Book Review: IMPERIAL GENERAL: The Remarkable Career of Petellius Cerialis


by Philip Matyszak

Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword/Philadelphia: Casemate, 2012. Pp. xiv, 188. Illus., maps, notes, biblio, index. $39.95. ISBN: 1848841191

Matyszak, among the most prolific and innovative modern classicists, uses his deep knowledge of Roman history and literature to reconstruct the life and career of one of the most successful Roman commanders of the mid-First Century,  Quintus Petellius Cerialis (c. A.D. 30->83).

Naturally, as with all figures in ancient history, sources on Cerialis are sparse, certainly not enough to make for a proper biography.  But by drawing upon existing accounts of events in which Cerialis took part, and drawing parallels with what is known about the education and careers typical of senatorial figures in the period, Matyszak is able to give us a fair idea of the arc of the man’s life.  This included serving in the suppression of Boudicca’s rebellion in Britain (AD 60-61) and the “Year of the Four Emperors” (69) (during which Cerialis escaped imprisonment to lead his kinsman Vespasian’s cavalry), command in the suppression of the
Batavian Rebellion (69-70), and a highly successful tour as governor of Britain, and at least two consulships.  Then, like all but the most famous of ancient figures, Cerialis vanishes from the historical record.  While reconstructing the general’s career, Matyszak uses Cerialis’ life to cast light on intricacies of Roman political, military, social, and imperial institutions during the early Empire. 

Imperial General  is entertaining and interesting for the casual reader, and yet highly informative for even the seasoned student of Roman history.

[Onomastic Note: 'Petellius' is often also rendered as 'Petillius']
Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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