Marc Hyden, Romulus – The Legend of Rome’s Founding Father (Pen & Sword, 2020)
(Review by Dom Sore)
When is a history book not a history book? It is not as pithy a question as it first seems. It is also a question that springs to mind whenever I think of Romulus – The Legend of Rome’s Founding Father.
Many of us know the story of Rome’s founding; the killing of a brother and the beginnings of a state that would influence history. In this book, Marc Hyden has not set out to define what is real, but to present what we have as history and leave it up to the reader to decide. The book isn’t overly long at 244 pages, and splits into 19 easy to read chapters, but has a very sparse bibliography.
Hyden begins by setting the scene for what he wants to achieve. He states he is presenting a history for us to read but on the understanding that there is little actual evidence for this, that the sources are often contradictory, and most were written well after the facts were alleged to have happened. It is in essence a biography of one man who may or may not have existed and collates what we know of his life. It is a very easy read, and for being based in myth, surprisingly free from hyperbolic deeds and superhuman feats. It is a tale of one, albeit extraordinary, man and his founding of a dynasty.
Given that it is based on myth there is very little to check for accuracy – that would be like pulling up Tolkien because his hobbits have a stride length that was too long. However, even though it is myth, it would have been nice to have more juxtaposition with what we actually know of the early history of Rome. We know there was a Monarchy of sorts, we know it became a Republic, and we have archaeology; adding some of that in would have improved the book immensely. And more maps, I like maps and the more detailed the better: every book should provide more maps!
If you want a book that gathers all we know about Romulus into one place and makes it easy to read, this is the book for you. Indeed, it is a welcome addition to my library. As long as you don’t expect to gain any great historical insight, you will like it as well.