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Arminius: The Limits of Empire

Robert Fabbri
Another cracking novel from Fabbri; this time covering the loss of three Roman Legions under Roman General Publius Quinctillus Varus along with their Eagles. This time though the story is told from the German point of view, and not only that but through the written story of the battle as told by the leader Arminius and recounted by his son some decades later. Confusing? A bit. Never mind it soon becomes quite clear and this is the story of Arminius who led the Germanic tribes in battle defeating the three Roman Legions and their attached Auxiliaries.

I love these historical novels based on fact yet mostly based on supposition, good research and the author’s vivid imagination. From this hotchpotch of sources comes a well written, easily followed history of one of the darkest days of Roman military history. Indeed, the Romans did not invade and conquer much further afield after this defeat.

The story opens with a gladiator, nearing the end of his life-cycle in the arena and fighting for his freedom. This is the son of Arminus, Thumelicatz who returns to his tribe after winning his freedom and sets about learning about his father’s great battle. The story uses scrolls written by Arminius and left for his son to read and understand why Arminius took the actions that he did and why he eventually lost his life due to internal backbiting and jealousies. It takes Arminius back to the days when as a young boy he was handed over by his father to the Romans as hostage. Brought up in a Roman aristocratic family of Varus, Arminus grew up with Varus and fought with him in the Roman army on the western boundaries, saving Varus’ s life at one point. All this meant that Arminius picked up two vital parts that made his battle so successful: the knowledge of how the Roman army fights and more importantly, the trust and loyalty of Varus, even though Varus did not realise that Arminius actually hated him as an oppressor. There are plots, sub-plots and intrigue entwined throughout the book making it a delicious cauldron of hate and blood.

Eventually Varus is promoted and becomes the Commander of the Roman forces in Germanica, hoping to gain further promotion to Governor of the Region. Arminius accompanies him but meets with the chieftains of the local Germanic tribes and persuades them to put aside their local differences and hatreds to strike at the Romans and defeat them utterly. I don’t want to go into the detail of how he did this as that is the point of the book and is much better painted by the author than by me, suffice to say that Fabbri keeps everything very plausible, with great descriptions of life at the time making it so easy to picture the scene.

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest took place in 9 AD and was the worst defeat suffered by the Romans up to that point. Fabbri has painted a brilliant picture of the times and lives of the main players making this book one that is hard to put down. Some of the detail is quite graphic, but that fits so well with the time.

In the late 1960s I spent two years at Osnabruck which is just south of the Battlefield location. I wish it had been uncovered and made more known as I think I would have liked to have visited the area then. Another opportunity lost to the vagaries of youth! If you like Roman historical novels then don’t miss this one or you will be doing yourself disfavour. This book is a keeper which can come out frequently and be re-read. 4.5 Mr Mushroomheads for this fine story.

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