Review: Battle Elephants and Flaming Foxes by Caroline Freeman-Cuerden

Posted March 6, 2023 by Stephanie in 4 Stars, History, Nonfiction, Review / 4 Comments

Title: Battle Elephants and Flaming Foxes: Animals in the Roman World
Author: Caroline Freeman-Cuerden
Publication: January 26, 2023 by The History Press
Genre: Nonfiction, History
Find it on: Amazon | Book Depository | Google Play | Waterstones
Rating: 4/5★

From the hooves of chariot horses pounding the dust of the racetrack to the cries of elephants charging the battlefields, animals were a key part of Roman life.

On memorials left to beloved dogs or in images of arena animals hammered onto coins, their stories and roles in Roman history are there for us to find.

Why did the emperor Augustus always have a seal skin nearby?
What was the most dangerous part of a chariot race?
How could a wolf help with toothache?

Take a gallop into the Roman world of chariot horses, battle elephants and rampaging rhinos. In the ancient world a bear could be weaponised and venomous snakes could change the course of a battle at sea. If you want to know exactly how to boil a crane (and who doesn’t?) or how to use eels to commit murder, the Romans have the answer. They wove animals into poetry, sacrificed them and slaughtered thousands in their arenas, while animal skins reinforced shields and ivory decorated the hilts of their swords.

From much-loved dogs to talking ravens, Battle Elephants and Flaming Foxes discovers who the Romans really were through the fascinating relationships they had with the creatures they lived and died alongside.


Battle Elephants and Flaming Foxes is one of those books that make you realise that humankind hasn’t changed all that much since the time of the ancients. Or at least our relationship to animals hasn’t changed much. We still consider dogs to be our best friend, we still watch races whether they’re horses or fast cars and we still keep cats around to hunt vermin and keep us company.

Animals were everywhere in the ancient Roman world and that’s what this book is all about. From elephants to wolves to birds to lions to snakes, cats and much more, they all had a part to play and the author takes us all to see what they exactly meant to the ancient Romans. I especially loved learning more about the elephants and dolphins. It’s not all fun because a lot of these animals were heavily mistreated, something that still happens today but these things need to be told.

I also loved all the fun little facts that the author also incorporated in this book. Like how a nickname from the Romans to dolphins was “snubnose” and how they even helped humans fish, something that also happens these days in some countries. Snubnose is now my new favorite word and a new obsession has been unlocked.

It’s clear that so much research must’ve gone into this book because of the amount of different animals it was about and how their relationship with humans and vice versa worked. I have a fondness for elephants and dogs but I’ve always loved all kinds of animals so this book was a real joy for me to read. Animals played a much bigger role to the ancient world than you’d think because even I was surprised at some of the things I learned in this book. I’d highly recommend it!



4 responses to “Review: Battle Elephants and Flaming Foxes by Caroline Freeman-Cuerden

  1. I often think too that not a lot has changed since the ancient times lol. This sounds fascinating. I’d be really curious about the elephant parts.

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