Book review: Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain

cover sertorius and the struggle for spain

Buy Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain

Or use this affiliate link: https://amzn.to/2MIeSPS

To find more books on the history of Spain, check out the List history of Spain books section.

Disclosure: I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website. Your purchase helps support my work in bringing you the podcast and a long list of books about Spanish history.

Review Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain

Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain is a book written by Philip Matyszak where the author tells the story of the epic struggle between Sertorius and Sulla to control the Roman Republic, a civil war that was a prelude of the end of the Republic. The Sertorian War developed in Hispania and there Sertorius made alliances with the natives, especially the Lusitanians, and used guerrilla tactics to defeat larger Roman legions. I talk about the Sertorian War in episode 7, Roman Conquest of Hispania: Native Resistance.

This is what customers say on Amazon:

“I am grateful that there are authors such as Matyzsak to write books like this, and publishers such as Pen and Sword to publish them. Considering the scarcity of sources on the topic, as Matyzak recognizes in the introduction, he still does an excellent job of using everything available to craft as complete account as possible on the career of the Roman rebel. A book like this is useful for those who want to learn more about Sertorius, but who have neither the time nor expertise to gather all the material together to form a thorough portrait. Although the author has written many books on ancient Rome, this is the first I have ever read. I am now looking forward to reading his next book on the Social War, and perhaps some of his previous titles as well.

The book has ten chapters and is a short read, about 180 pages. Besides the life and career of the man himself, the author also includes a brief summary of the history of Roman rule from the time of Scipio Africanus to the time of Sertorius, and includes a survey of different tribes living in Iberia. The last chapter also follows the remnants of Sertorius’ troops as they continue their struggles for and against Rome in later wars up to the time of Augustus.” – Luis A. Hernández

The book details the Sertorian War in Spain between populated and coordinates forces. The continuation of the Roman Revolution in Spain provides powerful insights into the issues and personalities that drove this great conflict. Quintus Sertorius is properly portrayed by using Plutarch and Sallust as the tragic genius, defeating superior forces through brilliant leadership, but ultimately unable to overcome imperial resources. The book also analyses the strategies of Roman assimilation and their profound consequences. It is a very good read!!!” – José Gómez-Rivera

And this is what users of Goodreads say:

As far as tragic historical figures go, Sertorius must rank among the top. Through no fault of his own, he wound up on the wrong side of history on multiple occasions, finding himself on the losing side of politics and civil wars.

Matyszak is explicit in stating his unequivocal opinion that Sertorius was a military genius of the highest order. At each mention of his prowess (dealing with other generals accomplished in their own right the way a professional athlete would beat an amateur) the reader is left wondering what could have been had Sertorius made different allegiances, or been born in a happier time. Surely, a general of his caliber could have been one of Rome’s greatest heroes rather than one of its most notorious rebels. In an era where lesser generals made names for themselves with epic conquests for the Republic Sertorius could have achieved a great deal for the state.

The author does a wonderful job of weaving the patchwork sources into a coherent narrative, and when the sources are silent he does well to fill in the blanks and inform the reader of the logic behind his assumptions. For a book that could easily fall into hero-worship, Matyszak does excellently to avoid the blunder of excusing the atrocities committed by Sertorius however tame they might be relative to his contemporaries.

Any story about a supremely tragic and dramatic figure is attractive to a wide audience, and as this is one of most readable books on Sertorius I would highly recommend it. The story is essentially the tale of one man against the world in a battle he knew he would inevitably lose. In the forward Matyszak says that Sertorius’ story should serve as an example to give hope to the hopeless, but I believe it would be more accurate to say that his story should serve as an example of how to preserve one’s dignity in the face of hopelessness.” – Daniel

A fascinating and generally balanced account of the Roman general who fled to Spain after Sulla mounted a coup in Rome, and largely controlled the Spanish peninsula in the 70s BC, resisting Roman armies until he was assassinated. My main reservations are that in the first part of the book, Philip Matyszak too uncritically accepts some of the belittling of the great general Marius in some of the Roman sources, and is also a bit uncritical in accepting accounts of Sertorius’s alleged change of character for the worse in his final year of life.” – Michael Cayley

Summary of reviews: reviews are generally positive, remarking how narrative the story is and the analysis that Matyszak gives focused on the natives. Some of the critics say that the author praises maybe too much Sertorius and takes for granted that Sertorius knew he was going to lose in the last year of his life.

Leave a Reply