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Customer Review

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting book - with flaws, 19 Mar. 2012
This review is from: The Frontiers of Imperial Rome (Hardcover)
David J. Breeze is an Honorary Professor at the universities of Durham, Edinburgh and Newcastle. He is the author of several books about Roman history, including Hadrian's Wall (Penguin History) (with Brian Dobson, 4th edition, 2000) and The Antonine Wall (2006).

His book about the frontiers of imperial Rome is based on ancient literary sources, archaeological objects and modern scholarship. The text is divided into three major parts. Here is a brief overview:

* Part I: Sources - chapters 1-6
* Part II: The Frontiers - chapters 7-13
* Part III: Interpretation - chapters 14- 20

At the end of the book we find the following five items: Conclusions - Further Reading - Sites to See - Notes - Index.

The illustrations are numerous and well-chosen. There are 48 black-and-white illustrations (maps and drawings). In addition, there are 28 plates with photos printed on special paper in the middle of the book. Most photos are in colour.

In the introduction the author explains what his book is about: "The vital questions at the heart of this book are therefore: how did Roman frontiers operate and what were their purpose and role?"

He adds that his book is not about Roman emperors, not about Roman foreign policy, and not about the Roman army: "The focus is firmly on the frontier installations themselves."

He hopes his readers will be encouraged to visit some of the sites mentioned in the book: "The remains of Roman frontiers are best seen and understood in their topographical settings even though these have been modified over the last 2,000 years."

I agree with him. You may learn a lot from a book about an ancient site. But you will learn more, if you combine the reading with a visit to the site.

I like this book. I like the systematic approach and the helpful illustrations. It is interesting, but there are many flaws. For reasons of space I can only mention some of them here:

(1) The author has a problem with the first Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire: on page 18 he refers to "the Jewish War of 68-70." But on page 146 he talks about "the Jewish War of 66-73."

(2) The author has a problem with the Batavian Revolt, which was led by Julius Civilis: on page 25 it is placed "in the late 60s." On page 92 he talks about "the revolt of Civilis 69/70." On page 95 he says it broke out 69/70. On page 189 he gives only one year: 70. But on page 207 it is extended: 69-71.

(3) The author has a problem with the Dacian wars: on page 103 we are told they took place in 101-102 and 105-106, which is correct. But on page 84 he says they took place in 101-103 and 105-106.

(4) The author has a problem with Valerian: on page xvi we are told he ruled 253-259, but Valerian ruled until he was captured in 260, and the author knows it. On page 120 he writes: "The Emperor Valerian was captured in 260."

(5) The author has a problem with Hadrian's Wall: two times (pp. 4 and 62) he claims the wall was 130 km, which is not true. On page 62 he says it was 80 Roman miles, which is true. Since 1 Roman mile = 1.476 km, it follows that the wall was 118 km. On page 4 he says it was 74 miles, which is true. But the figure 130 km is still wrong. Later (page 105) he claims 130 km = 80 miles, which is not true either, because 130 km = 81 miles.

(6) The author has a problem with the Antonine Wall: two times (pp. 4 and 71) we are told the Antonine Wall was half as long as Hadrian's Wall, which is true. On page 71 he says it was 40 Roman miles, which is true. By his own logic, he should claim it was 65 km (half of 130 km), but he does not. He says it was 60 km, which is not true either. It was 59 km (half of 118 km).

(7) The author has a problem with the Battle of Mons Graupius: on pp. 144 and 182 we are told it took place in 83. But on page 148 he says it took place in 84. The date of this battle is uncertain. It happened in 83 or 84.

(8) At the end of the book Breeze discusses the purpose of the Roman frontiers and the frontier installations. On page 205 he sums up by giving three answers. The purpose was to:

* Defend the empire against large scale attacks
* Prevent small-scale raids
* Control the movement of people and goods

John C. Mann and others have suggested that Hadrian's Wall was a symbol of power built to impress and intimidate the people on the other side of the border. Ramesses II of Egypt made a similar statement when he built his famous rock temples at Abu Simbel. Mann is quoted on page 204. In my opinion, his interpretation makes sense. Breeze admits (on page 210) that the wall is "larger and grander than what was strictly necessary," but having said this he still rejects Mann's idea: "Roman frontiers had a purpose more related to practical considerations than symbolism."

The British scholar Simon James believes an important reason for building Hadrian's Wall was to keep the soldiers busy and to keep them out of trouble for a while [see his book Rome & the Sword: How Warriors & Weapons Shaped Roman History pp. 159 and 170]. In my opinion, this suggestion is highly credible, but it is not considered - not even mentioned - by Breeze.

I have informed the publisher about the flaws. I hope they will not be repeated, if there is a second edition or a paperback version of the book.
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