Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
on 29 November 2012
I was a bit surprised by the two types of - not necessarily consistent - criticism that this Osprey title has attracted. In my view, it is one of the better ones in the ever expanding collection of titles.
The first criticism, found on Amazon.co.uk, was to take this little volume and its author to task because it is "academic". It is, but then these titles are meant to be about a historical campaign and I have never expected them to read like historical novels. That does not seem to the intention of the collection and it is probably not what they are supposed to be. In addition, the criticism of being "academic" seems somewhat harsh and perhaps a bit unfair. I am not quite sure that readers would find many pictures of re-enactors in Roman arms and armour in a so-called "academic" book on the Roman Army, for instance.
The second criticism, this time to be found in reviews on Amazon.com, was to say that "there was nothing new" in the book or that there was lots of padding. These two are perhaps even more unfair.
It is rather difficult, not to say quite impossible, to write something about the Boudicca rebellion without, beforehand, providing context. This is something that all Osprey campaign titles do, or, to be accurate, all of the ones that I have read (meaning several dozen although I stopped counting a long time ago). So, unsurprisingly, the reader will get treated to a summary of the first contacts with the Romans, of the Roman invasion, of the conquest and of the Romans in Britain from AD 43 onwards.
There may be a point about the padding however. The introduction and the last section of the book contain what I would rather have put under the broad term of "general considerations and generalities" on war (in the introduction) and on "lost causes" that become legends. If this is what is alluded to, then I definitely agree. This is a bit of a problem because it does not seem to add much to the book. It even feels somewhat lame and unnecessary and it could easily have been avoided.
I cannot agree, however, with those that criticise an Osprey title because it provides "nothing new". Few (meaning "none to my knowledge") Osprey Campaign titles do, partly because of their limited format and partly because this does not seem to be their objective anyway. Rather, they are meant to present in an entertaining but concise and affordable format a comprehensive summary of a historical campaign. Besides, the topic itself - the Boudicca rebellion - is anything but original: dozens of "academic" books and articles have been published on this event and perhaps as many novels. Being original while writing a piece of history in a way that is very concise, entertaining and accessible to all therefore becomes something like "Mission Impossible" and it is not even the intention to begin with.
Despite the first couple of pages and parts of the last section, I found that this was a good and solid title. I was perhaps not among the very best, but it ticked most of my boxes. You do get a rather good explanation of the causes of the rebellion, both in the section on "A tale of two communities" and in the section on the storming of Coldchester-Camulodunum (where you are treated with a nice presentation of the coloniae, of their functions, and how they were generally founded. The land was grabbed by the victors from the vanquished and given to the veteran legionaries as they retired. Unsurprisingly, the surviving locals did not appreciate too much. The sections on opposing commanders, armies and plans are also standard. Not stellar perhaps, but good and containing probably all of the main elements that a reader with little or no previous background in the period needs to know to fully understand the campaign itself. The destruction of the three main Roman settlements are then presented one after the other in chronological order, followed by what was happening with the main Roman force fighting off in Wales and busy conquering Mona- Anglesey. It is only after this (as of page 66) that we get to the main battle and the crushing Roman victory, the victory of methodical and ruthless order and discipline against a much higher number of "rebels" (according to the Romans, of course) who lacked discipline and over which the same kind of control could simply not be exercised by the Iceni Queen.
There is perhaps one thing that could be a bit of a problem, although it was difficult to nail down. The impression I got when reading the piece on the battle was that the Britons did not stand a chance. It is purely subjective, but it made me wonder. To some extent, Boudicca seems to have been completely out-generalled. She was forced to fight on a battlefield chosen by her enemy and under conditions that negated almost all of her advantages, in particular the advantage in numbers. The fight, however, seems to have bitter, hard and possibly quite long. It does not seem to have been a walk-over for the Romans although the book, at times, did give me this impression.
On top of all this, the reader is treated to a rather nice collection of plates. Some - the last stand of the veterans in Claudius' temple at Camulodunum and the ambush and destruction of Cerialis' detachment of the 9th Legion Hispana - were particularly good. The first of the two and the photos of the skulls found during excavations at that colony were somewhat original, for me at least. So, worth four stars, but not five.