Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Eagle's Vengeance: Empire VI by Anthony Riches

A history resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2017

In the sixth installment of Anthony Riches' Empire Series, we find the protagonist, Centurion Marcus Tribulus Corvus (in reality Marcus Valerius Aquila), along with the first and second Tungrian cohorts back in Britannia once more.  They are quickly relieved of three chests of Dacian gold they escorted to the island by a rather sinister officer of the imperial treasury and learn that they are being sent north above the abandoned Antonine Wall to recapture the eagle of the Sixth Legion lost in a battle with revolting tribesmen back in Book 1.  The eagle has been reported in the possession of the fierce Venicone tribe and locked in their seemingly impenetrable fortress known as "The Fang."

From all appearances, the Tungrians' orders outline a suicide mission. Tribune Scaurus is to lure the main body of Venicone warriors away from the fortress then a stealthy raiding party is to find a way into the compound at night, guided by a mentally fragile legionary who has recently escaped from "The Fang" after weeks of torture. Of course, Marcus and his friends Dubnes and Arminius are selected for the raiding party along with a scout Marcus befriended back in Germania. A mysterious officer with a cadre of nefarious "specialists" that includes a thief and two Sarmatae warriors also offers the services of his group. Having recently fought the Sarmatae in Dacia, Marcus feels uneasy about the two warriors who seem to eye him like malevolent predators. But he reluctantly accepts them.

Marcus also learns from the recently captured legionary that the fortress is not only protected by a nearly impenetrable swamp but a band of cunning huntresses with their vicious, man-eating hounds as well.

The huge hounds found in 2nd century CE Scotland were similar in size
to this Irish Wolfhound depicted in a 1919 issue of National Geographic.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Celts used such animals against the Greeks as far back as 279 BCE when the Tectosages and Tolistobogii Celts sacked Delphi. Survivors left accounts of the fierce Celts and the huge dogs who fought at their side. Julius Caesar recorded observing animals like these in his "Commentarii De Bello Gallico," too.

Beginning with the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the Romans themselves began training large Molossian dogs for combat, coating them in protective spiked metal collars and mail armor. These armored canines then fought in formations with the legions.

But the size and ferocity of the hounds from Scotland were particularly legendary. In 391 CE, the Roman consul Quintus Aurelius Symmachus received seven such hounds that he called "canes Scotici" as a gift to be used for fighting lions and bears.  He claimed, "all Rome viewed (them) with wonder."

Obviously, Marcus and his fellow Tungrians would need every ounce of their skill, strength, and courage to avoid particularly gruesome deaths.

Once again, Riches' fast-paced narrative and taut action sequences totally immerse the reader in the brutal world of late 2nd century Roman Britain.

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