Book Review, Outlander of Rome by Ken Farmer

I would hesitate to recommend this book to serious readers of historical fiction as some of the historical inaccuracies would make one grind one’s teeth, or perhaps explode into paroxysms of laughter. I think, however, that the author knows his history and that the inaccuracies are intentional. He’s putting the reader on, perhaps out of a perverse sense of humor.
As entertainment, Outlander of Rome has much to recommend it. There’s sex, adventure, pirates, slavery, travel, battles, large and small, lots of commentary about life in the ancient world and, oh, did I mention sex?
When we first meet our hero, Myron, he is a seventeen year old reed gatherer living in a small village along the Nile River in Egypt. What is he doing? He is hiding in the water looking at a group of naked women bathing. He is a handsome, one-glanded young man, unusually well-endowed in the nether regions, with only one thing on his mind. His life is about to change dramatically, because a group of Roman Legionary deserters looking for people to kidnap and sell into slavery has come upon the women and, soon discover Myron as well.
Sold into slavery in Gaza, one of Myron’s duties is bed warmer to a middle-aged domina. He has become fast friends with another unfortunate, Otho, and two young Egyptian boys, Nanu and Menwe, who share his quarters. Lack of discretion, however soon gets Myron into trouble, and after being caught trysting with a slave girl, he is packed off with his three friends on the Dominus’ ship to be taken to Italy to work as a farm slave on an estate. Fortunately for the foursome, the ship is taken by a band of jolly pirates. Myron proves his worth to the pirates owing to his phenomenal sense of direction and he and his friends are invited to join the band, who station themselves on an island called Sapphos. The Dominus is eventually ransomed.
While on the island, the boys are given training in martial arts by a one-armed former legionary named Quintus.
“Have any of you killed a man?” Another pause and he snorted “I would have cast away my sword and joined the whores of the Venerean temple if any of you had said ‘yes’. . .”
Myron, however, turns out to be an extremely apt pupil, mastering both the gladius and the bow at a level surpassed by few legionaries.
All goes well for a few years and all four young men have earned the respect of the pirates and are full members of the band, with Myron taking a leadership role. Unfortunately, on one of their expeditions there is an unusually violent storm and their vessel is shipwrecked. Only Myron and Otho survive. The Egyptian boys, had, fortunately, remained on Sapphos. With too few able bodied sailors to carry on the pirate trade, the members of the band agree to each take their share of the accumulated wealth and go on their way. Eniopus, one of the older pirates has a plan to go to Carthage and develop a merchant fleet. Myron and the others come with him.
“Carthage!” you say. “But. . .but. . .” Unlike, Cassandra, Eniopus is not gifted by Apollo with the power of foresight. Under Myron and Otho’s management the trading venture is spectacularly successful until the Romans actually make up their minds that “Cartago delenda est!”
So what are some of the historical inaccuracies I referred to in the first paragraph? The author states that Carthage policed the seas in the Western Mediterranean and made them safe from pirates. The treaty that ended the Second Punic War in 202 B.C. limited Carthage to ten war ships, hardly enough to police the Western Mediterranean. If anyone policed the seas at that time it was the Romans.
At one point a Roman at a dinner party Myron attends mentions Cicero as a voice in the Senate advocating the destruction of Carthage. Carthage had been in ruins some sixty years before the resounding voice of Cicero delighted listeners in the Roman Senate and Forum.
I loved the part where Quintus claimed that he lost his arm at the Battle of Cannae where he fought against Polybius. Polybius was born some twenty years after the Battle of Cannae and he never fought against the Romans.
Myron’s mother, long deceased, had told Myron that he had been born in Capua, and Myron travels to that city to find out about his family and get some inkling as to what he and his mother were doing in a backwater on the Nile. He bribes an official to search the archives. The problem is that, at that time in history, Capua no longer existed as a city. The leaders had made the grave error of allying with Hannibal in the Second Punic War, and when Claudius and Fulvius took the city in 210 B.C. the leaders either committed suicide or were beheaded by the Romans and the people all sold into slavery. The Romans did not destroy the buildings and they allowed plebeians to squat in them, but it was no longer a city-no aristocracy, no government, no officials, no archives. The city was not re-incorporated until sometime in the first century B.C.
I also enjoyed meeting the family of Scipio Aemilianus and his Greek wife and daughter. Scipio Aemilianus was, indeed, known as a Graecophile, but a Greek wife? Not in that era of Roman History. Aemilianus was married to Sempronia, the grand-daughter of Scipio Africanus. The marriage was not a happy one and there was no issue.
But, as I say, I’m sure that these inaccuracies are deliberate and simply reflect a perverse sense of humor on the part of the author. As entertainment this book succeeds far beyond expectations.

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