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Posts Tagged ‘Romans’

Several legions feature or are referred to in Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novels. A legion (legio) is identified by a number, but the number may not be unique – in Britain for there were, for a time, two II Legions.

The Roman Army had two main parts: the legions and the auxiliary units (auxilia). About thirty legions were spread over time around the provinces of the Roman Empire. Some legions were lost, others disbanded. They were created as needed, recruited from Roman citizens across the Empire. The legions were regular heavy infantry units, with a contingent of 120 horsemen who worked as messengers and scouts. Auxilias involved non-citizens, and were both infantry and cavalry.

II (2) Legion:  Eagle’s Egg, Frontier Wolf, Outcast, Song for a Dark Queen, Sword at Sunset, The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch

VI (6) Legion: A Circlet of Oak Leaves, Frontier Wolf, Sword at Sunset, The Eagle of the Ninth

VII (7) Legion: The Silver Branch

IX (9) Legion: Eagle’s Egg, Song for a Dark Queen, Sword at Sunset, The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch

X (10) Legion: The Silver Branch

XIV (14) Legion: Eagle’s Egg, Song for a Dark Queen

XX (20) Legion: Eagle’s Egg, Frontier Wolf, Outcast, Song for a Dark Queen, Sword at Sunset

XXII (22) Legion: Outcast

XXX (30) Legion: The Silver Branch

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Anne wrote long ago at the ‘Write!” tab above about the song The Girl I Kissed At Clusium which features in Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth. (The tab is for the  many readers and visitors here who are vastly more insightful and knowledgeable about Rosemary Sutcliff than I, and might have something to say which others would read with interest ). (more…)

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Anne wrote long ago at the Tab ‘Write!” above about the song The Girl I Kissed At Clusium. (Write – do use it, so many readers and visitors here are vastly more insightful and knowledgeable about Rosemary Sutcliff than I ).

As for why Rosemary Sutcliff used (Clusium—an ancient Etruscan city, one of the Etrurian confederacy that fought it out with Rome for supremacy in the early days)  for her famous legionary marching song in The Eagle of the Ninth, I think the answer lies in her early schooling. She mentions in her autobiography, Blue Remembered Hills, just how much she and her classmates enjoyed declaiming Macaulay’s stirring poem, ‘Horatius (at the Bridge)’. Who could forget that image of Horatius and his two comrades gallantly holding the Pons Sublicius against the invading army of Lars Porsena, king of Clusium in the late 6th century BC, during the war between Rome and Clusium?

Meanwhile the Tuscan army, right glorious to behold,
Came flashing back the noonday light,
Rank behind rank, like surges bright of a broad sea of gold.
Four hundred trumpets sounded a peal of warlike glee,
As that great host, with measured tread, and spears advanced, and ensigns spread,
Rolled slowly towards the bridge’s head where stood the dauntless Three.
Source

Here are Rosemary Sutcliff’s own words, so you can see the effect Macaulay’s poem had upon her young sensibilities.

We learned verse upon verse of Macaulay’s ‘Lays of Ancient Rome’ and proclaimed them with glorious fierceness, stiffening the sinews, summoning up the blood and lending the eyes a terrible aspect under the beetling brows of imaginary helmets:

‘Lars Porsena of Clusium, by the Nine Gods he swore
That the great house of Tarquin should suffer wrong no more.
By the Nine Gods he swore it, and named a trysting day,
And bade his messengers ride forth,
East and West and South and North,
To summon his array.’

Who were the Nine Gods? What wrong was the great house of Tarquin suffering? We had no idea. But the lines have the true trumpet ring to them yet; the purposeful tramp of a legion’s feet on the march.

The snatches of the legionnaires’ song in The Eagle of the Ninth are

Oh when I joined the Eagles
(As it might be yesterday)
I kissed a girl at Clusium
Before I marched away
A long march, a long march
And twenty years in store
When I left my girl at Clusium
Beside the threshing-floor

The girls of Spain were honey-sweet,
And the golden girls of Gaul:
And the Thracian maids were soft as birds
To hold the heart in thrall.
But the girl I kissed at Clusium
Kissed and left at Clusium,
The girl I kissed at Clusium
I remember best of all

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Rosemary Sutcliff  was reviewed with affectionate insight by Veronica Horwell in The Guardian newspaper shortly after her death in 1992.

Rosemary Sutcliff did not spare the child, the raven and the wolf gorging on the battlefield dead. No softening, or cheapening, of violence. When you opened her books, you went easily with her into the days she described so immediately: she noticed the rhythms of rain on glass as children do, felt the same warm amazement at snow. You might not know what was this cake called a barley bannock they seemed always to eat in her books, but you recognised the domestic concentration at dinner-cooking time.

And then you would gulp her titles —’Please Miss, have you got any more by ‘er?’—past bedtime, in the last of the summer afterglow. You were caught: and she did not let you off the actual shape of life and death. The fear, the physical pain, the disappointments, the ageing, the dying. (There was an afternoon, I remember, when the brutal end of the Norseman warrior Ari Knudson of The Shield Ring bleached out the heat of a holiday sun, and another, bleaker, when nothing seemed real but the Roman legionary, turned renegade, speaking his very last Latin words and saluting The Eagle of the Ninth before fading into another misty life.)

She did not assume you were ever too young to know the powerful, if frightening, truth – that nothing is wholly new, even the brief freshness of a new generation; that continual change, but also repetition, are history. We do not tell children these things so much now: we do not recount the generations. But reading her, you waited excitedly for that Roman ring with a dolphin cut in its emerald which runs in a thread of lineal descent from book to book, from life to life. So history was lives? It was always different, always the same, and the pattern only visible after? Those who read Sutcliff don’t recall formally learning about the gods Adonis, Mithras, Lugh of the Shining Spear and the Christos: we seem always to have known them. Years of art history never made as clear as she did, in two pages, the difference in the souls of cultures between the rigid ornament of Rome and the Celtic patterns that flow and whorl like life itself. You had access through her, as never since through the heritage industry, into time past when it was time present.

When the archaeologist Catherine Hills once noted that the battered Roman eagle found at Silchester was probably awaiting the contempt of the scrap furnace, she did sadly, almost apologetically. For her, as for the rest of us, he seemed a talisman of the knowledge of that departed civilisation, restored to his story by Sutcliff. And the Sutcliff story was, as legends are, almost closer to a truth.

Source: The Guardian, 3 August 1992. Used with the author’s permission

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In 2009, Lindsey Davis—writer of classical thrillers, creator of private investigator and poet Falco—listed in The Guardian newspaper her top ten books from her “shelves and shelves” of Roman material. She included Rosemary Sutcliff in “ten that are scholarly but user-friendly …  all books I have enjoyed, all influenced my love of ancient Rome and most of them are in regular use for my work”.

Of The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff, she wrote:

Somewhere about the year 117 AD, the Ninth Legion, which was stationed at Eboracum, where York now stands, marched north to deal with a rising among the Caledonian tribes, and was never heard of again. Hooked? If not, there’s no hope for you. A wonderful novel, for children of all ages.

With excerpts from her remarks, her other nine choices were:  (more…)

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Writing on The Guardian newspaper’s Children’s Books site, site-member Sophiescribe “loved” Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Mark of the Horse Lord.

The plot was fascinating and gripping, while it still held all the qualities of a time proven children’s classic. Written by the author of the famous The Eagle of the Ninth, it is another trip back into the breathtakingly exciting world of Roman-occupied Britain . I haven’t read The Eagle of the Ninth, but after this, I’m definitely planning on getting it at the earliest opportunity. Phaedrus is a great, but in no means perfect, hero, a very believable character – seeming all the more real for the tough decisions he agonises over. I certainly sympathise with that!

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but sometimes I can’t help it. I had a feeling before even reading the first page that this was going to be good, with such an elegant and timeless cover. I wasn’t wrong …

 All in all this was an utterly unforgettable book! I liked almost everything about it, and I’ll definitely be looking out for more of Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novels!

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Cover to Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth Original UK edition 1954Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth is rooted in  the history of a real Roman legion. A couple of years back I noted some references about the history from a website that has now disappeared – by one Ross Cowan. He had written that

… to learn more, especially about the evidence for the legion in the period c. AD 118-161, see :

Birley, A. R. The Roman Government of Britain. Oxford: 2005, 228-229.

Birley, E. B. ‘The Fate of the Ninth Legion’ in R. M. Butler (ed.) Soldier and Civilian in Roman Yorkshire. Leicester: 1971, 71-80.

Campbell, D. B. Roman Legionary Fortresses, 27 BC – AD 378. Oxford: 2006, 27-29.

Cowan, R. For the Glory of Rome: A History of Warriors and Warfare. London: 2007, 220-234 and 271-273.  (more…)

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