had been wed to the Chief Tribune of the Twentieth Legion; in what their father felt was a great step forward, joining their family to the Senatorial class. Sadly, the young man was killed at Braduhenna, just four months into the marriage. He had never known that his wife was with child, though her grief would be compounded when their son was stillborn.
During what became a lengthy betrothal, Adela and her husband-to-be grew surprisingly close to each other. She had lived with family friends who owned an estate outside of Cologne, on the Rhine frontier. She therefore was able to remain close to Cursor, and was exceedingly proud of his valiant service to the Empire. However, she would not allow herself to become widowed like her sisters.
“Your father once told me that you were too intimidating for him to try and marry off to anyone else,” Cursor remembered with a laugh. “He told me I’d better not die in battle; otherwise he wouldn’t know what to do with you!” Adela simply smiled and shrugged. Being very statuesque, she was tall enough to easily look her husband in the eye, something that most normal-sized men found rather unnerving. Because Cursor treated her as an equal, their presence together made them a very strong couple.
As they reached the edge of the city, the streets were crowded with pedestrians, and they were compelled to dismount and lead their horses through the hectic thoroughfare, their travelling companions going their own ways. They skirted through a residential district, just north of the busy heart of the city. To the south was the Forum of Augustus; a small complex that housed the Temple of Mars Ultor. Further south, the great Capitoline Hill stood against the sky, with the Temple of Jupiter casting its shadow over the Roman Forum. As the road they were traveling along was crammed with street performers and observers, Cursor and Adela decided to chance going down a side street that would take them by Capitoline Hill and the Forum. Just before the Temple of Jupiter was the smaller Temple of Concord that overlooked the Forum itself.
“The Gemonian Stairs,” Cursor observed, nodding towards the long steps that led up to the temple.
“The Stairs of Mourning,” Adela added somberly. “Many a life has ended on those bloody steps.”
One would never guess from the flocks of people climbing the steps that it served as the primary place of execution for notorious criminals. Almost inconspicuously off to the right of the Temple of Concord stood the Tullianum, a prison that was used to temporarily house those awaiting trial or execution. Interestingly enough, long-term prison sentences were rare in Roman society. Punishments such as public scourging or financial penalties sufficed for minor offenses, with banishment, enslavement, or death awaiting those found guilty of capital crimes. If one looked closely, they could almost see the blackened stains on the lower steps, where the bodies of the condemned were torn to pieces by the mob. As public executions were the norm in most parts of the world, both within and outside of the Empire, and that those who met their ignominious ends on the Gemonian Stairs hardly warranted pity, Cursor and Adela paid it no more mind and continued on their way.
On the outskirts of the Forum, Cursor saw the first face he had recognized all day. The man was in his early fifties, with close-cropped hair that was a mix of black and gray. He wore a formal toga, accented with the narrow purple stripe that identified him as a member of the Equites, though he carried himself with a force of authority, like an old soldier.
“By the gods,” Cursor said with a grin, then hailing the man, “Calvinus!”
The man was startled for a moment at the call of his name, but broke into a broad grin as he walked over to Cursor and Adela. He instinctively almost saluted, but after a moment’s pause extended his hand instead.
“Tribune, sir,” he said.
“Please,” Cursor replied, clasping the old soldier’s hand, “I see by the purple stripe on your toga that you are now my peer. There is no need to call me ‘sir’.”
“Old habits,” Calvinus replied with a nonchalant shrug. He then gave a respectful nod towards the Tribune’s wife. “Lady Adela.”
“A pleasure,” she replied. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“Gaius Calvinus, ma’am; I served with the Twentieth Legion when your husband commanded the cavalry of the Rhine Army.”
“And as a retired Master Centurion, he was elevated into the Equites,” Cursor added.
“Rome does afford at least some opportunities to better one’s social standing,” Calvinus observed, “If one has the ambition to use them.”
“I did not know you returned to Rome,” Cursor said.
“My daughter and her family live in Neapolis,” Calvinus explained, walking with them and helping guide their way through the Forum. “This brought me close enough that I can at least pay them the occasional visit. It was bad enough that Calvina grew up hardly knowing her father, and with my grandson fast approaching manhood, I felt compelled to make up for lost time. And besides, how many retired soldiers have the opportunity to influence the governing of our beloved Empire after they remove their armor for the last time?”
“Very few,” Cursor conceded. For every hundred men who served out their term in the legions, perhaps three or four would be in a position to have a second career in continuing service to Rome. And only approximately three in every thousand ever achieved sufficient rank to elevate themselves up the social ladder.
“I felt a responsibility that once I was officially named an Equite, I needed to act as a voice for our brethren still in the ranks. I have no desire to try for a governorship or anything of that nature. However, it would be unethical if I took the privileges of being raised up within the social orders and not any of the responsibilities. If I can still be of service to Rome, I will.”
Roman society was extremely rigid in its class structure, with every citizen and non-citizen expected to know their place without question. Those within the Senatorial class were the noble patricians who lorded over the Empire, answerable only to the Emperor. All were from the oldest and wealthiest families within Rome, and while at any time as many as three hundred were sitting members of the Senate, their total number was perhaps six hundred to a thousand total households.
The Equites were the lesser nobles who provided the Empire with many of its magistrates, public officials, minor provincial governors, as well as military Tribunes and the coveted Tribunes of the Plebs. Those not born into this class could be elevated into it by serving in the army; though this often required one attaining the rank of Centurion Primus Pilus, also known as a Master Centurion. Centurions who had served as cohort commanders were also sometimes eligible. As soldiers who retired at these exalted ranks were so few in number, they made up a very small fraction of this class. All told, there were perhaps a few thousand members of the Equites, and between them and the Senate they made up the noble classes of an Empire that numbered around seventy million persons.
“Where will you be staying?” Calvinus asked as they skirted the Forum and passed the Temple of the Divine Romulus, at the start of the street known as the Via Sacra, or Sacred Way.
“I arranged purchase of a house not too far from here,” Cursor said, “Thankfully it keeps us away from the daily insanity of the Forum. We’re about a mile south of the Castra Praetoria.” The place he referred to was the central barracks of the Emperor’s Praetorian Guard.
“Ah, I’m not far from you at all,” Calvinus observed. “Well I have to be off again; remember, I have not been away from the legions for long and am still learning the ways of an Equite former soldier who still wishes to serve the public. Give yourself a day or two to get settled, and then please call upon us. Lady Adela, my wife, Petronia, would love to make your acquaintance.”
“Likewise,” Adela replied. As they watched the old soldier make this way through the crowds, she turned to her husband. “Did you know him well?”
“Well enough,” Cursor replied. “He was one of the few survivors of that disastrous ambush in Teutoburger Wald, twenty years ago. He and a young Tribune named Cassius Chaerea saved the lives of over a hundred legionaries when they cut their way out of that nightmare. It was also his legion that my men trekked forty miles in a day to relieve after they were cut off and surrounded at Braduhenna.”


As wheeled traffic was only permitted on the streets of Rome at night, it was well after midnight by the time the wagons bearing Cursor and Adela’s baggage arrived at their house. They’d had the good sense to send servants a day or two ahead of them to purchase a suitable bed and a few other immediate necessities. Adela decided to pass the time with a lengthy bath. One amenity they had that most of the general populace did not was the privilege of having one’s own private bath, rather than having to use those crowded public facilities scattered throughout the city. Having her skin scraped and oiled by a servant, she lounged in the heated waters of the hot bath and allowed herself to drift off.
She was uncertain how much time had passed when she roused herself from her plunge. Her maidservant was waiting with fresh robes, and after dressing, Adela made her way up the dark flight of stairs to their suite. The household staff was still unloading baggage, though she paid them little mind. She expected her husband would have been in bed by this late hour; however, she could see the faint glow of light coming from the room that would be his private study.
Curious, Adela walked noiselessly down the short hallway to where the door was barely cracked open. Inside, Cursor stood over a table, an oak box lying open on top. In his hands he held a crude circlet of grass and weeds, held together by hardened mud. Though it looked more like something a ragged barbarian would wear, and contrasting sharply with any form of Roman d├ęcor, it was in fact Rome’s most prestigious award for valor, and Aulus Cursor was the only currently living recipient in the whole of the Empire. His eyes were shut, his head bowed in deep thought…
“Make ready to storm the gates of hell…charge of the ten thousand!” The Tribune’s voice was breaking as he salvaged what was left of his strength for one final assault. He could not remember the last time he’d slept; and since the previous afternoon, he and his men had trekked twenty miles up the River Rhine, crossed, and then back again. The forced march through the black of night, unable to see or hear anything except the raging river for endless hours, without knowing if his men were even still with him, had nearly driven him completely mad. He was beyond exhausted; all of his senses were numb.
His cavalry regiments formed the center of a massive wedge, with infantry cohorts on the flanks. The Tribune had instinctively placed himself at the apex of the wedge, knowing that if he were first into the fray, his men would follow. At this point, he reasoned that if he did fall, death would be a reprieve from his utter exhaustion and pain.
The Frisian army was huge; they had managed to trap an entire legion with its back to the Rhine. The legionaries had been in a desperate fight for their lives since the previous afternoon, and the Tribune did not know if any of them were even still alive. The Frisians were devoid of armor, with most carrying small board or wicker shields, with hand axes, clubs, or stabbing spears for weapons. A small number of the wealthier warriors carried swords, either Roman-style gladii, or great broadswords. What they lacked in protection and armament they made up for in overwhelming numbers, discipline, and extreme courage.
Many of the enemy warriors had been caught by surprise as the wall of men and horses crashed into them, with many being toppled and cut down in the onslaught. The Tribune watched as his long spatha cavalry sword smashed into the skull of one such man with a loud snap, cutting deep into the brain and mercifully killing the warrior instantly. He lost all sense of awareness to his surroundings; he was now in a battle for his life, as were the rest of his men who crashed into the flank of the Frisian army. His horse reared up as a spear was brandished in its face, almost throwing its rider off. The Tribune gripped the reins tightly and spun the beast about, allowing him to thrust his sword deep into his assailant’s throat. The man’s eyes bulged and his tongue stuck grotesquely between his teeth as blood erupted from this throat and mouth. Unable to hear anything over the roar of clashing arms and the screams of wounded men and horses, the Tribune realized that their charge was foundering. The Frisian numbers were too great, and the complete fatigue of his men was quickly proving to be their undoing.
Then out of the corner of his eye he saw the flash of red shields. Large formations of legionaries were assembling to the right of his force, unleashing storms of javelins into their hapless foes. These were not the cut off remnants of the Twentieth who had been cut off this entire time; these men were from the Fifth Legion, who had spent the entire night rebuilding the severed bridges across the Rhine. They were mostly fresh, and were smashing into the Frisians with a vengeance.
His senses still numb, the Tribune signaled for his nearest cavalry regiments to follow him. They quickly pulled back away from the harrowing battle, as the Frisians were attempting to face this renewed onslaught of legionaries. The Tribune knew that the shock of his charge, which had driven their enemy away from the bridges and given the Fifth room to cross, combined with a flanking assault by five thousand relatively fresh legionaries, would break them soon enough. His intent now was to maneuver his cavalry around the flank and behind the enemy. His auxiliary infantry and remaining cavalry regiments continued to gallantly hold their ground as cohorts of legionaries formed up to reinforce them with alarming speed and discipline; each century unleashing its javelins before drawing their gladii and charging into the hell storm of men and metal.
As his horsemen made their way around to the rear of the barbarian force, the Tribune caught sight of the only enemy mounted troops on the field. It was the Frisian king himself! Though his bodyguard could have easily held the Roman cavalry long enough for the king to escape, his sword was drawn and he was leading his men in their final charge. As the Tribune ordered his men to reform and attack, he was struck with a sense of admiration for the Frisian king’s selfless courage; that he was willing to die with his warriors.
The king’s household cavalry was badly outnumbered and outmatched by the Roman horsemen, and the entire clash, spectacular as it was, was over in a minute. The ranking Centurion who accompanied the Tribune, who was ironically a Frisian by birth, was the one who cut down the enemy king. He unhorsed him with a hard slash across the body and flaying his guts open as the king fell hard to the earth, his stricken horse landing on top of him. His vision clouded, the Tribune now had difficulty focusing on the ongoing battle, where the enemy army’s flank had collapsed and a panic was running amok amongst the warriors. Pursuit would prove impossible, for the Tribune had the only Roman cavalry on this side of the Rhine, and both men and horse were completely spent. The soldiers of the Fifth Legion would not be able to mount any sort of effective chase, encumbered as they were by their heavy armor and weapons. But for them, there was the euphoria and relief that came from knowing that where once all was lost, the battle had now been won.
The Tribune caught his first glance of the wreckage of the Twentieth Legion, and was surprised to see that any of them were still alive. Though many were dead or seriously wounded, the majority of the legionaries still stood, completely spent but defiant. Those who’d taken it the worst was a lone century that had held the extreme flank. Few of these men could stand, and the small patch of ground was littered with bodies, both Frisian and Roman. The Tribune almost collapsed as he quickly dismounted upon seeing the unit’s Centurion lying on the ground, his hand clasped over a deep gash in his side, where his armor had been ruptured. His smashed helmet lay several feet away, and he was bleeding from a nasty gash behind his ear from where his helm had been ripped from his head. The man, whose name was Artorius, was someone the Tribune had always considered a friend, despite his status as a plebian soldier from the ranks. The two clasped hands, though neither would remember what words had passed between them.

The Tribune’s next memory came from later that afternoon. The survivors of the Twentieth Legion, still looking battered and filthy, were standing in formation. In a reversal of protocol, all officers stood at the back. Posted in front of the mass of legionaries was a young soldier, who appeared to be all of seventeen. In his hands was a crown made of grass and weeds, taken from the trampled field of battle. Though most awards presented to Roman soldiers were made of gold or silver, the two most prestigious came from the humble earth. The Civic Crown, awarded for saving the life of a fellow soldier or citizen, was made of oak leaves instead of gold, as it was reasoned that a gold crown would be putting a price on human life. The crown held by the young legionary was of an even greater honor, and was for saving not just one life, but an entire legion. It was also the only award that was presented by the men in the ranks, by universal acclamation. It was so prestigious and rare that it had not been awarded to any soldier for at least a couple of generations.
“Tribune Aulus Nautius Cursor,” the legionary spoke, “It is by your actions in leading your ten thousand forty miles in a single day, flanking the Frisian army, and killing the enemy King that you have saved the Valeria Legion from being wiped out of existence. It is by universal acclamation of the men of the Twentieth that we present you Rome’s most sacred honor, the Grass Crown.”
The Tribune removed his helmet, tucking it under his left arm, and bowed his head slightly as the legionary placed the crown on his bald head. The soldier then drew his gladius and turned to face the legion.
“Twentieth Legion!” he shouted. “Gladius…draw!”
“Rah!” responded the host of legionaries, who had been deathly silent to this point, as their weapons flew from their scabbards.
“Ave Cursor, savior of Valeria!”
Adela’s eyes grew wet as she watched her husband go through his somber ritual. Though the Battle of Braduhenna, which had taken place just east of the River Rhine, was a Roman victory, it was regarded as an unmitigated disaster. It was well known throughout the Empire that Cursor was awarded the Grass Crown, yet many of Rome’s nobles resented him for it. It was viewed by some as dishonorable that the legionaries of the Twentieth Valeria had taken the initiative to honor him for saving their lives. Cursor had certainly never asked to be awarded for his actions, and in fact avoided any mentioning of what happened that dark day.
Soon after the ceremony, he had spoken with Centurion Artorius, who had watched from a distance, being unable to stand and wearing only a loin cloth and a large bandage over his badly injured side. Cursor had told the Centurion that it felt more like a crown of lead than of grass.
“It is a heavy burden you now bear,” Artorius had replied. “But know that your place in history is well earned.”

Whatever his thoughts were about the heavy burden the Grass Crown brought to him, he kept it with him as a sacred possession, in honor of those who died at Braduhenna. Adela watched as her husband took a small pitcher of water and lightly sprinkled a few drops over the crown to keep it moist and from becoming brittle. He then closed his eyes, placed the crown to his lips, and set it reverently back into its box. Adela watched for a moment longer as he closed the lid and bowed his head, eyes still closed. She had never seen him go through this ritual before, and wondered how often he performed it, or if this was the first time. What she did know, and it broke her heart to come to this understanding, was that the man she loved had had his very soul broken on that horrible battlefield, fighting in a terrible war that would later be regarded as unjustified; the magistrate who brought it about being personally executed by the Emperor himself. The hardest thing for Adela Theodora to accept was that the pain Cursor bore would always be there, and there was nothing she could do to ever ease it.


This is an excellent book to get a personal view of the history of Rome around the time of Christ.  It focuses on one man who fought for Rome and earned his place in the upper class by virtue of his honor.  It is, however, very much like reading a history tome with personal vignettes inserted to help the history lesson. I enjoy reading historical fiction, but this is not generally a time period that I focus on.  I enjoyed the story, but I don’t know that it is one that I would naturally pick up to read simply because I prefer to read European and English historical novels.  Roman literature has never been my forte.
I give this book 3 out of 5 clouds.

This product or book may have been distributed for review; this in no way affects my opinions or reviews.

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