The book “Iron and Rust. Throne of the Caesars” is the first book in a trilogy by Harry Sidebottom, which describes the time of crisis in the Empire after 235 CE.
Harry Sidebottom, a British writer and historian, became an extremely popular author after publishing the six-volume “Warrior of Rome” series about Mark Ballista, a fictional hero who fought on various frontiers of the Empire in the 3rd century CE. In his new novel, Sidebottom decided to focus on the realities of the era and present the reader with one of the most turbulent periods of the existence of the Roman Empire – the crisis of the third century.
Nearly fifty years, from the overthrow of Alexander Severus in 235 to the accession of Diocletian in 284 CE, it was a time of great economic and political collapse of the Empire. The Roman state had to face many simultaneous attacks on the borders and political instability in the capital. More pretenders came to power every now and then, competing for influence, fighting fratricidal fights and dividing the state. All this also led to a gradual economic collapse. Only a miracle or the durability of the Roman organism made it possible to survive this turbulent period. And it was at this moment in history that Sidebottom decided to choose the place and time for the action of his trilogy.
The action of the novel begins in 235 CE when the incompetent and intolerant of soldiers Alexander Severus – the last member of the Syrian dynasty – is murdered. Maximin Thrac, an officer of barbarian origin, who is proclaimed emperor, takes part in the assassination attempt. Maximinus is known for his strength and stature, suggesting that the newly elected emperor will lead the Roman military in these difficult times. However, the situation becomes so complicated that the Empire is attacked on the northern borders: Germania and on the Danube; eastern by the Persians; and southern by nomadic tribes. The emperor is not able to fight on every front, which means that responsible leaders must make decisions in given inflammatory regions. This, over time, sometimes against the will of the usurpers, will lead to the termination of obedience to Maximinus.
What certainly catches the reader’s attention at the beginning is the enormity of information that we can get while reading this position. The author deliberately divided the plot into four separate threads to emphasize the dynamics of events and allow the reader to understand the complicated situation in which the Empire found itself at that time. We are allowed to accompany Maximinus in the north, fighting the Germans pressing on the borders; in Africa, we watch troops under the command of Gordian the Elder fight with Nuffuzi’s nomads; in the east, in Mesopotamia, together with governor Priscus, we repel the invasion of the victorious Sassanid dynasty; and in Rome we get to know the world of political intrigues and alliances.
It must be admitted that at the beginning a person who does not know the history of Rome can be very dizzy. The plot is full of different characters, terms and references to earlier times. Fortunately, the author at the end of the book has prepared an appropriate compendium of knowledge in the form of a glossary, a list of characters and an afterword. These appendices are an essential part of the book – over 70 of the book’s 448 pages. However, there is no denying that it is a great knowledge base, especially if we take into account the fact that the author tried to write as much as possible in accordance with historical realities and that he has outstanding knowledge as a doctor of ancient history and a lecturer at Oxford.
A person fascinated by ancient Rome should treat this reading as a real masterpiece. You can see the enormity of the author’s work and knowledge of the realities of the time. Sometimes the reader may feel lost with the amount of information, but this should not prevent you from following the plot. The item is highly recommendable and based on facts compared to Ballista’s story.