Book Review: The Sword of Rome: A Biography of Marcus Claudius Marcellus


by Jeremiah McCall

Barnsley, S. York.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia.: Casemate, 2012. Pp. xvi, 150. Maps, diagr., notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 978-1-84884-379-0

The life and times of one of Rome’s greatest and most forgotten generals.

The Roman Republicn politician and general Marcus Claudius Marcellus  (c. 268–208 BC) had the rare distinction of holding the consulate five times, commanded in 35 battles (a total exceeded only by Caesar’s 50), is the only historical figure known to have won the prestigious Spolia opima for single combat , and was killed in action against the Carthaginians at age 60 in the Second Punic War (218-201 BC).  In his times a man so respected that he was accorded a honorable funeral by his greatest foe, Hannibal, in later ages Marcellus was largely forgotten, eclipsed by Scipio Africanus, the ultimate victor over Hannibal and the grandfather of Scipio Aemilianus, conqueror of Carthage and the patron of the historian Polybius.  To further burnish the reputation of his patron, Polybius more or less short-changed Marcellus in his famous history of the Punic Wars. 

In this first modern biography of Marcellus, classicist and wargamer McCall has produced a carefully researched, very readable account of the man’s life and career, fitting him within his times.  Roman political and military institutions are discussed, as are the diplomatic and strategic environment, and the dynamics of battle in Marcellus’ times.  The book thus gived us not only a look at the man's life but considerable insights into the society in which he lived.

The Sword of Rome is a valuable contribution to the literature on Roman generalship and on military leadership.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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