The Enemies of Rome by Philip Matyszak

Book Review by Caldrail

On the back cover this book is described as - "The gripping story of the most colourful and formidable characters to challenge the might of Rome". This story is broken down into seventeen chapters each devoted to the life of one of these characters. Interestingly enough these people vary considerably. Not all are military men bent on conquest. There are stories of revenge, freedom, survival, greed, vanity, and political ambition from both men and women of different backgrounds.

The list of characters is interesting. In the period of Roman expansion we get Hannibal, Philip V, Viriathus, and Jugurtha. For the Roman republican era there is Mithradates, Spartacus, Vercingetorix, Orodes II, and Cleopatra. The Pax Romana gives us Arminius, Boudicca, Josephus, and Decebalus. Finally, the waning empire describes Shapur I, Zenobia, Alaric, and Attila.

The success of any biography is whether or not you feel you know the subject intimately afterward. Here is the only sticking point of the book. Since each persons story is confined to a small chapter it becomes difficult to pour enough detail into it. I found myself still curious about some of these people. There were still questions I wanted answered.

Despite this limitation, the author gives subtle insights into the minds of not only the featured characters, but also sometimes their roman enemies too. It has to remembered that these people have been dead a long time, so given the paucity of our sources the author has done well in his descriptions. I particularly like the way the author gives us the likely motives of his subjects, a sure sign of good understanding and lengthy research.

History cannot be described purely in terms of character. We also need to understand the world they lived in. Enemies of Rome is reinforced by a number of scene-setting chapters describing each period in general terms, and I heartily recommend the epilogue for anyone trying to understand the fall of Rome.

The author has written this book in a very accessible and factual manner. He wastes no time with extreme theories, preferring a more sensible approach. This is definitely a style I approve of. As the final word regarding these characters this book cannot hope to succeed. As a detailed overview and a springboard to further study, it succeeds admirably.

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