The Eagle of the Ninth

by Rosemary Sutcliff

Paperback, 2004



Local notes

PB Sut




Oxford University Press, USA (2004), Edition: Revised, 292 pages. $8.00.


A young centurion ventures among the hostile tribes beyond the Roman Wall to recover the eagle standard of the Ninth, a legion which mysteriously disappeared under his father's command.

Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

292 p.; 5.12 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member atimco
In AD 117, Rome's Ninth Legion stationed in Britain marched off into the mists beyond Hadrian's Wall and was never heard of again. Centuries later, a battered bronze Eagle, the standard and symbol of its Legion, was found buried in present-day Silchester. To this day historians are divided on the
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fate of the Ninth, but from these disparate historical threads Rosemary Sutcliff has woven the tale of a thrilling venture into enemy territory to save the honor of a Legion.

Young Marcus Flavius Aquila, son of the doomed Ninth's commander, is at loose ends in Roman Britain after a leg wound ruins his chances for a military career. He is recuperating in the house of his uncle Aquila when he hears a rumor of the Ninth's fate among the Painted People. With the help of a gladiator he purchased called Esca (whom he regards as a friend rather than a slave), Marcus sets off in disguise to discover what happened to the Ninth and rescue it from shame. Adding urgency to his quest is the fact that the Eagle in the hands of the Celtic tribes could be a potent weapon against Rome, a rallying point for a religiously motivated uprising.

This is one of Sutcliff's most famous novels and it's easy to see why. Her characters are so true to their period, and yet somehow they are also accessible to modern readers. The romance isn't gushy; indeed, Marcus barely thinks of Cottia at all when he is away. Marcus's growing distaste for slavery might seem anachronistic in a Roman soldier, but Sutcliff shows how that transformation — a slow one, to be sure, and in no way the focus of the novel — takes place through the character of Esca. So much meaning is packed into each sentence, with telling descriptions like that of Marcus not being "one of those who must be able to say 'Mine' before they can truly enjoy a thing" (23).

Esca is also a brilliantly written character, complex in his divided loyalties and his proud dislike of being a freedman (because of course that meant he had been a slave; his identity would always be tied to that fact). This is why Sutcliff's characters have such resonance; they deal with issues universal in the human experience, like dignity and suffering and disappointment. Marcus is always going to hate his injury and the limp it has given him; Esca is always going to remember his shame as a slave and his defeat in the arena. They must "learn to carry the scars lightly" (272). The profundity of this makes Marcus and Esca read like real people rather than typical adventure-story heroes.

I've read this several times and find new things to enjoy each time. This is the first book that features the flawed emerald ring, the family heirloom that finds its way into all of Sutcliff's stories set in ancient Britain. Sutcliff fans will know the one I mean! Her lovely prose elegantly complements the fascinating historical period, and the characters and events are compelling. Overall, this is superb historical fiction from a master storyteller. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member JGolomb
Rosemary Sutcliff's 1954 classic "The Eagle of the Ninth" is an archetypical tale of human connections, self-discovery, redemption and choice. In tone and emotional scope, one is reminded of John Knowles' "A Separate Peace" or J.D. Salinger's "A Catcher in the Rye". The book will resonate with fans
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of Roman Empire-era fiction; and those that are familiar with the story from their youths, will reconnect warmly and fondly with Marcus Flavius Aquila and his cadre.

The book is written for young adults; however, vocabulary and phrasing nod to the book's British origins in the 50's. It's a quick and fun read, and I found myself pausing at different points, tying together the symbolic links between characters. The book will appeal to a broad audience who'll enjoy Sutcliff's adventure and vividly real experience, while connecting to her characters and their growth as the story progresses.

Sutcliff explains in her original introduction that "Eagle" is based on the legendary disappearance of the Roman Ninth Legion after marching to Northern Britain in response to a rising among Caledonian tribes. The Eagle of the Ninth is the traditional legionary standard - a bronze eagle sculpture with bolts of lightning clutched tightly in its claws. Sutcliff combined this tale with modern excavations at Silchester that uncovered a wingless Roman eagle, a cast of which is still on display at the Reading Museum.

Marcus Flavius Aquila is the son of the Commander of the First Cohort of the infamous IX Legion Hispania. Marcus is Pilus Prior Centurion of the Fourth Gaulish Auxiliary of the Second Legion, based in southern Britain - leading his six hundred troops to relieve a command in Durinum. Marcus' connection to his father runs deeply and the tenor of our character is set early.

Marcus is left wounded and unable to continue with his military career after successfully leading the defense of his fort from a local native uprising. He removes himself to the home of his paternal Uncle in nearby Calleva (home to the modern day Reading Museum of Silchester).

Enter Esca - a defeated gladiator that Marcus purchases as his personal slave. Their relationship quickly becomes much more than master and slave, and we find that Esca and Marcus are almost mirror reflections of each other. Esca is from the Brigantes tribe from northern Britain - his father, like Marcus', was a commander, a clan chieftan. In a battle against the Legions, Esca was injured, taken prisoner and enslaved to fight as a gladiator. But Esca describes how, ten years earlier, he watched a Legion marching north that never came marching back - "I had never seen such a sight before. Like a shining serpent of men winding across the hills; a grey serpent hackled with the scarlet cloaks and crests of the officers."

This memory of Esca's echoes Marcus' own memories of his father's farewell, watching the Ninth march off, never to return.

This symbolic tether that binds the characters is but the first of several similarly themed relationships: Pup, the wolf cub rescued by Esca after a hunting trip results in the death of the mother wolf; Cottia, the parentless pretty young thing living with her Aunt and Uncle next door to Marcus; Guern the Hunter, a former Ninth legionary who went native after fighting under the command of Marcus' father.

"Eagle" is rife with symbols that seep in and throughout the book like the mists so prevalent in Sutcliff's Caledonia and Valentia. Marcus' name - Aquila - in fact, means eagle in Latin.

Roman Britain is the uniquely penetrating texture to a story that could, conceivably, take place in the early American West, Colonial Africa or even Exploration-era Central and South America. Sutcliff is passionate in her exposition of Britain. The reader feels the claustrophobia and breathlessness as she writes of the weighty softness of the mists of the North. It's no wonder that "Eagle of the Ninth" is currently in production for the big screen. It's ready-made for the mood-riddled cut-aways of Marcus and Esca riding through Caledonia, and the mist-lined fort skirmishes as they battle their way home.

Hadrian's Wall and the northern Roman forts and signal-towers bring to mind the image of ancient ruins and crumbling stones that are strewn across the modern British landscape. These portals are very alive in Marcus' world, representing the wild, a passage from one world to another, the past and future.

In addition to the expansive symbolism and vivid realism, "Eagle of the Ninth" is simply a terrific story. Esca and Marcus' escape with the Eagle moves at a lightning pace, leaving the reader with intense anticipation at each phase of their race south to the safety of the Wall.
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LibraryThing member polarbear123
Teenage fiction does not get a lot better than this. Move over Harry Potter- spmething that you can actually ge your teeth into! I have a weird feeling that for a vast majority of the UK teenage audience this will remain an inacessible book as they will find the language too taxing and remember it
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came from a time (1954) when people actually did learn about Romans in school and also learned Latin! I loved it because unlike a lot of teenage fiction it did not patronise and it was a real tangible story - you can feel the tension in the chase scenes and it really does bring Roman Britain to life. Well worth a read at any age!
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LibraryThing member drmaf
Great to read this classic again after many years. The story of Marcus Aquila and his quest to resurrect the lost 9th Legion Hispana is beautifully written, thoughtful and sympathetic, with honest depictions of both Roman and Briton. As a classicist I might quibble with a few minor points of the
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author's depictions of the legions, but it doesn't in any way distract from what is a great escapist read. The scene where the recovered eagle is laid to rest is beautifully done and brings a tear to the eye. Simply a lovely book, I hope that modern generations can embrace it as much as I did.
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LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
An immensely engaging work of historical fiction, Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth, first published in 1954, sets out to answer two unresolved questions from history: what happened to the lost Ninth Legion, stationed at Eburacum (modern-day York) in the early second century, a legion
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which disappeared without a trace after it marched north into Caledonia?; and how did a wingless Roman Eagle, the standard of a legion, come to be buried in a field outside of Silchester?

The story of Marcus Flavius Aquila - significantly named, as "aquila" means eagle in Latin, and was the word for the eagle standard itself - a young centurion wounded in the course of his first British command, who goes to stay with his Uncle Aquila in Calleva (Silchester), acquires a slave, and then a friend, in the form of the Brigante tribesman and hunter Esca Mac Cunoval, and embarks on a seemingly impossible quest to retrieve the eagle standard of the Hispana - his father's lost legion - this book is immediately involving, and consistently engrossing. The characters truly come alive, fascinatingly complex and completely believable, and the story seems - as much as I am able to judge - historically accurate.

I found Sutcliff's narrative as moving as it was entertaining, and appreciated the way in which she depicted the complex issues of identity and loyalty in the multicultural world of the Roman Empire. Etrurians, Egyptians and native Britons all interact in this story, which never vilifies any side, but makes the reader understand each perspective. I was most in sympathy with the Caledonians, of course, but I liked all the characters, and was content with the conclusion. My first work of historical fiction from Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle of the Ninth will most assuredly not be my last!
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LibraryThing member foggidawn
Young centurion Marcus Flavius Aquila's father disappeared with the doomed Ninth Legion in northern Britain. When Marcus takes a post in Britain, he hopes to hear or discover something of the lost Ninth, but a wound taken in battle cuts his military career short. After he recovers, he embarks on a
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dangerous mission to discover what happened to the Ninth, and to retrieve their bronze Eagle, the symbol of Roman power and victory, which may be in the hands of the northern tribes.

This story of high adventure in the long past is one that I probably would have enjoyed as a child, but I never crossed paths with it at the time. The writing is lovely and the pacing is strong. It's a quick read (the audiobook I listened to was under five hours), full of goodness with nothing extraneous. For all that, I'd say I liked it but didn't love it. If historical fiction set in the days of the Roman Empire appeals to you, I'd say give this a try, no matter your age.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Roman centurion Marcus Flavius Aquila has his first command, and, at his request, it’s in Roman Britain. Marcus’s father was part of the lost Ninth Legion, which disappeared after marching north beyond Hadrian’s wall. Not long after Marcus takes command, his men must defend the fort against a
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British uprising. Marcus’s uncle has retired in Britain, and Marcus goes there to heal from the battle wound that has left him lame for life. Just as Marcus begins to contemplate his future, he gets the opportunity to head into the north country to see if he can find out what happened to the lost legion and recover their eagle.

This story seems like capture the flag on steroids. Finding the missing eagle is only half the battle. If Marcus is successful in locating it, he’ll still need to get it back to the safety of Roman occupied territory. The desperate flight south through Scotland had me thinking of Richard Hannay’s flight across the same landscape almost two millennia later. It’s an exhilarating read!
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LibraryThing member bell7
Thirty years ago the Ninth Hispana, a legion in the Roman army in Britain in the 2nd century AD, went to the north country and disappeared. Now, Marcus Aquila, a Cohort Centurion, requests Britain as his first assignment because his father was among that legion and he would like the opportunity to
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solve the mystery of their disappearance. Perhaps he can even recover the Eagle, the symbol of the legion and the lack of which has meant the Ninth never reformed. But an injury leaves Marcus with little choice but to leave the legion, unsure that his purpose in coming can ever be fulfilled.

I've said before that I tend to be more analytical with stories that I'm not fully immersed in. Well, with this book I was analyzing throughout, but as I think about it more, I wonder if it's like the chicken and the egg problem - what came first, my analyzing keeping me from getting thoroughly immersed or my lack of immersion causing me to keep my interest by analysis? You see, I went into this book ripe for analyzing on so many fronts: What makes Rosemary Sutcliff's historical fiction so compelling to her fans? Will her influence on future authors like Megan Whalen Turner be apparent? How will the ring show up? Why is this classified as children's literature? After reading, I don't know the answers to all these questions, but they were what I was wondering as I read. This historical fiction is the first in a series, and set in a time I was unfamiliar with - the Roman occupation of Britain around 130 AD. Sutcliff's writing is full of rich descriptions and slowly unfolds her plot. The dialog between characters seemed a little stilted to me, and I wasn't sure if it was because she was trying to suit the time period with a touch of old-fashioned speech or because of the time she was writing in (1950s - and there was a reference to "making love" in the old-fashioned sense that made me laugh). Because of descriptive writing and lack of a fast-paced beginning, the age of the characters, and the exploration of what motivates Marcus to look for the Eagle, I am still shaking my head over its characterization as a children's book. I have a hard time coming up with a young audience for this book (not that this would be the first time that I'm wrong). Though there is no language or sex or even much violence to put parents off, I would more likely recommend it to teens or adults that enjoy historical fiction with a rich sense of place.
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LibraryThing member BenjaminHahn
For someone intrigued by the murky depths of early British history, this young adult novel certainly satisfied. I halfway wish that I would have read this as a young adult, because now I have already read a number of historical fictions about this region and time period which are much more graphic
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and harsh. Bernard Cornwall and Marion Zimmer Bradley come to mind. Regardless, The Eagle of the Ninth is intriguing because even though it softens some of the rough edges, death is still a very real feature in this story, as is slavery, colonialism, and cultural interactions. Sutcliff gave me little room to doubt the world she recreated for her story, even if she left out the raping and pillaging. Overall, a very enjoyable book if you don't mind predictable happy endings. I look forward to reading the sequel, "The Silver Branch".
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LibraryThing member Mary_Overton
YA historical fiction, excellently researched, set in 2nd century Britain and told from the POV of a 25 year old Roman Centurion. A quest and adventure story that explores the tension between two cultures - occupying Roman army and barbarian British tribes. Also a story of character under duress,
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as young Marcus learns how fragile are dreams, how unpredictable is fate - not only for him but for each person.

A tribesman who is also a comrade tries to explain to Marcus the irreconcilable differences between their peoples. He describes the decorative art of the Romans:
"'Look at the pattern embossed here on your dagger-sheath.... See, here is a tight curve, and here is another facing the other way to balance it, and here between them is a little round stiff flower; and then it is all repeated here, and here, and here again. It is beautiful, yes, but to me it is as meaningless as an unlit lamp.'"
He compares that to tribal art: "'Look now at this shield-boss. See the bulging curves that flow from each other as water flows from water and wind from wind, as the stars turn in the heavens and blown sand drifts into dunes. These are the curves of life; and the man who traced them had in him knowledge of things that your people have lost the key to - if they ever had it.... You cannot expect the man who made this shield to live easily under the rule of the man who worked the sheath of this dagger.... You are the builders of coursed stone walls, the makers of straight roads and ordered justice and disciplined troops. We know that, we know it all too well. We know that your justice is more sure than ours, and when we rise against you, we see our hosts break against the discipline of your troops, as the sea breaks against a rock. And we do not understand, because all these things are of the ordered pattern, and only the free curves of the shield-boss are real to us. We do not understand. And when the time comes that we begin to understand your world, too often we lose the understanding of our own.'" (93-4)
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LibraryThing member Sullywriter
I read this novel a long time ago and I wanted to read it again before I see the forthcoming film. Sutcliff is the author of some of the most brilliant writers of historical fiction I have ever read. she has an extraordinary talent for bringing the past vividly to life.
LibraryThing member Hamburgerclan
This tale is set in 2nd Century Britain. It offers a nice peek into life and customs in ancient Britain. Something well worth checking out if you've got the time. The story centers on Marcus Flavius Aquila, a newly commissioned centurian who comes to Britain to serve with the Second Legion. He has
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a unique connection to this land--his father served in Britain with the Ninth Legion. But twelve years ago, Dad and the Ninth Legion marched northward past Hadrian's wall into the untamed Valentia province and vanished without a trace. While Marcus isn't in Britain to hunt down the mystery of what happened to his father, he certainly is open to any opportunity that may arise...
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LibraryThing member ParadisePorch
Ah - I loved this in ninth grade. Alas, not so much now.
LibraryThing member antiquary
One of my favorite books when I was young, about how the son of a member of the Ninth Hispana legion, which vanished in northern Britain, retrieved its lost eagle. I have read more recent research that suggest the legion was just ended by administrative reorganization instead of perishing
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dramatically as in this book, but it is still a very good story and the first of a series of books set in Roman Britain which to me were Sutcliff's best. originally read this in the Bowling Green , Ohio library and bought this for myself much later because I remembered it fondly.
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LibraryThing member yeremenko
This is fine work of fiction for young people. My son is 9, but a strong reader, and we read it together. Other than Harry Potter, there has not been a book we could read that held my interest as well as his. I was not aware it was written in 1954, that in itself is a complement. This story is
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strong in setting and character. It is refreshing to see a story with two strong male characters that care about each other, without the homophobia that is so prevalent today.
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LibraryThing member cmbohn
Roman Britain

Marcus Flavius Aquila is the son of a soldier, a soldier who disappeared along with his eagle in Britain several years ago. Now Marcus is heading back, with his own legion and his own Eagle. He wants to find out what happened to his father.

That part started off really well. I was
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totally into it. But it doesn't last long, and then the story hit a bit of a slump. I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue reading or not. I'm glad I did. Marcus finds his army career cut short, and after a boring bit, that's where the story really gets interesting. Marcus, and his slave/friend Esca, go off in search of the lost eagle.

I never read this one growing up, but apparently it's been around for a long time and lots of people love her books. I don't know if I'll read more, but I did enjoy this one. 4 stars
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LibraryThing member adpaton
My copy of this book dates back to 1970 - but it was brand new when I was given it, just never read. Only when reading the introduction to M.C.Scott's Eagle of the Twelfth [in which he acknowledges his debt to Sutcliff and her book] did I start to wonder if I still had my copy.

After 25 pages I
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stopped battling with Scott's Eagle and went in search of Sutcliff's - it was shelved next to Noel Streatfeild in the bookshelf devoted to all the favourites of my youth, saved and added to for the delictation of my daughters. They, alas, were not intetrested in my dated tomes but I hope that one day, maybe in 42 years times, they might turn to Crompton and Blyton and Nesbitt just as I turned to Sutcliff, and find delight within the pages.

Of course by that time 'pages' will refer to the electronic copy viewed on something like a Kindle, but never mind.

Eagle of the Ninth is a grand read: Marcus Flavius Aquila, the hero, is a thoroughly likable fellow, the kind of decent and generous-spirited young man any mother would be proud of. I imagine Enid Blyton's youths grew into men like Marcus - in fact, his name should have been Julius [for Julian of Famous Five fame].

He leaves Rome for Britain where he is injured in battle, and as he recouperates he thinks of the old family farm in Tuscany with longing. He spends every penny, or rather sestertius, on buying/rescuing Esca, a defeated gladiator, and making him his body slave. Esca is from the Tribe of the Painted People, way up North and as a proud warrior of high birth slavery does not sit well on him, Completely cliched I know but Sutcliff can be forgiven the odd cliche.

Marcus and Esca go north beyond Hadrian's Wall into the land of mists and wooded crags - inhabited by undefeated and fairly hostile Celtic tribes - in pursuit of the eagle standard of the lost ninth legion, to which Marcus's father when he marched off into the mist twelve years before, vanishing forever.

Its a classic adventure story and a wonderful read: there is almost no violence, and bad language and sex do not exist - although there is a smattering of romance as Marcus falls for Cottia, the girl next door, a red-headed vixen from the Iceni tribe. The jejune affair is something of a relief though because Marcus and Esca were so close I was beginning to worry that the house of Flavius was going to end thanks to no further issue.
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LibraryThing member majkia
A tale of adventure in ancient Britain. A young centurion arrives to take his first post at a small Roman fort in Britain. During an uprising he's badly injured. As he's trying to regain his health he hears rumors of a missing Roman Eagle. His father had led the missing legion whose Eagle it was.
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He determines to go off above Hadiran's wall and bring back the Eagle and hopefully clear his father's name.

A good adventure with very likeable characters. And a wolf!

I have no idea why this is tagged so often 'children' or 'young adult'. It is not a coming of age story and all the characters are adults.
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LibraryThing member prkcs
A young centurion ventures among the hostile tribes beyond the Roman Wall to recover the eagle standard of the Ninth, a legion which mysteriously disappeared under his father's command.
LibraryThing member DauntlessGirl
I first read The Eagle of the Ninth when I was about 10, and it still gripped when I re-read it around 30 years later! Former centurion Marcus' journey into the wild country beyond Hadrian's Wall, accompanied by his British slave, Ecsa, in order to redeem the honour of his dead father by recovering
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the legion's eagle standard will always be a page-turner - there are battles, furious chases, intrigue and jeopardy a-plenty, the growing trust and friendship between Roman and Briton, and even a touch of romance for Marcus and a red-haired Romano-British girl
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LibraryThing member simongotts
The best known of a trilogy about the Roman occupation of Britain. Well-researched, but the expert knowledge is used deftly and lightly worn. What emerges is a real feeling for the times and the people, giving a sharp and memorable sense of what it was like to live in Roman Britain.
LibraryThing member the4otts
This is an excellent book about Marcus, a Roman Centurion and his experiences as an officer in the Roman military who struggles with the legacy of the 9th Legion - a Legion that has been both disparaged and guarded since disappearing into the mists in Britain with his father as the standard bearer
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of the Eagle. Journey with Marcus as he leads his soldiers as only a true Leader is able, and follow his quest into Britain with Esca to recover the Eagle pinnacle of the guidon from the standard that mysteriously disappeared along with his father and four thousand Roman soldiers when he was just a child.

This was a recommendation by Carole Joy Seid, homeschooling consultant for learning Ancient Roman history. We have thoroughly enjoyed the book and have begun reading the next book, The Silver Branch.

There is a movie, based upon this story titled "The Eagle".
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LibraryThing member garethmottram
"Excellent feelings of being on part of a mighty empire but cut off from help. The terror of travelling ever deeper into enemy lands really grips you and you cling to the shelter and few allies found."
LibraryThing member devafagan
Interesting to compare to movie version. Events the same, but themes and character motivations seem quite different. I prefer the book!

Beautiful prose, though it took a bit more concentration to read.
LibraryThing member Smiley
This story of adventure in Roman Britian is a fast paced, page turner.

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