Reviewed by Steven H Silver Over the last several years, Robert Silverberg has built up a world predicated on the idea that the Jewish exodus from Egypt failed with the result that neither Christianity nor Islam arose and the Roman empire never fell. The ten tales which make up this world have now been collected in a book entitled Roma Eterna, which allows those without access to the varied magazines and books which contained the original stories to read them, and those with access to those volumes to have all the stories in a single, chronologically ordered volume. Spanning a period of nearly years from AD to AD , the stories tell of the continuation of the Roman empire as it discovers the new world and various technologies, facing trials never faced by the actual Roman empire or its Byzantine successor. Each story introduces a new cast of characters and situations, with Silverberg allowing culture and history to clearly continue between the stories.
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Jul 25, Zoe rated it did not like it Robert Silverbergs point of divergence for his alternate history, in which the Roman Empire never fell, is that Exodus never happened, the Jews remained in Egypt, and Jesus of Nazareth was never born.
Christianity doesnt exist in this universe, and paganism remains the dominant religion. Despite what Edward Gibbons liked to think, the link between Christianisation and the collapse of Roman power in the West is tenuous at best, and most modern scholarship cites factors other than Christianity in explaining the end of the Roman Empire.
This allows a relatively familiar course of events, until the divergence after Caracalla allows the Roman Empire to survive and not collapse in the fifth century. Despite the new line of emperors in the West, the Eastern Roman emperor is is still Justinian I, who is still married to Theodora.
Considering his humble origins in Illyria his uncle rose through the ranks of the army and was able to secure election as emperor despite being illiterate , it is doubtful that in a world already markedly different from our own, the same emperors would rule. The Vikings discover the New World in the eleventh century, but their expedition sponsored by the Romans finds the Americas in roughly the same political state as the sixteenth-century New World during the Spanish conquest.
Similarly, the expedition finds the Inca empire in Peru despite the Inca not expanding until the fifteenth century. Such is the power of alternate history, that historical processes can be sped up by the desire to present a familiar situation.
There is no indication why the Aztecs or the Inca have achieved supremacy so early, and the only conclusion we can draw from this is that Silverberg was unable to envision a discovery of the Americas where the indigenous civilisations found in our timeline did not yet exist.
Silverbeg also writes about a severely narrow cross-section of Roman society, making the multi-ethnic, multilingual, three-continent-spanning Roman Empire seem small and claustrophobic. Almost all his characters are from the elite, and the upper crust of the elite at that. Of the eleven stories in this book, only four take place outside of Italy. Of course, characters from even the provincial elite are rare.
The slow division between the Greek-speaking East and Latin-speaking West, which culminates in a war of attrition and the absorption of the Western half by the Eastern half, was a thoughtful exploration of internal divisions and prejudices and the long-term effects of decentralised rule.
The lack of European colonialism and the strong resistance to colonists in the New World made for a very different, and more equal, relationship with what we see of the rest of the world. The last story in this collection, which sees Egyptian Jews seek the Promised Land in outer space, was intriguing and nuanced, and explored what it meant to be a citizen of such a long-lasting empire that had become a permanent fixture in the world, and how peoples with strong group identities balanced a local and Roman identity.
However, overall these stories, starting out from a flawed but workable concept, did not live up to their potential. It was all the more frustrating reading the occasional flashes of clever, lucid worldbuilding scattered throughout undercooked and careless stories that combined weak worldbuilding and a clinging to real-world events with an unpleasant disdain for the non-elites.
Nidor erwacht. Das Land der Lebenden. Die Berge von Majipoor. Lord Prestimion. Revolt on Alpha C.
Plot introduction[ edit ] The point of divergence is the failure of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt. Moses and many of the Israelites drowned, and the remnant—led by Aaron —were fetched back to slavery in Egypt , a traumatic event recorded for posterity in the Book of Aaron, an alternate version of the Bible. Later on, the Hebrews were freed from bondage, and remained a distinct religious-ethnic minority in Egypt, practicing a monotheistic religion, up to the equivalent of our 20th Century 27th Century of the Roman Calendar. Still, affairs of the larger world, the rise and fall of empires and cultures, remained roughly the same as in our history up to division of the Roman Empire here, never Christianised. At this point, mutual assistance between the Western and Eastern Roman Empires against barbarian invasions preserved both from falling and kept Roman rule intact throughout the imperial dominions. Despite the absence of Christianity, which in our history considerably influenced early Islam , Muhammad did start his prophetic career—but was assassinated by a perceptive Roman agent, nipping Islam in the bud and thus precluding the spread of any Monotheistic religion through the Roman Empire. Plot summary[ edit ] The novel is presented as a series of vignettes over a period of about years, from ab urbe condita AD to AUC AD