Book Review: Vindolanda by Adrian Goldsworthy

Gripping tale of rebellion and treachery in Roman Britain

VindolandaAbout the Book

Publisher’s description: AD 98 – The bustling army base at Vindolanda lies on the northern frontier of Britannia and the entire Roman world. In twenty years’ time, the Emperor Hadrian will build his famous wall, but for now defences are weak, as tribes rebel against Roman rule, and local druids preach the fiery destruction of the invaders. Flavius Ferox is a Briton and a Roman centurion, given the task of keeping the peace on this wild frontier. But it will take more than just courage to survive life in Roman Britain…

Book Facts

  • Format: ebook
  • Publisher: Head of Zeus
  • No. of pages: 416
  • Publication date: 1st June 2017
  • Genre: Historical Fiction

To pre-order/purchase Vindolanda from Amazon.co.uk, click here (link provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme)

Find Vindolanda on Goodreads


My Review

In Vindolanda, the author has created what feels like an incredibly authentic view of life on the far reaches of the Roman Empire.   Adrian Goldsworthy has a terrific pedigree in this regard as a respected historian who has published numerous non-fiction books on the Roman Empire. What comes across vividly in this book is the sense of the multiplicity of different nationalities making up the Roman Empire and its army, each with their own customs, loyalties and languages and only loosely held together by their oath to serve the Emperor.

Into this mix comes Flavius Ferox, a centurion in the Roman army but a Briton by birth, tasked with keeping the peace in the northernmost part of Roman Britain where a complex structure of different tribes exist. As Ferox observes: ‘I’m on the edge of the empire, almost the edge of the world, if you like. I can see where it ends.’ Added to this, there is word of an uprising that is not just a single tribe causing difficulty but a coalition of people with ‘a mishmash of beliefs from all over the world, twisted into one message of hate and destruction’, incited by a mysterious spiritual leader to engage in a ‘holy war’ against the Roman Empire.   For me, this had echoes of recent conflicts in parts of the world such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. If that wasn’t enough, there may be treachery afoot from those in the Roman nobility who wish to undermine the current emperor, Trajan and for whom such an uprising would aid their cause. In situations such as this who can you trust?

Flavius Ferox makes an ideal hero for this type of book. He’s clever, resourceful but a bit of a maverick and not afraid to challenge his superiors in order to uncover the truth. In fact, we learn this has got him into trouble in the past hence his current posting. There’s a hint of a past relationship that ended in sadness, he can be prone to periods of melancholy during which he finds solace in the wine jug and he has an eye for a beautiful lady. Really he could be a Roman Inspector Morse (but without the crosswords)!

‘Idleness did not suit Ferox, for it gave him too much time to brood and to sink into black moods, when drink seemed the only shelter.’

In the process of tackling the uprising and unravelling the mystery, Ferox gets involved in plenty of action which is vividly depicted with convincing detail about Roman military tactics and weaponry. So if you don’t know your gladius from your pilum, you soon will.   Everything is satisfyingly brought together at the close of the book. The final few lines give me hope that this is not the last we’ve heard of Flavius Ferox.

This was an absolutely cracking read that will be enjoyed by any historical fiction fan, especially those with an interest in Roman history. But really, if you enjoy books with plenty of action regardless of what time period they are set in, then do give this a try.

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers Head of Zeus in return for an honest review.

To find out more about the history of Vindolanda, visit the Vindolanda Trust website:

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In three words: Gripping, realistic, action-packed

Try something similar…The Man from Berlin by Luke McCallin (completely different time period but I thought the two protagonists had similarities)


AdrianGoldsworthyAbout the Author

Adrian Goldsworthy was born in 1969 in Cardiff.  He was educated in Penarth and then read Ancient and Modern History at St. John’s College, Oxford, where he subsequently completed his doctorate in ancient history. His D.Phil. thesis was the basis for his first book, The Roman Army At War 100 BC – AD 200, which looked at how the Roman army actually operated on campaign and in battle. He is the bestselling author of numerous books about Ancient Rome including Caesar: The Life of a Colossus, The Punic Wars and How Rome Fell. He is now a full time writer, and no longer teaches, although he is currently a Visiting Fellow at the University of Newcastle. However, he frequently gives one off lectures and talks both to universities and other groups in the UK, USA, Canada, and Europe. He frequently appears as a talking head or presenter in TV documentaries and has acted as consultant on both documentaries and dramas. He will appear in six of the eight episodes of the forthcoming When Rome Ruled series for National Geographic. He often appears on radio.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Vindolanda by Adrian Goldsworthy

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