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.  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.

For fans of Rosemary Sutcliff take a look here:  &

Further literary and historical crushes will turn up in later posts!




  1. Pingback: Thanksblogging « The Warden's Walk

  2. Loved this article Nicola, and although I have never fallen in love with a Roman Soldier, I did fall in love with the Frenchman in Daphne Du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek. I first read her book when I was in my teens and then read it again in my thirties – whoops and fell all over again. So much so, that when I spent years working in Cornwall I used to find every excuse under the sun to go and wander around Helston River and other little inlets where I am sure his ship came in for repairs and where he met his married lover. I have watched the film dozens of times too…the Frenchman in it is so close to my vision of him that I am happy to ‘go’ with the actor. So I know just where you are coming from…and I love History and the Romans too. Thanks for such a lovely article.

  3. Hi David,
    You may indeed promote your own work! I’ve been over and read both reviews and found them thoughtful and interesting and intrigued enough to think I really must get round to watching the film. I did realise it would be very different but it’s a relief to hear that it’s so watchable; I’m also slightly amused to know that all the Romans have American acccents. In the UK we’re so used to having Hollywood use English actors to play the villains, and in an awful lot of blockbusters, the Romans *are* the baddies, so it’s a nice change!I’m going to order the DVD now and look forward to watching the film.

    A couple of years ago I had a Sutcliff-fest and bought almost all the books I didn’t already have. In parallel with my re-reading we had a week in Northumberland, to revisit the Wall as well as some of the forts we hadn’t previously seen. I’m planning to post about that trip sometime in the future.

    I enjoyed your blog, you seem to like many of the books I do, so I’ve pressed the Follow button. I’d be glad if you were to Follow me too, but there’s no compulsion!

    • Sutcliff is one of the few authors whose books I will buy whenever I see them, as long as I have the money and don’t own the book. Well, and sometimes when I do already own the book. I’ve bought The Eagle of the Ninth three times, and two of the copies I gave away as gifts some time later. Her books are very hard to find in the US, though, so I usually have to get them through library book sales or the inter-library loan system. Perhaps, though, I should save up some money and do a Sutcliff-fest like you, courtesy of! +)

      I’ve subscribed to your blog now, and I thank you for following me, too!

  4. Nicola, I am a big Roman history fan having fallen in love with it at high school and I went to a study help course at Sydney University in preparation for the Australian equivalent of A levels where the lecturer recommended that we read a fictional novel, but based in historical fact by Colleen McCullough. I’ve read every single book in the series. I then went on to study Roman history at university, and I do want to learn more about Roman Britain. I wish I had read Rosemary Sutcliff’s book before seeing the recent film version (which I loved by the way – but Channing Tatum is easy on the eye!). I will be exploring the links that you included in your post, so thank you 🙂

    • I haven’t seen the film, Cathy, but it’s on my to-do list. The other books in the Eagle series are very loosely connected and the story gets darker as the years progress – but so worthwhile to read. And for sheer delight, do read the Falco books by Lindsey Davis – but make sure you start with the first, The Silver Pigs.

      • I think you can enjoy the film The Eagle if you approach it with the knowledge that very much is changed from the book, and it’s not really a good representation of Sutcliff’s story. Marcus in particular is a radically different character from Sutcliff’s gentle, thoughtful man. The movie has its own merits, though. Jamie Bell makes an excellent Esca, and the photography of the Scottish Highlands really evokes the historical setting in a way that is as poetic as it is down-to-earth and realistic, much as Sutcliff’s prose does. You may — if I may be allowed to promote my own work — consider my reviews of the movie and the book, where I compare and contrast the two a lot.

        Thanks for the info about Winchester and Silchester! Next time I’m in the UK, I’ll have to make a greater effort to seek out locations that appear in Sutcliff’s books.

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