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- Language: English
- ASIN: B00P9UPB8C
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Terror Gallicus (Brennus ~ Conqueror of Rome Book 1) Kindle Edition
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Another reason for finding this book both interesting and original is that the time is set at the very beginning of the fourth century BC. At that time, Rome was no longer a small city, although it was not yet either the largest or the more powerful in the Mediterranean and it had not yet conquered and federated Italy around it. It had, however, managed to do so with the various Latin tribes and was beginning to gain ascendancy on the Etruscans, as reflected in the book where the destruction of the Etruscan city of Veii which was very close to Rome is alluded to and mentioned a couple of times.
A further reason for reading this book is that, as the author shows very well through his book and in his historical note, the Celts were not exactly (meaning not at all) the “Barbarians” that the Greeks and then the Romans portrayed them to be. In fact, most of their armament was borrowed and/or improved upon by the Romans after their defeat, whether the shields, the helmets, the daggers, the swords, the helmets and, last but not least, chain mail armour which the Celts seem to have introduced to both Italy and Greece. They also dominated much of central Europe and moved West and South to invade and settle Gaul, modern Lombardy, Spain and, of course, both Britain and Ireland.
By the time this novel begins, with the turn of the century – the prologue is in Britain in 401 BC but the story begins a decade latter – most of the large and powerful tribe of the Senons which had settled in modern Burgundy (around Sens which still bears a name related to them) decides to migrate to Italy. This could have been one of the only weak points of the book. This is because the author never really gets to explain what drove a large part (but not all) of the tribe to migrate, and to go so far. There may be at least two reasons, with one being population pressure - with too little land to feed a growing population - and another being the pressure exercised by the Germanic tribes, and the various Belgae ones in particular. The emergence of a charismatic leader – Brennus – who would be bent on conquest and seeking glory could be a third one and, of course, all of these reasons may have played a role. In fact, the author alludes at various points of the book to all three reasons. He does indicate that part of the tribe remained in Gaul and that alliances with neighbours were strengthened and renewed before the trek began. He also has his characters mention that they were seeking land in Italy to settle upon, suggesting that overpopulation in Gaul could underpin the migration. However, he also shows that the migration may have had something to do with Brennus’ ambitions and his need to cement his recent leadership through war and distribution of plunder to his warriors. He however also hints at less than peaceful relations with at least some of the Belgae tribes further north.
A further feature which I found valuable was the power plays among the Senon tribe and the various clans that make it up. These include some rather exciting and cut-throat (almost literally) intrigues which I will refrain from mentioning to avoid spoilers. This factionalism also illustrates the lack of clear succession rules, something that was perhaps one of the main weaknesses of Celtic tribes (and German ones) and which goes some way to explain Rome’s future victories and conquests once it started to play “divide and rule” both between and within tribes.
While this migration is taking place, the reader is also treated to the parallel life of a female apprentice and future druidess in Britain. The druids of the Senons also make an appearance and the developments on druidic religion (or perhaps druidic religions?) were also of great interest to me. Readers that are familiar with and enjoyed Manda Scott’s Boudicca trilogy may come across some similar themes, such as the importance of dreams, although they are treated somewhat differently. Since we know very little on druids, and what little we know mostly comes from the Romans, and largely from Caesar who tended to paint a rather negative picture of his adversaries, the author’s descriptions and choices may be no more than interpretations based on analogies. Whether the case or not, I could not help finding them quite plausible and convincing – more convincing anyway that the rather biased portraits given by the Romans.
Another great set of features are those related to the early Romans. One is to show – through the Fabii – the arrogance of the Roman Patricians but also their own internal conflicts, with the rivalries between them and Camillus being clearly displayed. Another is to show that this arrogance was also coupled with ignorance, and a strong tendency to underestimate the martial qualities of the Celtic force, and the quality of its cavalry or the ferocity of its warriors and their ability for executing a rather complex battle plan when commanded by charismatic leaders.
Another great feature is the contrast drawn between the relatively rigid hoplite and phalanx style of warfare and battle line and the more flexible and open order of the Celts. The two victories of the later are attributed by the author to their tactical superiority, higher morale and better general ship, with a couple of rather interesting and plausible ploys. Here again, the author’s choices are both interesting and help in making the story more realistic instead of attributing the Celts’ victories to sheer superiority in numbers, as the Romans tended to do at times when trying to explain away their lack of success. The Senon tribe – or at least those that migrated - is mentioned as being eighty thousand strong. The number is quite plausible, especially when compared to that of the Vandals and Alans that crossed from Spain into Roman Africa centuries later towards the very end of the Roman Empire.
Then there is the storyline itself and the characterisation. Both are good, and I will be briefer here if only because these have already been covered by other reviewers (on the UK site at least). The story itself is fast-paced and exciting. The planning of the expedition, the accumulation of food reserves and the alliances struck to this effect with the Allobroges, in particular, may be fiction introduced by the author. Here again, however, they are eminently plausible and both Hannibal and Caesar would also attempt the same with various degrees of success (in particular the alliances).
Since the Celtic Senons are clearly not shown as a disorganised rabble and their leaders were neither incompetent nor careless, there is no reason to believe that they would not have contemplated and taken similar steps because these were crucial to the success of the expedition. The crossing of the Alps, and all the hardships involved, are dealt with briefly but clearly. The crossing of the Po Valley by the Senons could perhaps have been developed a bit more. In particular, the reasons for the Senons not to settle in the very fertile Po Valley but continue on south to Picenum (modern region of the Marches) are not explained.
The three main Gallic characters mature during the novel, in particular the druidess from the Trinobantes and the young Senon warlord. All three are well drawn, although the young warlord’s friend, a Celtic warrior from Britain, is perhaps a bit weaker than the two others. The duels between champions and the ritualistic offers for such duels to take place before pitched battles, and sometimes to avoid such battles from decimating both sides, were not specifically Celtic. Similar “heroic” behaviour could be found in most warrior societies both before (the Greeks and Romans of the Early Iron Age) and after down to the end of the Roman Empire and the Early Byzantines (you find some such duels in Procopius just before the battle of Dara in AD 530). Perhaps one of the best characters (or at least my personal favourite) is the ruthless, charismatic, unscrupulous, cynical strong and cunning Brennus. The author has included a little touch of mystery to him because, in the novel at least, his origins are largely unknown although he seems to have fought in the East before joining the Senons.
Finally, for those who may “want more” and/or are looking for “companion books” to look a few things up or learn more about the early Roman period and the associated events, I can recommend three books. One is the Osprey title “Early Roman Warrior 753-321 BC”, with one of the plates being specifically on the battle of the Allia (one of the key parts of the follow-up book from CR May). Another is a piece of scholarship and reference by T.J. Cornell on “The Beginnings of Rome” (and chapter 12 in particular). For those specifically interested in the early developments of the Roman army, LGF Keppie’s “The Making of the Roman Army” is still very useful. Five stars, and I am somewhat( impatiently waiting for volume 2 which I have, of course, already ordered.
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