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Imperial General: The Remarkable Career of Petilius Cerealis [Hardcover]

Philip Matyszak
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

21 July 2011
Petilius Cerealis is one of the few Imperial Roman officers, below the level of Emperor, whose career it is possible to follow in sufficient detail to write a coherent biography. Fortunately his career was a remarkably eventful and colourful one. With a knack for being caught up in big events and emerging unscathed despite some hairy adventures (and scandal, usually involving some local wench) he appears to have been a Roman version of Blackadder and Flashman combined. Cerealis was in Britain when Boudicca's revolt erupted (60 or 61 AD) and marched to confront her. He lost most of his force but narrowly escaped with his own skin intact. In 69 AD, the infamously tumultuous ' year of the four emperors', he was in Rome, the seat of conspiracy. When his uncle, none other than Vespasian, decided to make his own bid for the imperial purple (he was to become the fourth emperor that year), Cerealis' life was at risk of being killed as a traitor and had to escape from the city to join his uncle who was marching to force his way in. A short while later he was commanding a force on the Rhine when the Batavian mutiny broke out. This time he only escaped death because he was in bed with a local girl rather than in his own tent. And so it goes on...'Imperial General is both a fascinating insight into the life of an imperial Roman officer during the period of the Principate, and a rollicking good tale told in Philip Matyszak's trademark lively style.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Pen & Sword Military (21 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848841191
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848841192
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 651,552 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an interesting book on an ambitious topic: what did it mean to be an Imperial General in the first century AD. The author, within some 175 pages (not counting the notes or bibliography) seeks to present what this meant at the time through the career of Petilius Cerealis between about AD 40 to AD 74. The book is mostly well written and engaging, although there are a number of problems, probably mostly because the author seems to have constrained by size requirements.

The first chapter is problematic in trying to summarize in less than 20 pages over 500 years of "Roman" generalship from Romulus (without acknowledging that he is more than likely to have been a legendary character) to Pompey, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Agrippa. In many cases, the achievements of some of the generals of the Early Republic are limited to a three-to-five line summary. The second chapter is about the First Imperial generals, with summaries of the careers of Drusus (the Elder), Germanicus, Varus and Corbulo, but, oddly enough, Tiberius does not seem to be worth a summary on his own. The third chapter is mainly a summary about the conquest of Britain and the Boudicca rebellion just as much as it is about Petilius Cerialis' "achievements" (how he lost half his legion, and almost his life, in trying single-handed to stop the rebellion).

Part 3, is an account of the Year of the Four Emperors over some 60 pages or about a third of the book. It is a nice and well told summary of the main events with, almost as an aside, a good presentation of the main generals on either side and some interesting glimpses into their characters. However, there is very little on Petilius Cerialis himself because he was trapped in Rome and then hiding in the countryside.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The perfect companion to this interesting work is THE ROMA VICTRIX WINE BEAKERCalix Imperium, Roma Victrix Pewter wine beaker
A great deal is known about the Roman commanders of the Republic and the civil wars that brought Augustus to the Imperial throne, but after that period most Imperial generals are rather obscure figures, with most military glory going to the Emperor himself.

This book looks at the life and times of Petellius Cerialis, an Imperial general who first appears during the reign of Nero. He was a member of a distinguished family that had provided the Republic with consuls, but had been born into the Empire. He was not a part of the Imperial family at the start of his career, but was related to Vespasian, both by direct family connections and by marriage to Vespasian's daughter (before Vespasian was even a candidate for the throne).

Cerialis is well documented partly because of his family relationships and partly because he took part in two famous conflicts - first the revolt of Boudicca in Britain and then the civil war of 69 AD (the year of the four emperors) and the war on the Rhine triggered by the apparent weakness of Rome.

The author combines a biography of Cerialis with a history of his times and of the development of the Roman general, from the aristocratic amateur of the Republic to the dangerous rival of the Imperial age. The civil war of 69 AD is also covered in some detail, despite Cerialis's fairly minor role in the fighting.

Cerialis comes across as a rather impetuous character, but also as an able general and surprisingly capable administrator.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly enjoyable 3 Mar 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In some respects I sightly agree with the above review that there is not enough about Cerealis but that is not the fault of the author there just is not enough in the sources. However I found the book to be a great roller coaster ride of the end of the julio-claudian dynasty and the Flavian dynasty. The coverage of the year of the four emperors was especially good. This author of this book and the others he has written manages the difficult task of bringing ancient history to life In the fine balance of being detailed enough to interest people like my self who read a lot of ancient history but still keep it interesting and not to scholarly. Looking forward to his next book
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Readable 3 Dec 2012
Whilst I agree with the comments made by JPS in his review I do feel giving this book only 3 stars is a little harsh.

Matyszak is a very clear writer with an engaging style. He covers the confusing events of AD69 and the rebellion of Civilis with great clarity. I am interested in this period of history but am not an expert. I doubt that there is much known about Petellius Cerialis that is not included in this book. Given this limitation and the enjoyment I derived from reading it I believe it merits a 5 star recommendation.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Minor irritations 10 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I am about half way through this and have just got used to the fact that the cover advertises this to be about a well-known Roman Quintus Petillius Cerialis, but the but text is about some individual Petellius Cerialis. The text is adequate but very poorly referenced and is history as simple story rather than a more academic history. There are other minor irritations showing poor control of material/editing: Cassivelaunus becomes Cassiavelaunus, and Marcus Aurelius (died AD 180) takes the blame for Aurelian's defeat in AD 271 by the "Alamanni" (more commonly known as the Alemanni). If the reader can cope with such matters, then enjoy a quick canter through a sort of biography of Cerialis.
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