Book Review by Thomas A. Timmes
L.J. Trafford is a polished storyteller who quickly immerses the reader into the little explored world of common Roman slaves who executed the day-to-day tasks of managing the emperor’s palace. Galba’s Men, published in 2016, is the second book in Trafford’s four-book series, The Four Emperors. Galba’s Men is preceded by Palatine and is followed by Otho’s Regret and Vitellius’ Feast.
The inglorious death of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (his imperial title) at age 30 in 68 A.D. instigated by his own Praetorian prefect, Nymphidius Sabinus, introduced a short period of civil war into Roman history. This upheaval lasted only a year but witnessed four separate individuals accede to the Roman throne. The story of Galba’s Men is told from the palace slaves’ unique point of view from Galba’s arrival in Rome from Spain, and his short occupancy as Emperor, the pinnacle of Roman power.
My personal reading preference is historical fiction that includes plenty of battlefield action with a credible, supportive fictional story. Besides entertainment, I want to learn Roman history. Palace intrigues, misbehaving Emperors, and Roman excesses leave me cold, but everyone is entitled to their own likes and dislikes, which is why we are privileged to have a wide variety of authors and stories from which to choose.
That said, Galba’s Men is my first adventure away from Rome’s Republican Period and into the Roman era of the Empire. I felt it was time to broaden my scope, and this seemed the perfect place to start. Trafford’s book is built around a host of interesting characters and is a truly fascinating story. I was pleasantly surprised that a book about Rome without Gauls or Hannibal could be so interesting!
Trafford breathes life into her characters and describes the many hallways and rooms with perfect clarity. As I turned the pages, I could envision the entire scene and felt like I was there and part of the action. When I finally closed the book, I discovered that I really miss a couple of the characters and hope to find them again in books three and four.
Right off the bat, Trafford lists thirty-one characters that we can expect to meet in the book, seven of whom are actual historical figures. My short memory span required constant flipping back to this invaluable resource to reacquaint myself with the various personalities. In the beginning, it proved to be a bit tedious, but I eventually mastered most of the names. And though it slowed my reading initially, it wasn’t a major annoyance. Without counting, I would guess that over half the characters in the book, to include Emperor Galba, were gay and may misrepresent the number of gays in Rome at the time. While there is nothing erotic about Galba’s Men I was surprised at the numerous references to consensual and non-consensual sex.
I learned that being a slave anywhere would be a most dreadful life and that babies of slave mothers were taken from their mothers at birth and raised by the State to develop generations of faithful palace slaves. Despite the many shortcomings of Rome compared to our modern world, there were good and evil men who ran the Roman Empire. If you are looking for an easy but lengthy fictional read (430 pages) that provides a rarely seen side of ancient Rome, this is the book. On many levels, Galba’s Men made a deep impression that will stay with me for years.
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After gaining a degree in Ancient History LJ Trafford toured the amphitheatres of western europe before a collision with a moped in Rome left her with a mortal terror of crossing Roman roads.Returning to the UK somewhat battered and impressively bruised she spent several years working as a tour guide. This proved a perfect introduction to writing, involving as it did, the need for entertainment and a hefty amount of invention (it’s how she got tips). She now works in London doing something whizzy with computers. She is the author of The Four Emperors series which covers the tumultuous year that followed the fall of the flamboyant Nero.
Thomas A. Timmes, a 28 year active duty veteran of the U.S. Army, holds the Bronze Star for Valor and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry for combat in Vietnam. He served with the 3rd and 8th Mechanized Infantry Divisions in Germany during the Cold War as an Infantry Platoon Leader, Company Commander, and Battalion and Brigade Operations Officer. Tom has extensive experience with Military Psychological Operations as a Team Leader, an Executive Officer, and Battalion Commander of an airborne unit. Tom also served on the Department of the Army Staff and the Joint Staff in the Pentagon. Thomas A. Timmes is the author of the Legio XVII series. His fourth book, Legio XVII: The Eagle Strikes, was released in July 2016.
Book Review of Galbas Men by L.J. Trafford - Related Topic: Year of the Four Emperors