Richard Thompson Reviews Blood of Alexandria

Richard Blake The Blood of Alexandria
Reviewed by Richard Thompson

The third in a series of historical thrillers set in the seventh century.

Blake originally graduated in History, and some of the main characters are historical, though I suspect some of their adventures are not. One of the central characters is Priscus, son in law and for a while designated heir of the emperor Phocas. In the story that preceded this one ( see my account of my reading last year) Priscus abandoned Phocas just in time to join Heraclius, who deposed and executed him. Blake has Priscus still in the Heraclius’ service two years later, though Gibbon says that Priscus was deemed to unreliable for high office and retired to a monastery.

The background to this story is unrest in Egypt as the government collected a large proportion of the crop of grain and sent it to Constantinople, so that Egypt was threatenedd with famine. An uprising in Alexandria was brutally repressed by Priscus who remarked “Do ask yourself how an empire survives without people like me. It needs heroes to found it, and poets artists and philosophers to make it noble. And it needs someone to direct the rack if it’s to be kept in order”. I think that for Blake that is the moral of the story. A powerful state committed to supporting ‘culture’ and a large parasite urban population depends on a high level of taxation which can only be maintained by repression, to the society will eventually collapse, as the Roman Empire did.

One response to “Richard Thompson Reviews Blood of Alexandria

  1. The religious bigotry was also a factor. Heraclius persecuted the Copts.

    It is not actually true that the Copts welcomed the Islamic invasion of Egypt (that is an old myth contradicted by Copt monastic records showing how horrified the Copts were by the Islamic invasion), but they did not exactly flock to the Imperial banner.

    Parasite city populations – yes, it was a drain.

    However, we have gone one “better”.

    Most Romans (and Byzantines) lived in small towns and villages – they certainly did not free stuff from the government.

    We in the modern West think about half the entire general population can get stuff from the government.

    Even the most spendthrift Roman and Byzantine Emperors would have thought our system was stark staring mad.

    Because our system is stark staring mad.