A.D.69. The riven year. Nero is dead, and he has left no heir. Four rivals from different corners of the Empire contend for the throne: Galba, an ageing martinet, noted for his savagery; Vitellius, a drunken glutton dominated by his generals; Otho, a reckless pleasure-seeker and Nero’s old sparring partner; and Vespasian, once a mule trader, now a ruthless general. As the contest plays out through intrigue, assassination and bloody civil war, one of these men will prevail to establish a new dynasty; the others will die by the sword.

A generation later, the story of this momentous year is pieced together by a slave, Actis, secretary to the historian Tacitus. He speaks to eyewitnesses: slaves, citizens and soldiers, some of whom were at the centres of power; and constructs a tale told from every perspective; from the power play of the great men at Rome, to the front line soldiers killing and dying on the fields of Cremona.

This epic novel, closely based on real events, breathes life into the famous ‘Year of Four Emperors’. A year that was, in the words of Tacitus, very nearly the last for the commonwealth of Rome.

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