Mr B's review
Mr B’s Christmas Catalogue Review 2018
What have the Romans ever done for… the French? Well, they left quite the legacy as anyone who has holidayed in France will have noticed. In this lively and accessible book, Omrani explores the Roman war against Gaul and the cultural overhaul and urbanisation that followed it. Beginning in the old port of Marseilles and roaming (get it?) across France, we are led on a journey of discovery that brings history to life through the towns, buildings and fragments that remain.
In the 50s BC, Julius Caesar conducted a brutal war against the tribes of ancient Gaul. On the pretext of curbing an imminent barbarian threat to the Roman Republic, he first defeated and decimated the Helvetii tribe, before subjugating the other Celtic peoples who occupied the territory of what is now France.
Caesar laid Gallic civilization to waste, but the cultural revolution the Romans brought in their wake transformed the Celtic culture of that country, as the Gauls exchanged their tribal quarrels for togas and acquired the paraphernalia of civilized urban life. The Romans also left behind a legacy of language, literature, law, government, religion, architecture and industry.
From Marseille to Mulhouse, and from Orleans to Autun, Bijan Omrani journeys across Gaul in the footsteps of its Roman conquerors. He tells the story of Caesar’s Gallic Wars and traces the indelible imprint on modern Europe of the Gallo-Roman civilization that emerged in their wake.
‘An excellent and thorough account of many aspects of Roman Gaul’ Historical Novel Society. ‘A learned and romantic reflection on France’s Roman past, one suffused with affection for its present’ TLS. ‘Expertly narrated by Omani, blending the absorbing narrative technique of a travel writer […] with the quirky erudition of a Latin teacher, who might stop to decipher a Latin inscription on an otherwise incomprehensible stone or lintel’ The New Criterion. ‘Very accessible and incredibly interesting … I wish Bijan Omrani had been around when I studied Latin at school […] he makes the classics an uber cool subject’ Devon Life. ‘Combining historical insight with evocative details from the journey, this is a vibrant tour of the ancient world’ History Revealed. ‘Omrani’s writing crackles from start to finish, providing a wealth of detail both then and now … Omrani is never less than an entertaining and vividly descriptive guide. This is a hugely enjoyable, informative and evocative journey through a turning point in world history’ BBC History. ‘The whole thing hangs together beautifully … [A] wise, kindly and fascinating guide’ Classics for All. ‘In places, his book evokes Richard Holmes’s pursuit of Robert Louis Stevenson through France in his marvellous Footsteps … we get a real sense of Omani as a teacher in the parentheses and asides he slips into his narrative, which are charming’ Daisy Dunn, Literary Review. ‘A real delight. Caesar’s Footprints exuberantly marches around France and Britain with the Roman legions, vividly bringing the formation of a shared European identity to life … Grippingly blends the unified world the Romans created with the landscapes and cultures two thousand years on. It is a bold vision, elegantly evocative, and an accomplished tribute to year zero of our shared modern European identity’ Dominic Selwood. ‘Wonderful … Omrani’s golden pen produces prose that is a pleasure to read. He is a polymath who delights us with his learning – in literature, history and geography – but wears it lightly. His sense of time and place and true civilisation is extraordinary’ Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles. ‘Very few writers have the ability to write interestingly as well as rigorously about the Roman world. Bijan Omrani – an extraordinarily talented scholar and writer – is one of them. Read this book’ Robert Twigger, author of Red Nile. ‘Remarkable … In the dismal clash between Europeans and migrants today there are echoes of the seismic, much more violent clash between Romans and barbarians. Caesar’s Footprints is a compelling, richly researched account of a little understood chapter of European history, packed with insightful parallels between the world of Caesar and our own’ Justin Marozzi, author of Travels with Herodotus. ‘This terrific account lays bare the horror and cruelty of Caesar’s campaigns – as well as the astonishing achievements of the Romans. Bursting with anecdotes and fizzing with unexpected information, Caesar’s Footprints compels us to ask – how much does our continent owe to one man and his naked and cynical lust for glory’ Boris Johnson.