Rotten Romans (Horrible Histories) by Terry Deary

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Rotten Romans (Horrible Histories) by Terry Deary

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Category: Children's Non-Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Margaret Young
Reviewed by Margaret Young
Summary: A revolting look at Roman life, both in Rome and in Britain. This has enough humour and fun to entice the most reluctant reader, but also includes enough historical information for most adults to learn something as well.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: February 2013
Publisher: Scholastic
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1407135779

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History with all the nasty bits left in is the catch phrase for Terry Deary's Horrible Histories series. Deary hasn't just left the nasty bits in, he has built a whole series around them. His stories are gruesome, revolting, vile and disgusting at times. That is precisely why the children love them. But underneath all of the nasty bits, there is quite a lot of history as well. Rotten Romans covers an area of history I am fairly well versed in. Even so, I learned a few things myself. At ages 4 and 8, my sons certainly learned a lot more. This book is equally enjoyable for young children with no prior knowledge of Roman history - or an adult who has actively studied this period.

I had some reservations about an unsanitised version of Roman life, but Scholastic would never publish anything unsuitable for children (I not so sure about Deary - in spite of the fact that I do like him). This book has left out the nastiest bits - thankfully. There is nothing unsuitable for children, although there are some more serious sections that concerned my children. This book does have a lot of death. Most of these are of Roman Caesars and didn't concern the children too much but they were shocked at the idea of one killing his own mother, concerned about Christians being burned alive and unhappy about animals hurt in the arena. Deary does not give any graphic details or really dwell on these incidents, moving on quickly to more humorous topics, so the mood was quickly lightened, but this may be of concern for parents of very young children.

Rotten Romans dispels any myth of the Romans bringing civilisation to the barbarian tribes, the acts described in this book, even though sanitised to make this suitable for children paint the picture of an extremely brutal empire once power has shifted from the Senate to the Emperor. Very brief mention is made of the Roman Republic, but as this book focuses on the rotten bits of history, most of it takes place in the time of the Caesars. I was surprised to find a fair amount of information on Roman Britain as well.

The book is well laid out and packed with historical information, presented as short entertaining stories, jokes comic strips, and short quizzes. Rather than giving children dry facts, Deary gives them stories, bringing history to life and making it relevant to them. This is the way I believe history should be taught. I believe history is by nature a fun and fascinating subject. For generations, humans huddled around fires enjoying the histories of their own people. It must have taken a lot of work to turn these stories into the dull and dry subject known as histories classes. Deary has given us back our stories.

My oldest was fascinated by Vercingetorix, and both boys loved the story of Prometheus (which the Romans nicked from the Greeks). We had fun with Roman children's games as well, even trying a couple of them (we substituted balloons for pig's bladders). What they like most of all are the disgusting bits. They like the nauseating foods, such as a sauce made of rotten fish guts. There is not as much toilet humour in ths book, and my youngest was quite dissapointed that it did not include the Roman mouthwash from the Horrible Histories DVDs, but there are still enough ewww moments, and quite a lot of gallows humour to keep the children interested. I am delighted that they are learning something of history, as well as simply enjoying these books.

My children are allowed to choose a new book each week from Amazon. This week they have chosen yet another Horrible Histories title, I can't think of any other series of history books that my children would choose to read purely for entertainment. Horrible Histories has made history fun again, and in so doing has guaranteed that the children reading these books will not only enjoy themselves, they will retain far more of what they learn than they would from a dull and dry textbook. I also like the fact that these books are so boy friendly. It is more difficult to find books that boys are willing to switch off the games consoles to enjoy, but this series certainly fits the bill.

For another book about Romans you could try Tony Robinson's Weird World of Wonders, but Deary's book is better. For more from Deary we can recommend Awful Egyptians (Horrible Histories) by Terry Deary.

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Buy Rotten Romans (Horrible Histories) by Terry Deary at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rotten Romans (Horrible Histories) by Terry Deary at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Rotten Romans (Horrible Histories) by Terry Deary at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rotten Romans (Horrible Histories) by Terry Deary at


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