I was about twelve the first time I fell in love. His name was Marcus Aquila, and he was the hero of Rosemary Sutcliff’s immortal, The Eagle of the Ninth. I know I’m in good company, Lindsey Davis, creator of the bestselling Falco, Roman detective, series, is on record as having said that reading Rosemary Sutcliff’s bestseller set her on the road to Rome.
I didn’t actually read the book first. Back in the dark ages when I was a little girl we used to listen to Children’s Hour on the radio and I first encountered Marcus Aquila when the BBC produced the book as a serial. I knew a bit about Rome, we’d ‘done’ it in history, but it hadn’t made much impression, but when I listened to the play – as I said, I was probably about twelve at the time – I fell in love for the first time: with Marcus, with the gloriously romantic story of the Lost Legion of the Ninth, and with the idea of Rome itself – and particularly the idea of Romans in Britain.
I remember getting an A- in History at about that time for a short play about the Romans leaving Britain. It was probably on the lines of: ‘Ave, Marcus,’ (who else?), ‘I hear you’re leaving Britannia then?‘ and so on… I haven’t really toyed with the idea of setting a book in the Roman era, so many other authors have done it so well anyway, but in the new book, ‘A Crowded Coffin’, due out next year, I have managed to squeeze in a lot of Roman history. I did, however, resist the temptation to ‘borrow’ Marcus Aquila so I’ve made up my own Roman for the story.
What has this to do with Winchester? Well, it used to be called Venta Belgarum, so there’s the clue and there’s plenty of evidence of Romans around the city. http://www.localhistories.org/winchester.html However, if you want to find out more about the background to Marcus Aquila’s life after his discharge from the army, check out Silchester – and go to see it on a fine day so you can walk round the walls. If you’re a fan of the book or just fancy a day out in the country, you won’t be disappointed. http://www.reading.ac.uk/silchester/
For fans of Rosemary Sutcliff take a look here:http://rosemarysutcliff.com/ & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Eagle_of_the_Ninth
Further literary and historical crushes will turn up in later posts!