Saturday, 20 January 2018

Vindolanda - Adrian Goldsworthy

My last book review of 2017 focussed on my summer holiday reading, Empire IV by Anthony Riches and I have since October last year rapidly read my way through the first four books in his Empire series.

Due to a mix up by Amazon just before Xmas when I knew I would be needing the next book to take me over the holiday, I ended up with some romantic novel whilst some lady in Durham ended up with my Roman adventure and I couldn't say which of us was the more disappointed.

With the Xmas post period coming to an end and with a few hours to spend on Xmas shopping I spotted Adrian Goldsworthy's (AG) Roman novel 'Vindolanda' set during, perhaps one of my favourite periods in early imperial Roman history, the time of Trajan on the northern frontier of Britain before any great stone wall had been constructed and during a time of great upheaval as it was any time a new emperor came to the imperial throne.

Rather than go through the set up and storyline of this book which can be followed on Dr Goldsworthy's site;

I thought I would outline what I really enjoyed with this particular book that saved my Xmas reading time.

With my own collection of EIR and Dacian figures very high up on the 'get done next' list this kind of literature is very good for feeding the imagination and inspiring scenario ideas. What is even better is if that literature is not only entertaining but written by one of the foremost authorities on the Roman Army and a wargamer 'to boot'.

The book, as AG describes it, is very much like a western with a distinct feeling of a frontier policed by a force in occupation but not necessarily accepted by all the locals. Throw in a fanatical druid and his likewise fanatical followers, tribal politics with the frontier kings and a 'who dunnit' detective style thriller looking for traitors in the camp and you have a heady mixture of Roman warfare and all the 'politicking' that went with it.

Not only that but I was intrigued to see that AG had built his characters around the little that is known of the people who were living in and around the early frontier fortress of Vindolanda based on the most recent finds among the Vindolanda tablets naming several of the individuals mentioned.

Then there are the period and location details that just add to that sense of feel for this era and place, such as the title 'Centurio Regionarius' associated with the lead character, Titus Ferox who we learn is a Briton and a centurion from the II Augusta now detached from his legion in this role of being responsible for the Pax Romana on his section of the frontier, a role outlined in the Vindolanda tablets.

As I was reading the descriptions of the Roman punitive force marching into the Caledonian foothills I found myself imagining a similar tabletop force and those that opposed them, all this knowing the descriptions were coming from the pen of an expert in the field.

The phrase 'I couldn't put it down' is perhaps a shorthand cliché reserved for those book critics favoured by some of the more salacious tabloids, but that describes my reading over Xmas. I think Carolyn is perhaps not looking forward to me reading the next book in the Vindolanda series as more than once I was told to put the light out and go to sleep.

I really enjoyed this first adventure for Centurion, Legio II Augusta, Titus Flavius Ferox, Centurio Regionarius, or should that be 'sheriff in these parts"and his sharp associate (perhaps deputy), fellow Briton and comrade in arms Vindex, Brigantian Scout leader.

The Encircling Sea

In addition I am really looking forward to reading the second book in the series 'The Encircling Sea' due to be published in May and hearing the author present at Crusade 2018 later this month.

A good read


  1. I'm glad to read such a positive review of Goldsworthy's fiction. I have everything historical he has published, and I guess I knew he had written some fiction, but I thought it was all Napoleonic. I'll have to give this a try. Thanks!

  2. Awesome. I'm hooked on Riches's books. This sounds like another good series to get a hold of. I am always more partial to series based books. I enjoy the character developments. Reading Bernard Cornwell got me hooked as a kid on Napoleonics. These newer novels give me some inspiration as I build my early imperial Rome collection. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Read some of his Napoleonic books, didn't realise he did Roman too.