Book Review: Defying Rome: The Rebels of Roman Britain

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by Guy de la Bedoyere

Stroud, Glouc: Tempus/Chicago: Independent Publishers Group, 2007. Pp. 224. Illus, maps, chron., biblio., index. $32.95 paper. ISBN: 0-7524-4440-9

In Defying Rome, the prolific, multi-talented, British archaeologist and historian Guy de la Bedoyere, author of such works as Roman Britain: A New History(2010) and The Letters of Samuel Pepys (2009), among many others, gives us an amusing, and generally quite interesting look at all sorts of "rebels" who popped up in Roman Britain over four centuries.  This includes not only native Britons, such as Caratacus and Boudica, but also Roman usurpers, such as Clodius Albinus and Carausius, miscellaneous dissenters and reformers, such as St. Albans and Pelagius, and a few more, who are less easy to classify. 

De la Bedoyere not only discusses the "whys" behind the actions these men and women took to "defy" Rome, but in the process throws a good deal of light on contemporary social, cultural, religious, and political developments, often with a subtly humorous touch. In addition, he takes a look at how their actions were perceived and explained by Roman scholars and historians, and by later generations. For example, he notes that most of the "patriotic" Britannic leaders, such as Caratacus and Boudica, would be wholly unknown if Roman historians had not made much of their actions.  This, he explains, is not only because the Romans wanted to show how futile rebellion was, but also because some Romans chose to use their actions to chastise their fellow Romans.  The case of Boudica's rebellion is a good example of how De la Bedoyere works.  After showing how Tacitus portrayed her rebellion as a consequence of Roman decadence and misrule, he goes on to discuss how the story of the wronged Queen of the Iceni has been appropriated and elaborated from what amounts to a few paragraphs, the only evidence that she ever existed, by modern British nationalists for their own purposes, with the result that most of what is "known" about her and her rebellion, is largely fictional. 

There's much more, of course, which makes Defying Rome not only a good book for anyone interested in ancient history, but also in the uses and misuses of history. 

 

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   


Buy it at Amazon.com




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