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Viriathus: And the Lusitanian Resistance to Rome 155-139 BC [Hardcover]

Luis Silva
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: 19.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

30 July 2013
In the middle years of the second century BC, Rome was engaged in the conquest and pacification of what is now Spain and Portugal. They met with determined resistance from several tribes but nobody defied them with more determination and skill than Viriathus. Apparently of humble birth, he emerged as a leader after the treacherous massacre of the existing tribal chieftains and soon proved himself a gifted and audacious commander. Relying on hit and run guerrilla tactics, he inflicted repeated humiliating reverses upon the theoretically superior Roman forces, uniting a number of tribes in resistance to the invader and stalling their efforts at conquest and pacification for eight years. Still unbeaten in the field, he was only overcome when the Romans resorted to bribing some of his own men to assassinate him (though they reneged on the agreed payment, claiming they did not reward traitors!). Though renowned in his day Viriathus has been neglected by modern historians, a travesty that Luis Silva puts right in this thoroughly researched and accessible account. Portuguese by birth, the author draws on Portuguese research and perspectives that will be refreshing to English-language scholars and his own military experience also informs his analysis of events. What emerges is a stirring account of defiance, heroic resistance against the odds and, ultimately, treachery and tragedy.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pen & Sword Military (30 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781591288
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781591284
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 16.5 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 686,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Luis Silva was born in Portugal and served in the Portuguese Army and then the French Foreign Legion before moving to the USA in 2000. He is now serving in the US Army. He has a broad interest in military history and particularly of the ancient period. Although this will be his first book, he has previously penned a number of magazine articles on military history subjects.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By JPS TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an interesting book on a topic that is often little-known outside of Spain and Portugal: the conquest of Iberia by Rome (or, as the Romans would have had it, its "pacification") after having won the Second Punic War. More narrowly, the book deals with the difficult wars that Rome had to wage to put an end to the devastating raids of the mountain tribes of the West and North West of the peninsula against the richer and settled cities located on the coasts, the plains and the valleys controlled by the Romans. Even more specifically, it is about "Viriathus", who, for about a decade, fought successfully against Rome before being murdered at the Romans' instigation.

Unfortunately, despite this interesting topic and the author's in-depth research, the book is problematic in two main ways. Perhaps the worst of the two is a lack of any decent editing. This feature, which tends to be common to quite a few of Pen & Sword publications, is even more critical in this volume to the extent that the author is not writing in his native language. So you get a fair amount of endless sentences, non-English sentence structures, inadequate terms and a large number of repetitions. The latter are perhaps the worse feature, because you get (or at least I got) the impression that the author is somewhat belabouring the points he is trying to make. These inadequacies and repetitions can also, at times, somewhat confuse the reader.

Another consequence of the lack of editing is that the book is not as interesting as it could have been. The first part of the book, and the first fifty pages, in particular, is almost boring to read and rather dry as the author essentially paraphrases Titus-Livius.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Viriathus 27 Sep 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This took a long time to get hold of from Amazon, but when it finally arrived it was worth the wait. Much of the content could be found in the primary texts on the subject but there was some archaeological input that added some interesting facets to the interpretation. It is a historically self conscious book that reflects upon the tradition within which it takes its place and looks forward to future revisions of many of its preliminary findings.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Valiant and interesting effort, but only partly successful 29 Sep 2013
By JPS - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is an interesting book on a topic that is often little-known outside of Spain and Portugal: the conquest of Iberia by Rome (or, as the Romans would have had it, its "pacification") after having won the Second Punic War. More narrowly, the book deals with the difficult wars that Rome had to wage to put an end to the devastating raids of the mountain tribes of the West and North West of the peninsula against the richer and settled cities located on the coasts, the plains and the valleys controlled by the Romans. Even more specifically, it is about "Viriathus", who, for about a decade, fought successfully against Rome before being murdered at the Romans' instigation.

Unfortunately, despite this interesting topic and the author's in-depth research, the book is problematic in two main ways. Perhaps the worst of the two is a lack of any decent editing. This feature, which tends to be common to quite a few of Pen & Sword publications, is even more critical in this volume to the extent that the author is not writing in his native language. So you get a fair amount of endless sentences, non-English sentence structures, inadequate terms and a large number of repetitions. The latter are perhaps the worse feature, because you get (or at least I got) the impression that the author is somewhat belabouring the points he is trying to make. These inadequacies and repetitions can also, at times, somewhat confuse the reader.

Another consequence of the lack of editing is that the book is not as interesting as it could have been. The first part of the book, and the first fifty pages, in particular, is almost boring to read and rather dry as the author essentially paraphrases Titus-Livius. So you get a rather endless series of campaigns and battles - almost all Roman victories as can be expected from Titus-Livius - with high numbers of "barbarians" killed or captured, and sometimes ridiculously low casualties on the Roman side. None of these campaigns and battles are discussed or analysed.

A further consequence, which also relates to the author's choice to focus on the "Lusitanian resistance to Rome", is that while the First Celtiberian War gets a full chapter, to the extent the it is a bit of a prequel to the story, the second war, which takes place at around the same time as Viriathus' struggle against Rome, is mentioned only in passing. In particular, the inter-play between the two conflicts - or the lack of inter-play, as the case may be - is hardly explained, although the author does mention the numerous "non-Lusitanians" (including Celtiberians) which fought in the forces of Viriathus against the Romans.

A further difficulty is that Viariathus has become a legendary hero in both Spain and Portugal, and was already shown up as an "exempla" of a highly moral character by authors in Antiquity writing several centuries latter under the Romans. Interestingly, these are mostly Greek authors, such as Diodoros and Appian, rather than Romans. Finally, the historical character became a "national hero" in both Spain and Portugal from the 16th century onwards, and even more so when both countries' regime were dictatorial during the 20th century. All this is shown rather well by the author, especially in the last section of his book.

Unfortunately, Luis Silva, while aware of all of these difficulties, flaws and biaises, seems to fall for them to some extent. This is where the story-telling gets rather slanted and sometimes potentially misleading. It also becomes even a bit nave and anachronistic to some extent, and riddled with (at least apparent) contradictions. The author makes some excellent points, such as Viriathus' talent in using the terrain and leading a large-scale and successful guerrilla warfare which allowed him to defeat time and time again Roman forces unaccustomed to such warfare and outmanoeuvred by his fast-marching and lightly equipped troops. However, he then portrays Viriathus (but neither his three predecessors, nor his successors) as some kind of "hero" in some kind of "national resistance" against the Romans, while simultaneously showing that raiding of the (Roman-occupied or allied) lowland cities by war bands from the mountains was the "way of life" of these mountain tribes which lacked sufficient fertile lands to make a living. While this does not exactly make Viriathus into a bandit chief, it is certainly hard to see him as a "hero" struggling for "freedom" against "Roman opression". Although there is no denying the later, Viriathus' motivations seem to have been more mixed than the author cares to admit.

More importantly perhaps is the author's misperception of Rome's ambitions and drive when he gives the impression that Viriathus could have won in the long-run. As Luis Silva also mentions (another of his contradictions), Rome never accepted anything than peace on its own terms. This generally meant the unconditional surrender of the enemy or, for allies, a kind of vassal status that, with time, would lead to absorption. Rome had never accepted peace after having been defeated, unless forced to, and, in such cases, the so-called "peace" would be no more than the breathing space needed to regroup, reorganize and start the war afresh until final victory.

While carping on the theme of Rome's oligarchic, ambitious, competitive and greedy Senators, the author tends to forget the Roman ideology of victory underpinning (and justifying) these behaviours. The expansion of Republican (and imperialistic) Rome (and Imperial Rome to a large extent) was driven by this ideology of victory, meaning that predatory Rome could only be victorious and that war would continue until it could declare victory. Simply put, and just like the Samnites, Pyrrhus or Hannibal had discovered to their cost before, Rome could simply not accept anything else than peace on its own terms, which meant victory for her, and a clear defeat of the enemy. It also had the means to carry out these conquests as it was able to harness and mobilise the whole demographic potential of Italy from the third century onwards. If Viriathus ever believed he could win, as the author suggests, then he was rather delusional and underestimated his enemy at least as much as the Romans may have (initially) underestimated him.

A related point that the author does not make clearly is that regardless of their ideology, the Romans simply could not let Viriathus and his army of raiders get away with it and carry on. In part, this was because Rome needed to be seen as protecting its allies. To the extent that Rome had taken over the lucrative territory and mines exploited by Carthage, which both Pompey and Caesar would use to build up their respective power bases in the near future, it could simply not accept to see them disrupted by mountaineer raiders.

The parallel with Pyrrhus and Hannibal, which the author never makes, can even be prolonged. Both were deemed to be exceptional commanders and rightly feared by the Romans. So was Viriathus, it seems. All three, however, were finally vanquished by a more relentless enemy capable of sending one army after another against them. While not explaining to what extent Viriathus' war with Rome was ultimately doomed to failure, the author in a number of instances comes very close to admitting it, in particular when trying to explain the reasons for the "Lusitanian" warlord to seek peace and spare a Roman army that he had trapped and cornered. Just like the Caudine Forks and the Samnites before, such a peace would not last because it was clearly unacceptable for the Romans. In the case of Viriathus, and as with their previous ennemies, the Romans clearly seem to have learned their lesson overtime. In the case of Viriathus, they used subversion and assassinated the gifted and charismatic leader instead of their more usual military aggressions that had not worked as well as expected.

Finally, the last but one section of the book which is about Romanization is also worth commenting on. The section is one of the better ones except for the fact that it fails to draw parallels with Romanization in other conquered territories in Western Europe, including Italy itself and Cisalpine Gaul, which was finally subdued by the Romans as a result of the Second Punic War. To be fair, however, the discussion of the Roman techniques of "Romanizing" the cities and the elites, of introducing Roman and Latin landholders made of veterans, whether from Italy or whether local auxiliaries, and colonists alongside the local populations, partly reduced to slavery and largely disposed of their lands, is rather good. The other just fails to mention that these techniques were carried over from Italy and gives the impression that they were originated in Spain.

Three stars for a relatively good book but which could have been better if it had benefited from adequate editing...
5.0 out of 5 stars History is the best 11 May 2014
By Luiggi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Great books great service. History books rock.
Expanding my history collection, in particular my Rome collection. I will keep looking.
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