Arminius: The Limits of Empire by Robert Fabbri

Review published on November 10, 2017.

This is quite an interesting treatment of the Teutoberg massacre from the German point of view as well as an explanation of the Roman failure to conquer Germania permanently and the rescue of the captured Eagles. The author uses the memoirs of Arminius, a German brought up within a Roman household with Roman habits and education, as the basis of the story interpolated with comments from his son, widow and Roman captives. The battle per se begins half-way through and follows the account of the Roman writer Cassius Dio, so may be considered reasonably authentic.

The opening concerning Arminius’s son acting as a gladiator and cold-bloodedly murdering civilians sets the tone for the rest of the book. The whole thing is extremely bloody and really paints a portrait of brave but uncivilised Germanic tribesmen (complete with wicker man sacrifices) versus disciplined Roman troops which are defeated because Arminius has learned to think like a Roman strategist. I thought the portrayal of the Germans was thin, giving them no real redeeming features in respect of culture but I have to assume the author had done his research. On the other hand, the Romans were mainly historical characters and were easier to place into context.

I did not warm to the characters and felt they did not have much depth to them. Yes, there were various types (the traitor, the wise old chief, the pragmatic/cowardly chief) but they all seemed flat to me. Also I felt that plot was less important at times than the battle scenes, which are extremely gory, but at the same time detailed legion tactics minutely. The iteration of Donar causing the thunder and lightning grew irritating.

While I thought this book was only fair, it did make me think I would enjoy other books by Robert Fabbri as they concern such characters as Vespasian and are more rooted in Roman history.

Carolyn Saunders 3/2

Arminius: The Limits of Empire by Robert Fabbri
Corvus 9781782397014 pbk Jul 2017

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