Under the Eagle

by Simon Scarrow

Reviewed by David Maclaine

Under the Eagle is the first novel in a series whose installments have now gone into double digits, set mainly in the camps of the Roman legions and on the battlefields where they fought. It introduces the odd-couple duo who will hold the reader's sympathies as the series continues: the rough, low-level officer named Macro, and the educated young freedman named Cato he must teach to be a soldier. They meet en route to a new assignment as part of the force sent to conquer Britain for the Emperor Claudius. Plots are brewing in the background because of secret orders about a wagon-load of gold left behind decades earlier when Julius Caesar invaded the island. The soldiers discover they are entangled in political intrigues that may involve the commander of their own legion, a competent officer named Vespasian; the emperor's chief minister, Narcissus; and a scheming courtier named Vitellius who has been attached to the army but has an agenda of his own. Soon there are secret missions, betrayals and ambushes which test the protagonist's survival skills. Young Cato will soon find himself in the middle of a fierce battle where he will learn whether his training in the soldier's craft is enough to see him through. Even the knowledge that the series will continue takes little edge from the suspenseful climax.

If you're new to the basic cut and thrust of Roman military tactics, this novel will take you through a solid basic training, until you're utterly familiar with the way the initial volleys of javelins give way to tight, disciplined ranks of men with stabbing swords. But even devotees of ancient warfare will enjoy the skill with which Scarrow deploys the men of the legions, thrusting them into complex tactical situations and intense scenes of combat. The professional craft the author brings to Under the Eagle is a fitting match for the professional soldiers he celebrates. (2001, 246 pages)

More about Under the Eagle at Powell's Books or Amazon.com

Under the Eagle appears on the list of The 50 Best Historical Novels for a Survey of Ancient Roman History

Other novels about Romans in Britain:

Imperial Governor by George Shipway (1968), about the first century rebellion of Queen Boudica, from the perspective of the Roman Governor of Britain. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Hero of Rome by Douglas Jackson (2010), about a Roman soldier in Britain during the Boudican revolt. More info

Hadrian's Wall by William Dietrich (1993), about a Roman soldier posted at Hadrian's Wall. More info

Nonfiction about the Roman conquest of Britain:

The Roman Invasion of Britain by Graham Webster (revised edition, 1993). More info

Invasion: The Roman Conquest of Britain by John Peddie (1987). More info

The Coming of Rome by John Wacher (1979). More info


The Roman Invasion of Britain at the Smithsonian channel website

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