The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

After the last boy came one last priest, not a totem priest, as the others had been. His head-dress was made of the burnished feathers of a golden eagle, and a long roar burst from the crowd as the curtain dropped clashing into a place behind him. But to Marcus everything seemed for the moment to have grown very still. For the last comer was carrying something that had once been a Roman Eagle. (p. 189)

As Sutcliff describes in her introduction to this historical novel for young adults, THE EAGLE OF THE NINTH is based on an actual event.

In 117 AD a Roman legion forayed into the wilds of Northern Britain to deal with the barbarian tribes. The legion was never seen again. Sutcliff combines this event with a wingless Roman Eagle that was found during an excavation in Great Britain. The result is a fictional, but believable, story about a Roman officer heading into the barbarian lands to try to recover the lost eagle of the Ninth Legion to reclaim his father's (the lost legion's commander) good name. The real excitement of THE EAGLE OF THE NINTH arrives as Marcus Aquila, the protagonist, and his freed slave Esca try to evade the barbarians on their return south.

In the process of telling the story, Sutcliff deals with several aspects of the Roman Empire that are quite accurate and relevant to a study of this interesting period of history. THE EAGLE OF THE NINTH gives a portrait of the Roman social class system, partucularly the intricacies of living on the frontiers of the Empire. The novel deals with slavery in the empire, and we get a glimpse of the brutality and manic furvor associated with gladitorial games. Sutcliffe also delves into the complexities of the Roman bureaucracy, particularly the often strained relationship between the military and the politicians.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of THE EAGLE OF THE NINTH is how Sutcliff delivers three distinct perceptions of the Roman Empire. First, the reader gets the perception of Marcus Aquila, a native Roman from a military family. Second, the view of Esca, a gladiator purchased by Marcus and later freed by his master, provides the reader with the point of view of someone in the process of assimilation into the empire. Finally Sutcliff shows the perspective of the Celts and Britons as they resist domination from Rome. These three perspectives give a balanced look at the social implications of Rome's motives and the means by which they are implemented.

My ratings on a scale of 5:

Historial relevance--5

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