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Imperial General (Hardback)

The Remarkable Career of Petellius Cerialis

Ancient History Military Biography Rome

Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 256
ISBN: 9781848841192
Published: 5th December 2011



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Petilius Cerealis is one of the few Imperial Roman officers, below the level of Emperor, whose career it is possible to follow in sufficient detail to write a coherent biography. Fortunately his career was a remarkably eventful and colourful one. With a knack for being caught up in big events and emerging unscathed despite some hairy adventures (and scandal, usually involving some local wench) he appears to have been a Roman version of Blackadder and Flashman combined.

Cerealis was in Britain when Boudicca's revolt erupted (60 or 61 AD) and marched to confront her. He lost most of his force but narrowly escaped with his own skin intact. In 69 AD, the infamously tumultuous ' year of the four emperors', he was in Rome, the seat of conspiracy. When his uncle, none other than Vespasian, decided to make his own bid for the imperial purple (he was to become the fourth emperor that year), Cerealis' life was at risk of being killed as a traitor and had to escape from the city to join his uncle who was marching to force his way in. A short while later he was commanding a force on the Rhine when the Batavian mutiny broke out. This time he only escaped death because he was in bed with a local girl rather than in his own tent. And so it goes on...

'Imperial General is both a fascinating insight into the life of an imperial Roman officer during the period of the Principate, and a rollicking good tale told in Philip Matyszak's trademark lively style.

An extremely enjoyable analysis of Rome during a period of instability and internal strife. Matyszak has done a commendable job at unraveling the complexities of this period and highlighting the role of Cerialis in the success and re-establishment of stability within the Empire. Anyone, professional historian, those with a casual interest in Roman Imperial intrigue or those looking for an interesting read, will all be satisfied with this book.

Ancient Warfare

There are plenty of black and white photos to enliven the reader with some visual aid. The author writes in a style that I clear and erudite without being totally dry. His attempt to humanize the individual behind the faceless legions largely succeeds.
Contained within Imperial General is a nice summary of military politics in the Principate with a more personal angle than usual. You’re left in no doubt of the hazards of seeking senior positions, or how easily legions chose their affiliations and loyalties. Where this book succeeds in more than any other aspect is making very clear the delicate and potentially lethal balance between politician and soldier.
As we’ve come to expect from Philip Matyszak you will find a well written and observant account of the life and times of Petellius Cerialis.


A biography that is well worth reading.

Firetrench reviews
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The City Wall of Imperial Rome: An Account of Its Architectural Development from Aurelian to Narses by Sir Ian A. Richmonds was first published in 1930 and reprinted in facsimile in 1971. Despite its scarcity, it remains the essential work on the imperial fortifications of Rome and has lost none of its importance since its original publication. Despite the Wall's great importance for our understanding of Roman fortifications, there have been no further major investigations. Rome had originally been fortified by the old Servian Wall, built during the Republican period in the late 4th century BC.…

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