Winter Quarters

by Alfred Duggan

Reviewed by David Maclaine

Winter Quarters is a satisfying novel whose title doesn't quite capture the subject. Alfred Duggan liked to write about likeable people, and this book follows two of them from their home on the edge of the Pyrenees to the deserts at the far end of the Mediterranean. Two friends take flight because one of them has accidentally interfered with one of the most secret of the women's rites, earning the wrath of the Great Goddess. The duo make their first contact with the Roman world at the fringes of Julius Caesar's conquest of Gaul, but soon they are heading farther and farther east, hoping to find a land where the Goddess has no power. Instead they discover that wherever they look closely her worship is still alive and well in one disguise or another. But soon they've got worse problems than a ubiquitous, hostile Goddess. Their road goes east because they've joined the Parthian expedition of Marcus Licinius Crassus.

The two friends' exploration of the varied forms of worship in the Mediterranean provides the novel's substance and local color, and the doomed campaign in the east provides its denouement, but most of the book's charm comes from the interplay of the two main characters. One is a bit gullible and tends to get into trouble with women; his buddy is more cynical and worldly wise. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made careers of playing characters like these with adventures in exotic lands, although I don't recall a film of theirs in which Dorothy Lamour ended up as a temple prostitute. Duggan could easily have given Winter Quarters a title like The Road to Carrhae or gone high-brow and named it The Varieties of Religious Experience in the Age of Caesar. Whatever you call it, it's a stimulating journey in pleasant company, well worth your time. (1956; 224 pages)

More about Winter Quarters at or The Book Depository

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

Other novels about war beween Rome and Parthia:

The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane, about three men who join the Roman army and fight under Crassus in the disastrous Battle of Carrae in Parthia in 55 B.C.; #1 in the Forgotten Legion Chronicles series. See review or more info at Powell's Books.

Centurion by Simon Scarrow (2007), about a Roman centurion sent to defend Palmyra from Parthia, #8 in the Cato series. More info

Avenger of Rome by Douglas Jackson (2012), about a Roman hero sent to Antioch as war with Parthia is about to begin; #3 in the Gaius Valerius Verrens series. More info

Nonfiction about Crassus and his Parthian campaign:

Marcus Crassus and the Late Roman Republic by Allen Mason Ward (1977). More info

Defeat of Rome in the East: Crassus, the Parthians and the Disastrous Battle of Carrhae, 53 B.C. by Gareth C. Sampson (2008). More info

From the Jaws of Victory: A History of the Character, Causes and Consequences of Military Stupidity from Crassus to Johnson and Westmoreland by Charles Fair (1971). More info


"Roman-Persian Wars: Battle of Carrhae," an article by Bryan Dent in Military History Magazine at the website

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