James Mace is the best writer of fictionalized history I've read. He has a broad palate of history and I've enjoyed many of them. The Three books I'm reviewing are of concern to me as they overlap with my writings.
These books are about the Jewish Revolt in AD 67. There are no fictionalized characters, every person in the story was actually there and mentioned in the books written at the time. The historian Josephus is prominent in the story as well as the accounts he wrote.Book one starts with the procurator of Judea, Gessius Florus trying to stir up a rebellion so he can plunder the area. He succeeds, but after the revolt starts and he doesn't have the manpower to stop it, he flees back to Italy and leaves Rome to clean up his mess.
The governor of Judea then takes a single legion to Jerusalem, and nearly takes it, but he doesn't know how close they've come to undermining a wall and he leaves only to be ambushed in a mountain valley back to Caesaria. No matter how good the legion and its ability to fight, an incompetent commander could get them killed.
Reviewer's note here: Wikipedia doesn't mention this first attempt to put down the rebellion or the defeat of the 12th legion and losing their Eagle. My copy of Josephus is a condensed version and left this out as well. Mace used the complete version.
I wish I'd read these books while I was writing my books in this time period.
A lone cohort was tasked with defending the closest port to Jerusalem, Ptolemais, 600 men with about 400 auxiliary cavalry is not much compared to the thousands of an army sent out from Jerusalem to capture the town and turn to piracy to hamper Rome's retribution.
This is James Mace at his best, describing both sides and their plans for the battle and then recounting how it unfolds.
After the Jewish army is not only defeated but routed when they outnumbered the Romans by 10 to 1. Explains how Rome's legion with its discipline and armor and a competent leader could conquer everything within its reach.
While waiting for Nero's response and his reluctance to give Vespasian command of suppressing this revolt, the various radical groups are explained. The Temple headed by the high priest, John of Giscala, a bandit that's raising an army in Galilee. Simon Giora, another bandit raising an army around Jerusalem and Eleazar of the Sicarii, (dagger men).
The high priest is willing to negotiate with Rome, knowing that Rome would destroy the country and enslave the population. He's murdered as a traitor.
The high priest's son takes over and Jerusalem is divided between four factions each trying to kill each other.
In short, the Jews are more willing to kill and fight each other than they are Rome. A dominant theme through all three books.
When Vespasian builds up his forces, he then invades Galilee. The siege of Jotapata is only a foretaste of what taking Jerusalem would be like. It took 47 days and many of his men's lives to take the town. They even used boiling oil, something that meant the invading army would spare no one inside as revenge. Vespasian does something very unexpected, he spares the life of Youseph ben Matthias, the leader of Jotapata that would normally be crucified. Youseph is Latinized to Josephus. He becomes the historian. In Judea he is the great traitor, as he gives the Romans valuable intel on what's happening in Jerusalem and the rest of Judea.
The rest of the Galilee is taken and winter ends the campaigning season.
Word comes that Nero is dead.
The telling of the siege of Jotapata is gruesome enough, but nothing prepares the reader for the horrors of what happens in Jerusalem. Not about what the Romans did to those inside the walls of the city, but what the warring factions within the city did to each other.
Before the Romans resumed the war, two factions fought over the storage facilities of grain. Enough grain to feed a city of over half a million people for two or three years. Eleazar, the head of the Temple faction burns the whole granary to keep John of Giscala from controlling it.
John of Giscala then has Eleazar, murdered in front of the throngs offering sacrifice.
It goes downhill from there.
Meanwhile Vespasian supports Galba as emperor who replaced Otho, who forced Nero to commit suicide, Vitellius then defeats and kills Galba, and Vespasian decides to march on Rome and become emperor. It's called the year of four emperors.
Vespasian's son Titus is given command of the forces tasked with taking Jerusalem.
Intrigue in Jerusalem, intrigue in Rome and confusion in the legions, as Titus is only 24 and has gone from being in command of a single legion to over 150,000 men.
The siege of Jerusalem is a worse horror story than anything Hollywood puts out around Halloween.
It's estimated that Jerusalem had from half a million or more residing in it. When the city was taken Rome enslaved 97,000. Only the wealthy survived just to become slaves. The rest died mostly from starvation, disease or were murdered for treason and dropped into a valley outside the walls to feed carrion. Battle hardened soldiers lost their lunch when the valley of rotting corpses was discovered. Reading this, pictures of liberated concentration camps after WWII came to mind.
Titus is awarded a triumph; his cousin mops up the Sciarii at Masada. The bandits at Masada are celebrated today for their defiance of committing suicide after the Romans breached the wall. They existed by robbing and killing the villages around them for food.
Titus is granted a triumph, as he brings back the largest treasure trove up to that time in Rome's history, all taken from the Temple. Some of this is pictured on the Triumphal Arch of Titus in Rome.
The Flavians beome masters of Rome.
My review is a summation of what happens, but these books go into great detail and are written by a true master of storytelling.
Just adding this, Mace has a great book on the Battle of Waterloo.