Imperial General - The Remarkable Career of Petellius Cerialis, Philip Matyszak

Imperial General - The Remarkable Career of Petellius Cerialis, Philip Matyszak


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Imperial General - The Remarkable Career of Petellius Cerialis, Philip Matyszak

Imperial General - The Remarkable Career of Petellius Cerialis, Philip Matyszak

A great deal is known about the Roman commanders of the Republic and the civil wars that brought Augustus to the Imperial throne, but after that period most Imperial generals are rather obscure figures, with most military glory going to the Emperor himself.

This book looks at the life and times of Petellius Cerialis, an Imperial general who first appears during the reign of Nero. He was a member of a distinguished family that had provided the Republic with consuls, but had been born into the Empire. He was not a part of the Imperial family at the start of his career, but was related to Vespasian, both by direct family connections and by marriage to Vespasian's daughter (before Vespasian was even a candidate for the throne).

Cerialis is well documents partly because of his family relationships and partly because he took part in two famous conflicts – first the revolt of Boudicca in Britain and then the civil war of 69 AD (the year of the four emperors) and the war on the Rhine triggered by the apparent weakness of Rome.

The author combines a biography of Cerialis with a history of his times and of the development of the Roman general, from the aristocratic amateur of the Republic to the dangerous rival of the Imperial age. The civil war of 69 AD is also covered in some detail, despite Cerialis's fairly minor role in the fighting.

Cerialis comes across as a rather impetuous character, but also as an able general and surprisingly capable administrator. An interesting men living in interesting time, and now the subject of an interesting biography.

Part I: Of Roman Generals and Generalship
1 – Generals Before the Imperial Era
2 – The First Imperial Generals

Part II: Britain
3 – A Legate of the Ninth

Part III: Civil War
4 – The Wilderness Years
5 – Rebel With a Cause

Part IV: Petellius Cerialis Takes Charge
6 – Desperate and Dastardly Deeds Along the Rhine
7 – Aftermath: Return to Britannia and the World Restored

Author: Philip Matyszak
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 188
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2011



Imperial General - The Remarkable Career of Petellius Cerialis, Philip Matyszak - History

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 colorful 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 was in danger of losing his life 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.

About The Author

PHILIP ‘MATY’ MATYSZAK holds a doctorate in Ancient History from St John’s College, Oxford University, and has been studying, teaching and writing on the subject for over twenty years. He specializes in the history of Classical Greece and of the Late Republic and Early Imperial periods of Rome. Maty has personal military experience both as a conscript in Rhodesia and with the Territorial Army in Britain. These days he splits his time between writing in his home in Canada’s Monashee Mountains and providing e-learning courses for Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education.

REVIEWS

"FULL OF HISTORY WRITTEN IN A LIVELY STYLE THAT IS WELL WORTH READING"

- Toy Solder & Model Figure

Beschreibung

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 colorful 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.


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Classical Compendium: A Miscellany of Scandalous Gossip, Bawdy Jokes, Peculiar Facts, and Bad Behavior from the Ancient Greeks and Romans Hardcover – September 30, 2009

I came to this after reading the author's 'Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a day' and 'Legionary', hoping for more of his quirky take on the classical world.

I wasn't disappointed. This little book is full of odd facts and snippets about the Greeks and Romans, presented in a way that occasionally made me laugh out loud.

Scattered throughout the chapters there are occasional ancient Greek jokes about Elithio Phoitete (not the brightest wick in the lamp!), and many of these are still funny. ("Elithio Phoitete remarked that he was the unluckiest of men, for no sooner had he trained his donkey to live without food than the beast suddenly died!")

Even more so than the author's other books, this is one you can pick up and read for a few minutes at a time, as it consists of many short paragraphs and quotes. I found it a great bedside book.

Like Matyszak's other books, it's also very attractively presented - a nice little hardback, complete with a ribbon bookmark. I bought it as a gift to myself, but it would actually make a very nice gift for anyone with even a slight interest in the Classical world.

My only complaint? I wish it was longer! 187 pages just didn't seem enough!

This is a very neat and tidy little volume which is a mine of curious and intriguing tidbits from the ancient empire that was Rome. They are in turns fascinating, funny, Flavian and ferocious.

I noticed at least two errors though:

1. Tiberius did not become emperor on his return from his `exile' in Rhodes. by a long chalk.

2. A picture purporting to show a slave being flogged is actually schoolboy discipline Roman-style.

OK, Matyszak, I enjoyed the book so you can have the `flogged slave' but poor old Tiberius has had enough bad press without you putting the caliga in as well.

Matyszak has a great approach to history. He displays it not as staid, overworn stories of famous individuals, but as the real experience of ordinary people -- sex, violence, whiny complaints, and all. Matyszak's Rome is not a land of starched white togas and squeaky-clean marble his is the Rome of garish dyes and roughspun tunics, of squabbling neighbours and petty disputes, of bad behaviour and its often quite public shame, and, most importantly for the reading experience, of dry wit, frank judgments, and explicit language. I've previously read Matyszak's 'Legionary', and I hope to read more of his books in the future, because I so appreciate his voice.

In the 'Classical Compendium', Matyszak has combed the annals and anecdoates for the best tidbits, juiciest gossip, and weirdest tall tales out of Greco-Roman history. And there is, no doubt, some strange stuff in there. Matyszak's scope includes travel, the military, religion, love affairs, animal lore, odd jobs, criminal records, and even the customs surrounding death in the ancient world -- and some of most notable suicides and murders. He also sprinkles the text with traditional jokes from ancient Greece, many of which could be told today without anyone having the slightest feeling of anachronism.

You'll learn about silphium, a plant worth its weight in gold for its medicinal uses, which included cough syrup and fever relief, as well as birth control and abortifacent it went extinct sometime in the first century. You'll find aphrodisiac recipes, and love poems guaranteed to win a woman's heart -- alongside invective poetry guaranteed to drive her away, if that's your aim. Pompey had trouble with elephants, chameleons live on air, dogs got crucified once a year, and Julius Caesar had a horse with toes. Augustus Caesar imposed strict morality on his people, but couldn't govern his own family (as anyone who's watched 'I, Claudius' knows). You'll learn about some of the ancient world's most bizarrely specific jobs, like anti-elephant infantrymen, pig igniter, theatre shade operator, professional informer, and phallus manufacturer. If you have someone you desperately need to curse, the ancients have some delightfully specific recommendations. Everyone from commoners to emperors sought advice from the oracle, for questions as big as whether to go to war, as small as "Will I retrieve the mattresses and pillows I have lost?", and as universal as "What have I done to deserve this?"

What all of these tidbits bring to life is the idea of an ancient world that was full and lively, in some ways as sophisticated as our own, lacking only our technology. It's a treasure trove, the gems of which illuminate a world long gone, alien to us in some ways, but alarmingly familiar in many others. Matyszak's books are fantastically educational, but eminently readable and entertaining as well. This isn't a stuffy recitation of dates and famous names this is people, as they were and as they still are. And that, to me, is the very best kind of history.

This book got 4 stars instead of 5 mostly because I wish there had been more things in here that I didn't already know. I would say the book is probably half-and-half information that was new to me versus information that I've picked up somewhere along the way, either in school or just in my own trawling of historical topics. I also think that, because this book relies more heavily on the primary sources, there's less of Matyszak's sense of humour coming through than there was in 'Legionary', and I missed that. 'The Classical Compendium' is, well, exactly what it says: a miscellany, bits and pieces out of the original authors or generally summarised, without a lot of connective material or commentary. Still, it's thoroughly delightful, and a wonderful historical reference book. Every lover of the ancient world should have this on her shelf.


Imperial General: The Remarkable Career of Petellius Cerialis

This is an interesting book on an ambitious topic: what did it mean to be an Imperial General in the first century AD. The author, within some 175 pages (not counting the notes or bibliography) seeks to present what this meant at the time through the career of Petilius Cerealis between about AD 40 to AD 74. The book is mostly well written and engaging, although there are a number of problems, probably mostly because the author seems to have constrained by size requirements.

The first chapter is problematic in trying to summarize in less than 20 pages over 500 years of "Roman" generalship from Romulus (without acknowledging that he is more than likely to have been a legendary character) to Pompey, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Agrippa. In many cases, the achievements of some of the generals of the Early Republic are limited to a three-to-five line summary. The second chapter is about the First Imperial generals, with summaries of the careers of Drusus (the Elder), Germanicus, Varus and Corbulo, but, oddly enough, Tiberius does not seem to be worth a summary on his own. The third chapter is mainly a summary about the conquest of Britain and the Boudicca rebellion just as much as it is about Petilius Cerialis' "achievements" (how he lost half his legion, and almost his life, in trying single-handed to stop the rebellion).

Part 3, is an account of the Year of the Four Emperors over some 60 pages or about a third of the book. It is a nice and well told summary of the main events with, almost as an aside, a good presentation of the main generals on either side and some interesting glimpses into their characters. However, there is very little on Petilius Cerialis himself because he was trapped in Rome and then hiding in the countryside. He hardly took part in the fighting, except at the very end, with a somewhat failed and unimpressive although gallant cavalry raid on Rome. In fact, the author strongly suggests that the raid may have been more of a show - to show that he tried to save Vespasian's relatives although he knew the attempt was doomed from the beginning. If true, this would have been rather cynical and machiavelic for Cerealis to do.

It is in fact only in part 4 that we really see Cerealis giving the full measure of his not inconsiderable military talents: on the Rhine frontier against the Civilis revolt and as Governor of Britain, where he seemed to have been just as sucessful and was followed by two other prime generals (Frontinus and Julius Agricola).

One last point, where I felt that there could have been more of a discussion was the treatment given by the author to Nero, presented in a very negative way. Although it is extremely difficult to have ANY sympathy for this Emperor, I did feel that the author followed the sources a bit slavishly (they very conveniently heaped all of the blame for anything that went wrong onto Nero). The pressure building up onto Nero, his general sense of insecurity and the sheer mounting paranoïa that his life was under constant threat would be enough to unbalance most people.

All in all, this is an interesting but somewhat disjointed read. In some cases, there is too little, simply because we don't know a lot about Petilius Cerealis to begin with or because the author compressed centuries of Roman generalship into a few pages. In other cases, there is too much narrative with the author not bringing out the salient points as to what this would have meant for Roman generalship, as with the part of the year 69. A somewhat better read on the same topic, in my view, is Adrian Goldsworthy's book "In the name of Rome", a collection of vignettes on some of Rome's greatest generals. However, this book also has its own set of problems.

Anyone who has put much time into studying Roman Britain or the provincial history of the Roman Empire should be familiar with the name of Petellius Cerialis, one of Rome's busier generals in the late First Century AD. I was somewhat disappointed by this book in the sense that it is not much about Cerialis, being more a history of the role of Roman generals in the early Empire. This is not to say that it is not an interesting or useful book - it is just not quite what the title says. Matyszak does not as far as I know misrepresent any facts of Cerialis's life - the major problem is is that we simply don't KNOW very much about Cerialis (or about many other prominent men in the early Empire who weren't Emperors). Historians like Tacitus and Suetonius (although I regard the latter as more of a gossip columnist than a historian) mention generals like Cerialis in passing and may give a cursory account of their actions where they affected imperial policy. But after all, their primary goal was to explain to their readers what had been happening in the city of Rome itself and only more generally in the provinces, what the Emperors did and how this affected the Roman people. If provincial histories focused on Roman Britain and Roman Germania that might have given us more information were written, they have not survived. Add to that the fact that the preeminent Roman historian whose work DID survive (at least in major part), Cornelius Tacitus, saw Cerialis as a rival of his beloved father-in-law Julius Agricola and snidely downgrades him whenever possible, and you have a general who accomplished a lot but of whom it is almost impossible to write a decent biography.

Where Matyszak scores high is in writing a more general overview of the office of general under the early emperors (roughly from Augustus to Domition). Emperors did not take the army into the field themselves very often (the only emperor between Augustus and Vespasian to have any props as a general was Tiberius), since they had to keep a sharp eye on the boiling political cauldron of Rome, so they needed reliable generals. But this had its drawbacks - a general who was too popular could be a threat to the emperor's own position, the reason why after Augustus, emperors seldom trusted their own family memebers with important commands. In the later Empire, of course, this became a source of chronic instability, with any general who won a few victories seeing himself (or being seen by his troops) as a potential replacement for the current ruler.

Matyszak reaches his peak in his description of the Civil War that started in 68 with the overthrow of Nero and saw three ephemeral emporors in a year before Vespasian was able to get things back under control. Whole books have been written about the year 69 AD alone, and it is to the author's credit that he gives one of the most succinct, clear and in places dryly humorous accounts of that chaotic event that I have ever read. Sadly, as Matyszak notes, once Cerialis had finished cleaning up the situation in Britain after the revolt of the Brigantes at the end of the Civil War, he almost disappears from history. A "Petillius Rufus" listed as consul in 83 may have been our man, but if it was him, what he did in between and afterwards, and when and how he died, are historical mysteries. It would not be true to say that Petellius Cerialis still awaits a definitive biography - Matyzsak has done about as well as anyone can with the material available. But unless new sources turn up, much of the life of this important Roman commander will continue to be unknown. `

This book is more a summary of the Year of the Four Emperors as taken from Tacitus's Histories than about the career of Petellius Cerealis.

The author is more impressed with Cerealis than is Tacitus who finds him too impetuous, especially his disastrous cavalry charge on Rome. His campaign on the Rhine was better but really, a generally who is found in town with his mistress while the enemy steals his boats, does not strike me as an outstanding general. I think Tacitus' opinion of him is more on the mark than the author's I just don't think he is the best example on which to frame his thesis of the Imperial General.

The generals he sites in his introduction, Drusus, Germanicus, Varus etc. (oddly enough Tiberius is omitted) are better examples of Imperial Generals, but alas a lot more had been written about them which is I why I think the author selected Cerealis. Cerealis is an interesting figure in that he was involved in defending Britain against Boudicca, was a relative by marriage of Vespasian, and had a colorful career but he was far from a general in the mold of say Drusus or Germanicus or even Corbulo.

Nevertheless despite these shortcoming, the book does shine in a giving a good account, adapted from Tacitus, of the Year of the Four Emperors. Short of reading the Histories, I don't remember having read such a good account of the turbulent year 69AD. However I found myself far more interested in the machination of Civilis than those of Cerealis in terms of military leaders. A chart of the various legions mentioned and whose side they supported would have been helpful.

All in all if you are interested in Roman Military History this is a decent read but the title does not quite match the contents.


The biography of a 1st century Imperial Roman officer whose colorful life and remarkable career spans many of the era’s major events.

Few Imperial Romans below the level of emperor left a historic imprint as complete or as fascinating as that of Petilius Cerealis. From Boudicca’s rebellion in Britannia to the infamous “year of the four emperors” in Rome, Cerealis had a knack for getting caught up in some of the most significant and dangerous episodes of his time—and somehow emerging unscathed. This lively biography offers a rare glimpse into the life of an Imperial Roman officer during the Principate.

As a Legion Commander in Roman Britain, Cerealis was in charge of quashing the revolt led by Queen Boudicca of the Iceni. In 69 CE, the year after Emperor Nero’s suicide, Cerealis was in Rome while his uncle Vespasian was preparing to seize the empire. In danger of losing his life as a traitor, Cerealis fled to join his uncle as he charged the capital. Later, while commanding a force on the Rhine, Cerealis escaped the Batavian mutiny because he was in a local woman’s bed rather than his own tent.


Additional Information

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 was in danger of losing his life 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.


The biography of a 1st century Imperial Roman officer whose colorful life and remarkable career spans many of the era’s major events.

Few Imperial Romans below the level of emperor left a historic imprint as complete or as fascinating as that of Petilius Cerealis. From Boudicca’s rebellion in Britannia to the infamous “year of the four emperors” in Rome, Cerealis had a knack for getting caught up in some of the most significant and dangerous episodes of his time—and somehow emerging unscathed. This lively biography offers a rare glimpse into the life of an Imperial Roman officer during the Principate.

As a Legion Commander in Roman Britain, Cerealis was in charge of quashing the revolt led by Queen Boudicca of the Iceni. In 69 CE, the year after Emperor Nero’s suicide, Cerealis was in Rome while his uncle Vespasian was preparing to seize the empire. In danger of losing his life as a traitor, Cerealis fled to join his uncle as he charged the capital. Later, while commanding a force on the Rhine, Cerealis escaped the Batavian mutiny because he was in a local woman’s bed rather than his own tent.


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Comments:

  1. Diondray

    Cool !!! In the evening I will definitely look

  2. Brataxe

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