A Brief History
On December 8, 2022, we take the opportunity to review a new book by Stephen Dando-Collins, an author we have become familiar with through previous reviews. This latest work, Rebels Against Rome, sub-titled 400 Years of Rebellions against the Rule of Rome, is another winner in our estimation, excellently written in a manner easy and pleasing for academics and casual readers of history alike.
Dando-Collins, an Australian, does not get bogged down in incessant citing of sources and references often found in more academic treatments, instead relying on end notes for citations, a method we find quite suitable for this book.
Some takeaways from the text that strike this reviewer include the incredible number of “rebellions” against Imperial Rome, which include both foreign uprisings and domestic coup attempts and power grabs, sometimes in the context of a contested succession and other times for a myriad of other reasons. The convoluted nature of Roman politics and political relations is laid out with a dizzying array of changes of loyalties and alliances, sometimes met with cruel and swift retribution while other times treated as though such treachery was no major impediment to restored relations.
The propensity of Roman political violence includes Julius Caesar cutting off the hands of those seen by him as traitors, as well as a reported one million Gauls killed by Caesar over his tenure in that province of Rome. Beheadings, crucifixions, garroting, and other tortures and executions were common throughout these 400 years of Roman upheaval, though again, some cases of surprising leniency also took place, with defeated rebels being allowed to live lives of a sort of luxurious house arrest. Massacres were also common on both sides of the wars, both due to military blunders and bloodthirsty retribution.
Another notable facet of this history of insurrection against Rome is that there were so many incidents of trying to break away from Roman rule, attempts to seize power over the Roman government, and general bad behavior, that often times multiple rebellions were taking place at the same time, overlapping each other in what must have been a maddening series of crises for Roman leadership.
Speaking of Roman leadership, being “Caesar” or “Emperor” was no guarantee of safety and longevity, as evidenced by the fact that of the 12 First Century AD Roman emperors, 8 died by either suicide or murder, and only 4 by old age or illness. Those friends and families of emperors and other high officials also suffered from a disturbing propensity to die by violent means or by the suspected use of poison.
Reading Rebels Against Rome was a pleasure, much like reading a good novel. Some chapters were quite brief, as were the actual “rebellions” covered in those chapters, while other events drew much more detail. No attempt was made by the author to create supposed dialog between historical characters, as in this book he stuck to reporting the events and historical accounts. In any case, it works. The book is enjoyable and we can highly recommend it for those interested in the events of the late Roman Empire, a fascinating subject of great importance to the Western World that reverberates through time to this day. Enjoy.
Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite book or movie about the Roman Empire? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Baker, Simon. Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. BBC Digital, 2010.
Dando-Collins, Stephen. Rebels Against Rome: 400 Years of Rebellions against the Rule of Rome. Turner, 2023.
The featured image in this article, a map by historicair of the Roman Empire around the year of the consulship of Aurelianus and Bassus (271 AD), with the break away Gallic Empire in the West and the Palmyrene Empire in the East, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.