How Marcus Aurelius Almost Saved Rome

One of Rome’s most remarkable rulers, Marcus Aurelius (121-180AD) is commonly described as ‘The last of the five good emperors’.  Along with his predecessors – Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and Antonius Pius – Marcus Aurelius brought stability to an unstable Empire; between them, the five provided almost a century of competent government, now regarded as Rome’s heyday.  But it was Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher emperor, who inadvertently brought this golden age to an end.

Aurelius: Last Great Emperor

Marcus Aurelius was singled out for an imperial life when he was still a teenager: the dying Hadrian instructed his successor, Antonius Pius, to adopt the young philosopher.   Antonius Pius, one of longest serving emperors, became infirm in his last years, so Marcus Aurelius gradually assumed the imperial duties. By the time he came to power, in 161, Marcus Aurelius, was already well practiced in public administration.

Aurelius immediately became the first emperor to appoint a co-ruler. It was a clever arrangement: it made it much harder for usurpers to snatch power, since they had to assassinate two rulers, not one.  It also recognised that the empire had become too huge to administer from a single capital.  Aurelius’ cousin, Lucius, was given responsibility for the eastern half of the Roman domain, and made responsible for confronting Persia, which had just moved into the buffer state of Armenia. Recognising flaws in Lucius’ character, Marcus Aurelius made sure his co-emperor was accompanied by trustworthy generals.  Even so, Lucius’ victorious five-year campaign was marred when his army shamelessly plundered a city after it had surrendered.

Although he was far from the action, the campaign in the East shaped Marcus’ reign in three ways.  First, it meant the emperor was left to concentrate on administration and public affairs.  Contemporary accounts describe his as very judicious and deeply interested in the processes of government.  Even stripping away a propaganda quotient, it is reasonable to assume Marcus had an affinity for the decisions demanded by high office.  He would certainly need it, because of the two further implications of the Parthian campaign.

Antonine Plague Victims, unearthed

Lucius’ soldiers didn’t just come home with wars trophies; they also brought back a plague. Possibly a strain of smallpox, it killed some five million Roman citizens – up to 10% of the Empire’s population – including the co-emperor, Lucius, in 169.  As well as the naturally destabilising Rome, the plague made the Empire vulnerable for invasion.

To garner forces for the Middle-East campaign, Marcus Aurelius had strategically slimmed down his troops on the long European frontier – roughly demarcated by the Rhine and the Danube rivers.  Aware he was weakening his defences, he warned his local governors against provoking the borderland tribes.  It didn’t work.  Germanic tribes and nomads raided west into Gaul, and in 166, a much more serious invasion was launched by the Marcomanni of Bohemia, breaching their alliance with Rome.

Aurelius 2
Aurelius defends the Empire – just…

Marcus Aurelius was forced to act.  Unlike previous emperors, who had spent many years campaigning in the Provinces, Aurelius was a relative novice at expeditionary warfare.  But he duly left for the front, stationing himself in modern-day Serbia and Austria, in an effort to repulse the invasion.

Aurelius suffered two significant early defeats, and the barbarians crossed the Alps and led the first successful invasion of Italy for two-and-a-half centuries, attacking the Roman cities of Aquileia and Oderzo.

It was during these campaigning years that Aurelius wrote his famous meditations. Removed from the cultural and intellectual life of Rome, he may have turned to philosophy for mental stimulation.  But the books also reveal a moral exploration – as if the Emperor were searching for guidance as he made testing and important decisions without any source of reflection other than himself.  He concludes on advice which is at odds with the brutality of his situation.  Whereas many in the Roman world had no qualms about being cruel, and some even revelled in it, Marcus Aurelius reveals himself to be a considerate, even sensitive man.

Aurelius’ sickly successor, as depicted in the film ‘Gladiator’: Emperor Commodus.

Marcus Aurelius’ remained on the front until the climax of his wars against the Germanic tribes. He won perhaps his most important battle at the end of 173, fought over a frozen part of the river Danube. The Quadi and Iazyges tribes had formed an alliance; the Emperor was significantly outnumbered and became surrounded. But Aurelius ordered his men to form square, with shields passed to the front rank, and cavalrymen (including himself) protected in the centre.  Even though the tribesmen had trained their horses to ride over ice, they were unable to break the Roman formations and, in close-quarter fighting, superior Roman discipline won out.  The Quadi and Iazyges were routed and, by 175, Marcus Aurelius was able to insist both tribes accept punitive peace terms.

Marcus Aurelius almost crushed the whole Germanic threat, but died in 180 before what was to be the final confrontation. Commodus, his son, successor and by all accounts a megalomaniac, wasted their advantage so he could return to the pleasures of Rome.  For all his wisdom, Marcus Aurelius had entrusted a vain teenager with imperial office (Commodus is depicted with some accuracy in the film ‘Gladiator’).  The move established the principle of genetic rather than meritocratic inheritance within Rome, one of the principle reasons for Rome’s long, drawn out decline.

Last-Prophecy-of-Rome-A-gripping-action-packed-conspiracy-thriller-KindleMarcus Aurelius was undoubtedly a great man: an intellectual who navigated Rome masterfully through severe difficulties.  The tragedy is that his philosophy – which is about self-restraint, duty, and respect for others – was so abjectly abandoned by the imperial line he anointed on his death.

How much will history repeat itself?  Read the action-packed thriller, ‘Last Prophecy of Rome’ to find out. 

Available NOW to pre-order: from Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US).




Thank You for Your Reviews

So many people have written such wonderful things about the book – thank you all.  It’s great to know you enjoyed Secrets of the Last Nazi, and that Myles Munro is so popular.

SOTLN coverHere are some of your reviews of Secrets of the Last Nazi:

Five Stars“Either this author has pulled off one of the most amazing Derren Brown type wondertricks of all time (just how did he do that?); or it changes fundamentally the way people understand the world.  And it’s an excellent story, too.  This really is the most amazing, impressive book I’ve read for more than a decade.  Really.”  – Peter Cranston, Amazon.

“Best Book I’ve Read for A Very Long Time” – Steve Salter, Kobo.

New Release 1“This book stands out in so many ways, I wish I could have given it six stars (or more). It really is an absolutely remarkable main theme, told through a riveting plot, with an astonishing ending. Brilliant.”  – Harriet, Amazon.

Five Stars“Superb. Excellent, fast-paced, intriguing. I really had to read it at one sitting.”  –
Stella M, Amazon.

AmRev6“When I read books, I always hope for three things – fast action, interesting plot (and plot twisters) and interesting details. Secrets of the Last Nazi succeeds in all three.”  – Bjorn H, via Kindle.

Secrets of the Last NaziFive Stars“I’m hooked on Myles Munro, the hapless hero of this fantastic and intelligent yarn. At once a fantastic thriller, but so deftly interwoven with science fact, history and observation from what must reflect real experiences it is hard ot imagine this is a first foray into fiction for King. Highly recommended.”  – ‘Itoloshi’, via Kindle.

AmRev4“Brilliant and fast paced. I’ll recommend to my friends.’‘  – ‘FindMyWay’, via Kindle.

Best seller 1“Tremendous fun from intriguing, teasing outset to a conclusion that I wouldn’t want to spoil.  Detailed without being a slog to get through, the reader is invited to think more deeply as the story romps along.  If Mr King is going to continue to produce this best-of-breed material, I’ll make sure to get hold of future books, too.”  – Perdesthai, Paperback.

AmRev3“I’ll definitely be recommending it to everyone.  It had a little of everything – mystery, action and betrayal.”   – ‘Clippers for sure’, US Amazon.

Five Stars“One of the most original and carefully thought out stories that have yet to appear in print.” – Paul Lane.

There was only space to include a small number of your comments.  Thanks to everyone who has written such great reviews for the book.  It is your words which have made Secrets of the Last Nazi a huge success.

Customer reviews editMost online sites promote books with higher ratings.  Give Secrets of the Last Nazi five stars, and others will enjoy the book, too.

The next Myles Munro book, ‘The Last Prophecy of Rome’, will be out in spring 2016.



Hitler: Really a Non-Hero in World War One

HitlerMustacheIn the 1935 book ‘The Story of Adolf Hitler Told for Children’, widely distributed throughout Nazi Germany by state authorities, Hitler’s time as a soldier was retold in lively language – once, he was said to have ‘run straight through machine gun fire’ to deliver messages between outposts on the frontline; and later he is described as ‘one of the bravest soldiers in every battle.’  Hitler’s service for Germany became an essential part of his political message: he had served his nation in the most selfless way possible, so he demanded the nation serve him in return.

Even opponents of Hitler accepted that the dictator’s record in World War One was impressive – he had won the Iron Cross twice, there were many apparent eye-witness reports of his bravery, and he served for the whole war.  Almost without exception, respected western journalists have repeated as fact that Hitler was one of the bravest men in the trenches.

But a little historical research reveals Hitler’s ‘heroic’ war record was mostly a figment of Nazi propaganda.

Hitler the Draft Dodger

Buy at Amazon.comBefore the war, Hitler dodged the draft.  Conscripted to serve his native Imperial Austria in 1910, Hitler failed to report for duty.  He did this at least three times, and it was probably to avoid military service that he moved from Vienna to southern Germany.  Only in February 1914 did he surrender himself to the Austrian authorities, who deemed him medically unfit for duty. He tried to cover this up – through lies in Mein Kampf (for example, his autobiography claims he was in Munich on a day in 1912 when Viennese police arrested him for vagrancy), and by sending his Gestapo to destroy the official papers when Germany united with Austria in 1938.  Hitler was furious when he was told the paperwork had gone missing.

Hitler the Coward

After he was caught up in a fateful battle on 29th October 1914, Hitler managed to wangle himself a cushy position at regimental HQ, several miles behind the frontline.  There he lived in relative safety and luxury, only occasionally venturing near the trenches; usually he was just delivering messages between the regiment’s HQ and its administrative base, both well away from danger.  Several times during the war, Hitler turned down opportunities for promotion to keep this precious role as a regimental dispatch runner.  It was quite a feat to him to remain at the army’s lowest rank (not a corporal, as is sometimes reported) throughout the whole war.  He spent a smaller proportion of his war years in the trenches than almost any other private in his regiment, the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment.

Adolf Hitler im Ersten Weltkrieg

Picture: Hitler with other despatch runners, safely away from the frontline at Regimental HQ, Fournes.

Hitler – and his propaganda machine – pretended he delivered reports between frontline positions, but he was only called into the frontline when German manpower was stretched.  It meant he served at the battle of the Somme for only four days.  He suffered a ‘light wound’ from wood splinters in October 1916, which meant he was in hospital on the days his regiment faced its worst battles.  He missed other crucial days of fighting by being on leave.

Hitler: Not Blinded by Gas in 1918

Buy at claims to have lost his sight following a chlorine gas attack in mid-October 1918 – standing firm against the Allied assault, as Germany was ‘stabbed in the back’ by traitors back home.  But the doctors who treated him in Pasewalk military hospital near Berlin diagnosed his blindness as a form of hysteria, and concluded it was caused by psychological exhaustion or ‘hysteria’ rather than gas.  The medical papers were so damning – and sensational – that Hitler’s predecessor as German Chancellor, Kurt von Schleicher, who came across them in 1932, kept them personally – probably regarding them as an insurance policy, so he could blackmail Hitler later if he needed to.  But Hitler struck first: Schleicher was gunned down on 30th June 1934, one of the first victims of the dictator’s ‘Night of the Long Knives’.  The original papers have never surfaced.   (So how do we know this account is true?  It is the testimony of doctors and others interviewed in 1945 versus the word of the Fuhrer himself.  I know whom I believe…).

Research credit: Thomas Weber, author of the excellent ‘Hitler’s First War’.

Image below: Hitler at the announcement of war, Munich, 2nd August 1914.  This picture – the main protagonist of the Second World War celebrating the start of the First – has been doctored by Nazi spin doctors to imply the war was much more popular than it really was. A young Hitler cheers the start of World War One, 1914

Secrets of the Last Nazi




Secrets of the Last Nazi is as controversial as it is compelling. A heart-stopping, action-packed and scarily plausible adventure which will captivate fans of Dan Brown, Scott Mariani and Alastair Maclean.

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The Nazi fascination with the mystical is already well known.  Iain King’s debut novel explores what the Third Reich may have learned about predicting the future, the terrible means they would have gone to secure that knowledge, and where their secrets will be now.

Publication 9th July 2015:   pre-order your copy NOW


Berlin, 2015 – a well-connected SS Commander is found dead, having protected the last secret of the Nazi empire for seventy years.  A discovery by Nazi Scientists so potent it could change the balance of world power – forever.

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Led by misfit military historian Myles Munro, an international team begin to piece together the complex puzzle left by SS Captain Werner Stolz. As their hunt across Europe gathers pace, the brutal killing of one of the group signals that they are not the only ones chasing the answer.

Plunged into a world of international espionage, Myles only has his intellect and instincts to keep him alive. As the team edge closer to an explosive truth, it becomes clear to him that there is a traitor amongst them.

Who can Myles trust?  And can he unravel the clues of the past in time to save the future?

This is the first in an original, clever and thrilling conspiracy series introducing Myles Munro.  The second book in the series, The Last Prophecy of Rome will be released in early Spring 2016.



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Online: Kim Nash I I 07894 662718 I @bookouture