Roman archaeology has been one of our long-abiding passions, even an obsession, and as field archaeologists for some three decades, we worked on excavations of several Roman sites in Britain, from rural hovels to villas, towns and fortresses. We even spent our honeymoon on Hadrian’s Wall, and have visited countless other sites throughout the Roman Empire, pored over exhibits in museums and written papers and books on Roman themes. Recently, we were very pleased to be sent a newly published book called Maximinus Thrax: From Common Soldier to Emperor of Rome by Paul N Pearson (Pen & Sword Military hardback, 2016, ISBN 9781473847033, xxiv prelims, 296 pages, illustrations, maps, appendices, endnotes, bibliography and index).
Before saying anything more, we must declare an interest. In the dim and distant past, we were involved in an excavation of Beddington Roman villa to the south of London in the days when many unpaid volunteers took part, including several very talented students. One of these is the author of this book – Paul Pearson, who is now Professor of Geology at Cardiff University, and he very kindly thanks us in his acknowledgements for fostering his interest in archaeology and ancient history on this excavation.
Paul’s book is the first full-length biography of Maximinus, known as Maximinus Thrax, because he was born in Thrace – probably in what is today Bulgaria. He became emperor of Rome in the year 235 and was murdered in 238. A giant of a man, supposedly over 8 feet tall, he was one of Rome’s most extraordinary emperors. This is not a straightforward biography, but delves deep into the much-neglected history of the early 3rd century AD, drawing on all available sources of evidence and assessing their reliability. The book covers a wealth of topics and is extremely well researched and referenced. It is one of those books where you are not irritated by the clunkiness of the prose or the affectation of the author – instead, the text flows beautifully, making it a joy to read. This is potentially a prize-winning book that deserves to have an extensive readership and to be translated widely.