A Feast of Thrones

The Histories (Oxford World's Classics) - Tacitus, D. S. Levene, W. H. Fyfe

Tacitus' Annals of Imperial Rome, with all of its political maneuverng, backstabbing, plotting, and of course sex (was there sex in the Annals? Actually I'm not really all that sure, it's not like it was some sort of Roman novel, it was a history, and from my experience the Histories tend to be nowhere near as sexually explicit as the one and a half Roman novels that we have), reminded me a lot of an episode (or a season – or the entire show) of A Game of Thrones, or at least the television series, since I haven't read the book. Well, now we come to the sequel, which isn't actually a sequel because Tacitus wrote the Histories before he wrote the Annals, but it pretty much starts where the Annals end (or at least where it was supposed to end, if somebody hadn't lost it). Also, like the Annals, and the Song of Fire and Ice, the Histories are also unfinished – it fact from what I gather we only have about 30% of the Histories, namely because some monk in the 10th century found it and thought it might be a good idea to preserve it, it was just that he couldn't remember where he placed the remaining parts of the book.

 

 

Mind you, it's probably not a bad thing that we have lost the remaining parts of the Histories because it is supposed to chronicle the period between Nero's fall and, well, up to the point that Tacitus decided to start writing the Histories, or even up to the point where he finished writing the Histories because we can be assured that history didn't stop simply to allow Tacitus to chronicle it. Mind you, the part of the book that is missing sounds as if it was emperor ascends throne, emperor does emperorish things, emperor dies, next emperor ascends the throne – and so on and so forth. Well, maybe the scene where they decide that Domitian is a bit of a prick and decide they want to kill him might have been interesting, but it probably doesn't beat the murder of Caligulia and the praetorian guards then dragging Claudius out from the closet, kicking and screaming, and crowning him emperor (not that we have that section of the Annals because, you guessed it, some monk lost it).

 

So, you might be wondering what the connection between the Histories and Game of Thrones is (other than the fact that both are unfinished)? Well, from what I recall from the television series (I haven't read the books, and am unlikely to do so because, well, with the number of books on my too read list, they sort of find themselves on the 'might get to one day in the future if I can be bothered, and if George R R Martin bothers to finish them' pile), when Eddard Stark is murdered the armies of the North rise up in rebellion against Kings Landing, and the two Baratheon brothers also rise up in rebellion, and there is a forth dude rising up in rebellion as well, not that I can remember who it was because it was a while ago when I watched the second and third seasons, and we entered a period known as the war of five kings where people are running all over Westeros pretty much killing each other at will (as if anything else happens in Westeros).

 

Well, a similar thing happens when Nero abdicates the throne (and then kills himself, I believe, though since I haven't read the end of the Annals because some Monk lost it, I am only going by some pretty shocking TV mini-series that I watched about Nero and according to the mini-series Nero killed himself), the Romans suddenly realise that there actually isn't anybody to take over from him because Nero doesn't have any heirs (not that he Romans particularly wanted a Neronian heir to take the throne, if their father was anything to go by), so some guy named Galba takes the throne, but another guy named Otho objects, kicks him out, and installs himself as emperor. However some guy named Vitellius objects, goes to war against Otho, kicks him out, and takes the throne, and then Vespasian, who is busy crushing a Jewish uprising in the east, marches his troops over to the Italian Peninsula (leaving his son Titus to mop up the mess), and goes to war with Vitellius. Vitellius then decides that being emperor isn't as crash hot as he thought it was going to be, and attempts to abdicate, except the people of Rome refuse and force him back into the Palace, where he is subsequently defeated by Vespasian.

 

As you can probably tell, Rome was pretty chaotic around this time. In fact, after 70 to 80 odd years of stability (with a few mad emperors to make things interesting, including one who made a horse a senator – though a horse would probably do a better job that half the senators we have today – hey, lets start nominating horses for the senate, though Michael Moore did try that with a Ficus, and unfortunately it didn't work – we ended up getting stuck with a politician instead), the entire Roman experiment looks like it it was pretty much on the verge of collapse (much like the EU experiment is today). Actually, Rome's enemies saw it as much, especially over the Rhine in Germanica, because the Germans suddenly launched an invasion of Gaul (or at least the provinces of Upper and Lower Germania) during this time. So, when the Histories aren't talking about the Romans going at each other, its talking about the Germans invading Rome and causing them no end of trouble.

 

Actually, it wasn't just the Germans who saw an opportunity because the Jews, who didn't particularly like the Romans, despite everything the Romans had done for them, decided that it might be a pretty good idea of go to war against the Romans and liberate their country.

 

 

As it turned out, despite the fact that Rome was embroiled in an almost never ending civil war, it still seemed as if they were able to hold out on their own. Mind you, it probably at a lot to do with Vespasian being a pretty strong, and capable leader, as he was able to bring peace to the Empire, and then not only drive back the Germans, but also crush the Jews, and to bring grain to the city to ward off starvation. As we know, after this one dreadful year, known as the Year of the Four Emperors, Rome when on to last for another 150 odd years.

 

One final interesting thing is what Tacitus says about the Jews. It is actually really interesting hearing the theories of the Jewish origins from the point of view of a Roman. Mind you, having had the Old Testament history drummed down my through for most of my life, reading Tacitus' opinion makes me want to scream out in objection, however what we are seeing are suppositions coming from somebody who lived at the time, giving us a rundown on the various beliefs at the time, which I believe helps us understand, much better, how the Jews were perceived by the Romans. The other thing is that it provides a background for the Jewish War. Up until I read the Histories (this is the second time), I didn't realise that the Jewish revolt, and the Roman civil war, occurred around the same time. In fact it is my belief that the civil war that broke out after Nero's fall actually provided the catalyst for the Jewish revolt. It certainly does put things into perspective.

 

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1674372244