- Hardcover: 296 pages
- Publisher: Thames & Hudson (November 17, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 050025124X
- ISBN-13: 978-0500251249
- Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,547,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Enemies of Rome: From Hannibal to Attila the Hun Hardcover – November 17, 2004
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“Truly fascinating and superbly written…. A highly recommended addition.”
- The Midwest Book Review
About the Author
Philip Matyszak has a doctorate in Roman history from St. John’s College, Oxford, and is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling The Greek and Roman Myths: A Guide to the Classical Stories, as well as Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual and Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day.
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Matyszak divided his narrative into four parts, each proceeded by a prologue, outlining the general state of Rome in that period and giving a broad overview of the enemies it faced, followed by individual chapters, each devoted to a particular opponent, focusing primarily upon one individual leader, as most of the threats from other cultures to Rome centered around one leader and generally when that leader was vanquished the threat from that culture (if not the culture itself) ended. There was also an epilogue.
Part one dealt with the birth of the Roman superpower, beginning in the 260s B.C. and extending till about 100 B.C. During this period Rome faced the greatest threat to its early existence, that posed by Hannibal, and its first enemies outside the Italian peninsula; in addition to fighting Hannibal and the Carthaginians in their homeland Rome had to contend with the Macedonian king Philip V, who proved a threat to Rome while it was fighting Hannibal, the great Lusitanian leader Viriathus, and the Numidian king Jugurtha, a leader who was not only a great general but cunningly exploited the growing arrogance and corruption within Roman society.
In part two Matyszak examined what he called the "slow death of the Roman Republic," a period marked by treason, plots, and civil war (the reader gets a good deal of Roman history in this book). In addition to the Social War, a civil war, Rome clashed with enemies abroad, notably the King of Pontus, Mithridates (Pontus being a region in eastern Asian Minor), a situation made worse by the protracted civil war (Mithridates prevailed in some battles because Roman forces began to fight one another) and due to epic mismanagement and corruption on the part of the Romans (a chronic problem in Roman history). During this time Rome faced the revolt lead by Spartacus, which was well covered, the fight against the Parthian king Orodes II (Parthia being an empire in the lands of Persia and modern Iraq), and the struggle that involved the Ptolemaic queen Cleopatra. Also in this time was Caesar's war against the Gauls, lead by Vercingetorix, which the author particularly condemned as having been fought only for internal Roman political reasons and resulted in the death and dispossession of millions of people, one of the "greatest catastrophes of the ancient world," a "holocaust" unmatched until the later Spanish conquistadors actions in the Americas in the 16th century.
Part three focused on the Pax Romana, Rome at its height from Augustus' triumph at Actium in 31 BC through the reign of Emperor Trajan (ending in 117 AD). Rome reached its greatest physical extent at this time, coming into conflict with the Germans under Arminius (a rare retreat for Rome), the revolt by the queen of the Iceni in Britain, Boudicca, the rebellion of the Jews, and the war against the Dacians, lead by king Decebalus (Dacia roughly corresponds to modern Romania and part of Hungary).
The final chapter dealt with the end of the Empire, beginning with the ascension of the "thoroughly bad emperor" Commodus in AD 180, a time during which Rome came to blows with the great Persian king Shapur I, the queen of Palmyra, Zenobia (Palmyra was based in Syria and at one time included parts of Asia Minor and Egypt), the Gothic leader Alaric, and the infamous Attila the Hun.
High points for me about the book were the many excellent contemporary illustrations of Rome's enemies, many of which were surviving examples of artwork from that culture; two sets of plates showed statues, busts, coins, paintings, and reliefs depicting the leaders and soldiers of other cultures as well as some famous Romans that were prominent in the book, such as Sulla, Julius Caesar, and Titus. Within each chapter were black and white illustrations, generally depicting a typical warrior from the culture being discussed in that chapter. There were many excellent, gripping, and adventurous battle accounts as well as some nice descriptions of Roman and other culture's weapons, armor, mounts, and fighting tactics. There were also helpful maps in each chapter as well.
The only complaints I have about the book are that there was no real exploration of how each culture might have survived and what sort of civilization might have developed, particularly in the case of new ones like the urbanizing Celts of Gaul, had they lived on past the end of the Roman Empire. Also the author did not really explore Byzantine civilization to any great extent. I found his book useful and very interesting and liked his general premise; I just wish he had emphasized the cultural and developmental possibilities of the civilizations Rome destroyed or absorbed, perhaps at the expense of some of the detailed and otherwise excellent battle descriptions.
The book is also reveling about Julius Caesar and his conquest of Gaul. Caesar was a master general, no question, but there was no reason to invade except for glory and loot. The author strips away the tales of glory around Rome's expansion and focuses on the millions who died and millions more who were enslaved. At the same time, the author pulls no punches in describing Rome's enemies. He shows them as they were, some heroic, others fools, many were cruel and few died peacefully.
I greatly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to others.
I would have liked to see more material on Fritigern and the battle of Adrianople, which was mentioned only briefly in the chapter on Alaric the Visigoth. However, this is only a small lack in an otherwise outstanding book.