The Eagle of the Ninth tells the story of Marcus Aquila, a young centurion on his first command on the fringes of the Roman Empire.
As Marcus arrives in Britain to take up his first command, he is haunted by the memory of his father and the 6,000 men of the Ninth Hispana Legion, who twelve years earlier had marched north of Hadrian’s Wall to quell an uprising and were never seen again. Seriously wounded soon after in an attack by hostile tribesmen, invalided out of the Roman Army and wondering what to do with his life, Marcus determines to make the hazardous journey north in a bid to discover the fate of the Ninth Legion, and in particular of the Roman eagle, the Legion’s standard and a possible rallying point for the northern tribes in their war against Rome. Sutcliff’s most famous book is a gripping adventure and a touching coming-of-age story, based on the real disappearance of the Ninth Legion around the year ad 117.
“Sometime about the year 117 AD, the Ninth Legion, which was stationed at Eburacum where York now stands, marched north to deal with a rising among the Caledonian tribes, and was never heard of again.
During the excavations at Silchester nearly eighteen hundred years later, there was dug up under the green fields which now cover the pavements of Calleva Atrebatum, a wingless Roman Eagle, a cast of which can be seen to this day in Reading Museum. Different people have had different ideas as to how it came to be there, but no one knows, just as no one knows what happened to the Ninth Legion after it marched into the northern mists.
It is from these two mysteries, brought together, that I have made the story of ‘The Eagle of the Ninth’.” – Rosemary Sutcliff
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