Nero’s Killing Machine: The True Story of Rome’s Remarkable 14th Legion

Nero's Killing Machine


Product: Nero’s Killing Machine: The True Story of Rome’s Remarkable 14th Legion

Author: Stephen Dando-Collins

Publisher: Wiley, Hoboken, 1 November 2004

Pages: 322

Price: $21.23 (US), £11.33 (UK)


I love this book.


I happen to be someone who reads books constantly, and has a particular fondness for historical fiction. That being said, I hadn’t honestly expected much from this one when I first saw it in paperback a few years ago in some second-hand bookstore in Vancouver, B.C.


The overall subject material was familiar enough to me, but only vaguely. I enjoyed reading about ancient Rome and the Roman army, of course, but I didn’t know much about either the author or the 14th Legion. After buying the book mostly on a whim, I brought it home with me and started to read.


From that point on, I couldn’t put it down until I’d finished it. Even long after that, I still found myself drifting back to reread it every once in a while.


Nero’s Killing Machine: the True Story of Rome’s Remarkable Fourteenth Legion is a fantastic addition to the historical fiction genre. Roman military historian Stephen Dando-Collins’ novelized account of the 14th Legion and the men who served in it is both extensively researched and completely engrossing.


Dando-Collins’ tale follows the legion closely from its worst tragedies to its greatest triumphs. His account begins with the founding of the legion in 58 BC by Julius Caesar, progressing on through the stories of successive generations of the legionaries that filled its ranks.


The story highlights in particular the events of the century after the legion’s founding. Explored in fascinating detail is the legion’s service under Caesar during the conquest of Gaul and the civil wars of the late Republic, its campaigns in Germany and defense of the imperial frontier, the conquest of Britain, Boudicca’s rebellion and the Year of the Four Emperors. Beyond this, it also covers (in brief) the subsequent history of the 14th Legion through the rest of the Roman imperial era.


The book is so loyal to history that it’s a little difficult for me to call it historical fiction. The events and significant characters that affected or interacted with the legion are all true to history; it’s only some of the minor character perspectives that have been created by Dando-Collins in order to novelize the book. This approach, however, has an appeal of its own: it offers the reader a colourful myriad of perspectives great and small from emperors and politicians in Rome to the army officers and common soldiers that served in the 14th Legion, bringing the story and its characters to life.


The use of multiple perspectives brings the reader a remarkable insight, not only into the legion’s military campaigns and accomplishments in war but also into its more peaceful moments. The book captures a portrait of everyday life within the 14th Legion; of a thousand simple worries, cares and pleasures that occupied the soldiers’ attention when they weren’t busy trying not to get killed by Rome’s enemies.


Many technical terms, such as the ranks of army officers or the names of cities, are translated into modern English equivalents of their original Latin. Thankfully, the reader doesn’t have to wonder which English term corresponds to which Latin term because the book includes a thorough glossary of terms, as well as maps and an index.


In summary, this book is an absolute personal favourite of mine; a compelling account of war and peace through the eyes of the mighty and the humble, and a tale that any reader is sure to enjoy whether they’re intrigued ancient history, historical fiction, or just enjoy a good book about war.


If you have questions about the book the review did not address, or if you’ve read the book and would like to share your own thoughts, always feel free to leave a comment.


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16 thoughts on “Nero’s Killing Machine: The True Story of Rome’s Remarkable 14th Legion”

  1. Nero’s Killing Machine is a marvelous read. The creator took me on an exciting excursion through history with the men of the fourteenth Legion. He makes them and their rivals genuine fragile living creature and blood individuals, and gave me an energy about what life, and demise, resembled in the positions of Rome’s armies 2,000 years back.

    Dando-Collins astutely follows the way of the fourteenth Legion during a few time utilizing the writings of Julius Caesar, Tacitus, Dio, Suetonius, Josephus and other old Roman authors. Perused Tacitus and you’ll see Dando-Collins has imagined nothing. Indeed, even the discussions and discourses are there in the first established writings.

    Julius Caesar is here, however Nero’s Killing Machine perusers will likewise discover numerous all the more fascinating individuals, for example, the dashing Germanicus Caesar and Arminius his German foe, the British resistance pioneer Caratacus, the Batavian revolt Civilis, and the third time fortunate Roman general Cerialis.

    Dando-Collins likewise explains why Boudicca and the Britons revolted in A.D. 60, why they had starting achievement, and why the fourteenth Legion in the long run beat them regardless of huge chances. He likewise brings up how shockingly fierce the British renegades were to detainees.

    This book is wealthier and to a greater extent a page turner than Caesar’s Legion, the first in the writer’s arrangement on the armies, however I know a few people who cherish that unique. My nephew, who doesn’t regularly read quite a bit of anything, grabbed Caesar’s Legion, couldn’t put it down, and read it in two days. He’s presently an affirmed history fan.

    Dando-Collins is to be saluted for making antiquated history more open and more charming. His approach, to tell Roman history through the genuine endeavors of an individual army, is one of a kind.

    I foresee Nero’s Killing Machine and Caesar’s Legion will get to be works of art. I can hardly wait for the following book in the arrangement.

    1. Wow, clearly I’m talking to someone who’s already read this book. Nice to know you agree with my opinion of it.

      I also enjoyed the way Dando-Collins highlighted the experiences of various historical figures. I found I especially liked Germanicus and Paulinus.

      What I especially loved, though, was a point you brought up in your comment about the 14th Legion’s story being told as an account of an army of individuals. In actuality, of course, every army is an army of individuals. Thousands of different sets of eyes, each with a different account to share, but sometimes it takes a talented author like Dando-Collins to remind us that no army is just a group of faceless monoliths in identical armour and uniforms. They are (or were) all real people with stories of their own to be told.

      I can certainly understand how your nephew enjoyed Caesar’s Legion so much; I was just as enthralled by Nero’s Killing Machine. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Hello

    I think your content is amazing, very interesting and thorough without being too wordy and repetitive.

    The only thing I would consider is 1) changing the spacing between your paragraphs as I feel it is too big. 2) I would also try to include an image of the book or even some colour to this page as it looks too bland.

    Your review has certainly made me want to read this book and it is now on my “to read” list!

    I hope this was useful and good luck with your site.

    Kind regards

    1. I’m glad you liked the review, and I hope you will give the book a read at some point in the future.

      You do make a fair point; the lack of a cover image does make the page look a little bland, I know. The reason I didn’t include an image of the book’s cover is because I’m not totally certain on how or if copyright laws apply to the use of a cover photo in this context.

      For the time being, I figured it was better to be safe than sorry. When I have a better understanding of all that I’ll be sure to come back to this review and give it some polish, including at least one image.

      Thanks for your feedback, Anastasia!

  3. I cant believe that I have not read this book yet. I love Roman History and especially on their conquests in expanding the empire through Europe. This sounds like an excellent read and I know I would enjoy it based on your review and the writing style.

    Are there any parts that particularly stood out to you?
    This was an incredible time in History and Rome became one of the largest Empires the world has ever seen.


    1. There were two parts, I think, that especially stood out to me. The moments of greatest tragedy and greatest triumph.

      In an early chapter of the book the legionaries, trapped in a fort and hopelessly surrounded by their enemies, all choose suicide over surrender. Later comes the 14th Legion’s climactic confrontation with Queen Boudicca, where despite hopeless odds they somehow still win the fight.

      I think you would enjoy this book if you have any interest in novels, Roman history, or both. Thanks for your comment, Adam!

  4. I was facinated by the story of the origin of our civilization and the empire to which most of the western world owes it’s ideals to.

    Ancient Rome was a remarkable place and I love learning about it a lot. I love fiction and history and for this reason, I am already curious about this book (Nero’s killing machine) especially after reading your review and listing to a sample from amazon.

    1. Ancient Rome does have quite a story to tell, for certain, and it’s done more than most of us realize to shape the world we live in today.

      I’m glad you enjoy learning about it all, and if you buy the book I hope you’ll enjoy that as well. As I said, I recommend it for anyone who enjoys either history or books about war.

      Thanks for your comment!

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed your review of this book. Even though I have only dabbled in this part of history you have made me want to look deeper. But I do remember as a child about the brutality of Boadicea’s (Boudica/Boudicca) vengeance on the Romans and underestimating Suetonius’s tactics which led to her downfall.

    You have now piqued my intrigue and was wondering where I might acquire this book?

    1. It kind of depends, I think. As I said, I found my copy at random in a second-hand bookstore in a city I don’t live in. What are the odds?

      The links I posted in the article lead to links where you can buy the book on Amazon or Booksetc. There are probably other places as well, but those are 2 sites I personally like using when buying books online.

      Thanks for your comment!

  6. My husband adores books about Roman history – this one sounds just up in alley! You certainly gave a good review of it. Maybe I’ll pick it up for him for Christmas!

    I normally get turned off by anything with the name Nero in it due to his mass persecutions of the Christians, but reading your review made me think a bit more about the it – that there’s obviously much, much more to his reign and those times of the Roman civilization… it sounds like a fascinating read, even if Nero’s “killing machine” sounds very gruesome.

    1. Believe me, I understand your reluctance to read about Nero. There’s a reason he’s one of the most notorious of all the Roman emperors. But the book’s title in that regard is a bit misleading – Nero is actually only a tiny part of the story.

      The reason for the title chosen by Dando-Collins is that after the 14th Legion defeated Boudicca, Nero referred to it as his “most effective” legion. That’s pretty much Nero’s entire contribution to the story, really.

      If your husband’s taste in books in anything remotely like mine, I’m sure he’ll enjoy it. Thanks for your comment!

  7. Sounds like a good read. I love historical fiction – and the Roman Empire is one of my favourite time periods. I tend to read a lot one after the other – and sometimes it can be hard to find something that is good, it can all get a bit “samey” after a while.

    However, this definitely sounds good, especially since it is historically accurate. I may have to check it out.

    Thank you kindly for the recommendation.

    1. It definitely was worth the read, as far as I’m concerned. I know what you mean; people who read a lot are in danger of running into the same material often enough that it feels repetitive. However I have yet to find another book out there that would make this one feel “samey” – it’s pretty unique and very engrossing.

      Thanks very much for your comment!

  8. I’ve always been fascinated by Roman history and some of the fiction that’s been created centered around it.

    The lifestyle, the artwork, the sporting events, etc.

    Does this book have any sort of gladiator-themed content? The gladiators are my favorite aspect of Roman culture so much so that I plan on taking a trip to Italy sometime so I can go see the Coliseum and soak it all in.

    Enjoyed the read, thanks for the review,

    1. Wow, super-friggin-late reply. Sorry about that.

      No, this book is not for the gladiator fans. No significant focus is spent on them except for maybe a few passing references. I’ve been to Rome twice before and the Coliseum is definitely worth seeing. I did find it felt a bit smaller than I expected, but it was still really cool to be there.

      Not to worry, though. There’s plenty of good books on gladiators out there. There’s even some documentary series that dedicate entire chapters to them and other aspects of Roman life and entertainment. If that’s a scholarly interest of yours, I’d recommend browsing The Great Courses library. I’ve bought a bunch of their courses over the years, and I have yet to walk away unhappy with any of them.

      Hope that was helpful for you. Sorry again for the massive delay!

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