Friday, November 19, 2004

Ancient world: The Enemies of Rome

Sunday Times
by Philip Matyszak Reviewed by Tom Holland

"No wonder that the cover of Philip Matyszak's The Enemies of Rome is splashed with gouts of blood. Like the ancient historian Plutarch, Matyszak has written a series of interlinked biographies, but while Plutarch confined himself to celebrating the lives of famous Greeks and Romans, Matyszak is more interested in leaders whom the Romans themselves dismissed as barbarians: men and, in certain exceptional circumstances, women who dared stand up to the most lethal military power in the ancient world. Many of their names have reverberated through the ages: Spartacus and Boudicca, of course, but also Hannibal, Cleopatra and Attila the Hun. Matyszak tells their stories stylishly and well, but it is when he turns his attention to leaders whose lives have not been endlessly dug over that his book comes into its own. "Vriathus the Lusitanian" or "Decebalus the Dacian" might sound like characters out of a Roman Blackadder, and yet, as Matyszak demonstrates, their careers were no less touched by heroism and brutality than those of Rome's more celebrated foes."
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