Saturday, June 10, 2017

Review: Wolf's Gold by Anthony Riches

A history resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2017

In Book 5 of Anthony Riches' excellent Empire Series, we find the 1st and 2nd Tungrian cohorts along with our hero Centurion Marcus Valerius Aquila, aka Marcus Tribulus Corvus, ordered to the borders of Dacia to defend one of the Roman Empire's most productive gold mines from marauding Sarmatae (also known as Sarmatians).

The Sarmatians emerged in the 7th century BC in a region of the steppe to the east of the Don River and south of the Ural Mountains in Eastern Europe. For centuries they lived in relatively peaceful co-existence with their western neighbors the Scythians. Then, in the 3rd century BC, they fought with the Scythians on the Pontic steppe to the north of the Black Sea. The Sarmatians were to dominate these territories over the next five centuries. Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD) wrote that they ranged from the Vistula River (in present-day Poland) to the Danube.

Sarmatian warriors
Image courtesy of the
Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine
"In the early first century, Sarmatians are mentioned as allies of King Mithridates VI of Pontus, the ruler of several countries near the Black Sea and one of the most dangerous enemies of the Roman empire. In 66, he was defeated by Pompey the Great and expelled from Asia Minor. Mithridates continued his war from the Crimea, still supported by the Sarmatians, but was ultimately forced to commit suicide. The Sarmatians continued the anti-Roman alliance with his son Pharnaces, who was defeated in 47 by Julius Caesar at Zela." -

By the mid-first century CE, the Sarmatians resumed migration westward. Finding the Dacian kingdom in crisis, one of the Sarmatian's affiliated tribes, the Iazyges settled first near the mouth of the Danube in modern-day Rumania then continued into modern-day Hungary. Another affiliated tribe, the Roxolani settled in the lower reaches of the Danube. There any further advancement was checked by Legio III Gallica during the Year of the Four Emperors, 68/69 CE.

However, in the last decade of the first century, Dacia regained its strength and formed an alliance with the Sarmatians that had settled in its territory.

"One Roman legion, XXI Rapax, was destroyed in 92. To defend their empire, the Romans were forced to conquer territories on the north bank of the Danube. This happened between 102 and 106 CE when Roman emperor Trajan subdued the Iazyges, Dacians, and Roxolani. " -

Roman sarcophagus with a relief representing the submission of the Sarmatians late 2nd century CE.
Photographed at the
Museo Pio-Clementino of the Vatican Museums by
Jean-Pol GRANDMONT, Wikimedia Commons.
Hadrian, Trajan's successor, though keeping control of the Dacians, subsequently granted independence to the Iazyges and Roxlolani in return for their allegiance to Rome. But peace did not last. During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the Sarmatians joined with the Marcomanni in revolt. Ultimately, the Romans were successful in putting down the revolt but the security of Roman settlements along the Danube frontier remained precarious for the next half century.  This is the timeframe and environment where our story takes place.

"The Wolf's Gold" is one of the most action-packed novels in the Empire series so far. It begins with an ambush before the Tungrians even reach the gold mines. Then when the cohorts finally reach the gold mines they must hurriedly build defenses before confrontation with an almost overwhelming force of Sarmatae warriors. Then an auxiliary cohort of Quadi makes a surprise appearance.

The Quadi were a Germanic tribe that was part of the Suevi confederation. Marcus' friend Arminius, was a prince of the Quadi before his defeat and capture in battle. Arminius warmly greets the new cohort's prefect known as "The Wolf" as they were apparently friends in childhood. But not all is as it seems when an orphaned Roman child claims his family was massacred by "The Wolf".

But before things can be sorted out the Tungrians are called to another Roman fort to prevent the remaining Sarmatian warriors from crossing into Dacia and wreaking havoc, leaving "The Wolf" to protect the gold mines.

More ambushes and heart-stopping battles take place, one a suspenseful struggle on a frozen lake reminiscent of a scene from 2004's "King Arthur." (Note: Arthur's knights in that tale were supposedly Sarmatians, although the events take place about three centuries after this novel.)

Will all of our continuing characters survive the onslaught?  Is the emperor's gold really safe? Will Arminius remain loyal?

Anthony Riches once more kept me on the edge of my seat since I have become so attached to many of the characters peopling his tales. The realism of the combat scenes demonstrates once more how much research has gone into Riches' narrative. There's not one dull moment in this book and it definitely leaves you eager to launch yourself into Book 6!

A preview:

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