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Tag: Pen and Sword



Cover.  Looking down on the modern remains of the Roman camp from the Masada plateau.

MASADA by Phil Carradice

Mass Suicide in the First Jewish-Roman War, c. AD73

This is another title from Pen & Sword in the “History of Terror” series.  128 pages, soft cover.

Masada, in case you are unaware, was a mountain top fortress in Judea, where Jewish men, women and children fought off veteran Roman legions for 2 years.  The traditional story is that facing defeat, the 960 defenders committed mass suicide.

There is only one source for the story, and that was Josephus Flavius, a contemporary Jewish general who was captured by, then joined the Romans.  His information, veracity, motives and biases are therefore suspect; however, some aspects of the story have been validated by modern archeological evidence.

The account of the siege, the defences, the huge ramp which was constructed by the Romans, and the details of the ultimate Roman victory, is compelling, riveting reading. The dissection of the available evidence is thorough, and various alternative possible scenarios are weighed.

Modern use of the Masada story by the nation of Israel is also discussed.

Australia’s worst military defeat (Gallipoli) is our national Remembrance Day. It is telling that Masada, also a defeat, has become the source of national pride for Israel.

An excellent read.

Dr  John Viggers.


Rear cover photo. Modern remains of the Roman ramp.




And just for some perspective of the site, watch this superb video

Not Another Book Review!


I am still experimenting with the gas burner on the Trevithick, and frankly, totally over it.  So much so that I am considering scrapping the gas burner, and seeing if coal will get better steam pressures.

But nothing to show yet.   So another book review.

This one is another ripper!  I bet that most of you have never heard of Mithridates The Great!  That is because of our Rome-centric ancient history.  Everyone knows a bit about Julius Caesar.  And maybe even heard of Spartacus, Hannibal, and Attila.

But Mithridates has been described as Rome’s deadliest enemy, with good reason.   Here is the book review….




(or GAME OF THRONES minus dragons and nightwalkers).

Why bother with fiction when real history is as dramatic and complex and shocking as this story?

Mithridates the Great was arguably the greatest threat to republican Rome in its pre common era history, even taking into account Hannibal,  Spartacus etc.  That he did not finally succeed was not due to lack of resources, military skill, wealth or intelligence.  He faced the awesome might of the best infantry in the ancient world, and some of the best generals that Rome ever produced.  As the king of Pontus, a small country on the Black Sea between Rome, Parthia (Persia), and the barbarian tribes of central Asia, he fought Rome intermittently for over 50 years.  And, according to this book, he came very close to winning.

Matyszak describes a man of intelligence, imposing stature, commanding personality. Generous and loyal to his friends, utterly ruthless to his enemies, and guilty of treachery, mass murder, fratricide, matricide, filicide and every other “cide” in the dictionary.  He arranged the murder in one day of 80,000 civilian Romans, to bind certain cities to his cause.  He ordered his entire harem to suicide rather than let it fall into the hands of his enemy.

He returned from hopeless situations many times, but as an old man, following treachery by a son, he took his own life, and his kingdom was added to the Roman empire.  The reader knows that it will not end well for Mithridates, but I found myself hoping against hope that it could somehow be different.

This book is a terrific read.  Even though it is only 180 pages long, (plus references, maps, picture section etc), I found it richly rewarding.  It is not quick reading.  It kept me going for almost 2 weeks, where I normally devour a book in 2-3 days.  I often needed to re-read sections, to adequately grasp the details.  The language is mostly precise and articulate, peppered with humorous but appropriate modern jargon.  (e.g. p155 “Mithridates had left several juicy castles stuffed with treasure” )

Incidents which are based on less reliable sources are identified, and the author offers personal interpretations which seem quite believable.   The summing up of the epilogue was particularly useful. 

One aspect, which I found annoying, was the paucity of place names and total absence of scale on any of the maps.  Many places are mentioned in the text which do not appear on the maps.  

The book is intended for the general reader rather than the academic but I suspect that it might be confusing if the reader does not have some familiarity with the history of late republican Rome. Eg. It would be an advantage if the reader knows something of characters such as Sulla, Pompey and Sertorius.  The 13 page introduction is an excellent summary of the situation of the Mediterranean world in the first century BC and should not be skipped over.

J. V.



Good maps, except no scale.