The Roman empire grew from small beginnings but within a few hundred years, around the beginning of the Christian era, had become a major power with an empire which covered a lot of the known world. During that time the legions of Rome were feared by their enemies and there were only a few times when the Romans were defeated, each time causing a change in policy. The first can be claimed to be the Battle of the Allia, some four hundred years B.C. when Rome was defended by a citizens army led by military tribunes against the Celts who laid waste to Rome. Another was the Battle of Cannae, about 216 B.C. when Hannibal caused the Romans to completely change their military strategy. Then, in the latter days of the Roman Empire, defeat by the Goths in the Battle of Adrianople (A.D. 378 ) effectively saw the beginning of the end of the empire.
- Ben Kane
But one of the worst results was the Battle of Teutoberg Forest* in A.D. 9 which is sometimes recognised by some as the event which deterred any further northern expansion for the Romans. Three famous legions were virtually wiped out (more than 10 percent of the entire army), together with their waggon train and followers, in an ambush organised by Arminius a trusted local tribal prince who had already been accorded Roman citizenship. This was the main content of Ben Kane’s earlier book, Eagles At War. Needless to say, the Romans were determined to exact revenge and it is at this point Ben Kane’s new book begins some five years later when Germanicus leads an army back to the same area.
The central character is Centurion Tullus, one of the survivors, who has been demoted and banned from Rome as a form of punishment for being involved in the defeat. He, and several companions from the destroyed 18th legion are effectively given another chance when their new legion, the 5th is one of those to be commanded by Germanicus during a mission of vengeance to destroy the tribes, and their leader Arminius, who led the tribes which had inflicted the defeat five years ago.
It is intended that the tribes are caught in a pincer movement and Tullus and his comrades are among those who move by boat to provide an attack from the north while other legions move in from the west and the south. However, they find themselves caught up in controversy with a rebellion of some of the troops who feel they are not being treated fairly so, while facing and hunting one enemy, there are effectively two enemies to contend with.
At times, the focus turns to Arminius who also has problems with some of those he tries to persuade to support him. This is compounded by his family problems and the discovery that the Romans are carrying out attacks on the villages and encampments, including his own.
Eventually, after more than a month of reprisals, the Romans prepare to move the army back to Vetera (Xanten) on the other side of the Rhine but find themselves in a similar situation to that of five years ago. The route involves a road of logs across the bog land but the whole track is rotted and unable to support the weight of the waggons and carts. In a final battle with the tribes, the Romans fight their way out and the army returns to safety. Both Tullus and Arminius are still alive, but only one of the Eagles has been recovered and this book will obviously be followed by another in the series.
Well written, it s always interesting to read fiction which is wrapped around events which actually occurred in history, and the way this was presented certainly holds the reader’s attention.
* The exact site of the ambush and battle has never been defined but is generally accepted as being somewhere near Kalkriese. In later years, Arminius was recognised as a great war leader by the Germans and his name was even modified to be Hermann with a large monument erected to him on a hill overlooking the Forest, a couple of miles southwest of Detmold.