CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 26. . . .March 11, 2011
Ruthless Romans. (Horrible Histories).
Terry Deary. Illustrated by Martin Brown.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2010.
139 pp., pbk., $6.99.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen.
Proper gladiators cost a lot of money to feed and train. Posh Romans paid the bills and put on gladiator shows for the poor Romans. In return, the poor Romans voted for them. No one would spend all that money to see it wasted with a few short, sharp chops. In fact, the top gladiators fought like today's boxers – the crowds loved watching their skill and betting on who would win. Those top gladiators lived to fight again.
So gladiators were groups of entertainers, bought by the rich for free shows or to be hired out. Gladiators were not cheap slaves to be wasted in the arena,
Criminals were sent in to the arena to fight until they died. They dressed like gladiators but the Romans knew they were not the real thing. Those criminals (called "noxii") gave the Romans all the blood and death they wanted. Prisoners of war were also sent to the arena just to be slaughtered.
Ruthless Romans is a humorous look at some aspects of Roman history, with a particular focus on the more ruthless Romans – the emperors, the gladiators and the army.
As part of the "Horrible Histories" series, Ruthless Romans is "history with the nasty bits left in" in order to encourage more interest in history. Many of the books in this series focus mainly on Britain and events in Britain, but Ruthless Romans does not do this. In fact, Britain is barely mentioned. This is an excellent decision from author Terry Deary as it allows him to focus on people and events in Rome, itself.
Ruthless Romans covers people and events from throughout Roman history. While the book is primarily intended as recreational reading, Deary does add in a few dates both for the Republic and the Empire, primarily when certain people died or did very nasty things.
The narration moves quickly from one event or person to another, just skimming the surface of what happened. This approach allows Deary to keep the material age appropriate and to play up the humorous aspects. Deary manages to cover a large amount of information in this way while maintaining the interest of the reader.
Ruthless Romans contains many Martin Brown illustrations, primarily black and white cartoons. These reinforce and supplement the text very well. The index is comprehensive and contains many entries that would never be seen in a more serious book, such as "beliefs, batty," "cows, unlucky," and "revenge, sweet."
Ruthless Romans is a wonderfully irreverent and surprisingly informative look at some areas of Roman history.
Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen is a graduate of the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at UBC, Vancouver, BC.
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